The first half of January passed with the usual round of activities and voluntary work. Sandie continued her dancing and her family research. Ian did more painting, and continued trying to get his book published. He has joined a local writers’ group, hoping it will give him some ideas. We’ve also started planning our summer travels!
On Facebook, we read about the ‘thousand mile challenge’, which claims that it is good for health and fitness to walk a thousand miles each year. Sounds a lot, but when you work it out, it’s less than three miles a day on average. We generally do quite a lot of walking, so guessed it would not be too difficult, but decided to monitor daily distances just for fun. We equipped ourselves with cheap pedometers, and Ian set up a spreadsheet. There’s an ongoing debate about what to include, or not include, so it’s all very approximate, but so far we are well ahead of our target. In addition to the walks we normally do – into town, along the beaches etc – we’ve done a few short walks from the condo, and are getting to know the neighbourhood even better.
We were expecting a dip in temperatures – January can be cool, even in Florida – but mostly the weather has stayed warm and sunny, except for one weekend. That Saturday evening we went to the cinema, planning to see the film Lion, but it seems that everyone had the same idea, and it was sold out when we arrived. Instead we saw Jackie, about the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination. The following Saturday, we went to the Asolo Theatre to see a play called The Great Society. This followed on from All the Way, which we saw last year. The Great Society covered the period of LBJ’s presidency, after he was elected in his own right in 1964. It had a brilliant script, excellent acting and a great production. It lasted almost three hours, but we were so engrossed, we hardly noticed the time.
Off to the Bahamas
Cruising has never appealed to us – we prefer to be on land and see things, rather than look at the ocean. So when a friend sent us details of cheap cruises from Miami our first tendency was to ignore them. But they were amazingly good value, and when Sandie looked closer she found one which sounded as if it might suit us: four nights at sea, but all day on land, at three different islands in the Bahamas. So we decided to give it a go.
On Thursday 19th we drove across to Miami. Checking in for the cruise was quite a performance. Of course we expected security, and were not surprised to find that we were not allowed to carry liquids on board. We were however taken aback to be told that we could not take empty bottles – no airline that we’ve ever flown with has banned them. We had to queue over half an hour to get to the check-in desk, and the girl who dealt with us there gave us wrong information. As a result, we went up and down in a lift which got us nowhere, and lugged our case all the way to our cabin on the 8th deck, where we discovered that our room keys did not work. While Ian went to find guest services and have them changed, Sandie noticed that luggage was being delivered to all the other cabins. The porter was horrified when told that we had not been offered this service.
After our negative first experience, things did improve. Our cabin was fine, and the public areas of the ship were smart and comfortable. However, there were some disappointments. We were told that all food and drink was included – this should have been some food and some drink. Of the six restaurants on board, only two were ‘free’. We were not surprised to find that you had to pay extra for certain alcoholic drinks, but Sandie was disgusted to find that she would have to pay for a cappuccino!
There were other things that surprised us. Our (doubtless outdated) image of cruise ship passengers was that they were old, rich and well dressed. When we booked, we were told that there was no strict clothing code, but one rule – no shorts after 6pm. If this ever was a rule, it was completely ignored: people turned up for dinner in skimpy shorts or scruffy jeans, often with trainers and/or baseball caps. And the average age was much lower than we had anticipated. There were a few ‘oldies’ like us, and some middle-aged people, but the majority of passengers were young. It was more of a young person’s ‘booze cruise’ than anything else, and this was reflected in the noise levels and the entertainment on offer.
Our ship was operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines out of Miami, but we did not encounter a single American (or Norwegian!) among the crew. The majority of crew members (and officers) came from China, Indonesia, the Philippines or Croatia. One waiter told us that they sleep on the ship – and therefore we assume do not need a green card.
Our first call was at Grand Bahama Island. According to the guidebook we’d borrowed from the library, the main point of interest was Lucayan National Park, so we headed there. It was a long way from the port, so our taxi was not cheap, even though we were able to share it part of the way. At Lucayan we did a short trail which took us to two sea caves, and then another trail which took us through mangrove swamps down to Gold Rock Beach. This was stunning – a strip of pure white sand between pine trees and the brilliant turquoise sea. Some dead trees made it really picturesque, and we spent most of our time there walking along the beach and taking photos.
Next day we were at Nassau. We left the ship early and spent the morning exploring the town. We visited John Watling’s Distillery, two cathedrals (Anglican and RC), the Queen’s Staircase and Fort Fincastle. After lunch back on the ship, we did a separate excursion to Paradise Island, across the bridge from Nassau town. En route we detoured to Potter’s Cay, where men gut the conchs which have been caught, and which are then cooked and eaten at a string of colourful cafés. On Paradise Island we visited the Versailles Gardens, and then strolled along Cabbage Beach.
We were supposed to spend our third and final day on Great Stirrup Cay, a small private island in the Berry Islands group. We had not realised that we would need to transfer to small boats to reach the island. We were given instructions, and dressed in our beach clothes, but just as we reached the exit it was announced that the island was ‘cancelled’ – the weather was too windy for the tender boats to make it safely across the water. So we had to spend the whole day confined to the ship – exactly what had always made us reluctant to go on cruises.
So would we do it again? In a word, no. We don’t regret at all going on this cruise. We went to a country we hadn’t previously visited. We enjoyed Nassau, and the Lucayan National Park. We had the experience of being on a big liner. It was a great-value trip, considering how much we ate and drank. But the trip – particularly the last day – confirmed our feeling that cruising is not really for us.