5 Awesome Money-Saving Cruise Tips

5 Awesome Money-Saving Cruise Tips
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The Jewel Of The Seas docked in Labadee, Haiti

Too often we take what we have for granted.  I came across an interesting blog post by a young traveler recently.  She said her goal is to take a 7 day cruise.  I felt a twinge of guilt as I read this because I cruise more frequently than I get dental cleanings.  Here are 5 great tips to make your dream cruise possible.

Always use a travel agent when making a reservation.  Most cruise lines have a fair market booking system.  This means a travel agent pays exactly the same amount you pay.  Then what is the advantage?  Perks.  When booking through an agent you can receive prepaid gratuities, additional shipboard credit, specialty restaurant comps, and maybe even a bottle of champagne in your stateroom.  Additionally, you will receive more personalized service from a single point of sale.

Book early.  The cruise industry is booming and savvy cruisers know what they want and don’t wait for it.  (Don’t believe me?  Check out the buffet line.)  It’s frustrating when you find the exact right itinerary on the exact ship you want, only to learn the accommodations are sold out.

Prices will often come down from the time of your original booking.  Check the policy with your agent in advance.  If the price lowers, you can usually re-book at no charge prior to final payment.  And check the higher level accommodations as well, it could be a no-cost upgrade.

Know your accommodation.  This is another great place to utilize your travel agent.  Some cruisers are perfectly okay with an interior stateroom, they feel they won’t be in their room very much and it is the single largest price saver.  Others want to open doors to a seaside balcony.  We prefer a Grand Suite or above.  Each level of accommodation comes with specific amenities.

Book your excursions early.  The catamaran with drinks and snorkeling at the turtle sanctuary?  It’s sold out.  Especially when you’re on a bigger ship, the excursions sell out well in advance of your sailing.  If there is something specific you want to do, book early. However, you do not have to book an excursion with the ship.  Research the area, find out what you want to do, and book or plan it on your own, you’ll save a ton.  You do not need your agent for this.  But be forewarned, if you choose to go on your own, research the area and culture.  There are places that simply aren’t safe to go on your own.

Avoid the buffet.  Okay, let’s be frank here, everybody and Uncle Charlie will begin their power eating competition the moment they board the ship.  Avoid the buffet for the first few hours.  Find a quiet place to sit and start soaking it all in.

For other information, like how to save more on bookings, avoiding ATM and international credit card fees, and the best itineraries, please send us a message.  We have tons of valuable information, and even more great tips, and will soon be putting them into book form… Enjoy The Journey!

In the concierge lounge on the Rhapsody Of The Seas, somewhere deep in the South Pacific.
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The South Pacific Cruise

The South Pacific Cruise

If I was a geologist, this post would start 85 million years ago.   I would describe, in all it’s scientific glory and details, how a large landmass, now Australia, split off Antarctica and drifted north, into the Pacific Ocean.  Over the next 20 million years there were smaller splits which created New Zealand and Tasmania.  New Caledonia, the Vanuatu Archipelago, and the Solomon Islands were also created by these seismic events.  But I am not a geologist, so you won’t be bored with what happened between then and 4,000 years ago.

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I am also not an Anthropologist.  If I were, I would be able to tell a tale of the first inhabitants of these untouched and dormant tropical islands.  Four thousand years ago a small group of Melanesian fishermen set off in their outrigger canoes in search of God-knows-what.  We can safely assume they got lost in a storm, or stuck to a whale they were chasing.  Whatever the cause, 1,000 miles west of Australia, they came across these volcanic  islands and made them home.  But I am not an anthropologist, so I won’t bore you with what happened for the next 4,000 years.

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If I was a Historian, I would tell the story of Frank McLoughlin, a young man from Hell’s Kitchen who joined the Army Air Corps in 1941.  Taken from a life on the tough streets of New York he was trained to be a turret gunner on the B-24 bomber, also known as a flying coffin.  He flew 50 missions, fighting Japanese Imperialism, during World War II in the South Pacific campaign.  On one particular mission, while being swarmed by enemy firepower like a nasty hive of bees, he shot down 2 Japanese Zeroes and returned safely to the Solomon Islands from the Philippines.  Seventy years later he was recognized for his acts of bravery and heroism, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal.  But I am not a historian, and will save that story for the future.

