If there is one thing that travel has taught us it is to always expect the unexpected. Sometimes that means less and sometimes that means more. So much more….
Recently Malcolm and I were in a ‘use it or lose it’ situation with a cruise credit, so we booked a sailing for May 21st. It has been years since we visited the Caribbean and although we like it there, we honestly chose this cruise destination out of convenience, with no expectations other than to relax. What I did not expect was to have a ‘once in a lifetime experience.’
The Equinox was a familiar ship to us even though we had never set foot on her. I wrote a detailed post about cruising in general and mentioned her sister ship, the Solstice here. Stepping onto the Equinox felt like coming home.
When the Equinox is cruising, it is easy to be active or quiet, and finding your own rhythm is the key to having a good experience. Our pace is slow, leisurely, and mostly quiet. We like playing games in the card room, afternoon Trivia in the Sky Lounge, the putting green (Malcolm), and the gym (me) during the day. At night we enjoy a cocktail at the Martini Bar, dinner in the main dining room, catching a bit of the featured show, and maybe a quick visit to the Casino. When the ship is docked the Excursion staff makes it easy to discover each port of call with a variety of options.
A Big Oops!
After settling into our stateroom, I decided to take a look at the Celebrity App I had installed on my phone before leaving home. It is a great tool that keeps us on track with what’s happening onboard and it alerts us to our schedule for ports of call.
We had selected several excursions a few weeks prior to sailing, but much to my surprise, the excursions did not show up on the app calendar. Well, that stinks! After visiting the Excursion desk we were able to rebook two of the excursions, and best of all……the excursion that I wanted most, but had been filled at the time of our booking now had one opening!!! I was beyond excited. Maybe not an oops after all.
The itinerary for the Equinox included two ports of call that we have never visited, so we chose a ‘discovery’ tour in St. Maarten and we went our separate ways in St. Thomas. Sometimes Malcolm and I disagree on what ‘discovery’ means.
The Ultimate Island Tour
St. Maarten is a small island with two distinct sides and two governments – French and Dutch. Our discovery tour included a narrated bus ride through both sides, (about one hour) followed by a lagoon cruise. Some of the towns still look battered from past hurricanes and a lot of vacation rentals were vacant. Even still, the pride of our tour guide was evident as she pointed out the island’s medical school, her favorite shopping mart, and a few new government housing projects.
The island is hilly and the sea views were spectacular (for people on the right side of the bus), so I was very happy to pull into the marina and board the little boat that took us around a beautiful lagoon. Of course, we were served the customary rum punch that is famous in the Caribbean. There were hundreds of sailboats moored there and I imagined that this might have been one of the ports that my friend Liesbet wrote about in her book, Plunge. You can check out her current blog here and order her book if you’d like to know more about life on a sailboat.
We have been to Nassau many times and had decided to stay on the ship while we were in port, but at the last minute, I booked a snorkel excursion for the two of us. Snorkeling a reef would never be Malcolm’s choice, but he does like the water, and where better to take a dip than in the Caribbean?
As snorkel cruises go, this one was a delight. I promise you, Malcolm did get into the water, I just don’t have a picture to prove it.
St. Thomas – Malcolm’s experience
Malcolm chose Mountain Views and Villa Botanica as his tour in St. Thomas. He was underwhelmed with the experience, to say the least, and had lots to say that I won’t repeat here because we like to keep things upbeat! I will share a couple of his beautiful photos though. You will notice that there aren’t any photos of the botanical gardens. Hmmm….
St. Thomas – My ‘once in a lifetime’ experience
“Say Yes to things that challenge you or
even scare you a little bit”
For many years I noted ‘become a certified scuba diver’ on my proverbial bucket list. Eventually, that notion faded and I dropped it from the list. I realized that it was more of a wish for the ‘experience’ of diving, and not actually becoming a diver that I wanted. It takes many hours of training and overcoming obstacles, (like fear) to actually be a certified diver. It did not occur to me that having the ‘experience’ without the certificate is possible. Apparently, it is in the Caribbean.
Taking the Plunge – literally
The ‘Discover Scuba’ tour offered by Equinox was just the ticket for me. I had read the description of the tour but did not fully comprehend everything that was about to happen. After about a twenty-five-minute boat ride out to a cove that contained both a ship-wreck and a reef, we were outfitted with heavy scuba gear, (fins, masks, tanks) and the instruction began.
There was a lot of information to comprehend, especially as my mind was racing with a mix of fear and excitement, but by the end of the instruction, I felt confident enough to enter the water.
I took the photos above after my dive was complete and I was back on the boat. These are of the second group going through their skills test.
My Experience: After stepping off the boat, I began with the first priority – breathing. It takes a few minutes to get used to inhaling and exhaling through your mouth. Next, holding onto a line, I pushed a button to let the air out of my life vest and slowly drifted down the line with the instructor; all the while controlling my breathing and clearing my ears, as I had been taught. At some point, I had to lift my mask and let water in to demonstrate that I could clear the water with a simple technique that the instructor demonstrated. Whew, that was easy.
I had a moment of anxiety with the skill that required me to take a deep breath, discard my mouthpiece, recapture it and return it to my mouth. I signed ‘I’m nervous’ to the instructor and she gave me a second try. I still couldn’t do it so she signed ‘going up’ to me and we ascended together. After a very firm but kind confidence-building talk, she assured me that I could do this. And I did…
After passing my five skills test I stood on the ocean floor (about 15 feet down) practicing controlled breathing, keeping myself calm, and checking out the fish that swam by while the other three people in my group completed their individual assessments.
Finally, it was time to check out the shipwreck! The actual ‘dive’ part lasted about twenty minutes. Wow, what a sight! The Cartanza Sonora. Except in photographs, I had never seen anything like this. At some point, it hit me that I had descended over forty feet below the surface of the water. How cool! How scary! I did this! Now, it’s time to go back up!
Note: I knew there would be a lot of things to focus on, so I did not take an underwater camera. That is a regret, but I won’t make the same mistake if there is a next time. If you’d like to see photos of an experience similar to mine, visit the photo gallery at the Adventure Scuba School here. And, if you find yourself in St. Thomas, please check them out.
“Travel as your more confident,
more adventurous alter-ego”
Malcolm and I had a relaxing eight days in an alternate reality and now we are back in the real world dealing with real-world issues. I am glad I said Yes to an adventure that took me outside my comfort zone and even though I have referred to my dive as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I would definitely do it again. Travel teaches us not only about the world but also about ourselves. Once in a while, we find confidence we didn’t know we had. Couldn’t we all use a little MORE of that?
This post is linked to Marsha’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday . Her subject today is Travel. The quotes I have used here can be found in this article by Rachael Grow, 9 Ways to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone While Traveling.