Sunday, April 26, 2009

all good things come to an end

sniff, sniffle

have i mentioned yet how much i love water?

After lunch Douglas and I decide to hit the beach, but first we needed to rent a snorkel and mask for me.

We caught the tram out to the adults-only Serenity Beach which has its own restaurant, bar and spa cabanas where you can get massages. The beach was nicely lined with chairs, chaises and umbrellas. From the sand there was reef right after the beach, then some deeper water, a sand bar, and then even deeper water.
The color changes made the depth changes obvious.
 Douglas opted for a nap under an umbrella while i set out to snorkel. At first there wasn't much to see. The water was filled with hundred of tiny, little baby fish, but they were impossible to photograph. But more vegetation means more places for creatures to hide so i slowly started to see bigger fish. I was impossibly excited every time I saw anything
I like to call this picture Where's the Fish?
After swimming through the bit of deep water and over the sand bar i came upon a field of great big sea stars I dove down and brought one up to show size but of course i put it right back. (look at the color of that water) It was really windy and the wind was blowing in the same direction as the tide, making cool patterns in the sand. As i continued to swim from the shore i was noticing these patterns and the cool pattern of the sunlight filtered through the water when movement caught my eye.
Hey, what's that?
 Let's swim towards it.
 I think, i think, i hope that it is a ray.
Forget my cancelled "stingray encounter" back at the beach. This guy was huge and wild. I swam with him for a while and at one point was only about 2 feet away from him. I could easily have reached out to pet him; but of course i controlled that urge.
By this point i was pretty far out so i started back towards the shore which was against the tide. I was getting tired and my mask had a loose seal so every once in a while i would stop to clear it. Once i was back in shallow water i would carefully put my feet down on the bottom so that i didn't have to readjust while treading water.
It was hilarious to see all the fish rush around my feet, hoping beyond hope that they were some sort of food. Sorry little fishes.
I was really seeing more and more fish
and then i spotted some metal debris
which led me to an underwater reef !
  Holy crap, are you seeing this?
It was like something out of a dang underwater documentary.
  Spiny sea urchins!
Right in front of me. I had to concentrate on breathing slowly through my snorkel cause i was so excited. Then i realized that i was out of film.
I looked up at the shore and it was pretty far away - the sun umbrellas looked like they were about an inch tall. But i was not going to lose this opportunity so i straight swam against the current back to the shore, ran up the beach, searched for Douglas (he had moved; which by the way you should never do if someone is in the water cause i had used him as a sight line), found him, stripped of the mask and snorkel and my wet shoes, grabbed his wallet and ran across the beach to the bar. I arrived dripping wet, covered in sand and out of breath so you can imagine the looks i got from the bartenders.
Is there anywhere on this side of the island that i can buy an underwater camera I gasp. They consulted for a moment while i related my awesome find and film plight to the 2 old guys drinking at the bar.
 Try the restaurant next door. They have some things for sale came my answer. I sped away amid the calls of "good luck" from staff and patrons alike, but i never made it to the restaurant.
Just as i was about to go in, a utility vehicle (you know, like the ones you see at nurseries - if a golf cart and a tractor had a love child) pulled to stop directly in front of me and the driver - Chuck from Malaysia - told me to hop in. He drove me to the other side of the island through all of the back areas, pointing out sights like the crew cabins. Do you have any idea how fast those little vehicles can go? Chuck was not kidding around; he knew i was a woman on a mission. He had the tram attendant drop the rope by the town center so that he could drive right up on the sidewalks and stopped literally at the door of the largest shop. I ran in, bought the camera, ran out and Chuck tore back across the island up onto the beach.
Out i ran (just a little in love with Chuck by then), back to Douglas to return his wallet and have him reapply sunblock on my back. I had taken several sight lines on the artificial reef, but the tide had changed enough that i set off in the wrong direction. I swam and swam -at least it was with the tide this time- but nothing looked familiar. I was so sure i had the right sight line, but the further i go from the shore the more wrong it felt.
At one point i checked the shore and the sun umbrellas were only about a quarter of an inch tall. I was out way too far, way past where i had been before. A bit dejected i started to swim back.
What is that in the water ahead of me?
It was definitely a fish, but much larger than anything i'd seen before.
Let's swim towards it.
It was long, thin and silver.
I got close enough to check for a prominent dorsal fin; definitely not a shark. The closer i got to it the more distinctive the body shape became. I was thinking barracuda, but you really have to see the jaw to be certain so i continued to swim towards it.
I determined that 10 feet away was close enough to a 4 foot long predator and slowly eased off after snapping the picture. I'd lost my reef, but found a barracuda. that was good enough for me.
Plus i was freaking exhausted so i decided to swim straight in. But then, things started to look familiar.
I found it again.

Words escape me.

