“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
I suppose it is not possible to visit new lands without leaving the familiar behind and although I’m appreciative of both I much prefer the familiar. I’m a homebody who has courageous experiences in my imagination, which can be dreadful, as real life tends to pales in comparison.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic, I have post-traumatic stress, and I’ve been brainwashed to believe the only place you are absolutely safe is at home, wearing a mask, sitting at least six feet from your roommates. That being said, I recognize the limitations of such banal thinking and have painstakingly chosen to be brave.
As if Christopher Columbus, following the light of the sun, we left the old world…
We’ve been tested multiple times, verified, vaccinated, and vexed by the process, but by the grace of God we were able to upload all our documents and scored a visa for the Bahamas. I’m not kidding, this was harder than figuring out a Rubik’s Cube, or the new tax laws.
Today, brave meant getting on a plane after co-hosting my granddaughter’s seventh birthday in our backyard with a gaggle of thirty-somethings, a plethora of kiddos, a blow-up water slide as tall as the house, mermaid piñata, and savory barbecue. When we left the house there were still guests lingering on my patio. Our flight leaves San Francisco at 10:00 pm, arriving in Miami at 6:00 am, otherwise known as a red-eye. Absolutely suicide for the over sixty crowd. Sleep-aid, check. Noise-canceling headphones, check. Inflatable neck-roll, check.
I slept a total of three minutes.
Bleary-eyed, we met up with two of our travel buddies in Miami around 7:00 am and scarfed down a hearty breakfast at their hotel, then Larry and I fell asleep on the couches in the lobby, snoring and drooling as would be expected. Strange, Jim and Sue acted as if they didn’t know us?
Finally, we boarded the beautiful Crystal, Serenity around 2:00 pm. We’re traveling with our dear, but hypnophobic friends, Jim and Sue, with whom we have been bubbled since the pandemic started, and our beloved sister and brothers-in-law, Marta and Ken. As Charles M. Schulz says in life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with. Amen, amen.
Debbie and Ron, you were missed.
As we left Miami I watched the gap between the ship and shore grow into a distance I could not longer bridge if I was forced to swim, as Susan Wiggs notes, perhaps this was a little like dying, the departed no longer visible to the others, yet both still existed, only in different worlds. I love that but I realize I’m obsessively morbid. It’s trending.
The Bahamas, archipelago, are actually the tips of an enormous underwater mountain range. Formerly a British colony, The Bahamas became an independent country within the Commonwealth in 1973, which left many of the islands in various stages of development. The Islands appear as if they were created for ships to visit, the pristine beaches invite you to wiggle your toes in sand as soft as powder, and dive into the alluring turquoise water.
It was here that Christopher Columbus made his original landfall in the Americas. No one can agree on the precise spot along San Salvador’s shoreline where Columbus took his first step, therefore four monuments to this epochal 1492 moment are scattered around the island. The islands, lacking natural resources other than their agreeable climate and picturesque beaches, have become heavily dependent on tourism.
It’s a huge sacrifice, but we do what we can for our neighbors, we’re calling it our new philantrophy.
We’re welcomed aboard the Crystal, Serenity, with champagne, red carpet, and a warm reception from the gregarious crew as if we were celebrities, but no one wanted our autograph. They have already transported our luggage to our rooms so we head up to deck nine to unpack, narrowly missing the mandatory muster drill.
Our my propensity for breaking rules will become legendary by the end of this cruise. Stay tuned.
Marta and Ken have the room right next store with adjoining balconies separated by a partition which we just lean around when we need to communicate. I can’t wait to get out of my flight clothes, don a snazzy little cocktail dress, and join Jim and Sue in their stateroom for a champagne toast. My interior clock is all screwed up, it’s now around 6:00 pm on the ship, and we have reservations for dinner at the famous Prego Restaurant later tonight, but I have this overwhelming desire to sleep?
