I recently got back from a 7 day trek across the Caribbean on a cruise ship, and I am here to share all of my experiences and takes on some of the fascinating things I encountered. However, I’d like to start this post by briefly explaining what this and others like it in the future are all about. One of the things that I’ll be doing a lot of in the next few years is traveling around the world and visiting exotic places. I’ve been to a couple places so far this year and intend to write a post about each of them, and intend to travel much further and wider next year. The goal of these posts is, to an extent, take you all on the journey with me as I visit and experience each of these new places. Each post (depending upon feedback) will be a mix of blog and vlog. The vlogs will be a little more realtime and the blog itself will be (depending on internet access) more afterthoughts and summarizations. However, in this case, the vlogs during the trip didn’t quite turn out, so I won’t be using those (lessons learned!) To kick this off, let’s talk about my latest adventure: Cruisin’ the Caribbean.
Well, at no point did we drive on a gravel road, but…
My friends Daniel, Jeni and myself piled into Daniel’s car after enjoying a delightful breakfast at the local IHOP in Savage, MN and began our 18 hour journey to Galveston, TX. We left around 10:00 AM, Saturday morning. Heading straight south, we aimed our gas powered chariot at the heart of Des Moines. Iowa isn’t all that different from southern Minnesota, with windmills and farms dotting the landscape. Not unexpected, being the state known as the American Heartland. I took over driving at this point, enjoying one of the smoothest driving automobiles I ever had the pleasure of steering. We blitzed through the Hawkeye state, listening to Podcasts, stopping at an Arbys, and laughing throughout the way to Missouri.
Outside of a rest room in a Gas Station in Missouri, I shit you not.
I noted their countryside to be a little more hilly and forested compared to where we had just come from, and very realistically the entire drive felt like a long jaunt through Minnesota. I can’t say I’m that surprised, being the Midwest. As the light of the sun drew to a close, we passed through Kansas City, and into a small town outside of Oklahoma to enjoy some fine dining at the local Olive Garden (yes, I know we stopped at chains, I was outvoted on that subject several times). At this point, we started to get a taste of being in the south, accents and all.
After enjoying a couple of glasses of wine and some delicious pasta, we ventured forth into The Sooner State. Once we crossed over into the land of the Okies (I think this was around 9:00 PM) I decided to get my beauty rest, in anticipation of needing to rotate in again just in case someone got tired. My eyes and body sprang upward with the force of a thousand Valkyries a few hours later, after we had passed through Dallas. I wasn’t happy about that situation. Dallas was a city I had wanted to see for a long time, and I was excited to see it at night, with its glittering cityscape and multitude of bridges and railways. Of course, I heard all about it afterwards. Note to self: tell your traveling companions when you want to be woke up 🙂 lest you miss something spectacular.
Dallas Skyline at night
The Lone Star State is fucking huge. Traversing its landscape took nearly 8 hours just by itself. A Texan, later on, would quip to me “Haven’t you heard? Everything is bigger in Texas.” Being nighttime, it was difficult to get a good read on my surroundings, but it was different than what I expected, at least where we were. My vision of Texas was basically of the panhandle, with less trees and more cactus, more dirt and less grass. Instead, I was provided with a small glimpse of a much more complex State than I had originally anticipated. We stopped at some gas station somewhere between Dallas and Houston, and I rotated back in to drive. Must’ve been about 2-3 AM. Red Bull in hand, tunes in place, inertial dampeners deactivated, I set our course for Houston. Just a few more hours to go.
One thing I gotta say about Texas: I dig their roads. The highways are in really good shape, very smooth and easy to drive on. Also – you knew damn well where the road was, with reflectors being a very prominent feature. Another thing to mention about their roads: higher speed limits and people who still don’t seem to give a rip about them. Here I am going 75-ish and other vehicles are just flying by me. This was a good intro into what I was going to experience later on in Jamaica (not that these two things would be related, but you’ll see what I’m talking about soon).
We zoomed through Houston, and dang am I glad I was awake for that. Houston is a beautiful city at night, with an elegant but strong skyline. The highway we were on took us right through the heart of downtown, I really loved that. As we zipped through the tall buildings, I couldn’t help but wonder what life was like there, and all of Texas. It definitely granted me a new perspective on the second largest state, more than just the settings of say King of the Hill or Walker, Texas Ranger.
