Caribbean Princess, Part 6
Thursday, April 24/08, St. Thomas
Once again, I was awaken by a cacophony of sounds; this time it was the heavy insistent beat of drums (conga and bongo) quayside, as we docked in St. Thomas around 7 am.
A quick shutting of the balcony door took care of that!
We had booked another Beach Excursion at Magen's Bay, but it did not depart until 12:20, so this morning we planned to get off the ship early and walk through the Havensight Mall, cross the street, and re-visit the Sky Ride to Paradise Point (primarily to have their world-famous "Bailey's Bushwacker"!).
Imagine our surprise when we looked out over the pier and didn't know where we were! It did not look like the familiar port of Charlotte Amalie, with the oil refineries, cargo containers, and the familiar red-roofed buildings of the Havensight Mall, and there was no view of the Sky Ride in the mountains above us.
It was one of those "doo-doo-doo-doo" Twilight Zone moments!
Once off the ship, we saw the big sign reading "CrownBay Centre", an entirely new dock area with brand new buildings, some still unfinished, housing stores and businesses. It was all very clean, spanking new, and seemed well organized, with signs posted advertising Taxi services for $5, the taxis being 20-passenger open-air buses.
We decided to hop on and head to Paradise Point, not knowing exactly how far it might be.
Before departing, our driver informed everyone on board that today was Carnival Day
in St. Thomas, and that there would be crowds, traffic and roadblocks, and many businesses might be closed.
Everyone chose to stay on the bus anyway, but it soon became apparent that we were going nowhere fast.
We sat in the heat, in heavy traffic, taking back roads, through parking lots and alleyways, watching extremely drunk and high Carnival revellers stagger through the streets, shouting at the tourists in the buses.
Our driver informed us that many people had been up since 4 am to start celebrations. It was all a bit scary.
After about an hour, in extreme heat, we reached the middle of "downtown" where the crowds were thicker, and other passengers got off to shop. We realized that by the time we walked to the Sky Ride, still a ways down the road, waited in line, spent any time there, plus the hour's bus ride back to the ship, we would never make it in time to get back, have lunch, and catch for our 12:20 excursion.
We opted to forego our much anticipated Bushwacker, stay on the bus, pay another $10, and tried to enjoy the sights on the way back.
We arrived back at the pier around 11am, and we visited a few souvenir shops at the new CrownBay Centre, took some photos, and then re-boarded the ship and headed straight to the pool to cool off!
What a pleasant surprise! The main pool area was almost completely deserted, no kids, and plenty of room to swim and relax in the water. It was a very pleasant end to a frustrating morning.
We had lunch at the poolside Grill (cheeseburger and hot dog), and then debarked again for our Beach Tour.
Once again, we piled 20 passengers into an open-air rickety old bus, for a long and winding ride over and across the island to Magen's Bay.
Our kindly driver apologized for the detours due to the Carnival, but reassured us that whatever time we arrived, we would still have 2 full hours at the beach.
We finally arrived around 1:15, and were greeted by a large iguana waiting in our parking spot!
We set ourselves up on the beach, using just our towels. There were rental chairs available quite a ways down the beach, but you had to go get them yourself, and drag them back, and frankly, it didn't seem worth the money or the effort when we spent most of the time in the water anyway!
The beach was nice, but not as spectacular as Orient Beach in St. Maarten. The sand was littered with a lot of fallen leaves and other stuff, and the water, calm as it was, lacked the magic of the waves rushing to shore at Orient Bay.
While baking on the beach a while later, a young woman in a bikini carrying a drink tray wandered by, asking if we wanted anything from the bar. I asked if they made Bailey's Bushwackers, and she said "of course!"
She returned a few minutes later with 2 huge Bushwackers, which, to the best of my memory, were deliciously comparable to the original recipe at Paradise Point!
Our beach break came to an end all too soon, and we had to head back, stopping along the way for magnificent photo ops, and a history/geography lesson of the island from our amiable driver.
It was from him that we learned that the new port of CrownBay is now used for Princess and Holland America ships, as it can only accomodate 2 ships at a time, while the more familiar Charlotte Amalie port is used for Carnival and other ships, as it can accomodate many more.
Back on board, I headed for late afternoon Trivia (still did not win!), and a dip in the pool, before getting ready for dinner.
Once again, we met our friends for dinner, but this time we tried the Coral Dining Room, as we were told the Palm was full. We had another excellent meal; a scrumptuous onion soup au gratin, a fish dish, a pork dish, and for myself, rack of lamb. No complaints here on the food or the service!
After dinner, we headed to the Explorers Lounge to see Bert's Stratton's weekly "big show" in a venue with a lot more seating than his usual tiny lounge and crowded corridor. The lounge filled up quickly, and we passed the wait time enjoying a wonderful classical quartet, another one of many great musical entertainment acts on the Caribbean Princess.
Bert came on at 8:45, and did almost the identical show we saw 2 years ago, but it was still funny and entertaining.
I love his medley of old time TV show themes; it's scary that I can't remember what I had for dinner, but I can remember all the words to the Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island, The Adam's Family, and Green Acres!
Bert also took artist requests from the audience, then did a medley of songs from all those artists. I counted 31 different artists. How he remembered them all, I don't know!
After the show, and the CD sales and the autographs and photo ops, I managed to catch him for a moment and tried to pin him down for a time to visit our cabin to pick up his gift.
He promised to call as soon as he'd had a chance to shower and change, which he did, and came directly to our cabin.
He was shocked when he saw the size of the thing, (approx. 3ft x 2 ft) and amazed that we had dragged it all the way from Montreal, through airports, hotel, shuttle buses, and onto the ship.
Bert proceeded to unwrap layers and layers of wrapping, bubble wrap and tape, and was incredulous that we would take the time and effort to do this for him.
I told him that he had made our first (and second) cruise on the Caribbean Princess so special, because of his wonderful music and warm rapport with the audience, that I'd wanted to do something special for him.
When he finally got it unwrapped, he sat stunned, taking it all in.
It was a jigsaw puzzle entitled "The Music Room" and had every musical instrument you could imagine, including his favourite Grand Piano. He said it would have a very special place in his new home in Nashville.
We took quite a few pictures of him with it!
He then invited us to join him at the Caribe Cafe for his late dinner (it was by now, 11:30). James declined and went to bed, but I joined him for about 2 hours up in the buffet, sitting with 2 other couples, talking about music and entertainment, past and present.
I got the chance to ask him questions about his family, his career on cruise ships (16 years!), and his move to Nashville to further his writing and recording career.
It was a very enjoyable, low-key evening with a very gracious and humble man, and it didn't end until 1:30 am!