Cruisin’ the Caribbean

By Nancy Burns, President, NFBC

The Oosterdam
The Oosterdam

Traveling to new places and exploring new environments has always been a favorite activity of mine. I have been asked more than once how I am able to enjoy traveling. The assumption is, I suppose, that a person could not enjoy a trip if he/she could not see the surroundings. My response generally goes something like this: “I guess I could stay at home and just hear about the trips that others take but I choose not to do that.” Trains, buses, planes, and ships—I have experienced them all, but my preference is sailing the seas. Be it a short trip from Long Beach to Catalina or a luxury cruise through the Caribbean, the ocean is my favorite place to vacation. I love the smell of the salt air and love hearing waves break against the shore.

Don and I took our first cruise shortly after we were married. That cruise, around the Hawaiian Islands, was all it took; we were hooked. We have since taken three more cruises, the most recent being a seven-day trip through the Western Caribbean. We sailed from Ft. Lauderdale on Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. About an hour or so into the trip we ran into a rather fierce storm. The huge Holland America ship bounced like a toy in the 25-foot waves. The ship pitched and rolled all that night and into the next day. It was the first time I had experienced an elevator going from side to side as well as up and down. Ugh! Our first island stop was to be Half Moon Cay. However, the waves were still so high we could not anchor and get into the tenders that would take us from the ship to the island. That evening the apologetic captain told us that he was sailing the ship to the leeward side of another island where he would drop anchor and we could all, including the captain, get a good night’s sleep.

The next morning the seas were calm and we set sail for Jamaica, which was still a day away. By the time we reached Ocho Rios, Jamaica, we had been on the ship three nights and two full days. There were always shipboard activities, but an epidemic of cabin fever was evident as passengers poured off the ship for sightseeing or shopping trips. The ship’s theater, with Broadway-type musicals, was always a pleasurable evening event. During the storm, however, the show was canceled because it was too dangerous for the singers and dancers to be on stage. There were bingo games and a casino for the gamblers and shuffleboard was available on one of the decks. Informative talks were always given which provided information about the next port stop. An on-ship store provided passengers with souvenirs and other necessities of life.

The next day our ship, the Oosterdam, anchored at the Grand Cayman Islands. Tortuga Rum and rum cakes are the sought-after items in Georgetown. The word “tortuga” in Spanish means turtle. Christopher Columbus discovered these islands in 1503 and named them Las Tortugas because of the numerous turtles he observed. The name was later changed to Grand Cayman.

The final stop before sailing back to Ft. Lauderdale was Cozumel. This was our second time here and one of our favorite places. The streets are filled with vendors selling everything from jewelry to artwork and statuary, and flavored tequilas. We found it necessary to sample strawberry tequila. Yum. Live music filled the air as we sauntered from shop to shop. The air was warm and humid with occasional light sprinkles adding to the humidity.

Don, Nancy and an Oosterdam crew member.
Don, Nancy and an Oosterdam crew member.

Cozumel is apparently popular with all travelers as it was our longest stay in port. We docked at 9 a.m. and sailed at 11 p.m. Don and I enjoyed lunch at a little café called Kiss My Cactus. As we perused through one of the shops the shop manager introduced himself and asked us about our white canes. He told us about his friend, Roberto, who was blind and his family would have nothing to do with him. He realized that the cane would be of help to his friend. We promised the manager that we would send a cane for Roberto and he gave us a mailing address. A white cane is on its way to Roberto with a short note: “La llave a la independencia,” which translates to “Your key to independence.” We picked up gifts for friends and family and took a taxi back to the Oosterdam. After dinner on the ship Don and I disembarked and walked around the port area. It would be our final excursion before setting sail for Florida.

Dining on cruise ships is fine dining at its best. Food is available 24 hours and in numerous ship locations. I remember being told on my first cruise as I was objecting to the desserts being offered that I shouldn’t worry. It is the salt air that shrinks your clothes.

Dinner is always a multi-course event including several choices of appetizers, soups, salads, and always numerous choices for entrees and desserts. My favorite soups were the chilled ones, including blueberry melon and strawberry cream. My favorite dessert was the incredible chocolate soufflé. If you preferred something other than the formal dining room there was always a pasta and pizza bar available. Also on one of the pool deck areas there was a taco, fajita, and hamburger and fries bar. Much too much food—but oh so good.

Negotiating some parts of the ship could be challenging. The sleeping rooms, however, were Brailled. The smaller numbers began at the bow of the ship and got bigger toward the fantail. Odd-numbered rooms were on the starboard, or right, side of the ship and the even-numbered rooms were on the port side. This system made locating rooms quite easy.

Since Don was in the navy he was quite comfortable with port and starboard directions. If you stop and think about it, it’s quite simple. The word starboard is longer than the word port. The word right is longer than the word left. Hence, starboard and port. On one of our cruises I heard an interesting conversation between two older ladies. They were standing in front of a map of the ship, apparently trying to locate the ship’s theater. One lady said to the other, “I think I’ve got it now. Port is the front of the ship and starboard is the back.”

If you’re in the market for diamonds or gemstones the Caribbean is the place to shop. Jewelry stores line the streets of nearly all of these islands. I must admit, I have enjoyed spending some time browsing and shopping in these jewelry stores.

Don and I always enjoy walking around the outer decks of the ship. Three times around equals one mile. Our favorite spot to stop and spend some time was at the fantail. Standing at the back of the ship listening to the wake is truly an awesome experience. As the powerful engines move the ship forward the sound of the massive amounts of ocean water churning below us is a sound like none other. As the warm winds wrap around us and the ship sways gently over the azure blue ocean, we always realize our love of cruising and lament the fact that the trip is all too soon concluded.