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If I was a Sociologist, I would tell the story of Staff Sergeant McLoughlin’s Grandson.  Fifty years after Frank’s heroics, a young man was taken off the streets and found himself in a cold and dimly lit prison cell in Elmira, New York.  The first 2 books he read since childhood were by James Michener: Hawaii and Tales From The South Pacific.  Each book he read 3 or 4 or 5 times, not because he loved them so much, but because that’s all he had.  Reading was his only chance of escape and there was no better place than The Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, and The Vanuatu Archipelago.  Deep in his soul, he knew he would never get to those places.  But I’m not a Sociologist, and won’t bore you with what happened to him for the next 25 years.

What I have become, however, is a traveler.  So, in February, 2014, just a few weeks after the wedding of the century, my new wife and I set off on a dream cruise.  The itinerary would have us depart from Sydney, Australia and take us to various islands in the South Pacific, belonging to both New Caledonia and the Vanuatu Archipelago.

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The Sydney Harbor Bridge as seen from the Rhapsody of the Seas. I passed on the opportunity to walk over it.

Our exploration was on Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas.  Staying in an Owner’s Suite entitled us to the best amenities and services offered, and man, did we take advantage of that.  As a suite guest, there are no lines anywhere and our personal concierge is at our beck and call.  We spent most evenings on this 12 night cruise in the Concierge lounge, with a top-shelf open bar from 4 to 9 every night, complete with private bartender.

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Who gets a bathroom like this on a cruise ship?

Although we had spent the last 2 weeks exploring Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef, it wasn’t until we were on the ship with 2,500 people that we really learned what the Aussies are like.  Generally speaking, they weren’t the most inviting, at first.  It seemed like most needed to say hello (G’day) and see us a few times before opening up.  But once they warmed up to us, they became friends for life.

And then there was John and Rose, from Tasmania.  We met this interesting couple at dinner on our first night.  John was a character, zingy one-liners flew faster than nautical miles.  He quickly let us know he was from Tasmania, not New Zealand.  He didn’t like Kiwis, his sheep were much healthier and handsome than any from that untamed nation below his.  Not to mention the horrid things those New Zealand Neanderthals do to their sheep.  Yes, the men are men, but the sheep are afraid.

He was fascinated when he discovered we were from the States.  “I once went to Los Angeles.  Is it very far from New York?”  Not particularly, John. ” Well, I tell ya, I was there. Couldn’t believe how many coloreds there was.  Bunch a big niggers everywhere.  Got on an elevator with one.  Bigger than a milk cow.  So I says to this colored man, you just the biggest nigger I ever seen.  Didn’t mean nothing by it, we don’t see too many coloreds down under, but damn he had a temper, thought he was gonna kill me, don’t know why.  But the funny part, he was a queer to boot!”  John let out a boisterous roar, and Rose, nodding and parroting, laughed too.

The next 11 nights we spent avoiding Tasmanian John and Rose, not always with great success.

By the second day sailing most men, and quite a few women, were thoroughly wrecked and that’s when the chants started.  Aussie!, Aussie!, Aussie!, Oi!, Oi!, Oi!!!!  “What the hell is that?” Gail says to me.  I explained, that’s their national chant.  We heard it often, typically at the conclusion of an AC/DC song played poolside, or Olivia Newton-John in the Karaoke Bar.  “That’s stupid,” says Gail.  And off we sailed to New Caledonia.

Noumea is the capitol and largest city of New Caledonia.  A welcome sight after days at sea, it rose in the morning thru an eerie fog.  I thought of Skull Island, that dark and foreboding home to King Kong.  I expected to see natives shaking torches at me and banging drums.  But it wasn’t like that at all, mostly.

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As is typical with Gail and I, we didn’t follow the cruise crowd after tendering to the mainland.  Instead, we ventured off to the tiny island of Amadee.  By my estimation, this remote little island in the middle of the South Pacific couldn’t have been more than 8 acres in total.  The only semi-permanent construction on the island is a decades old lighthouse, which was offered up for climbing and viewing.  The inhabitants of Amadee consists of the lighthouse keeper and his seemingly understandable and equally anti-social wife.

