“I feel we are all islands in a common sea.” — Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Blue ocean waters and white sands have always fascinated me, even though I grew up in a small town in the Midwest on the banks of the Ohio River. My family vacationed in various parts of Florida most of my growing up years and during college, I spent two summers working in seafood restaurants near the beach.
I’ve since put my toes in the sand on nearly 50 islands, islets, and coastal destinations in the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, South America and the South Pacific, and my wanderlust for islands continues.
I’m looking back at some of the islands I’ve visited since 1990, when I spent a week at an all-inclusive in Jamaica, my very first island destination. It’s where I snorkeled for the first time, which led to becoming certified to scuba dive in 1992. That fed my passion for continuing to visit islands where I could explore the underwater world as well as the islands themselves.
After that first Jamaica trip, other Caribbean island trips in the 1990s followed — to Providenciales, one of eight inhabited islands in the Turks and Caicos; San Salvador, one of 30 inhabited islands in the Bahamas; Grand Cayman, largest of the Cayman Islands; Bonaire, the “B” in the “ABC” islands of the former Netherlands Antilles; St. Croix, one of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, and St. Lucia, West Indies, in the eastern Caribbean.
After the turn of our new century, the 2000s, my island travels continued with a bit of a difference. Life changes happened— a divorce—but I was not about to let that put a damper on my tropical travels! I booked a singles cruise aboard Windjammer Barefoot Cruises’ three-masted sailing ship, Yankee Clipper, in 2002, which allowed me to experience another part of the Caribbean. The cruise began and ended in Grenada, at the southern end of the Grenadines island chain. Our ship dropped anchor near Carriacou, and several other islands — Mayreau, Union Island, Bequia, and St. Vincent.
The following year, Windjammer offered another singles cruise on the four-masted schooner, Polynesia, which left from the Dutch side of the dual nation island of St. Maarten/St. Martin. (I stayed on St. Martin—the French side—after the cruise.) We sailed to St. Barth’s, St. Kitts, Nevis, and back to Anguilla before disembarking in St. Maarten.
Windjammer filed bankruptcy at the end of 2007, but a couple of its ships were later purchased and continue to sail under new names. On those two cruises, I fell in love with small ship cruising and have since returned to several of the islands.
By the end of 2004, I’d met my future husband, who at my encouragement also became scuba certified. We took our first tropical trip together to Palm Island, a private island resort in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
We honeymooned at an all-inclusive in Cozumel, Mexico, in 2006, and continued to vacation on the islands of Tortola, British Virgin Islands, in 2007; Curacao (another of the ABC islands in the Netherlands Antilles) in 2008, and Nevis, sister island to St. Kitts in the West Indies in 2009.
In 2009, I brought my two decades of experience with island travel to the Internet, authoring a tropical travel column for a now-defunct site, Examiner.com. I wrote about hotels and islands where The Bachelor and Bachelorette had stayed on the ABC television reality shows, among other things. That led to my being invited on a press trip to Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora in 2010, to “follow in the footsteps of the Bachelorette,” which had just ended its season there.
After successfully pitching the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram on the idea, I was accepted as a participant, and so began a decade of tropical travels to destinations I had only dreamed of visiting.
The following year, I traveled to several new Caribbean islands and revisited two, which were included on the itinerary of a Star Clippers Caribbean cruise, embarking from Barbados. They included St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, Martinique, Iles des Saintes and St. Kitts.
In October, I was able to travel to the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific, again on a quest to follow in the footsteps of the Bachelorette. My press group and I were able to stay on three different islands in the chain, including Viti Levu and Venua Levu, ending on Vomo, a private island resort in the Mamanucas chain, where the Bachelorette TV show ended its season. Of note: Several recent seasons of Survivor have been filmed in the Mamanucas.
2012~The Most Traveled Year
2012 was undoubtedly my most traveled year yet. Even now, it’s mind-boggling as I look back on it all.
I began the year with a trip to Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys in January where I was able to interact with bottlenose dolphins at the on-site Dolphin Connection.
In early May, I was the only American among a group of international bloggers to be invited to Tenerife, largest of the Canary Islands. The Spanish archipelago is located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of mainland Morocco.
In June, I was invited to Riviera Maya, Mexico, to explore the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba during the time of the Summer solstice. It was the year the Mayan calendar ended and when the Mayans predicted the world would end. Thankfully for all of us, it didn’t!
In August, I experienced more “pinch-me” moments on a trip to the Galapagos Islands, which are a part of Ecuador, located about 600 miles off its coast in the Pacific Ocean. I joined other travel writers on a 20-passenger Ecoventura yacht to photograph and walk among endemic species I never thought I’d be able to see in real life. Blue-footed booby birds, Sally Lightfoot crabs, Galapagos sea lions and land tortoises…it was National Geographic come to life!
