Like so many of our adventures, our holiday to Miami and our cruise started with a stupid early morning. After a long flight we arrived in Miami, collected our car and navigated the interstates to Miami Beach and our hotel. As it was our 4th wedding anniversary, we walked down to a little Italian restaurant for tea. Sometime during dinner it started to rain – now it doesn’t actually rain all that often in Denver so this was a serious event for us. Zac spent the entire run back to the hotel between bemused and completely confused at what this cold wet stuff was falling from the sky! How sheltered we had kept our small boy.
The next day we drove to Everglades National Park and caught a trolley around a small patch of the park. We were taken to a lovely watch tower where you could see for miles. Along the way we saw the swamplands, birds and more alligators than I thought possible to live in such a small area. It was a little intimidating how close we got to those monsters! We learnt the Burmese pythons we a pest in the Everglades as they ate the small animals that the alligators also need to survive. There is actually a bounty if you catch/kill them! It was an educational tour.
For Zac’s first birthday we drove to Key West, the most southern point of mainland USA. It was one of the most amazing drives we have EVER done: 100 miles with 27 interconnecting bridges (some which were just so long) and the most spectacular views you can imagine. It made us terribly homesick for the beach, while making us wish we had skipped Miami completely and just spent some quality time in a small beachside village, fishing and walking in the sand. We stopped at one little village to feed this enormous fish at the end of a wharf – it was at least twice the size of Zac and would jump out of the water to grab at the bait in your hand. It was pretty cool, despite the baby being scared silly. We ate fish and chips for lunch and Daddy sampled some of the famous Key Lime Pie. Our final destination was Key West itself – such a quaint little town where driving a golf buggy or cycling was much easier than actually driving! Key West is actually closer to Cuba than the nearest Walmart… bizarre! We drove home late that night, regretting that we didn’t have more time to spend in this beautiful part of the world.
Our final day in Miami was spent walking the boardwalk. There is such a difference between a beach in Oz and a beach over here. Here the beaches are all manicured, with drags over the sand to make it all uniform (and I guess to weed out any nasties that might be hidden in the sand). There are little beach shacks scattered along the way where you can rent a beach chair and umbrella – because you would never sit on the sand! A person will come along to your chair and you can order table service lunch and drinks – high end food and cocktails (no BBQ chook sandwiches’ here!). In this part of the world, going to the beach was an opportunity to be seen, not an opportunity to play in the waves with your loves ones… I’m glad this is one Americanism that had not made it to our sandy shores.
The next day we packed all our gear and set out for our cruise. The boat was impressive! There were 3 pools, at least 5 ‘hot tubs’, food, food and more food, bars, casino and duty free shops to satisfy all your shopping needs. At night we ate at a lovely restaurant at the back of the boat where the wait staff knew our names before we even turned up. They were from Indonesia and Thailand, so it was nice to talk to people who actually knew foods we would appreciate. We saw some live shows, a comedian (and Mama even popped her head in and saw some of the drag show on board – it was the best show she saw by far!!). While there was plenty to do, it wasn’t the most baby appropriate environment, so we tended to spend a lot of time in our room, or sitting inside watching the sea slip by. Which was nice, but not really what you go on a cruise for… While it was a great, unique experience that enabled us to see many of the tourist sights of the eastern Caribbean, it’s not one we would be rushing back to do again, primarily because we just didn’t get to spend enough time at each port (6-8 hours).
However, the little time we did spend at each port was enough to make us hungry to visit each location again for a much longer time.
Bahamas was the first stop. Nassau has a grand nautical and colonial history – and you can see and feel it everywhere. It was truly beautiful. The blue of the water was an indescribable coral blue and so crystal clear you could see the bottom at over 20 feet. We took a ‘submarine’ ride to see some of the local sea life on a reef. Zac seemed to really enjoy it. The fish didn’t seem as colourful as their pacific cousins, but there were turtles which were wonderful. We got to sail past all the celebrity homes (including Tom Cruise’s and Oprah’s two), and the Atlantis resort which looked incredible – a place on Mama’s bucket list! This adventure was followed by a city tour (and some crazy traffic) to a look out at the highest peak of the city. There were some cute little shops at the top near an old fort that we perused while the locals fell in love with the blond hair, blue eye little boy who smiled at them. It was pretty adorable. Before we knew it, it was time to get back on the boat and sail for our next exotic locale.