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The greatest feature of the island, though, was the beach.  While larger than most Caribbean beaches, it was just as magnificent.  Within minutes I was snorkeling with giant sea turtles and the infamous, and  highly venomous, striped sea snakes.  Though their poison apparently packs quite a wallop, I understand these snakes are virtually harmless.  Their fangs are set deep in the back of their narrow mouths.  In order to be struck by one, you would have to literally stick your finger down it’s throat.  But I wasn’t going to take that chance and opted for a BBQ luau lunch with the local grass skirt girls.

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Dinner that night introduced us to the only other Americans on the ship.  With this retired Los Angeles detective and his Cuban born wife, we laughed thru several nights and plenty of wine.  They were a pleasant respite from the locals, especially Tasmanian John.

After a day in Lifou, of the Loyalty Islands, we discovered Vila, Vanuatu.  We hired a local taxi driver, Alberic, to be our personal tour guide for the day.  A native to this region, Alberic happily obliged us for the day.  After seeing our general disinterest at the tourist friendly Turtle Sanctuary, Alberic realized we wanted something a little more off the beaten path.

Off the ocean, past the farms and small villages, we entered a jungle.  Through the dark woods we drove to where, Alberic told us, only the locals go.   Alongside a stream we began to see an occasional wooden kayak and locals milling around.  The stream was so clear, at first I thought it was empty.  Before we knew it, we were in a dirt parking lot with the smells of BBQ and locals running around.  “We’re here,” said Alberic.

By “here”, he meant the most amazing blue water hole I could have ever imagined.  The water was so clear and clean it was like swimming in cool air.  I spent hours swimming.  This was the South Pacific of my dreams.

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We finished our day drinking cocktails at The Warwick Hotel at La Lagon, a beautiful resort just down the road from the cruise port in Vila.   While there were no passengers from the ship, it seemed like half the crew was playing in the pool.  We laughed at our fortune and thanked Alberic for a wonderful day.

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The next day brought us to Champagne Bay,  on the largest of the Vanuatu islands, Espiritu Santo.  Following that we arrived at Luganville, located on the backside of Espiritu Santo.  Here we met Linesse, another local taxi driver willing to be our tour guide for the day.

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As friendly as Alberic was, Linesse knew her history.  We spent hours at another local water hole, known locally as “blu ho”.   Linesse was a walking encyclopedia of World War II knowledge.  When I mentioned my Grandfather was a veteran she really opened up.  She showed us the roads that the Americans built 70 years earlier.  To this day, not a pothole anywhere.  She pointed out an area where American troops hid tanks and other heavy artillery.  It was a heap of thick brush. “We call that American Vine.”  In addition to weapons, apparently we brought over the vine to hide them.

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Our day with Linesse ended with a couple cold Number One Draft beers. Nambawan.

Something that did not come as a surprise was that every island had absolutely amazing beaches.  Mystery Island, on day number 9 was no exception.  A completely uninhabited island in the Archipelago, we had another day of snorkeling with sea turtles and reef sharks.  Our tans were perfected.  But truth be told, at this point in the trip, we were ready for some city life.

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Evenings on the ship continued to consist of drinks at the concierge lounge and your traditional corny cruise entertainment.  We walked out on a number of comedians, as they were recycling old Henny Youngman style slapstick comedy.  We could hear Tasmanian John and Rose cackling from across the theatre.  But we also met some great people along the way.  Michael and Vicky were one such couple.  Michael is an executive chef at a 4 star retaurant and restored our faith in Tasmanians.

We met these two in the lounge and shared plenty of drinks together.  Back at Champagne Bay we sat beachside and smoked cigars.  I could talk to a chef about his craft for days.

