Day Four: Our own private island. With 2000 other people.
The stop for today was at the island that the cruise line itself operates, named “Great Stirrup Cay”. I want you to know, I don’t like the idea of actual beautiful land being turned into a commercial enterprise designed to help pad the cruise line’s margins.
See, cruise ships run on pretty thin margins by a room and board standard. They need to cruisers to buy expensive drinks, spend money in the casino, shop on board, and go to the onboard restaurants to make their margins. Taking you to a port of call that has restaurants not affiliated with the curise line means you’re buying expensive drinks and food from someone who is not them, and therefore not padding their margins. Thus, the private island gives passengers access to a beach, but also keeps passengers spending like it was a day at sea. Call me cynical, but it’s business we’re talking about here. They’re not doing this because they love you.
But, the truth is, it’s not only about the margin. Having now experienced the Bahamas, I think there is something else going on here. By taking control of their own island, they’re– yes– padding their margins, but they’re getting to other things that are not as obvious.
- They’re getting control of the experience that cruisers have on shore.
There is a reason the cruise director daily warns cruisers off renting scooters, and it’s not because of money. It’s because people who have no business renting scooters end up renting them, hurting themselves, and then having a shitty time. When that happens, instead of saying, “It was so great to spend time at the beach on Cancun”, these stupid idiots tell their friends, “I went on a cruise and got hurt and had a shitty time.” That’s not good brand management. Neither is “I got mugged in Nassau,” or “I got food poisoning in Belize,” or “The pay-toilets in Playa del Carmen are just nasty.” By having their own private island, they control the entire experience.
- And I think this is the important one: By having their own port that they control completely, they have a bargaining chip to waggle at the other ports of call on their itineraries. A cruise line that owns a private island can tell the Port Authority of Nassau to go fuck themselves the next time they try to raise docking rates. Do not underestimate the significance of this negotiation. Especially if you are Nassau, who is quite dependent on the cruise line’s continued interest in suckling from their tiny little sour teat.
Homogenized Beauty, but beauty none-the-less
But don’t let the business side of things throw you. If you’re going to rail against consumerism, going on a cruise with a line that owns (technically has a 99-year lease) on a private island is merely annoying the pig.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a sandy seaside and some palm trees to sit under, you’ve got an archetypal opportunity to find that here. They do other things on the island, too, yes. Stupid things, like Parasailing and a giant inflatable water slide, but that’s all nonsense. The fact is, Great Stirrup Cay is indistinguishable from the hundreds of other chunks of dead coral that stick out of the ocean across the Bahamas, and that’s ok. It is what it is. Or has been made. Or whatever.
You can probably tell that I am still having a hard time letting go of my apprehension about the necessity of having such an experience. The fact is, without the hundreds of thousands of man-hours and dollars poured into turning these private islands into something habitable, there wouldn’t be enough beach to go around, right? People want beaches, they want to see some fish, and then they want to wander up the hill a little bit a buy a bucket of domestic beer from a man who might not actually have a Jamaican accent.
So the cruise lines are giving that to them. I guess.
But the beauty, part– You’re going to get to the beauty part, right?
Yes. That’s enough of my first world guilt about the island for now. Just know that I’m not terribly comfortable with the whole idea of cultivating an entire landmass for the exclusive purpose of rampant consumerism– but if I think too hard on it, I just get sleepy. So lets talk about fish.
There are fish. We saw fish. Lots of ’em. A stingray. And really neat little urchins and schools of fish, and we dived for rocks. And it was a neat little bay to swim in. Not a ton of coral but there was reef enough to enjoy looking at a pretty complete little aquaculture.
But the beautiful part is this: Drifting through the crystal clear water arm in arm with my six year old and wife, floating around and pointing out fish and rocks and stones. And being chased by a little needle-nosed gar fish that Jeni insists was a water version of Eddie Guapo. Gaia ended up snorkeling around with us for two sessions of about an hour and fifteen minutes each. And she enjoyed it immensely, and her pleasure was my pleasure, and that made it all worth while.
