So you’re taking the kids on a Caribbean cruise and have just one day in each port. What are you going to do with your short time? Cruising With Kids is a series of posts that provides family-friendly recommendations for various stops on the Caribbean cruise circuit that will give all ages a fun taste of each island without straying too far from the docks.
Stunning St. Lucia is a popular honeymoon destination, but it’s also great for that post-honeymoon phenomenon – families. Cruise ships anchor at Place Carenage or Pointe Seraphine, both in the capital city of Castries in the northwest of the island. You’ll find a bustling market scene there plus the usual duty free temptations a short stroll from the docks. I wouldn’t waste much time in St. Lucia shopping, though.
This is an island of dramatic mountains, bubbling volcanoes, verdant rainforests, lush banana plantations, traditional fishing villages, French/English patois and perfect beaches. A one day cruise pit stop is hardly enough time to scratch the surface of what this jewel of the Caribbean has to offer, but here are a few suggestions on how to spend your family’s limited time in St. Lucia.
An easy 15-20 minute cab ride from port is Reduit Beach in touristy Rodney Bay. The beach is flanked with resorts, but it has a gentle slope into the relatively calm water so is ideal for a fun family swim. There are lots of shops and restaurants (and a playground if your kids need a stretch) in yachty Rodney Bay Marina or head across the channel to the more traditional fishing village of Gros Islet.
If you’d rather escape the tourist hubbub, try Choc Beach a 10-15 minute cab ride from the docks. It’s placid waters and palm-frond shade make it a good choice for visitors with children. There are some amenities and restaurants nearby so it’s not isolated (few beaches are when ships are in port), but it’s a good choice for a relatively quiet, relaxing day.
Snorkeling families should head to Anse Cochon. It’s a 45-minute drive along a windy road to get there, but clear waters and ample sea life won’t disappoint. Combine this with a lunch-stop in chi-chi Marigot Bay, and you’ve got the makings of a memorable day.
Although it’s a bit of a drive to get there, I can’t say enough about the beach at the Jalousie Plantation Hotel in the valley between the iconic Pitons (see below). I guarantee the word “wow” will pop out of your mouth.
Is Nature/History Calling?
Pigeon Island National Park ($5 US admission) is a great place to take the family on a day trip to St. Lucia. It’s relatively close to the port (20-30 minutes drive or you can take a water taxi), situated at the north tip of Rodney Bay. While it used to be an island rich with pirate/battle history, a connecting causeway has been built so it’s more of an easy-access peninsula these days. You can stroll around the remains of Fort Rodney and check out the cannons and interpretation center to brush up on your island lore – St. Lucia ping-ponged back and forth between the French and the British 14 times, so has quite a colorful past. If you and the kids are up for it, take a 30-minute nature hike up Signal Peak for spectacular views. On a clear day, you can see the neighboring island of Martinique. To reward yourselves after this excursion there are two sandy beaches to chill out on, and when you’ve worked up an appetite try the casual local restaurant or the fun Captain’s Cellar pub (kids welcome).
If you have a pint-sized pirate in the family, several cruise ships offer an excursion to Pigeon Island (and elsewhere) on the Brig Unicorn, the 19th century tall ship used in The Pirates of the Caribbean films. If billowing sails, treasure hunts, firing cannons and mock pirate battles appeal, check this out (usually for 5 and ups).
Craving a Little Adventure?
There are a couple of nature parks in the island’s rainforests, so take your pick how you want to experience it. The easy option is to ride through the canopy on an aerial tram in Rainforest Sky Rides Eco Park. Similar to a ski lift gondola, these trams let you explore the lush nature of the island from a relaxed seated vantage point. Thrill seekers age 14 and above can opt to don a hardhat, hairnet and harness and combine this with a zipline adventure where you zoom through the air from platform to platform like a bird on a wire. Another ziplining outfit is at Treetop Adventure Park, which is particularly good if you have smaller children. Their “kiddies course” has mini-ziplines and rope challenges that are perfect (read safe, Mom) for junior adventurers aged 3 to 7 while those aged 8 and above can enjoy the bigger zipline course. It’s located about an hour’s scenic drive through the heart of the island. Check the websites and arrange these ahead of arrival – they are often part of shore excursions offered by your cruise ship. Don’t forget to bring a sweater, rain jacket and insect repellant if you’re rainforest bound.
Another great option for adventurous families in St. Lucia is to go on a whale watching safari. Hackshaw’s Boat Charters comes highly recommended. Spend a few hours on a speed boat tracking pilot, sperm and humpback whales, even the occasional orca. Of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll encounter whales (this isn’t a staged zoo, after all), but they do have a pretty good track record. Chances are you’ll see schools of dolphin too. Make arrangements for this tour prior to arriving in St. Lucia.
Further Afield, But So Worth It…
It’s a shame that arguably the best part of St. Lucia requires a bit of a journey for one-day family cruisers. It’s really less than a two-hour drive from port to Pitons, but it’s a long and winding mountainous road and some children (and adults for that matter) might not be up for the ride there and back. My daughter decorated the back of the taxi with her breakfast an hour into the trek, but if you and your kids are of hardier stock do consider heading to the Soufriere area in the southwest of the island.
You can make a day out of visiting the Diamond Botanical Gardens (even have a dip in the natural springs), the Sulphur Springs “drive-in volcano” (a bit of a misnomer as it’s really a collapsed crater, but most kids love the bubbling mud and stinky sulphur steam) and the idyllic beach between the twin triangular Piton peaks. The beach is public, but it’s accessed through the Jalousie Plantation Hotel. Make sure your taxi driver/tour guide is authorized to park there (apparently not all are), then take a tram down to the beach area. There’s lots of shade, a small playground, decent snorkeling (bring your gear), chairs for rent plus a beachfront restaurant – not to mention one of the most jaw-dropping views in all of the Caribbean. Some ships offer a “land and sea” shore excursion that takes a catamaran down the coast and drives back (or visa versa) – this one may be worth the splurge.
There are a lot of hot and fiery dishes throughout the Caribbean that may not sit well with younger, evolving taste buds (oh, the drama when something remotely spicy touches my daughter’s tongue), but there are plenty of milder options on the islands. Here are a few kid-pleasing temptations to try when in St. Lucia.
Green fig and salt fish: This is the national dish of St. Lucia, kind of like a fisherman’s pie. Note the fig here refers to a small starchy banana that is more like a potato than a fruit.
Callaloo soup: This soup made with a leafy green spinach-like vegetable called dasheen, okra and a hodge-podge of other ingredients. Okay, a spinach-like soup might be a hard sell to some kids, but tell them they’ll be Popeye strong after eating a bowlful.
Local bananas: You gotta try a sweet local St. Lucian banana, fresh from one of the island’s plentiful plantations.
Coconut cakes/cookies: Every island seems to have a version of coconut cakes and cookies, all of them sweet and delicious.
Creole bread: This local staple is like a puffy white bread buns scented with coconut milk.
Cassava bread: Cassava, the same root vegetable that tapioca comes from, makes a nice starchy flat bread often flavored with, you guessed it, coconut.
St. Lucia is a wonderful place to visit. It’s great to see the things to do with your children. My readers will enjoy this.