This vacation came at a much needed time. We both had just finished three months of laborious rotations; ward months in the hospital and night float rotations that felt never ending. We were burnt out, our empathy lagging long ago. We needed this vacation tremendously, for our sanity. We opted to join the “cruisers” for a week aboard the Carnival Conquest through the Caribbean. Little did we know how much of a “cruising” culture exists. Thousands of people travel only via cruise ship, indulge in all you can eat meals, and dance the night away with drinks in hand. We both love to try everything once, so even though we are not huge fans of cruise ships or the type of travel it entails, we pursued it this one time.
Our first day onboard was spent at sea, sailing from Fort Lauderdale to the Dominican Republic. We spent the morning at the spa, spending exorbitant amounts of money for a morning of pure bliss. We both chose the aroma massage and facial, which entailed two hours of aromatherapy, deep tissue massage, dry brushing, and facials. It was incredible to say the least. The rest of the day included a short stint in the sauna, lying out by the pool, and lots of food.
Due to the hurricanes, the itinerary changed from day two in Turks and Caicos to Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. We had no excursions planned for our first day at port, which left us time to try stand up paddle boarding at sea for the first time. Neither of us enjoyed it as much as we had hoped, but luckily we were able to trade in our paddleboards for a two person kayak so we could explore the bay.
Day three took us to La Romana, Dominican Republic. Whitney read great reviews about the Dune Buggy excursion through the sugar cane fields, and this excursion did not disappoint. Just imagine, twenty dune buggies racing through the fields and jungle overgrowth of the Dominican countryside, slowing only for massive puddles of mud that quickly douse every rider. We nearly flooded the engine with mud, leaving our poor buggy engine sputtering for the last 15 minutes of the ride. We were covered head to toe with mud. We stopped for an educational break where we learned how sugar cane is grown and harvested, fueled by munching on pure sugar cane. The whole day was by far the best experience of the entire week.
On the fourth day, we explored the small island of Curacao. Curacao, like Aruba and Bonaire, was once a Dutch colony evidenced by the architecture and cheese shops dotting the streets. It is now a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Tall buildings adjoined side by side taper up towards the blue bird skies. Storefronts advertise a variety of trinkets and souvenirs characteristic of Caribbean life. Three hundred year old mansions wind up the hillside, painted in a myriad of pastel and tropical shades. We visited the island’s historical museum that displays furniture from the old plantation homes, artwork, and one of only 180 carillons in the world, gifted from the queen of Holland. We then headed over to the Blue Curacao Distillery where they concoct the famous blue liquor from the dried peel of bitter oranges. We ended the day overlooking Table Mountain and the bay.
I had been dreading our last day at port all week. Not that Aruba isn’t gorgeous, because it absolutely is, with turquoise waters and white sand beaches, but because we had booked a dive. Diving is such a battle for me. It is such a unique and other worldly experience, slowly maneuvering between schools of fish and stingrays, observing the circuitous life of coral reefs. Yet it is so daunting, as well. Exploring the ocean’s depth with the risk of equipment malfunction, dangerous sea life, and inability to communicate underwater. Diving causes so much anxiety for me, regardless of the thrill of adventure. Diving will always serve as a juxtaposition, an inner battle, a mountain of fear I have to overcome, and this dive was no different.
The last two days of the cruise involved very little, merely late brunches, poolside reading, and afternoon naps. Once we reached port in Fort Lauderdale, we headed to the Everglades for our last excursion of the trip. We rode in airboats along the vast channels of floating grass navigating amongst saw grass and cattail grass, spotting iguanas, various birds and fish, and a good number of alligators. I had no idea how close the alligators would get to the boat. My initial seat was on the side of the boat, the closest seat to the water’s edge. I figured it was the perfect place for stunning pictures. I did not anticipate the frequent alligators that would circle the boat within one foot of me. I lost it on the third alligator, ending up in Whitney’s lap, begging to switch with someone in the middle seat. I graciously relinquished my seat for safer ground. We learned the many differences between crocodiles and alligators, how misunderstood they truly are, and the efforts of one trapper (who happens to be featured on Gator Boys) to save many of the “nuisance” alligators from becoming handbags, instead providing sanctuary for them. Our last excursion was definitely the icing on the cake of a great week.
Until next time, Caribbean!