But there were storms looming on the horizon.
Yeah. Storms. With lightening and thunderclaps and screaming idiots rushing to the tenders.
Jeni and Gaia and I saw that the weather was going to get bad, so we returned our rental snorkels and as we did so the pressure shifted and the temperature dropped 8–10 degrees. Everybody looked up and saw the dark clouds looming on the horizon, and it was on.
By the time we gathered up our stuff, the crowd was rushing around packing up stuff and running toward the door. Like maniacs.
Jeni and Gaia and I picked a comfortable spot in one of the covered pavilions and hunkered down for a wait. There is no reason to rush off a privately owned island. I mean, it has a helicopter pad. You could literally be in Miami in 40 minutes if you needed to be. They won’t leave while people are still there. Also, I’d rather be sitting in the pavilion than on the open-topped tender when the clouds break.
This instinct proved to be a good one according to one of my fellow Mr. Sexxy Legs contestants who was on that Tender earlier. He said they shouldn’t have rushed to get on the tender, because he ended up sitting up top, completely exposed to the weather, and being thrown around by the wake and wind.
I, on the other hand, was fairly dry under a pavilion, quietly singing soothing songs of comfort and love to my baby girl who is very, very brave, but nonetheless, afraid of lightening.
As the storm came in, I counted the time between thunderclaps to ascertain that it was, indeed coming closer. Eventually the thunderclaps became more distant and the rain slowed down.
But there was a lot of water pooling around the pavilion. Some of the girls, including Gaia, had dug little pools and canals in the sand and it was cute to see how it moved the water around and how excited they were to work the dams.
I did’t see the sinkhole start. I only saw it when it was bout the size of a dinner plate. Suddenly the picnic table behind us, which had been in a pool of about two inches of water, was now sitting over a rapidly growing whirlpool of foamy sand. The water and sand must have found somewhere to run, and suddenly a trickle became a rush, and the next thing anyone knew, the whirlpool threatened to take the picnic table with it. A girl jumped on the table Jeni was sitting on and sunk our table about a foot into the sand.
I can only imagine that keeping the sand on that beach is something of a full-time gig.
Anyway, It was pretty awesome. Eventually we made it back to the ship (on the last tender) and were showered and resting by 5:30 p.m.
Final Night Blues
There is a weird energy about a cruise ship on the final night. I explained it to Jeni sarcastically; ’I’ve spent a lot of money and have tried filling myself with drinking and excess, but yet I still feel empty."
There is also something else:
- By the final night, most of the people are no longer lost and confused. They’ve figured out the rules and how things work, so now they’re slipping into their routine of self-loathing and being above the rules. They’ve run out of polite.
- By the final night, most of the crew is in a pretty good mood because they’ve been through the wringer and have probably had a few hours off earlier that day.
- By the final night, the crew is going out of the way to say, “Well, It’s the final night. Don’t forget!” They do this because you’d be surprised how much they need you to get off the ship on time in the morning.
There is a secret thing about cruising that they don’ tell you in the marketing materials. You know how they tend to count the number of days you’re cruising as a feature. Say you’re going on a five day cruise. The fifth day doesn’t count. Really. You need to get off the ship by 10 a.m. on the fifth day. They don’t serve lunch and most of the services they do offer are bare bones at best. That’s ok. You’re supposed to get the eff off the ship. They have to clean the whole damn ship now, and you pigs have been grinding cigarettes and beef tartar in to the carpets on the forward deck. Pigs.
Also, if you don’t want to carry off all your own luggage, you need to have it packed and out of your room by 1 a.m. the last night. That means you pretty much start mentally disembarking a full day and a half before you’re off the ship.
On my first cruise, I found this disappointing. By my third, I recognized it as the real reason for the final night blues. You’ve already had your last night on the cruise, you just didn’t know it. There’s nothing left for you year but to put all your shit back in your luggage.
Tomorrow., there will be land. And home. And you will feel dizzy most of the day from having acclimated to the rocking of the ship.
And it will have all been worth it.
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