After a few days in the Bahamas, I can tell you this: I would certainly consdier returning to Freeport, I would rather never set foot on Nassau again, and the Great Stirrup Cay is about as close to vacationing inside a snow-globe as you can get. In all, it was a great trip.
An Introduction to cruising
Our original intention was to introduce Gaia to cruising with sort of a light-version of the longer cruises Jenifer and I have been on in the past. This worked fantastically. She had a taster cruise, and seems to, at least at this report, have a flavor for it. She even got to try Snorkeling for the first time and she had a great time of it in a nice, family friendly and relatively safe environment that wasn’t a totally artificial penned in reef. Last night, she wistfully said to me, “Oh, I wish I was snorkeling right now.” And I told her I agreed.
I don’t, in spite of the tone in most of my previous entries, especially loathe the Bahamas. And for the most part, I’d count the Bahamas in general as in the same vein as I counted the cruise in general: An introduction to the Caribbean. Certainly there are places that are nicer. Certainly there are places that are sketchier. As Jeni said in Nassau: “At least we didn’t see a bag of human heads floating anywhere.”
So there’s that. I’m looking at you, Belize.
Family Time. A family vacation.
It is a lot of work to take your family on vacation. A lot of work. Cruising stacks a lot of that work up on the front and back, allowing you to spend most of the time in-between together.
That’s how we approach it anyway. My family and I got to spend time together, doing things we love. Watching shows. Watching Gaia grow and learn. Showing her off to random strangers from all over the world. Defending our Sexy-legs titles.
Gaia has had special (although short) friendships with people from all over the world. Jenifer is amazing at getting to know and showing appreciation for the crusie workers who help us find that family time together. I carry heavy stuff around and freak out and wreck vacation like it was Christmas. This is what we do together. I think it works.
There is no better vacation for family togetherness. I would do it all again. Again. and Again. Maybe without the freak out part. I’m working on that, though.
What didn’t Work:
Miami International Airport:
The Free Wifi in Tapma was a blessing. So were the abundant charge stations and the friendly staff who helped us get good seats together so long as we were patient and kind with them. If your airport isn't making free wifi available, you're not really a public airport.
The Miami airport seems to be full of liars and shouters. And they took turns plying their respective trades, sometimes both at once. Also, I get that the airport is lit to make you feel like you’re in a Caribbean ocean. But the overall effect is to make me feel like I’m underwater and can’t breathe. Someone should have beta tested that.
Byword Dropbox Sync
For as fantastic as it is to have an iPad and the bluetooth keyboard to write on via my favorite software Byword, the Dropbox integration wasn’t so keen in a long-term disconnected environment.
I keep Byword for the iPad synched with Dropbox because I do not get nor do I like the iCloud syncing. The problem is, the way Byword handles new flies in offline mode. It won’t let you rename files when you don’t have a network connection. This makes for quite a bit of annoying file management when I get home. (Was the “Day 2” file named “Untitled One”, “Untiled Two”, “Untlitled One (1)” or "Untitled?)
I ended up writing in Byword, but keeping master copies of the documents in Nocs so I could give them proper filenames.
Not having a computer was freeing and nice. But the iPad doesn’t really meat my backup and redundancy data protection needs without packing a PC or having online access to some degree.
Traveling without Passports:
You don’t need a Passport to go to the Bahamas. But that’s about the only place you can go from the United States these days without one. But without them, you get a lot of hairy eyeballs from people who don’t want to recognize your shitty black and white unofficial looking birth certificate from asshole county Wisconsin.
Back on the Vacation Train.
I have to tell you, I was so happy to get home. And the great apple tree in our backyard was still flowering when we walked out of the garage. I was so happy I hugged it.
We’re already looking at the next adventure.
The stop for today was at the island that the cruise line itself operates, named “Great Stirrup Cay”. I want you to know, I don’t like the idea of actual beautiful land being turned into a commercial enterprise designed to help pad the cruise line’s margins.
