On Thursday, datan0de
, and I drove from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale to sleep in town before arising at the gods-be-damned unholy hour of 4:00 AM to board the cruise ship/ferry to the island of the Grand Bahamas. Our hotel was walking distance from the port, as our very friendly night-desk clerk explained to us while he pointed out the view of the largest cruise ship in existence
, which will make Port Everglades its home port. The Allure Of The Seas
is 4 football fields long, has a tree-lined park & 3D movie theatre, and is nearly 50% bigger than the next-largest cruise ship. Unfortunately, this would not be our cruise ship. datan0de
and I wandered over as close as we could to get a peek, and maybe take some photos. They came out like crap, but it was fun anyway. We wandered into an empty lot that bordered the chain link & barbed wire fence that surrounds the port, and played on the bobcats a bit before heading back to the hotel.
By the way, I highly recommend staying the night in town before taking a cruise, and the night after you get back, before heading back home or wherever you're going afterwards. It really lets up the pressure of arriving so early, particularly since you're already traveling to make it to the port town, or of leaving so late. If you happen to sail out of Ft. Lauderdale, I recommend America's Best Inn
. The rooms are standard motel rooms - nothing great but nothing bad - but the service is excellent. The desk clerk when I called to make the reservations was very friendly, the night clerk when we checked in was great, and they offer everyone a complimentary beverage upon check-in. None of us wanted the alcohol, but they had soda available. Plus, they had a happy hour for the guests earlier that evening, with wine and other drinks (for which we arrived too late). They offer a standard continental breakfast in the morning, early enough for us to make it to the ship, and parking is free for the nights you stay there, and only $5 a night while you're on the cruise, compared to the $15 a night the port parking garage charged us.
We woke up the next morning and boarded the Discovery Sun
- the only "ferry" ship left that takes passengers from Ft. Lauderdale to the Grand Bahamas Island in a single day (and returns that evening for day-trippers), ever since the "Cat" closed, which, apparently, only took about 2.5 hours. The trip on the Discovery Sun is about 4 or 5 hours long, and features all the usual amenities of cruise travel, including a buffet meal, entertainment, and free booze, minus a stateroom. Since we're not sleeping on the ship, there's no need to pay for a room, although you can upgrade to one if you want. We chose to rent a locker instead, for our 1-apiece carry-on backpacks.
We got to the island, went through a swift and mostly painless Customs line, boarded a taxi, and headed out for the hotel. It was the same hotel I stayed in the last time, which is more of a condo than a hotel, since they run a timeshare operation out of it. It comes complete with living room, dining room, full kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and balcony with a view of the canals. It's really an incredibly lovely room. We checked in, unpacked, ate dinner at the Friday Night All You Can Eat Italian special meal served there at the hotel, and went to bed relatively early (for us).
The next day, I had to get up to attend a timeshare lecture as part of the contract for getting such a low rate on the rooms ($198 for all 3 of us for 3 nights instead of $219 per night for their off-season price). I showed up, irritated the sales girl for my insistence on wearing sunglasses while sitting on a Bahamas balcony overlooking the very sparkly pool at 9 in the freakin' morning, had eggs and grits on their tab, and then proceeded to get into an argument that got me thrown out.
Here's the thing ... you're not allowed to attend more than one of these sales lectures within 2 years. OK, no problem, I attended one in Tampa
back in Spring or Summer of 2008. That's how I went on the first Bahamas trip. As payment for attending that lecture, I was given a *free* trip to the bahamas. I went in January, 2009. I was supposed to attend another lecture once I got there, but all the tours we booked while still on the ship started at the same time as those lectures did. So I never attended any lectures while on the island in January. I lost my $10 deposit that I was required to put down for the sales presentation (as incentive to get us to show up), but that was worth the price to avoid the stupid lecture. Because we missed the lecture that first morning, the sales people called us later that day, and early the next morning, and later *that* day, and we finally just unplugged the phone and avoided the front lobby. So I never went on a stupid sales presentation in January.
But this time, I went. It had been more than 2 years, after all, since the one in Tampa. So I showed up, but I must have been really frustrating for the sales girl, since I gave her no opening for how to sell me on a timeshare. What good are vacation packages to people who get to travel all over the world for work with all expenses paid and a per diem? OK, I don't, but technically, my work *does* do that, just not for me. What good is a vacation package when you ask someone what they like to do to get away from work, and the reply is "since my work is all travel and people, getting away from work means getting away from travel and people. I just like to sit at home and read when I'm off work."?
