On December 1, 2019, our first full day at sea, with the ship keeling and my stomach churning, I couldn’t wait to get back on land. Twelve days later, I didn’t want the ocean crossing to end. Sure, I was looking forward to the Caribbean island hopping for the second part of the cruise, but I’d come to love our quiet routine on the MSY Windstar.
We’d made friends, the staff was beyond amazing, and the food and drinks were superb. The boat was majestic and charming. And after the near constancy of being on the go in France, Spain, and Portugal the last three months, our backpacks had been stowed away for nearly two weeks and we felt at home.
One of the biggest reasons why we decided to sail back from Europe instead of fly, is that we wanted the extra time to process our amazing adventure we’d just had.
When we first boarded the ship in Lisbon, I was viewing the upcoming experience as something entirely separate from the one that preceded it. I was going to deeply ponder leaving Hawaii and starting our journey in San Francisco, then exploring Paris, moving onto backpacking 550 miles on the Camino de Santiago, and finally finishing up with our travels in Portugal. I figured at sea I’d disconnect from what had come before and look at the last 3 months objectively.
But our time on the Windstar had become part of this same journey. It’s impossible to look back and reflect on a life-changing trip when you’re still in the middle of it.
As we neared landfall, I couldn’t remember the names of any of the Caribbean countries we would be visiting.
This was not the norm for me. Before any trip, I take great pleasure in getting to know the history, culture, and attractions of where I will be exploring. I thought I would research them while we were at sea, but it never happened. Either we were too busy socializing, lounging on the boat, or I had been writing.
Just where were we going? A few hours before reaching port, I pulled the itinerary up on my phone:
- 12/13 St. John’s, Antigua
- 12/14 Philipsburg, St. Maarten
- 12/15 Charlestown, Nevis
- 12/16 Roseau, Dominica
- 12/17 Pigeon island, St. Lucia
- 12/18 Les Saintes, Guadeloupe
- 12/19 Gustavia, St. Barthelemy
- 12/20 Basseterre, St. Kitts
- 12/21 Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Wow . . . it seemed overwhelming after staring out at the ocean for nearly two weeks.
In a sense, however, it was like the Camino, in that each day brought a new town to explore. But the big difference is that it wasn’t towns, but whole island nations we would be visiting. While some were small, most you would need days instead of hours to explore.
December 13, 2019
St. John’s, Antigua
When I first saw the name St. John’s on the itinerary, I thought it was the island next to St. Thomas where I had gone in 2007. The gorgeous views of Cinnamon Bay, the tasty rum punches at the Quiet Mon Pub, snorkeling with sea turtles and driving on the left. But no … we were docking in the town of St. John in Antigua, and I didn’t know a thing about it.
There was a palpable buzz at breakfast that morning, and everyone was talking about our impending arrival into port. For many on the ship, the end of the cruise was near (they would have Antigua and then finish their journey tomorrow in St. Maarten). But for J’Nell and I, this would be stop one of nine.
I have to admit, sighting land that morning was thrilling after so long at sea. But part of me didn’t want to get off the boat. It was going to be strange not only to be away from the ocean, but also to be in a different part of the world. We’d spent three months in Europe and had somewhat acclimated to that culture … this was going to be completely distinct.
That morning we did a bit of research on the town of St. John’s, but it seemed like most of the cool things to do on Antigua were far away from where we were docking. Unfortunately, we’d only be exploring a few square miles from the ship. But I knew J’Nell and I would find a way to make the best of it.
But first . . . getting off the boat and walking on land induced an inverted seasickness. I felt wobbly, and then getting dropped into a place teeming with both tourists and locals made it even more disorientating. The sidewalks seemed a bit too elevated from the road, and I almost face planted crossing the street.
We walked up the hill to St. John’s Cathedral, it’s twin baroque towers from 1845 beckoning us to take a closer look. I still felt dazed from not having the constant motion of the boat, and when we walked back down and saw a museum, I knew we had to go inside. It was extremely humid without any breeze, and the advertised air-conditioning seemed like a magical elixir.
The place was small, but had some nice artifacts and gave some of the history of the island (that 2 years later I unfortunately cannot remember). But it was quiet and cool and a good place to reacclimate to being on land.
We had lunch at a place called Hemingway’s (I’m not sure he ever visited this island, but I’m a sucker for anything related to Papa) with a couple of local Wadadli beers, and then ambled more about the island close to the shore. There was a street market going on and lots of people out and about, and we found one more place for a cocktail before heading back to the boat.
If this were a two-week vacation from work, the experience would have been a lot different. I know J’Nell and I would have planned fun things to do in every port of call. But that wasn’t our reality. We’d been travelling for over 3 months and this cruise was a spontaneous addition to our adventure, and I was going to soak it all in regardless of whether it was exciting or mundane.
December 14, 2019
Philipsburg, St. Maarten
For some of our new friends, this was the end of their cruise. This included a few of the wonderful staff we’d come to know and love, and one gentleman who was a breakfast service captain (I knew his name back then, but it’s escaped me now) gave us a hug after we left the ship. J’Nell and I were glad we still had another week, and we were going to enjoy St. Maarten the best we could.
But like Antiqua, we didn’t really have much planned.
The night before I’d read about the Yoda Museum, and that was the only thing on my list. Not a big interest to J’Nell, she decided to amble around town while I embraced my inner Star Wars geekdom. I’m so glad I went. Officially called “That Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit”, it is Nick Maley’s (a brilliant special effects artist) paean not only to his essential contributions to Yoda and Star Wars, but to his decades work in film. I also got to meet him, and he was a very nice guy.
J’Nell had found her way to a seaside bar, and I rendezvoused with her for a much-needed rum punch. We then went to another place where we ordered a bucket of beers to enjoy on the sand in our lounge chairs. We went for a swim, had a few more drinks, and then got back to the ship just before the all-aboard horn.
The new passengers had arrived, and we were looking forward to meeting them and starting the second part of our Caribbean adventure.