See, cruise ships run on pretty thin margins by a room and board standard. They need to cruisers to buy expensive drinks, spend money in the casino, shop on board, and go to the onboard restaurants to make their margins. Taking you to a port of call that has restaurants not affiliated with the curise line means you’re buying expensive drinks and food from someone who is not them, and therefore not padding their margins. Thus, the private island gives passengers access to a beach, but also keeps passengers spending like it was a day at sea. Call me cynical, but it’s business we’re talking about here. They’re not doing this because they love you.
But, the truth is, it’s not only about the margin. Having now experienced the Bahamas, I think there is something else going on here. By taking control of their own island, they’re– yes– padding their margins, but they’re getting to other things that are not as obvious.
- They’re getting control of the experience that cruisers have on shore.
There is a reason the cruise director daily warns cruisers off renting scooters, and it’s not because of money. It’s because people who have no business renting scooters end up renting them, hurting themselves, and then having a shitty time. When that happens, instead of saying, “It was so great to spend time at the beach on Cancun”, these stupid idiots tell their friends, “I went on a cruise and got hurt and had a shitty time.” That’s not good brand management. Neither is “I got mugged in Nassau,” or “I got food poisoning in Belize,” or “The pay-toilets in Playa del Carmen are just nasty.” By having their own private island, they control the entire experience.
- And I think this is the important one: By having their own port that they control completely, they have a bargaining chip to waggle at the other ports of call on their itineraries. A cruise line that owns a private island can tell the Port Authority of Nassau to go fuck themselves the next time they try to raise docking rates. Do not underestimate the significance of this negotiation. Especially if you are Nassau, who is quite dependent on the cruise line’s continued interest in suckling from their tiny little sour teat.
Homogenized Beauty, but beauty none-the-less
But don’t let the business side of things throw you. If you’re going to rail against consumerism, going on a cruise with a line that owns (technically has a 99-year lease) on a private island is merely annoying the pig.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a sandy seaside and some palm trees to sit under, you’ve got an archetypal opportunity to find that here. They do other things on the island, too, yes. Stupid things, like Parasailing and a giant inflatable water slide, but that’s all nonsense. The fact is, Great Stirrup Cay is indistinguishable from the hundreds of other chunks of dead coral that stick out of the ocean across the Bahamas, and that’s ok. It is what it is. Or has been made. Or whatever.
You can probably tell that I am still having a hard time letting go of my apprehension about the necessity of having such an experience. The fact is, without the hundreds of thousands of man-hours and dollars poured into turning these private islands into something habitable, there wouldn’t be enough beach to go around, right? People want beaches, they want to see some fish, and then they want to wander up the hill a little bit a buy a bucket of domestic beer from a man who might not actually have a Jamaican accent.
So the cruise lines are giving that to them. I guess.
But the beauty, part– You’re going to get to the beauty part, right?
Yes. That’s enough of my first world guilt about the island for now. Just know that I’m not terribly comfortable with the whole idea of cultivating an entire landmass for the exclusive purpose of rampant consumerism– but if I think too hard on it, I just get sleepy. So lets talk about fish.
There are fish. We saw fish. Lots of ’em. A stingray. And really neat little urchins and schools of fish, and we dived for rocks. And it was a neat little bay to swim in. Not a ton of coral but there was reef enough to enjoy looking at a pretty complete little aquaculture.
But the beautiful part is this: Drifting through the crystal clear water arm in arm with my six year old and wife, floating around and pointing out fish and rocks and stones. And being chased by a little needle-nosed gar fish that Jeni insists was a water version of Eddie Guapo. Gaia ended up snorkeling around with us for two sessions of about an hour and fifteen minutes each. And she enjoyed it immensely, and her pleasure was my pleasure, and that made it all worth while.
But there were storms looming on the horizon.
Yeah. Storms. With lightening and thunderclaps and screaming idiots rushing to the tenders.
Jeni and Gaia and I saw that the weather was going to get bad, so we returned our rental snorkels and as we did so the pressure shifted and the temperature dropped 8–10 degrees. Everybody looked up and saw the dark clouds looming on the horizon, and it was on.
