In February 2013 we tried something a little different. We packed our bags, flew down to Florida, and hopped onto the Freedom of the Seas, a thirty-six hundred passenger mega-cruise-ship slash floating-city. We left our electronics — except for my cameras — at home. I took a break from running. And we had some family time, enjoying the sand, sun, and surf of a small handful of Caribbean ports-of-call. This is not a chronology of those adventures: it is a smattering of observations and recollections.
I love beaches. I mean, who doesn’t though, right? I suppose there may be a few of you out there who avoid beaches at all costs, or frown at the thought of sand between your toes. But I’m imagining that if a general poll was taken of average folks around the world, beaches would rank pretty high on the “things people love” scale.
The thing about beaches is that there is something for everyone, really.
If you are a lounging around kind of person who enjoys sitting in a quiet place with a book, then… hey, a lounge chair and the white noise of the ocean a few steps away are ideal.
If you are a boozing it up kind of person then all I can say is that on the beaches I visited the alcohol floweth — while not freely — definitely, amply.
If you are a sporty type person, then there are all sorts of sporty things to be done on a beach, from actual beach sports and swimming, to exploration-type sports like snorkelling and diving.
The ship stopped at what they called a “private island” in the Bahamas. I had been thinking prior to our arrival along the lines of “hey, that’s cool. How does one go about getting a private island.” What I came to discover is that private islands are private because no one has bothered living there really at all in the history of humanity. In this case, Cococay — while far more impressive than any island I ever have hopes of owning — is really more of a glorified sandbar in the ocean. I mean, if sea levels rise at all, ever, or even if there is just a really big wave, Royal Caribbean is going to be short one island in a matter of minutes. Really.
It was still quite awesome, however. And it was the best snorkelling we encountered on our trip. The ship anchored a couple kilometers offshore and we tendered to land — sand — on one of the early trips. We claimed a few lounge chairs a few steps from the water, and Claire set up shop in the business of sandcastle manufacture while Karin and I took turns exploring the shallows in our snorkel gear.
I videoed a variety of fishes, none of which I know the names of, and spotted a sting ray sleuthing along the sea floor and followed her for a few dozen meters and at a cautious distance.
The ships crew assembled a remote buffet lunch at a kind of beach-side cantina-style area in the center of the island and we dined on ribs and burgers and watered-down iced tea that was nonetheless refreshing in the moderate heat.
It was a great day.
On Sapphire Beach
On the island of St. Thomas we had booked an excursion to yet another beach.
Excursions work something like this: the boat harbours at a location that is not really very interesting, at least from an “I’m on a tropical island, huzzah-let’s do something fun” perspective. Passengers crowd off and lurk a few paces from the boat, but unless they are brave enough to hire local transportation and explore, lingering near the boat is a lot like, say, flying to New York and not actually leaving the airport — which we later in the week did, so I know whereof I write.
If you are clever, you hire a personal taxi, set your own schedule, and go exploring.
If you are a boat passenger with a five-year-old daughter in tow and don’t want to deal with the hassle of fun-finding in a foreign land, you pay the ship even more money, get some tickets, and let yourself be herded like a lost-little-lamb to a local conveyance which requires no instruction from you whatsoever to take you to and from somewhere more interesting than the duty free souvenir shop beside the harbour.
On the island of St. Thomas we had booked an excursion to Sapphire Beach.
I’ve already detailed the experience of the bus ride that followed, so herein I shall cut directy back to the discussion of beaches. Sapphire Beach was yet another charming beach on yet another charming island.
It is funny, however, how much the archetype of a beach exists in one’s mind, and where Sapphire Beach failed me — in silly, selfish, and completely basis-free way — was that my beach archetype was — literally and geographically — only a few kilometers away. See, one of the first truly tropical beach experiences I recall clearly enough to be meaningful occurred on a similar cruise adventure well more than over a decade ago. I’ve been to St. Thomas before. My family — parents and sibs — went on a family vacation, one of our last about and a dozen years ago — and one of our stops was a beach called Coki Beach somewhere on St. Thomas. It was the first place I ever snorkelled, the first place I ever dipped my toes into tropical waters. And it now exists as this yardstick of archetypal beach-ness in my now beach-addled brain.
If I had gone to Coki Beach it probably would have quasi-disappointed me in the same merit-less fashion that Sapphire Beach did, in that there is no way it could have risen to the pedestal-lifted position I imagine it holds in my mind.
And the moral of this story is… every beach is different. Enjoy each beach and then move on. No really. Don’t expect the same adventure twice. Embrace the uniqueness.
We really did enjoy Sapphire Beach. I snorkelled, and found a few scattered schools and many submerged objects of curiosity and wonder. Claire and I built sand castles. And we all splashed and revelled in the sun, sand and surf.
On Orient Bay
We did the excursion thing once again on the island of St. Maarten.
This particular island has a split personality. One half is a kind of independent Dutch protectorate… or something. The other half is a French colony… or something. The young lady who narrated our bus ride from the colour-over-saturated harbour on the Dutch side to the beautiful, miles-long beach on the French side talked quite a bit about soft-politics and crude demographics… but I was on vacation and only half-tuned in.
It was another beach. When we arrived at Orient Bay, far, far away from wherever the ship seemed to be docked, we were truly in a land with a deeply European air. I enjoy things with a European air about them. I’ve been to Europe to experience that air in person. I’ve gawked, completely out of place in that air, and let it wash over me. And it was there, strolling down the beach at Orient Bay in all it’s airy, clothing-optional, matching his-and-her bikini glory. Fun.
Me, and all my anti-sunburn-shirt-wearing North-American-ness. Not European what-so-ever.
The surf was strong here and snorkelling was simply not an option. Had I opted to go snorkelling I would not be here to write this post. I’d be drowned somewhere still on the seabed of Orient Bay. No one could have gone snorkelling to look for me. So, I didn’t either.
Instead we played in the waves. And I’ll admit I got a little bit camera-happy. My water-proof GoPro camera earned its keep on Orient Bay beach, me cycling through a number of burst mode and timed-photo mode settings and recording all kinds of wet-and-wild selfies as well as abundant pics of Claire once again finding her fun in the creamy-soft sands of the Caribbean.
By this point, knowing it was my last tropical beach for a while, I’d gotten past my archetypal beach hang-ups as well, and just bathed in the salt water awesomeness of the waves and family fun. Which was kinda the point, anyhow, right?
More vacation Rants, Reviews & Redux are on the way… someday.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 (Coming soon!)