LOCATION: Leeward Islands BOAT: Star Clipper DURATION: 7 Days
I’m setting sail under clear blue skies from St. Maarten. A familiar Caribbean-cruise story, right? My ultimate goal is to make sure it isn’t. It helps that five masts rise into the sky above me. Over there is a deck filled with folded sails and chaotic rigging. What the boat lacks in swimming pools and roulette tables it makes up for in other ways. Like no distractions during a weeklong exploration of the Leeward Islands on a tall ship that looks borrowed from a museum.
1. NEVIS: GOING MY OWN WAY
A small crowd of people squeezes into an air-conditioned bus. But I’m not with them. I’ve seen Nevis’ plantation inns before. So I hop in a taxi heading the opposite direction to Sunshine’s Beach Bar. Rasta red, yellow and black adorn the open-air lounge on a wide swath of empty beach. I settle into an oversize couch and order a Carib from a girl named Pinky. She also delivers a lobster big enough to merit its own ZIP code.
2. DOMINICA: THE AMAZING CHASE
I’m running down Jaco parrots through the Dominican rain- forest, and trying not to trip over Jurassic Park-size roots as my eyes fix on the canopy above. “Right there!” my guide, Max, says. He points skyward, at birds I clearly can’t see. I can only hear them. There’s a burst of winged movement, and for an instant I can make out the distinguishing blue cheeks before the elusive bird vanishes again from my sight.
3. ILES DE SAINTES: BARELY CONTROLLED
“You’veriddena scooter before?” the Frenchman asks me, not quite ready to hand over the keys.
“Absolutely,” I say confidently. I’m lying. But I get the hang of it (after scattering a herd of goats) and enjoy the roller- coaster ride. Shops selling crepes and French pastries blur past my bike. I land, almost literally, at the secluded Plage de Pompierre to soak up a little Caribbean sun.
4. GUADELOUPE: SWALLOWED IN FLOWERS
I lose track of time at the Deshaies Botanical Garden among the shrimp flowers and giant torch ginger flowers. When I realize three hours have passed, my leisurely pace quickens. I hurry past the flamingos just in time to catch the last tender back to the ship.
5. ANTIGUA: LOOK OUT BELOW
The outfitter at Antigua Rainforest Adventure takes one look at me and turns to his associate. “Big man here gonna need some shoulder straps.” I’m swaddled in a har- ness that will dangle me high above the ground, zipline-style. I shouldn’t have had that last bite of omelet for breakfast. Then gravity works its magic, and for 350 feet I’m soaring like a flying fox with love handles. My fears are assuaged — no snapping cables or sudden descents mar the joy of the day.
6. ST. BARTS: CROSS-COUNTRY
Final stop: the island of the rich and famous. Fellow cruisers fun- nel to the highbrow harbor shops. I pass them on my way to a quiet lunch at Le Toiny on the opposite side of the island. A plate of crispy mahimahi in a lobster reduction sauce arrives at my solitary table over- looking the ocean. It’s so quiet. Wait. Am I on a cruise?