I'll share my most vivid cruising memory with the forum in hopes of stirring all of you to bring to mind your most vivid cruising memories too.
I took a 10 day Southern Caribbeam cruise on the NCL Gem in March 2019. Our very first port was San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a late visit. 3pm to 10pm.
Finally not being solo, a miracle of miracles, I decided to check off an item on my list and do a "tandem kayak and bioluminescent bay tour".
A bit of background. I'm of average fitness, barely clinging onto my 30s, and kayak often in lakes. I booked through NCL, which I almost never do. I can usually find local attractions on my own easy enough. Gosh, I'm glad I did! This excursion was the marine equivalent of 40 years schlepping through the desert! Get your life preservers on for ride.
I should have figured, this tour had all the hallmarks. The three little people walking logo under activity level, the time it started was 315 and the time ended was 9:45, 15 minutes in either direction of our port visit, and to the word "brisk" mentioned several times in the description. But, I figured I have done similar activity and I'm not quite yet ready to hang my adventure hat up.
The tour bus is waiting for us as we disembarked. It was a regular size School Bus and there where exactly 10 of us on the tour. We were absolutely hustled on, air conditioning blasting, which felt really good as it was still sweltering in the Sun and we were all in our bathing suits as instructed by the tour description. Off we went for a short ride through the Puerto Rican countryside. Well, it wasn't really short. It turned out to be almost 2 hours with traffic. Surveying the other victims, the age ranges were a husband and wife similar in age to me and their two children who were young teenagers. Quite a few people who must have been in their 50s or 60s I imagine and the rest in their 20s.
As we finally pulled up, very close to 5:30, the bright warm sunshine has faded away into the very beginning of dusk. A stiff nreeze was blowing on shore and we were looking at a vast ocean bay with a chop. Lined up were 6 bright yellow tandem kayaks, paddles, life jackets, and safety gear. We all signed the requisite if you kill me it's not your fault forum. Received instructions that we were going to paddle across this vast bay to the third opening in the mangrove swamp and turn left. Another clue should have been they sprayed each of us pretty heavily with bug spray and gave us each a safety whistle. Paddling across that bay with a fading sunlight wasn't too difficult. Heading into the breeze was a bit challenging as was synchronizing your strokes with your partner. After we dodged several moored sail boats that had to have been at least 40 ft in length and made it closer to the mangroves it became quite dark and it was a bit challenging to tell what was an opening between two mangroves and what was just a split in the roots of 1 mangrove tree. Wishing I was 10 years younger, so I could actually see something again, we went for it. Somehow, we guessed it right and our guide was up ahead. He said rather calmly that we're going to paddle about 6 miles through the mangrove swamp and when we come out we will be at our destination. He advised us that it's going to be dark in there as light doesn't really penetrate through the foliage, we will be going against the current, there will be other groups of both kayakers and small motor boats coming in both directions, and there will be bugs of all shapes and sizes paying us a visit. He said but we are going to have fun. I do believe that was the only audible chuckle I heard from our group the rest of the evening. I took the whistle which you were to blow if you got lost and somehow he would find you and started the sojourn through the mangroves. At first the sea air must have been with us. I was wondering he you thought we were just a bunch of soft tourists who couldn't handle the stray mosquito or a bit of exertion. I changed my mind rather quickly on that front when I saw this terrifyingly large beetle looking bug land on my forearm and then a smaller looking bug landed next to it with a few mosquitoes thrown in for good measure. After I nearly became one of those soft tourists and paddled my way out of there, I composed myself enough to swat them away and paddle just a little bit faster. At this time it had to have been close to 7:30. We were about halfway through the initial 6-mile paddle in and the smell of the mangrove swamp was indescribably putrid. I'm from New England and I have smelled my fair share of fishing ports but this was like magnified twice! Mix that with the constant assault from every single bug species in Puerto Rico, utter and complete darkness, a group of people who quite frankly had no idea what we were doing, and various other groups of people coming in the opposite direction, who also had no idea what they were doing. It devolved into a cluster of about 40 kayaks and paddles, bouncing off one another for 2 hours whilst fending off attacks by bugs.
With Herculean effort by all, our 40 years was up we thought. Arriving at the promised land of bioluminescent Bay. The 2 hours we spent paddling around where indeed one of the highlights of my life. Breathtakingly beautiful under the tropical moon.
The guide said on the way back it would be a little bit easier as we're going with the tide. He said the darkness and the bugs will be worse however. And on that bright spot we continued Our Journey part 2. The same bugs were eager to see us again, the same stench permeated our noses, and now even bigger power boats were whizzing by us uncomfortably close in the dark.
When we saw the light at the end of the swamp we realized then we had to travel across that vast bay avoiding the darked sailboats and their spider web of a lines. With arms absolutely aching, legs cramped, and backs screaming we paddled across Back Bay getting very close to several sailboats we simply couldn't see and shouted Land Ho when we finally saw the beach. If I've ever felt like an immigrant it was at that moment when a muddy, stinking, curled up, wretch of a human washed ashore so inelegantly on the beach that night.
There was no Fanfare to meet us back the guide simply told us to get back on the bus as quickly as possible as we were running late. The two-hour ride back was certainly quiet. 10 exhausted masses of people stenching like the very swamp they were in 4 hours. Welted from head to toe with various bug bites. Surely I can say now I've caught a 1920s disease. I suppose another one to check off my list. They offered us refreshments, not a soul stirred from their seat.
To tour guide said not to worry he has been in communication with the ship saying we were going to be very late indeed. I kept thinking about being so careful in the past to allow myself several hours before departure. This certainly isn't my first rodeo. And I wondered will they really hold a ship up for 10 people.
My question was answered shortly after 11:30 when we pulled into port and I saw the bright lights of the ship blazing like a beacon on the shore. The Glorious lights. How I would have yearned for one in the swamp just a few hours ago. We hand to the tour guide whenever money was in our wallet. I'm still not quite sure how much that was. It didn't matter he brought us home. We file out of the bus. What a sight we must have been. The people on their balconies still up at that late hour are shouting to us welcome back you must be the 10 passengers we are all waiting for. We go through the security scanner there is an officer just beyond him. He shakes our hand and said see, I told you we will wait. He said you're awfully lucky this is a Norwegian tour, if this was any other tour we won't have left hours ago.
We were definitely starving, cold, wet, itchy, and sore. Our clothing certainly wasn't the same color as when we left any longer. I was very grateful for a hot shower that night and the largest breakfast at sea I've ever had the next morning!
That, was my most memorable time on a cruise. I hope that when we all can cruise again, you all have memorable moments that you cherish as much as I have.