Travels with SACCO: Friendship, Memory and a Caribbean Cruise Holiday.

Antigua
Travels with SACCO: Friendship, Memory and a Caribbean Cruise Holiday.
A cruise on board The Caribbean Princess proved memorable for George Brown. Photograph by George Brown

'Old homes, churches and schools were visited, friendships were renewed, memories shared or silently recounted…’ 

It was always a dream of mine to visit all the island of the Caribbean. How I visited the islands wasn’t a concern, but when would be the right moment was. I had visited Tobago, Cuba and the Dominican Republic but the English-speaking Caribbean was my number one wish. Over the years, the opportunity eluded me, but suddenly this became a reality, and on Thursday 24th of January 2019 I landed in the USA two days before departure on my Caribbean cruise to visit friends, and the families of friends, in the Caribbean.  

The cruise was the Circle Caribbean visiting 8 islands on the aptly named ship, the Caribbean Princess. The route included the Eastern Caribbean island of St Thomas, a part of the US Virgin Islands. The other islands visited were a part of what’s termed the Southern Caribbean and included:

1.    Antigua
2.    St Kitts
3.    Martinique (French)
4.    Barbados
5.    Trinidad 
6.    Curacao (Dutch)
7.    Aruba (Dutch)

The cruise was a really enjoyable experience, and a typical “At Sea Day” is outlined below:

Refreshing Morning
8:30 – 11.30 – Bible Study/Sunday service (half-hour unhosted, then an interdenominational Sunday Worship Service) and included 19 activities.   

Relaxing Afternoon
Noon – 4:30pm included 29 different activities.

Enchanting Evening 
Fairly packed and normally included 30 activities, including a major entertainment event in the appropriately named Princess Theatre.

Needless to say, with such a packed programme there was something for everyone. On the days that we were docked at a port we were given Port Guides for the port of call. Those who had booked shore tours were guided to the appropriate tour; the more adventurous searched out the various competing companies offering the same tours at reduced prices. The difference between the bookings is that tours booked through the ships booking process were guaranteed to get you back to the ship on time, and if delayed the ship’s captain would be obliged to wait until you were returned. Privately booked tours had no such guarantee. However, the tour operators were all well- versed with the procedures and are subject to the same risks, and I don’t recall hearing of any defaulting on returning their customers at the pre-arranged time for the ship’s departure. 

We were met by individuals, family members or friends as pre-arranged at different islands. In each instance there was a tour bus or taxi arranged with the added personal touch of being joined by family members on our tours, or trips which included visits to families. Whatever arrangements were made, and a group went on their prearranged tour, we usually met up before boarding time. This was usually at least one-hour before the ship’s departure. 

A number of the group were born on one of the islands, married to someone from one of the islands, or had lived on a number of those islands at some time or another; others were from a totally different island or country e.g. Guyana. This made the trip particularly special. 

Old homes, churches and schools were visited, friendships renewed, relatives found, memories shared or silently recounted. On each island we enjoyed the uniqueness and similarity of the beauty of their landscapes, beaches flowers, fauna, fruits and friendliness of the people. All in all, the shores of each island were left with additional fond memories that would last us a long time.

Surprisingly there were a lot of older folks on the ship and it included a number of wheelchair users. Some were on their 60th cruise! Others were on the ship for a month or more and still had another whole month to go. No doubt you’ve heard stories of people who live on these ships because they are lonely and have no one at home. Well, it’s true. There was a lady on the ship who told a member of our group, “where else can I get to meet a new friend every day and have all I want to do, have all my meals prepared, my room cleaned and my bed made up in the morning and turned back at night?”

So, what made the cruise most enjoyable? Was it the mixture of not having any chores, the freedom to relax and enjoy the many people from the different nationalities and countries, the variety of available events, the sea breeze? The abundance, endless supply, and variety of food – although with the exception that for a Caribbean cruise there was a distinct lack of Caribbean food…?

Of paramount importance to me was the chance to “fleetingly” see so many islands of the Caribbean, to meet up with friends in the homes and places from which they came. Fourteen of us were able to see the beginning of the story of a few of us, see the homes and places so often spoken of. However, we were only able to use our imagination to envisage the place they talked about.  We were able to enjoy each other’s company, linking up and interacting as if we had not parted.  

All in all, my 14 nights on the cruise was most enjoyable and memorable. I arrived home satisfied with the time spent, and plans being put together for the next trip.