Today I am continuing my blog about Jon Ann and my recent pre-Christmas sojourn to the Sunny Caribbean. As you may recall from my previous blog, we set sail on Sunday afternoon and made our way down the river as dusk settled. After dark, it was time for our first dinner in the dining room .
We dressed made our way to Table 669 in the Upper Level of the Scarlett Dining Room. If you have never been on a cruise, one of the best parts is the food. It is delicious, well prepared and plenty of it. The dining room is an experience much like a really nice restaurant. Good service, great choices, tables set with care on fine linen table cloths. On Carnival, there are standards that are on the menu every night, like grilled flat iron steak, fried shrimp, Caesar salad and shrimp cocktails. The main menu changes nightly and includes things like Surf n Turf, with Maine Lobster, Chateau Breaun, Caribbean Jerked Chicken, Penne Pasta with Seafood, Escargot, Braised Ox Tongue, Veal Parmigiana, to name just a few.
And the desserts. Oh my Lord, the deserts. Some of the greatest pastries and sweets you will ever see. Bitter and Blanche bread pudding, Baked Alaska, Cheesecake, French Silk pie, Chocolate cake. And, the greatest dessert ever, Warm Chocolate Melting Cake. Served nightly, it is a chocolate lovers dream. A concoction of flour, sugar, butter and cocoa, baked until the top and bottom are cake like and the center is still molten and syrupy. And did I mention it comes with ice cream on the side? No wonder everyone in the dining room seems to be smiling all the time.
Another interesting thing about the dining room is the people you meet. If you are lucky enough to be assigned to a table with people you don’t know, you tend to meet really nice people and make new friends. This trip was no different. Our dinner companions turned out to be Eddie and Becky of Longview, Texas, a retired postal worker and his wife who was a dean at Kilgore College, and Francisco and Rebecca, a couple about our age from New Orleans. At the next table, was Mrs. Rose and her husband Gary, experienced cruisers from Meridian, Mississippi. All nice folks and a great bunch to spend a week on the water with.
After dinner, we took in a few of the attractions on the ship, including a stroll through the casino. I will admit that my one character flaw is my inability to walk past a lively craps table, but I will save that for another blog. We decided to turn in early, looking forward to our first relaxing Fun Day At Sea.
I awoke early the next morning and slipped out onto our private balcony. There was nothing else in sight. We were somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, cruising along on a southeastward heading that would take us to Key West. I waited in anticipation of one of my favorite moments on the water. If you have never witnessed a sunrise at sea, you are missing one of Creation’s most breathtaking moments. It wasn’t long until the dull red glow to west began to turn brighter, the colors changing to breathtaking yellows and pinks. And then, suddenly, there it was.
I could feel my cares melting away as the sun brightened the horizon and began to warm my little corner of Heaven on Earth. Not long after that, there was a knock at the door. Room service was there with our daily morning coffee and pastries. Not a bad life at all.
We had our coffee, dressed casually and then went to the dining room for breakfast. After breakfast, it was time to soak up some sun. We found a spot by the rail on aft end of the Lido Deck and settled in.
Jo and I had our books, sunscreen, sunglasses and all the other essentials. There were also these really nice crew members who would come around and take your order for a Pina Coloda, Mia Tia,, Cruiser or some other cold libation with rum in the bottom and a paper umbrella on top.. And, if you got tired of sunning and reading, the hot tub was not faraway. If you got hungry, it was just one short flight of stairs down to the grill or the buffet. Not a bad way to spend a Monday I think. We cruised on toward Key West as the sun set to our East. Nothing quite like a day in Paradise. WHen we got back to our cabin after dinner, we had a nice towel animal monkey.
Tuesday morning dawned as we approached Key West. Key West sits at the far end of the Florida Keys, the southernmost point in the United States. It is 60 miles from Cuba and 85 miles from the nearest WalMart. It is an eclectic, old hippie sort of town, where Caribbean pirates and Hemingway both found a hide out, a couple of hundred years apart. As remote as it is, it is easy to see what drew people here and still does. The water is clear and blue, the beaches are white and the sky is like a painting. Bars, including Hemingway’s favorite Sloppy Joe’s, and restaurants dot Duvall Street and the harbor.