Finally, the girl said she was at a loss and went to get her manager. She came back and said "Joreth, why did you lie to me?" "Excuse me?" I asked. "You lied to me." "No I didn't!" I said. "You said you didn't attend a sales presentation within 2 years," she said. "I haven't," I said. "Well, I put your name in the computer and it says you did in January," she accused. "Well I didn't. I was here in January, I told you that, but I never attended any presentation," I said. "Well the computer says you did," she said. We went 'round like this for a few times, each of us getting angrier, before she finally told me she wanted me to come and look at the computer.
So I stood up, fully intending to leave right then and there, and said "I don't care what your computer says, I didn't attend any presentations in January and I'm not going to stand here and be accused of being a liar!" As I started to stomp towards the door, she said, over her shoulder to me "well you know the way out, you can leave!"
Fortunately, I had already gotten my $10 deposit, plus a free breakfast. But it put me in a pissy mood for the rest of the day.
I got back to the room, and datan0de
were awake (barely), so we got ready for our day. We took the shuttle to Port Lucaya, that island's
, er, I mean, tourist village. We wandered around the stalls of "local" (made in Texas and China) knick-knacks and doo-dads for souveniers, and had lunch at the After Deck.
Let me tell you about the After Deck Bar & Grill
. We stopped there for lunch, as it was the first restaurant we found that had something everyone could eat. I don't mind casual attitudes in service personnel, but really, the Bahamas takes it too far. Eventually someone noticed us waiting to be seated and waved vaguely around and said "take a seat anywhere". So we did. Eventually, someone came to take our order. And eventually, our food was brought out.
I asked for the kid's hamburger, not because I wanted the cheaper price (it was only $1 or $2 cheaper than the adult cheeseburger), but because it was the only regular hamburger on the menu. I was prepared for the server to say they couldn't sell it to me because I wasn't a kid, and had my speech "fine, then I'll take the super cheeseburger, with no cheese, no lettuce, no tomato, and no sauce, just the burger and the bun" all ready to go. But she looked at me and said "you're not a kid". I said "no, I'm not", starting to look forward to my prepared speech. datan0de
said "no, but she's tiny like a kid". She frowned at me and then said "OK, I'll do it for you" and went on with the order-taking.
The food wasn't bad. It wasn't anything to write an LJ post about either, but I didn't hate it. I had a burger, and it was ... a burger. After all our glasses had been empty for some time, eventually a server asked us how we were, so we asked for refills.
"We don't usually give refills, but I guess I can this time", she said, sounding like it was a huge imposition (even though she charged for the refills). Not realizing that the islands didn't adhere to the free-refill custom of the States, this was an annoying revelation, and we discussed buying some of the powdered drink mix in the hotel convenient store to bring with us to restaurants to avoid the $2 per glass of soda with every meal.
Eventually, as our plates sat mostly empty and gathering flies, we gave up waiting for our server, and datan0de
flagged down a busboy and handed him 3 $20 bills and a $1 bill. Then we waited for the change. And waited ... and waited.
flagged down yet another person to find out where the change had gone. Our server came back to pointedly frown at us and announce that she had only been given exactly $51, the exact amount of the bill (for lunch for 3 people). We argued back that we didn't, and she argued more that we did. She left, then came back for another round of arguing. She left and came back a third time and handed datan0de
a $10 bill, but continued to yell after us that we only paid $51. We stomped out of there distinctly unhappy, which is not the mindset 2 strongly anti-social introverts should be in when about to engage in shopping.
And the shopping! The Bahamian culture is very odd. It's simultaneously more friendly and less friendly than anywhere I've been in the States. Everyone is an extrovert, everyone wants to strike up a conversation with you, but it takes nothing to turn the conversation hostile. We'd walk past the door to a shop, and the shop owner would be sitting outside and yell at us "C'mon in! It doesn't cost to look!" or "Don't you want a t-shirt to take back with you?" or "What pretty hair! Don't you want it braided?" Any attempt to politely indicate non-interest is immediately attacked: "What's the matter with that shirt? Don't you like it?" No lady, it's your attitude and high-pressure sales I don't like. Penalty: I'm taking my business elsewhere even if I *did* like your damned t-shirt! At least no one tried to touch me.
