April 23, 1999
By: Dan Muñoz
It was five in the morning. Still sleepy and groggy, I groped my way to the kitchen and poured two steaming cups of coffee. One for me and one for my wife. This was the day that we would leave our earthly cares in San Diego and escape on our very first Caribbean cruise!
"Come on Dad... Mom! We have to catch the 8:55a.m. flight
to Miami," shouted our eldest child, Phyllis. Well, we were
not about to miss our "love boat" that was for sure.
After all, we were going `only' because our children had plotted
to send Mom & Dad on a 12 day Caribbean cruise in celebration
of our 50th Wedding Anniversary.
"This is the Captain," blared the communication net. " It will be our happy task of all the officers and staff to devote our entire effort towards making this voyage a memorable one. We trust that you will relax, forget your cares and enjoy your cruise to the fullest!"
With that, we slipped into our travel gear and headed for the deck 9 pool, on board the cruise ship M/S Splendour of the Seas.
The ship cut through the Caribbean waters off Miami steaming at 15 knots to "Playa del Carmen," Mexico which lay 549 nautical miles away (631.35 statute miles). We had left Miami at 5:00p.m., March 31st. and hove to off Playa del Carmen at 8:00 a.m. April 2nd. The stop was made to allow a touring party off that would travel overland to visit the Mayan ruins. They would join up with the ship later in the day when it arrived in Cozumel, 11 nautical miles away.
Cozumel, which lies right off the coast of Mexico, 50 miles south of Cancún and about 2 miles from the Yucatán Penísula has a population of 50,000 which at first look appears to be mostly Mayan. Cozumel as a center of Mayan culture did not make its' appearance until the declining years of the Mayan empire. "El Caracol," is one of the main relics of that period. La Plaza Central was full of the sounds of a small Mexican-Mayan town with both languages resonating in and around the small stalls situated around the main square of Cozumel. One can easily imagine how life could have been back in the 1200's... Probably nice if you were a high priest or a Cacique. At 1800 hours (see how salty you get after a few days at sea) the ship slipped its' hawsers and set sail for "Georgetown, Grand Cayman ( 333 nautical miles away).
The `Brits' took possession of the Grand Cayman Islands in what was a Spanish lake, the Caribbean. It quickly became the port of safety for English Privateers, Pirates. As we waited anxiously for the Tender to ferry us into George Town , we wondered what impact England had made on the island and its people.
Grand Cayman actually is named after its most populous crocodilian of the Caiman genera. The Pirates most probably had problems pronouncing the Caraib Indian name for the Crocodiles, Acayauman, and changed it to Cayman. The shops and pubs are heavily oriented towards English oriented goods and drinks. The Capital of Grand Cayman is George Town. Thirty two thousand souls live on the island.
It was a clear, warm sunny
day when we arrived and many of the passengers booked tours to
go snorkeling in the clear blue bay. Others, including this reporter
and his wife walked into town and checked out the quaintness of
the island. Slightly sunburned
and well stuffed with English Poppers and Ale, we headed for the Tender pier and headed back to the ship. "Margarita Madness with Salsa and Chips awaited us at the Schooner Bar on deck 4! The anchor was lifted and we set sail for "Ochos Rios Jamaica" (253 nautical miles away)!
(By now you must be wondering what it costs a Couple to book passage on a Royal Caribbean cruiser ship such as the "Splendour of the Seas." For us, around $4,200 dollars for a 12 day cruise. This included air fares to and from San Diego and Miami and one night stay at a Miami hotel. On board cabins, all meals and entertainment are included. One small item remains. However, you pay [charge] for all your drinks on board).
A Sea Easter
Easter Sunday arrived with the dawn making it's appearance around 5:30 a.m... As the waves created by the ship plowing through the placid seas splattered on the large stateroom window, Easter took on a different meaning. As our custom, we celebrated Mass at 7:00 a.m. with Fr. Matthews and perhaps a 100 or so passengers. It will be a special memory for us.
The ship arrived at Ocho Rios, Jamaica at 8:00a.m., April 4. Kingston which is on the South side of the Island, is the capital of the Island. There are 2.5 million people in Jamaica of which 6,000 live in Ocho Rios.
Jamaica, with its' calypso beat
and its friendly people, provided us with the proper setting to
do our shopping at the local arts and crafts market that was located
amongst the trees and swarming with energy and life. We enjoyed
strolling among the small shops talking, haggling, laughing, and
buying items that caught our interest. No, we won't forget you
"Granny & George." Jamaica was one of the most interesting
stops for us.
The Down-Leg of The Voyage
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands... 726 Nautical miles distance from Jamaica would be our next Port of call. Enroute, the ships company provided the passengers with many things to do such as playing miniature golf, swimming, dancing, theater productions, a Toga party for the brave and young, Bingo, Games of chance at the Royale Casino, sunbathing, exercise workouts, jogging, dancing, and of course "Piña Coladas."
"Splendor of the Seas" arrived at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas `chief port and capital. It was from this haven that to the likes of Blackbeard, the fierce buccaneer, and Captain Kidd, a fearsome cutthroat attacked any and all shipping that looked profitable to them. Sir Francis Drake also took his shots at the Spanish Galleons they sailed through the Amnegade passage laden with gold from the Americas on the way to Spain. As they sailed The Danes quietly came into the island in the 17th century and took over from the squabbling Spaniards, English and Frenchmen. They who named the port, Charlotte Amalie, after the Consort of King Christian V of Denmark. Currently it has a population of 56,000. It is located 60 miles East of Puerto Rico and is approximately 12 miles long and 3 miles wide.
A tour of Fort Christian, which was built in 1671 by the Danish Colonial settlers drew our attention... The Fort was the first government house, church and community center. By 1874, the Fort had become a police station, court and jail. The Fort was vacated in 1983. The United States bought St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and the other 65 islets that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands from the Danes for $25 million in 1917.
A funny thing happened on the way to Puerto Rico that delayed our entry into the port. Rumor had it two elderly passengers went to their Maker and the Port Authorities DELAYED our debarkation. As a consequence our stay in Puerto Rico was cut short. We did manage to go visit the Rain Forrest. We wanted to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Mitch that devastated so much of Columbia before it swept out to the Caribbean. At the 2,400-3,000 foot level, the Rain Forrest was devastated! There are no birds left... They were all killed by the hurricane. The majority of the trees have been destroyed or lost the greater part of their branches, trunks and foliage. There are no bananas left. None will grow for another two years when life is restored to the forest. The Rain Forrest is a silent place... All life has been destroyed. The Tour guide made a mad dash for the pier in his tour van to get us back in time to depart for our last stop on our cruise: Labadee, Haiti.
Haiti in the middle of a change of government, or what we call "a golpe de estado" by the military was not a fun place to be. We were limited to spit of land on the Northwest of the island far from any population centers and with little to do except swim, eat, and have a cool beer. Nevertheless, it was a warm pleasant day...
We set sail at 5:00 p.m. for Miami where we ended our cruise on April 10th.
(Interested for a cruise of your own? Our agent UNIGLOBE ULTIMATE, is a great agency to deal with. Visit David at their offices at 4340 Genesee Ave. Ste 101, San Diego, Ca.)