Sister’s Travel Diaries Series
Cruising the Past, Present and the Future
My sister, Susan and I began taking cruises when we were teenagers. Our dad spent time working at the port and loved the ocean and ships. When his business was doing well Carnival Cruise lines began cruises out of the port of Boston. He was so excited for us to take a cruise. Our first cruise on the original Carnival ship, the Mardi Gras was epic. We encounter a hurricane roaming erratically in the Atlantic. Several cruises later we embarked on a maiden voyage of a new ship. Eventually our cruise days dwindled and real life, marriage and children took precedent. But I was ever so great for the opportunity to be at sea and go on so many wonderful cruises.
Several years ago when our mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my sister and I decided to revive our family tradition and began taking yearly cruises together. It has become a wonderful way to get together and spend time with each other. My sister still lives in Massachusetts not far from where we grew up but I now live in North Carolina. The ocean has become a central aspect of my life. The ocean is a connection between us and our childhood. It is a bond that continues to thrive.
We ventured out slowly, first taking a short five day voyage out of Miami (Carnival Destiny).
The next year we missed taking a cruise because mom was in the end stages of Alzheimer’s. After she passed away early the following year we planned our next cruise. To usher in a new chapter in our life, we planned a longer cruise, a nine day cruise out of New York City ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico (Carnival Splendor). This cruise was our first big epic adventure together and our revived tradition became solidified.
Several months before our journey we had another death in the family. I hope this does not also become a tradition for these trips. . Susan’s husband Bob died suddenly. He went and played golf, came home had a sandwich and took a nap from which he never woke.
This is a major life change for my sister. Again we are reminded that life is precious. We are even more determined to enjoy our life as much as possible. If we don’t do it today we may not have tomorrow to do it. Still we plan to be here and plan on trip after trip.
Susan picked this Carnival Journeys cruise, an eleven day Caribbean cruise out of Galveston, Texas and once again ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I tried to convince Susan to do the B2B which would have been twenty-one days but she wasn’t sure about a cruise that long so opted to do just the first leg of the journey and stay in Puerto Rico for four days. See a pattern here. Susan loves the planning and anticipation as much as she loves the trip. I like planning a trip but it is the execution that I love the most. I really don’t mind and even like the fact that she does all the planning. I just have to pack and go!!
We keep having these trips with emotional baggage we are letting go of. Every one of them have some kind of life changing event attached to it. Traveling and life changes have become linked together. Travel for me has always been not only for experiencing other places, cultures and environments but connecting to myself and who I am, who I am becoming and who I want to be.
It is a deep spiritual journey as well as an outer worldly journey. Both aspects make life whole for me. It connects me to the wholeness within myself and the wholeness of life. Travel opens up change within and without. It shows us possibilities, open doors of opportunity, allows us to make discoveries that are beyond our current situation and limitations and beliefs. To change from within and manifest an outward change in my life.
I think I was born with a wanderlust that was stifled by a mother who craved, desired and needed, a permanent home life with routine and familiarity. Dad had that base foundation and understood that is was expected of him but deep in his heart adventure, excitement and wanderlust hid. His way, even his belief on how to address these feelings was vacation travel. In fact, that is how most of us pacific this desire.
I am not sure we would have ventured very far from our neighborhood if it hadn’t been for dad trying to appease his own wanderlust. Susan has it too yet she still has a need for that place of home base. With the base she feels free to come and go knowing she has it to return to. It is nice to have a base, necessary even in some ways but I wish I could find the courage and the way to just wander from place to place discovering new places and new ways of being. I haven’t quite been able to let go completely of those childhood beliefs that have been instilled in me. Maybe someday.
This cruise will usher in a new chapter in my sister’s life and a much needed shift in my life.
Enough rumination, let’s get into this Journey Adventure we are embarking on.
