Me On a Sea Cruise
the Sea Cruise Photo Gallery!
tropical cruise in the dead of winter is always a treat and if it’s
during your birthday, the turning older part doesn’t hurt
nearly as much.
10, 2005 – a frigid morning, a balmy night
teeth are chattering as we heave our luggage into the back of the
van. It’s all of 15ºF at 6:45a.m. and it’s pitch black
out. With an icy wind stinging my face and the snow and ice crunching
under my feet, I feel like I’m standing on the North Pole
instead of our driveway in Windsor, Ontario.
top it off, in one day I am about to turn a year older. This little
detail would probably have hurt except that I’m on my way
to the airport: my husband is taking me on a Carnival cruise, and
the kids are staying home!
the first time since my teens, I have actually been counting the
days until my birthday.
recently become a cruise aficionado, or perhaps I should say, cruise-oholic.
My first cruise was just a 4-nighter on Carnival’s “Fascination”
from Miami to Key West and Cozumel but it was enough to get me hooked
for life. There’s something about eating whatever and whenever
you like, lounging in the hot sun poolside with a book in one hand
and a tropical drink in the other, then coming back to your room
at the end of the day to find a cute animal constructed of white
towels perched on your turned-down bed that’s hard to resist.
was a couple of winters ago and this cruise will be my third. My
husband has picked up the bug too; this will be No. 2 for him. Our
two kids joined us on his first cruise and our daughter Rosalie,
who was nine at the time, had so much fun that we know we’re
going to have to plan another one soon that will include her. We
try not to feel too guilty as she waves from the living room window
while we pull away.
have booked our cruise through Travelocity.com and the whole process
was very easy and satisfying. We got a good price plus, as they
were having a special, a $100 voucher for a spa treatment on the
ship, and they even sent us one of their cute gnomes which we call
For a change of pace we decided to depart from somewhere a bit more
exotic than Miami, a major embarkation point for Carnival Cruises.
hundred-year-old San Juan, Puerto Rico is our choice; we will stay
for a day and a half before sailing on the “Destiny”
for 7-nights through the southern Caribbean. Our huge ship will
stop at four island nations: St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands), Barbados,
Dominica and Aruba.
at dusk in Old San Juan, our winter weary bones have already thawed
thanks to the very civilized 84º temperatures. To make the most
of our brief stay here we have chosen to bed down for the night
in an unusual 300-year-old-inn overlooking the sea atop the north
wall of old San Juan, which we discovered via the Internet. (www.thegalleryinn.com)
love history and the idea of staying in what was once a ship captain’s
mansion, now transformed into a virtual work of art (more about
that later), is extremely tempting. Most people prefer to stay in
modern, international hotels but we enjoy more eclectic accommodations
that reflect the culture and history of their environs. In fact
one of the big reasons we travel is to experience what is truly
foreign to our lives at home.
soon as we enter the open-air courtyard of the Inn Galleria, I know
we have chosen well. Walking past the lush gardens to the reception
desk my eyes dart over a plethora of statues, masks and fountains
that seem to cover every inch of space.
we’re too late to meet Manny, the day manager and my jovial
phone contact, we are warmly greeted by the night manager who leads
us down some stone steps, through a French door and into an art
bedecked hall way. A massive wooden door is pulled open and there
is our home for the night: a huge canopied four-poster bed, piled
high with pillows and cushions, with a rich antique rug as a backdrop,
serves as the centre piece. Original paintings and sculptures grace
every wall, nook, and cranny while a modern bathroom and air conditioning
provide that right touch of comfort.
our Internet research, we know the inn is within easy walking distance
of the old port which appears to have a multitude of eateries, shopping
and exploring opportunities. After changing into some weather appropriate
clothes, we walk the short distance downhill along cobblestone streets
to hunt for some dinner. Near the water’s edge we discover
an outdoor market but due to the late hour, it is closing.
street food vendors are still open however so we purchase some tempting
fried plantains and cassava. Music from an impromptu band comprised
of about a dozen elderly locals draws us to a bench beneath a centuries-old
tree. We devour our tasty street food while enjoying the makeshift
band of musicians and singers. The ice and snow of the morning are
already a distant memory.
