Day 1 - Arrival in Puerto Rico
We arrived in Puerto Rico on the afternoon of December 1, after a 4-hour flight from Toronto. Our travel agent had suggested booking the flight a day early, in case of delays, and extending our weeklong vacation by one day by spending an overnight in San Juan. Although it’s not my usual style to do that sort of thing (I’d be more inclined to pack it in tight, and step directly off the plane and into a cab to the cruise ship terminal, LOL!), I’m really glad we took her advice.
What a delightfully surprising place Puerto Rico is: Warm, breezy weather, beaches within walking distance of where we were staying, and awesome vegetarian options on pretty much every restaurant menu we stopped to read! With its Spanish colonial architecture, Old San Juan reminded us a little of Havana... Minus the 1950s cars, of course. But a very similar vibe. So bizarre that this place is technically part of the US.
The little island has a long history of colonization, first by the Spanish, then by the Americans. Schooling continues to happen in Spanish, but everyone here seems to speak fluent English, too.
Technically, PR is not a US state. The citizens here do not vote for the president or senators. But they do have some representation in government that is supposed to advocate on their behalf. This is generally met with limited success (as evidenced by the US government's horrifically negligent response after the recent hurricane here).
The result is an urban and rural landscape that is in many ways stereotypical of so many Latin American countries, but at the same time dotted with the undeniable influence of the US - Walmart, KFC, McDonalds and the like are as easily found here as in any American city. From our brief observations, though, the Latin culture is alive and well - sitting on the balcony of our Airbnb this first evening of our travels, the cadence of Spanish conversations waft up from the small groups of people gathered here and there in the street below, and the lyrics of the pop music emanating from the bars and restaurants are almost exclusively in Spanish.
Sunday, Dec 2 - Day 1 of Cruise
After a tasty breakfast at a cafe down the street from our Airbnb, we walked to a nearby beach for one last swim in the ocean before heading back to our rooms to pack up our bags and make our way via Uber to the Pan American cruise terminal (as Tats and I had discovered The night before, our Royal Caribbean cruise ship was setting sail from there rather than the closer terminal within walking distance). We learned from our Uber driver that after the storm, Puerto Rico found itself with an unemployment rate of over 14%. As a result, the Government became more open to "disruptive technologies" such as Uber, in hopes of finding solutions to the high unemployment rate.
Now it was time to board the ship. The terminal was an example of organized chaos: People crowded into various clusters to drop their luggage off at designated areas, then moved on to the security line and then on to yet another line to get checked in.
Afterwards, the boys once again dashed off on their own, this time to attend some teen club activities, and the adults found their way to the pool deck to watch the ship set sail.
Dec 3 - Cruising to Curacao (Day at Sea)
After a somewhat restless night, Alex and I got up early-ish (8 am) and headed off to the library. While Alex wrote in his journal, I tried to capture the first few days in notes and photos on my phone, determined to post a blog at the earliest opportunity for free wifi!
While we waited for the others to wake up so that we could ask go to breakfast, I reflected on the advantages and disadvantages of life (as an amployee) on a cruise ship. Already we’d met folks from Ukraine, China, St. Vincent, the Philippines and the UK. This appealed to me. What an interesting work environment and a place for the incubation of diverse perspectives! But I know there are other considerations… for example I know from a family friend who spent a few seasons as a performer on a boat, as well as from my schema as an airline pilot's wife, that there are different “classes” of employment. Not everyone enjoys the same salary, living quarters or other benefits. Nevertheless, for the young, unattached worker, cruise ship life must offer a tremendous opportunity to do a bit of traveling, and meet people from all over the world, and even learn a few snippets of different languages over time. Nevertheless it must be an odd sort of life, too, with people constantly coming and going, as contracts and and new ones begin for different crew members. I remember from our friend, that constantly saying goodbye can be one of the greatest challenges of cruise ship life, and I heard that again from a personal trainer I met later on the cruise.
Our day at sea was relaxed but not boring. While having breakfast at the main buffet, we ran into Simon and Rick. Once we'd finished eating, I took everyone outside and showed them the helipad. We then deposited Rick on a lounge chair on the same deck, and the boys went off to enjoy some teen club activities while I return to our room to discern whether or not to Tats were still alive. She was, and had just woken up from a long slumber.
The rest of the day included some individual activities independent of one another, and a common lunch followed by shuffleboard on the promenade deck – – just like the 1950s!
Tuesday, Dec 4 - Curacao
Another restless night for me, though thankfully everyone else seemed to fare OK. By about 6:30 AM, I couldn’t bear the too soft/uncomfortable mattress any longer, and decided to abandon my tossing and turning iin favor of getting out of bed to enjoy a peaceful morning on the promenade deck.
By 7 AM, the helipad already had a few spectators gathered; it seems I was not the only one with the idea to use this vantage point to observe our arrival in Curaçao. Collectively, we observed a rainbow, and land ahead, and in the ocean around us, the first ships we had seen in a long time. We were no longer alone in this big body of water!
Soon, I felt a distinct change in the movement of our big ship. The gentle rocking of the open water had ceased, and leaning out over the rail, I could see another enormous cruise ship ahead of us. We had landed in Curaçao!
After snapping a few more photos of our arrival and the set-up by the crew down below, I went back to the room to wake up the kids and head over to breakfast in the main dining room.
While the walk was not particularly long, the heat and humidity made it quite arduous, and we stopped about halfway for a lemonade, and decided at that point that those of us who are not up for the walk would continue on in a taxi. #BestFifteenDollarsEverSpent
Soon we arrived at the dive bus, and Alex, Simon and Tatsy got sorted out for their dive, while Rick and I rented some snorkel gear to use at the little beach across the street.
Afterwards, we walked down the road a little and settled in for a few hours a nicer beach, in a rented cabana, where we enjoyed pizza and the ocean breeze. Unfortunately, like so many places, this establishment insisted on blasting and noisy pop music, so our beach sojourn was not as relaxing as it could have been. However, it was nice to lie down and have a little rest on such a hot day!
I had lugged my novel along intending to start it now, but decided to take a little nap instead.
Afterwards, we walked back to the Dive Bus to meet Tats and the boys, who were just returning from their dive!