Twenty five hundred passengers on a ship sure seems like a lot, but somehow, we manage to continually bump into the same people over and over.  So it was disconcerting when we hadn’t seen Michael and Vicky in a number of days.  And there we were, on the Isle of Pines, appropriately named by Captain Cook, when we saw Vicky.  Practically crawling behind her came Michael, with his face bandaged from side to side.  “What in the name of New Caledonia happened to you?”  As it turned out, after we shared a few drinks and a smoke at Champagne Bay he decided it would be good idea to go for a swim.  Diving headfirst into the water he face-planted smack into an old coral bed, breaking his nose and ripping off half the skin on his face.  He vouched for the Medical Staff on Royal Caribbean, and we had another drink and laughed our asses off.

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We spent the next two days sailing back to Sydney.  We laughed as we heard the old Men At Work tune, I come from a land down under.  When that song played poolside, it was as if the ship stopped, everybody, and I mean everybody, sang along.  And then the chants of Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!

James Michener, my favorite author, once said about the people of Vanuatu, “…the friendliness of the peoples, their infectious smiles and their open heartedness will remain forever one of life’s treasures.”

We spent nearly a month traveling various parts of the South Pacific, but to say we even saw any of it, is like asking if you know the big guy in an elevator in Los Angeles.

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Isn’t everybody’s suite this big?


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The South Pacific. Part II

The South Pacific. Part II

A country built on the backs of convicts.  The most poisonous snakes and spiders on Earth.  World class surf.  Great White sharks.  The Outback.  A reputation for heavy drinkers.  They say watch your step, you never know when something around the corner will kill you.  It sounds like my kind of place, Australia.

We made our way back to Sydney after spending some time in Queensland.  As much as we had a great time up north, it was nice to be back in the city.  The Four Seasons, as expected, welcomed us in.  Owning perhaps the most prized piece of real estate in Sydney, if not all of Australia, this magnificent 5 star hotel sits on the steps of the world renowned harbor.

After checking in, we were escorted to our room.  The amenities were presented by the bellhop, and we freshened up after the 3 hour flight.  Then we dined in the restaurant downstairs.

A young and expertly trained hostess happily led us to our table.  Greeting us by name, she offered their finest champagne to celebrate our marriage.  And then it got better.  I ordered the dry-aged wagyu ribeye steak with black mushroom truffle sauce.  I lack the vocabulary to describe the pure deliciousness.  I can only say it was the best steak I’ve ever had, and I can’t imagine ever tasting anything more enjoyable.

Later in the evening, while digesting our feast, there was a rustle in the lobby.  I have a keen eye for these things, I can always tell when a prison riot is about to break out, and told Gail something was about to happen.  Then it seemed like all hell broke loose.  The doors flew open and a swarm of loud and over-hyper photographers came flying in.   Right through their flashing cameras, like a golden tornado, Sophia Vergara swooped in and hurriedly made her way to the elevators.  Holy shit!

Modern Family was filming their Australian vacation shows here, at this hotel, this week.  We made a joking reference about our brush with celebrity to our hostess.  She told us she was not allowed to say anything, but implied the entire cast was staying at the hotel.  Rico Rodriguez, who plays Manny on the show, was eating dinner next to us.  We would have never noticed.  And she also did not tell us, wink-wink, that Eminem and Bruce Springsteen were on the upper floors.  This place didn’t suck at all.

We rose early the next day to get a jump start on our itinerary.  One floor below us, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell from Modern Family) got on the elevator.  We knew well enough not to bother him, but probably stared the whole time anyway.  He exited on the third floor, and as we were walking out through the lobby we noticed he was now walking down the stairs from the second floor.  From the confused look on his face, we could tell he obviously got off on the wrong floor.  It was the same look I had right before nearly getting wiped out by a cab a week earlier.

While having a good laugh over this, Eric Stonestreet (Cam from the show) was in front of the hotel barking orders and directing the valets and bellhops.  Are we actually in an episode?  It was just too funny.

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Across the street from the hotel, and just a few steps past the Aboriginal street vendors selling boomerangs and didgeridoos, we jumped a ferry to Manly Beach.  Sydney is a city built on and around water and Circular Quay is the main hub of it’s waterway.  Loaded with taxis, ferries, and tourists, it’s a scenic 30 minute ride to one of the best large beaches in the world.