our meandering we discover that the Puerto Ricans take Christmas
very seriously; the promenade is lined with an impressive light
display that puts our city’s civic display to shame. We next
encounter a large outdoor restaurant nestled in the bosom of San
Cristobal, one of the two ancient forts guarding the Old City.
we are nearly full from our starchy snack, the pretty hostess, who
beckons us to enter and listen to the band (about to start at any
moment!), is hard to resist. Ten minutes later we are munching on
ceviche (marinated raw fish salad), quaffing local brews and listening
to an excellent 5-piece band that has materialized on cue, perched
on a high platform against the fort wall.
might have easily lingered until the wee hours but our full day
of travel has tuckered us out. Plus, we have a fairly ambitious
self-directed walking tour planned for the next day before boarding
our ship. We bid adieu to our gracious hostess before the stroke
at the Galleria, we discover a party going on in celebration of
the anniversary of the inn’s renovations. The inn’s
owners have invited friends, long-time guests, artists and writers
to partake. We’re tempted to join in but we hear our sumptuous
room calling so we decide to be good kids and turn in for the night.
then it dawns on me that I’m 49 and it hasn’t hurt one
The Inn Galleria: a Bohemian Refuge
restored in 1961 by artist owners Jan D’Esopo and Manuco Gandia,
the inn first served as an artist’s colony of sorts. Then,
15 years ago, the owners decided to transform their home into an
inn. Today, 22 beautiful, art-filled guest rooms are secreted throughout
this 17-century historic building. Each is air conditioned with
private bath and telephone, and brimming with antiques, books and
whimsical Trompe L'Oiel walls. And the beds have all been thoughtfully
appointed with comfy Tempurpedic Mattresses. Everything is for sale
in the inn, even the mattresses!
guests have access to numerous interesting rooms and spaces, including
interior courtyards, patios, porticos and gardens, punctuated by
tropical flowering plants, tinkling fountains and colorful exotic
birds. The sounds of water, classical music, soft Spanish voices
and chirping birds add to the sense of tranquility.
is also a conference room, a banquet room and a music room with
a nine-foot grand concert Steinway piano outfitted with the "piano
disk" play and record system. Art is created in seven studios:
painting, sculpture, mold making, cold casting, silk screening and
there’s even a micro foundry for bronze casting.
Inn Galleria is the perfect place to while away the hours drinking
wine and having those sorts of conversations one only seems to have
on trips when you know you’ll likely never see the other person
a rejuvenating sleep Chris and I feast on a delicious made-to-order
breakfast of fluffy cheese and veggie omelets in a cozy corner of
the courtyard as a sudden but brief rain shower adds some tropical
After this fortifying repast we hook up with Manny who instantly
feels like an old friend.
the inn’s resident toucans and parrots are brought outside
to their perches in the front courtyard gardens he regales us with
amusing stories about the inn which he calls a “a living,
breathing art project” where no two days are alike. “The
Inn Galleria can be described in three words,” says Manny,
“romantic, eclectic and exotic. It’s not for everyone.
Some people would find it too bohemian or even schizophrenic!”
the guests here are as interesting and diverse as the inn and many
actors, including Steven Spielberg and Robert Duval, have slept
here. In addition, the owners regularly schedule special talks or
performances by famous artists, writers and musicians. Manny informs
us that Deepak Chopra, holistic healer and renowned author, is scheduled
to speak tonight. Too bad we’ll miss him.
we leave for our walking tour we climb the steep staircase to the
roof’s “Wine Deck” to get our bearings. It is
one of the highest points in Old San Juan and an excellent vantage
point of the entire city.
The old city is one of the main cultural tourist attractions for
Puerto Rico, and slips for massive cruise ships line the bay side.
We are thrilled to see the “Destiny” in port and we
marvel that it’s higher than any building in the area. We
estimate it’s possible that we could walk to the boat from
the inn save for the cobblestone streets and steep incline which
would make rolling our luggage tricky.
San Juan has been called one of the most beautiful places on earth;
it is certainly one of the most interesting. The old city is perfect
for walking tours as it encompasses just over a square mile in area.
