There are those that take a cruise mainly because of the ports it stops at. The rest of you just want to be on a ship -- the where part is besides the point. We can see both sides, though we tend to fall into the "ports count camp" more than the "Can you show me the way to Carlos 'n Charlie's?" camp.
In the spirit of going somewhere, we decided to have a little port chat. Here's a transcript.
Heidi: Ever forget that ships actually go somewhere?
Matt: Sure, especially when I step off the gangway and realize I'm in Nassau.
Heidi: No kidding. The more jaded I become, the more it takes to get me off the boat. There's gotta be more than a Colombian Emeralds and a rum store on the other side of the rail.
Matt: Not to knock Nassau too much, but the last time I was there I decided to take a bus tour, just to see if there was anything interesting I'd missed before. I fell asleep as soon as I sat down and didn't wake up again 'til we got back to the ship. Zzzzzzz ...
Heidi: I can trump that. The last time I was in St. Thomas there was such an awful traffic jam, it took our taxi 40 minutes to get from the ship to the center of town, a mile away. We were going to go to the beach, but I finally said screw this and the guy took us right back to the pier. What a waste.
Matt: That was your own fault. Never take a taxi if you can see the place you're going without binoculars.
Heidi: Yeah right, tell that two my pair of four-year-olds!
Matt: At four I used to walk twelve miles to school barefoot, uphill, and on gravel. In winter.
Heidi: And I used to only get an orange for Christmas. But back to shore excursions. I guess I've had some good experiences too. I did that popular America's Cup yacht race in St. Martin once. About eight of us were aboard an actual former America's Cup contender, helping crew the boat and race against two other groups. That was cool. I've also done a lot of scenic and worthwhile bikes rides in places like Skagway, Alaska, but they've never been more than about ten miles, and mostly downhill -- even though the cruise lines called them "adventure tours." Unless you go off on your own, the cruise line shore tours are geared to the average Joe. He might not be able to handle forty miles on a bike.
Matt: Lesson is, "Take shore excursion descriptions with grain of salt." That said, some can be pretty exhausting anyway, just by virtue of where they go. I remember a long excursion to the Mayan ruins at Coba in Mexico. It was in May, and it must've been 100 degrees out. By the end of it I was pretty happy for the quart of Sol beer the bus driver handed me.
Heidi: Eh, you're a wimp. We had a truly sweaty morning in boiling-hot Santorini a few years back. We were there aboard Windstar's Wind Spirit and opted out of the donkey ride and cable car to get us to the main town atop a cliff. We decided to do our own thing and trek up the steep, zigzagging stone path on foot. Good views of the port below, but boy was I wiped by the top.
Heidi: Yeah, it was hot there too -- but nothing a few painkillers at Foxy's couldn't cure.
Matt: Yah. And actually, that's pretty much all there was on the other side. Getting back to the point, though ... shore excursions: pro or con? What was the absolute best one you ever took?
Heidi: Well, lemme see. I can think of a few. A horseback riding trip on Isla Margarita, in Venezuela. There were only about six of us and the scenery from on top of this deserted bluff was amazing. A few months ago, from Dunedin, New Zealand, we visited this family-run refuge for yellow-eyed penguins set up on farmland that stretched to the ocean. Was a beautiful blue-sky day; could have filmed a movie there -- it was stunning. Oh, almost forgot the cool winery tour we did from Napier, New Zealand. We went by bike, peddling through picturesque farmland to the next tasting opportunity. Then there was the pontoon plane ride over glaciers in Alaska. We even landed on a remote lake and hopped out on the pontoons.
Matt: An Alaska glacier trip was my number-one for sure -- by helicopter, up over the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. You have no idea just how big glaciers are until you see 'em from the air. After some flight-seeing we landed on the glacial ice and walked around for an hour -- it was like being on Mars.
Heidi: Then again, the excursions in the Galapagos were pretty amazing. What can compare to nosing up to seals on the beach?
Matt: I second that one. They tell you not to touch the animals, but at one point a sea lion pup waddled up and nuzzled my ankle when I wasn't looking. Not my fault! But a high point of my life, for sure.
Heidi: Oh, I remember another one. From Petersburg, Alaska, I did this trawler fishing trip with my dad and two others and a charming-as-heck local captain who looked like Santa Claus. We trawled for crabs, caught a bunch, and then the captain's wife cooked 'em up below decks and served them dripping in butter and accompanied by wine. Was totally one of my best cruise moments.
Matt: That's the ticket. Something local and authentic. Years ago I took one in Haines, Alaska, that just visited some folks at home. They were both artists, and had built this beautiful house in the woods outside town. We sat with them in their living room, had tea, and then they taught us the basics of printmaking. How cool is that? It's the reason we travel: to experience "the other." Else why not stay home and watch TV?
Heidi: Or why not go on a cruise and watch TV? Most ships have all the main cable channels.
Matt: True, virtual tours are all the rage. Sign me up.
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