From New York City to Antigua

Back in 2006 we had our first experience driving to the States to pick up a cruise ship (instead of flying to a set destination), and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only is it considerably cheaper, as we did not have to pay for a flight, we were able to take our time down to New York to visit with family and get onto the lovely Norwegian Dawn.
This year would take us through to Boston where I spent two days with my beloved brother-in-law Maxwell Ayoung and his lovely family.
The drive through New England is always a pleasant and fascinating ride on great, well-maintained highways. In winter, with the leaves gone from those large trees you get to see these random homes and wonder how did they manage to build them on the side of the mountain; you never see this during the summer as there is always such thick, lush greenery all the way to Boston.
We left Boston early Saturday morning for an easy 3 1/2 hour drive through Connecticut, Rhode Island, straight into Manhattan. This is where we saw the ship that would be our home for the next ten days. The excitement started to build, but was tempered once we saw the level of security.
While we must appreciate measures taken, given our world today, there was so much security that we were thoroughly confused as to where to enter in order to park and board the ship.
I finally pulled off onto what seemed like an entranceway and was immediately surrounded by New York City’s finest, demanding to know what we were trying to do. I calmly explained that I was trying to get onto the ramp to park. Fortunately we were directed exactly to where we had to go.
Our excitement was completely dampened after that incident, and matters were not improved when I later found out that exactly where we had pulled over was where, a couple of weeks prior, a mad man drove down the same path intending to cause another terrorist attack. Let us just say that I was more than ready to board the ship, seeking the relaxation that is offered once the ship pulled away from its moorings and moved forward in an easterly direction towards the Atlantic.
We were sitting in the main dining area, sipping hot cups of tea and talking about seeing Martinique for the first time, while enjoying the sights of Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island. We got a stunning view of the Statue of Liberty – seeing her there from that angle, torch lit up, just captures your attention, despite the number of years we’ve travelled to New York.
On your first night of a cruise, you tend to want to enjoy everything that the ship has to offer. This, of course, is impossible, as ships like ours tend to be extremely large, offering so much to do. We decided to go to the Welcome Party that was held in the theatre. It was lots of fun, with singers and showgirls. By this time our ship had made its way through New York harbour, and as we passed through the Hudson River we decided to call it a night and head to our State Room.
While the room was lovely, its location left a lot to be desired, as we felt every movement of the ship. We slept like logs until one massive wave splashed against our window (porthole), waking me out of a dead sleep.
On the second day we were in the Atlantic, and it was still very cool weather. I am continuously amazed to see people in bikinis jumping in the (admittedly) heated pool as if it were 90 degrees. Meanwhile, I dressed like I was ready to push snow from my driveway!
We wandered the length of the ship for a while and then Ann called my attention to the fact that in the calm cold dark sea were weeds. On either side of the ship were weeds, and that’s when I realized we were in the Sargasso Sea. This is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean bounded by four oceans, which form an ocean gyre. There are no land boundaries, and it is known in other parts of the Atlantic as Brown Sarcassum Sea, infamous and legendary for allegedly trapping ships and spawning the rumours of the famed Bermuda Triangle. I had read about it for years, so to see it up close was just fascinating.
The cruise that we chose this time around is known as free styling, meaning that there is no real dress code. You can eat where you want, dress how you want, etc. This of course gets taken out of hand by some guests who take advantage by barely dressing and being as loud as possible, so after three days at sea we were looking forward to landing and seeing Antigua.
We landed in St. John’s harbour, which was bustling with ships from all over the world, easily identified by their flags – Sweden, Italy, etc. The harbour was busy with life, laughter and music, and we were feeling good and ready to enjoy this mountainous and majestic island.
As we were preparing to disembark, the staff reminded us that we had to be back on the ship at 4 p.m. as they were setting sail at 4:30, which I found odd as our daily ship newspaper stated that there is a 6 p.m. sailing. This of course meant that we couldn’t see Antigua the way we had anticipated, but this does not mean we didn’t enjoy ourselves.
Antiguans are very friendly people, always wiling to share a story. We met a young man named Jason Joseph Quin Farara who introduced us to the local beer called Wadali, so named after the native population of Antigua prior to Columbus’s landing. I sampled a few more Wadali beers while Ann checked out all the stores and ended up getting her hair braided.
We were disheartened to leave the beautiful island of Antigua, feeling a pang in the heart as the big ship pulled out of St. John’s harbour heading towards St. Lucia, where I promised myself that I would get a sea bath.
That evening on the boat we took in a magic show, and checked out some karaoke and went to the nightclub. That scene was not for us – music was monotonous with nary a calypso, soca or reggae beat to be heard. We had an early night, anticipating St. Lucia, and that is when the action started. We fell into another nice sleep, only to be awakened by some loud winching and banging noises. I looked outside and realized that we had dropped anchor, and that the crew had started lowering the lifeboats.
No, this was not an emergency, but what they call the tendering service. What this means is that to avoid the ship paying docking fees (which add to the costs of your ticket) or if the harbour is too full, the lifeboats or tenders will take the passengers to land. This is not for the faint of heart. While the crew is going to do the best not to get sued by a passenger falling overboard while getting in and out of the life boat, you do have to be a bit of an acrobat and hold on for dear life as you step or jump onto the smaller boat. Some passengers actually preferred to stay aboard the cruise ship rather than do this, but Ann and I were determined to get to the beach.
When we finally reached the harbour we were told that the closest beach was Vigie, so we hailed a taxi for the 7-minute and 10$ USD drive, and the driver dropped us off at the entrance of the beach, with a promise to return for us in an hour-and-a half.
As we walked towards the beach the sand felt great between the toes, and I simply couldn’t wait to feel that salt water. Unfortunately for us, as we got closer to the water we saw the huge red flag meaning that no one was allowed in the water. I could’ve cried, but since we were here we had to make the best of it. We looked for the best place to spread out our towels and take in some sun, and found a very nice clearing. Of course, as we walked closer to the clearing, we started to notice the tombstones and quickly realized that we were heading towards a cemetery.
At this point we decided to pack up our things and left to wait for the driver. While we were waiting we went to a bar called Peter Beach Facilities. We entered and met Peter who introduced us to a beer called Picton, which is brewed in St. Lucia. Cool and crisp, we enjoyed a couple of the beers while waiting for our taxi. Talking about American politics of course made the time fly; before we knew it we had been waiting for our taxi for over 45 minutes. After waiting some more, we decided that the taxi was a ‘no show’ and walked out to the main road in hopes of catching another one. In doing so, we met a very lovely Lucian lady at the entrance of a hotel called The Rendezvous. We explained our situation, and our luck turned for the better as the woman explained that her husband was on his way to pick her up so they could drop us back to the ship. Very nice couple, but what else do you expect from the islands?
Next issue, on to Martinique