Legend has it that the picturesque blue cobblestone streets were
constructed of ship’s ballast but according to Manuco of the
Galleria, the blue stones were ordered purposely for building the
roads; being made of steel slag they were meant to last.
looks like it might rain again but Chris and I aren’t worried
about the prospect of getting wet. What’s a little rain compared
to the ice and snow back home?
husband, an observant map-reader, has noticed there is an historic
cemetery nearby, at the ocean’s edge, so we decide to head
We follow a steep embankment down through an old stone underpass
to the gates of the Santa Maria de Magdalena cemetery. A turbulent
sea serves as a magnificent backdrop for the maze of elegantly carved
white crypts and headstones. We wish we can walk through the grounds
but the iron gates are locked and dangerously high.
is easy to see how the old town was once a fortress. Founded by
Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon, San Juan was a stopover
for ships traveling to and from Spain, making it an important port
in the Spanish system. The Spanish developed a network of fortifications
to protect the transportation of gold and silver from the New World
to Europe. Puerto Rico doesn’t mean “rich port”
fort Morro rises at the entrance to San Juan’s protected harbour
which once provided a natural defense from the infidels. There is
a giant plain that rises up to the fort, the only open space in
Old San Juan. Today, the US Park Service maintains the fort, as
Puerto Rico is under control of the USA.
provides an intriguing glimpse into what life was once like here
in the second oldest Spanish colonial city in the New World, while
the old city offers excellent examples of Spanish colonial architecture.
Just a few steps from the fort, the streets are lined with striking
buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th century – many
painstakingly restored and painted a gorgeous rainbow of pastels.
I can’t help feeling like I’m walking past giant birthday
encounter significantly more people strolling through the streets
in the day than at night but we wonder where they’re going
– the main shopping area does not overly impress us. Many
of the shops seem to be stocked with tacky trinkets and souvenirs.
Then we discover the little laneways leading to interesting stores
stocked with paintings and local crafts; we purchase some interesting
clay repro artifacts of animals that double as flutes.
one corner, we encounter an odd scene: a larger-than-life Elmo from
Sesame Street is having his picture taken with tourists. What Elmo
has to do with Old San Juan is anybody’s guess but the tourists
seem to be getting a kick out of him.
is Such Sweet Sorrow
at the inn, we are excited at the prospect of beginning the next
phase of our trip. But before we depart we sit with the elegant
Jan, creator of many of the beautiful masks and sculptures decorating
Jan’s hip is mending from a fall from a horse so she has been
holding court in her room for several weeks. Her husband is a horseman
and Jan had recently taken up riding. She may be laid up but to
us she looks like she is merely resting after a morning’s
outing with friends.
our brief visit we wish we could stay longer to become better acquainted
with this fascinating couple but we must move on and reluctantly
say our goodbyes. We hope to return some day to enjoy a longer stay
so we can really appreciate the charms of this unusual inn where
everyone immediately feels right at home.
taxi down to the port to the inevitable long lines of cruisers waiting
patiently to board our massive ship. Destiny has a capacity of 3,400
guests so we anticipate a long wait and have come prepared: Chris
plugs in his IPOD while I crack open a book. At least the terminal
is air-conditioned. Evidently, not so long ago, passengers waited
in a hot, muggy building for hours on end.
almost two hours, we make it through the line. (And we thought our
“Carnival fun passes” would speed things up!) We spot
the duty free shop and are surprised and delighted to learn that
in Puerto Rico, Carnival allows passengers to bring alcohol on board
at embarkation. We double check with the women at the till and are
told that as long as it is packed in our luggage we should be fine.
We load up on wine (two bottles for $7! – Italian and Chilean
– not bad), a bottle of Puerto Rico’s finest rum, and
a bottle of champagne to toast my birthday – all for $29 bucks.
somewhat revived, we enter the ship and find ourselves directly
in the main lobby where we pause to get our bearings.
is an older model – built in 1996, she was the largest cruise
ship in the world in her day. If Destiny were a land-based hotel,
she'd probably be more than 30 stories tall! In fact, she is so
long it is very easy to get disoriented.
a tip: Deck 5 is the only deck that allows you to move from the
front to the back of the ship through her mid-section. If you are
ever confused, head to Deck Five to get your bearings.)
has over 1,000 rooms and can accommodate 3,400 diners in two seatings.