Jo and I hit Duvall Street and took a ‘hop on-hop off’ bus tour. We checked out some sights around town and wound up back at the harbor for a conch fritter and fried oyster lunch. We even discovered some local Christmas decorations;
By Noon we were ready to get back aboard and soak up some more sun.
We set sail again and headed for Freeport in the Bahamas. We arrived before dawn. One thing about Freeport is that when you are there, you are in the middle of a busy, working port.
You are also on the other side of the island from the beach or anything else you want to see or do. So, Jo Ann and I decided to do a ‘first’ for us on a cruise; spend a port day by staying on the ship. We got up and staked out our usual spot in the sun. We had a good view of the port area, complete with other ships, a shopping area and Senor Frogs, the building with the red roof in the pictures.
It did not take long, and a pina coloda or two, for us to decided we had made the right decision.
One of the reasons I love cruising is that it is, for some reason, one of the most relaxing vacations you can take. Let me tell you, after a couple of days of sun and doing absolutely nothing, neither of us could have cared less about CLE hours, year end accounting issues, what work was on the board, back orders or anything else. We were accomplishing just what we set out to do: relax and do nothing.
The following morning found us docking in Nassua. Nassau is a cool town too. The cruise ship dock is right next to the old part of town, full of shops, jewelry stores and the straw market. We decided to get off and roam around. You never know what you might find in old town Nassau.
After Starbucks and a little shopping, we hit the Straw Market. You can find almost anything there, most of if hand made locally. One of the coolest areas was the alley where the carvers set up. They offer all manner of carved items, from walking canes to statuary, much of it made while you watch.
We got back aboard mid afternoon. We went up on the sun deck to catch the evening sun. While we were there, we were lucky enough to witness the other breathtaking sight, a Caribbean sunset. Just like the sunrise, it is one of the truly beautiful sights on this earth.
We headed back to sea, a two day leg that would take us back to New Orleans. Friday was a great day. The sunrise was awe inspiring.
Two things struck me that day. First, I had always wondered what, in the old days of sail, would convince a man to leave his home and family and spend a year or two floating around on a small wooden ship. Moments like I had watching that sunrise make it perfectly clear. Second, when you see the sun behind the clouds, almost like you are in the presence of a divine being, it is easy to understand why some many ancient cultures viewed the sun as a deity.
Saturday dawned cold and overcast. Obviously we were getting closer to Louisiana. They weather was turning crappy. We took advantage of some indoor entertainment and even did a little last minute shopping. At 4:00 that afternoon, we went to the Christmas show in the showroom. It was just the touch to put me in the Christmas spirit, especially the kids singing carols and the members of the crew, all 52 nationalities, singing “Silent Night” by candlelight.
Late that night, before I went to bed, we could see oil rigs off our balcony. We were getting close to home
After a few hours sleep, I awoke early to find that the ship was still moving, making slow turns along the Mighty Mississippi. I had always wanted to watch as our ship came into port in New Orleans. But, this had always alluded me, since every time I woke up, we were always already tied off. safe and snug alongside the Julia Street Wharf. I sensed this was my chance, so I pulled on a pair of pants and grabbed my camera. It was cold and windy, but the sleeping city was waiting just around the bend in the river.
The river front was quiet as we crept up river, back to the wharf from where we had started.
With surprising grace for a ship her size, the Carnival Dream eased up to the wharf in the pre-dawn glow, like so many ships before her, ready to disgorge her passengers and cargo along the New Orleans waterfront.
Then I felt the vibrations stop as the engines shut down. We were home. Our Caribbean adventure was at an end. As I returned to our cabin, I caught sight of the fuel barge coming along side and then the return of our companion ship.
After that, all that was left to do was grab our luggage and be prepared for the quick disembarkation. We carried our luggage off, made a quick stop at Customs (“No sir, I didn’t even know they sold Cuban cigars in the Bahamas”) and then to the car and headed back to Watson. Our trip was done, but we were heading home to family and Christmas and food and love. It was a wonderful trip and we had done just what we had set out to do: Absolutely nothing! So, as the French say it is not goodbye, just ‘au reviour” until we meet again.