Written Saturday, December 26 – At Sea in the Gulf of Mexico
Our last day on the boat was pretty memorable and action-packed. I woke up bright an early at 7:30 am, thanks to the fact that my phone was an hour ahead (Mexico, where it had last synced, does not observe daylight savings time). So we ate breakfast and whiled away some time before I went to attend a 9 am dance class with the production cast. It ended up being a hurried, twenty-minute class on how to do the Thriller dance, which was actually kind of fun. Now I’ve got something to show off at the next party… just kidding.
The next event was a 10 am lecture from the cruise director about the ship. We learned all kinds of fascinating statistics about the ship and our trip. For example, the average age on board is 37.94, just shy of 40, which is kind of crazy for them. On some other trips, however, like the adjustment trip they made from Boston to New Orleans while shifting home ports, the average age was 66, and they had to do a lot of lectures during that time. They even ended up doing an iPad seminar that was absolutely packed. We learned about how much food is taken on at port (sixteen containers the size of a semi), how many gallons of gasoline are burned (a gallon per second) when traveling at top speed (25 knots per hour, which is around 28 miles per hour). We had just shy of the full capacity of 2,900 people on board. Every week, they go through 65,000 eggs and 1,100 gallons of ice cream. People’s jaws were dropping all over the place. Afterwards, they did a short Q&A with the captain and with the chief engineer and chief hotelier. They were fun to talk to – they had a real sense of humor about their work, and also helped us diffuse a bunch of myths about working on a cruise ship. Someone asked what their stress level was, between 1 and 10, which I thought was a fair question. However, they responded that this is really their daily job, and even though they’re responsible for people’s safety and welfare, they’ve been doing it for so long, and there are backups for everything and many people who work on it around the clock that their stress levels are relatively low. Continue reading At sea with the Norwegian Dawn.→
Written Sunday, December 20 – Travel Day + New Orleans, LA
The beginning of our trip was a bit rocky. My plane out of GSP was delayed twice, to the point that I was worrying about missing my connection. Fortunately, I was able to switch over to another plane to CLT and catch my connection to New Orleans (MSY). It was a tumultuous morning! I met my mom at her gate, since I arrived slightly before her, and we caught a taxi to the Port of New Orleans, which is downtown.
Our first time in New Orleans, and I have a headful of preconceptions built around Katrina, the Superdome, stories from friends who have been, and the French Quarter. We drive downtown past some epic graveyards and into downtown New Orleans, which is very orderly and straight, streets radiating north from the Mississippi River. I saw a line already forming outside Mother’s Restaurant, which I understand is one of New Orleans’s mainstays, and also glimpse some of the lovely historic buildings along the way. I’m looking forward to exploring it when we come back!
It took us a lot of queuing and scraping around to get to the cruise, but finally, we manage it! We’re sailing on the Norwegian Dawn for seven days. When we took our first cruise four or five years ago, we also took Norwegian, and I have the vague impression it’s a little bit better than Carnival, which we did last year. It’s a seven-day cruise to Mexico and the Central Americas. My mom has been to Cozumel before, but neither of us have really done Costa Maya, Belize City, and Roatan, Honduras, which are the other destinations. Generally, we’re probably just going to do a lot of snorkeling! Continue reading Setting sail from New Orleans.→
November is when North Carolina’s climate deepens into autumn. On the edge of winter, the weather is chilled, but often brightened and warmed by sunshine. The other night, I ventured outside to walk the dog, and saw my breath in the air for the first time! Most days, I wear long-sleeved shirts and a jacket to bike to school. This is a long, long way away from Taiwan this summer. When we returned to North Carolina, I was thankful for every day of low humidity that we were given, and felt I could genuinely feel the difference with every lungful of air I took.
Though it’s not quite wintertime yet, winter travel is on the horizon. Like last winter, my mother and I are once more heading south. We’re opting for another cruise, the relative convenience of being able to just jump on a boat and go where they take us being too much to forsake! This year, we will take a cruise leaving from New Orleans on December 20, and make stops at Cozumel and Costa Maya, both in Mexico, Belize City, Belize, and Roatan, Honduras. We’ll head back to New Orleans on December 27, and spend the next few days exploring the city, before heading back. I’m pretty excited about it all. Next year, I have a strong suspicion my mom will be visiting us in Southeast Asia for the holidays… Steve and I would love to go back to Thailand!
