Callicrates (callicrates) wrote,

Cruise day 3: Waves and stingrays

15 April 2008

I'm just now back from the morning's excursion. We sailed from
Freeport to Nassau overnight and woke up to a gloomy, cloudy sky.

Last night was dinner in formal dress. I dare say I clean up
decently. Bodee and Lisa, the couple with whom we share a table, had
sent their kids to Camp Carnival for the evening. We got to be
adults-not-having-to-be-grownups with one another for a little while.
The food was good and so was the company.

I must say that the food here isn't quite at the standards I was
expecting. I was imagining that it would be consistently like some of
the better restaurants I'm used to. I'm not complaining, of course --
it's perfectly acceptable, there's plenty of it, and there's variety.
Some of my misunderstanding comes from inexperience and some of it may
be Carnival's standards compared to other cruise lines. No matter
what, the business of cooking three (or four or five) meals a day plus
snacks for two thousand passengers plus however many crew is a major
undertaking. To those of you reading this who have been on other
cruises, what was your experience?

Anyway, on to today's events. While willowisp went to get
breakfast I ran upstairs to the spa for a... shave and a foot massage.

Now, before I go any further, let me explain something. I appear to
run short of the hormones that Schick and Gillette dump into the water
supply. It takes the better part of a week before anyone but me would
know that I hadn't shaved at all. Spending money to have someone do
it for me is, at first glance, quite a waste.

However, there is in fact method to my madness. (Really. STOP
LAUGHING.) Because I didn't ever urgently need to know the art
of shaving I never learned how. Moreover, I have skin that turns red
if you breathe on it too hard. This morning's expenditure was for two
things: (1) a very pleasant, if fairly brief, foot massage to loosen
up after a few hours in swim fins yesterday, and (2) to learn
something about how to take care of my face.

It wasn't just a shave, mind you. Ordinary shaves don't involve half
a dozen towels (cool, warm and hot by turns) infused with various
essential oils; some sort of mask that felt like lotion on steroids;
or two or three rounds of exfoliant. This one did. It felt
fantastic. The gentleman who took care of me had some very expensive
recommendations, of course -- it wouldn't have been a spa if he hadn't
-- but whether or not I purchase any of them I know a lot more about
how to keep my skin happy.

After that it was time to rush downstairs for the day's excursion.

There's another ship in port today. It's Royal Caribbean's Majesty
of the Seas
and it's right next to us. (Incidentally, ovrclokd, there's a climbing wall set up on its upper deck.)
Both ships let their passengers off for the day at exactly the same
time. The result was a total mob. I finally found the line for ours
(something called "Blackbeard's Deluxe") and found out that in light
of the weather they were offering full refunds to anyone who wanted
them. They said the ride over to their island would be "a bit bumpy".
I talked it over with willowisp and decided to go anyway.

Getting out to the island was a bit of an adventure. A strong wind
meant we couldn't make as much headway as we had expected. It was
even stronger when we got there. On our first attempt, after a lot of
maneuvering, the boat hit the dock pretty hard and bounced off. We
backed off about a hundred yards and sat there for a while as the crew
tried to figure out what to do.

Eventually another tiny little boat came up alongside us. He tied up
to the back of ours and started pushing sideways. Then, very slowly,
we edged in toward the dock again. After two more false starts we got
close enough to tie up, the small boat's motor revving mightily all
the time, and then just like that we were steady enough for everyone
to get off. Time to have fun.

"Blackbeard's Deluxe" is supposed to be a day of swimming with
stingrays and then relaxing on a private beach. Once again the
weather weighed in. We were ~40 minutes late getting to the island
between wind and our mishap so there was barely enough time to get
changed, pick up a snorkel and mask, and get into the water. Once we
did, swimming around looking for the stingrays was a hit-and-miss
affair -- the cold front coming through and the wind and waves had
stirred up an awful lot of sand. When they were visible, the
stingrays showed up as round, ghostly shadows moving past. Somehow
this seemed appropriate. Also, the waves made it nearly impossible to
stay in one place for longer than 15 seconds.

