To cruise or not to cruise? People generally either love cruising or hate it. It’s truly it’s own animal when it comes to taking a vacation. While embarking on a seaward journey, you will almost always hear someone say, “It’s my first cruise and my last,” or on the flip side, “My next cruise starts the day after I get back from this one,” the latter statement being made by someone who would likely be called a career cruiser. Particularly, with all the negative news in the cruising world lately, such as onboard ship fires and stranded cruise liners, it’s no surprise that some people may be turned away from heading out to sea.
But there are still a lot of people who keep cruising, so what’s the attraction? Is it the unlimited buffets, the Vegas style entertainment, carefree partying and gambling, meeting new people or the ports and excursions? For me it’s being forced to turn off the cell phone, step away from the chaos, take a good look out to sea and remember how much I cherish such an impressive body of water, the ocean. Even more so, no matter where you go, cruising provides an opportunity to get a taste of places you may not otherwise have an opportunity to go or think about going to at all. Although you won’t be able to see everything in one day at port, cruising is a great way to try a place out like enjoying an appetizer. You won’t get an in-depth examination of a particular locale, but you will be able to say, “Hey, I’d like to take my next vacation here.”
Last week, instead of stepping outside the city to hit the open road, we stepped out to sea and discovered just a few of the amazing places hidden away in the Caribbean.
Day 1 – Miami, FL
Departing from Miami, the cruise was not exactly off to the best start as the clouds stubbornly built up over the city skyline. It was humid and warm, and as the Carnival Victory slowly made its way out through the port canal, the wind-blown rain-swept across the open-air decks of the ship. As we passed by Miami Beach, iconic for its art deco theme, only a few dark specks of people were visibly dotted along the popular beach. Since the forecast called for thunderstorms all week, we weren’t exactly too optimistic about the weather to come, but we quickly settled into the cruising routine by checking out the welcome aboard shows, entering an onboard spa raffle and dining on seafood and warm chocolate melting cake. As cruising also provides an opportunity to meet new people, especially during formal dining times, we met a great couple from Utah, who we spent the rest of the week with swapping stories of the day’s adventures at dinner.
After purchasing our passes, we wound our way through the grounds towards the locker rental kiosk while catching glimpses of turtles, stingrays and hammerhead sharks swimming in multiple pools around the park.
After a short wait to rent a locker, we hopped into the lazy river and awaited each surprise along the mile-long river journey. First up were the river rapids, then massive rolling waves, leading to the Power Tower, a selection of tube slides, all the while traveling in and out of sculpted caves. After a few trips around the entire lazy river, we headed over to the famous Leap of Faith, a near vertical drop slide plunging into a shark pool.
It’s a good thing I didn’t actually see the slide before we climbed the temple to wait in line, because I’m pretty confident I would have never overcome the sickening feeling of fear that quickly set in. As we approached the top of the temple, screams occasionally echoed from inside the slide tunnel. Finally, after anxiously waiting, it was my turn to brave the unknown. As I pushed off and quickly descended, the amount of velocity and force pressed against me made it impossible to scream. The only sound I could muster was a few short grunts and then within 10 seconds it was over. Although a sure rush for the adrenaline junky, it was not short of a gut-wrenching experience. Satisfied with my one trip down the Leap of Faith, we tried out some of the other adjacent slides and spent the remainder of our time checking out the resort’s beaches and the Dig.
(The second best part of the day was when we discovered that my credit card had been thrown into the trash and my traveling buddy proceeded to dig through seven-layer nacho dip to find it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of that perfect photo op, but luckily, a kind lady working at Atlantis grabbed some gloves and took over after explaining that it was her job to dig through the trash.)
At cove beach, the turquoise water sprayed over the rocky barriers jutting out into the cove to protect the waves from crashing into the pristine greenish-blue bay.
A little more vulnerable, Atlantis Beach sprawled out in an off-white semi-circle into the distance. A lone concrete staircase to the sky sat oddly off to the side.
Day 3 – Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Short but sweet; the next day was filled with incredibly soft white powder sand and electric blue water. We were eager for a day at the beach as we tendered over to Carnival’s private island, Half Moon Cay. After I did a short stint of beach yoga, we lounged around on floating mats on the crystal blue water baking in the sun. A mix of calypso, reggae, and hip hop music streamed from the shoreline. Later on, we munched on hamburgers and hot dogs catered by the cruise line staff.
The island, itself, consists only of a small cluster of buildings constructed solely for cruise passengers. The island’s permanent population equates to a whopping 12 people or so. But the owners of the island did a nice job of creating the ambience of an island getaway with brightly colored bungalows, a pirate ship and traditional island signs. The only downside was the mass assembly of cruise passengers strung along the beach.
At the end of the day, the line to tender back to the boat was long, the temperature was HOT and our skin was crispy, but it was a relished day of relaxing on a beautiful island oasis.
Shortly after the rain stopped, we met our bus driver to shuttle us to a power snorkeling excursion where the sea floor drops from about 25 ft to 7000 ft. As we traveled through the main part of Grand Turk, a mixture of wildlife roamed throughout the island. Partially built and dilapidated buildings lined the coastline, serving as perfect frames for the ocean view. In the center of the island, local birds gathered in several salt ponds that sat stagnant.
When we arrived at the starting point for the snorkeling excursion, another pristine beach awaited. Looking out towards the 7000 ft drop, also known as the Wall, the shades of light greenish-blue water slowly changed to a dark blue. While snorkeling a friendly barracuda followed the group’s every move as we inspected several schools of fish and other sea life. Approaching the wall, it was easy to imagine that a sea creature would rise out of the depths of darkness.
After snorkeling for a couple of hours, we were shuttled back to the cruise terminal. We ended the day on Grand Turk with a frozen Miami Vice and the dancing renditions of fellow cruise passengers to Baby Got Back at Margaritaville. As we sailed away, the colorful palette of Grand Turk’s adjacent seawater slowly faded to a dark blue.
Day 5 – Sea Day