Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cruising the Caribbean

We don't tend to travel spur of the moment. And considering the travel-full year we'd already had, the last thing I expected was to feel those stirrings of wanderlust again so soon. But my email in-box was regularly filling up with cruise offers...great deals if you travelled over Thanksgiving.
I toyed with the idea, and then dismissed it.
Brought it up again with Bryan, but then decided prices were too high for airfare even if cruising was a screaming deal.
Heard of a cheap red-eye Jetblue flight if we flew into a different city and drove to the port, but then backed down again when thinking through the many obstacles regarding the kids' schedules.
We decided to bag the whole thing.

But then....Rebekah called and said that she had officially decided to serve an LDS mission. She wanted to start working on her papers after finals in December and send them in a couple of months later, hoping to leave in late May/early June.

So though our family had just returned from a vacation in Kauai in August, we decided that we might regret not taking the opportunity for another trip, considering that we'd likely not get another chance before Rebekah left for 18 months.

We booked the cruise and airfare 10 days before we were to embark. We literally pulled Julianne off stage after her final bows for closing night of "West Side Story" and headed straight to the airport.

Red-eye flights are never fun. We were freezing cold, our back-row seats couldn't recline and the flight was one of the most turbulent I've ever flown on. We were all pretty tired when we arrived in Orlando. But we rented a car and began our 3-hour drive down to Ft. Lauderdale...Rebekah taking over for a little while when her parents were too tired to drive safely.

We settled in, explored the ship a bit, and then proceeded to nearly fall asleep at the dinner table. We went to bed our first night at 7:30. (Two rooms on two separate decks of the ship, because apparently when you book your trip last minute, the prices are good but the availability of rooms together is non-existent.) But hey, we were on board and our Thanksgiving family trip had begun.

The itinerary consisted of stops at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Key West with two days at sea. The weather was iffy, however and we found ourselves with FOUR days at sea, Half Moon Cay and Grand Cayman being cancelled due to gale force winds and rain. It was disappointing, certainly. But really, how can you complain when you are being pampered aboard a classy Holland America cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean?

Bryan and I had already made plans to gift our three teenagers with kindles for Christmas, so we bought them early...because what better place to use a kindle than on a vacation? We all read an insane amount, especially with the extra two days we had at sea.

We also took advantage of the ships many lounges, library and disco (because it had big tables) to play lots and lots of card games.

Rebekah and Julianne learned to samba in the ship's Dancing With the Stars at Sea class.

One afternoon the ship's captain made an announcement that a life raft had been spotted and that we would be turning around to make sure that there was no one inside who needed rescuing. Well, that was a cause for great excitement...especially for a ship full of passengers who had been stuck at sea for a few days. All decks with balcony views were jammed with people curious about the proceedings. "I bet it's someone trying to escape from Cuba!!" I overheard one little old lady saying. It made me giggle a bit. I was pretty certain that the raft would prove to be empty. But we watched all the same, our own little speedboat making its way through the choppy waves to check out the raft and bring it back to the ship. And yep, no rescuee. Likely a raft that hadn't been tied down properly on another cruise ship passing by the area earlier.

Another night we were enjoying the BB King Blues Band when three loud alarm blasts went off. We all knew that it was the emergency signal because at the beginning of the cruise they make sure everyone is well acquainted with all the signals and various practice drills. But this signal was directly in the middle of the cruise's evening activities. Not your normal time for a practice drill. So everything just stopped. The musicians looked around at each other with a kind of "Huh???" expression on their faces. We were all squirming a bit, wondering what this could mean when the captain made an announcement. There was a fire he said, in one of the crews quarters down on deck B. A FIRE ON BOARD SHIP?!?! We squirmed a lot more as he continued with his announcement. Everyone was to stay where they were and remain calm until further instruction. Ummm, okay? The musicians started making stupid jokes and invited the audience to do the same. The ship's comedian happened to be in amongst us in the audience and came up to try his hardest to tell clean jokes. We laughed at his lame attempts. It wasn't too long before we heard the captain's voice again. The fire was out. It had never been a big deal, really....it was due to some faulty wiring in a light fixture and the source had been discovered and fixed. We all breathed a big sigh of relief and the show continued. But I had to laugh. Two ports missed because of bad weather, a search for a life raft that may or may not have someone needing rescue, and a fire (small though it may be)...this cruise was definitely keeping us on our toes.

On Thanksgiving Day we were supposed to be in Grand Cayman. Instead, we spent five hours at the pool. The weather was bad and the waves were large...outside the ship, but also inside the pool as the ship rocked back and forth a little more forcefully than it normally does. But I think that made for even more fun for the people inside the pool.

("Mom," Lilian said as she came over after watching me for awhile from the hot tub. "You're showing a lot of cartilage!" In a swimsuit, yes indeed I'm sure I was showing more "cartilage" than normal. I couldn't stop laughing.) 

Another evening after dinner went swimming while everyone else on board was taking advantage of the ship's nighttime activities....shows, concerts, drinking in the lounges, gambling in the casinos....and we had the entire pool to ourselves. Brandon somewhat arrogantly wondered out loud if I could tread water longer than he could. He's a strong kid, yes. And in most things he can kick my trash. But he was rather surprised and humbled when he had to stop after just a few minutes and I continued on for twenty.

Though Thanksgiving is an American holiday and the ship was staffed with 85% Phillippino and Indonesian crew, the majority of the passengers were American. So they made a big to-do out of Thanksgiving. I was grateful, because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I was happy that even if I was celebrating very non-traditionally on a ship in the middle of the Caribbean, I was still able to eat turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.

(Thanksgiving we-are-so-stuffed family selfie.)

Formal night...

One of the ship's evening shows put on by the Eurodam singers and dancers was fairy tales, fractured. It was pretty impressive. But what impressed me even more was how approachable the performers were after the show when Lilian wanted to meet them. And how kind it was of two of them to spend a good while talking with Julianne about the ins and outs of performing, auditions, living in NYC, etc, after they found out that she was potentially considering a career in theatre.

 Did I mention yet that I actually bid on and won a painting at the art auction? Oh my, that was not part of the plan. Art auctions are one of my favorite things to do on cruises. I find them fascinating...seeing the art, learning the history of the artists, and then the actual auction itself. But as much as I love art, I've never actually bid on anything even though at times I have been sorely tempted. But this art auction was on Black Friday. (Yes, Black Friday happens even in the middle of the Caribbean.) So they were pulling out some screaming deals. And I'm afraid I just got caught up in the excitement of things. Rebekah, Julianne and I had seen a painting earlier during the preview that we had liked well enough to "tag." Which basically means, they'd make sure to bring it "across the block." No pressure to bid if the price wasn't to our liking. But when the painting came up (a watercolor called "Vivaldi" by Shan-Merry) the price was not bad. And before I could even think too much about it, I started waving my card in the air! Of course, the exhilaration that I felt purchasing that painting quickly settled into a tiny bit of dread when I realized I'd have to explain to Bryan what I had done....

All in all, life on the Eurodam treated us well.
Next up....Jamaica and Key West.

1 comment:

Lori said...

So exciting and fun!!! What great memories before your big girl goes on a mission. EEK! So awesome!