Cruise 2011
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Diary of a Caribbean Cruise – Part Two

Disaster Averted... and our first ports of call

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
At sea...

As I sat at breakfast this morning putting butter on my toast, I became acutely conscious – not for the first time, nor for the last – of being on an ocean vessel far out of sight of land.  The little pat of butter that I was using had to have been brought on board days ago, and carefully stored, so that I might find it ready to use in the breakfast buffet this morning.

Which led me to wonder how much fresh butter must have been brought on board so that over 4,000 people might have it available three meals a day?  Certainly, if it wasn’t brought from port at the outset, there is no way get more!  Add the hundreds of pounds of butter to the sides of beef and all the other foods that are available in abundance on this ship, and the mind simply cannot grasp the quantities.  Actually, I hope the head chef’s mind can grasp them, but the concept has me boggled.
cruise ship at sea
Cruise ship at sea
You have to take it with you!

On a boat, you have to take it with you, or you don’t have it.  Period.

One of the awesome things about life on board – to me, at least – is the simple act of pressing a switch, and lights come on; turning a tap, and the water flows – including taking a shower; washing your face, or flushing the toilet...!  All that water is stored somewhere on board (although I hear that there is a desalinating system that puts sea water to use as well); all the electricity must be generated on board; and the sewage?  Well, I don’t actually know what happens to that but I cannot imagine that it is dumped into the sea...? 5

Suffice to say, an ocean vessel must be completely self-contained, and the size and complexity of this entire enterprise will probably never cease to amaze me.

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Disaster averted

We had breakfast today with our friends Werner and Mary, after which we all decided to walk the Promenade deck.  This is an outdoor deck which runs the entire circumference of the ship.  There are signs on it announcing that anyone who follows it all the way around the ship three times will have walked a complete mile.  Werner and Mary intended to do the mile, but Heather, bad legs and all, was game for at least one circuit.  We set out.

Weather information displayed on the stateroom TV suggested that today will be relatively normal and pleasant.  We could see whitecaps from our breakfast table, but – again according to the TV – the waves, at 5 ft., are “small.”  Wind was listed at 37 knots, but I am not familiar enough with “knots” to sense what that might mean.

And the ship is heading into the wind.

Which means that the ship’s speed of 17 knots must be added to the headwind of 37 knots, making wind gusts feel like 54 knots and more.  Which works out to 62 mph., or 100 km/h!!

I figured all this out later.

And so, as we proceeded to walk the “Promenade,” we were soon headed towards the bow, and, all unaware, were about to experience winds of 100 km/h. 

Stick your head out of the window of a car traveling at that speed and you’ll know what I’m talking about!

The path we were following led up some stairs to the bow, and once we went up, we felt the full force of the wind for the first time.  It nearly knocked us over.  But we laughed and held on to the rail, ready to press forward, exhilarated.
Tony with a cruise card on a lanyard
Cruise card on lanyard

When you board a ship such as this, you are issued a plastic card that functions as the key to your stateroom; as an identifier that allows you off (more importantly, back on) the ship; and as a credit card for all your onboard purchases.  That card is identification, room key, and money all rolled into one.  Since we need it several times a day, the common practice is to carry the card on a lanyard around the neck.  Unlocking the room?  Paying the wine steward?  Going through security to get back on board?  No problem.  Reach for the lanyard.

If necessary, the card can easily be unclipped from the lanyard.  For example last night when I wore a tuxedo, the presence of a black plastic cord with a card dangling from it would have ruined the formal effect.  Unclip the card; put it in a pocket; leave the lanyard in the room; dine in sartorial elegance.  However, for normal daily use, most people on board wear the card on the lanyard.

I was so attired as I got to the bow of the ship, to be almost knocked down by that wind.  Instantly the lanyard whipped out straight behind me, and – to my horror – the card snapped off and flew down the passageway toward the open sea.  People coming along behind us said, “Something just flew by our ears!”  “My ID card!” I shouted as I tore past them.  Rounding the curve of the prow I soon saw it, far away, lying flat on the wooden deck – near the edge but not yet overboard.

Within seconds I was on top of it.  While pressing it to the deck, I worked my fingers under it, then quickly whipped it into a zippered pocket.

