What can you say about 6 days at sea? We were a bit concerned that this part of the trip would be pretty boring. After all, there isn’t THAT much to do on board ship, especially after we had been spoiled seeing all of the magnificent sites in Europe. We were picturing rough seas, and cold temperatures (Titanic, anyone?), but we couldn’t have been more wrong. We had smooth sailing and warm weather then entire crossing. Apparently, we were quite lucky; most crossings are rough, and have cooler weather. We lucked out!
We were surprised by how many Europeans there were on board. There were only about 200 Americans on board, 700+ Brits, and many, many Germans. The age group skewed to the retired set, though there were a handful of families with small children. Rick and Tina were still on board, as were several couples that we had been on excursions with through our Cruise Critic roll call. We made a few new friends as well. It is funny how on a cruise ship, when there are over 2000 passengers, that you tend to run into the same people over and over again. I have noticed this on all of the cruises I have been on (13 and counting).
Each day, there are activities that a person can choose to attend if they wish. They range from exercise classes to lectures on a variety of topics. There was a financial “guru” giving talks daily; we went to almost all of his sessions. Other than that, we read, relaxed, talked, walked around, and ate. Not much else! We did go to a couple of shows, including a hypnotist show. I volunteered to be part of the group that was hypnotized. I had been hypnotized before, as part of a show in Vegas, so was familiar with the routine. Nadeen, the hypnotist, had a large group of people up on to the stage, but ended up removing about half because they were not truly “under”, or were not entertaining enough. I am actually not too sure why they were removed, because I was indeed hypnotized! One thing that has surprised me both times I have done this is that you are aware of what is going on around you. I was under the misunderstanding that you were “out” and basically unconscious. Anyhow, it was fun to be up on stage. I am pretty sure I made a fool of myself! But, that’s half the fun!
I also participated in the “Who Wants to be a Gazillionaire” competition on board. I ended up winning a bag full of NCL goodies – mug, t-shirt, pens, beach bag, and other cheapo cruise line stuff.
I had discovered in the first part of the cruise that my picture taking skills needed improvement, so went to a series of photography classes. I learned just enough to realize that part of my problem was the camera I was using (a point and shoot), so decided to buy a DSLR and learn how to use it upon our return home.
Our concerns about being bored with all of the sea days were completely unfounded. We settled nicely into a routine of complete leisure.
After our days at sea, we had 4 stops in the Caribbean: Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Maarten and St. Thomas. To me, the islands of the Caribbean are all very similar. I used to enjoy spending time at the beach when I was younger, but after repeated bouts of skin cancer, no longer feel compelled to work on my carcinoma. Clayton turns lobster red by merely looking at the sun on a hot day, so he isn’t a beachgoer, either. If you are not a beachgoer, or a drinker, or a jewelry shopper, the Caribbean isn’t really going to be your cup of tea! I loved it when I was younger, but not so much now.
Antigua: Hot, hot, hot! 84 degrees at 8 am! When we walked off the ship, the requisite steel drum band was playing. St. Johns is a tiny town, and was within walking distance of the ship. There were lots of market stalls selling all types of tacky trinkets: fringed t-shirts, aloha shirts in bright colors, rasta hats and bags, seashell art, and so on. I didn’t see any unique crafts, so didn’t buy anything.
We found wi-fi at the BeeHive Bar. Not free wi-fi, mind you! You were required to spend $6 on drinks before you were given access to the wi-fi. I had a pina colada; Clayton had a bottle of water; the wi-fi was painfully slow, and I couldn’t even access my email. We gave up and moved on. We decided to go back to the ship for lunch and a nap, and then went back into town to buy a t-shirt for our granddaughter.
St. Kitts: For some reason, I thought we were going to St. Maarten today. Wasn’t I surprised when we got off the ship and the sign said Basseterre! It was essentially the same as Antigua. The one thing that did surprise me was that it was under British rule, so cars had their steering wheels on the right side. To me, Basseterre sounded French. . .There is quite a bit of pirate heritage here, so the souvenirs tended to be pirate-oriented. There were also penis-shaped bongs, and plenty of items with Bob Marley on them.
As we entered the shopping area, a man came up and put a monkey on my head (fortunately, the monkey had on diaper on). He wanted to take pictures of me. Clayton took a couple of pictures, and then the guy wanted me to give him $10. I told him, “No Way!”, but did give him a couple of dollars. Ten dollars for a couple of pictures? Ridiculous!
Again, we went back to the ship for lunch; Clayton stayed on board. I went back to town because I had spied a craft mart, which was supposed to have local crafts for sale. It turned out to be the same tacky trash sold in all of the shops in town, which was very disappointing. As I was walking through, an older shopkeeper flirted with me, “Beautiful women can look for free.” I asked him if he charged others; he responded, “Only if I don’t like their attitude.” Headed back to the ship without buying anything.
St. Maarten: The island of St. Maarten is unique in that half is Dutch, half is French. I had read about Maho Beach online; it is located across the road from the international airport on St. Maarten. You can sit on the beach, and have 747’s taking off and landing right overhead. It sounded like a unique experience, so we shared a taxi with some Cruise Critic friends, including Rick and Tina, and headed out. The airport was quite a distance from the port. We did not see any traffic lights, only traffic circles and yield signs. People would back out of parking places without looking, and all traffic would halt. There is only one road around the island, so it was slow going.
