Sickness, Salvation, and Splendor – Part 7, Dominica

Drop them’ pants!

There must have been some healing power in the air at Grenada, because when I woke up for our arrival into Dominica, I was feeling great. This morning I actually enjoyed a nice breakfast on lido deck consisting of eggs benedict, a waffle, and some toast. I could see the room service folks assuming I wanted them to bring me the same thing I always ask for, only to not find me there. After eating, it was back to the cabin for arrival in port.

Dominica was interesting. Our pilot boat looked like a kid’s shoe. One of the smallest I had seen, I wondered how it could be so noisy for it’s size. After looking to the island though, it really became a question of “where’s the pier?” because I didn’t initially see anywhere for us to make port. That is until we were pretty-much there. The pier in Dominica is actually a rather tired looking one that was about half the length of the ship. As it was smaller, there was a longer process of attaching the mooring lines. The pilot boat and a smaller one, took individual workers to stand-alone mooring platforms to attach the lines. It wasn’t really an issue, but from the look of things, Dominica could really use an updated pier. It was easy to assume that the island didn’t see many cruise ships and I found out why later. Shortly after the lines were tightened and the ship tied tightly to the dock, we were given the go-ahead to step off the ship.

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Today I had booked a river tubing excursion that made a stop at a waterfall and cultural village. I was eager to experience the awesomeness that was floating down one of Dominica’s many, many, rivers with palm trees looming overhead and my butt in the cool water. I was not looking forward to sunburn though so I put on a lot of sunscreen and brought my cap. Good thing I did because as soon as I stepped off Splendor, there was rain, which fortunately ended as I neared the end of the pier. Walking through the brief rain there was a covered area at the end of the pier where it meets the street and tour operators had set up. Most of them through Carnival, which had obviously established the area as domain. Off to the left was the person holding the sign for our excursion. There was a little bit of confusion as to who was part of what tour due to crowding. I also didn’t see Alicia, Kim, or Andrew who said they would be joining me. After a short while, we were told to pile in the vans. Not being in a hurry to crowd, I waited for the others to find seats first and then I hopped in the back of the smaller van. As soon as I started thinking that the others had made other plans, they made it to the van. Just in time as we were about to be on our way.

Once in the vans, we set off from Roseau. Driving through parts of the city and then into mountains. We passed a small airport and then what seemed like the island’s only car dealership (a pretty nice one). Momentarily, I imagined working at a car dealership on an island. The guide in our van continued to gave us information while we were being driven higher into the mountains. We were told about the islands natural fruit, the parrot that adorns the nation’s flag, and several bits of history. It was much like any other time I had spent in vans earlier while on tours, with the exception of this being Dominica. The information continued to flow as we wound back and forth, up and down, through the mountains which reminded me much of St. Lucia (although St. Lucia is even more twisty).

Eventually, we made it to the base where we would start river tubing. There we were given a little bit of fruit juice, an opportunity to use the restroom. I wisely used most of the time to add sunscreen. From there we were directed to a hut to get helmets and life vests. The life vests were actually fairly smelly, and a couple people complained. I lucked out in that mine didn’t smell too much. After some instruction and safety guidelines we were given tubes and led to the river to begin our floating trek.

The water was cold initially, but once in it was much like that of a swimming pool back home and you got used to it pretty quick. Most of the time, the sun was out and it would make you more comfortable if you didn’t happen to be in the shade of trees you floated past. At the beginning there was a little bit of a learning curve for some as they had to be retrieved by the guides after winding up in the grass, rocks, or shore. You could tell who was a first-timer pretty quick. I managed to control myself pretty well with an occasional bump into another. The trek down the river was awesome. Once in a while there was a section where the water flowed a little faster causing some rapids. In these cases the guides would get out and guide the us one way or another, tell us to grab onto each other’s rafts, or they would just go and throw water over those who happened to float by them. At one point on the journey, we were stopped and the guides took the opportunity to jump from trees into the river for a little bit of fun. Our main guide jumped from one such tree and reached out to swing off a smaller branch, which snapped causing him to awkwardly (hilariously) crash into the water. I wished I had brought a waterproof camera at that point. After the brief intermission, we continued down the river for some while longer. There were a couple spills, when someones raft upturned right behind me. There was also one guy trying to put on more sunscreen while going down some rapids and wound up upside-down on some rocks (I might have laughed). By far though, the most memorable part of experience was the tour guides small dog who would go from raft to raft while we all made our way down the river. He never wound up on mine, though.

When the end of our trip down the river came, we all made our way up under a bridge onto a driveway of sorts. Next to the driveway were our vans and a couple stands. We were given time to dry off and buy some food from the stands. A very pregnant woman was selling Kubuli (the local beer). I naturally, took her up on two and then ordered a mahi-mahi sandwich from the roadside hut, which was delicious. Shortly after that, and shortly after I accidentally kicked-over some poor guy’s beer (he declined my offer to buy him another), we made our way back into the vans and started our winding way back the Roseau.

