Our first full day at sea, one in which we spent exactly zero time on land, began very lazily. We slept in, ordered room service for breakfast, put on our fancy hats we bought in Key West, and then decided to chill out near the pool. Word of advice for anyone hoping to sit pool-side: go early.
By the time we made it to the pool deck, the chairs were mostly full and we had to head up a few decks to find two seats. They try to limit the amount of time you can have just your towel on a seat, but even so, this was the closest we could get.
It was ridiculously hot out, but we sat there long enough to have a drink each, and for me to take a ride on the water slide. It was actually quite fun, even if I didn’t go very fast.
The rest of our day was mostly spent lounging around. We found a bit of shade on another deck and read for awhile before returning to our room to get ready for dinner. Brit and I had been content to just meet up with my dad and Judy at the regular dining room for the entirety of the cruise, but they insisted on treating us to dinner at the on-board steak house.
Our dinner at the steakhouse was – in a word – delicious. It was one of my favorite meals of the cruise – mind you, the food was excellent for the entirety of our trip. The extra cost and the requirement of making a reservation ahead of time were both more than worth it for the experience.
After dinner, we headed back to our room to change, where we were met with the cutest towel buddy we had received yet.
I would seriously love to recreate this one day.
The four of us met up again to attend the ship’s Hasbro: The Game Show, and I think we all had an even better time than we were expecting to. Our cruise director pulled up members of the audience to compete in two Hasbro games, with the result being an hour of laughter and friendly competition.
One thing I was unprepared for was just how much walking I would do on the cruise ship. Typically, people tend to gain a few pounds during a cruise, due to the abundance of free food offered around the clock. With all the walking we did, though, I’m pretty sure Brit and I managed to hold the pounds at bay.
After Hasbro was over, Brit and I were once again treading our familiar paths around the ship, when something happened to remind us that we were smack dab in the middle of the Caribbean – an instant rain storm hit while we were outside.
We were drenched in a matter of seconds, and made it inside in time to watch deck chairs sliding down the deck. Normally, it’s hard to feel the cruise ship moving, but that night it was no problem at all.
The visit from the storm had us worried about the weather we would face in Grand Cayman – our port the next day – but our worries were all for naught; we awoke to a cloudy sky which slowly transitioned into a stunning, clear day.
The only downside was that the waves were a little higher than we had hoped for, given that we were about to get up close and personal with stingrays on a little stretch of sand known as Stingray City.
Our first experience related to this tour was a ride on a tender. In Grand Cayman, the waters are too shallow to allow cruise ships to dock close, so small boats known as tenders ferry the passengers back and forth. It was an opportunity to get a different sort of look at our massive ship towering over us.
Our tender dropped us off in the main touristy area of port, where we met up with our group, boarded a bus, and headed out to the catamaran we would spend our excursion on. If you’re planning a trip to Grand Cayman, don’t be surprised when you discover they drive on the left side of the road, as it is British territory.
We didn’t have a chance to see much of Grand Cayman, the largest of the three Cayman Islands, as we bussed out to the catamaran, but I saw enough to know it seems like a diverse place to live.
Stingray City began with fisherman cleaning their catches and dumping unused meat into the shallow waters. Nearby stingrays associated the sounds of approaching boats with food, and are now part of one of the most highly-anticipated excursions available in the Caribbean.
Our excursion time was so early that we arrived to a fairly empty sandbar, and had a lot of quality time with the stingrays before too many other boats arrived.
I’ll admit I was slightly nervous about getting into the water with them. The waves were pretty strong from the storm the night prior, and kept knocking me over. I wasn’t overly worried I’d get stung, as stingrays are actually far more harmless than people think, but I was worried about inadvertently stepping on one after losing my balance.
After five minutes in the water with them, all my worries melted away.
These amazing creatures swim around and between people effortlessly, brushing against you before moving on, in much the same way my cats do. They’re smooth, gentle, and as long as you respect them, and pay attention to what the guides are telling you, you have nothing to fear.
The stingray in the photo above was named Brownie by our guide (also above). Apparently, Brownie loves her and is content to just relax in the guide’s arms the entire time she’s in the water.
Stingrays also enjoy giving kisses to people who make kissing noises, and all seem to share an ecstatic excitement about chest hair.
All too soon it was time to start heading back on board the Allura. I got to take a few quick seconds to hold Brownie, and though a guide was trying to impatiently pull her away from me, it was a very unique moment.
Remember the relatively empty waters in our arrival shot? This was what they looked like as we left, even as more boats were sailing in.
The excursion time slot after ours – on the same catamaran and with the same guides – was more than double the amount of people ours had. Going early was even more of a blessing than we ever imagined it would be, and was one of the things that made this experience an unforgettable adventure.
I couldn’t have asked for a more exhilarating way to spend the morning. Everything was perfect, from the catamaran sailing to the experience with the stingrays. Everything except one thing….
For the last ten or so minutes spent in the water and leaving Stingray City, my camera was refusing to function properly. It would shut off unexpectedly, refuse to take pictures, and refuse to turn on. I tried swapping the battery for a different one I had with me, but no change was made. About halfway back to Grand Cayman, it flat out didn’t turn on no matter how many times I pressed the button.
I recognize that I was in a location I had never been to – one that I’m also not certain I’ll ever return to – and that in the grand scheme of things it’s just a camera, but anyone who knows me will attest to just how much I love taking pictures. I can handle it if I don’t have my cell phone or the internet, but going without a camera felt wrong on so many levels.
We arrived back in the main port area, and though we wandered aimlessly for a little while, my heart wasn’t in it. I was dejected about my camera, and was praying it was just overheated from the day. Sadly, that was not the case, and I suspect the truth might be that the camera was somehow internally damaged by blowing sand during my South Africa trip the year before, causing something to malfunction when I took it under water again (this was the first time since my South Africa trip).
During dinner, we filled my dad and Judy in our on our day, culminating in my deep personal loss and how devastated I was. My dad then surprised me and offered after dinner to take me to the on-board camera shop (a place I was headed to straight after dinner anyway) to purchase another camera for me as an early Christmas gift. I practically skipped my way to the desk and eagerly picked out a beautiful green Fuji FinePix, which is also an underwater camera, and which happens to be a more updated version of the camera I had lost.
My spirits renewed, Brit and I headed out to the Welcome Aboard deck party and had an amazing night to finish off an exhilarating but emotional day.
Have you been to Stingray City? Have you suffered the loss of a camera and felt emotionally devastated by it?