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Manly Beach is where old school surf meets cosmopolitan beach community.  The same people that will strike up a cool, casual conversation with you on the pedestrian plaza will rip your head off if you tread on their wave.  With an equal mix of stand up paddle-boarders and world class short board surfers in the water, I was the old dude on the classic, rented, long board.  I lasted a solid hour or two in the strong currents and caught some rad 6 foot rollers, along with a nice sunburn.

After taking in the sights of Manly, and a few drinks, we eventually made our way back to the hotel, for yet another run-in with Modern Family.  While talking with the concierge about Aussies lack of a sense of a direction, Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen approached.  Phil and Claire Dunphy apologized for interrupting, but they were in need of directions to their dinner location.   As they walked out the door we all cracked up laughing.

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A zoo is typically not one of my favorite places to go.  With all it’s rude and basically ignorant people crowding around to see incarcerated animals, I feel confined and sad for it’s inhabitants.  With it’s overflowing garbage cans, ungodly smells, and overpriced food and beverages, I avoid most of these places at all costs.  A million times out of a million I’d rather see wildlife in it’s natural habitat.  But the Taranga Zoo is not a typical zoo.

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The Kookaburra Bird

Sitting hillside across from Sydney Harbor, this wonderful piece of property watches over the city.   This zoo is perfectly laid out.  From the ferry, you take a gondola ride to the top of the hill and the main entrance.  Stroll down the trails and eventually you wind up back at the ferry, right where you started.  Around every turn is one wonderful view after the next of Sydney.

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The grounds are pristine and the Aussies were are all polite and friendly, this was not like any other zoo experience I’ve had.  And the best part?  I’ve never seen such happy and healthy animals.  We sat and watched the chimpanzees play for hours.

Australia is a place where men are men, and the cows better run scared, because steak is what’s for dinner again.  We don’t often like to visit the same place twice, there are just way too many places to see.  But that night, while having another great dinner, we decided Sydney is a city which we have to visit again.

While wishing we had more time to spend here, we needed to prepare for the next part of our adventure.  Tomorrow we set sail on a 12 night cruise into the South Pacific.

Goodnight and farewell Sydney.
Goodnight Sydney.

 

 

 

The First Cruise

The First Cruise

The Love Boat.  Old people.  Over-crowding.  Spring breakers.  Elvis impersonators.  The flu bug.  The Titanic.  These are just some of the things that came to mind when first thinking about cruise ships.  I’ve even thought of a cruise as the cheap give away on Wheel of Fortune.  And let’s not even talk about inside cabins.

Prior to my first cruise, I never gave much thought, if any, to luxury travel.  My prior vacations had consisted of such trips as waking up under Redwood trees in a tent in Big Sur, California.  I crashed in a hostel in San Francisco and took an Amtrak from New York to Newport News, Virginia.  I’ve done some nice rafting on The Delaware Water Gap, winter surfing in Montauk, and triathlons in the Chesapeake region and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  While these trips provided much enjoyment, there was never much thought or planning to them.  It was a period of adventure, rebellion, and border line poverty.

My idea of travel was spontaneity and adventure.  My accommodation was typically a tent, an upgrade meant I had a cot.  An amenity was an ashtray.   I wasn’t equipped with a Sandra Brown leather suitcase with 360* wheels.  I lived out of duffel bags and backpacks.   I had never even seen a cruise ship, let alone thought of going on one.   Was it as big as the Staten Island Ferry, I wondered.

SirOzzy’s first great adventure began on March 18, 2011.  We took an early morning flight from NY to Fort Lauderdale, and then, much to my surprise, hopped into a limousine for the drive over to the cruise terminal.   Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas was the largest and most beautiful ship I’d ever seen.  Never could I have imagined such majesty and grandeur.   I was blown away.

   My first awestruck impression quickly changed as I saw the sheer number of passengers boarding.  Sure, this ship is big, but how can it possibly fit 3,000 passengers and crew on board?  Well, not to worry, as soon as we walked through the terminal doors, a little old Floridian introduced himself.  We showed him our reservation paperwork, and he rushed us over to a spot with no line.  He said, “Folks, you’re in the Grand Suite, you won’t be waiting on any lines this week.”  And boy, was he right.  That was our first experience using the benefit of our upgrade.  While all passengers received a white Seapass card, ours was gold.

