Saturday, April 19, 2014

Southern Caribbean Cruise Day 1 - St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Day 1 - St. Thomas, USVI

Mom and I decided to take 2 different excursions here because I wanted to do one that was a little more physical than she was ready to tackle. This was our first stop and we were so excited...especially after two, very long, boring days at sea (I am NOT a happy sea-day person!). Both excursions were booked through our cruise line (Norwegian Cruise Line), and were quite pricey for what they delivered. First off, I had a 9:30 departure so I jumped off the ship and down to the first store to buy totes for mom and I, because we were idiots and forgot to pack them. I practically ran back to the ship to be where I was suppose to be for my group. The cruise people holding excursion signs didn't have mine on it. I asked, and was told to just wait and they would let me know. Yeah, after I stood in the sun baking, they came BACK for me because everyone else was already on the crappy "bus" waiting to go, and they noticed I had my own snorkel-gear on my back. "Bus", in this case, is a very loose term. Every taxi and bus on St. Thomas is actually the front of a Ford or Chevy pick-up with open sided safari kind of contraptions built on the back. Insane traffic and construction everywhere on top of it made for a terrifying ride. There are no road rules apparently, and I literally almost fell out the open side twice. Everything seems to be communicated between drivers by different horn signals and just playing "Chicken".

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(One of our guides helps a kayak get free of the mangrove trees)

I chose the "Hike, Kayak and Snorkel" excursion. Problem number one - There were THREE cruise ships in port at the same day and time. Something like 7,000 people all swarming into this little, tiny village at the same time. So while I was happy thinking that my excursion group was not huge (16) and there were no kids, that didn't guarantee an enjoyable trip. The two other cruise ships in port (a different NCL ship and a Celebrity) apparently book through the same excursion group. Specifically, the only group that takes people out into the mangrove lagoon. We all arrived at the same time and spent the next 3 hours tripping over each other. One would go on the "hike", which was basically a path through the mangrove to another part of the beach, where you looked for some signs of life...sea urchins, conch, etc. As a hiker, it was an insult to even call it that! Then the other group would hit the kayaks, the third would snorkel, and then we all changed, but that wasn't well-organized either, because not each group was spending the same amount of time at each part. 

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(Our guides (left) show urchins and conchs to the group)

As one of the few single people on the cruise ship, I got partnered with the other only single person from our group, Roger, (I know this because I met him on sea-day-two, at the singles gathering...I was the youngest and he was 54 and the only male. The other four single women were around my mom's age. A grand total of six of us). This wasn't necessarily a problem, but they wanted everyone kayaking in tandem. I asked our guide if I could have a single because I've never done a tandem kayak. She said the company was fully booked so they didn't have any left by the time our bus (the third, of course) got to the hut and was able to get to the boats. Roger asked if there was a difference and our guide said, no. Uh, I beg to differ! Roger thought he would do better in the back doing the steering. He clearly didn't do that very much, because I kept having to corrective-paddle against the current over and over. I can also tell you that when you've had 3 lower back surgeries, you sure as hell notice the additional 250 lbs. sitting in the back of the boat when you're doing the majority of the paddling!  No difference, my ass!  Literally!

Our guides were informative and showed us some interesting things, but the teaser-ads on the ship and website for that particular excursion were completely deceptive. We didn't kayak through the mangrove forest with crystal clear turquoise water. We were on the very edge of the forest, in a lagoon. And with the snorkeling, I ran into the same problem I had with the Hawaiian snorkeling...too many people in a shallow area all bumping into each other and kicking up sand until the visibility is cloudy at best. I did manage to get a few pics on the new waterproof camera, but that was short-lived (see Day 2!). This excursion cost me $89. It was suppose to come with a snack. Apparently, THAT consists of water out of big coolers, so probably tap water, and a 2" mini-Snickers bar. I hadn't really eaten anything for breakfast knowing I'd be in and out of the water. So at 4 o'clock when I got back to the ship, I was ready to chew my own arm off. Poor mom practically got dragged upstairs and then the buffet was closed, so we had to make due with the outside buffet on the back of the ship, which is what we consider the very last resort. Everything is basically cold and tasteless. Mom's hamburger doubled as a hockey put.

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(some of the few varieties of fish we saw near the mangroves)

      Mom didn't fare any better than I did with her excursion. I had actually looked to go with her on that excursion first, but when I saw the hiking, kayaking and snorkeling one, mom said it would be okay to go separate ways. She had the "Best of St. Thomas" tour, also through NCL. She paid $49 for hers and was gone just about 3 hours. Same kind of ride and driver as we had, however instead of showing her the Famous 99 Steps, Blackbeard's Castle, the funicular to the top of the mountain, or several other sites that are well-known on the island, she got bussed from one shopping area to another. Why do all the cruise lines just assume that everyone that comes on a cruise just wants to buy over-priced jewelry and artwork? The shit they sell on shore is the same as what they constantly bombard you with on the ship. She never even got into Charlotte Amalie! I made it back in time to get a taxi to Charlotte (our bus driver is actually a taxi, but he didn't want to go that far), because I wanted to see Blackbeard's Castle and the Rum Factory. 

 photo 99stepssm.pngMy taxi-driver didn't even take me to the 99 steps. He took me to the 30 steps and a right turn you have to walk to GET TO the 99 Steps. I passed them once and these two local ladies corrected me and showed me where the steps were. I was contemplating whether I had enough time to get up them, look around and get back to the boat before we were due to shove off, but my legs were wobbly from the excursion and no food. Just as I was preparing to assend, an American couple were coming down and I asked them if they thought it was worth it. They said it was closed! No rope at the bottom of the stairs warning people, just CLOSED! There was some kind of a bar up there, but they said they couldn't even get into the Rum Factory because you have to pay the Blackbeard's Castle tour price to get in. Had I actually made it up that distance for nothing, I just don't believe you can imagine how pissed off I would be! As it is, mom and I will be making complaints to NCL and posting on the shore excursion "Trip Advisor" type site, when we get home. 

We have 3 excursions over the next 3 days that are not booked through the ship but through Then our last tour is with the ship again. It's suppose to be a "Best of St. Maartin" tour, and we're wondering if it will just be more shopping centers or if we actually will get to some points of interest! Overall, quite disappointed with St. Thomas. But tomorrow is Dominica!

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