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By Jack M. Turner

Photos by John C. Turner

    A short trip from New Haven to New York aboard Northeast Regional Train # 161 begins the trip southward.  The “Silver Meteor” eases out of New York’s Penn Station shortly after 3:15pm and glides along the Northeast Corridor in excess of 100 mph.  After stops at Newark, Trenton, and Philadelphia it is time to head to the dining car for the early dinner seating.  Soon after being seated, we pass beneath a towering bridge then spy a massive oil tanker ship plying the waters of the Delaware River.   We roll past Amtrak’s shops and make the station stop in Wilmington at 5:20pm.  I’m glad that I sat on the left hand side of the diner as all of these views have been visible on that side.  A tasty dinner of steak, baked potato, mixed vegetables, and salad fits the bill while enjoying conversation with a couple from Davenport, Florida who have been on vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine.  The Susquehanna, Bush, and Gunpowder rivers provide more scenic views as daylight wanes.


Amtrak Train # 161 arrives in New Haven en route to New York


The southbound Silver Meteor prepares to leave New York Penn Station


Heritage fleet dining car 8505


A tanker plying the Delaware River as seen from the Silver Meteor


One of the scenic rivers crossed at dusk between Wilmington and Baltimore

    The 45 minute stop in Washington, DC allows time for a post-dinner stroll along the platform as our electric engine is switched out for a pair of diesel locomotives.  The journey down the former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad through Alexandria, Quantico, Fredericksburg, and Ashland is smooth and we pause in Richmond, Virginia just after 9:30pm.  Crossing the James River is impressive even at nighttime and the nocturnal scenes to Petersburg are composed mostly of homes and forested areas.  All too soon it is time to turn out the lights and turn in for the night in roomette 5 in sleeping car “Forest View”.  I’m awakened by the station stop in Rocky Mount, North Carolina then sleep through the next six stops. 


Viewliner sleeper 62011 "Gulf View" seen after dark at Washington Union Station

    We are leaving Savannah, Georgia as I awaken and shortly I am in the dining car for breakfast.  As the meal arrives, we pull into Jesup then make our way through piney woods that dominate southern Georgia.   Train # 97 reaches Jacksonville, Florida 17 minutes early at 9:06am and I detrain to make the two hour drive home.  The “Silver Meteor” continues south to Miami, however, I will need to wait a few weeks to continue my journey southward.

    My wife and son join me for the next part of the trip which take us to the eastern Caribbean aboard Princess Cruises’ beautiful “Emerald Princess”.  Sailing from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, FL is convenient for Amtrak travelers who can take either the “Silver Meteor” or “Silver Star” from the northeast to Fort Lauderdale.  Connecting to the ship requires an overnight in Fort Lauderdale, however, after the cruise it is easy to connect with the “Silver Star” for the northbound return.  The Amtrak station is a short cab ride from the port and many hotels are available in the vicinity.  In the not too distant future there will be another rail option as All Aboard Florida trains will connect Orlando and Miami with a stop in downtown Fort Lauderdale along the Florida East Coast Railway.

    One of the great conveniences of cruising is dropping luggage curbside and having it magically appear at your stateroom door prior to sailing.  There is ample time to unpack and stow suitcases beneath the beds prior to setting sail and it is convenient to spend the next 10 nights searching the closets for something to wear rather than rummaging through luggage.  Our stateroom is located on the Baja Deck near the aft end of the ship and, though smaller than a hotel suite, it is a good deal larger than an Amtrak bedroom.  There are two twin beds and an upper berth that resembles what one finds aboard a passenger train.  A television provides a variety of programming including college football bowl games shown on ESPN.  A private balcony which includes deck chairs provides us with an excellent place to view arrivals and departures from the ports we will visit as well as a place to retreat to watch the ocean or simply gaze at the stars.