That's a lot of bodies. Despite all the people aboard we find the
ship spacious and, save for the Lido Deck where most of the restaurants
are located, it never feels crowded.
to the much newer “Carnival Spirit,” our last ship,
Destiny seems a bit dated, but everything appears to be in good
shape. And we discover she is constantly being polished, vacuumed
and cleaned, from top to bottom.
sign – our bags are waiting for us outside Stateroom 6333,
our home for the next week. In the end, we wish we had booked a
port side room, as the starboard rooms tend to get the dock or sea
views in port. Small matter really. The cabin is fairly roomy for
two people, though if we were in a hotel I am sure it would've felt
cramped. But we are cruising and the first thing my husband does
is hunt down our cabin steward, Edmond, to become his new best friend.
locates a large ice bucket for us to keep our champagne and wine
chilled and ensures that the ice is always replenished. And he puts
our cleaning lady at home to shame: after Edmond works his magic,
our room is spotless – twice a day – and one of his
cute towel animals greets us every night.
lack of a fridge in the cabin is surprising, but otherwise, the
amenities are great: lots of closet space, and a fantastic bed.
This was our first sail with a balcony and we will always book one
on future cruises. Nothing like sitting on your own deck, drinking
Bacardi Old Rum with house lemonade, and watching the sun go down!
in Bed – Dinner in the Captain’s Mess
Destiny’s ports of call. In fact, the main reason Chris chose
this ship was to visit a whole set of islands in one pass. Destiny’s
itinerary offers an interesting glimpse of the southern Caribbean
islands, which we have never visited even though we’ve travelled
to more than 40 countries. The islands are diverse, friendly and
offer a wealth of excursions for even the most jaded traveller.
San Juan was a bonus for us, so we can say we saw five really distinctive
Caribbean islands in one trip.
weather was a bit unsettled as we pulled out of Old San Juan and
we hoped we weren’t doomed to rain throughout the trip. But
when we awoke in St. Thomas, it was a perfect day in paradise –
crystal clear blue skies and very warm.
starboard view of the port wasn't terrific but we were interested
in the activity below us. Evidently all food for the cruise is loaded
in St. Thomas, while fuel is loaded on at San Juan. According to
the Hotel Director, there is enough food and fuel onboard for two
entire cruises – just in case!
a delightful and healthy breakfast in bed, (room service: yogurt,
bagels, granola, fruit and tea – we’re trying not to
pig out, something that is easily done onboard!) a look at the harbour
reveals an idyllic scene: sailboats bobbing against the backdrop
of green hills.
look forward to doing some exploring but decide not to rush off
the boat. As there are so many ports in just seven days, it is possible
to dash around the whole trip and never actually take the time to
relax. It is actually quite relaxing to stay on board when everyone
is piling off to enjoy a cocktail by the pool, or on your balcony,
before heading to shore.
our case we were exhausted from a tough year in business, so instead
of herding off the boat with the majority of the passengers we meandered
over to the pool. Only a few fellow slowpokes were spread out on
the deck chairs.
a refreshing swim and some toasting in the sun we are ready for
the spa. On our last cruise, we discovered that the spa is a great
alternative to the shower in your room. There's a steam and sauna,
a hot tub in the exercise room and it is a perfect way to kick start
your day. Chris used it five days out of seven.
1pm, several hours after docking, we are finally ready to disembark.
At the port things are hectic. We are surprised by the amount of
traffic for such a tiny island and wonder where everyone is going
in such a big hurry.
the hustlers aren’t particularly aggressive. This appears
to be a very rich island and the locals don't have to work too hard
as five or six ships sail into port every day. (St. Thomas is the
number one cruise ship destination in the Caribbean.)
heard the beaches were pretty fabulous although reports from other
cruisers indicate that the famed Meghan Bay is quite small and tends
to get very busy with cruisers. We took a pass as we figure there
will be lots of time for beaches in Barbados and Aruba. Instead
we walk along the seawall into the town: Charlotte Amalie.
our surprise and delight, we discover its historic district and
spend the afternoon strolling along clapboard buildings and ducking
down narrow laneways. Beer is sold everywhere and cold, crisp Caribe
brews help to fortify us as we wander about in a blissful haze of
our sizable breakfast we begin to feel hunger pangs and go on the
lookout for an enticing restaurant. We spot a menu for a place called
Gladys’ Restaurant tacked to the wall of a laneway we haven’t
yet explored. A man stationed near by notices our perusal and is
quick to assure us that we won’t be disappointed. He will
even show us the way.
