One of Oceania cruises many island destinations

“Hey! Do you know what this place is?” a man sitting on the street front patio called out to me as I walked past.

I have learned to like traveling alone.

I find solo travel makes me much more open to meeting new people, conversing with locals and noticing the authentic details of destinations. Climbing aboard a cruise ship alone was a test of my theory, but the locals I met at various islands kept me company, lifted my spirits and my soul.

Departing Miami Aboard Oceania Cruises Ship: Vista

The Oceania Vista cruise ship
The Oceania Vista. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Miami itself is a very international American city but sailing south into the Caribbean Sea aboard an Oceania Cruises ship put me in the company of 800 crew members from 47 nationalities. Not to mention the one-thousand savvy travelers who had journeyed from as far away as Australia to climb aboard Oceania’s elegant, new “Vista,” christened in 2023 by Italian celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis.

Boating to St. Barth’s

The harbor panorama in Saint Barts
The harbor panorama in Saint Barts. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

I waved up to get the attention of Neile, who was at the helm of the tender taking me and the boat-full of other passengers from the moored Oceania Cruises ship Vista into Gustavia, St. Barth’s. When Neile snuck a peak down at me, I pantomimed for him to push the throttle all the way forward to full speed.

Neile laughed, but I was excited to get ashore in St. Barth’s, the rocky island of 7,000 residents described as the “Monaco of the Caribbean:” part French Riviera-part French Polynesia. When we did finally reach the dock, I teased Neile by saying the pirates’ line from the film “Captain Phillips:” “Look at me…I’m the captain now.”

“You might be,” Neile answered. “Because after you encouraged me speed up the Officer of the Watch saw me from Vista’s bridge and radioed to tell me to slow back down!”

Jet-Setting Celebrities and Millionaire Moguls

Shell Beach in Saint Barts
Shell Beach in Saint Barts. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

There is lots of fast money in the designer boutique shops of St. Barth’s where there is a small concentration of people but a high ratio of beautiful ones. “He told me he’d buy whatever car I wanted, so I decided to design my own Porche,” I overheard a diamond-ringed brunette say. 

I hoofed it through town, past the Anglican church and Bagatelle’s bougainvillea-covered, yacht-filled harborside restaurant to Shell Beach. Here, not all the women wear their bikini tops in the scenic, butte-surrounded sandy cove along warm water bluer than the sky.

As I swam between the shore and the giant luxury yacht called “Flag” anchored out in the bay, my eye was caught by a bejeweled blonde woman reflecting the sun off her shimmering, silver bikini while preening with her toes in the surf.

While paddling past, I called out to her, “Your bikini is glamorous!”

“Merci,” the beauty happily answered.

“Lots of bling!”

She swooned and said, in her charming French accent, “Oui, it is perfect for this place!”

“Si bon!”

“Merci.”

“Non ‘bon,’” I corrected myself, “c’est magnifique!”

 “Oui”

Ones in the Water

Browne’s Beach in Barbados
Browne’s Beach in Barbados. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Just then a group of eight kayaks paddled by French schoolchildren passed in front of me headed for shore. “Bon jour, monsieur!” one of them looked down and greeted me.

“Bon jour, les petit enfants,” I responded to their surprise. This triggered one of the children to ask me a long question en France, to which I could only smile. I may have been swimming but I was out of my depth in French.   

I watched these little children, under the supervision of a teacher, dutifully carry and put away their kayaks on a rack. They then stood in line each holding, vertically, their yellow paddles, which stuck up above their heads to make them look like a tiny, toy army. 

Two young men swam by with snorkel gear and I asked them if they were seeing much?

“Oui. Many fish, yes. Near the rocks,” one of them responded.

Beach Bites and Buffett

Le Select - home of Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise”
Le Select – home of Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Bring your own towel, but otherwise Oceania cruisers and other tourists had all they needed at Shell Beach, where there is an admittedly expensive ($40 fish sandwich; $18 daquiri) “barefoot casual” bar and restaurant – Shellona – on Shell Beach.

