Once upon a time, the islands of the Caribbean were filled with dread pirates who drank rum by day and pillaged villages at night.
Now the islands of the Caribbean are filled with tourists who tan by day and drink rum at night.
In all seriousness, rum is a huge industry for the small island nations that make up the Caribbean. Nearly every island has its own rums, sourced from sugar cane, the king crop of colonial times. Some are as smooth and sweet as fine brandy, while others can best be described as firewater. How to navigate all these expressions and terroirs?
On a recent whirlwind visit to several islands to tour distilleries, there were car or scooter rentals to negotiate and twisting mountain roads to navigate before happening upon the destination. Best to leave the legwork to an expert.
That's why Robert Burr, the director of the annual Rum Renaissance Festival and authority on all things rum, has organized a rum cruise throughout the Caribbean.
The cruise, which will depart Puerto Rico November 22, traverses the deep Caribbean with stops at ports in the British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Martinique, and Barbados. The seven-day voyage aboard Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas will also feature tons of rum-related activities, such as rum seminars, tasting events, excursions to rum distilleries, and shopping -- for rum.
The rum guru tells Short Order he chose that particular ship for its unique ports of call. "This is the best itinerary because it starts and ends in Puerto Rico, so bringing back rum is easy with U.S. Customs off the cruise ship in San Juan. We're also visiting Martinique and Barbados, two of rum's high holy lands. It's hard to find a cruise-ship itinerary that visits both."
Burr has also organized various activities and shore excursions not likely found on the average cruise. Instead of partaking of the usual sunset cruise, island tour, or Jet Ski rental, rummies can visit the Don Q welcome center in Puerto Rico, Foursquare Distillery, the Mount Gay welcome center, and St. Nicholas Abbey in Barbados. They can also take a special VIP tour of Casa Bacardi in Puerto Rico, as well as with tours of St. Nicholas Abbey, Martinique Rhum, the Guvaberry Rum Shop in St. Maarten, and Brinly's Gold Rum Shop in St. Kitts.
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Cruise rates start at $1,336.56 for two people in an inside stateroom. The rate includes taxes, but land excursions are additional. Burr notes what a good value this trip is for lovers of rum who need a getaway. "It's so cheap. It's almost ridiculous. The food is good on the ship, the amenities are good, and you have no worries. We have drivers to take us to the distilleries and tasting centers. The land tours are optional. If you feel like sitting it out one or two days, no problem. You only pay for the land tours you want to enjoy.