     I’ve heard many cabins on these megaships are tiny.  So tiny you can reach out and touch both sidewalls at the same time.  They have stand up showers and most do not have windows, let alone a balcony.  After a brief exploration around the ship, we found the cabin we would spend the next 10 nights in, and this is what we discovered:

   

   

 His and her closets are located behind the bar.  The bathroom is magnificent, larger than most staterooms, complete with a marble bathtub.  Behind the curtains is a double length balcony.  A fresh fruit platter, caviar, and cheese and crackers, greeted us in the room.  Isn’t this how everybody travels?

Our first full day on the ship was spent cruising the open water of the Caribbean Sea.  More fears were put to rest that day.  I thought I’d get claustrophobic.  I thought the ship would be filled with leftovers from the golden age of the Catskills.  I was wrong on both accounts.  I spent the day poolside, playing mini golf, basketball, at 7 different bars, in an art gallery, a theatre, restaurants, a library, and the Casino Royale.  This ship has more to do than the entire county I live in.

Despite the great discovery of the Casino on the first night, my favorite discovery came on the second night.  The Concierge Lounge.  This room is reserved for passengers staying in Grand Suites and above, which means it’s limited to about 25-30 people.  This is where I learned for the first time what service really is.  My two favorite crew members operated from this room.  Mario would be my personal bartender in the evening hours for the next 10 days.  And Nedere was our personal go-to Concierge .   A tough, Jamaican rock-star, whatever we needed, we went to Nedere.

On this first night in the Concierge lounge, Nedere asked what our plans were for our first stop in Labadee, Haiti.  We explained an excursion was booked involving a short boat ride, some beach time, and a BBQ lunch.   “No, no, no, my Dears.  Listen to me.  We are going to cancel that reservation.  You will spend the day in a private over-water cabana with your own butler service.  We have a private lunch with lobster, steaks, and anything else you want.  This will be in an area reserved only for those passengers with a Gold Seapass.”  Well, ok then.

I arose early on the third day of this sailing.  I peaked through a crack in the curtains to see if the sun had even come up yet.  What I found was so much greater.  Through the mist and early morning haze, the low mountains of Haiti were nearby and getting closer.  I wanted to shout “Land ‘Ho!”  How must the Columbus crew have felt after 2 months on the ocean?  I fell in love with the Caribbean on first sight.  This is what we discovered:

My first glimpse of a Caribbean beach.

I had never  seen trees on a beach before.

While everyone went to the public beach, we turned right…

  

And this is where we would spend our day.  We used most of our time snorkeling, bathing in the sun, eating, drinking, and just enjoying spending time with each other.  We did, however, also see the darker side of Caribbean life.  Out on one of our explorations we discovered an artist’s village.  Magnificent oil paintings hung crowded and hodgepodge on makeshift walls of wooden pallets.  The level of poverty is so severe on this island nation, we witnessed to 2 locals preparing to kill each other with machetes over 1 dollar.  That’s when we went back to our sanctuary for more fresh pineapple.

       

Day number four was spent nursing a sunburn and eating more food than I previously thought humanly possible.  Isn’t that what cruise ships are for?  It was a full day of sailing, we cruised the entire length of the sea to reach Cartagena, Columbia.  It was also the day I first asked Gail to marry me.  Of course she told me no.  She said I was just drunk.  So I asked her again the next day.  And every day again after that for two years, until she would finally say yes.  I was falling in love in and with The Caribbean.

Cartagena is a walled Spanish city on the northern coast of Columbia.  Prior to this cruise I knew very little, if anything at all,  about the area.   We’ve all heard stories of the drug cartel and Columbian coffee, that day I learned so much more.  We booked a bus tour that would take us all through the city.  We had the most amazing man guide us and bring this old city to life for us.  I never thought I’d enjoy a city tour,  I’m the guy that’s always made fun of those people.  Since that day, I try to take a bus tour of every new city I visit.  It’s really the best way to get your initial bearings.