Somehow this middle-aged American doesn’t look like a typical
tout so we decide to take him up on his offer. As we follow him
through the twists and turns of the laneway, we learn that he is
a transplanted Californian artist who occasionally helps Gladys
out for a little extra cash when he isn’t creating his art.
guide does not lead us astray. If you have a hankering for Creole
spicy food Gladys’ is the spot. Chris could tell as soon as
he spied a basket of scotch bonnet peppers, one of the hottest peppers
on earth – strategically located on the bar.
orders the curried mutton while I sample a spicy lobster sandwich.
These were accompanied by a couple of local beers and of course
some of Gladys’ famed hot sauce. The food is delicious and
the ambiance in the small but busy restaurant delightful: exposed
brick walls, colourful local paintings, lush plants and large windows
providing a view of the laneway lend a dreamy quality. I feel almost
like we’ve been incorporated into one of the paintings.
a souvenir, we purchase one of Gladys’ hot sauces (unavailable
on the web unfortunately) and now, whenever we use it at home, we’re
transported right back to her wonderful restaurant.
little shop in town is the Black Beard Brewing Company which doles
out free samples of beer brewed right on the island. The girl handing
out the drinks could have used a couple herself but we manage to
get her smiling by the time we leave. Of course we buy two bottles
to enjoy while strolling the two miles back to the Destiny, which
dominates the port like some renegade iceberg.
at the ship, there are long lines of people waiting in the blinding
sun of late afternoon to get on board. Next time we’ll hang
out in one of the cafes along the port and enjoy a beer until the
very last minute – then board.
a letter waiting for us in our cabin inviting us onto the bridge
for 4:45pm. which is close to when the boat will be pulling out
of port. On our last cruise we had hoped to see the bridge but had
been denied access. Evidently this call is up to the captain.
report to the Purser's desk at the appointed time and are promptly
escorted to a hidden passageway and onto the bridge. We immediately
hit it off with Captain Angelo Los, a very fine gentleman, who,
we are surprised to discover, lives close to our hometown.
are waiting for one passenger to report to the info desk before
the ship can sail. Chris is fascinated with Angelo’s explanations
of the mysteries of the ship, including how the giant vessel glides
away from the dock; when the passenger is accounted for, the propellers
turn sideways for this maneuver and we feel the behemoth gently
spend almost two hours with the captain and his able crew. The bridge
is extremely quiet which surprises me as I thought that there would
be orders shouted and crew rushing about. Cutting edge computers
run the ship and the chief purser tells us that the Destiny is steered
with one joystick sized lever!
are duly impressed. The crew is equally remarkable; safety is the
number one consideration in everything that takes place onboard.
After sunset, we are a bit mystified to see the men switching on
dim red lights. Apparently, the bridge has to be kept as dark as
possible to ensure all hands keep a sharp lookout for anything ahead.
The other interesting thing we notice is the lack of chairs; evidently
staying on their feet keeps the crew more alert.
if this wasn't a big enough thrill, especially for Chris, the captain
then invites us down to his private dining room in the officer's
galley for dinner. How can we refuse?
the appointed hour, we are escorted into what the crew refers to
as the “1-95” (named after the coveted U.S. visa) –
a wide passageway that runs almost the length of the ship below
Deck One. We are startled to witness the flurry of activity; there
are almost 1,200 crewmembers working aboard ship and they all live
on three decks we passengers rarely get to see.
are a bit taken aback by how understated the captain’s mess
is especially compared to the much more extravagant passenger dining
rooms but the meal is incredible (tender calamari, lobster tail,
filet mignon and baked Alaska for dessert) and the company interesting:
we are joined at our table by the chief navigator, chief engineer,
chief environmental officer and chief medical officer, all Italian
save the doctor who hails from New Jersey.
dinner, we almost reluctantly return to the surreal world of our
fellow passengers. We stroll to the top deck and lean against the
railing to marvel at the “lite-brite” sky. The sea is
tranquil and as the mighty vessel quietly slips through the night,
I rejoice in the knowledge that we still have six days and nights
left to celebrate my birthday in paradise.
if the stars all line up, I’ll be lucky enough to spend my
50th on another exotic cruise.