Phew. 6

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Thursday, January 20, 2011
...after a day on the island of Aruba

two shoppers in Oranjestad, Aruba
Mary and Heather shopping in Oranjestad, Aruba
(note the Dutch influence in the architecture)

photo: Werner Schulz

Our first two ports of call are islands in the Netherlands Antilles: Aruba and Curaçao.  Lying just off the coast of Venezuela, they are flat, and desert-dry.  The oil industry is big here: oil from Venezuela is conveyed to Curaçao by pipeline, where it is refined, and shipped around the world.  Aruba is also involved in the oil industry, but today 75% of Aruba’s economy is based on tourism.

This morning, hundreds of the very tourists that Aruba depends upon disembarked from the Grand Princess.  Heather and Mary were among them, anxious to explore the local shops.  Werner went along too, looking for good photo opportunities.  I stayed on board – at first – but did my part for Aruba tourism later in the day.

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A tour of Aruba, and an uncomfortable swim

When the women came back from shopping, three of us decided to go in search of a tropical beach.  This time it was Werner’s choice to remain on the ship (he is not fond of beaches and swimming).  The rest of us donned swim gear and went off in search of a private tour operator.  Our intended request: “Would you be willing to take us to a swim site and then give us a bit of a tour of the island?”

Well, we found Jane, a pleasant but somewhat taciturn single parent and taxi driver, whose ancestors were the first inhabitants of the island.  She suggested, however, that we reverse the order of the day and have our tour first, and swim second.  In the middle of the day, she said, it is too hot to be on the beach.  Besides, what was she supposed to do while we frolic in the water?  Run up our bill?

And so it was agreed that Jane would drive us around to some of the island’s points of interest, then drop us off at a good beach somewhere and leave us there.  How would we get back to the ship?  By public transit.  Plenty of buses run along the beach road, said Jane, and the fare is only US$1.30.

So, off we went.

The first stop of the tour was a remarkable rock formation.  A great jumble of huge rocks, each almost as large as a house, sits in the middle of some sand dunes – deposited by a scarcely understood process untold millions of years ago.  Mary and I went and clambered up and down these things, then wandered through an adjacent “Botanical Garden” consisting almost entirely of cactus plants!  Unfortunately, Heather’s knees were acting up, 7 so she sat in the air-conditioned van while Mary and I did this exploring.

My only regret: I did not bring my camera.

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Where’s that camera?

How could I possibly have forgotten a camera?  Well, I didn’t actually forget it.  I deliberately left it behind, because I was thinking mainly of the swim, and how I would, of necessity, leave some property on the beach, so I wanted to travel light – without valuables.  As it was, I was obliged to bring money, and identification, so when we did have a swim, one of us always stayed on shore with the valuables.  My camera could, therefore, have been among those valuables, but in setting out, I had not thought things through sufficiently.  Oh well, my memory of the rock formations and the extensive views that they provided of the island will have to do.

After the rocks and the cacti, our tour took us through the posh part of the island, where we saw some pretty spectacular residences.  According to Jane, their prices were lower than equivalent housing in Manitoba, and she said, “You can buy one of these.  I’ll live in it for you, and take care of it!”  She laughed heartily at this joke, which she no doubt uses with many a tourist.

Next we drove by the “California lighthouse” – a 100 year old lighthouse still in service, that is located in a truly spectacular setting (once more I kicked myself for leaving my camera behind!).

Finally Jane dropped us off at a beach – located in front of some “high rise hotels” (Jane’s words).  She thought we would appreciate the luxurious atmosphere of a beach with adjacent bars and plenty of beach chairs.  So, she pulled up in front of an enormous hotel, where we paid her, and she departed.

This turned out to be a rather uncomfortable place to go for a swim.  In flapping shirts, towels and swimsuits we went through a large open-air lobby with well-dressed hotel guests and crisply uniformed staff.  When we got to the beach, it was immediately clear that the beach chairs and cabanas were strictly for the use of hotel guests, not for the general public.

However, Jane had been emphatic that no beach in Aruba is permitted to be “private,” so we found shade under a palm tree, put down our ship-provided towels, and with one of us to guard the valuables, we swam (Mary and I) or walked the beach (Mary and Heather).  No one, including the very visible hotel security staff, bothered with us, so Jane in this respect was correct.

