I am back from the sunny Caribbean. My family and I travelled there for the holidays. We flew to Miami on the 19th, and then boarded the Norwegian Jewel
on the 21st for a nine-day cruise in the Caribbean. We visited Samana, in the Dominican Republic, on the 23rd; Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands, on the 24th; Antigua on Christmas Day; Barbados on Boxing Day; and Sainte Lucia on the 27th. We returned to Miami on the 30th, and were to fly out that day, but the flight was delayed for about ten hours, so we left this morning, arriving in St. Louis about 8:30 a.m.
The Norwegian Jewel
is a fine ship, and we had not trouble getting my stepson around in his wheelchair. Everyone, passengers and crew, were exceptionally nice. We enjoyed excellent cruising weather.
We had to tender into port in Samana, Tortola, and Ste. Lucia, and were dockside in Antigua and Barbados. We had no trouble with the tenders, except one harrowing moment in Ste. Lucia in which the waves tried to carry the tender away from the gangway just as we were handing the wheelchair over. The crew, however, are seasoned professionals, and all went well.
There were no handicapped-accessible shore excursions available, so we 'played it by ear'. We took a short walk into town in Samana, where taxis were few, and handicapped-accessible ones non-existent. The sidewalk from the landing to town was easy enough, and there was some newly-constructed buildings that offered access ramps and easy walking, but most of the streets and sidewalks were not suited to wheelchair traffic. The port, apparently a recent addition to cruising iteneraries, is only beginning to become commercialized. It is reminscent of my days in good ol' Olongopo City in the Philippines. The streets are crowded with home-made motorcycle taxis, zipping this way and that. I was looking for the street vendors selling monkey-on-a-stick, but there were none to be found (sigh). After buying a few trinkets, we settled down in a cafe for sodas and visited with the other travelers doing the same, before returning to the ship.
I expect they'll have a KFC within the next five years.
Our second port visit was to Tortola, in the BVI. Tortola is much more commercialized. Unlike Samana, we were not the only cruise ship in port. There was one anchored near us, and two pierside in the port. Here, we chartered a taxi-van for a two-and a half-hour tour of the island. This became standard proceedure for the rest of the islands, as well. The vans were not truly handicapped accessible, but we were able to collapse the wheelchair and store it either in the back or just inside the sliding door. Our driver in Tortola pointed out all of the sights along the route, and we enjoyed a few stops along the way. The cost of the tour was $15 US each ($60 for the four of us).
After returning from the tour, we shopped, and then had lunch in the famous Pusser's store, where I enjoyed a flying fish sandwich.
Our third port visit, was at St. John's, Antigua. This is a very beautiful island, with much to see. The tour here cost $20 each, and lasted about three and a half hours. Besides the driver (who spoke little), we had a tour guide along for the ride this time.
After the tour, we walked through the town a bit. Since it was Christmas day, all of the shops in town were closed, as were most of the attractions. The tourist-shops down by the pier were open, however. We took my son and stepson back to the ship, and then my wife and I walked among the shops until time to re-board. My son was happy to baby-sit his brother.
The fourth visit, Barbados, was a real gem. Our tour here cost $25 each (and I was beginning to notice a pattern..
). The tour lasted about four hours, and we saw a lot of the island. The battery decided to die on my camera just as we reached some of the most scenic parts, so I purchased a disposable camera at the earliest opportunity. Our tour guide/driver was outstanding, and we really had a great time. We shopped (again) upon our return, until time to board.
The last visit, Ste. Lucia, was (IMHO) the most beautiful of all, although my wife prefered Barbados. Here, we took a larger tour bus along with some other passengers from the ship, including one gentleman who had grown up on the island. There were about a dozen of us, in all, on the tour. We visited the volcano and a waterfall, drove through the rainforest, saw the Pitons, and made several stops in villages along the way. The total tour lasted about five and a half hours, and cost only $60 for the four of us. My stepson was quite the attraction at one of the villages along the way, as many of the women and children from the village came to the van to see him.
We stopped to shop at the end of this tour, also, but by then all of the Chinese-made Caribbean souveniers began to look alike, so I don't think we bought anything. (I don't know if they're really Chinese-made, but they are identical on all the islands except the Dominican Republic, which probably hasn't gotten on the mailing list yet).
Making flight arrangements for my stepson was a chore. He cannot sit upright and thus cannot occupy a standard airline seat. They do not recline sufficiently to accomodate him, and the FAA does not allow them to be reclined during take-off and landing, even if they had. After much thought, I finally decided to reserve him three seats, so he could lie down across the three of them. We had to verify that the armrests were movable and that the FAA and the airline would allow him to travel in that manner, but they did. Thus, we had six seats for the four of us, which caused some confusion at check-in, but nothing insurmountable. There were three seats on each side of the aisle, so we simply occupied the entire row. My stepson on one side, and the rest of us on the other. (Well, that was the plan, but my wife and I took turns occupying one of the seats with my stepson, his feet resting on us, so we could attend to him during the flight, leaving one vacant seat in the row.)
The return flight, as I said, was delayed until this morning. Only then did the airline suddenly decide that my stepson needed some assistance in his seating, and they decided that they would 'help' us by rearranging the seating so that we wouldn't be so far back, presumably to speed our offloading. The flight attendant set about asking passengers to move, and found us seats, scattering us throughout the plane, with my stepson presumably to be left by himself in the only three adjacent seats she could vacate. This would have moved him all the way up to row 24, from our assigned seats in row 27, with my wife, my son, and myself in various seats around the plane. I finally persuaded her that we were quite happy with our original seating. I really don't know what she was trying to accomplish, but I'm sure her intentions were good.
Anyway, now were home, and I've got a lot of bulletin board catching-up to do. I hope you all had a merry Christmas and that you have a very happy New Year!