A week or so after that, I flew to Miami.
Miami, being the sprawling beach-front city that it is, is rife with eye candy of any kind. You can guess my kind. :)
It was sad I only had time to pass through quickly. But time to move on and head south into the blue Caribbean My stateroom, as ship cabins are called for some reason, was tiny but efficient.
See that little desk there on the right? That's where I did my work. Yes, this was a working vacation. I had to ship all the parts and assemble the boxes and do upkeep in between four 4-hour sessions to keep everyone up to speed. From all accounts, the workshop went well and people had a great time.
But I had plenty of time to avoid work during the ten-day cruise! Here is the account I originally posted on Facebook during the trip. It's a bit long, so just stick to the pictures if you choose. It's in four main parts.
As I write this I’m looking out from the bar on deck 11. I often hang out on 11 because it has a nice mixture of restaurants, bars, the pools, and hot tubs. I have a beautiful view of the port in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. The land rises steeply from the shore and houses dot the hillside as it rises to a series of peaks. Sailboats are coming and going, and many are moored in the blue waters bobbing gently in the light breeze.
Cruising on a ship like this is like living in a floating city. Everything is on board in a self-contained unit. You have your room, which is tightly packed and tiny, but very efficiently laid out. Each day my steward turns down the bed and restocks everything. With the gentle rolling of the ship, I have slept like a baby each night. There are several restaurants to choose from, including buffets, or more formal places like a churrascaria, a French restaurant, sushi, bar, and so on. There are semi-formal dining rooms where diners eat in groups at tables, while the specialty places are more for couples and smaller groups. At the buffets, the quality of the food is amazing. Yes, there are burgers and fries and pizza at some “stations”. But there are just as many, if not more, amazingly healthy choices like salads, lean entrees of chicken and salmon, fresh fruit, and delicious vegetable dishes and sides. Eating well is simple because so much healthy food is presented as standard offering.
There are swimming pools, hot tubs, shops, a gym, spa, basketball court, a casino, a library, several nightclubs, theaters and other entertainment venues. There is even an onboard response crew that can respond to any emergency. And this is a small ship of the cruise ship world. Larger ones are floating megacities. We were able to dock in this port because the ship is moderately sized and can fit on the pier, along with our sister ship. Not far around the bend in another port could be seen a huge cruise ship, one from the Princess line. Ships of that class are so large they have to dock further away in deeper waters in a port like this.
So anyway, sailing from Miami, the seas were generally calm. During calm seas, you can feel a gentle rocking and you can walk normally, unlike during heavy seas, when it can be more difficult to even walk a straight line. During these times, you can hear various parts of the ship creaking, the sounds of water sloshing from somewhere, and the pools, up on deck 11, have these huge waves that form, tossing back and forth, crashing on the ends of the pool like breakers on the sea. When cruising on the open sea, during the day, if you look out the windows you can see water from horizon to horizon, occasional clouds, and sometimes other ships passing in the distance. Often, you can see tiny islands, land masses and even the movement of water that looks like reefs, and it’s easy to imagine, during the golden age of sail centuries ago in this area, tall ships having to rely on the stars and a steady hand on the wheel to avoid disaster. At night, if the sky is clear and you choose the right spot, you can see those stars everywhere, and it’s nice to think that they are the same stars, in the same relative positions, that were seen not only in their time, but in ancient Greece, Paleolithic France, and even from here billions of years ago when this area was part of the super-continent Pangea. It’s true; you could say this about any location: it’s the same stars, moon and so on, right? But I’m talking about the Caribbean here, not any location. And I’m seeing if you’re still paying attention.
When you are near land masses, gulls and terns can be seen floating in the air near the ship. Sometimes the terns hit the water, aiming for a fish. A sperm whale was seen off the starboard side yesterday. But when I and my fellow travelers went to look, we saw nothing but rolling seas and the coast of Dominica. People have said they see flying fish, but so far I have not seen any.
Sailing round the clock from Miami, we reached the coast of Cuba after a day and a half. The sudden rise in elevation makes the land mass take on the appearance of jagged peaks. In reality, the hills of Cuba or any of the Caribbean islands are not that high, but compared to the flatness of the sea they take on a grander appearance. Considering the entire topography, the hills may be quite high if you account for the same peak delving under water for hundreds, or thousands of feet. After more open sea, we skirted the coast of the island that contains Haiti and Dominican Republic, sailing through the night until we reached St. Thomas on the morning of Wednesday, October 17, 2012.
From the cruise ship port in St. Thomas, people either disembark from the ship and go off to explore, or stay and hang out onboard. The ship is, after all, an enclosed city. I went for a scuba dive. Fortunately, doing that meant taking a ride to the opposite side of the island and away from the cesspool of touristy bars and souvenir shops and diamond sellers that make up the ecosystem of the port area. This showed a different side of the island, away from the commerce and bumper-to-bumper traffic, allowing a view of the non-tourist side of St. Thomas and a tour through the nitty gritty of life on the island. Like other Carribean towns I’ve been in, once you get past the commercial parasites that hope for any stray tourist dollar that will fall their way, you see garbage and squalor scattered amongst pristine natural beauty. Lots of people hanging around under trees, in bars and cafes, idling, waiting.
There is a small beach on the far side of the island where we went on our dive. Looking out from shore, picturesque hills rose out of the water, tiny islands reminding me of stones in a calm pool of blue water. Dozens of sailboats were anchored. Attaching the regulators, strapping on the weights, and adjusting the tanks, we swam over a gently rolling valley of swaying sea grass. Descending to the bottom, I saw sting ray, numerous starfish, thousands of brightly colored fish of every kind, and, toward a rock reef, dozens of sea urchins, some of which, because of the time of the year and with the warm seas, have grown to epic sizes. Their pointy spikes must have been a foot across, maybe more. I saw a hermit crab digging in the sand beneath a conch shell. I also saw lots of bottles, swaying from side to side in the current, and yes, I wondered if there were any notes from those seafearing men centuries ago. I also saw the huge schools of tiny translucent fish I had seen earlier while snorkeling and waiting for the dive equipment, when I had just floated on the surface in about 10 feet of water and watched through my mask as the tiny see-through fish, overcoming their fear of me, slowly surrounded me in a strange and soothing embrace.