I was dazzled by our rather large room until we met up with Jim and Sue, who scored a stateroom, complete with a jacuzzi tub, balcony, living space, bar, walk-in closet, and a butler at their disposal. Spoiled comes to mind but since they include us in all the pomp and circumstance I acquiesce to residing on steerage with a shared balcony. #thestruggleisreal
After exploring the enormous ship, which is the sister ship to the Alaskan Cruise, we took several years ago, we landed at the Palm and ordered six espresso martinis, it’s tradition, our way of christening the voyage. The Palm is located at the bow of the ship, encased in large windows, with incredible views. It’s all quite swanky and palatian.
Dinner at Pego’s, an Italian restaurant, is an experience in itself. The service is extraordinary, the food indescribable, it’s as if their entire purpose is to gratify my every gastronomical whim. As Mae West says, too much of a good thing can be wonderful. The problem with an all-inclusive cruise is the ease with which our normal boundaries can be displaced with decadence, overindulgence, and gourmandian behaviors. Gluttony, it’s one of the seven deadliest sins, characterized by a limitless appetite for food and drink and overindulgence to the point where one is no longer eating just to live, but rather living to eat.
I know, I know, where can I sign up?
I ordered enough food for a family of five, but I’m coming off a red-eye, and really can’t be held responsible for my behavior. After sampling each other’s choices, we ordered more of the ones we really liked, and basically waddled to the piano bar for some late-night entertainment, maybe some scotch. Moderation? Is that a word? If memory serves we decided to get up and show off our dance moves, not piano bar etiquette, and we were asked to take our “Fancy Like” dance elsewhere. Whatever.
“Yeah, we fancy like Applebee’s on a date night“
It was one of those plop, plop, fizz, fizz kind of mornings.
Our first stop is San Salvador Island, barely twelve miles by five, and after tendering from ship to land, we were shuttled to a secluded crescent beach. Larry secured a few lounge chairs and umbrellas but we spent the entire time floating in the salty water, marveling at the softness of the sand, and clarity of the turquoise water. The surroundings are rustic and many of the structures bear damage from recent hurricanes, the season runs through November, and we hear Hurricane Sam is headed our way.
I made a mental note of the lifejackets stored on the top of our closet, and a half dozen sturdy looking lifeboats located on the starboard side of the ship, and just a suggestion, maybe they could stop playing the theme song from Poseidon Adventure on the pool deck?
I can almost imagine our ship being lifted off the sea, Dorthy’s style, and landing on some undiscovered beach in the Bermuda Triangle, occupied by unusually large flesh eating Fox Bats, and all I can do is click my sandy heels, screaming, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”
You’ll be relieved to know we survived our first excursion with only mild sunburns and damaged pedicures. All worth it. We didn’t even change clothes but headed straight for the onboard pool for some relaxation, because floating in the Caribbean Ocean is exhausting, and for goodness sake, we need to eat something. We settled on our drink of choice for daytime festivities, it’s called Pims and lemonade, and let me just say they go down way too easy.
Tonight it’s charcuterie at Jim and Sue’s after espresso martini’s at the Palm and then dinner at the infamous Umi Uma for Sushi. Again, we had the entire restaurant and crew to ourselves, after an incredible, indescribable, unrepeatable ten course meal of raw fish, we rolled out of the restaurant in a state of torpor. When you’re done, you’re done, we ended up on the port deck, or it could have been the aft? We can’t tell our aft from a hole in the ground but we found each other, glasses in hand, bottles of wine confiscated from our minibars, and an isolated deck all to ourselves.
The strange thing about a ship meant to house nine hundred guests, but less than two hundred signed up for the cruise, you basically have the ship to yourself, with an overly altruistic crew. It’s disorienting, if we pass another person in the hall, we both yell, “human,” and giggle self-consciously.
Todays’ excursion is to Exuma. From the brochure I read, The Exumas are renowned for their sapphire-blue waters—waters so stunning, their brilliant colors are visible even from outer space. This chain of three hundred and sixty-five islands is home to secluded footprint-free beaches, deserted cays, and ultra-exclusive resorts. Here, nature outnumbers man, coastlines remain flawless, and private islands play host to some of the world’s most famous stars—including a group of four-legged local celebrities.
Sometimes called Pig Beach, it all started in the 1990s with five baby pigs, who grew in number and fame. The pigs are so sociable (reminds me of my shipmates) that when the ships arrive they swim out to be fed. But a few of us, I’ll not mention names, are pigphobic and refuse to swim with an animal that poops? Umm? I think the fish poop, along with a few humans who might pee in the water, but that is only hearsay.
