My first ocean voyage was aboard one of Uncle Sam’s luxurious yachts, a wallowing troop ship that hauled me from a raging snowstorm in New York to the balmy breezes of Panama.
We stopped at Puerto Rico and pre-Castro Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, and along the way, I fell in love with the tropics. That love affair has never faded, and I’ve been back to the Caribbean many times; the last time was a few weeks ago on a gleaming cruise ship offering practically every delight known to seafaring pleasure-seekers.
By day my fellow passengers on the Celebrity Silhouette splashed in the pool, played volleyball, got acquainted in the hot tubs, slathered themselves with oil, risked skin cancer, and downed drinks with odd names and festooned with tiny umbrellas.
Below decks a virtual shopping mall awaited, one day featuring a sale of more watches than you could find on all of State Street. To buy, you need not dig greenbacks from your wallet. You just painlessly handed over your all-purpose ship’s ID card. At cruise’s end, bingo! All on your credit card. (Sue bought a watch and weeks later it’s still running.)
At night, you could retire to the elegant dining room, where an army of servers awaited your commands. You’d like two portions of that wonderful appetizer? It shall be done. Steak not right? Back it goes.
Instead of signing up for one of the two time-certain servings, Sue and I opted for the come-anytime balcony above the main room, where early birds could gaze down on the lowly timetable diners. We loitered at our leisure and never scored a look down table. If, heaven forbid, one ever got hungry, there was the 24-hour café, the best I’ve ever found on a ship, offering a wide assortment of dishes and all the ice cream you could eat. My favorite late-night dish: spaghetti bolognese.
Sue and I opted for a “veranda” stateroom back on the fantail, featuring a balcony that although we couldn’t see where the ship was headed, we had a 180-degree panoramic view of where we’d been. We were peacefully far from the hustle-bustle and made it a point to have breakfast delivered daily. We relaxed with coffee on the veranda, watching the blue Caribbean roll by.
Then, if we weren’t headed ashore, Sue found peace and quiet in the magnificent library, lost in her P.D. James mystery.
(We took a fancy to the fantail life and have already booked a room on the May 10 Holland America cruise to Alaska. Join us if you want.)
Some passengers who boast countless cruises are more interested in embarking on the latest and greatest new ship, its wonders to behold, rather than what ports the vessel might visit. After all, they’ve seen it all.
First stop after sailing from Ft. Lauderdale: the Mexican island of Cozumel, where it rained. While other passengers headed out on all manner of wet adventures, we found a tiny taco stand and drank Sol beer and talked to the locals and crew while rain pitter-patted on the roof.
The sun was glorious for the rest of the cruise. In Jamaica, we bargained for a taxi ride to the Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort and got a quick seminar on Jamaican culture from the driver. We’d previously arranged to visit Sandals, a gorgeous, low-key resort featuring its own mini-island a short boat ride away. There you can laze in the sun, swim in the pool, and munch a barbecue lunch in the shade. There’s even a secluded clothing-optional beach, but we didn’t peek. I’m told there are plans for overnight accommodations.
Back at the main resort, I sat in on a lesson about how to prepare jerk chicken.
On Grand Cayman we had a chance to kiss dolphins, swim with (harmless) stingrays at Stingray City, and visit the turtle farm. Instead, we hopped a taxi to the beach for lunch. Two spots are side by side–one free but a bit gritty, the other requiring a hefty admission price. We went cheap and ordered beer and jerk chicken. The bathroom was not of Ritz-Carlton caliber. Next time if there is one we might opt to pay the price next door.
The fourth port of call was the privately leased beach at Labadee, Haiti, a well-organized peninsula where you can stretch out on lounges, browse at a few shops, and enjoy a full barbecue served by the ship’s crew.
Back at Ft. Lauderdale, we had so much time before catching a plane home that we took a tour to the Everglades, where birds fluttered and a curious alligator swam out to investigate our small boat.
The Ft. Lauderdale Airport is totally unprepared to handle the masses of cruise ship passengers arriving each weekend, and has got to be rated one of the worst in the world, even among third-world countries. And beware of U.S. Airways, also of third-world quality.
(But everlasting thanks to my Santa Barbara dentist, who answered my weekend pre-cruise night call from Ft. Lauderdale and phoned in toothache meds from his home to a pharmacy next to our hotel. The molar was soothed and the cruise saved.)