We are off on another Sister’s Travel Adventure
My whole flight was a chaotic adventure which seems to be normal for me on these trips. This time the frustration was that my flight from Charlotte to Galveston was overbooked and I had no seat assignment. So upon arriving in Charlotte from Jacksonville I went to the desk to get a seat and they told me they were working on it! In my frustration, I paced around the crowed gate area. I am meeting Susan in Houston that is if I get there. Why I always have issues with my flights to meet up with my sister is beyond me. I am in Charlotte and have no seat on the flight I am booked on. The flight is overbooked and it seems everyone has shown.
I am pacing around constantly reminding the staff I need a seat assignment. A gentleman in the waiting area seeing me pacing around offers me his seat. I thank him and tell him why I am standing. I begin a discussion with him, his wife and the couple they are traveling with. Turns out they are heading to Galveston and they are staying at the same hotel Susan and I are. They are going on the Carnival Triumph tomorrow as well.
The plane begins boarding. I still do not have a seat! My new friend’s board and the gentleman says, “I will buy you a drink if you make the ship tomorrow.”
“I will hold you to that!”
I am called to the desk and given the last seat left on the plane – in first class. Well that sure helps the anxious moments I have been having. Aboard I settle into my seat and relax. I am on my way.
Susan on the other hands gets on an earlier flight then she was booked on and arrives in Houston earlier than expected. Here we go again trying to meet up in an airport having arrived in different terminals. Susan calls the shuttle service picking us up. The shuttle driver comes and finds me and then picks up my sister. We are together!!! We pick up one more passenger. Her name is Diane and she is staying at the same hotel and going on the same cruise with us.
We arrive excitedly at the Harbor Hotel and check in. our room is up on the third floor. We have a standard double queen room. We dump our bags and head out to walk around and see a little of Galveston. Susan and I walk around the historic district a couple of blocks from the hotel. We wander in and out of shops, admire the cobblestone streets and the architecture. The feel of Galveston is slightly Bostonian in a way. This area has a southern Boston feel to us. Maybe that’s because we love the south but we will never get the Bostonian out of us completely.
For dinner we go to a restaurant right across the pier from the hotel. My friends from the airport come in to have dinner also. I introduce them to my sister. We are all relaxing but excited about getting on the ship tomorrow. It seems we are meeting other repeaters. Repeaters are people like us who have cruised before, cruised with Carnival many times before and go back again and again.
After dinner Susan and I walk the pier to another restaurant with a big deck out on the water. It is busy and the hostess doesn’t want to give us a table out on the deck because we are just going to have a drink and not order food. We order a drink at the bar and wander around to find a place to sit. We are speaking with a gentleman who turns out to be the manager and he tells the hostess to sit us outside where we want to sit. We thank him.
Toasting our cruise we spot dolphins frolicking in the water in front of us. Dolphins are our sign of wonderful adventures and fun ahead. Dolphins are my spirit animal. I have a deep and strong connection to them. They protect me on every journey.
Waking in the morning I can see the Carnival Triumph docked in port. This is a tradition I like!
Embarkation day is always full of excitement and dread. On the Carnival Splendor in New York embarkation went easily and smoothly. Here in Galveston it is almost a nightmare. It is raining-pouring rain. Everyone is checking out and heading over early hoping to board. Chaos ensues. Lines have formed. The ship isn’t ready for turnaround yet and people are impatient.
We know when we arrive early we have to wait. We waited until we had to check out before heading over knowing it was likely we would wait. Waiting in line through security and check-in is part of the boarding process. Still people complain and complain. The lines for priority boarding are actually longer than the regular boarding lines. Once we are through security waiting to check-in is no big deal really. AT least we are in a covered area out of the rain!
Texas has been dealing with massive rain storms and flooding. There is a hurricane that is nearby throwing this rain at us. It will most likely affect our voyage in some way as well. Hurricane Patricia the largest strongest hurricane to make landfall. It came in from the Pacific Ocean into Mexico a couple of days ago. It has weakened considerable across the mountains but still is a massive rainstorm that is hitting here now.
It took us a couple of hours to get through the embarkation and board.
And once on the ship I got that Bahama Mama!