By the time we gathered up our stuff, the crowd was rushing around packing up stuff and running toward the door. Like maniacs.
Jeni and Gaia and I picked a comfortable spot in one of the covered pavilions and hunkered down for a wait. There is no reason to rush off a privately owned island. I mean, it has a helicopter pad. You could literally be in Miami in 40 minutes if you needed to be. They won’t leave while people are still there. Also, I’d rather be sitting in the pavilion than on the open-topped tender when the clouds break.
This instinct proved to be a good one according to one of my fellow Mr. Sexxy Legs contestants who was on that Tender earlier. He said they shouldn’t have rushed to get on the tender, because he ended up sitting up top, completely exposed to the weather, and being thrown around by the wake and wind.
I, on the other hand, was fairly dry under a pavilion, quietly singing soothing songs of comfort and love to my baby girl who is very, very brave, but nonetheless, afraid of lightening.
As the storm came in, I counted the time between thunderclaps to ascertain that it was, indeed coming closer. Eventually the thunderclaps became more distant and the rain slowed down.
But there was a lot of water pooling around the pavilion. Some of the girls, including Gaia, had dug little pools and canals in the sand and it was cute to see how it moved the water around and how excited they were to work the dams.
I did’t see the sinkhole start. I only saw it when it was bout the size of a dinner plate. Suddenly the picnic table behind us, which had been in a pool of about two inches of water, was now sitting over a rapidly growing whirlpool of foamy sand. The water and sand must have found somewhere to run, and suddenly a trickle became a rush, and the next thing anyone knew, the whirlpool threatened to take the picnic table with it. A girl jumped on the table Jeni was sitting on and sunk our table about a foot into the sand.
I can only imagine that keeping the sand on that beach is something of a full-time gig.
Anyway, It was pretty awesome. Eventually we made it back to the ship (on the last tender) and were showered and resting by 5:30 p.m.
Final Night Blues
There is a weird energy about a cruise ship on the final night. I explained it to Jeni sarcastically; ’I’ve spent a lot of money and have tried filling myself with drinking and excess, but yet I still feel empty."
There is also something else:
- By the final night, most of the people are no longer lost and confused. They’ve figured out the rules and how things work, so now they’re slipping into their routine of self-loathing and being above the rules. They’ve run out of polite.
- By the final night, most of the crew is in a pretty good mood because they’ve been through the wringer and have probably had a few hours off earlier that day.
- By the final night, the crew is going out of the way to say, “Well, It’s the final night. Don’t forget!” They do this because you’d be surprised how much they need you to get off the ship on time in the morning.
There is a secret thing about cruising that they don’ tell you in the marketing materials. You know how they tend to count the number of days you’re cruising as a feature. Say you’re going on a five day cruise. The fifth day doesn’t count. Really. You need to get off the ship by 10 a.m. on the fifth day. They don’t serve lunch and most of the services they do offer are bare bones at best. That’s ok. You’re supposed to get the eff off the ship. They have to clean the whole damn ship now, and you pigs have been grinding cigarettes and beef tartar in to the carpets on the forward deck. Pigs.
Also, if you don’t want to carry off all your own luggage, you need to have it packed and out of your room by 1 a.m. the last night. That means you pretty much start mentally disembarking a full day and a half before you’re off the ship.
On my first cruise, I found this disappointing. By my third, I recognized it as the real reason for the final night blues. You’ve already had your last night on the cruise, you just didn’t know it. There’s nothing left for you year but to put all your shit back in your luggage.
Tomorrow., there will be land. And home. And you will feel dizzy most of the day from having acclimated to the rocking of the ship.
And it will have all been worth it.
There are some things that feel dishonest in Nassau.
I don’t know. I hate to poop on a whole island, and specifically the most populous one in the Bahamas, but Nassau, I’m not a fan. Here’s why:
- Shifty. The whole damn town is shifty.
- American Chain Restaurants. They have seven Dunkin’ Doughnuts in Nassau. That’s more than we have in Milwaukee. Seriously.
