By Bill Fox/Columnist
My wife and I were very fortunate to have recently gone on a cruise celebrating her retirement.
We went on a Royal Caribbean ship called “Serenade of the Seas,” and unlike most Royal ships, this one was smaller (2000 passengers). I cannot imagine going on a cruise on one of the larger ships (well over 6000 passengers).
In our limited experience we find cruisers very friendly. The environment felt safe, and mutual interest in cruising and going to the destinations we are interested in helped us interact with other cruisers.
Our cruise landed at Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao – otherwise know as the ABC islands – and the islands of St. Lucia and Antiqua.
Many Americans have no idea where Oshawa is so many of us from the GTA simply told inquiring minds that we were from Toronto. In a strange way, I delighted in telling fellow cruisers that when we left Toronto the temperature was minus-40, which is the same in Celsius as it is in Fahrenheit.
We met people from many areas of the US, England, Brazil, etc. It really broadens your horizons when you meet so many folks from different areas, but regardless of their origins, we were for the most part, more alike than different. Interesting that on our cruise we celebrated with a parade of flags from the 68 native countries of the staff. When each country was mentioned, Americans and Canadians had the loudest cheers.
You learn a lot about the cultures of the islands you visit, as in each we took tours with knowledgeable locals narrating our trips.
Before booking our cruise, I did research on each of these destinations but was still surprised at each island. Two examples were St. Lucia, and Antiqua. St. Lucia is mostly rain forest, a fact I never realized. But as we drove around the island it was so obvious, as it was so different from the others.
Antiqua had the most beautiful beaches with the whitest sand. We learned an interesting fact: the beautiful white-sand beaches were made of fish poop. Oh, that’s right… Simply by chewing on reefs, a large parrotfish can ingest a nearby coral’s calcium carbonate and poop out up to 800 pounds of sand each year. About 85 per cent of white sand beaches can be from parrotfish poop. You would never guess that would you?
Another interesting fact about Antiqua, is the indigenous people of the West Indies made excellent sea vessels, which they used to sail the Atlantic and Caribbean. As a result, the Arawak and Carib populated much of the South American and the Caribbean islands. Their descendants live throughout South America, particularly Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia.
Our guide also mentioned that for decades Syrians and Chinese have immigrated to Antiqua and now have become the greatest financial investors in the country. She also implied that the Chinese in particular keep a very low profile and that you rarely see them in the streets. I found this fact very fascinating but there is so much more to learn about each island that a 12 to 16 hour stop would never suffice.
The week before our cruise, a norovirus outbreak sickened 277 on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. The Oasis had 6000 passengers and as a precaution, they returned to port early. I’m not sure if this had any effect on our cruise, but there was disinfectant everywhere on our ship. You could not enter or leave a public room without disinfecting your hands. Despite this on one of our island excursions on a 16-passenger van, a married couple with bad coughs sat two rows ahead of us and coughed it seemed throughout the entire excursion. Sadly they put their hands to their mouths with each cough. Then they would hold the railings and door handles when departing at each point of interest. Luckily we brought some disinfectant with us and didn’t catch their colds.
In reality if you have never tried cruising, it is much like a floating hotel with stops at the most interesting places, and I highly recommend it. I can be reached for cruising questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.