A keyhole in the rocks of Horsehoe Bay, Bermuda.
My bad. My bad. I’m sorry. I’m here I swear. It’s been almost a month since my last update. Too long. So much has happened. The last time I wrote I was sailing out of the Roatan, Honduras, we were hanging out in Mexico, I’d still not been off the ship in St. Barth’s despite stopping there twice, I hadn’t even eaten in the Grand Dining Room. This afternoon I’m writing to you from just past the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Somewhere between King’s Wharf Bermuda, and Funchal. Lots has happened. Many wonderful adventures. Let’s see what I can remember.
Before we begin, let me just say this: If ever you decide to do a crossing of the Atlantic, GO THE OTHER WAY!! We’ve lost four (or is it five) hours so far, and have a couple more to ditch. And it is exhausting. They tend to take them in pairs, for example, we lost one last night and will lose another one tonight. My internal clock feels like it’s going haywire. I should probably be napping right now, but ah well. As they guests often say, you can rest when you’re old.
Anyway, highlights from the second half of the Caribbean:
Belize: I finally got to visit a port via a tender. And have done it once more since then, but we’ll get to that. In Belize we were anchored I believe they said it was five MILES offshore, I don’t know why we were so far out, but thank goodness we used the local port tenders and not our little lifeboats to get to shore. It was about a 20 minute speedy boat ride on an open decked pontoon sort of thing from Mama Riviera to the docks in Belize City. Because it was a tender, and because we had a busy day, I probably had tea time duty or something we had only an hour and a half or so to explore the immediate surrounding areas, but it was a lovely little town with lovely people. The water was beautiful. It would have been nice to get out and snorkel or something, or see more of the actual country, but we saw what we could. But the tender alone was super fun. It’s funny, actually, how excited we all get to ride a little boat after being on the ship. For tendering there are little “docks” that fold out of the side of the ship on deck three that you access either from deck three or via a foldable stairway from deck four. They lower the four fancier lifeboats, with windows and a handicap area and whatnot as well as some other features, these four lifeboats serve as our tender boats and come and go on a schedule that is decided depending on how far from shore we are, usually about every 20-30 minutes. I’ve done it twice now and it’s still very exciting for me, but then, I’ve always enjoyed littler boats. It’s cool to see the ship out in the middle of the water and to sail right up to her as she turns and bobs in the bay.
Cozumel, Mexico: One of the best days we had on the Caribbean was in Cozumel. The port are of Cozumel is a bit hectic, filled with tourists and locals hawking their wares. They’re were something like seven or eight ships in port that day I think. But we got out of there on our own and saw more of the island. It was truly spectacular. We finally saw some Mayan ruins, so crazy to see these ancient, ancient buildings still standing strong, thousands of years they’d been standing there, and some even still had some paint on them. I kept thinking about how I’d read about these people for years in school, talked about the way they lived and how their societies functioned, And now I was standing in the ruins of their houses, their kitchens, their living rooms. Incredible. They weren’t the biggest or most famous ruins, but they were the ones we had the time to get to. The temples we saw were for fertility. They’re were some incredible ones in Guatemala, but I had such little time there to get out and see them. After the ruins we went and meandered our way down the quiet side of the island. Stunning, we rode along the coast, literally, and just watched the beaches with the most beautiful blue sea crashing against them, the smell of the sea air, the wind. Some flamingoes flew past us. We made our way to the bottom of the island where there is a nature reserve. We went up a tower that overlooks a freshwater lagoon that has lots of crocodiles in it in hopes of spotting some, but didn’t see any. Then on to the lighthouse at the bottom of the island, climbed up it for a fantastic view. Absolutely gorgeous. If ever in Cozumel, I suggest you head straight to the far side of the island. Incredibly beautiful.
The Cayman Islands: Didn’t actually get to see this port, just wanted to mention it as it was the only port so far that we had to cancel our stop in. I woke up to the announcement from the speaker in my room of the captain telling us that the sea was too rough for us to get into port that day. It was another tender port, and because we were the last to arrive we wouldn’t actually have a place to anchor and would just be holding our position using our engines. Which would normally be fine, but the seas we all very rough and the swells would make getting on and off the tenders too dangerous. They’re were many an unhappy guest that day. But safety comes first.
After that we began repeating ports we’d seen before, though trying to avoid repeating activities.
On our second trip to St. Lucia, we found a much better place to be. We took a taxi further up the island to another national park type area, with an old fort up on a hill. The view was spectacular, a lovely little jaunt of a hike to get to it, but it was absolutely stunning. We also did some snorkeling in the bay around it. I was trying to remove a head cold from my system and being in the fresh air and in the ocean water was much better for me than the stale ship air I stayed in in bed the day before, very happy that Julia was adamant enough to get me out of my bed. Dayquil and all. Some some crazy fish, not our best snorkeling, but possibly the best up til then.