- It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why I feel this way, but there was this sort of sneering indifference from the retailers and service providers in Nassau. While at the Grand Bahama, I felt genuinely appreciated, in the “retail district” of Nassau, I felt like a mark. Subtle difference, I know, but an important one.
- There was a distinct feeling of pride in Freeport. There was a distinct feeling of distain in Nassau. This couldn’t have been more perfectly illustrated than by the visit to the gated “Governor’s” Mansion, featuring a sculpture of Columbus wherein the driver of the tour bus spat out a venomous, “So there you go. Take pictures of him if you must.”
- I took the picture out of spite.
- Finally, the whole thing ended up with the driver dropping us off about five blocks west of the gated area that you needed to pass through to get back to the cruise ship without nary a mention of that’s where we needed to go or how we should expect to get through there. I mean, I’m pretty good at this kind of stuff, but I’m a little worried about the old woman with the double knee replacement’s chances of getting back to the ship.
- If you are especially boorish and sketchy, you might work as one of those “hair braiders” who linger in darker corners between the glances of the port authority patrols.
- There are buildings with whole courtyards filled with rubble and garbage. I understand the 2004 hurricanes were hard on the locals.
I could keep going but it gets depressing from there, really. There were some minor highlights. There was a fantastic one-eyed cotton tree on one of the corners that I didn’t get a chance to photograph, but if you’re ever in Nassau, you should check it out. It’s up past the underwear store across from the police station. And we paid a guy $1.00 to go up and look around a fort with some fake cannons on it, which made me nostalgic for Puzzle Pirates.
The tour of a rich and famous something something.
One of the features of the approach to the semi-submarine was a tour of the palatial estates of very rich people who don’t really live there except for once a week or something. We saw what the guide (who did the best Snoop Dogg routine of any of the tour guides I’ve ever seen,) told us were the estates of “the guy who owns Smith and Wesson” and “The guy who owns Colt 45.” We also saw estates alleged to belong to Ophra Winfrey and Tom Cruise. And a dock-side cabin that was allegedly smashed in a scene in Thunderball. And Atlantis. Not the one that sunk under the sea, but the boring one.
However, it wasn’t a bad tour. But I do wonder why the tour guides tend to think that we want to hear the tinny reggae music blasting from their ship’s speakers.
Boarding the semi-submarine was way better than I expected. The boat had what looked like a commercial air conditioner welded to one of the top decks. The submarine part was clean and didn’t smell bad. The windows were clean and not distorted or full of crap.
The reef was amazing. Not the most amazing reef I’ve ever seen, but a semi-submarine is a really neat way to see a reef. We saw the largest Lion Fish I’ve ever seen. And a Nurse shark. a couple of them, actually, and we saw a barracuda and a sea turtle. The fish that lived freely on the ocean seemed an entirely different kind of alive than you see in aquariums.
Get me back on the ship. Please.
I feel like the big secret to understanding Bahamas is something like this: The Bahamas, for the most part, is for people who are worried about what their church groups would think if they told them they were going to Jamaica. Maybe I just don’t get the pot-smoking lifestyle, though. Also, I don’t believe for one minute that it really was the tour boat operator’s birthday yesterday. It was funny to see the people scramble when he pretended to see a dolphin, though.
I liked the Bahamas, don’t get me wrong. It’s beautiful and warm and you’re on the ocean, and there’s certainly all kind of great pirate stories. But they have their own Coca-cola plant there, people. It’s hardly off the grid.
Back on the ship.
Jeni took a nap after a late lunch, and Gaia and I spent almost two hours splashing around in the pool. At some point, she cajoled me into entering into the “Mr. Sexy Legs” contest.
While I did not win, I was certainly the crowd favorite, if I may say so myself. Nobody hooted for the other guys, anyway. I announced to the host that my name was “Mr. Sexy Legs 2011” and that I won my title on my last cruise, which was on the ship named the Norwegian Clam. Gaia would repeat this joke for the rest of the trip.
