Christmas Cruise in the Caribbean
More often than not, we bugger off at Christmas, and Yuletide '16 was no different. Having dipped our toes in cruises on the big trip, we thought we'd give it another go on a vessel that was a bit more mainstream. By 'mainstream' I mean 'a monstrous sailing fortress of pink Anglosphere tourists and their hyperactive progeny'.
At the end of that we were to spend a week in Disney World, so I could run the Marathon there. There is no better preparation than being sedentary and force-fed like a foie gras goose. We'll come back to that folly in a different post.
It kicked off in Miami, where we flew in the day before embarkation (because sometimes shit happens and you need a margin of error) for a night in the W hotel. We booked a suite there which was larger than our apartment, and had a meal in the in-house restaurant up on their top level. Roll the obligatory food Instagrams:
We joined our ship the next day - The Norwegian Escape. It's a biggun, certainly by comparison to the Coral Princess - the only other cruise ship we've been on. The marked difference this time, aside from scale, was the demographic. While the Panama cruise was mainly retirees (average age had to be the mid-60's), this was filled with large family groups and kids. The ship was at capacity too, hauling roughly 5100 souls, crew included.
Embarkation day was Christmas Eve and, although it's never felt like real christmas when we've been away, the ship was decked out accordingly.
The first three nights were spent at sea, where we spent our time eating, drinking (our alcohol was included this time) and gambling (the casino is pretty much a full deck). I attempted to keep myself in a shape as far from mashed potato as possible, but the running deck was about 100m long and the climate became increasingly anti-exercise as we went along. There was a gym I glanced at occasionally, though.
One show we caught was a musical number focussed around a dinner and wine tasting, which was diverting.
The first stops were in the Virgin Islands, which these days come in three flavours: American, British and Spanish. These islands changed hands between the various vying powers back in the day (I think the Dutch and the Danish got involved at some point) and the area was big on tobacco and sugar (and therefore rum), produced by people who didn't have much of a say in the matter. These days there is still plenty of rum to be found, but the big employer is the tourist dollar.
The first of our stops was St Thomas, in the US VI. Still wary of booking tours with the cruise line based on previous experience, we nonetheless booked on one of the small (fewer than 8) tours to go snorkelling. We've been snorkelling before and it's generally successful once we convince Chan to not breathe the sea. The tour was actually really good. It was only us, a pair of Chinese girls and an American bloke and his son. We set out in our speed boat while the larger groups waited on the dock to catch their vessels.
They took us around the various places where one does this kind of thing, where we saw turtles (complete with latched-on remora fish), colourful fishes and assorted sunken bits-and-bobs. We didn't regret the less luxurious boat option as it bombed through the chop to get us to our paddling spots prior to the hordes.
By comparison, the next stop in Tortola (British VI, this time) was a bit of a let down. We'd booked a tour with one of the local firms who, after some investigation by the exceptionally helpful staff at the local tourist bureau, was a no-show. Evidently the owner was out of town and left it to a relative who buggered it up. Chan's wrath on TripAdvisor was mighty. Nonetheless, we took a generic tour with one of the 'taxis' (read: pickup truck with benches on the flatbed) and had a scoot around the island. Nothing special, but not a total loss. We popped into a rum distillery and bought some product. Enterprisingly they'd made sure to make the bottle small enough to fit in my pocket, out of materials that wouldn't set off the scanners on the way onto the ship. The cruise lines aren't fond of you bringing your own libations on board.
Finally we stopped in Nassau, which is in the Bahamas. There is no illusion that this anything other than a tourist town, as there was a flotilla of ships moored-up next to ours. We had booked a local tour, but killed time looking at tat in the market. I bought another overpriced Panama hat, which is a speciality of mine.
The tour we'd booked was a rum tour through a couple of local bars, hotels and a distillery. Fortunately our guide (Joelle) turned up this time and was excellent. We shared the tour with a riotous American couple, who were a giggle. To be totally honest, I'm not a massive fan of rum outside for a cocktail, but an excellent time was had regardless.
The cruise then concluded back in Miami, the following day. I think I enjoyed the Panama cruise more, as it was less hectic even though dining and entertainment options were more limited. I think I prefer the retirees to the squarking phalanxes of 20-strong family groups though...