That brings us finally to St. Barth’s. This was our third trip to Gustavia St. Barth’s and finally our first time getting off. It was my favorite stop in the Caribbean. It’s an island of France, and a very wealthy one at that. It’s where all of the celebrities and uber wealthy people go when they want to visit the tropics. Letterman has a places there, Oprah, people like that. Being so expensive, that day a picnic was the way to go. The weather was a bit rainy throughout the morning, so much so that many didn’t bother getting off the ship and they threw a movie on in the afternoon. But we did. We had to duck for cover during a few Hollywood rainstorms, but I thought it made the day even more enchanting. We explored the town, climbed to some forts on hills, spotted a hummingbird mama feeding her tiny hummingbird babies in her tiny and incredibly exposed nest. I couldn’t believe that the nest survived the rainstorms. It was so far out on a branch. The views were great. The spot included a couple of picture maps telling you what you were seeing off in the distance. It also looked down on shell beach below. The beach we had heard tell of from previous crew members. We headed there for our picnic lunch. We had a fresh baguette front he grocery store, some cheese and some fancy meat and we ate on this beach that was made mostly of seashells that had washed ashore. the sun came out, it was gorgeous. It was here that we had our best snorkeling. We found some huge reefs, some really deep, incredibly clear beautiful blue water. We watched a little octopus for a good twenty minutes. He’d jump from one rock back to the other trying to hide, changing colors to match the rocks. So freaking cool. I wish we had had Colette’s underwater camera that day. We found some great spots for cliff jumping, sadly we didn’t partake. Someone had even tied a rope up to climb up to the top with. On our way back to shore, about 20 or 30 yards out, we were swimming back along and looked down and someone had spelled out “HELLO” on the seabed in rocks, too funny. I also dove really deep at one point to retrieve a large sand dollar from the sea floor. Which promptly crumbled on the way back to the surface. I was still suffering from congestion and going more than a few feet down made it feel like my head was going to explode. I knew going down the 15 or 20 feet that it’d take to get to the bottom would hurt, but I really wanted to get the sand dollar, I’d never found one before. It hurt SO BAD. At one point I thought that I might have just killed myself. So the trip back up was bait less careful and I accidentally crushed the sand dollar in my fist. So sad. It would have been a wonderful souvenir. We sunbathed for a while longer, took some little mermaid photos on a rock on the beach and made our way back to the ship. We were the first crew members off that day and almost the last ones back on. We made the most of that one, and it was definitely one of our most successful adventures.
Shell Beach, Gustavia, St. Barth’s
Then we had two days at sea that closed out the Caribbean season for the ms Riviera.
We had our final stop in Miami, I had a rushed but very productive trip into town to get supplies, got my sunglasses fixed, a new pair of Toms, made phone calls, finished joining Equity and then greeted the new guests. The guests that would spend the next 14 days (or in some cases 24 days) with us crossing the Atlantic.
We started losing hours right away. Losing one even before arriving in Bermuda. We also had one of our roughest sea days on our way to Bermuda, which they say is common. So rough in fact that we had to postpone our first show until later on, so it wasn’t until six nights into the cruise that these guests saw us perform. They must have thought our duty was to march around the ship and say hello to people.
Bermuda. Of all of the places that I visited throughout the tropical portion of this adventure, I think that it is Bermuda that I’d most like to vacation in. St. Barth’s gives it a run, but Bermuda was just swell. We had our first overnight there. Very exciting to get to be off the ship at night, and to do something one day and be able to say “ooh that looks nice, I’ll go there tomorrow.” The first day we hopped off the ship bright and early and took the ferry from the port area, King’s Wharf, to the main town. From there we took the local bus service to some caves that one of the dancers had seen that morning on the tv. There were two caves, neighbors. One was the Crystal Cave, and the other Fantasy Cave. Both spectacular. Crystal caves is the more known one of the two, though they both have the same tour booth/ gift shop thing. Crystal Cave was discovered over 100 years ago when two boys playing cricket lost their ball in the brush. While looking for it they came across a sinkhole and, like any 13 year old boy would, went and fetched some rope and lowered themselves down. I can’t imagine losing my soccer ball in a hole, going to fetch it, and coming across this huge cave made of stone so lightly colored that it almost appears to be crystal. Though I suppose it was pretty dark so it didn’t look as magical then, but I bet it was still a pretty fantastical experience. One thing I thought was incredibly fascinating was that the caves both had pools of water in the bottom of them, Crystal Cave’s pool is actually incredibly deep. But this water is actually seawater that seeps in through various tunnels and crevasses from the sea. In fact, the pools are even tidal! TIDAL! Because of the distance and the route that the water takes to get to the caves the tide is about half the size of the tide on the coast, but still, to be in there at high tide when the floating bridges are lifted up three feet must be an entirely different experience. They had some divers come in last year to explore the depths of the pool and they go very very far down, and they did find a tunnel that they could follow all the way to the sea, a narrow squeezing winding tunnel, but a tunnel nonetheless. Shoutout to our tour guide from the Crystal Cave who, alone, was possibly worth the price of admission. A Bermudian who loved his home deeply and LOVED to tell stories. What a spirit. And hilarious. Afterwards we dashed back to town after that and I split off from the group to get back to the ship for tea time. They went on to a place that I would visit the next day.