When it was my turn to dance, I did a strange crane/tai chi/samurai form for the judges, who were not impressed by my amazing clowning. Because they were French and I was not Jerry Lewis. Stupid French. Stupid Jerry Lewis. I really wanted to win that contest.
I was given a drink for the effort. It was called a “Dark and Stormy” it was some kind of black label rum and ginger beer over ice. It was pretty good, considering it was a $7.00 cocktail.
We got to watch the sunset from our dinner table. It was strange to see the sun visibly shrink over the horizon. And the green flash. It was amazing moment, and it made me feel very small.
Oh, Christian, you’re too nice
I really liked our server. She really liked Gaia. I filled the form to compliment her, and wrote something like, “Thank you for being the kind of person we hope to inspire our daughter to be.” She told Gaia to always wash her vegetables before she eats them and not to drink too much milk. I’ll let Jeni fill you in personally on why that’s so funny.
Christian also told us that it might rain tomorrow, but if you ever need to help it not to rain, in her home of the Philippines, they practice this little bit of folk magic: Put an egg in water under the table.
“I don’t believe it,” she said, “but do it anyway.”
Wrap up in the tubby
We saw a juggler in the theater, which Gaia loved, had a coffee and walked through the arcade, and then went up and had a soak in the hot tub. Then we went to bed. It was our latest night of all. Almost 10:30 before we were asleep.
Jeni did ask me this before we went to bed: “What are you going to do when we get back home and you can’t have your usual BLT before bed? ”
I don’t know, Jeni. I don’t know.
We woke up kind of late, but by our standards, it was really early. I mean, it wasn’t late. It was 7:45. I don’t know. The ship docs at 8:00 a.m. So, 7:45 was was probably later than we should have gotten up in order to have breakfast in the dining room.
See, as I hinted at yesterday, Jeni and I can’t stand the buffet crowd. I’ll tell you something, cruisers, if you are on a cruise ship and you are treating the experience with the same reverence and awe you have for Shoney’s, you’re doing it wrong. Sorry, but its true.
But I digress. Well, wait, one more: Why do you smoke? You’re surrounded by miles and miles of fresh sea air, and you are sitting at a bar smoking? Really? If you smoke, please stop. You don’t like it. Smoking is for the weak and stupid. You’re not weak and stupid, so please stop smoking. I like you and I want you to live. Asshole.
Ok. So we had breakfast. It came with a glorious plate of bacon shaped like an Angel. And it was pretty good, this heavenly bacon. And it came slow but we got off the ship in plenty of time. Jeni was worried about the time pretty much all day. Because she broke her watch. So we never knew what time it was. That was hard on her. I have never adjusted from the recent time-shift for dailylight savings time, so I have decided I don’t really care what time it is anymore. But getting back on the ship is important. So I’m glad someone cares. Turns out, we all bought watches onboard later. I have a watch now. It’s a Terner. I think that’s french for “extra fancy.”
Freeport, the port.
The Port of Freeport on Grand Bahama, or where they docked the big ship, or whatever, is, according to the tour operator, in the industrial side of town. it would seem that in Freeport there is an almost fanatical devotion to zoning. Which isn’t bad for a country that only earns it’s unconditional freedom in 2068. *(date may be off). I mean, in some countries, it takes more than 200 years to get to a point where zoning decisions outweigh founding principles of human liberty.
Traveling through and around Grand Bahama with this particular guide seem to feature, mostly, information about zoning: “This is where they build the industries. This is where they build the light industries. Here is where they build shopping for the people who live in the island. And this is the gehtto. And here is where you can only build duplexes. And this is the zone where all the churches and not-for-profits go.”
The guide also seemed to relish sharing the occasional tidbit of folly. “Here’s where the governor decided to connect all the properties here with channels, but in so doing he created this massive flood zone, and so nobody here can get flood insurance.”
Also, the 2004 hurricanes were hard on them.