Once passed downtown, it seemed like the metro area itself stretched all the way to the ocean. Around 6 AM Sunday morning, we reached our destination: the island of Galveston. Exhausted, we realized that it was 6 AM, and we were really early, and nothing is open. We drove around a bit, looking for stuff to do, and got some coffee. We ended up finding a Denny’s open on the other side of the island, and pulled our weary bodies into a booth to ingest a hearty breakfast. Somewhat connected back to civilization, it was here that I found out that Holly Holm beat Ronda Rousey, one hell of an upset as we all know.
I wouldn’t be a Minnesotan if I didn’t comment on the weather in Galveston. It was a nearly clear, sunny morning. 50-60 degrees, shorts and t-shirt weather for us. Might not be much, but when you just came from 20 degree weather, this was paradise.
Sunrise on the Gulf of Mexico
With a couple of hours to spare, we walked up and down the beach in Galveston, and took in the rising sun. What a magnificent sight to behold. I hadn’t seen the sunrise off of the ocean, the smell of sea air, the feel of a sandy ocean beach, in three years. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it all until that moment. There may come a time in my life where I will live by the sea. However, today is not that day.
After a little while, we made our way over to the dock, and parked the vehicle to bask in the Texas sun for a week. We took a small bus from the parking lot to the main boarding area, and parted ways with our luggage. Important travel tip: Make sure to grab your Passport out of your bags -before- you hand them to someone. Someone in our party *cough* -this guy- *cough* forgot all about it until we damn near got to the gate. Luckily, they hadn’t loaded our luggage yet and I was able to get it out beforehand. Once through the boarding shenanigans and the Customs inspections, we were welcomed onto the majestic floating city: the Carnival Magic.
First things last: Cruise ships are astronomical feats of engineering. Seriously. It amazes me how something that huge floats and moves with such grace. I couldn’t imagine the amount of pants shitting that would happen if say, 16th century pirates came upon something like that. Okay, maybe I was imagining it while on the ship. And by imagining, I mean I saw some old pirate ships in a couple of the ports and my imagination took off from there.
You can look up the specs, but the short version is that this mega-boat is a massive mobile town. It has everything you need to live, you never need to leave the damn thing. Restaurants, stores, a library, a gym, a spa, and the bars, good gods. There were so many bars on this ship that, unless you were IN your room, you never needed to talk more than 20 yards to get a drink. And even then, there was always room service.
When we first got on board, we had to wait for our rooms to be cleaned out. The ship is on a constant rotation of 7 day cruises, so when the ship docked that morning, it offloaded all its previous passengers and brought its new ones onboard almost simultaneously. Thus, they need time to clean the human leftovers from the previous cruisers so it’d be nice and shiny for us to make new leftovers. We grabbed a quick lunch, and by the time we were done, our rooms were ready. -This guy- then proceeded to pass the fuck out until about 4 PM.
At 4 PM, the ship held a safety briefing. This consisted of basic survival tips in case of emergency, where to gather in the event of “OH GODS OH GODS WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE“ and general advice on how not to be an asshole in case the shit hits the fan. It was here that I met my first fellow cruisers: an older couple from…gosh what was it, Georgia? Anyway, the husband was a former Navy SEAL, a very impressive human. I remember him saying he was a frogman in our conversation, and I was so delirious from my nap (I really hadn’t woke up yet and was on autopilot) that I didn’t catch it the first time. It wasn’t until I asked him later on what he did in the service and he pointed to his shirt (he had a shirt on with various animals or some such) and said Frogman that it hit me. He told me some interesting stories and his experiences really struck a cord with me. I thanked him for his service, and after the briefing was done, we went our separate ways. I never did get to say much to his wife. Meeting wonderful and honorable people like this really set up the unique experience that this cruise would turn out to be.
Is that Atlantis in the background?!
I went back to my room and finally woke up to the point of full consciousness, and just in time, as the Magic fired up its engines and left port. As the ship pulled out, people gathered on the decks below and on their balconies to watch as we left American soil and ventured forth into fair winds and following seas. My friends texted me and eventually I found them looking down from their balcony to me and we exchanged waves, I also exchanged waves with the same couple I had just met a few minutes prior. That was the last time I saw them. Hope all is well, Mike and Mike’s wife.