I had a few minutes to grow acclimated to the water (nice and warm)
before the feeding began. The ~30 people there lined up in two rows
while the stingrays' class mom passed out food for them. (Squid, in
case you're interested. It felt a lot like you'd expect it to.) We
were told how to hold it so that the stingrays would take it. A few
seconds later some people started yelping and looking around as if
stung. Company was there!

These particular stingrays were anywhere from about 2 feet to 4 feet
across, between 50 and 180 pounds (males and females, respectively).
They were perfectly friendly and very gentle. Their dark upper sides
(a grayish brown) were faintly textured and had one row of semi-sharp
bumps running back along each side of the centerline. Their
undersides were white, very warm, and so smooth and slippery. The
closest analogy I can come up with in fabric would be satin.

They took their time about eating, probably to avoid being stepped on
by startled macho men and over-eager children, but they went through
every bit of squid we offered them. More than once I felt something
soft and yielding slide against my legs and then felt one of the males
nose at my hand and slurp the squid away. That's what they do -- they
slurp. I went through three handfuls of the stuff. On my very last
pieces two of the larger males came right up into my lap to get their
snacks. Despite the wind and the waves and the murky water and the
boat problems this is something I'm going to remember fondly for a
long, long time.

The waves kept making everything interesting. If I tried to kneel
down on the sand or dig my feet in I would get picked up and dragged
five or ten feet within one minute. If I tried to stand up I got
knocked about some and couldn't reach the stingrays. I do wish we had
had clearer weather and clearer water but it was an amazing experience
all the same.

After we went for a swim we had about an hour left. That was enough
time to dry off, get dressed, and turn in our tickets for a Standard
American Tourist Lunch (hamburgers, chips and a soda). By this time
the sun was coming out. The wind had died down some but the waves
were still working the beach over. We were quite ready to get on the
boat when it came time to head back to Nassau proper.

On the ride back to port I sat next to the loud woman from the dolphin
swim. As soon as I mentioned it to her she lit up like the sun
through the clouds. Maybe that really was the dream of a lifetime for
her. I'm glad to see such happiness.

I came back to the ship while willowisp did a bit of
shopping. She's got a few gorgeous necklaces and bracelets that I'm
looking forward to seeing her wear. I rinsed off the sand and the
salt, put some aloe on my face to deal with a mild sunburn, and sat
down to write this.

Both of the meet-the-animals excursions we've done so far have been
carefully constructed encounters in well-controlled, well-known
environments. That's just an observation, not a complaint. I've had
a marvelous time and I will definitely look to do them again, and
things like them, when the opportunity comes along. I do wonder what
it would be like to swim with the dolphins or snorkel among the
stingrays for an hour or two in clear water, alone or nearly so.

Time to close down and let the battery on the laptop recharge. More

20:34, Nassau

I did something so typically cruise-like and decadent this evening
that I'm still laughing at myself: I ordered two desserts. They had
both pumpkin pie and tiramisu. How could I resist?

I've also discovered that I acquired a slightly more thorough sunburn
than I had initially believed. My face is pretty red and I can feel a
bit of it across my shoulders. It's not bad, not at all. I blame the
bottle design for our sunscreen. It takes recalcitrant ketchup
bottles as its inspiration and elevates their stubbornness to an art
form. That art bears the same resemblance to proper design that, say,
swear words scrawled in spray-paint bear to a downtown mural.

Anyway, I'm back in my cabin for the evening, sunburn and all. We
leave Nassau at 6AM for the lazy cruise back to Florida. Tomorrow
will be spent entirely at sea. I'm signed up for an introductory yoga
class at 9AM, and while it will probably be well below my level it'll
be nice to get onto a mat again. If it's too slow or too light (both
are real possibilities) I can always stay afterward or check out one
of the mats for my own practice. To my pleased surprise, there is
actually enough free space in my cabin that I could do that.

My favorite part of this vacation is the sense that everything is
taken care of. My role is to enjoy myself and to ask for anything I'd
like. I actually have to work at that and remind myself, for example,
that there's nothing at all wrong with going down to the bar at
midnight to ask for my fifth club soda of the day. (My favorite drink
this cruise is club soda with a maraschino cherry or two.)

The wind is blowing outside. It's going to be a cold night. That's
just fine -- I'm snug and warm inside.


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