In all, I found Freeport to be one of those kind of sad, broken little islands. It seemed from our 6 hours there to be especially devoid of wildlife, agriculture, or, really, self-sustainability of any kind. It’s probably not surprising, though, since, again, as the tour guide said, “We don’t make anything here. We have to have everything imported.”
Also, the 2004 hurricanes were hard on them.
So that kind of begs the question, I guess. Who where the aboriginal bahamians? Who lived on these islands before Columbus brought over his particular mix of influenza, vanereal disease and self-righteousness? Nobody seems to talk too much about the Lucayans, but that’s probably because Columbus and the spanish were pretty effective in rendering them extinct.
I’m not trying to be a downer, here, but this is important. From what I was able to suss out based, again, on the mostly homogenized version of the stories being told to us by a local who really, really hopes we’ll give him a good tip, they all died. Or were taken into slavery. Or both.
We took an excursion to Lucayan National Park, where there are some caves and a beach, and we expected to be able to kind of run off on our own, which was what happened.
What lives here? I mean besides the fish.
Pro Tip No. 2:When the group of 100 tourists all are shepherded off to walk down to the caves past the bathroom, walk the opposite direction. You’d be surprised at how well this instinct has served me over the years. It did this day, that’s for sure.
Jeni and G. And I took off the opposite of the crowd and walked into the little nature trail that took us toward the beach. It moved along the land which, nearer the center of the island is harsh – mostly dead coral and scrub and the fantastic Caribbean pine.
Oh, the Caribbean Pine. What a fantastic tree! Growing twenty feet tall, like a palm, and blooming into a beautiful firework cascade of piney branches the top, I can only imagine what its like to see the pinecones come falling down to the rough soil beneath them. Maybe the reason we had a hard time finding any pinecones was because when they hit the ground from those heights, they disintegrate.
As we walked along the nature trail, approaching the ocean, the flora thickened as mangrove took over, eventually giving walk to larger tropical plants and more and more mangrove, until up and over an embankment, we come to some of the island’s (according to the sign) largest sand dunes.
And we are suddenly alone on a beautiful Caribbean beachside surrounded by beautiful organic spider castles of tipped over mangrove driftwood.
It was fantastic. And, of course, it couldn’t last. So when the beach started to crowd up, we head back along the circular nature trail – across a very large patch of wetland teaming with fish. I saw our tour guide coming through as we approached him from the beach he was heading toward it, throwing a crumbs of bread over the rail for the fish as he walked down the boardwalk. I can’t an’t help to wonder if he was offering the bread to the fish as a way of thanks or if he was throwing the bread out into the water ahead of the tourists to help embiggen his tip. I like to think both. Both have merit, honest.
As we approached I saw in the Northeast a large bird circling, almost never flapping, and although it at first looked like turkey vulture, it seemed a little small for a buzzard and had a slightly different wing shape than I’m used to seeing. I think it might have been an osprey. I suspect it one of those who watch over the island, and I am also certain that the little lizard that escorted us and then lead us to the caves a few minutes later was too.
And then there were caves.
Following my intuition, and the kind directions of a passing lizard, we found our way to what is called “Burial Cave.” Again spoken by the excursion guide, who told us to call him “Biggie”: “There were some indians left on the islands, and those who didn’t want to go into slavery or get sick and die went over to this cave and lived in there, and so then they all starved to death there.”
I don’t believe that’s the real story, but there you go.
When we got down to the cave we were all alone and amazed. It was a sad, solemn place but amazingly beautiful There were several holes that were begging to be explored. Some from the roof, some from the floor, but the most interesting one was the one that lead back from the back of the walkway that had been built in the cave and disappeared into the black. There was no way to walk there and the caves were full of water, so it was pretty much out of the question.
We went around then to what is called “Dan’s Cave”, so named for the guy who found it. And you can see how these caves would be hidden away from the surface, with mangrove vine climbing over the edges, it would be easy to walk out into the middle of a net of vine and tree.
Dan’s cave resonated on a low hum, so I held the note and listened to it bounce off the walls for a while. Sitting down near the water in the cave, things seemed very still. We paid our respects and moved on.