I don't know if the metal was left from an actual accident or if Disney sunk them to create an artificial reef. Either way it was spectacular.
  There was only one of this stripey guy.
I chased this tiny, darting yellow guy until i got a decent picture. It really was amazing trying to see everything, search every nook and cranny while being careful not to touch anything. Check out the pink coral here,
not to be confused with the pink feather worms here.
  Size is deceptive underwater,
 so i carefully did the next shot for reference.
Eventually i was out of film and out of energy. Checking the shore i realized i was also out of time. It looked like almost all of the umbrellas had been closed up and i couldn't see any people anywhere.
I swam like a mad woman, again against the tide and ran up the deserted beach.
Even Douglas was gone.
I was ripping off mask and shoes and swim shorts when he reappeared. I sent him to the tram stop with the instruction not to leave me. As fast as i could i got clothes over my swimsuit, stuff tossed into bags and i ran for the tram. It was waiting for me and it was indeed the last one.
But this tram doesn't go back to the boat; it only goes to the center of town.
Which was deserted.
We ran down to the main beach trying to find a place to return the rented gear and my body just gave out. It was finished rushing anywhere and i limped along with a vaguely dazed looking dad with an empty stroller to the tram stop while Douglas took care of the equipment. We were in time for the last tram to the ship, which is a good thing cause i don't think i could have walked the rest of the way.
It turns out that i was in the water for four hours; i'd totally lost track of the time.
If i hadn't run out of film the second time we would have missed getting back on the boat. By the time we made it back to our cabin i was like a pathetic, salt-encrusted, wet noodle who was achy, dehydrated and obviously sunburned in spite of the sunblock.
And i'd lost my swim shorts somewhere along the way.
Was it worth it?
What do you think?

Castaway Cay

Our final day of the cruise was spent on Disney's island in the Bahamas - Castaway Cay.
From the moment you step off of the ship it is obvious you are on Disney property;
it is one photo op after another

(let's face it, if you needed to bait a trap for me a giant hotdog would do the trick)
Though the Disney cruise ships are the only boats that come into this port there is another ship in the harbor
That is the real Flying Dutchman that was used in the filming of the second and third Pirates movies.
My only real disappointment on the trip came on this day.
  All shore excursions were cancelled due to high winds. We were scheduled to do parasailing and a stingray encounter. Plus there had been some conversation about waverunners.
oh well.
We'd have to make our own fun exploring the island instead.
Of paramount importance was a stop at the post office. I had written post cards at the beginning of the trip, but forgot to mail them in Key West. This seemed like the next logical place, even if it was on the last day of the trip. Douglas and I went in to buy Bahamian postage to put over the US postage i'd already affixed to my pile.
Now look at that post office.
It was quaint and the person inside was perfectly nice, but it took 3 weeks for the postcards to get to their destinations. I have a sneaking suspicion that they were bundled into an empty rum bottle and tossed into the sea where the currents and a friendly dolphin or two helped it meander its way to the US.
If this island were part of the Magic Kingdom it would be Deserted Island Land, complete with set decoration and helpful trams
  to take you around to the various locations.
Just like at Disney World there was elaborate back story about the island and the people who crashed there and left all of the structures you see like Mt. Rustmore. The first tram takes you to the central marketplace where there are buffets and the children's area, stores, more stores, beaches and activities like crab races. Why no pictures of the fun and frivolity? you say. Because i was too excited about doing more snorkeling.

Pirates IN the Carribean

If you own both a ride and a movie franchise called Pirates of the Caribbean and you are running a cruise ship through the Caribbean, you better be sure to have a pirate party. Starting at dinner everything is full-on pirate themed. There were various levels of dressed up, but everyone was looking to party. Jack Sparrow is wandering around for photo ops. It is a blast. Douglas owns a wonderful pirate costume, complete with hook and brocade great coat. I wasn't really feeling the pirate thing before i left, but i did have a fabulous eyepatch with pink rhinestones on it and an inflatable cutlass. Somehow, though, i managed to get no pictures of myself. Starting around 10:00pm there was a pirate themed buffet on Deck 9 by the family pool. Once again it was too close to dinner for me to eat anything, but the spread and the decorations were impressive. I love that watermelon skull. As Douglas demonstrates here having a hook does make it easier to hold your fruit smoothie (which comes with a light-up Tinkerbell, BTW). The pool was covered over with decking and the cruise staff put on a full dance-along show with appearances by Mr. Smee, Captain Hook and Stitch in pirate gear. As the dance party built to a frenzy, Mickey Mouse appeared at the top of one smoke stack and ZIP-LINED high over top of the crowd across to the other smokestack which triggered the start of the fireworks. Disney is the only cruise line licenced to shoot pyrotechnics at sea. You know how much i love foreworks. I'm not sure if i could possibly have been more excited at this point; i'm a bit surprised i didn't lose my voice with the singing and screaming. To top it all off, they then screened Pirates of the Caribbean : Secret of the Black Pearl on the Jumbotron so i was watching a movie about ships in the Caribbean while on deck of a ship in the Caribbean. The rolling of the deck, the wind and the salt spray made it seem like immersion theater. The whole evening was definitely one of my favorite things about the entire cruise. (if only the buffet had been after the movie)

vista spa

There is a spa on Deck 9. I passed by it to go to the gym. One night i decided that i really wanted to try a spa treatment because i never have (a reoccurring theme for this trip). I picked a hot stone massage. It was unbelievably AWESOME! It is like a regular full body massage except that there are volcanic stones heated in a crockpot-like thing that are placed on your body in various locations. The masseuse also massages some part of you with them directly. It was heavenly. In fact it was so good that the next day i got a mini-facial. And then i got a seaweed wrap. I wish my camera hadn't been in the locker cause i would have loved a picture of me painted with green exothermic mud and wrapped in foil like a Niki-burrito. It felt so, so good. Then it was time to visit the rainforest room where the stone lounge chairs are heated from the inside and there are 3 different steam rooms, each hotter and steamier than the next. Nothing like sweating out the impurities while you breathe in aromatherapy steam and sip ice cold cucumber water. sigh. This is my spa therapist, Patricia. She did all of my treatments and gave me these lovely flowers. Thank goodness i didn't discover the spa until late in the cruise; i could have bankrupted Douglas with treatments. I mean a girl could get used to this.