My absolute favorite part of cruising is that every morning you wake up in a new place, and you’ve done nothing to get there.  The next morning found us in Colon, Panama.  After yet another huge breakfast we left the ship early and boarded a small van headed to Gatun Lake.  Colon is the port city closest to the Panama Canal and Gatun Lake borders the locks.  An hour and a half drive through lush jungle brought us to a small river boat.  Myself, Gail, 2 Midwesterners, and 2 Panamanian men spent half a day fishing.  The lake was teeming with Peacock Bass and Oscar Fish.  While I had the time of my life, I’m pretty sure it was the last time I’ll ever see Gail fish.  She’d much rather rest poolside or in a spa.

 

We even had a little visitor join us for a snack.   There was no shortage of wildlife, we saw crocodiles, sloths, monkeys, turtles, red iguanas, and countless tropical birds.  And our guides were kind enough to bring plenty of local beer on board.

Another great aspect of cruising is that you can add places to visit to your list, or eliminate them.  I’ve only heard wonderful things about Costa Rica and greatly anticipated our visit to Puerto Limon.  This was another day of adventure.  The Pacuare River has some of the most intense whitewater rafting in the entire world.  We opted for the lower portion which consists mostly of flat water up to Class-2 rapids.  It was another long drive through a jungle to reach the river opening in Tortuguero National Park.  Although it was mostly lazy water, I know Gail was terrified the whole time.  I wasn’t much of a help paddling, or retrieving swimmers, as I was still only six weeks removed from complete shoulder surgery.

The people of Costa Rica are fantastic.  The country has no military, it was abolished during the re-writing of their constitution in 1949.  Their reasoning was with their proximity to the Panama Canal, they knew if anything happened to them, the Americans would quickly come to the rescue.  In exchange for the military, each Costa Rican citizen receives free education, medical, and dental benefits.  Their greatest source of revenue comes from tourism, specifically American tourism.  Therefore, for the most part, Costa Ricans are happy, healthy, educated, have GREAT smiles, and love Americans.  They are an amazing group of people.

We decided at the end of the day we would most certainly return in the future to Costa Rica.  In fact, we did.  Two years later we returned to a resort on the Pacific Coast.  I rafted the upper portion of the Pacuare River, which consisted unclassified and Class-5 whitewater rapids.  Though I thought I was going to die during a 14 foot vertical drop, I had a blast.  Stay tuned for that post.

After 3 days of adventure in South and Central America, a day of rest was in order.  This was the day of belly flop contests in the pool, karaoke in the lounge, a cooking demonstration, and trivia in a bar.  As part of our Grand Suite package, we also received a private tour of the Bridge, hosted by the Captain himself, just another perk.  I also won a slot tournament in the Casino, so we ate, yet again, in a specialty restaurant.  Dinner was accompanied by a $200 bottle of wine.  This trip got better every day, and it created a monster traveler.

Grand Cayman was the next stop on our itinerary.  The day started with an early morning Catamaran sailing to Stingray City.  We sailed on the crystal clear turquoise blue water of the Caribbean until land was no longer in sight.  Bob Marley tunes were played and local beers flowed.  We set anchor on a sandbar and jumped into 4 feet deep water.   From all angles slow dark clouds in the water emerged.  For the next few hours I played in the water with the most amazing stingrays.  It was heaven.

With a late departure, there was still time left for further exploration.  From the dock we decided to taxi over to a populated spot on 7 Mile Beach.  Midway through the trip, our driver, with a heavy Caribbean accent, turned around and asked us to pray with him while he drives.  Voodoo.  I said, “Thanks, we’re good, you can drop us off here.”  So we spent the remainder of the afternoon at a quiet, unpopulated beach.  I asked Gail to marry me again, and you know how that story goes.

Day 10 had us sailing for another full day as our journey would soon come to a conclusion in Fort Lauderdale.  An odyssey that transformed me from a backpacker to a luxury traveler,  I made great new friends, learned about different cultures, ingrained wonderful memories, and came away a better person for it.  Sure, these are the same things you can do on the cheap backpacking or what ever other means of travel you choose, but I did it in style.  I hope you enjoyed my journey with me.  If you have any questions about this cruise, other cruises, or travel in general, please leave a comment.