Eventually it was time to go. We climbed into the coach and were whisked off to a Banana Bay Restaurant along Fortune Bay that is “’”well known for their famous banana bread."
We had agreed to eat light, and there were a ton of people, so we lost some time while the wait staff did its best to manage the throng of people. Then Jeni, Gaia and I went out into the ocean. And swam with pure white and silver barbs. And a few other strange fish. And Gaia collected shells and bits of conch. And I took my pants off in front of people. It would not be the last time on this trip.
The Banana bread was, indeed, quite good. And maybe worthy of the accolades of its fame. I’m pretty sure it was made with a little cinnamon and honey. It was nice to finally get in the ocean though. Very nice.
Back to Freeport.
They have the junk shops that pop up along the ports of cruise ships. they are amazing and sad and amazing to me. The people come out there, sell and hustle their wares. And they work so hard at it. And you have to haggle, which I hate.
Back on the ship
We tucked in early, after lunch and dinner, and my favorite thing happened. They made a towel bunny for and gave him my sunglasses. And Gaia thought it was fantastic. Because it is.
In a lot of ways spending time on a cruise ship is like being stuck at a wedding with a bunch of people you don’t know. Or a bunch of weddings of a bunch of people you don’t know. The best way to handle it? Stay the fuck away from people. They’re not your friends. If you’re in bed by 8:30 p.m., you can leave the mooks to fester in their own vomit on the pool deck bar and it’ll be cleaned up by the time you’re up there again.
Breakfast in Miami
The “Hotel” offered complimentary “continental” breakfast. Which was served with lavish aplomb from gallon-and-a-half jugs. You could choose Vitamin D Milk (4%) or Pulpy Orange Juice from Concentrate. And Bagels. And a bunch of fake hostess doughnuts. And they had some kind of cookie that had peanut butter in it, like a Twix. For breakfast. It wasn’t that bad, actually. For free anyway. “Continental” is code for “No protein.”
Then we hit the town.
I have to tell you, the area around the hotel wasn’t much less sketchy during the day. Jeni put it: “You see this scene in front of us. Urban City in Warm Climate. USA.” And that’s what it is.
I have discovered that it is nearly impossible to blend in to the local surroundings when walking around with Jenifer and Gaia. Jeni shines like the finest, pinkest dainty peach in the sunlight, and Gaia walks around in dumbfounded awe at buildings taller than two stories.
It’s not entirely the girl’s fault though. Its like the guy at the $.99 store said when I told him I was local. “You can’t be local. I know all the locals! The locals are Cuban.”
I can pass for many things, but I will never fool anyone into believing I am Cuban.
Bonus Pro-tip: Don’t forget to turn off the bluetooth on your iPad, or at least turn off Byword when you’re traveling, because otherwise the random keyboard bumps will write beautiful poetry all over your document.
Anyway, we did make our way to a french cafe in the greater downtown area. We never would have found it, nor it’s fantastic artisanal bread, had it not been for Miami’s “Downtown Ambassador” who was a guy in a white shirt that helps people, I guess. Or at least a friendly guy who is confused as to why all these people are asking him fairly basic and simple questions.
Aboard the Norwegian Sea
Anyway, we made it to the cruise ship nice and early and managed to get on board the ship in the second wave of people. The Sea is a small ship. According to one of the bajillion bits of paper they hand you when you board, the Sea has a double occupancy of 2,004 people. It did seem quite a bit smaller than the other ships we’ve been on. On other ships, though, we’ve traveled a lot faster and a lot further.
Note: After doing a bit of research after the fact, turns out the ship was recently rechristened the Sea. Because it was, up until recently, the “Pride of Aloha.” But it doesn’t really matter. It was a nice ship.
Jeni had read that the smart money for people who get onboard early is to keep your swimsuit in your carryon, so you can jump into the pool, because pretty much the pool’s about the only thing going at that point.
Gaia swam and swam and swam and swam. And in-between she ate ice cream. How many ice creams? Five. And Counting.
