Aboard the Silver Spirit, Day 5: Wednesday, November 17
Kenneth and the Australians sounds like a 60’s pop band that would have opened for Herman and the Hermits, but it’s actually the people I had dinner with Tuesday night. I happened to meet the eponymous Kenneth the first hour I was aboard ship last Saturday when we were both looking for an afternoon snack and arrived at the Pool Grill at the same time. Kenneth is probably mid-40’s, a nice looking guy with a haircut that slightly resembles a porcupine’s, and he’s got the engaging upbeat quality that makes Australians so engaging. He and his entourage– frequent Silversea’ers all– are coming off a trip to Cuba where they attended an international ballet festival. Last night he was kind enough to take mercy on me as I was sitting alone in the Observation Lounge and invited me to join them. I guess I may not have noticed in the past, but Australian accents become harder to understand the more you (or they) drink, so a good portion of the time I felt as though I were listening to Russians. Anyway, they were a nice group of charming people and we passed the evening pleasantly.
In a recent email, Alison comments that my missives don’t say a whole lot about activities. That’s because the Events people have cancelled my first two planned activities—Whale Watching on Day 2 and a “Fun ‘n Fast Boat” to circumnavigate the island on Day 4— not informing me of the cancellations until the morning of the planned event, and then the activities that still had room didn’t appeal. (I’ve got one to go, a sailing outing on the America’s Cup boat Regatta in St. Maarten.) So, I’ve had to improvise with self-designed tours of the destinations, mixed in with a nice amount of reading and a little pool time. All in all, not necessarily “active” enough for the peripatetic me, but okay.
Not that it’s all fun and games. I have rather grueling a Italian lesson each day from 4:00 to 4:30 with Professora Carla, a stickler on correct Italian pronunciation despite the fact that she’s Brazilian. Lesson One dealt with pronunciation (Roll those R’s! Let’s all pretend we’re sitting on our Harley Davidsons. Rrrrrrrmmm, rrrrrmmm, rrrrmmm!) and all the “must know” words and phrases (Hello.. goodbye…etc.), Lesson Two with concepts like big/small, open/closed, et al.. (I cut Lesson Three, but she gives us make-up lessons if we want.) Happy to report that, according to Carla, whom I saw at Bingo, in comparison to my lackluster classmates I’m nearly fluent.
And Alison asks if I’m having fun. Well, yeah, I am. Not raucous, side-splitting fun, because the people on the Spirit are a more homogenous group of well-heeled country club types whose lives don’t seem to be as full of the idiosyncracies and jaw-dropping quirks as the Solstice crowd. It’s a tamer, saner group. So, as noted above, this is a “pleasant” fun. My favorite time of day is morning as we coast into a new port, where the pleasure is the anticipation of a new place to explore and a new serving of corned beef hash (one of the best dishes on the ship) for breakfast. The experience has been very enjoyable, albeit maybe a tad lengthy. I don’t know if I’m cut out for anything longer than a seven-day cruise, as the repetitiveness and the sameness of the venues begins to get to me. But I’m doing fine.
. . .
And then (today, Wednesday) came St, Bart’s, which ended up being one of my best days ever. Anytime. Anywhere.
For years and years and years I’ve heard about St. Bart’s. I’d heard about it from an old bon vivant college friend named Tim Bouscaren (a faux Frenchman who used to claim that his family spoke French around the house), who came here every year. And from our Sharon, CT pals Graham Klemm and Matt Lynn, who jetset the world and make it an annual stop. I must not have been paying close enough attention, because this place was never on my radar as a “must”. Big mistake.
This is a stunning place, a gorgeous place, a spectacular place…the prettiest island I’ve ever been to. Devoid of the junky shacks and tenements that scar so many Caribbean islands, it’s an almost Disneyesque version of what the perfect place should look like, sort of a Caribbean version of Maui, La Jolla, Cap Ferrat. Hundreds and hundreds of beautiful villas dot the tall hillsides that trundle down to a ring of perfect beaches.
People who know me make fun of my use of superlatives, especially in connection with recent discoveries, but I state here and now that St. Bart’s has to be ranked among the top five places in the world.
At this island we are required to anchor off shore—a real benefit since the distance “frames” the island– and use tenders to the mainland. Today I rented a car from Cool Auto Rental (they pick you up at a currency exchange in town and drive you to the parking lot of a KFC to pick up your car), which provided me with a tiny little Kia Picanto (French for “little hottie”?) with a Toro lawnmower engine, which I used to tour the island extensively and visit some of St. Bart’s renowned 5-star resorts, among them Guanahani, Le Toiny, Eden Roc, and the newest and my personal recommendation, the most spectacular hotel here—the Il de France. This is a gorgeous property set smack dab on a private beach and featuring fresh, bright and airy rooms and an overall ultra-luxury atmosphere. I also had time during my grand tour to make stops at two of the beautiful public beaches on the island; not usually a “beach guy,” I really enjoyed them. Adding to the adventure was the presence of hundreds of crazy French drivers racing along the rough, narrow roads at breakneck speeds, driving on sidewalks (saw it twice), and tailgaiting so brutally I had to pull over about two dozen times.
THE place to eat in St. Bart’s is Maya’s, famous for its creative seafood dishes (to put this into perspective, it happens to be P Diddy’s favorite restaurant in the Caribbean). Although Maya only works her magic at night., she does, however, operate an informal little picnicky roadside café called Maya’s To Go, misnamed because practically everyone eats right on the tables and wooden benches outside, where I had a delicious lunch consisting of lime-marinate shrimp skewer and a cold cucumber-with-pepper-with-octopus salad.. Perhaps more important, St. Bart’s is the exclusive home to the one-and-only JoJo Burger, where a cheeseburger comparable to a Wendy’s is priced at 12 Euros (about $15…ouch!)
A triple check mark for St. Bart’s, which will definitely become a return destination.
. . .
As you may have discerned, I write these entries late afternoon at poolside, recapitulating the events of the night before and then continuing on with that day’s activities (in the interest of coherence, I don’t write anything after cocktail hour), then send it out to you the next morning. Editing, but not adding to the report.
But today (Day 6 now) merits a special early morning exception. I awoke early to watch us sail into port in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, only to look out my veranda door and discover that we are docked next to…you won’t believe this…THE SOLSTICE!!! I walk out onto the veranda and look over at my old friend, a veritable leviathan parked next to our relatively shark-size Spirit. Mirabile dictu, up on the top deck of the Solstice, I spot the Captain and crew waving at me and yelling, “Come back, Joe! We miss you!” I can only smile and call back to them: “Sorry, fellas, next time!”