Saturday, May 3, 2008

Perfect Like a Corona Commercial

Since I’ve never been standing on the dock watching the stern of the ship shrink in the sunset, I’m still of the opinion that most cruise ship shore excursions are a waste of money, since I see the only real benefit being that the ship won’t leave without one of its excursion groups.

Some activities, like riding zip lines or sailing outriggers, can’t be easily done without the crew’s organization and contacts. For the rest, however, I found it more fun and significantly cheaper to go it alone.

Such was the case when I was on the Carnival Glory, sailing into Charlotte Amalie, on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A late-night bar encounter with a cruise veteran had turned me on to the lure of Trunk Bay, on nearby St. John.

Hustling off the ship in the rush of passengers out to spend as much time as possible ashore, I soon found myself waiting at a bus stop on an ordinary stretch of road surrounded by ’60s era apartments.

After five minutes waiting for the bus to Red Hook, where the ferries to St. John made landfall, an elderly local told me and my family that there was only one bus, and no guarantee as to when it would show up.

Suddenly the $45 per person snorkeling excursion to St. John seemed like money well spent. But it was too late for that.

Fortunately, the woman suggested we take a safari, one of the many pickups converted to carry passengers in the bed. The fare to Red Hook, on the other side of the island, was $1 per person.

Arriving in Red Hook a half-hour later, we found the ferry and paid our $3 per person fare.

Riding in the boat, I felt like I had come straight out of a pirate movie. We sliced through the crystalline waters surrounded by lush islands rimmed in alabaster beaches. The sun warmed my skin through a cloudless sky, and there was even a Jolly Roger flying from the bow and a cigar-chomping skipper.

Upon docking, we skipped the taxi line and opted for another safari to take us to Trunk Bay, for the seemingly standard $1 each. The driver knew what we were there for, and paused at an overlook before descending to Trunk Bay.

Looking past the lush foliage, the white-sand beach stretched out for several hundred yards under a few clouds that had magically appeared from nowhere, and I could see why Trunk Bay was one of the top-10 beaches in the world. The water shimmered as it enveloped an island surrounded by snorkelers. The whole scene reminded me of a Corona commercial, and I jumped back in the safari for the final descent.

Once we reached the beach, our driver agreed to meet us four hours later to take us back to the ship, then we rented snorkel gear for a few bucks each. I put my fins on and sealed my mask to my face as the water gently lapped at my ankles. From where I was standing, I could already see schools of fish 30 feet out.

I swam just feet above brightly colored fish and clusters of coral clinging to the rocks dotting the otherwise uninterrupted white of the sea floor. Just as I was wondering what types of fish I was looking at, I spied a plaque on a rock detailing some of the fish species. Another plaque a few yards farther up identified the coral. I wasn’t sure what to think about the obviously manmade items permanently affixed to an area of such immense natural beauty, but it helped me understand what I was looking at, and that is the ultimate goal.

Once I had my fill of swimming, I ambled over to a shack and bought a sandwich and a margarita. As I sat on the beach having my lunch, a bus showed up and disgorged a group of 60 or so passengers from the Glory. They raced into the ocean like the charge of the Light Brigade and snorkeled furiously.

I finished my lunch, read a chapter in my book, and decided to head back in. By that time, the Glory folks were packing into the bus and taking off. I checked my watch to see that I still had another hour before I had to leave.

We snorkeled a bit more before meeting our driver in the parking lot and heading back to the ferry dock. Once back on St. Thomas, we paid our driver an extra dollar per person to take us the long way around the island, past the world-famous golf courses and within view of the homes of some of the rich and famous.

When we got back to Charlotte Amalie, we browsed through some of the diamond shops and liquor stores. I filled my pants’ cargo pockets with tiny plastic bottles of rum that the ships’ metal detectors wouldn’t find. Once I was back aboard, I searched out some of the people who went on the Trunk Bay excursion to hear what they had to say.

It was all I could do to keep a straight face as they told me a bout their (remarkably short) time at the beach on the (grossly overpriced) excursion. There is, however, something to be said for not having to plan a thing, and perhaps the excursion is worth the peace of mind to some.


kymberlyg said...

Thanks a lot Brandon!!! Now I would much rather be there now than getting ready for work! Hey ya know we are stopping in St Thomas! Got me very excited!

Her Secret Toys said...

Brandon you have clearly never been on NCL. Our ship left 6 people behind in Cabo because they were late from their excursion. But if you don't habla or are geriatric they aren't a bad way to go.