I was super-excited to be visiting Virgin Gorda for our Disney Cruise Line (DCL) “Port Adventure” during our day on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). One of the primary reasons I booked an Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Disney Fantasy was to have the opportunity to visit the Baths, a very unique destination in the world. The Baths are located on Virgin Gorda, which is another island that comprises the BVI.
But, there was a serious possibility that we would not be able to visit the Baths. Why? The BVI suffered immense damage as a result of back-to-back hurricanes in 2017 (Hurricanes Irma and Maria). In fact, damage was so bad and recovery was taking so long, that DCL did not send the Fantasy there for a very long time. How long? Well, our voyage was the FIRST cruise ship (of any cruise line) to visit the islands SINCE the hurricanes hit almost a year prior.
Before our cruise, I was pretty nervous about the prospect of DCL substituting St. Maarten as a port of call, since this is what they had been doing to avoid going to BVI. When I learned before the cruise that we would be the first cruise passengers back to BVI, I was ecstatic (and relieved)!
We had two days at sea prior to our stop at Tortola. During those two days, we received two different hand-outs in our cabin, which each discuss/preview the Port Adventure:
Don’t be freaked out by all the “warnings” (at least that’s how I perceived them). OK, so, I admit it: I initially was worried about a few things regarding this excursion: (1) could my six-year-old son deal with climbing over/under rocks and wading through potentially waste-high (or higher?) water in the sea caves, (2) could my husband deal with climbing over/under rocks and wading through potentially waste-high (or higher?) water in the sea caves?
I did a TON of research about the Baths prior to booking this Port Adventure. Really, it all ended up being no big deal. You’ll see from the photos below, but it wasn’t as hard to get through the boulders of the sea caves/grottoes as I thought it would be. It was just a little bit of a challenge, but nothing a person in normal physical condition couldn’t handle. You don’t have to be really fit – maybe just a little agile. It’s to your advantage to be smaller so that you can bend down – my son was lucky! I am 5’4”, and my hubby is 5’10”. We each had backpacks that we wore throughout the maze of boulders (some of which we had to duck under), but we really had no problem whatsoever and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Here is how the Port Adventure went for us…we met with our tour group at the Enchanted Garden restaurant. The excursion started bright and early at 7:45am. We grabbed only a few towels (I didn’t want to carry much through the sea caves/grottoes) and then headed off the boat with the group. We were led down our ship’s pier to another pier, where a fairly large passenger ferry-like boat was waiting.
Here’s a view of our queue next to the Fantasy. You can see the boat further down the pier (it’s white):
The boat had three decks. We chose to go up to the second deck and sit outside at the back – overall, a good idea.
Here are a few photos of our boat, including a view of where we sat at the back:
We liked sitting outside because we got some nice sea breezes. Although the outdoor seats weren’t cushioned, we still were comfortable. The indoors seats were cushioned and comfier, though. There also was AC indoors; however, I don’t recommend sitting indoors on the first floor. I know that some folks started feeling a little seasick due to some movement of the boat as it sped fast through some waves and other boats’ wakes. If you absolutely have to sit indoors, trying doing so on the second floor, where you are higher up and more above the waterline (and less likely to puke!).
Here is a view of the Fantasy from the pier of our boat:
And, here is a view of the ship as we sailed by:
You can see our boat’s wake here, as we head even further away from the Fantasy:
Bye-bye, Fantasy! (with a great view of Tortola)
The boat ride to Virgin Gorda took 30-40 minutes (I wasn’t keeping track). We saw some large villas along the Sir Francis Drake Channel, which we were navigating:
Upon arrival at Virgin Gorda, we saw the open air “safari” taxi buses, waiting to greet us and whisk us away:
Note that there are no seat belts on these things (let alone doors)! So, make sure the kiddos are in the middle between two adults. This is the norm for group transportation in the Virgin Islands (both BVI and USVI).
Our first stop during our Virgin Gorda tour was an overlook of Savannah Bay:
We stayed at the overlook for about 10 minutes to take photos, and then we all boarded our safari taxi buses to caravan over to the Baths National Park. I think there were five taxis with about ten or more people in each of them.
