For the past couple months I’ve been on overdrive, working many 10 to 12 hour days. I was no longer accumulating vacation time because I’d maxed it out, but was unable to take it. Usually, sometime around midnight I would somehow find my way to bed, curl up exhausted, but the mind still reeling from the items waiting for the morning. Welcome to the American dream. The walls were closing in. It was time to step away. So we packed our suitcases and headed to Puerto Rico for a 7 day cruise through the Caribbean.
Day 1 thru 3: Puerto Rico
Before we left, Nicole checked the weather and the entire week predicted rain, but getting away was still going to be a treat. We took the redeye from SFO and made it into San Juan with enough time to enjoy an afternoon at the beach. Our hotel was next to the airport and right across the street from the beach and the water was that warm and almost glowing water along soft powder sand beaches that I think only the Caribbean has. We spent our first afternoon just playing in the water and having a good time together. Pretty soon the clouds started to roll in and it wasn’t too long before we enjoyed a good old-fashioned thunderstorm.
The next day we took our rental car and drove over to the El Yunque Rain Forest. This kept Dylan entertained as we told him to keep a lookout for Diego (Dylan’s favorite cartoon explorer and friend of Dora). Since Diego lives in the rain forest, we kept telling Dylan we might spot Diego rescuing an animal. We were planning to take a ferry over to the island of Culebra for the afternoon but we didn’t plan it too well. Arriving at the ferry, we learned we would have had to catch the 9 AM ferry, the one that left a few hours earlier, to get back the same day. So instead we found Seven Seas Beach, only a short drive from Fajardo, and hung out and then decided to take a night kayaking trip to Bio Bay. As we kayaked under the stars, the water filled with bioluminescent organisms and glowed underneath us. The kayaking trip was one of the highlights of the trip.
For our last day in Puerto Rico, before boarding the cruise ship, we took the rental car the other direction on the island and went to the Camuy Caverns. This turned into another pleasant surprise as we were amazed at the size and different climate near the floor of the cavern. Lots of bats stuck to the top and some of the rock formations gave a silhouette human figure off in the shadows. We explored the caverns for about an hour before heading back to San Juan to visit the old fort near old town and then catch our cruise ship.
I needed to drop the rental car back at the airport and so decided it was be perfect to work in a little 8 mile run back to the cruise ship from the airport. Normally, 8 miles would have been a breeze but the humidity of Puerto Rico on a Sunday afternoon brought me to a stop after only 6 miles. The air felt so heavy and had sucked the energy out of me that I was begging a few of the local gas stations to accept, please accept, my American Express Card. “Go ahead and charge me $10, make it $20 for that Coke. Just let me buy it before I pass out!” I finally made it to the ship and our room.
For all our previous cruises, our room was deep in the bowels of the ship. We would always have the smallest inside room with no window, not even a port-hole. But we had found such a good deal on this cruise and it included a balcony ($700 for each of us plus airfare). Let me not downplay the difference a balcony made. We don’t spend very much time in the room but being able to enjoy the views from our own room made the mornings a little extra special.
Day 4: St. Thomas and St. John
The first port of call was St. Thomas. For us, one of the exciting parts of taking a cruise is being in a new place every day and getting off the boat on our own, making the day an adventure by finding something interesting to do and see. So we decided to take the ferry from St. Thomas over to St. John and spent the day at Trunk Bay, one of the best beaches in the world. We took an open air taxi with Lisa, Cameron and Brenda to the ferry and then it was a short and relaxing 30 minute ferry ride over to St. John. This had to have been one of the most relaxing days of just hanging out on the beach and playing in the crystal clear water. The snorkeling was fantastic, not a lot of reefs, but there were enough fish (and some squid and rumors of sting rays) to keep us occupied for a few hours.
Day 5: Day At Sea
From Dylan’s point of view, one of the best parts of the ship was not the food, not the service, not having someone clean your room twice a day, but having a giant water slide on the ship.
