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A quick stop in Grand Turk

Editor’s note: Erica Silverstein is at sea this week posting about her experiences onboard Carnival’s Fantasy. Follow along from the beginning at the Ship to Shore homepage.

Most people who have been to the Turks and Caicos islands have been to Providenciales. That’s where you’ll find high-rise hotels, resorts, and most of the islands’ tourism industry. Until recently, Grand Turk was the sleepy capital that only government workers and in-the-know divers visited. But then the Carnival corporation decided to turn a bit of beachfront property into a major cruise destination.

The Grand Turk cruise port is on the southern tip of the island, not in Cockburn Town. A deep-water pier can accommodate Carnival’s megaships, so guests don’t need to tender. The pier leads to a large retail complex with shops and stalls selling everything from duty-free goods to T-shirts and fine jewelry. Cruisers booked on shore excursions meet their tour groups in the complex’s main square. Independent travelers can head straight to catch a taxi, or left to hit the beach and Margaritaville’s restaurant and pool.

Since I’m taking the do-it-yourself approach to the islands, I headed for the beach. Rows of lounge chairs line the beach by two roped-off swimming areas. The lounges are free, so I chose one by a shady palm tree. Waiters came by occasionally to take drink orders. After doing a bit of reading, I headed into the water to cool off. The water was quintessential Caribbean: warm, clear, and beautiful shades of blue and green.

From the beach, you can hear the music and goings on of Margaritaville (yes, the infamous Jimmy Buffett restaurant). If you want to avoid the hubbub, you can walk up the beach away from the groomed section and lounge chairs. But my curiosity got the better of me, so mid-morning I commandeered another free lounge chair, this time by the shallow yet large Margaritaville pool. The occupants of the surrounding lounges all were sipping from margarita-by-the-yard tall plastic glasses, and it’s certainly true that it’s always “five o’clock somewhere” in this part of Grand Turk. A DJ was playing dance tunes and leading the tipsy guests in various contests. The one I saw involved women in bikinis competing to do the sexiest dance, occasionally making use of the pool’s handrail as a stripper pole. Although clearly aimed at adults, the games were not necessarily family unfriendly, and the kids in the pool were having a blast.

Water sports are the best shore excursions to do in Grand Turk, as the island is known for fabulous diving and snorkeling. One tour seemed to let guests drive about in dune buggies, which has got to be fun. Independent travelers can take a cab to Cockburn Town and find dive shops to rent them gear. But as most of the tour operators were brought in or set up by Carnival when the cruise terminal was built, you’re unlikely to find independent tour companies offering cheaper alternatives.

On this particular itinerary, the leg between Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay is the longest one we have. Because of that, we had to be back on board by 1:30 p.m. The ship did arrive in port around 7 a.m. so early risers could get a full six hours on the island. But us sleepyheads only got to enjoy Grand Turk for a few hours. The one benefit to the early departure is that you can take advantage of free lunch on the cruise, rather than ponying up for food on the island.

Although the diving is supposedly outstanding, Grand Turk doesn’t seem to have as much to offer as other Caribbean ports with better sightseeing and pretty coral reefs. I enjoyed my relaxing half day, but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to find an itinerary with this island on it.

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