We were not in a hurricane but we did encounter residual effects of one. Texas had already been engulfed with rain and flooding and more rain, remnants of a strong hurricane were threatening again. Waterlogged security equipment delayed the process of luggage getting on the ship, delivered to the cabins and delayed our scheduled departure. Even after we finally set sail three hours late many people still didn’t have their luggage. We left Galveston in the rain and some rough seas the first twenty-four hours of the voyage. We also cruised at a higher speed than usual that first night to make up the three hours so the ship was rocking as it pushed through the waves.
Our ship is an older ship. My sister and I joked that the hairdryer was one that back on our maiden voyage trip in the 80’s was considered a modern luxury was now an antique! The cabins though dated were clean and kept up as was the rest of the ship. It seemed unreasonable to us when people compared this ship to some of the newer and more modern ships and acted disappointed and annoyed.
When one books a cruise on a ship it is easy to learn the date when it was built and how long it has been in service. It is unreasonable to compare an older ship to a newer modern updated ship. As long as it is clean and maintained then one should be happy. In fact, this ship had been overhauled mechanically, with a new engine a few years back. That to me is much more important than décor or a hairdryer. The hairdryer worked that was good enough for me.
Being on a ship almost any ship feels like home to me. Being on the water, on the ocean, feeling it under me makes me content. I can make the best of almost any circumstance when I am on a ship at sea. Being on a cruise ship no matter what its age is a wonderful experience. This cruise was extraordinary because the cruise staff from the Captain and officers, the cruise director and staff, the entertainment staff, the hotel staff, bartenders and waiters, everyone were friendly, accessible, and helpful.
My favorite on board activity this time was participating in the ‘Behind the Fun Tour’. Seeing the areas of the ship that house the staff, their recreation areas, dining areas, the galley, the production areas of the main showroom, the engine room, and the bridge was a wonderful, enlightening and fun opportunity. I would highly recommend this tour. Unfortunately cameras are not allowed on this tour. However, one of the ships photographers, takes your picture with the Captain on the bridge that is included with the tour and is a great souvenir.
The music on board this ship was outstanding and actually made this trips on board experience the best for me. I spent every evening after dinner spending time between dancing in the World Bar with Music Power and listening to Plan A, a duo from New Zealand, playing guitar and singing harmonies in the Antrim lounge. I was a regular in both venues. I love live music and dancing as my friends at home can substantiate. It is second in my life to my love of the ocean. In fact, I am known for dancing on the beach!
My sister had the most fun I have ever seen her have, which alone made this trip epic! Not that she hasn’t had fun on our other trips just this one she seemed more relaxed and let loose more. We travel well together despite our different interests and personalities. We are very comfortable sharing a cabin, doing some activities together but also ok with each of us doing our own thing at times. It also gives us opportunities for quiet time and our own space. It is a comfortable combination of being together that allows for us to enjoy each other’s company for a long period of time.
One of the main requirements for us is in having meals in the main dining room. Many people opt for eating meals in the lido deck dining area. We use the lido deck for an occasional breakfast, lunch and midnight pizza not regularly. The experience of dining in the dining room, of ordering our meal, being served, making new friends and having interesting conversation is one of the highlights of being on a cruise.
At dinner you sit with the same people every night allowing for you to get to know each other and form bonds that often will remain off the ship. At breakfast or brunch or lunch you have the opportunity to meet new people. Of course there is the occasion that someone sitting at your table is not pleasant or not in a good mood or not enjoying their cruise experience. Mostly though it is an enriching experience.
Ports of Call
One of the highlights of a cruise is the ports of call. This trip we explored the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Martinique, and St. Maarten. With only one day one must choose from the many options how to spend those six hours or so in port. The cruise line offers many tour options some of which are worth the money some that are not. We often opt for a combination of a tour in a couple of ports and to go it on our own in others.
Since beaches are a passion for me, in Grand Cayman we head right for Seven Mile Beach. It was moments upon arrival that both Susan and I were in the Caribbean Sea. I had been to Seven Mile Beach many years ago but nothing ever looks or feels the same it is always a new experience. Susan had never been here before. The water is heaven to both of us as it sitting in lounge chairs on the beach with drink in hand. Here we enjoyed exactly what we love the most.
Any beach especially a Caribbean beach is beautiful although we find ourselves comparing each beach to others we have been to. Though Seven Mile Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world we find that it doesn’t compare to many of the wonderful beaches we have been to before. That, however, never stops us from enjoying the beach we are on at the moment and this is no exception! Susan is more sensitive to the sun than I am and therefore we always limit our direct sun expose to prevent her from burning and ruining her trip. After several hours we head back to town for some lunch, exploring and shopping.
Many people choose to go back to the ship for lunch since it is included but we opt for having lunch at port although we don’t always try local cuisine. Before we headed for the beach we had already spotted a restaurant that we wanted to check out, an Italian restaurant. My food passion is Italian, pasta to be specific. I can eat pasta every day and often do! The restaurant is on the bay. We opt to sit inside to take a break from the heat. I notice many locals enjoying lunch as well as a few others from our cruise ship. Our meal is wonderful. Our stomachs satisfied we set off to explore the local shops.
In Aruba we have opted for an island tour and then the afternoon at the beach. Susan is surprised to discover that the terrain is desert here on this Caribbean island. I was here many years ago in my twenties. Aruba was my first big trip alone. I have many fond memories of my time here. I remember the starkness of this island, the divi divi trees, the hotel I stayed at and the beach. The hotel I stayed at is now a larger hotel complex with new construction but it is still there.
Though exploring the northern rocky side of the island is interesting once again it is the beach that we love. We spend the several hours enjoying the water at Eagle beach just a ways up from where I spent many days all those years ago. Here you can see the beach for miles and miles in either direction, north is the huge mega hotel resorts and south are the smaller hotels.
Since we pulled into port in Aruba a little later than other ports we are staying later here allowing for more time at the end of the day. We have met up with Emily and D our dinner companions on the ship for appetizers and drinks at a local restaurant. We all decide to have the house drink, the Pink Lizard. Cheers!! Our day at port complete we return to the ship for dinner at 8 pm as we set sail for our next port of call.
I had never been to Bonaire before and I was looking forward to getting into the waters of one of the most renowned diving areas in the world. Here Susan and I opted for a beach resort for the morning and then exploring in the afternoon. I never imagined such a rocky beach terrain and even in the water it was rock and coral reef and not sand. One doesn’t need to dive or snorkel far to see amazing fish and coral here. I now see why this is one of the major diving locations in the world.
The rocky shore made it difficult to get in and out of the water. The resort had a dock with ladders at the end sections. The dock itself was also hard to navigate as it was a floating rubber raft of sorts. It bounced and swayed as you walked on it and it was extremely hot from the sun. It would have been best if I had had my water shoes and even though I had read that it was a good idea to have them here in Bonaire I didn’t pack them. Wish I had now. It didn’t deter us from going in the water. Susan and I spent the majority of our time here in the water.
We loved wandering down the little roads and avenues in Bonaire. It was a quintessence little Caribbean island town. At the outdoor vendors I bought a handmade necklace and a CD of local music for my roommates. Our dilemma was finding a restaurant that was open for lunch it seemed many of the restaurants except for the ones right by the port were only open for dinner. Someone told us that there was a restaurant in the mall but we had wanted to find a quaint little restaurant on a side street. Unsuccessful we finally wandered into what they called a mall and there I discovered an Italian restaurant. Leave it to me to find an Italian restaurant in Bonaire. Once inside there was a little elderly Italian gentleman who seated us, took our order and I swear he went back into the kitchen cooked it and then served it to us! Amazing and the food was delicious!