We grabbed lunch on the buffet, because that is about all that is open for the first lunch. And it is madness. Madness! The buffet is always madness. I’m not sure why someone would eat buffet when there are such great restaurants on board. I mean, really nice people will bring you food at really nice restaurants. It’s amazing. The buffet is just lame. I mean, a lady sprays your hands with disinfectant when you approach the buffet. That should tell you all you need to know.
We watched the ship pull out and then went into our state room and unpacked.
Everything was delicious – it always is. It’s supposed to be. We had a really great waitress named Christen who took very kindly to Gaia. Gaia was exhausted, so she was in need of some special attention, and Christen did her very best.
It occurs to me that many of the workers on the cruise ship have families of their own back in the Philippines or Ireland or India or wherever. It must be very hard to be away from your family while serving a tour on a cruise ship. I don’t know how they do it.
A walk among the stars
There is a lot of light pollution on a cruise ship, so it can be hard to see the stars. But there was even more light pollution coming from the city of Miami. I have no idea how far off Miami we were (not that far, less than 60 miles) but you could see it via the glow in the sky. It was very weird.
After dinner we went out to 12 forward and looked at the stars. But the real star was little G, who took the opportunity to quietly dance in the little stages made by the cleared spaces on the decks.
A dancing, swimming, eating vacation so far. Couldn’t be happier.
I didn’t expect to at a few points.
It wasn’t that there were any specific things that warned me, but there were a few moments. You never want to see the pilot of the plane you’re about to board heading back up the gangway with his luggage. That’s never a good sign.
To his credit, when he got on the loud speaker he didn’t mince words. “I’m always the last one to know,” he said. Then he went off. Eventually they canceled the flight.
As I was walking over to the phones where you rebook, I passed by him coming back from somewhere else and he saw me and said, “Oh good! Did they announce a new gate?”
“No. It’s canceled,” I said.
“Canceled?” he said. And made the “What the…?” Face. “I told you I’m always the last one to know!”
With that, what should have been a relatively easy direct flight from Chicago to Miami became a dizzying miasma of hopeful connections and safe wishes for checked baggage.
The short version: Plane was canceled due to mechanical questions; perhaps it was the check engine light. We were shoveled off to Tampa instead. From Tampa we connected to Miami. The luggage caught a direct flight later. Lucky luggage.
And only about four hours late, we arrived at our hotel. Everything pretty much worked out the way it was expected, mostly through being nice, patient, and as proactive as possible.
I am amazed that the number of people who think they can bully or whine their way with airline workers. I have found that if you look them in the eyes and appeal to their human nature, most of them are pretty amenable. It’s the look them in the eyes part. It reminds them that they are human.
Hotel de Riverland of Fourth Street or whatever.
Anyway. We made it to Miami. We made it to our hotel filled with mostly europeans. And very strange artwork. Like sculpture of a naked fat lady laying on her belly smoking a cigar. I hope I am brave enough to take a picture of it tomorrow.
I am crazy, so when we went out for dinner, I put a Starbucks swizzler in the door to make sure that nobody was in our room while we were gowne. I was pleasantly surprised that it was still there when we retuned.
I have never eaten Columbian food, specifically, before. Unless you count Taco Bell. Which you shouldn’t. But since everywhere else was closed (it was Easter, after all) we went to the Columbian place called “El Cartel” that specialized in Columbian.
The waitress spoke very functional English, so we quickly worked it out that it didn’t matter what we ordered, she would bring us what she wanted. She did it in a very charming way. We didn’t even realized that’s what had happened until after we were back at the hotel.
As near as I can tell, we ate a plate of deep fried pig skin, sausages, blood and head sausages, plantains and very small potatoes. It was delicious of course, but I’m not sure it was supposed to be quite so dry. Gaia had some kind of corn/cheese/delicious plate of goodness and potato chip sticks. And empanadas. The empanadas were great. They brought more because they thought we wouldn’t like the first ones– but we did. We ate and ate and ate and it was like, $35.
This is a good sign.
Tomorrow, Day One. All aboard.
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