    As “Emerald Princess” sails from Port Everglades we make our way to the Botticelli Dining Room where we meet our tablemates, a couple from Vero Beach, FL and a family from Juneau, Alaska.  We are grateful for such wonderful company and are delighted by our excellent table location in the back corner of the dining room.  Our server, Cornelio, is an exceptionally accommodating gentleman and it is evident that Princess takes great care in selecting its staff.  There are multiple dining choices aboard this ship including the fixed dining option that we selected.  This provides the same table, same server, and same dining companions every night, either at 6:00pm or 8:15pm.  Anytime dining is available for those preferring not to have an established dining time or table each night while buffet dining is available for those desiring a less structured meal.  Breakfast and lunch are available on a walk-up basis in another dining room while the buffet and a variety of other food options such as a pizzeria and a hamburger stand are also available.  Additionally, room service will deliver meals or snacks to the stateroom upon request.  All of these options are included in the cruise price with only specialty restaurants requiring an additional cost.


The author’s son John at dinner on Emerald Princess along with server Cornelio


A pizzeria is one of many food options on board Emerald Princess

    The first two full days of our cruise are at sea which allows a chance to relax and enjoy the ship’s many outstanding features.  There are six swimming pools and the warm tropical temperatures allow us to enjoy their waters while most of the country is shivering a few days before Christmas.  “Emerald Princess” also offers a putting green, lawn bowling, basketball, and a variety of other outdoor activities on the ship’s top deck.  Clustered around the ship’s atrium are a variety of shops and compact lounges where musicians entertain guests.  The casino seems to always be alive with activity while the Princess Theatre offers a variety of nightly shows ranging from song and dance productions, a Four Seasons tribute group, and comedians to an impressionist.  The smaller lounges, meanwhile, host cabaret acts and audience participation events.  Simply put, one can keep as busy as they desire or simply catch up on rest on board this ship.


Putt-putt golf is available on the top deck of Emerald Princess


The aft swimming pools; note the children’s play area at right


Looking at the aft swimming pool and the ship’s wake


Forward view from the top deck


Christine enjoys high tea offered daily in one of the dining rooms


The Internet Café is convenient for staying in touch

    On Day 4 we dock at our first port of call, St. John’s, Antigua and soon we are off for a private sightseeing tour.  Outside St. John’s we see a few remnants of the sugar cane railway that once linked the island’s abundant sugar cane fields with sugar mills and docks from which sugar products could be shipped.  The sugar cane industry disappeared due to lack of profitability and the railway was no longer needed.  Only a few short bridges, mostly overtaken by underbrush, remain as testament to the railway’s prior existence.


Arriving in Antigua

    At the south end of the island we stop to savor a beautiful vista of Falmouth Harbour where a beautiful sailing ship and a host of beautiful sailboats are anchored offshore.  At another stop we gaze in amazement at the sleekest, longest, and certainly most expensive yacht we have ever seen.  It reminds of the type vessels used in James Bond films where a wealthy tycoon has an expensive yacht in his arsenal of possessions.  Indeed, Antigua attracts the wealthy including a number of entertainers who are especially fond of its tropical climate in the wintertime.

    Just down the road we come to English Harbour, another scenic bay whose waters wrap around small fingers of land which offer shelter from storms to maritime vessels while providing excellent hillside locations for beautiful homes.  Alongside the harbor we find Nelson’s Dockyard, a restored military base established in the mid to late 1700s and administered by Admiral Horatio Nelson.  Here British sailing ships were maintained and refurbished and several original buildings used to repair sails, maintain ship wood and metal surfaces, and house and feed the crews have been preserved.  The dockyard still services luxury sailboats while serving the dual role of attracting tourists. 


Nelson’s Dockyard


This yacht docked at Nelson’s Dockyard reminded the author of those seen in James Bond movies

    At Fort Blockhouse we see the ruins of a military outpost located atop a hill guarding the island where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet.  The vistas are stunning as the turquoise and deep blue waters meet the rocky coastline and one can see for miles and miles.  Next we visit Shirley Heights from which a beautiful elevated view of English Harbour, Nelson’s Dockyard, and Falmouth Harbour unfolds.  Along the way we note the ruins of another sugar mill standing just off the roadway.


The Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet near this point at Fort Blockhouse


Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, and Falmouth Harbour seen from Shirley Heights

    During the day we pass a massive pineapple farm and several banana plantations and we follow Fig Tree Drive which passes through a rain forest in which mango, palm, and almond trees flourish.  The scenic drive deposits us along Antigua’s southwest coast where numerous beautiful beaches can be seen.  Our tour guide, Cleo, notes that Antigua boasts 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. Indeed, it seems we have spied a beach at every turn during our morning long expedition; many of these are hideaway beaches tucked between bends in the land where hills meet the sea.  Our wonderful tour ends but we still have time to browse the shops near the dock in St. John’s before returning to “Emerald Princess” for a relaxing afternoon and evening.


Turner’s Beach, a favorite name of the author and son


Fryes Beach near the Coco Bay Resort


Pineapple fields in south central Antigua


Departing St. John’s, Antigua

    Day 5 finds us docked at Castries, the capital of St. Lucia.  By mid-morning we set out on an all-day tour purchased through Princess to see the scenic highlights of this island located in the Lesser Antilles in the eastern Caribbean.  It soon becomes evident that we made a wise choice in leaving the driving to our tour bus operator as St. Lucia’s main highways are incredibly winding with hair-pin turns as they climb the coastal mountains.  Like all of the islands we visited, driving is on the left hand side which is disconcerting hence best left to those used to that practice.  Another thing that jumps out quickly is the fact that St. Lucia has a French influence that is evident in locals’ Creole accents. 

    Our sightseeing target is the southwest corner of St. Lucia near the community of Soufriere.  The signature feature of this region, and the island in general, is The Pitons, a pair of peaks standing sentinel over the coastline as they seemingly rise out of the sea.  The twin spires stand over 2,000 feet tall and are made of hardened lava.  Our tour takes us to nearby Sulphur Springs Drive-In Volcano, an active volcano which emits sulphur-smelling steam that evokes memories of Yellowstone National Park.  This is billed a “drive-in volcano” since motor vehicles can be driven right to viewing locations within the crater.  A short drive from the volcano we visit Diamond Botanical Gardens where rain forest paths lead us past a variety of tropical flora and to the foot of a towering waterfall named Diamond Falls.  During the drive back to Castries we pause at scenic Marigot Bay where yachts are anchored amid a panoramic view.  Shortly after returning to the ship it is time for dinner and an evening show in the Princess Theatre.


The scene at one fishing village along the west coast of St. Lucia


Sulphur Springs, known as a “Drive-In Volcano”


Diamond Falls


Diamond Botanical Gardens


Various varieties of flowers can be seen at Diamond Botanical Gardens


The Pitons, St. Lucia’s most notable sight


Marigot Bay

    We awaken on the sixth day of our cruise to find we have already docked in the Barbados capital city of Bridgetown.  Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island as it lies 100 miles east-southeast of St. Lucia.  Once again one of the tours sold onboard is selected and we enjoy visiting several photogenic locations.  Most notable is Bathsheba Beach located on the Atlantic side of the island.  Large mushroom shaped volcanic rocks dot the beach giving this spot an other-world appearance.  Our tour also visits an historic cathedral and a preserved sugar plantation.   Other sightseeing favorites on this island include Harrison’s Cave, the Andromeda Botanical Gardens, and Sunbury Plantation.  Duty free shopping at shops located adjacent to the docks offer bargains on popular brands of perfume, jewelry, and other merchandise.


Mushroom-like rocks are unique to Bathsheba Beach, Barbados


This picture of John provides perspective of the size of these rocks

    At the one week mark in our voyage we visit the island of St. Kitts which, like most of the islands called upon by Emerald Princess on this cruise, once had an economy based upon sugar production.  Traces of this industry remain, however, tourism and craft factories are the economic leaders.  A leftover from the sugar industry days, a narrow gauge rail line linking the sugar cane fields with the sugar factories, today is one of the most popular sightseeing activities on St. Kitts.  See “Riding St. Kitts Scenic Railway” for a trip report about this interesting train ride.


