Let’s see, when we last left “Caribbean Jack” in October he was already talking about the next cruise. It seemed too early to talk about another cruise, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas he kept checking schedules with various family members until it seemed that Jackie and I were the last ones standing … since we were retired and all.
Ok, I volunteered to research dates and itineraries out of Charleston and soon we had a date booked in April for a 5 day sailing to Nassau and Princess Cay. Oops, we found out that was spring break for some schools in South Carolina, but by then it was too late. What’s that Jackie? Just like the romantic hike in the mountains for our anniversary that involved a gaggle of fifth graders? (see the post “Hike Inn Anniversary“). Retired teachers can be soooo crabby!
So with bags packed and adventure awaiting, we set off for Dad’s – leaving freeze warnings at home amid April showers – with visions of the blue Caribbean and warm sunny days ahead. He was all set, bags also packed and waiting, with a reminder that we needed to get the handicapped hang-tag out of his car and be sure to pack his walker. That proved golden, as Charleston does not charge mobility-impaired passengers for parking and we were able to use their lift-equipped shuttle van and wheelchairs for a swift boarding process. With little fuss we were soon on the Lido deck, poolside, with that first tropical drink in hand.
Ok, it was a bit drizzly and chilly so we moved inside while we scanned the list of shipboard activities and planned our first day at sea. Soon after we pulled away from shore and the Carnival Ecstasy was headed out of Charleston harbor and on to warmer and calmer waters. If you are a cruiser, you know the exhilaration you feel at the sail-away moment, with all the stresses of life left behind and the thrill of the open water ahead of you. This was going to be fun.
The itinerary was for our first full day at sea followed by a stop at their private island, Princess Cay. That first day brought us into the sunshine, but the water temperature in the pool was still mighty chilly, so it was pretty much just the kids who were splashing about (when they weren’t filling up the hot tubs, that is). Undeterred, we sat poolside, legs in the water, adult beverages in hand, chatting with other passengers – most from the mid-Atlantic and Southeast region. I kept a look out for “that kid” who would sooner or later appear, gleam in his eyes, and flop in the pool, sending icy sprays of water over all the adults nearby. Oh, wait, my glass was empty … time to head to the bar anyway.
Those first days also involved casino strategy sessions – well, between Dad and I anyway. Craps for me and roulette for Dad. Jackie declared she was going to get to every comedy show and a few of the musical ones and Dad said he might join her. After a slow start at the craps table, I headed to the room to find Jackie napping and with good intentions of making the evening shows, but we ended up crashing and leaving a note on Dad’s door. He later said that he went to the musical performance (too loud, no real dancing, just wacky moves), then the casino and stayed up to nearly midnight.
What do you do on a five-day Caribbean cruise anyway? Here is how we kept busy:
- Talk about meals and food, check menus, and then talk some more about food. This is something of a pastime for my family anyway, but we would hear all about the great omelets, warm pastries, and breakfast dining room service from Dad on those days we went ashore. Dinner was fun, with great appetizers (mussels, conch fritters, escargot, calamari) and main courses (lamb shank, short ribs, prime rib, crab ravioli, roast duck). And dessert!
- Go ashore at Princess Cay for snorkeling.
- Talk some more about meals and food. Guy’s Burgers were a big hit and the fresh tacos, burritos, pizza and Reubens all delicious.
- Hit the casino, and in Doug’s case hope for better luck at craps.
- Go ashore in Nassau and pay to wander Atlantis on Paradise Island.
- Read a book
- Hang something special on your door (Jackie has been great at crocheting shells, starfish, palm trees and such for the doors).
- Wander the ship and play mini golf, look at the fitness center, pass the duty-free shops, sit by the pool and maybe get wet.
- Hear how well Jack did at the roulette table – again.
- Check out the Chocolate Fantasy at the Lido buffet.
- Check to be sure you haven’t hit your 15 drink limit for the day (not even close).
- Enjoy the sail-away each night and watch for flying fish (yes, there were many of them popping out of the water at the bow as we left Princess Cay this time).
- Buy the drink package and enjoy yourself for a few days. We bought the special Tervis insulated cups to hold our favorite drinks.
We enjoyed our previous snorkel on Princess Cay and were hoping for just as much fun. Caught an early tender and walked down to the snorkel reef area. It is an easy, sandy entry into the water and you can snorkel along the shoreline to see corals and fish pretty easily.
