Sovereign of the Seas
July 7, 2006
What do you do, when you are going on your first cruise to the Bahamas, and you find out that the forecast calls for scattered showers throughout the islands of your destination? You do what I did. Expect for the best.
My friend Bill is a single guy, who just turned 50, with a somewhat "well to do" family. As a surprise, they booked a birthday cruise for Bill and seven of his friends for a weekender in the Bahamas. I was one of the lucky ones to be invited.
For weeks before the cruise, I was "pre-researching" our cruise destination on the internet, checking out weather stats, and of course, asking lots of questions, here on Cruisemates.com. I considered myself well prepared, but was a little nervous about the weather and how it might affect our cruise. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about.
Arriving at Port Canaveral, Florida on July 7th, 2:30 we were met by several, smiling luggage carriers. They promptly loaded our cases, and directed us through the security areas. Foresight proved to be good for us, as we had all or our paperwork prepared before we arrived, and vastly speeded the boarding process. We were on the RCI "Sovereign of the Seas", and ready for our excursion in less than an hour.
Our accomodations for our weekend were four Junior Staterooms, joined by outside balconies. The rooms were spacious enough for our needs, and the balconies were "the place to be" throughout the trip - a great place to be when we were winding down from one of the famous "mixers" or events of the day.
Immediately, we were able to rush over to the Windjammer restaurant to sample some of RCI's famous buffet lunches. The food was plentious, and varied, but we had to search for a place to sit. The buffet staff was courteous, and constantly cleaning behind us, so the place was immaculate and orderly.
"Rolling" out for our afternoon activities (we were stuffed), we began checking out the ship, a literal multi-level "mall" on the ocean. The Centrum lobby was a relaxed shopping place, with a flowing live orchestra, and a group gathered for a faux "art auction" to prepare for the next day's real deal. We purchased our "unlimited soda" cups for $22 in the lobby, a good investment for those who are not lounge hoppers - four days of soda and juice in an attractive, durable RCI tumbler.
All my fears about a rocking ocean boat were totally unfounded. As we left port at around 5:30, we could barely tell we were moving. I was prepared for sea sickness by purchasing over the counter "Bonine" but I didn't even have to crack the box the whole trip.
The afternoon rain cleared minutes into our ocean voyage, and the ship crew was already preparing for an evening of activities - dance lessons on the deck, contests, and live music. The atmosphere was relaxed and excited at the same time (if that is possible), and in quieter reflective moments, you could simply gaze overboard at the flowing emerald ocean and watch marine life - fish, sea turtles, and dolphins. I found myself mesmerized by the sailor's love: the flowing seas.
Sooner than expected, we were treated to an unique four course dinner, an exquisite fare for the tastebuds. And the waiter encouraged us to have more than one of each entree when we couldn't decide which to choose from! I was flabbergasted, but of course, I couldn't turn down an offer like that!
The evening entertainment was varied and fun. While my friends visited the casino, and a few of the dance clubs onboard, I meandered around and ended up at a club with dueling pianos. "Jeff and Rhiannon" are actor/comedian/pianist/singers with a wide range of songs and styles. For a reasonable gratuity, they play your requests (everything from Buddy Holly to Bruce Springsteen). They were so talented and versatile, I went to see them every night.
That night, it was hard to get to sleep, because of the excitement and so much to do. I bedded down at 3:30 am.
We arrived in Nassau around 10:00 am, and disembarked just after lunch. We had not signed up for any excursion, but we were met at the gate by a very warm and generous taxi-tour bus driver named "Felipe" (or Dr. Feelgood). For about $28 per person (cash only) he took us on a whirlwind ride through the back alleys and major sites of downtown Nassau. It lasted for a little more than two hours, and while he promised to take my friends to get some authentic cigars, and to see Nassau's famous Rum factory, we never got quite that far. We did get to travel to the Atlantis Hotel for a free walk-through, visited the old fort, and the "Queen's Staircase" though, and "Felipe" added a lot of color to an otherwise standard tour.
Arriving back at port dock, we wandered around the streets, checking out the various shops and the world famous "Straw market". If you go, be prepared for the locals to peddle all manner of things and to hound you, unless you are firm with them. ("Hey mon, would you like to buy one of these shirts? Tree for $10. Or for you, four for ten." "How about this bracelet for your girlfriend?") The natives can be competitive in their street peddling. One woman walked up and put bracelets on my friend and I, and told us it was a gift of friendship and understanding, and that all it would require was a donation of $5. I wasn't taken in by her, and handed back the bracelet.
One interesting event, which was all a manner of timing, was seeing the Nassau Navy Band performing in parade for the Bahamians. As a prelude to the Bahamian 33 year "Independence Day" on July 10 the streets were cordoned off, and officials lined up to see a parade performed by members of the prestigious corps. While the others remained to do more shopping, I returned to the boat to cool off in the pool. I am glad I brought goggles, as it turned out, the water was saline (salt based)instead of chlorinated.
After another evening of just "hanging out" (and watching another friend both lose and win in a game of "Texas Hold 'Em"), I tried to turn in early for the next day's events. Plenty of walking, and a very mild sunburn made it easy to go to sleep that night at around 3:00 am.
Sunday arrived, and while I missed the Sunday services that were held onboard, I took time to reflect and meditate with God, while looking out over our next destination island: Coco Cay.
Coco Cay is a small island owned by RCI, and full of activities for the whole family. For me, it was the perfect place to take lots of video, and digital snapshots, to snorkel (I brought my own along, to save some money on "rentals") and to relax in the shade of a coconut tree. Of course, I HAD to sip on one of the "world famous" Coco Loco drinks while basking in the sun. For $5.85, you get the drink, a mixture of tropical juices and a sort of sherbet. You get to keep the tumbler. I chose to have the "real deal" rather than paying $1 more on a one with rum added. My only regret is that I didn't try out a hammock.
The ship headed homeward around 5:30 pm, due to arrive back in Port Canaveral at 7:00 am the next day. That night, even though it was cloudy and overcast over the mainland ahead of us, I was able to photograph my first sunset at sea. It was a colorful thrill, and made the perfect ending for a very nice trip. But it wasn't over yet.
My friends and I met with some other new friends, and spent a rollicking, raucous time playing a shipboard game called "Quest". While not for the whole family, the wildly funny team game is something we will not soon forget. That night we stayed up to nearly 4:30 am, talking about all of our excursions and experiences.
I may very well try to cruise again, armed with these important notes: 1. Never pack too much clothing, 2. Be prepared to bring extra money for souvineers, 3. Don't EVER put a quarter in a Casino quarter drop machine unless you are prepared to lose $15, and finally, 4. Always be prepared for the best. Preparing for the worst will make you focus on the negatives, and make you overlook the positives. There is far too little to complain about, when you see how much you are blessed, and far too much beauty in God's creation for us to enjoy.