I took some pictures with my phone and put it airplane mode, the last time I would be connected to the rest of the world until we returned to port. The ship did offer wifi, but it was my intention to unplug and stay unplugged for the entire journey. A decision that I didn’t regret.
Once we were out of port, I turned and got ready for supper. On the cruise, you get a designated supper time every night at a pre-determined time in one of the two main dining halls. Each night had a different menu with several appetizer and entree options. We were assigned a table to sit at, seating 9 people. We were the first to sit, and then were soon greeted by two families, both from Texas. We’d find throughout the trip that pretty much half of the boat was from Texas. The first family consisted of a Stout Texan named John, and his Guatemalan wife and their Son, roughly college aged. I’m totally blanking on the names of his wife and son, that’s what I get for writing this three weeks after I get back. The second family was another family of Texans. A mother, a Son and I think it was his fiance, their names again are completely gone from my brain.
I quickly made friends with John, somehow I think we both knew that we were each other’s kind of asshole. We enjoyed great conversation and a nice supper, though I can’t remember what we ate, was it a pasta? BTW, those of you that know me and know my eating habits, I pretty much threw any and all dietary restraints out the window for this trip, and ate whatever the hell I damn well pleased. I normally am a pretty healthy eater for the most part, but I was on vacation, after all Besides, one thing you absolutely must be doing while on a trip like this is trying local cuisine, which I’ll get to in a little bit.
After we finished eating and drinking, my friends went off to rest in their room. It was late and it was definitely a long day, and finally time to relax. Myself, on the other hand, would have none of that. I had energy, and there was a whole mechanical leviathan to explore.
I went to every store, every entertainment area, every restaurant, every bar, and all social areas of the ship. I must’ve walked around that ship half a dozen times in some way, criss-crossing the decks as I wanted to see every inch of this behemoth. I stopped in an art gallery, and took in a few truly amazing pieces. There was a picture in particular that I remember that spoke to me. It was a solitary log cabin in a snow covered forested landscape with cobblestone paths running parallel to a stream in the moonlight. Did I buy it? Hell no. But it was nice to look at and wonder.
I found the library, and although I had brought my own books with me to read, it was nice to know I had options. Not surprisingly, it contained a lot of your classics (A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace, etc.), books on travel, and board games. I spent some walking around some more, before finding the two bars that I’d spend the most time at: The RedFrog Pub and The Piano Bar.
The RedFrog Pub had its own beer, The ThirstyFrog Red. I’m more of a stout/porter/IPA guy, but for a Pale Ale it wasn’t bad. This was your typical pub, but with a more obvious tropical theme, and a lounge performer. Every night they had some musician in there, who would typically play songs with his acoustic guitar and sing. Songs ranging from originals to covers, they’d often take requests. Some really impressive performances were made there. Anyway, after that I headed to the Piano bar.
This place was definitely cool. They had the same guy playing a piano in the center of the bar every night. Now when I say center, I mean the bar was in a sort of U shape around the piano and the pianist. He was surrounded by everyone sitting at the bar, taking requests ranging from Freddie Mercury to Metallica. Seriously. And he was damn good. Also, he was good at making fun of drunk people, so he was an adept at providing all sorts of entertainment.
Shaken, not stirred.
I did have something on my itinerary that night other than exploration and alcohol: Singles night at the club. The ship had its own freakin night club, and they were having a singles night event at midnight. Me, being the consummate bachelor that I am (ha, ha, ha) figured I’d go check this out. Going into it, I thought it’d be some sort of formalized event, like a gathering of singles at tables or something and the crew would have games or some shit that would encourage….fraternization we’ll say. Well, what actually happened was that the night club opened up, and then it ended up being just a club like any other. No events or anything, mostly the same people you’d find at any club, doing club things. The only indication of the theme was the screen on one of walls saying “Singles night!” and that was it. Not really being my scene or my kind of crowd, I had a beer and left, seeking instead to spend the rest of the evening with my face on a pillow.
Since this is quickly becoming a heck of a lot longer than I thought it would, I’m going to split it into 3 parts. I’ll post links below to Parts Two and Three once they are done. Let me know what you think of this in the comments below, thanks for reading and I really hope you enjoy these!
I took the others myself 🙂