As we approached Grenada the clouds loomed over the mountains. You could see the rain. Tropical downpours were all around. Grenada is a lush mountainous island. Neither Susan nor I had ever been here before and were excited about going to a rum distillery and to the beach. We feared the beach just might be a washout. Diane, whom we had met on the shuttle from the airport had chosen the same tour and so she hung out with us. Our tour guide was friendly and informative and claims he is going to be the next Governor of Grenada. Through narrow winding steep roads we were taken to the oldest rum distillery on the island. As we toured the distillery all of us were a little concerned about falling through the floor boards especially on the upper level. I even hesitated going up because the stairway was open and very steep. One of my fears is open heights. Going up was a challenge to my sight and nerves but I slowly made my way up. By the time we arrived in the tasting room I was ready for that rum! My favorite was a rum they made from a local flower called sorrel which they say is there local cranberry
The beach in Grenada wasn’t a washout. The tropical downpours stayed away from the beach while we were there. We spent most of the time in the beautiful clear warm water. Conversation, rum punch and the Caribbean Sea is the perfect combination. This was one of our best beach experiences on this trip. It was peaceful, calm and relaxing. It seemed too soon to head back into town for some shopping. The tropical downpours held off no longer and as we wondered the shopping stalls the clouds emptied out. We gathered under the tents rather than wondering outside. I bought another dress. I think I have a new sun dress from every port this time. Soaking wet but happy with our day we made our way back to the ship.
I was excited about visiting Martinique neither of us had been here before and I had planned another rum distillery tour. We also went to a Banana Plantation. Martinique is bigger than I thought. The infrastructure is larger and bigger than any of the other islands we have been to so far. Major highways and lots and lots of construction. It was good that we had a scheduled tour and transportation. Our dinner companions Emily and D had once again chosen the same tour as us and so we hung out together.
I learned more about the process of growing bananas then I had ever wanted to know. It is amazing to learn that it is still basically done by hand with people actually handling each aspect. We were taken through the plantation on a tram and at several places they demonstrated the care of the growth process, supporting the trees, ensuring the growth of the bananas, cutting them down, to bundling and packing them. At the end we went to a tasting of bananas, banana chips and banana wine.
The Rum distillery in Martinique was very different from the distillery in Grenada. It was situated on a huge plantation with beautiful gardens that we went through first. Then we went to a barrel room where there were hundreds of barrels of rum aging. However, this facility was no longer in operation and was only a visitor’s center and museum. The original plantation home was also open to tour. The tasting room was the biggest and best tasting room I have ever been to. (Although Bacardi’s in Puerto Rico is wonderful too.)
Our tour guide had been telling us about a local drink called Ti’ punch that is the national drink of Martinique. Once in the tasting room he had the bartenders make it for us, a muddle lime, sugar syrup and white rhum. They spell rum – rhum. It was too strong for any of us to drink more than a couple of sips and we still had a tasting to do! Here they had over 20 varieties of rum for us to taste starting with their most expansive rum, gold rums, white rums, rum liqueurs, and fruit rums. My favorites were a chocolate liquor and a coconut liquor. I bought a bottle of coconut liquor to bring home as well as some mini bottles of their main white rhum.
St. Maarten/St. Martin
Our cruise last year also went to St. Maarten. I had originally planned to go to Orient Beach but when we arrived Susan was sunburned and didn’t want to go to the beach so we did a tikiboat tour, across the lake to the French side and then a bus ride back around to the Dutch side. This time Susan was adamant that we go to Orient Beach since we hadn’t gone last times. So off to Orient Beach we went. We shared a taxi with another couple. Our taxi driver told us that a 747 plane was landing at the airport beside Maho Beach a little after noon today. Many of our shipmates including Emily and D were going there to see the planes land. Maho Beach is a huge tourist attraction in St. Maarten despite the fact that the government states that being near the planes landing and taking off can result in death.