The water was true Caribbean ocean water.  Mild, decidedly salt, gorgeous blue-green, with gentle surf, and altogether a delight.  I swam and floated around in it for at least 45 minutes.

We then found a bus without difficulty, and were back on board the Grand Princess in plenty of time.

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Friday, January 21, 2011
...after a day on the island of Curaçao

Willemstad shoreline
Willemstad architecture
(again, as in Aruba, you can see the Dutch influence)

A very old Synagogue

Today, after a leisurely breakfast, Heather and I left the ship, and arranged for a cab to take us to the downtown area of Willemstad (the capital of Curaçao).

Willemstad is extremely photogenic, with brightly painted buildings, a spectacular bridge,
synagogue exterior
Mikvé Israel-Emanuel
– oldest synagogue in the Western hemisphere
a deep inland harbour, and several historic buildings.  The cabbie obliged us by stopping at various points to recommend photographs.  Eventually he dropped us, at my request, at Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the oldest synagogue in the Western hemisphere. 8

The public is permitted to enter the synagogue with its attached museum (hats, please gentlemen! – put them on).  But there is a $10 admission fee.  I was reluctant, at first, to spend the money, but after some persuasion by Heather, I paid and went in.  Heather, meanwhile, happily wandered off to explore some stores.

I’m glad I went in.

The most notable thing about the synagogue is that it has a sand floor!  In all other respects the building is richly furnished with dark wood pews, pulpit, and even a working pipe organ.  I have no idea why a sand floor has been retained in such an otherwise elegant building. 9

The synagogue’s museum was also interesting.  I noted particularly the story of, and artifacts from, a “Reform” synagogue that started in Willemstad in 1850, and eventually merged with the original more Conservative one in 1965.
synagogue interior
Synagogue interior
(the floor is white sand as on a beach)

Heather, meanwhile, having explored some of the stores, re-connected with me, and we walked together through the shopping district and over to an old fort, now the Governor’s residence.  There were excellent photo opportunities there, and I took advantage of them.  By this time, though, Heather’s legs were killing her, so she took long breaks to sit and rest, while I looked for good vantage points to take pictures.  Eventually we crossed the harbour on a ferry, and walked (slowly) back to the ship.  All of this was more than enough walking for Heather, and quite enough time in the sun for me, and following a room-service lunch we napped for an hour or more.

In the late afternoon we sat on the balcony to watch the ship cast off, then went to the dining room with Werner and Mary.  I declined to try the evening’s entertainment, 10 and came happily to the stateroom to write up this diary.

Tomorrow we’ll be at sea all day.  Sunday we will be in Grenada, and that is hugely important to me.  Indeed, it is one of the main reasons for selecting this particular cruise.

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Next: Grenada: the ‘spice island’ and home of my forebears.


5  Actually, I found out later that sewage is dumped into the sea! There are maritime rules about it, but if toilet output is kept separate from other forms of wastewater, it is thought to be fully biodegradable, and may be dumped if the vessel is a specified number of miles from the shore (I forget how many, but it’s a lot). Only oil waste, and chemical waste must be retained on board for processing after the vessel returns to port.
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6  Much later I found out that the Purser’s Office on board ship is able to replaced lost cruise cards, but at the time I didn’t know this, and the thought of losing the card took ten years off my life!
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7  As you may recall, Heather had knee surgery in December.  See “Walking Requires Two Legs”, December 17, 2010.
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8  According to Wikipedia, the first synagogue building in Curaçao was purchased as long ago as 1674; the current building dates from 1730.  See Wikipedia, “Curaçao Synagogue,”é_Israel-Emanuel_Synagogue.
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9  My cousin Jo Ann did some research and offered this information: “Immigrants from medieval Spain & Portugal founded the Jewish community in Curacao in 1651 after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.
Synagogues have sand floors in remembrance of the religious persecution that expelled their community’s ancestors from Europe.  The sand muffled the sound of the banned Jewish Prayers.”
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10  Last night I had gone to a programme that was billed as “classical” music. It was awful. What with this, and “Scholarship at Sea” I have realized that many of the public entertainments of cruise life are just not for me (although admittedly I did enjoy a comedian that performed for a couple of nights on this cruise).
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