St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the world. The lush green island, surrounded by the most beautiful blue ocean, is just awe inspiring. When you think island paradise – THIS IS IT!! We took a full island tour that included a crazy bus ride up to a lookout. While the traffic was enough to make you chew your finger nails off (there were 8 boats in St Thomas that day) the view of the harbour left you lost for words. We drove back down to Meagan’s Bay, rated as one of the top ten beaches in the world (they have obviously never been to the South Coast) and the best in the Carribean. And it was lovely – beautiful tropical warm water, lapping waves, the blue (oh so blue) bay and palm trees dropping along the way – sigh. It was paradise. Zac played on his very first beach, and ate sand as he should, while Mama and Daddy took turns in the water – baby was not a fan of the water!
Our tour of paradise continued after this short stop to Black Beard’s castle – which is now a rum factory. Daddy liked it. We learnt all about the real pirates of the Caribbean (I was so disappointed as Jonny Deep wasn’t there), and walked down 100s of stairs, through little shops, past restored colonial homes of yore, to the town. We did a little window shopping and caught a pirate ship back across the harbour to our cruise boat and our time was all up! It was a glimpse into a world that seemingly lived harmoniously between its colonial roots, native landscape (of paradise) and modern living (in paradise). It’s a place you can see yourself spending a month at and still wanting more time. We adored it!
Puerto Rico was our next stop. Before we arrived, we presumed Old San Juan wouldn’t be a trip highlight, so we just booked ourselves on foodies tour. That way we could at least enjoy some nice food. Instead, it was a place that ended up being high on our ‘if we have time – we’ll be back’ list. The tour started with a historical walking tour of the old city. We saw these huge, thick, fort walls that have become a part of the fabric of the island, giving it character and sense living history, fountains and plazas that gave it an old world sensibility, houses of every colour and hue cramped against one another without seeming to crowd out the sun or the sense of tropical laughter, grand churches that have stood the test of time (and war and uprising). Beside all this history (we really didn’t realise the amount of history this tiny city had!), was a modern city that was this unique blend of African American, Hispanic, Caribbean and American cultures. And everyone was happy – people were smiling and laughing everywhere. It was amazing and just made you delighted that you were there.
Our tour visited a rum factory (when in Rome, right?), a bunch of little shops that sold local foods (sauces and spicy jams seemed popular) and culminated at a local restaurant where we were given a refreshing local beverage (Mojito!! Yum yum) and were taught how to make a local traditional dish (tasted like feet – but it was fun). After this we rushed up to one of two major forts in the city to explore. This was a holiday highlight for Tristan – he got super snap happy. We slowly meandered back down to the boat to go to our final port of call – but we really wish we had more time here. There was so much more to see and experience – we barely scratched the surface!
Our final stop on the cruse was just as fabulous as the three previous. While Grand Turk was still just a little island, not yet developed in the sense that the other islands had been, it had this sense of being completely unspoiled and ready for exploring. It was a low island – I would be surprise if a single part of it rose more than 10m above sea level. It still had dirt roads and locals carrying their catches (dinner) walking along them, with our cabbie stopping as we drove to chat to his mates and find out what was biting. We spent the day at the most glorious beach we have ever seen or been to. It was part of a dive resort that may have had 10 other people sharing this lovely long beach of white sand and pine trees (odd right?). We ate the freshest and most delicious seafood lunch of our lives, and then Zac and I retired to lay on the beach while Tristan took a deep sea snorkelling tour. Tristan tells me it was a cool trip. The drop off was specular, but was missing the coral and colour that you would expect. Zac and my day was fabulous as I drank my fill of tropical drinks, napped in the shade, and played in the sand. I don’t think we could have asked for a more relaxing day! Before we knew it we were herded back to the boat and it was the end of our holiday.
Overall, while Miami was an experience, I think we would have valued the four days along the Florida Keys a lot more. And the cruise, while we are glad we did it, and we got to spend a little time in four of the most wondrous places we could have imagined (and most that we could not have), I’m not sure it is our type of holiday. Too much no-time between islands and not enough time to explore. We definitely prefer to fly and experience more. But no regrets – because if we didn’t do it this way we would never have had an opportunity to get a taste of the Caribbean paradises that we saw!
Love and wishes that you too get to experience paradise