Arriving in St. Kitts


A beautiful sailing ship anchored off St. Kitts


A beautiful sunset observed leaving St. Kitts


Another cruise ship sails into the sunset off St. Kitts


Looking back at St. Kitts at sunset

    Overnight we sailed past several of the northern Leeward Islands and morning finds us paralleling the southern coast of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.  The entry into the harbor is beautiful and validates spending extra money for a balcony stateroom.  The views of the harbor and the island’s mountainous terrain provide a stunning way to begin the eighth day of our cruise and evokes memories of our previous visit a dozen years earlier.  During that visit we took a tour of the island highlighted by a visit to Coral World, a popular aquarium, and observed beautiful elevated views of the island and its gorgeous harbors. 

    Having toured St. Thomas, we opt for another tour offered by Princess, this one to the neighboring island of St. John.  Part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John is a tremendous surprise with its fantastic beaches, a couple of which are ranked among the world’s best, and Virgin Islands National Park which is part of the United States National Park System.  Getting to St. Johns involves a 45 minute boat ride that departs from the same pier where “Emerald Princess” tied up in Charlotte Amalie.  The journey along the rocky south coast of St. Thomas through Frenchmans Bay is nothing short of spectacular and the 80 degree temperatures feel fantastic on the day after Christmas.   After crossing Pillsbury Sound we land at Cruz Bay along the southwest coast of St. John.  There we board an open air tour tram for a highway tour along the national park’s scenic coast.  Along the way we view inviting beaches at Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Maho Bay, and Caneel Bay and tour the remains of Annaberg Sugar Mill.  We even have an opportunity to stroll along one of the beaches for a few minutes.  Back in Cruz Bay we board our tour boat for the return to St. Thomas and another fun evening aboard “Emerald Princess”.


The harbor at St. Thomas


The tour boat ride from St. Thomas to St. John offers spectacular views


Trunk Bay on the west coast of St. John is recognized as one of the world’s top 10 beaches


The scenic beach at Cinnamon Bay


Our tour stopped to allow guests to walk on the beach at Cinnamon Bay


Maho Bay


Annaberg Sugar Mill ruins in Virgin Islands National Park


Another view of Annaberg Sugar Mill


Leinster Bay seen from Annaberg Sugar Mill


Another view of Leinster Bay


Coral Bay


Our tour boat “Island Girl” passes in front of the Virgin Islands National Park visitor center in Cruz Bay, St. John


The south shore of St. Thomas


Approaching the harbor at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas at the end of our boat ride from St. John


Emerald Princess docked at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas


Sunset departing St. Thomas

    Our busy itinerary the prior five days left us ready for a day at sea on Day 9 as we are able to sleep late, enjoy a room service breakfast, and unwind by playing putt-putt golf, spend time in one of the swimming pools, and generally relax.  The following day will be similar as the ship anchors off Princess Cay, a private beach on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas.  After tendering to the beach we find the beach pleasant with warm, smooth waters and plentiful chaise lounge chairs lining the beach.  Many passengers have rented a variety of watercraft while others participate in beach volleyball games and other activities. 


Another sunset at sea


The sun sets on our sea day late in the cruise


Emerald Princess anchored off Princess Cay


Water sports are available at Princess’ private beach

    The fantastic cruise ends the following morning and soon we drive to Miami to visit family.  Along the way we pass a couple of Tri-Rail commuter trains traveling between Miami and the West Palm Beach area as well as Amtrak’s northbound "Silver Star" bound for New York.  We drive past new Miami Intermodal Center, future terminal for Amtrak and Tri-Rail trains, MetroRail elevated trains, and a people mover connecting to nearby Miami International Airport.  The future train station’s location adjacent to major rental car offices as well as MetroRail will greatly benefit Amtrak passengers arriving in Miami once it opens.


Miami Intermodal Center, the future terminal for Amtrak and Tri-Rail plus a stop for MetroRail

    Princess offers numerous cruise itineraries around the world.  The majority of the cruises departing North American ports originate at Ft. Lauderdale, FL (Port Everglades), San Pedro, CA (outside Los Angeles), Seattle, WA, or Vancouver, BC.  Each of these departure ports is accessible by Amtrak stations.  Whether the destination is the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii, or Mexico, a cruise is a perfect way to travel.

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