Again we spent the afternoon floating in the calm salty water in a small private cove, avoiding the four-legged celebrities, and sipping ice-cold beer. Upon returning to the ship we immediately claim our section of poolside doublewide lounge chairs and order up some pims and lemonade. Sue and I have taken to splitting a hamburger full of fresh produce, and delicious sauces, onion rings, and fries. We take our health seriously.
Tonight after meeting at the Palm, we’re gathering at Jim and Sue’s for a sushi platter prepared for us by their butler, Crunch (whom we like to call Crush, Crash, Coach for absolutely no reason), and quickly devoured the entire tray as if we haven’t eaten in a week. Completely stuffed we head to Silk for a full dinner? Tough times don’t last, tough people, do. Besides I read somewhere it’s healthy to carry a little extra weight as we age. God forbid we look gaunt. The problem is in the defining of little, it’s arbitrary, and besides, the word has been rendered invalid by cancel culture.
Silk is another extraordinary restaurant onboard the Serenity, again we have the place to ourselves with at least five waiters at our disposal. I never pulled out a chair or placed a napkin on my lap, or worse, suffered an empty wine glass. The silence is palpable as plate after plate of savory dishes rotate the table, pushing away from this culinary altar is a sacrificial act. We’re so uncomfortable, Larry simply disappeared after dinner, without saying good-night. Who does that? The rest of us waddled around as if a paddle of ducks, found a cheeky little spot to enjoy an aperitif (good for digestion), and called it a night.
Today we are promised reefs, beaches, bonefish, and breathtaking beauty and we were not disappointed. As the brochure claims, Columbus Cove is “romantically tucked into the rocky coastal bluffs and cerulean water of Long Island.” Columbus’ third stop of what became the New World. It’s certainly a new world for me.
The most famous water feature of all is a 660-foot deep natural wonder known as Dean’s Blue Hole. When we arrive at the crescent beach, wrapped by sheer stone cliffs, we strip down to our swimsuits, and wade out through pleasantly calm water until you reach this dark circle where the ocean floor suddenly drops off into – essentially – infinity. Only one vertical saltwater cave in the world is deeper, and it’s on the other side of the Earth.
I admit it’s a little eerie, and when someone yelled, “watch out for the piranha,” I hightailed it back to the shallow water!
Back on the boat, lounging by the pool, I think five out of the six of us fell asleep in our cushy chairs, cruise life is arduous, because a journey is of no merit unless it challenges you.
Hope we make it to the end of the week.
Tonight we’re skipping the appetizers, we’re all about establishing boundaries, and planning on an early dinner at the Waterside, no reservations required! After an enormously satisfying dinning experience, we gather on the poolside deck for a game of Mexican Train. We managed six rounds before Larry decided he needed his beauty rest, he simply gathered up his dominos, and headed to his room. Game over.
Today we’re at sea, so no tender to catch, or island to tour, we slept in, had a leisurely breakfast after walking the deck for an hour. Not wanting to completely throw us off, we kept to our poolside schedule, pims and lemonade, hamburgers, grilled tuna sandwiches, fries, onion rings, and gelato. I’m now only wearing outfits with a generous amount of give.
We have to depend on our newly formed schedules because without markers the days simply blend into each other and it’s difficult to figure out where one begins and one ends. Tonight we’re dining at Churrascaria, a Brazilian Steakhouse, known for its vast selection of exquisite meats. We are seated at a long narrow table, served a glass of fine wine, and escorted to the salad bar and potato bar, after which the meats arrive on skewers. The waiter slices off as much as you want which you grab with your own set of tongs. We all have these markers, located by our silverware, on one side it says “Yes, more please” in green, on the other, it says “no thank you” in red. Very handy for the waiters. Mine stayed on green for a smidgeon too long, it happens.
Our final day at sea includes an excursion to the beautiful island of Bimini, from our reflection notes it says, “Bimini may not be the flashiest jewel in the Bahamian crown, but it is certainly one of its most alluring.” Bimini’s South Island is peaceful, quiet, and more authentically Bahamian, with extensive green areas and magnificent white-sand beaches.
