Monday, February 27, 2017

Fun in the Sun: A Weekend Bahamas Cruise

[Composed 2/20/2017]

This past weekend was spent cruising the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean with our friend's 7 year old, J. Shira and I had been both cruising, and on a trip to the Bahamas, but this was our first experience combining the two, and doing so in a weekend no less.

Friday started with, among other quick stops, a run into Walmart to buy a chess set. J is apparently part of the chess club at school, so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity for me to truly learn how to play the game. So with our $10 chess set in hand, we boarded the Royal Caribbean ship that would be our home for the next three days.

This would be our 3rd time cruising, and I have to say, there's just something special about stepping on board. There's so much promise and excitement in the air. Much of cruising is a thin veneer of luxury that doesn't take much to see past, but what a fine veneer it is!

We found our way to our state room where J found he was sleeping on an upper bunk that folded down from the wall. This was a massive highlight of his trip. As for me, I found the room quite satisfactory, and Shira found it too tight for her liking. In my mind, the cramped state room is all part of the quirkiness of cruising.

We then made our way to the ship where we arrived at the pool on the top deck. It was here that we found ourselves comparing this Royal Caribbean cruise to our last experiences on Norwegian, a pastime we found ourselves doing fairly regularly. The water slide was smaller, the pool colder, the free food noticeably absent. J was un-phased. He and one of his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle characters found their way to a hot tub and were in heaven.

I sat in the hot tub too, and struck up a conversation with the fellow sitting next to me. Before I knew it, I was 30 minutes into a Trump "discussion" and it was time for us to extract ourselves from the tub. Yeesh, it was like being back in DC, where political talk is basically non-stop.

Saturday we docked in Nassau, Bahamas. This was our second time in Nassau, the first being just about 19 years ago a few days after Shira and I got hitched. Much of that trip is hazy, but I can clearly recall landing in the evening, stepping off the plane, and being hit by a crazy hot and humid wall of air. That's what we got for going in July. For this year's trip, however, the weather was absolutely perfect.

From the ship, we made our way past the crowds to Fort Fincastle, about half a mile away. This tiny structure gave us a chance to learn a little bit about the island and play with the cannons. We can do a beach bum vacation and all, but it's going to be punctuated with history the first chance I got.

After Fort Fincastle, we made our way to the Pirate Museum. But alas, it was closed. We settled instead for hitting an ice cream parlor, and I counted my Guava Cheesecake flavored ice cream as a cultural experience.

From the ice cream parlor we made our way to Junkaroo beach, which has the distinction of being the closest beach to the cruise terminal. There are far more pristine beaches on the island, but for a weary 8 year old, location trumped everything else.

After a few hours of splashing in the chilly water and playing in the sand, we made our way back to the ship. The first order of business, once back on board, was to take a soak in the hot tub. See a theme yet?

After dinner we enjoyed one of the best luxuries offered by the ship: Kids Club. For all the nit picking we could do about our boat, I've got to say, Royal Caribbean nailed the kids activities. J was excited to attend them, and until 10pm (way after all our bed times), they're all free. After 10pm, babysitting is just $7.00/hr, which is a quite the value (considering a bottle of water is $3.50).

Sunday was to be spent on Coco Cay, a private island belonging to Royal Caribbean. One of the best parts: to get there you, you need to take a tender boat. That's sort of a mini-adventure to get to the adventure, and it didn't disappoint.

Once on the island, we grabbed a couple of beach chairs and started exploring the our little chunk of shoreline. J quickly made some new friends, and they found all manner of hermit crab and sea snail.

I'd been looking forward to visiting the island to try my hand at snorkeling. The water, like the day before, was chilly, but not too bad. Shira, J and I made our way out into the main swimming area, and fairly quickly caught site of a variety of different types of fish. Ultimately, I'd go out two or three more times on my own, getting further and further out from the shore and seeing more and more types of fish. I recall snorkeling in Hawaii and being blown away by the sheer quantity of life below water. This wasn't really the case here, but there was still plenty to see and even the smallest amount of effort yielded interesting discoveries.

We rented a floaty mat thing, and J climbed aboard while Shira I snorkeled, pulling him along for the ride. It was quite the sight to see.

After an impressive lunch, we went in search of the nature trail. What we found was a 1/2 mile path that led into the woods and away from civilization. We saw a number of 3+ foot iguanas along the way, and came out at a far more secluded set of coastline. For our purposes (read: entertaining and feeding an 8 year old), being close to where the boats dropped us off and the crowds collected worked well. But I could imagine if I ever came back with Shira alone, it would be fun to hike the nature trail in the morning and set up our own little piece of beach heaven away from the rest of our shipmates. Definitely something to consider if you find yourself on Coco Cay.

After a tender ride back to the ship we hit, you guessed it, the hot tub.

Which brings us to Monday, today. If boarding the ship has that special feeling of excitement and promise, leaving it comes with a corresponding dose of sadness and finality. It's like we're all leaving summer camp or something, yet it's been a mere 3 days of togetherness. Still, we were all sad to wave goodbye to the ship as we departed.

From there, we made our way to J's grandparents home, where they had food and the perfect setting to recount our adventures. They were even able to bust out one of their photo albums and show J the time his Mom, Uncle and Grand Parents went to Nassau. Including photos of Fort Fincastle, the water tower and the Christopher Columbus statue that he'd been standing in front of just 48 hours earlier. It was all so special.

On our drive from the Cruise Ship to his Grandparent's house, I helped J come up with his top ten list for our adventure. Here's what he came up with:

10. Discovering secret compartments in the stateroom
9. Laying out on the floaty mat, while the floaty mat was on dry land.
8. The tender ride to and from the ship and Coco Cay.
7. Collecting shells and searching out sea life with friends on Coco Cay.
6. Floating on the mat while we snorkled.
5. Eating Ice Cream in Nassau.
4. Playing 'frisbee' using my hat in the onboard pool.
3. Sleeping in a folding bunk bed.
2. Playing at Kids Club.
1. Hot Tub Time!

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