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On our way back we made a stop at a so-called “eco village” that were actually a couple road-side stands next to a staircase leading to a waterfall. Many of the others had the same mind-set as me and walked right past the “village” to the stairs leading down to the waterfall. We made the right choice as it was absolutely beautiful down there.

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At the base were some others who were there either independently or through other tours enjoying the cool water. I avoided the water though and just took some time looking around at the scenery. It was awesome just being there. Our guide from the river tubing portion was there as well. He went looking under the rocks for crabs that lived there, bringing one for people to photograph. Afterwards he swung on vines, and encouraged a few others to do so. Nobody seemed interested though as A, the rocks were slippery as hell, and B, everyone was paying attention to the waterfall (myself among them). After a while, we made our way back to the village for a few minutes before getting back on the vans. One of the huts had a spiced-coconut snack. One person bought it and it sort of snowballed from there as more and more people commented on how good it was. I wound up buying some of the snack and if I was smart enough, I should have bought more as it was actually really good. I enjoyed one more Kubuli before getting back on the van to go back.

The way back was as twisty as the way out of town. We drove back through the twisty mountain roads and then passed the airport we had seen earlier in the morning. While talking with some of the folks in the van, I found that some were Carnival employees and one in particular was a vacation planner I was given one of his business cards before we started talking about ships and ports. If you thought Carnival employees were able to get better discounts on cruises than anyone else, you’re mostly mistaken (I say mostly because while they do have special rates, they aren’t necessarily special). We also discussed some itineraries and I gained a little knowledge. Dominica was a regular port on the Southern Caribbean itinerary until taxes made making port there less profitable. I also found out that the older ships stick to Mexico and the Bahamas because they’re inefficient fuel hogs. The only time it will get interesting for a Fantasy-Class ship is when it repositions from one coast to another or retires. While discussing all things cruising, we passed the industrial port. Looking at the size and its layout it seemed much better suited for a cruise ship than the actual cruise port we docked at. As we started pulling into Roseau, we happened on what could be considered the islands rush hour. Traffic was jammed and it took roughly an hour just to get from the edge of the city to port where we left the vans.

Walking around Roseau was interesting. Like all the earlier ports, there were no tourist trap Senor Frogs, Margaritavilles or Diamonds Internationals for people to duck into if they weren’t comfy with the surroundings. Like Martinique, it was very much a “real” Caribbean city. The only thing that made it different when our ship was in port were the stands selling all the exact same tourist garbage that I admittingly bought (I have to get a t-shirt and magnet in one form or another). I found my way into a local bar that seemed to be in the middle of everything. It was a cool looking place that seemed to be build into the remaining floor of a building that had fallen apart some time ago. It wasn’t particularly busy, but was had loud music and an active bar. Pulling up to the bar, I sat next to a couple from the ship. “Isn’t this place just beautiful?” one of them asked me. “Sure is. I want to come back and spend some more time here. Hell, all the places I’ve seen so far.” I replied. After having another Kubuli, I paid my tab and asked for the Eastern Caribbean Dollar as change. I got back 12 ECDs in the form of a cool looking $10 bill and two $1 coins.

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After enjoying my last Kubuli, I roamed around some more and bumped into Suzette who pretty badly needed a dollar. “I need a dollar to use the bathroom here! Isn’t it ridiculous?!” I agreed and gave her one of mine. “Thank you! Keith owes you a dollar!” she said as she went to pay the toll. Haha, I did run into Keith, but didn’t ask him for the buck. Instead I asked if he knew where they might be stamping passports. The vendor he was talking to replied and said there was a place about a 5 minute walk up the street. I left and started making my way up the street. I walked past a bar with wifi where more than 20 Carnival crew were perched, and ran into Janet and Sherry. Both of them had finished their tour and were looking around some of the vendor tents. I told them I was off to get my passport stamped and they decided to join me. We made our way up the street and passed bars, barber shops, a grocery store, and numerous shops that sold all sorts of things but never anything specific. The customs office when we got to it was a tiny, yet busy building along side a small parking lot. It looked and felt like it had been a hotel check in office at one point. Surprisingly with all the people there, we didn’t wait too long before a busy-looking clerk was nice enough to take a break and stamp our passports. Having that done, we made way for others and made our way back to the ship. We paused for a couple photos and then got back on the ship.