That after I completed my duties for the day, I dined in Terrace, like ya do, and waited for the others to be finished. Almost all of the crew was getting off that night to go to this beach bar on the other side of the old fort that is next to the ship. On the way we gathered some people who’d gotten off earlier and had dinner and beers at this charming pub called The Frog and Onion. Personally I wish we had stayed there all night, but they were actually closed and had stayed open just for us. The beer was brewed next door and was delicious, the food, as I was told, and discovered for myself was amazing. We then headed over to a very loud and crowded beach bar. Not exactly my thing, but I hung out for an hour or two, I don’t know how long. Before heading back to the ship and snuggling up in my bed.
On the second day in Bermuda Julia and I got up early and she brought me to the spot that really sold me on Bermuda. About a half hour bus ride from King’s Wharf is a National Park type area called Horseshoe Bay. Now there is a beach there, a lovely beach, with “pink” sand… eeeeehhhhh… pinkISH. If you look really close at the right time its kind of pink. Anyways, forget the beach, on the right hand side of the beach is a WONDERLAND of rock outcroppings and formations that you could explore for hours and hours. We spent all morning there climbing and scampering all over, exploring ever nook and cranny, trying to get to every pointy peak that we could climb to without dying. Bring water shoes. They are required. The rocks are very sharp and pointy, even the ones that look smooth and flat. Julia wore sneakers and could enjoy climbing up and down rocks, but couldn’t get to some of the rocks that required a wade through a tide pool or the likes. I was barefoot (wanted my feet to be airing out, a whole other can of worms). I could get to all of the rocks, but goodness gracious me some of it was PAINFUL. My feet got a good tenderizing that morning. Eventually we discovered this incredible system of keyholes, holes that erosion has carved into the rocks. But to enjoy them you had to cross a large lagoon. Which I did immediately. Upon discovering how awesome the other side of this rock formation was, Julia went back to the beach to get rid of her shoes, and get our swimsuits and snorkels. The lagoon was connected to the ocean and you could see from far above that there were huge turquoise fish swimming around. We explored the rock before jumping in the almost Maine-cold water and exploring the underwater area. Bermuda is known for its reefs and shipwrecks, one day I’d like to go back and explore a shipwreck, but for now we enjoyed these lovely reefs, despite the huge ocean swells, perhaps not the safest idea, but it was amazing. We followed the school of big blue fish around, through all of these grottos, saw lots of coral and sea fans and all this stuff. I think it beats out St. Barth’s (by a hair) for the best snorkeling we had. Eventually we had to get out to do a time check and warm up. We then realized that we’d better head back if we wanted to eat at the Frog and Onion. So we did. We stopped at the pharmacy and got some supplies before dashing through a scrumptious heavy meal of burgers before running back to the boat. Farewell, Bermuda, you were, as our cave guide said, bermudiful..
Me, still waking up, in Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda.
It’s now the fifth and final sea day of the bulk of the crossing. We’ll have another couple of busy sea days before arriving in Barcelona. We’ll make a stop in Funchal, (Madiera) Portugal tomorrow, and then past the Rock of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco (AFRICA!!) and then on to Spain and the Mediterranean Sea.
These sea days have been some of the most busy days we’ve had onboard Mama Riviera. Various special events in the mornings got us outside on the cold and windy sea days (they were often postponed because it was so windy) and they we fantastic.
One day we did the Officers Challenge. After a grand entrance march around the sun deck and down to the pool deck, led by a flag waving Artem, the guests play against the officers to win Big O points. I was in charge of the mini golf putting challenge. It was far too difficult a challenge, the golf. It was a long putt into a hole, you had three chances to get a hole in one. Out of probably thirty guests only four made it in. And only ONE officer did, congratulations Staff Captain Marojic, it only took, what, five turns? There was also a ping pong challenge, a, I’ll call it, corn hole challenge, they call it bagg-o, and also a ring toss type event where our General Manager and Cruise Director were in the pool and you tried to throw balls through the life ring they were holding up. It was a fantastic event.