We stopped counting the number of times he went down the slide after 21 times. The day ended with the movie, Rango, on a giant screen on the deck of the ship, under the stars, while we sailed towards Barbados. Life was, you can say, pretty relaxing. And one of the experiences of the cruise is after a long and exhausting day playing, sitting down to a delicious 4 course meal. It was during these evening dinners that Dylan tried all types of new foods: shark, frog legs, clams, scallops. One night Lisa and Steve hung out with Dylan while Nicole and I had an alligator and lobster dinner all to ourselves.
Day 6: Barbados
This stop turned into another highlight of the cruise. In Barbados, we walked off the ship and walked to the bus depot no more than a mile away and paid $2 for all of us to take the bus out-of-town to one of the beaches. At the beach, we started noticing a couple large boats anchoring off shore about 100 yards and then dozens of snorkelers would jump in the water. We heard this was a good spot to see sea turtles. So Dylan and I swam out and sure enough, we swam with some pretty good size sea turtles. The water was about 50 – 60 feet deep and clear enough to see all the way down. I was really proud to see Dylan take to the ocean right away and have no fear of the fish swimming around us or the deep water or being a good distance from shore.
Day 7: St. Lucia
The 3rd port of call just kept getting better. On St. Lucia we found a tour with about 15 other people that left near the port and would take us near the Pitons and up to the sulfur springs at Soufriere and finally we would have a couple of hours at one of the black sand beaches. The tour started on a small fishing boat that took us along the cliffs. Unlike some of the other islands, St. Lucia didn’t seem to have a lot of open beaches. The coast was more rugged but the bright blue water against the rocky cliffs made for a picturesque trip along the coast. The sulphur springs are supposed to heal just about every ailment. And to the touch, the black water would nearly scald the skin. In fact, the locals make hardboiled eggs by just wrapping them in cloth and dipping them in the water. It is that hot. After about 1 minute, I was cooked.
After the bath, it was time to shower off under the Toraille Waterfall down the road.
For our last stop in St. Lucia, we boarded the fishing boat and found a beautiful black sand beach and spent the afternoon just snorkeling and building sand castles. The colorful fish and reefs looked spectacular against a black sand backdrop.
Day 8: St. Kitts
Had we not already been to some of the other islands, St. Kitts would have been a fantastic vacation spot. But after visiting some of the other islands, St. Kitts seemed to have the fewest beaches and the water wasn’t the best for snorkeling. Even so, we still had a terrific time. With no plans, we walked off the boat and took a taxi to the tip of the island to Cockleshell Bay where off in the distance, we could see the Caribbean flowing into the Atlantic. We spent the entire day either in the water, under a tree or searching the beach for shells. Dylan snorkeled for hours, his head under water as he looked for fish and seashells. By the time we made it back to the ship, there was still enough time for me to take a run through the streets of Basseterre. Running around town gave a different view of life on the tropical islands. Narrow and crowded alley streets with boarded windows and doors covering up tiny homes and shops.
Also in St. Kitts, some water found its way into my Sony TX5 waterproof camera, killing it. Typical, about a month after the warranty expires, the device magically starts to develop problems.
Day 9: St Maarten
Our last stop is one we had been to before, almost 10 years ago, with my parents and Nicole’s parents. Besides a trip to Disneyland with my parents when I was 4 years old, it was the one and only vacation I can remember ever taking with my parents. That day in St. Maarten almost 10 years ago provided such good memories: hanging out on the beach and watching my dad burn himself to the color of a lobster as he fell asleep floating on his back. We all had some good laughs that night at dinner as he kept saying he thought it would turn into a nice tan.
This time around, we took a small water taxi with Steve, Lisa, Cameron and Brenda up the coast near the airport. St. Maarten is the only place in the world where you can stand at the end of the runway and feel the jet blasts of a 747. After watching a couple smaller planes land and one larger passenger jet, we stopped at the Tiki Hut for some snorkeling. At the Tiki Hut, we snorkeled above a snuba course. Snuba is this odd-looking activity where people wear a helmet that feeds them air and they walk along the bottom of the ocean. It was like watching people in space, except underwater. Our little boat then motored towards the beach and we enjoyed our final afternoon playing in the waves and watching the thunderclouds roll in.
All in all, I think this was our best family vacation to date. We had a fantastic time together and were able to share the vacation with some friends.