Jackie saw a large barracuda and Doug saw a small flounder and eel besides the parrotfish, yellowtails, blue tang, sergeant majors, crevalle and lots of the typical reef fish. It began to get a bit choppy after a few hours, so we tried another spot that was more protected, but more jetty than coral reef. It was a good morning on shore and we were back aboard by mid-afternoon.
How was Nassau this visit? Lots of flowers in bloom and fresh paint on most buildings made Nassau a colorful port of call. We had three other ships in port with us, but we were in the slip right along the embarkation dock. Easy on and off and a great way to people watch along shore.
This time we purchased tickets to walk the grounds of Atlantis on Paradise Island, so we caught a cab and zig-zagged our way through traffic to the resort. If you have never been there, I recommend it – even though it is pricey to just walk through expensive shops, a gorgeous casino and tropical grounds.
After wandering through the casino and gazing at the Chihuly glass sculptures, we found our way outside and around the waterfalls and gardens. And typical for us, we walked in The Dig aquarium from the exit (we managed that by accident in another aquarium). It didn’t really matter, we were out of the way of strollers for a while. It is a pretty nice aquarium, with all sorts of artifacts that add to the experience as you gaze at the reef fish, including some spotted eagle rays and a very large manta ray.
When you make your way to the lobby above, you can also look down on the pools to see the schools of fish. In the Predator Lagoon area there are several species of shark and three very big smalltooth sawfish. We were at the rail where a guest was feeding squid to the sharks and got a pretty good look at the frenzy.
Further on we saw turtles and hammerhead sharks before climbing the dunes to the beach. Hey, we didn’t buy a wristband for beach access … nor did we buy the water park pass, but we somehow ended up next to their signature waterslide. Darn, we didn’t have our bathing suits on!
Another wild ride back to the ship and Jackie headed onboard to have lunch with Dad while Doug walked around town for some photos of the local scene. From the edge of the harbor it really is an amazing sight of clear blue waters and large white ships, with street vendors and excursion boats sprinkled in.
And what about the casino onboard? Well, Doug had his new craps strategy in play during the week, but was up and down (mostly down). He would sit and play roulette with Jack for a bit, then Jack would watch him play a while at the craps table. Dad stood at the rail and played craps one night but opted to return to roulette. So it went, up and down. But the last night got a bit more exciting. While they were both at the roulette table, Dad said “I’m going to do a crazy bet” and he covered one whole column of numbers. Of course he hit one and got a nice payout.
Doug heard the call of the craps table for one last time but when Jack joined him his stack of chips was dwindling. Jack stepped to the end position on the rail and it was soon his turn to shoot the dice. By then, Doug had ditched his strategy and was back to just odds on key numbers. “So what do I need to roll?” Dad asked. “7”. “Okay, here goes.” Bam, we got a seven. And another. Then he hit his point as Doug managed both their bets, and again hit his number. “Am I still throwing?” he asked several times, to which the entire table replied “hit it again, Mr. Jack.”
That was how the night went on until he crapped out and we cashed in. Everyone was fist bumping him around the table congratulating him for a great run. Our stacks of chips were back to respectable size again!. A good recovery for sure, but these are only $5 tables, so it’s never that much money, just good fun.
Our last night in the dining room was a special celebration, even if a bit teary-eyed. We ordered a round of champagne and toasted good fortune (finally) and good sailing, with a nod to the memory of Nancy and all the cruises she and Dad enjoyed together.
It had been a great five days at sea and we declared it a success. I think I heard something about “not sure I have another cruise in me …” but I chose to ignore that one (of course he does).
Leaving the ship was a breeze. Thanks again to Jack’s walker we were able to do a late departure and rolled off the ship to head home. Yep, rainy conditions again and more freeze warnings at home. As we look out at the leaves just popping and the azaleas finishing their bloom, we can’t help but compare the low 30’s temperatures to the warm breezes of the tropics and ask ourselves “weren’t we just snorkeling in clear, blue waters three days ago?” Cruising is magical.
Be sure to look at all the photos below to get a sense of the ship and ports of call. I should point out that the underwater shots are at the aquarium, not from our snorkel. Soon I should have snorkeling video edited and posted on the Video gallery. Thanks for following along on our adventures. Next trip is Panama City Beach in the motorhome. Yippee!