The following month, my husband accompanied me to Kauai, the Garden Isle, in the Hawaiian Islands, for a romance-themed press trip. What a fabulous year!
2013- Year of the Caribbean
The year 2013 included travels to white sand beachy destinations—Anguilla (near St. Maarten), Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, and Tobago, part of the dual island nation of Trinidad and Tobago—and two others dominated by volcanic, black sand beaches—Dominica and Trinidad.
Both are major nesting sites for leatherback turtles. On Trinidad, I was able to observe a large leatherback deposit her eggs in the sand before returning to the sea.
2014~USVI and The Med
My first trip in 2014 was to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, known as a scuba diving destination. I was able to join other divers on boat, shore and night dives. What a heavenly assignment!
Later that year, my husband joined me for a Star Clippers cruise in the Mediterranean. We sailed from Mallorca, one of Spain’s Balearic Islands, then onto Menorca, Corsica, Saint Tropez and Monaco.
2015-Mexico, Grenada, and the West Indies
I traveled to Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, for the first time in May, then spent a week in June on what I’ve often called my favorite Caribbean island — Nevis, West Indies. Photographing green vervet monkeys on the golf course of Four Seasons Nevis was one of many highlights.
I welcomed the opportunity to join other divers in Grenada in July, where we explored an Underwater Sculpture Park, an underwater art installation listed as one of the Top 25 Wonders of the World by National Geographic. Less than a month later, I was able to dive the Cancun Underwater Sculpture Park, one of the largest and most ambitious underwater artificial art attractions in the world.
I also swam with whale sharks off the coast of Cancun in the Yucatan Peninsula. Another bucket list experience!
2016~Florida, Greek Islands and the Grenadines
My husband and I traveled by car from Indiana to Sanibel Island, Florida, in January. I had long wanted to visit Sanibel, which is known for its world class shelling, thanks to its unique east/west geographic location. That allows it to become a perfect “catch basin” for more than 250 types of seashells.
A Windstar Greek Isles cruise in June brought us to the shores of Mykonos, Santorini, Patmos, and several other ports along our Aegean Sea route from Athens. Beaches took a back seat on this trip, however, as we immersed ourselves in the ancient history that surrounded us.
In July, a road trip through the Florida Keys, from Key West to Key Largo, brought new adventures, including being able to dive while attending an Underwater Music Festival on Looe Key Reef.
I knew my home state of Indiana had beaches and we got a first-hand look in August. Lake Michigan on Indiana’s northern coastline fronts more than 15,000 acres of Indiana Dunes territory, covering the Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Petit St. Vincent, a private island resort in the Grenadines was the ideal place to escape the chaos during the 2016 presidential election. We voted via absentee ballot and were happy to be snorkeling with the turtles in the Tobago Cays on Election Day. It’s as close to idyllic as an island destination can get. I’m ready to book a return trip!
2107~Outer Banks and French Polynesia
North Carolina’s southern Outer Banks, often referred to as the Crystal Coast, was a U.S. coastal destination I had never explored before my trip in May 2017. Wide beaches and wild horses await visitors to Cape Lookout National Seashore, covering more than 50 miles on three undeveloped barrier islands off its central shore.
May I say “bucket list” and “dream come true” again? Ever since my first press trip to Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora in 2010, I had always wanted to return to French Polynesia with my husband. A 10-day Windstar Tahiti-Tuamotus cruise was the perfect solution to a seven-year longing, and it even included staying in an overwater bungalow during the ship’s overnight stop in Bora Bora.
Bonaire, formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles and now an independent nation, is known as a scuba diver’s paradise. It was one of my early dive destinations after becoming certified in 1992. I finally returned with my husband in August 2018. When our faces were not underwater, there were beautiful beaches, flamingos, and even a donkey sanctuary to keep us entertained.
2019~Return to the Florida Keys
The only tropical destination I visited in 2019 was Hawks Cay Resort, following its reopening after sustaining serious damage from Hurricane Irma in September 2017. It covers 60 acres at Duck Key in the Florida Keys.
Looking back: both nostalgic and healing
Reviewing this retrospective of my island travels at a time when travel is forbidden due to the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic has been strangely healing. It’s been, at times, nostalgic, as I’ve reviewed photographs and brought memories to the forefront that made me realize how very blessed I have been.
Even if I never get to leave my footprints on another sandy beach, I have filled my senses with the colors, tastes, and smells of this beautiful world beyond the wildest dreams of a little girl growing up in southern Indiana, far away from the tropics.
We are now just beginning to emerge from a time when we have, at times, felt like we’ve been on a deserted island, separated from the people we love and the activities we enjoy.
But, to paraphrase William James, we truly are “like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”
Let’s stay connected in any way we can, deeply, even when distance separates us.
” No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” — John Donne