We finally got to the beach, and found a covered spot at the bar with a view of the landing strip. The airfield is fenced; there is a sign warning people to not stand by the fence. Rumor has it that the jet wash is so strong that it can pull your clothes right off! Of course, there were people standing by the fence. . .I had a couple of guavaberry coladas; Clayton had Carib beer. Others in our group were buying beer by the bucketful. We just aren’t big drinkers; to each his own. We had a fun time joking around with Rick and Tina. Turns out that Rick is the master of the corny joke; so is Clayton. The two of them ran through their repertoires while we watched the planes take off and land. I guess the big excitement is when a big jet comes through, which is only a few times a day. There is a sign listing arrivals and departures so people know when to expect them. It was tough to get a good picture of the planes; you just can’t capture the perspective of how very close they are. After a few hours, Clayton had decided he had had enough fun, so we caught a cab back to town. Oddly enough, cab fare is not dependent on how many are in the cab, so on the way to the beach, it cost us $8 per person (and there were 12 in the van); the way home also cost $8 per person, but we were the only ones in the van. Kind of a bum deal for the driver.
St. Thomas: I had to snorkel at least once while in the Caribbean; today was the day. I signed up for an excursion that Nora had set up with a company she had used previously and had been very pleased with (Sunny Liston Tours).
Before leaving the ship, we had to go through passport control, which involved walking through one of the bars on board, and showing them your passport. It was quick and painless since there were so few US citizens on board. I imagine the non-US citizen group took much longer (we were directed to different areas of the ship). Clayton opted to stay on board today.
I met up with Nora and Gary (from California), Carole and Jack (from Florida) and Nacho (from Barcelona) for the tour. Apparently, there was another miscommunication regarding cost (just like in Funchal), so the tour ended up costing $5 more per person than we had planned on. It took 15 minutes of arguing in order to figure this out. Sunny’s brother, Taxi George, was our tour guide for the day. To me, he was a stereotypical Caribbean guy – large, very dark, and sporting a gold tooth. He had a booming, lyrical voice. We loaded up the open air taxi – there were 5 seats, 5 to a seat. George put on some calypso music and started singing along. He sang off-key (flat), and very LOUDLY! It was kind of funny at first.
He dropped us off in Charlotte Amelie for an hour and a half. In my opinion, that was way too long. It was hot and humid, and most of the shops were jewelry shops with very aggressive hawkers out front. I have been to St. Thomas before, but when I was there previously, found more of a variety of shops. I bought some nice linens on a prior visit, but only found one linen shop on the main drag. There was also a flea market in a park area, so I walked through that. I bought a diet coke because I was so hot, but it tasted really nasty. They must use a different type of sweetener than I am used to; I ended up throwing most of it away because it was that bad.
George ended up picking us up 20 minutes late. We were joined by more people that were not part of our original tour, so the taxi was full (25 people). He drove us up a hill to an overlook with some stalls selling trinkets. He stopped there for 15 minutes so that we could buy stuff; a waste of time. I am sure that the trinket sellers were friends of his.
Back to the jeep, driving further up the mountain. He sang the whole time, and had us join in. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! We sang along with the awful music he was playing; each song repeated the same lyrics over and over again. A friend of mine calls that “7-11” music – you sing the same 7 words 11 times. The next stop was at a HUGE souvenir shop (1500 feet above sea level). He tried to talk us all into buying banana daiquiris there (at $10.95 a pop). I looked for tacky souvenirs, but couldn’t find any that really caught my eye.
Our final stop was the beach. He offered to take us to a beach that cost money to access, or to a free beach. Of course, people chose the free one. I asked him if you could snorkel there; he assured me the snorkeling was great. He dropped us off there for a couple of hours. Most of the people in the group headed to the restaurant; Nacho and I headed directly to the beach. Since I am paranoid about getting sunburned, I had bought a rash guard shirt to cover up with, and had brought my own snorkeling mask (I figured I could live without the fins; they would take up too much space in my suitcase). I snorkeled for a bit; the snorkeling was not good. There were a few tropical fish, but the water was a bit murky, and the beach was quite rocky. The water was nice and warm, though, so I enjoyed the experience. One of the other guests said that a hammerhead shark had been seen in the area for several days, but I didn’t spot it.
Taxi George showed up on time to take us back to the ship. He sang ALL the way back; I think it was the same song for the entire drive. When we were being dropped off, one of the Aussies in the group asked George if he would burn him a CD. The guy was being a total smart aleck, but George thought he was being serious, and made arrangements to send him one. Too funny!
Last 2 sea days: It will take two days at sea to reach Port Canaveral. The first day was very rocky; I am still feeling crummy from my cold, so just read all day. The next day we had calmer seas. Today is the day of our horse race. Someone on Cruise Critic set this up. Six people volunteered to bring “horses” and be “jockeys”. Each horse owner/racer also had a bookie to collect bets on their horse. I volunteered to bring a horse, so found a small stuffed pony at Goodwill, and called him “Beast Mode” (one of the most players on the Seahawks). I knit him a little scarf in Seahawk colors, and knit a matching scarf for my bookie (Dickie the bookie from the UK). I also gave out skittles to anyone that bet on Beast Mode (if you know anything about the Seahawks, you will understand). Each horse was assigned a number (1-6). A die was rolled, and if your horse’s number came up, you got to advance one step. First one over the finish line wins. Beast Mode came in dead last, but at least I got a trophy to commemorate the occasion since he was the loser!
We went to a few of the activities today, including the passenger talent show. I guess this particular set of passengers wasn’t particularly talented, since there were very few acts. It is time to head home tomorrow, and we are definitely ready to leave the ship. We packed our bags, but chose not to leave them outside of our cabin. Many cruise lines require you to put your bags out the night before disembarkation, and then you have to find them in a big room, filled with luggage, before going through customs. Fortunately, NCL allows you to walk your own bags off the ship, so we opted to do that. We had arranged for a limo to take us to the airport, which was a nice indulgence. I called the limo company when we were off the ship; the chauffeur arrived within minutes to pick us up and whisk us to the airport. After an uneventful flight home, my daughter picked us up at SeaTac, and took us home.