Once at Orient beach our taxi driver connects us with someone he knew who provided us with comfortable lounge chairs, an umbrella and a ticket for 2 rum punches at the bar. Orient beach was busy and crowded with people. Not far from where we were was the nude beach though we didn’t see anyone completely nude there were many people who were topless. As Orient beach is located on the Atlantic Ocean it was rough with waves and not as easy to get into as the other beaches we had been to. It was fun watching the parasailers and kite boarders. I love watching the kite boarders at home. After Susan had her 2 rum punches she said. “Let’s go over to Maho Beach and see the 747 land.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
So we grab a cab and went off back to the Dutch side to go join all the people on Maho Beach watching the planes land. The scene was crazy with people everywhere!
There were police keeping people on the beach and off the road and fence to the airport. We found a spot on the sand which wasn’t easy. And what I didn’t realize put us directly under the incoming planes! Shortly after we arrived a smaller plane made its approach. Amazing that it was so close to all these people on the beach. Everyone was waiting with anticipation of the 747. There was a man with a radio and microphone and soon he announced that the plane that everyone was waiting for was beginning to make its descent towards the airport. The crowd was wild. And then it was spotted off in the distance. The closer it got the more the crowd went wild, people were screaming some with excitement and some with fear. We were screaming in fear as the plane got closer and closer getting too close for comfort flying right over our heads touching before landing about 50 yards from where we were. Of course I am guessing at the distance but it actually seemed closer that. It was one of those once in a lifetime bucket list activities. Done!
Philipsburg on the Dutch side near the cruise dock has a nice boardwalk with a beautiful beach right there. The boardwalk has many shops and restaurants. So even if you decide not to wander too far away from the ship you will have all you need right here. We ate lunch at the Hard Rock Café but I had a local salmon dish. You can also wander back down the streets to some of the other shops. The town area is easily walkable and has lots of shops. I have decided having been here many times now that the next time we stop here on a cruise I will just spend my day right here!
I have to admit, I took any opportunity to meet the Captain. I attended the first informal meet and greet the second night of the cruise. Then on Throwback Wednesday when everything was done in the 80’s style including having a formal meet the Captain Cocktail Party I took the opportunity to meet with the Captain again. As Susan and I were waiting our turn to be introduced to the Captain one of the staff members was talking with us and told us that they all called him, ‘Captain Yummy’ so Captain Yummy he became. I had already signed up for the Behind the Fun Tour (I highly recommend the Behind the Fun Tour}and knew I would have yet another opportunity to meet with him. What made the meetings even more special was the fact that twice during the cruise he saw me on the ship and came over and spoke to me each time.
Upon leaving the ship I heard a voice, “You aren’t leaving us are you?”
Looking up I see it is the Captain. “Yes, I am getting off here, we aren’t doing the second leg.”
“Well you will just have to come back another time then.” As he hugged me good-bye.
I think I was more enamored with the Captain this time then I was in my 20’s when I met several Captains. Maybe because this time I was closer in age. This Captain was younger than me and all the other Captain’s I have met over the years were years older (and I years younger!). He was the most handsome and friendliest Captain I have ever met.
Our cruise ends as we pull into San Juan but our trip is not over yet. We have booked a hotel just outside of old San Juan for 4 days. Susan’s oldest daughter Hannah is flying in tonight to join us. I am looking forward to resting on the beach after 11 days of whirlwind sightseeing.
This trip was one of our best trips so far. Not only did we explore new ports, met wonderful people, had once in a lifetime experiences we also recalled so many memories of our family trips growing up. It reignited that passion for travel that our father opened for us. It helped healed memories, revived wonderful ones and made new ones. Our life has been an ocean voyage one that we plan on continuing until we are no longer able to. I tell my kids instead of putting me in a retirement home just put me on a cruise ship. I will have all I need, a bed, food, and the ocean. And it most likely will be cheaper! A night on a cruise ship is a bargain compared to the cost of a night in a nursing home.
We love cruising and enjoy our Carnival trips that while we were on the ship we booked our trip for next year! An even longer more Epic Cruise!
Stay tuned for more Sister Travel Adventures!!
This cruise took place October 2015. this installment is the cruise where I suddenly realized I should be blogging our adventures. Now you are up to date as we get ready to head out on our next Sisters Travel Adventure, October 2016.