Before that, there’s a lot more to do, unfortunately. I have a master’s thesis proposal to defend, a final presentation, a final paper, and a final exam. Oh, and Thanksgiving and all that stuff too. Well, here’s to dreaming about travel…
Written on the Carnival Valor Sailing between St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Maarten
Evening, December 19, 2014
Today was an interesting day of firsts! I saw my first squid, played my first games of blackjack (I know!) and roulette, and visited my first Taiwanese restaurant in the Caribbean (!!!!!). St. Kitts is a beautiful long island with rolling green hills and crags that look very much like what we saw of Edinburgh and Scotland, on Holyrood Hill. It’s gorgeous, and not very settled. The island is long and to the south is a smaller island called Nevis, and together they make up the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. I definitely thought it was one of the more beautiful places that we’ve seen on this trip. St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis are both up there, I think.
This morning, we met up with a large group of people for a Catamaran Fan-ta-sea and Nevis Beach excursion (this entire name was made up by Carnival, NOT me). We walked off the ship and to the very nearby pier where we got on a large catamaran run by a few fun guys. Every time I see people who work in this industry, I think about Rob at Spicythai Backpacker Hostel in Chiang Mai, and how every day is like Groundhog Day. How many times did he lead a group up the mountain to the temple? Honestly. I think what really made me think about it was hearing Bob Marley being played on our way out. I think about how many times they must’ve heard this song by now – hell, I’ve heard it five or six times already on this cruise – and I just wince.
Written on the Carnival Valor
Sailing from Barbados to St. Lucia, the Caribbean Evening, December 17, 2014
Tonight, I’m writing from my seat on the balcony. It’s dark out here. I turned out the light, but it’s still lit by the window and room behind me. I wanted to come out here to enjoy the balcony because it’s very soothing. The sky tonight is a little cloudy, so only a few stars are out here in the velvety warm blackness. We are sailing north once again, having reached our southernmost point, Barbados, today. So being on the port side, our view is simply of the empty expanse of the dark Caribbean sea at night. It is a darkness so complete that it seems like it’s possible to just step off the boat and become enveloped in it.
This morning, we woke up early (or so it felt to me) before 8 am to explore Barbados. The shore excursions that Carnival were offering for snorkeling all seemed to be at this one location that cost too much (like $100) for too little (just an hour of snorkeling and swimming). We also figured out that it was possible to simply swim to the snorkeling location from the beach, as was recommended in the reviews, so that’s what we did. We took a group taxi to Carlisle Bay with other people from the ship, and walked past the resort place they initially dropped us off at to the public access part of the beach. And the beach was really gorgeous. Mama came to really admire it because the sand is so silky white, and the water crystal clear. Unfortunately, the sun was already strong in the morning. We applied sunscreen and headed out for two spots where we had identified boats dropping off other snorkelers barely 100 yards from the shore: one with sea turtles and the other with boatwrecks. Both were great! We saw five turtles on our first trip out, and it was amazing how close they came. We figured out that some of the shore operators drop pieces of bread in the ocean for the turtles to come near, and the turtles know these shenanigans pretty well. Some were fairly small, but one was really pretty giant, more than 50 pounds for sure. They came incredibly close to us, and it felt like I could actually reach out and touch one at one point. We also came to the shipwrecks, which took longer to swim out to. They were about 40-50 feet down in the water, and while not very big (there were three ships about 150-200 feet in length), they were interestingly overgrown with a fair bit of coral and there were lots of fish swimming around there. We even saw a guide dive in one door and out another in one wreck. It was impressive, even if it wasn’t huge, and attracted some pretty gorgeous looking fauna.
Your brave circumnavacators have been taking a long, lengthy break in the lovely town of Durham, North Carolina, working on graduate school and being a good dog owner and creating mobile apps. But I came back to traveling this winter with a new partner this time: my mother! As it turns out, traveling is still a lot of fun and filled with new things, so I’ve written a few posts about the week-long cruise we took to the islands of St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Maarten.
We departed last Sunday evening from the lovely city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Most Caribbean cruises can leave from the Gulf Coast or Florida, but since we wanted to see some of the islands that lay furtherest south, we first both took plane trips to Puerto Rico and met up there. We sailed on the Carnival Valor, an incredibly large boat that proved to be a fairly good time. A few words about cruises: they are mostly for people who really want to be entertained all the time, enjoy a lot of food and alcohol, and get tanned. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it. That’s not really my parents or me or Steve. However, as they are a large floating vehicle, restaurant and hotel in one, they are also a cost-effective and cost-efficient means of travel between destinations, especially islands. The last time we visited the US Virgin Islands, I was responsible for coordinating renting a car on one island and plane flights and hotel accommodations on three different islands. And I never want to do that again. Hence the cruise.