Cruisin’ the Caribbean
For those of you who have not been on an ocean cruise, I strongly urge you to try one. I took my first several years ago. There is so much to see (including Las Vegas style stage shows), do (sightsee, shop, gamble and just about anything else) and – yes, eat! There’s even car stuff, if you really look for it.
Starting with eating, you could eat non-stop on a cruise and it wouldn’t cost you a penny extra. There are three main meals, of course, but the ships I’ve been on recently also had 24-hour pizza, extravagant midnight buffets and more.
To work off some of those extra pounds you can take pre-arranged shore excursions – or even just get off the ship and explore on foot, by tour bus, taxi, motorized scooter, bicycle, horseback, helicopter and so forth. Think of a cruise ship as a first class hotel that gently moves you from place to place – often while you sleep. You only have to unpack once and can return to the ship for meals or to rest up.
I went on this particular cruise with members of several car clubs. We departed New Orleans for Montego Bay (Jamaica), Grand Cayman and Cozumel (Mexico). Talk about four very different places.
In New Orleans I enjoyed a car show and pre-Mardis Gras festivities in a laid-back, urban environment steeped in tradition and blessed with Southern hospitality. When we left it amazed me that a huge cruise ship (one of Carnival’s largest) can fit in and safely navigate the Mississippi River.
In Jamaica I tried what my ex-brother-in-law taught me many years ago. Instead of signing up for expensive shore excursions while aboard the cruise ship, I left and headed to a tour booth on shore. The friendly, helpful agent suggested taking a private tour of Montego Bay by taxi. I teamed up with a couple of strangers who were also listening to her and together we shared the expense. We saved some money, got to see the real Jamaica and could stop to take pictures whenever and wherever we wanted. We mingled with locals, saw where they lived, worked and shopped, and witnessed incredible natural beauty. Our taxi driver showed us that there is a wide variety of fruits growing on the trees. You could probably live off the land if you had to, sort of like on Survivor.
At one point I witnessed a fascinating sight. A man was tending to his hair while he reclined atop the weathered old shell of a car. Luckily I had the presence of mind to grab my camera and shoot as we passed by.
Afterwards I set off on foot and discovered a crafts market. I spent much of my time there chatting with one of the local artists – a woodcarver. I asked him to explain the significance of the people and activities depicted in his carvings. He said he really appreciates it when visitors show interest in that. He told me that he learned his craft from his grandfather and explained the underlying story of slavery represented in his carvings. He chiseled his name in the back of the carving that I bought. It now hangs in my dining room.
The next port-of-call was Grand Cayman. Always on the lookout for interesting vehicles, I spotted a right-hand-drive Miata and a Pontiac Aztec!
We witnessed the devastation left by the recent Hurricane Ivan. Boats were moved ashore and buildings – large and small, were turned into rubble.
I saw fish while touring on a boat with windows under the water line, and visited a turtle farm.
Our last stop was Cozumel, Mexico. Once again I went up to a total stranger, suggested sharing a taxi and went into town. From there I soon walked away from the tourist traps (stores recommended at the shipboard shopping lecture).
I ended up at a little shop that sold a wide variety of Mexican handicrafts. Once again I spoke to the proprietor, who was pleased to tell me some of the fascinating stories behind the crafts. I bought a vase. He said he is going to start a tour company and invited me back. I gave him my email address. I also stopped and bought two Mexican blankets from a young boy who was working alongside his parents.
Drive safely and do join me again next time.