I preferred my “cheeseburger in paradise,” at Le Select.

“Hey! Do you know what this place is?” a man sitting on the street front patio called out to me as I walked past.

I had no choice but to stop and shrug.

“This is the real ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise!’” he said.

I thanked the man, who was merely a patron, because Le Select truly was the bar that inspired Jimmy Buffett, who loved St. Barth’s, to write the hit song. The scruffy, colorful, indoor-outdoor Le Select, boasts it has “avoided progress since 1949.”

If it was good enough for the prince of parrot-heads and David Rockefeller, it was good enough for me to swill a bottle of Tibarth, the local beer, with my burger in homage to Buffett.

The chefs around the corner, if they smelled the burgers grilling, were probably secretly envious as they cut carrots at L’Atelier, the French restaurant of Michelin-starred super chef Joel Robuchon’s restaurant L’Atelier.   

Barbados, the British Commonwealth nation is the furthest east of the Caribbean’s windward islands, and, in terms of quirks, forbids anyone visiting to wear camouflage (which is the level of detail Oceania communicates to passengers.)

Barbados Swim Session

Swimming teacher, and unofficial ambassador Connie Francis
Swimming teacher, and unofficial ambassador Connie Francis. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

The cruise dock terminal in Bridgetown led me to right to lines of taxis ready to take me, for only $5, to Carlisle Bay and Browne’s Beach. There, for $10, I entered the Harbour Lights Beach Club, which had beach chairs; snorkeling; glass-bottom boats; souvenir shopping and a restaurant with local flying fish cakes. Best of all, it had local Barbadians from the public beach next door.  

As I dogpaddled in the warm, aquamarine water, a much better swimmer than I used an efficient breaststroke to knife through the water. She was wearing a neon-green swim cap accented with black tiger stripes – and she had the wild personality to match. Her small talk was big fun:

“Are you from a cruise ship? Which one? Where is your next stop? Are you going to see any more of Barbados? It would be good for you to walk around Bridgetown some. How long until you leave? Make sure you take some photos…”

Initially I thought she was ramping up an island sales pitch of some sort, but no: Connie Francis-Barrow was genuinely interested in conversation while she kept an eye on her tall, thin husband, grown kids and family frolicking.

I learned she had spent six weeks in Venezuela years ago to learn to be a swim teacher and was planning a trip to Panama in a month. “Just to go somewhere different,” she explained. When this smiling mermaid of an ambassador for Barbados finally got out of the water, she poured a big, two-liter Sprite bottle of full of water over her head to wash off the salty sea.

She then put on a bright yellow cover-up outfit before she left. “It is one of the colors of our national flag. We celebrate Independence Day next Friday so I usually wear some of the flag colors throughout November,” she sweetly explained. 

Room with a view aboard the Oceania Vista.
Room with a view aboard the Oceania Vista. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

The Friendliest Destination?

I swam out deeper after Connie left where I was greeted by Geneva, who said was paddling to look for her daughter’s swim class, so we dogpaddled together for a while. “Connie was my swim teacher long ago when I was 12-years-old, and I am 48 now. She is older than she looks,” Geneva laughed.

“You do not look your age, either,” I told her

“I get that a lot.”

“Do you mind all these tourists coming into your country?”

“No. We are all really the same, so…When Geneva told me she was a banker, I joked her name was appropriate since Geneva is full of Swiss bankers. Either she smiled at my painful joke – or was just squinting in the sun – and I told her I was not smart enough to be a banker.

“Everyone is smart in their own way. You probably have abilities that I do not. I happen to be good with numbers and organized.”

“Is everyone in Barbados so friendly?”

“That is what the surveys of people who visit Barbados indicate,” said Geneva with modest pride, “that everyone was so friendly.”

Read more of Michael Patrick’s work at The Travel Tattler and contact him at [email protected] Order his book Travel Tattler – Less Than Torrid Tales at https://amzn.to/3Qm9FjN 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *