Cruising the Caribbean: afloat the dream boat

2602-34It was early in the afternoon and I had my one bag packed for some type of birthday surprise. My childhood girl friends were taking me on a trip and they would not tell me where we were going. Imagining a day at Ritz Carlton Spa I could already feel the warm stones on my back placed their by a masseuse. However, my expectations quickly evaporated when we headed toward the port of New Orleans on the Mississippi River.

We were going on a cruise to Mexico they informed me and I could not get out of the car. Before I could panic my friends broke out into one of Shirley Temple’s famous songs, “On the Good Ship Lollipop” followed by a jubilant round of “Happy Birthday to You”. The under-belly of the enormous ship loomed forth as we arrived at the dock. Large painted letters written in bright red across its bow proclaimed the ships mission with its name, “The Fantasy”. After that introduction to our trip, how could I not settle down for four days of bliss, guacamole and best friends on a cruise through the crystal aqua waters of the Caribbean?

I had never really taken a Caribbean cruise and had always been reluctant to plan a trip that could possibly confine me to the finite realms of a vessel. I like wide-open spaces and adventure where spontaneity rules the day. Images of elevator music, casket like accommodations and overly joyous and obtrusive tour guides made me seasonally reluctant to book a cruise. However, to my astonishment my perceptions about a day in the life on the Carnival cruise ships were completely misguided. The Fantasy Cruise, Carnival Cruise line ship that departs from the New Orleans harbor, is a true adventure filled with an endless diversity of activities offered with regal service. And, there is an amazing spa aboard the ship where reality is left behind and yes, fantasy prevails.

The leader of our group, my closest friend from literally the crib, had arranged a breathtaking suite on the ship with a private balcony. Now, this is the way to go on a cruise. We had checked in as VIP’s and thus avoided the long lines for the masses. We had first class concierge service to our door where the unexpectedly large room boasted two queen beds and a separate very cool, circular sofa-seating area that encased an additional bed. The accommodations were perfect for our party of three.

Realizing that room service on the ship was not only quick to arrive but free, we ordered up a feast of goodies to sample as we threw off our shoes and let our toes hang over the railing of our seaside view. What a way to travel. The Bahamian tune, “Don’t Worry” began to float through my head as we heard the loud blast of the ships call for departure and with a heave-ho we were off to Mexico.

44So intriguing was our view from balcony as we watched the last images of Louisiana’s lush, alluvial shoreline fade into a grey mist of the nighttime fog that it took our private concierge’s nudging to remind us about the Capitan’s dinner. Fancy frocks flew out of the suitcases and perfume bottles sprayed the air. We were stepping out for dinner with a capital D.

The multi-level ship continued to surprise us with new unexplored venues we had not seen before. Pre-selected dinner reservations are assigned to guests in advance at check-in. We chose a later dinner to allow us more time to enjoy late afternoons on the deck. Some guest arrived in formal attire for dinner where waiters scurried around the tables giving kid glove service. Initially, I was a little disappointed that we were assigned to sit with the same table of eight each night. I jotted down my first and last critique of the trip. This arrangement, however, ended up yielding lasting new friendships and a hilarious situation that could only happen on a cruise ship.

Our table consisted of two single school teachers from Nashville who were cruising in search of love and an attractive and elegantly dressed couple with their 15 year old daughter. The first night the father kept staring at me in a disarming way. The second night the little girl did not show for dinner so after asking where she was, the father and his wife in unison told me that I so reminded him and his daughter of his dead first wife that his little girl could not look at me because it made her sad. Flattered and taken aback, on the third night the little girl joined us at the table and we became good friends and promised to write one another. If not for the forced seating on the ship, I would have almost certainly not returned to the table and would have missed out on this endearing moment with the little girl.

4The Fantasy cruises into two ports-of -call in Mexico where a long list of shore trips are offered free style or with tour guides. Shopping sprees, snorkeling, horseback riding and explorations of the Mayan ruins are just some of the outings available. We chose shopping for jewelry, a horse show and then a free day of snorkeling on our own in Cozumel. Arriving at a beachside café that I had been to before on another trip we dropped out bags at a straw roofed table and rented some snorkeling gear. Resembling a wacky pack of ducks, we stumbled around in large flippers and goggles trying to get through the waves into the reefs. For hours we bobbed along the shore looking for iridescent multi-colored sea life but mostly got full views of each other’s back sides. Sun burnt and blissfully happy from too much laughing we drove our jeep back to the duty-free jewelry shop where we found exceptional deals on silver and brilliant jewel stone fashioned into rings, ear rings and bracelets.

The nights on the ship are resplendent with gambling in the casinos, disco dancing, stage shows, comedy acts, internet café chats, and late night Reggae concerts on the top deck with the moon and the stars spread out forever across the sky. Even if you do not like to dance, and we do, you find the rhythm in your toes somewhere on this jiving ship.

On the last day we agreed that we would do it again and we took out our calendars to see when we could all go. However, as usual, when you try to plan something like this no one can find the time. You have to seize the moment to make it happen because that moment may never come again.

Carnival Cruise lines has many ports of departure and ship itineraries that last from two day cruise to nowhere to 14 day cruises to far off destinations. The web site is filled with detailed information on cost, dates and times ports of call.


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