One of the island’s most notorious visitors was Ernest Hemmingway. In 1935 Hemingway docked his legendary yacht, Pilar on Bimini’s pristine shores and was instantly taken by the islands’ beauty. Ernest said something rather prophetic, “but the old man always thought of her [sea] as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman.”
The North Island hosts some of the best resorts and marinas in all of The Bahamas. Today we traveling to a Resort where we are free to use the facilities for the day, including several pools, restaurants, beaches, and bars.
A fun fact about my sister-in-law is her toes, they’re like hands, and she is able to snatch things up from the seafloor with ease. The first thing she brought up today was a beautiful conch shell currently free of any residence. Passing it from hand to hand we admired the whiteness of the shell, the appealing shape, the sound of the ocean from within. I’ve been trying to come up with a gift idea for my granddaughters and this is perfect. For the next hour, while sipping some sort of island punch, we hunted for conch shells with our toes, and came up with several nice options which I forced Larry to haul back in our generous beach bag. I wrapped them carefully in a towel as if precious jewels.
Upon arriving at the ship we have to show our identification card, pass through a metal detector, and run our bags through an x-ray machine. Sue and I are identified as shell smugglers and asked to empty our bags. Sue is mortified and dumps all her prised shells on the table all of which are immediately confiscated. I provided one of the four I was harboring and moved quickly onto the elevators.
Everyone in my entourage is confused, “What happened to all your shells?”
Me, “shut up, get in the damn elevator.”
“But didn’t you have like four shells?”
“Who are you? The FBI, I had one.”
I live by Richelle Goodrich’s advice. “What do you mean I have to wait for someone’s approval? I’m someone. I approve. So I give myself permission to move forward with my full support!” I blame the moon.
When we are safely in our room I remove the rest of my shells from my bag and hide them in my underwear drawer. I’m such a criminal, which brings me back to that first quote, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with. Sheesh!
Tonight we’re returning to Prego for a second dip in this rare culinary experience, this time we only asked for a few of our favorite appetizers, followed by a bread bowl filled with their famous mushroom soup, a couple of salads, and to top it off, a rib roast the size of a football, obviously we indulged in a smattering of desserts, and cappuccino’s to end the evening.
When Larry and I returned to our room we sat out on the balcony for hours, sipping wine, admiring the stars, relishing in the mild weather. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever pass this way again? As Marcel Proust claims, instead of what our imagination makes us suppose and which we worthless try to discover, life gives us something that we could hardly imagine.
Our final night on the Serenity is called White Night, all hundred and fifty guests are expected to dress in white, where we will be treated to a dance at the end of the evening. Gathering at The Palm for a final round of espresso martinis, we reflect on our bountiful trip, not only the conch shells, but the cuisine, and especially the company. We missed you Debbie and Ron, and by the way, the next one is mandatory.
Tonight Crush (Jim and Sue’s butler) is treating us to another generous platter of sushi, iced Sake, and refreshing wine. We linger in Jim and Sue’s stateroom marveling at the speed at which the week has passed and moaning about tomorrow as we head back to our predictable lives. I’m secretly overjoyed, because I’m starting to look as if I’m a Kardashian lovechild, fancy like that, with skin tight clothes.
All I can say is there is no joy like the sighting of land after a spectacular voyage. It seems self-evident that a mind or body, that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. I feel a kinship with our battered and bloated suitcases now piled on the sidewalk, waiting to be claimed.
I will be forever haunted by sun-drenched beaches, turquoise water, talcum powder sand, and an all-inclusive philosophy, oh that we all should live by that concept.
I think we travel, initially, to discover new places, but end up finding ourselves in the process. Traveling exposes our ignorance to those parts of the world whose treasures are not trinkets or shells but provide a new perspective so broad it can be discerned decades into the future. As Pico Iyer says, we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more with the hidden treasures waiting to be exhumed right under our feet.
- “The cure for anything is salt water, sweat, tears, or the sea.” Isak Dinesen
- “We are tied to the ocean, and when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch, we are going back from whence we came.” John F. Kennedy
- “By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” Christopher Columbus