In driving towards the Baths, it was very evident that Virgin Gorda was hit very hard by the hurricanes. Even though the destruction occurred almost a year ago, it looked like it had hit only a few months prior. There were a ton of buildings without roofs and debris all over the place. In addition, we saw a lot of construction materials and rebuilding activity, but many places had a loooooong way to go to be even close to inhabitable. We also sometimes smelled raw sewage during the drive and saw tons of downed palm trees (or trees/foliage that looked wrangled/mutilated). It was very sobering to see the how devastating strong hurricanes could be to such a small island.
It was hard to take photos while the taxi was moving, but here are some pics showing some of what we saw…first, here was a common scene – lots of building materials in vacant lots:
The entire second story of this house is missing:
Palm trees that were annihilated, piles of debris, and damaged vehicles:
Damaged roof and lots of debris:
Building supplies, dumpster, and a vacant lot with debris (and an almost ironic “no littering” sign):
After passing through Spanish Town and driving up a winding road, we arrived at the Top of the Baths, which is a restaurant and gift shop with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and surrounding islands. It sits right at the entrance of the Baths National Park, our destination.
Here is the Top of the Baths restaurant (which we had no time to visit):
To get to the beach area, where the famous boulders are, we had to trek down (for about 20 minutes) down a tricky trail. I say “tricky” because you need to watch where you are going. It’s easy to trip if you’re not paying attention. The trek wasn’t too hard to do, but I had to hold my son’s hand the entire time to make sure that he did not fall.
Here are some photos of the trail, which had some gorgeous cactus and giant boulders along the way:
At the end of the trail, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of Devil’s Bay Beach:
As you can see, there already were quite a few people already there. The majority of the folks were from our tour group. The beach area is small and quickly can fill up. We didn’t mind it so much, but I could imagine it being unbearable if more than one cruise ship were in town and multiple tour groups descended upon the beach.
The boulders to the right are what you need to traverse to get to the sea caves and to the other side of the Baths. From there, you climb up another trail to get back to the Top of the Baths and the area where the safari taxes are waiting.
Here’s another view of Devil’s Bay:
Now, on to the sea caves! But, before we get there, let me explain how I prepared for this part of the excursion: I initially was worried that we wouldn’t be able to make it through the caves, given the uneven terrain and the potential for deep water (and my son not being a very good swimmer). First, I made sure that we had proper footwear – each of us either wore water shoes or waterproof sandals (NOT flip flops) with good traction. Second, I made sure that I had all my electronics (e.g., nice camera, phones) sealed up in Ziploc bags inside of a high-quality waterproof backpack. I actually kept my iPhone out so that I could take photos along the way. I knew I always could pop it into my backpack if the water was too high or if I needed both hands to maneuver/climb through the caves.
I actually overprepared! My fears of high water and a difficult time traversing the sea caves did not materialize – whew! I easily maneuvered one-handed with my phone and also holding my son’s hand. We had to crouch down a few times and certainly had to wade through water, but the deepest water came to my son’s waistline (maybe halfway up my thighs).
Here are some photos of what we experienced in crossing through the sea caves to get to the other side of the Baths:
And, last but not least, here we are at the end of the 20+ minute hike through the caves, in a very special “room” called the Cathedral:
We were some of the first ones to go through the caves, which meant we were the first ones to arrive at the other side of the Baths. So, we had this beach/swimming area to ourselves for a little bit:
And, of course, the water was absolutely crystal clear and incredible:
There were lots of opportunities to snorkel, and there a lot of fish swimming around. We even saw little Dories (blue tangs) near us!
Unfortunately, we did not have too much time left to enjoy this paradise, even though the description of the tour on Disney Cruise Line’s website said we would have three hours at the beach. We only had about thirty minutes or so at the second part of the beach, and we probably were only at the first part for twenty minutes (then, there was the twenty minutes to get through the sea caves – and we did not even stop long to linger). I originally booked this tour (TT-23) because I wanted to allow enough time for us to get back to the ship and get ready for Pirates Night. Although we did arrive back for a late lunch (around 1pm), in retrospect, I would book TT-04 (A Day at the Baths), if I ever were to return. Based on my discussion with the on-shore Concierge folks, that tour is exactly the same as TT-23, but it includes lunch at Top of the Baths and returns later (after 3pm). So, there is more time to enjoy the Baths at a more leisurely pace on this excursion.
Overall, we were really glad that we were able to experience such a unique place and to help the BVI economy. We would return to the Baths in a heartbeat!
This post may also be viewed on the Disney Cruise Mom Blog.