For most of the days on the cruise we were docked at one island or another in the western Caribbean. We (meaning "my wife") had planned an organized excursion on each one of the islands in advance, going on information we found on various websites. These excursions ended up being...uh...interesting. And hot. Mostly hot.
The first port of call was a place that our cruise line referred to as Labadee, Hispaniola. Sounds nice, no? You almost want to sing the name. And, in fact, it's a beautiful place. It has lush vegetation, beautiful beaches, and warm clear water. There's really only one problem with the place. It sort of doesn't exist.
Labadee is actually a chunk of land on a peninsula of Haiti. However, if the cruise line had told us that we were going to coup-ridden, violence-fraught, and corruption-filled Haiti, perhaps they wouldn't have booked quite as many passengers. So, the executives at Royal Caribbean decided to buy this piece of Haiti and remove all those pesky poor people and unscenic gun-toting soldiers. After a bit of scrubbing and rebranding, TA DAH! Labadee labada!
The activity we did at Labadee was play in the water park, which consisted of a bunch of floating inflated structures, on which one could bounce and slide. It was here that I first postulated Mike's First Law of Caribbean Activities, which, in layman's terms, merely states that any activity undertaken in the Caribbean will be more dangerous than the corresponding activity in the U.S..
I discovered this law after climbing to the top of an inflated "iceberg" structure and noticing that the slide down to the water had several hard and sharp objects poking out of it. I cut myself twice in about 1 second going down the 10 foot slide. That was an owie-per-second rate that went unsurpassed for the remainder of the trip.
We spent the rest of our time in Labadee just splashing around in the water. When one kid saw a tiny jellyfish, I had to spend the next 20 minutes trying to convince my daughter that everything was ok, and that she wouldn't get stung by the jellyfish. I pointed out all the people, up and down the beach, who were happily playing in the water, none of whom were getting stung.
Several minutes later my sister's daughter got stung twice by jellyfish. Thankfully my daughter was out of the water at the time and never learned how poor my advice had been.
On the plus side, however, note that Labadee was the only place we visited where we weren't bussed to gift shop after gift shop.
The next day we visited Jamaica which is, apparently, a real place. Much to the consternation of the cruise company, we viewed actual poor people coming out of their ramshackle abodes during our excursion. The main activity we did in Jamaica was to climb up the Dunn's River waterfall.
They've got a beautiful waterfall there, that cascades over large boulders, while dropping about 900 feet in elevation. Tourists then pay money to go to the bottom of the waterfall and fight their way up the waterfall, for about half a mile, against the flow of water, trying not to slip and fall on the rocks. If your balance is good and your legs are strong, this is not too difficult. If, however, you are a clumsy computer programmer dragging along a five year-old kid, then it merely cements Mike's First Law of Caribbean activities. We bailed out about halfway to the top.
Incidentally, Mike's Second Law of Caribbean Activities can be explained as, "Environmental concerns?? Eh."
In Jamaica we were directed through 2 gift shops and a gift mall.
Our next stop was in the Grand Cayman Islands, where we took the stupidest tour ever. Our driver told us which fast food restaurants were on the island, what the major supermarket chains were, where large corporations and billionaires were buying land, etc. Our first actual stop on the tour was in a place anecdotally referred to as "Hell". It consisted of a small field of irregularly shaped limestone rocks and a gift shop. We spent about 20 minutes there which was about 25 minutes too long. I was astonished to later learn that nearly all island tours there stop at this damn gift shop. Is there no culture on that island?
My family tried to think of what the equivalent tourist stop would be here in the San Francisco Bay Area. It would need to be some inconsequential natural oddity with a crappy gift shop. I coudn't think of something cheesy or crappy enough to qualify.
We also visited a turtle farm where we were encouraged to pluck sea turtles out of their tanks and pose with them for pictures. Mike's Second Law shone through. Nothing dangerous happened although I was vigorously splashed by an ornery turtle. There was also, of course, a set of gift shops by the turtle farm that we were herded through.
Our final tour was in Cozumel, Mexico, where we took an "all-terrain" eco tour that, surpisingly, discussed saving the environment rather than letting us trample on it. That was weird. Our truck ride to the park, however, cruised along at around 40mph in a windshieldless vehicle. If you didn't keep your mouth shut, you'd get little bits of the ecosystem buried in your teeth and eyes. I guess that was the dangerous part.
Also, one gift shop and another gift mall.
And that, my friends, is the Caribbean.