Sail away inevitably came and while tying the mooring lines took a while, releasing them took even longer as there was no additional boat to assist the pilot boat. The lines came up in time and we departed Dominica on schedule. Shortly after, I made my way up to the aft lido deck to check and see if what others were up to. I found 10 folks I knew and hung out with them for a while. This eventually became a larger group and after a while I found that some of them had brought jello shots. God know knows how they made them considering the fridges in the cabins barely cool enough to chill a soda. We all didn’t really care though as they were awesome and we were having a good time. Another one of us had brought a survival punch which consisted of Fireball Whiskey mixed with something unknown. Most of us liked it but one person didn’t care for it quite as much. “Sean, I honestly am not as big a fan of this, what should I do?” I assumed that meant I should drink it, but instead I poured it into a nearby receptacle (trash can) BUT not without getting caught. This meant not only did I foul, but I assumed I’d be paying for it by taking a big swig of the stuff right from the container. Fortunately, I liked it.

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The afternoon rolled into evening. After having a really good turkey sandwich from the deli to balance my guts, I headed to bed for a nap before dinner. Waking up later, I got ready and made way to the dining room. Kim suggested changing tables and it paid off. It was pleasant sitting with more people and some I had met before on tours like Monica and her sister. I was the only guy present at the table… until Harold arrived.

Harold was a character. He was on the ship solo since it had left New York at the beginning of the prior cruise. While never totally disagreeable in front of me, Kim mentioned that they had been in a little bit of an argument over the role of a flight crew. I didn’t like how the others felt they needed to correct their wording around him and I didn’t like how I felt like I needed to watch what I said. I didn’t want to escalate things though as we all did seem to enjoy our conversations and food while there. Besides, he usually didn’t stick around too long. I just watched what I said, even I was being judged and took it easy. Nobody wants to rub people the wrong way on a ship where there really isn’t much of anywhere to go.

After dinner was over, I assumed photographer duty and took some photos of Kim on the stairs before leaving the dining room. We headed up to the Morocco Lounge to meet with the others for the adult game show and Quest. It made for an interesting evening.

The adult game show was not so much a game so as much of a game of musical chairs between the sexes. Five men were asked to come down and participate. After being prodded and nudged I obliged along with Brian who was in our group. Six ladies were then asked to come down. Kim came down, followed by Gerri from the group. We (the men) were then instructed to get down in a circle on our hands and knees while the women remained standing. We did our thing and then the cruise director told the women they would be playing a game of musical chairs using us men as chairs… awesome. I knew the moment the music started that I was going to be “THE chair” that would be fought over. My intuition proved correct and sure enough when the music stopped, there I was with two women trying to sit on my back. Gerri had happened to sit on me first and another attempted to follow her only to just miss making it in time. I didn’t get her name, but wound up not caring shortly after. When the time came to eliminate one of the “chairs”, she was asked to pick one. Naturally, she chose me. “Because he can’t handle two women!” was her reasoning. I got up reacting to that the best way I could “C’mon, you’ve got to be kidding me!” after she made her cheap-shot. The game continued for a short while. Kim was eliminated and then Gerri. Brian was the last guy remaining and had to lay upright on the floor. The last round, whichever girl covered him the most with their body won. Lucky guy. There was also a bit where couples talked about their sex lives, which was hilarious when they had to make the sound the other makes in moments of passion.

Quest followed right afterwards. After being humiliated like I was, I was ready for it. I had played it once before and knew mostly how it would go. It’s basically an adult scavenger hunt using people on your team or in the audience. One person from your team brings the “item(s)” up front to be counted as points. Being as how we were already there in a group, we all teamed up. When the game got going, the requests for items started off simple. “Car keys!” Hilariously, nobody had any keys. “A pencil!” a couple brought pencils. It went on, they called for a sail and sign card, pilots license, and a couple other things before the subject matter started it’s curve. “We need a guy on all fours barking like a dog!” “We need two guys holding arms skipping in a circle!” It progressed… “We need 4 pairs of womens bras!” Women in our group frantically started taking off their bras from under their shirts. Gerri ran with them up to the front to be counted. “We need men wearing women’s heels!” One of the guys was taken up there in Kim’s shoes. “We need a lady kissing a man!” I went up there with Kim covering my face in her hot pink lipstick, while laughing almost hysterically. “We need 4 pairs of mens pants!” Me and 3 other guys dropped and removed our pants for Gerri to take up. My sail and sign card fell out of my pocket (fortunately the cruise director caught it). The last “item” was “We need a man with no shirt, no pants, wearing heels, wearing lipstick, wearing a bra, and wearing a purse for a hat!” Fortunately, I was busy putting my pants back on and Curtis who was in our group, gave himself up for the challenge. I had already been embarrassed that evening and wanted nothing to do with it especially knowing people had cameras. After all the judging and points were added up, our group won! We were given some bottles of (cheap) champagne, medals, and ship trophies. It was great to finally win something on a cruise, even if I had embarrassed myself in the process, even if it meant taking my pants off around a few hundred others. Victory is victory.

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The night grew late in the club. We talked about how fun the game was when we weren’t commenting on how poor the DJ was. There were a couple dances on the floor before 3am came around. We were asked to leave in the most cliche way when the DJ played “Closing Time” by Semisonic. We all made our way up to the 24-hour pizza station before calling it a night. What a day!

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