Tag Archives: cruising

LSS: Staying afloat.

About a month ago, after a week of watching the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster story develop, I was inspired.
Maybe it was because I needed a vacation, but something made me think, “I bet it’s a good time to book and take a cruise.”
I was right.
So, my family and I have spent this week cruising around the Caribbean. If you’ve taken a cruise, you know that the on-board experience is much like a fantasy world, full of interesting people, beautiful vistas, unlimited food and excellent service. (If you haven’t taken a cruise, don’t judge.) The oft-times sanitized shore excursions can easily extend the bubble of the dream world. We’ve enjoyed excursions before, but for this week, we decided not to go that route and explore more on our own and with local guides.
After two days at sea, we docked at Falmouth, Jamaica, a cruise port that’s been open less than a year — and a town that hasn’t changed much since England’s Emancipation Act of 1840. In the 1700s and into the 1800s, it was the hub of England’s sugar industry and a bustling port. Now despite the paint and polish shine of new buildings along the dock, the town is a jumble of run-down buildings from an era long vanished. Jamaica was gritty, green, peppery and easy on the ear all at once.
We hired a man named Helveston as our guide for the day. He created a tour designed to tick all the varied boxes of our family’s requests. We visited two so-called Great Homes, built in the 1700s for English plantation lords and their families, followed by a stop at a local grocery story — one of our favorite things to do when visiting different places. (You learn about a place and its people by paying attention to the food they prepare for themselves.) We ate an incredible lunch at our guide’s favorite restaurant, a very non-touristy spot looking over the beach with open pits cooking racks of jerk chicken and pork. Then we relaxed on the beach. Lastly, before re-entering the fantasy world of the cruise, we stopped by his young daughter’s school where our daughter chatted with his daughter and other students in the fourth-grade class.
The next day we stopped at George Town, Grand Cayman, British West Indies. To be relatively near each other and both settled by the English, Jamaica and Grand Cayman have very little in common. The difference is palpable. Our daughters picked up on the distinctions between the two islands and cultures within minutes of arriving in George Town. Where Jamaica is rough, Grand Cayman is smooth.
Relaxing on Grand Cayman came easy. We rented snorkeling equipment and swam along the coastal reef, spotting many types of fish including a school of squid.
On our third stop, we docked in Cozumel, Mexico, the only port we had previously visited. The last time we were in Cozumel, we spent the day relaxing on a beach. On this visit, we hired a man named Sonny to guide us around the island. He told us about Hurricane Wilma, back in 2005, the storm that spent more than two days ravaging the island. We identified with him in the way a great hurricane can change a place and its people. By design, only one side of Cozumel has electricity. I preferred the side of the island without — miles of open, undeveloped beaches and water crystal clear. We stopped at several spots to enjoy the beach and take in the view. The waves and wind were so powerful that it was easier to sit in silence than do a lot of talking. It was a perfect place to relax or to sit and write. I could have stayed for a while.