Monday, January 19, 2009
Cruise '09 G
We're under way again after our last island stop of the trip. Well, not exactly, as we have a day at Holland America's private island, Half Moon Cay, yet to go. But today was spent in port at St. Maarten, and our next visit to civilization will be Tuesday morning in Ft. Lauderdale.
We docked this morning in Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side of this bizarrely-divided island of St. Maarten / St. Martin (who fails to reconcile disputes about a postage stamp of territory?). We decided against going to the beach here, as we're still quite raw, even a couple days after our baking in Grenada. So we walked through the town of Phillipsburg, which has a developed shopping area much like St. Thomas. But the downtown fronts a long, white sand beach which gives it a very island-y feel. The travel books say that there is a seedier side to St. Maarten, that one must be on the lookout for pickpockets. And while the waterfront seems very developed and tourist-friendly, one doesn't need to roam too far before things begin to take on a rougher edge. We only got three blocks back from the beach, and we had a sense of this. Actually, it's a pretty big place, and the other half of the island (where the famous airport is, with a runway threshold right on the beach) is French-controlled. There are supposed to be a whole bunch of fabulous beaches on the island (including *gasp!* a topless one; on the French side, of course) and the island features a lot of sporting activities--sailing and windsurfing and so on.
The area we saw was pointedly a tourist area, with bars & restaurants packed along the waterfront and interspersed with shops, and a solid shopping street a block back. Always there is this sense that it's not native money in these places; like the Diamonds International franchises--often several of them in a single port--one senses that these tourist traps are funded by some First World concern and benefit the locals not at all. That's a shame (if it's true), since the tourists are certainly a disruption to the serene lives of the locals; it would be an injustice if they did not benefit from the inconvenience.
This is another of these places where it would have been fun to disembark the ship as early as possible and take a car around the island to see the sights. But that would have come at the expense of not seeing Phillipsburg, and one had to choose. Again, I think we would do different things on each island if we were to return. Having seen all the shopping areas, I don't imagine we'd need more than one shopping day next time.
Susan cornered a uniformed worker in the Lido tonight and began praising him effusively for the tenderloin in a mushroom glaze which she had determined to be the best meal she had eaten on the cruise, before I sheepishly pointed out to her that the bewildered man had "Chief Electrician" in small print on his name tag. Still, having a fellow machinery geek captive in front of me, I could not help asking him about the voltages the ship generates (everything being about electricity on a modern ship). And suddenly the befuddlement was gone. Everything begins at 11,000 volts, he says. Is that what the azipods take, I ask? Yes. Well, no, they actually transform that raw current down to 1,500 volts. Then there is 690 volts for major users like bow thrusters and air conditioning. Then 440 volts for the kitchen, and 220 for rooms and bars and so on, which is switchable down to 110. He had the same smart white uniform as the rest of the ship's operating staff, but spoke in an almost indecipherable Cockney and was missing a tooth or two.
About to head down to Deck 3 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation's "On Deck for the Cure." We did this 5K walk on the last cruise as well, donating $15 each and getting a nice t-shirt in the process. The ship always puts on such nice little touches, like peppy music piped to the deck and someone holding laps-to-go signs and a refreshment station at the start / finish line (with water and juice and sliced fruit and even wet refreshment towels at the end). (Later: we had to chuckle at the woman in her "On Deck for the Cure" t-shirt who snuck away from the introductory gathering to... smoke a cigarette! Well, good for her for showing up anyway.)
Today is an at-sea day, enroute to tomorrow's day at Holland America's private island, Half Moon Cay. We've been there only once, on our first cruise, but it was a lovely beach day. We've been trying to stay out of the sun if possible so that tomorrow--where the sun will be unavoidable--will not compound our tender condition. Last time we found a little clam-shell sun shade to shield us, and we sat near the water's edge, Susan reading and I mostly floating in the surf. This year, we see, the clam-shells are being rented for $14 (which is competitive with what was being charged on beaches privately for the rest of the cruise). Alas, we were too late to realize the new arrangement, and now there are no shells available. So we may bake more than we hoped.
Last time the dining room crew came ashore and served us a lovely lunch at a big open-air dining hall mid-day. I expect something similar tomorrow. Also, there didn't used to be a pier at Half Moon Cay, so we expect to anchor and take tenders ashore.
The rest of the day is early preparations for our landing at Ft. Lauderdale on Tuesday morning. There's always a wee sense of sadness as we prepare to vacate our little room here. One gets accustomed to having one's bed made and always having food available and being a short walk to the fabulous sea breezes (a couple feet with the verandah). They did have a nice offer, though: if one puts $100 down on a future cruise, they will turn it into $200 in shipboard credit for that upcoming cruise. And you have four years to make it happen. We decided that another cruise sometime in the next four years was almost inevitable (and this ensures that the cruise will be at Holland America; that was not in doubt for us, but it seems that line-hopping is common and one of the industry's pitfalls), so we put down a couple hundred toward a 2010 European cruise thru Greece and Turkey.
Speaking of verandahs. We've now had a balcony on two cruises and two cruises without (one with a window and one without). After this cruise we decided the verandah just wasn't worth so much, since you're never but a few steps from a public outdoor area anyway, and sitting alone on your private balcony seems, well, anti-social. A window is nice, both to get a quick glimpse of the weather and because it's mesmerizing to look at the ocean as it passes. But apart from a couple pictures an a bit of time spent reading in the comfy chair there, we just didn't use the balcony. And so we've booked our next one on the cheapest inside stateroom, with the expectation that we'd be upgraded to a window room (and it's fine if we aren't). All the rooms are nice and almost identical, unless one springs for a huge suite, and one can save a pretty good bundle by foregoing the balcony.