Most of the shops lost our business that day because of their pressure. The shops were really just stalls, about as big as a flea market stall here in the US, only you walk inside to see stuff hanging from the walls, instead of walking around the outside to look at tables like in a flea market. We'd walk about halfway in, have the proprietor follow us in, crowding us and preventing our escape, and keeping up a steady stream of "Whatcha interested in now? How about a nice t-shirt? Those shot glasses are on sale, 2 for $5 or 1 for $3! What size are ya lookin' for? How about some pretty jewelry for the pretty lady?" Most of the time, we either looked in only and kept walking because of the chatter, or we'd get halfway in only to turn around and leave immediately when we said we were just looking and the sales person wouldn't back off. femetal
even bought something from a particular shop just to reward the lady for not being pushy. I discovered the benefit to "splitting up". Anytime someone started pestering us, they'd ask "whatcha lookin' for?" and we could say "her!" and rush over to whichever of us wasn't nearby. This came in handy on more than one occasion.
We finished our shopping in record time and walked around the marina for a while before deciding to have dinner in town rather than head back to the hotel.
So we chose another restaurant called Zorbas, which featured Greek food, and for which we had a coupon. This was a nice, air conditioned building with good food, but again with the slow service. I knew as soon as we decided to eat in town that we would not make the last shuttle back to the hotel (which was scheduled to leave in a little less than an hour from our decision to eat there). So when we finished eating with about 10 minutes to spare, I was shocked. Then we waited 15 minutes for our check. Then we waited another several minutes for the reciept to sign. Naturally, we missed the shuttle and had to pay for a cab. Since I had assumed we would before dinner, it wasn't that big of a deal, but the frustrating part was that we *could* have made the shuttle, if it weren't for the damned slow service.
On the way back to our room, we were besieged by 4 pitiful cats, who turned their Kryptonite-like powers on me, and I was helpless to escape. datan0de
had to impliment an extraction-and-rescue operation (#DamnParasite), which was eventually successful, although one persistant kitty actually followed us up the 3 flights of stairs and sat at our door. We discovered this when femetal
left the room to hit the wi-fi hotspot at the outdoor bar, only to have to defend the opening from invasion before making her escape. Fortunately, the invader followed her back down the steps, and she lost him as she crossed the parking lot towards the bar.
Finally, we made it back to the hotel, where I sat around watching TV and working on the day's pictures, and femetal
went into the outdoor bar to get online, since that was the only place on the grounds that the wi-fi reached. datan0de
and I tried out the hotel hot tub, and chatted about our time on the island so far. We decided that part of our general annoyance with the vacation was that we weren't really *doing* anything vacation-ey. I mean, we went shopping, but we were there in the Bahamas and we hadn't done anything that couldn't have been done at home, and for cheaper. femetal
's only goal was to get lots of sleep and not use an alarm, so that kind of eliminated several of the touristy activities already, since most of them started early in the morning and the town rolled up its sidewalks around 9 or 10 at night.
We decided to check out what the snorkel/jet ski/parasailing/car/scooter/boat rental place next door had going for it, and if they had anything at all that didn't leave at 9 AM. We thought that maybe if we just did *something*, we'd have a better time. Turns out, that was a great idea!
The next day was supposed to be a hang-around-the-beach-and-pool day, but since I wanted to do something, I set my alarm and got up around 10 to check out the options next door. It turned out that they had a snorkel/glass bottom boat option that would work perfectly for us! For $40 a person, we could take a glass bottom boat out into the sea, and when we got out far enough, we could go snorkeling off the boat. Anyone who wanted to go on the boat but not snorkel could pay $30 for the glass-bottom boat tour by itself. Since femetal
didn't want to go in the water but also didn't want to be left out, this was a great option for us. Plus, it didn't leave until 2 PM, so no waking early for everyone else.
I woke up datan0de
, told him about the tour, and we decided to go ahead and make the reservation. Then, when femetal
woke up, we'd tell her about it, and she could decide to join us or not. Fortunately, she did. So at 1:45, Paradise Watersports
called us to say they did indeed have enough people to give the glass-bottom boat/snorkeling tour and they'd be leaving in 15 minutes. So we hurriedly dressed and arrived only 5 minutes late, filled out the paperwork, paid, and boarded the boat.
Our boat captain, Captian Kirk (yes, really), was friendly, amusing, and knowledgeable. We left the canals, drifted over 2 shipwrecks - 1 accident and 1 on purpose to provide an "artificial environment" for the sealife - and then he handed out the snorkeling equipment for those of us doing so. There were only 3 of us: me, datan0de
, and another shipmate, and I was the first one in the water. Told there was a barracuda in the water who had never attacked a person and preferred to snack on the multitudes of fish that were attracted to the bread thrown over the boat sides, the three of us tracked down the 'cuda and followed him a while to get pictures. We swam and took pictures and swam and took more pictures. I even got a couple of underwater videos! Finally, we were told we had to get back on board and head to shore. It was a great time, and we emerged in a much better mood than the day before.