One event that was even more fun, though sadly much more poorly attended due to cold and winds was the ship-building contest’s Sea Trials. Throughout the cruise guests gathered odds and ends from around the ship or around wherever to build a ship that would float and could take a cargo of six soda unopened soda cans. Only two participated. It was a fantastic event. The boats were great! The captains were so funny. They had to fill out a questionnaire about their boats and Nolan read them out loud, hysterical. Then the boats were put in the pool to test their seaworthiness. Because ether were so few entries they both won a bottle of champagne. I wish there had been more entries. It did however end up giving me much more of the morning off. Always a welcome happening.
Also on this cruise the cabarets have begun to come out. Elias opened it up with a Motown and Soul cabaret and Julia followed a few days later with a Jazz cabaret. Both were pre-dinner cabarets in Horizons and were fantastically well attended. And incredibly enjoyed. They both did an amazing job. I’ve said it many times that there isn’t much that Miss Johanos can’t do, but we were all astounded when we learned that by singing about the rainbow she could make one appear in front of the ship…. No kidding, as she sang her penultimate number, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, a rainbow formed in front of the ship and we sailed through it shortly after her bow.. What an experience for her. My cabaret will most likely be scheduled next cruise and I don’t think I could be more terrified.
After Julia’s cabaret she and I were invited by our friend Jack, a very fascinating and wonderful guest onboard to join him for dinner in the Grand Dining Room. A first for both of us. The dinner was several courses. The food was marvelous, we shared a lovely Chilean Merlot, and the often spoken of and seldom (once before) seen cocoa sorbet made an appearance. What a lovely evening we had.
This has taken me so long to type that we are now sailing away from Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, and towards the Rock of Gibraltar and Morroco. What a day did we have today.
I know it seems as though I say this a lot now, but friends, family, distinguished and disguised guest, Marcia.. FUNCHAL, MADEIRA!
We started the day with Nolan (CD), Margaret (ACD), Tim (SM), and Bette (a stage technician). We took a quick taxi ride to go to an irish pub for a full english breakfast. It was 10:30. We arrived at Moynihan’s only to discover that it didn’t open til noon. so we went up the block and got some coffee or Guinness at the first pub, called Pub #2. We hung out, drank and snacked on bar nuts and chips while we wifi’d until noon when we hopped along to the Irish Pub to get our breakfast. Twas super delicious. The company was fantastic. It was a sort of a last lunch with our Margaret who is going on vacation at the end of this cruise. We had a lovely time.
After breakfast (lunch) Julia, Bette and I walked through the B-E-A-UTIFUL town of Funchal to get to the cable car that would take us up the mountain. Funchal is gorgeous. It’s green, it’s clean, it smells heavenly. You’re constantly walking into these vistas of either ocean or mountains. The town crawls up the side of the mountains and all you see in the distance are lovely clay roofs. We enjoyed every moment. Even taking a moment to walk barefoot through a park (though that moment was over quickly after Bette stepped on a bee). We then stopped at a gelateria at the bottom of the cable car and gave the famous Madeira wine a try. Yum. Wished I could bring some back but the alcohol content was higher than we are allowed to have in our cabins. We then took an amazing 10-15 minute ride up the mountainside on the cable car, looking out to sea, down on the beautiful streets and gardens, the terraces, the roofs, it was extremely swell. At the top we walked along the narrow windy road past the 13th most beautiful botanical garden in the world in 2013 (very nice looking) towards our main event. We made a detour to see the view from this beautiful church that looks out to sea. At the top of these huge steps, a brilliant white church, a mass was happening inside so we quietly ascended the stairs to the roof, took some photos, and enjoyed the view before heading back down the steps to get in line (though there was no line at the moment) for the famous Madeira Wicker-Basket Toboggan Run. For ages they have been doing this. They have these basket sleds that you sit in and they ride you down the narrow winding streets for 2kms at high speeds. What a freaking rush. The two pushers(?) guided us down, twising and turning, running, pulling, braking using the rubber soles of their boots. It was awesome. I took a video that didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked, but one day perhaps you’ll see it. But it was awesome. And far undersold. It was somehow even more fun than you think it is. We bought the picture.
Basket Toboggan Run. Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
We then headed back to the ship, walking, enjoying the city, wishing we could stay.
This evening I enjoyed my first European sunset. The sea was very calm so I was hoping to glimpse the ever-illusive green flash, but no such luck. I did however spot a whole pod of dolphins and we think maybe even a whale. We’re keeping our eyes out. A guest saw one right of the side of the ship the other day… so jealous.
It’s been a LOVELY crossing. I’ll leave you with that. Cheers.