We finished with our tour in enough time to run back to the room, grab some essentials, and head for the beach. Our hotel was actually right on the beach, so we just walked out onto the sand and went swimming. When it got cold and the sun started to drop, we got out and went walking along the beach at sunset, until we found the same bar I had found last time: Bikini Bottom
- with the swing seats at the bar. Since it was Sunday, it was closed, but we got to sit and swing for a bit before heading back.
We walked back to our hotel in the dark, followed by a trio of playful dogs who disagreed with us on the matter of whether or not they were "ours", rinsed off, and headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner. The service was the same slow service as every other place, but it was at least friendly, and our food was both good and large. I brought half of mine back to the hotel.
I spent the evening working on more pictures, and we turned in relatively early so we could wake up to check out.
Checking out was fairly uneventful, and we stowed our luggage with the porter, and camped out in the hotel outdoor bar to commandeer the only power outlet within reach of guests. First, though, we managed to snap a couple of pictures of us in front of the picturesque pool with waterfall, and on the beach itself. There, we wiled away the time until we had to leave for the port.
We collected our luggage, the porter hailed a cab, and we drove off. When we arrived, the cabbie informed us that the $5 per person that we had been charged all weekend, was only if there were 6 people in the cab (which was not what the cabbie told us the night we took the taxi from Port Lucaya back to the hotel after missing the last shuttle after dinner). Rather than argue, we paid the extra fee, went back through the lax customs office, and boarded the ship. The breeze was much softer this time than on Friday, and the temperature was much warmer. We wandered the ship until sunset, and then watched the sun set into the watery horizon before heading to dinner, where we attacked the buffet line again. Then we split up - I went into the Game Room to snag a power outlet and work on more pictures, femetal
went to "her spot" on the fore deck, and datan0de
went back to the complimentary bar.
Several hours later, we gathered again at the foredeck to take pictures of coming into port, then piled into the Starlight Lounge, where all passengers are herded until our color-coded ticket is called to debark, then ushered into the US customs line, which was much longer and much slower. They had only 1 officer to check all US residents and 1 officer to check non-residents, as opposed to the Bahamas customs, which had several people and several lines to hurry things along. datan0de
was told that he wasn't allowed to use his cell phone, on which he was playing video games to pass the time.
Finally, it was my turn. The officer asked me questions about my trip without seeming too interested in the answers, stamped my paperwork, and motioned me aside. I scooted over and waited for my companions, but was quickly approached by a frowning uniformed officer who told me I could not stand there and wait for my party. So I went outside where she insisted I had to wait, only to be yelled at by the officer guarding the door that I couldn't block it. So I moved my bags over the foot required to not block the 9-foot sliding door, when the officer said "no, you have to wait over there", pointing towards the other side of the door where all the other passengers were currently waiting for shuttles, cabs, or their rides. datan0de
were about 10 yards behind the officer, and I had had enough by then, so I stood there and argued with him about how the people I was waiting for were "right there" and getting closer (since, y'know, they were *also* leaving the customs area). I figured I could argue with him long enough to let the others catch up, and it would take so little time that we'd be done arguing before the cop got tired enough to do something about me. I was right.
So we found the car in the parking garage and started the long drive back to Central Florida, since datan0de
had to work the next morning. By this time, it was around 11 PM. I nodded off in the car, like I tend to do, but we arrived back at my place around 2-ish. femetal
made great time! I got my stuff unloaded and into the house without incident, kissed datan0de
goodbye, and was just about to flop into bed without unpacking, when my cat chose that moment to most clearly explain how she felt about my vacation ... by pissing on my memory-foam pillow.
So I had to throw her out of the room, strip the bed (since it dripped onto the sheets when I threw the pillow off), and do some laundry before the stain and smell set. Cleaning pillows that can't be put in the washing machine SUCKS, and takes a day or two to dry. I got one of my guest pillows out, drenched my good pillow in urine-removing (supposedly) spray, and collapsed on the bare mattress.
All in all, I'd say I had a good vacation, other than the slow service. I had a good *enough* time that I'd be willing to go back again, but next time I think I'd rather try Nassau. Maybe, in the capital city, the people there will be more accustomed to Americans, and our hurry-hurry-rush-rush attitude and penchent for nightlife that just gets started around 10 PM instead of closing down at 10 PM. Since I overheard one of the locals telling another local how she had just gotten back from Nassau, and it was a "crazy town, it's the Wild Wild West over t'ere!", I have hopes for a better experience of the culture while still getting to enjoy the sun, sand, and water that the Caribbean is known for.
More pictures at http://www.theinnbetween.net/bahamas2010.html