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SailorJack

Our Ride on the Star…will we do it again anytime soon? You GOT to be kidding!

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Preparing for this 18 day cruise proved to be an adventure in itself. Our last step in the process was arranging for air travel to Rio. After exhaustive research (I checked Kayak) we booked our travel with Copa Airline and Lawn Care Company – the national airline of the little known island nation of Santa Rosarita. Getting the tickets was a little frustrating as the reservation agent spoke only Spanish, but I managed to get a great rate that included my flight to Rio and, from what I could understand, two Weed and Feed applications for my front lawn.

In making the reservations with Copa I was informed that I could not bring more than 32 Kilos with me. Now to be perfectly frank with you, I had no idea what a Kilo was – other than it is something that is apparently brought into Miami on really fast speedboats – nor did I understand why I would want to take 32 of them to Brazil.

Well, as it turned out, “Kilo” is apparently Portuguese for “pounds” – who knew? So I now had to weigh my clothes and limit my wardrobe to ensure that I would not have to pay excess baggage fees. Have you ever tried to weigh a pair of socks on a bathroom scale? In the end, I just crammed everything I had into my suitcase, put it on the scale and then started discarding stuff until I hit the magic number. God only knows what I wound up with, but I’ll cross that bridge once aboard.

At the airport, the boarding process, at best, was an organized disaster. While they tried to board passengers by seating zone on the aircraft (a converted DC-3 crop duster, I think) everyone was crowding in and carrying everything from the kitchen sink to the proverbial squawking chickens in bamboo cages. Concerned that we would not get any overhead storage on such a long flight, I told SailorJill to jump the line ahead of our zone. I might as well have suggested to her that we stick up a 7-11. “I won’t do that, Jack. It wouldn’t be right!” Finally, over her strongest objections, I succeeded in getting her to jump into line ahead of our designated seating sequence – at which time a gate agent pointed at her and demanded her boarding card. With only the whites of her eyes showing, SailorJill turned to me and said, “They’ve caught us Jack, and we’re going to do hard time!”

But miraculously, and for reasons unbeknownst to us to this day, he took both our boarding cards and upgraded us to first class. Thus our South American adventure began not with a whimper, but with a glass of champagne and a bowl of warm roasted nuts.

After a night of flying we arrived in Rio and discovered that SailorJill’s checked bag was missing. As it contained most of her clothes, cosmetics, shoes, and other related items for an 18 day cruise, I could tell that she was extremely stressed. While she tried to maintain a positive attitude about it, I think she had mentally written off any hope of recovering her bag before we sailed. I tried to rally her spirits by suggesting that some baggage handler had simply put her bag on the wrong plane and that it would eventually show up, but from her comments, it was clear that she did not hold Copa Airline and Lawn Care baggage handlers in high esteem.

Still clearly upset, we caught a cab for the Sheraton Resort and Hotel in Leblon (next to Ipanema), took a short nap, and then headed out to explore the fabled beaches of Rio on a glorious early fall afternoon.

Our first stop is the famous beach of Copacabana. As we walk along the beach, the warm sand curling up between our toes, I see ample evidence that we are not the only people who packed lightly to avoid excess airline baggage fees. Almost all of the women, striving to pack only the barest of necessities, have apparently packed G-strings in lieu of bathing suits! The beach is a veritable plethora of bare bouncing bottoms as people run, play volleyball and splash in the surf. As I mention this to SailorJill, she points out that, judging by the deep tans, most of these girls are Brazilian and the tiny thong bikinis have nothing to do with judicious packing. Brazilian men and women are extremely proud of their bodies, she states, and are not shy about wearing the absolute minimum to the beach. Even the men flirting with the coquettish young girls were wearing only the briefest of Speedo suits.

Once again I am struck by the depths of my own naiveté. Such a lack of international cultural knowledge can only come from being raised in a sterile and remote environment – such as one run by Carmelite nuns in an ancient monastery sequestered in the deepest depths of a remote and hidden valley in the furthest reaches of the rugged Himalayas – or, as in my case - Canada.

As a result of SailorJill’s insight I am forced to reassess the dynamics of the “boy meets girl” interaction on the beach. It is amazing how some things suddenly become so clear. I remember being somewhat taken aback when I read in USA Today that the Brazilian government would be distributing (for free) 55 million little packs of salt and pepper during Mari Gras. I now suspect that I may have possibly misunderstood the announcement and it actually had nothing to do with Condoments at all – but something entirely different! Maybe this is why Marti Gras is such a cathartic ritual in Rio – for two exciting weeks it allows people from all walks of life to forget their troubles and revel in the heady atmosphere of Carnival and experience the simple joy of being with each other - apparently at the rate of 27.5 million times a week.

Our second stop is Ipanema - the beach made famous by the song written by Antonio Carlos Jobim - “The Girl from Ipanema,” which won a Grammy for best song of the year in 1965. This beach is even more idyllic than Copacabana, and is the trend setting beach in Rio. It is from this beach, according to people who know, that the tanga, or tiny thong bikini, originated. Finding a nice bar, we order two very cold Caipirinhas – the traditional drink of Brazil – and luxuriate in the ambiance that is Rio. [/color]

Please Note: A Caipirinha is made using cachaça, a potent sugarcane based liquor that is the most popular liquor in Brazil and is actually the third most consumed spirit in the world. (Future visitors should be aware that [/font]cachaça is delicious, packs a mighty punch and sneaks up on you when you aren’t looking. But, boy is it good!) By the time we had finished our three days in Rio and I managed to drag myself up the gangway of the Star, SailorJill had accused me of single handedly moving cachaça up to the second most consumed spirit in the world – which may account for the two new Speedos I somehow acquired during our stay.

That night we were scheduled to have dinner with members of our roll call at the well known restaurant, Casa de Feijoada. I know SailorJill would have preferred to cancel because the only clothes she had were the ones she had been wearing for the past 26 hours. But trouper that she is, she put on her best face, smoothed down her blouse and slacks as best she could, grabbed my hand and headed for the door.

Downstairs, we grabbed a cab and settled back to savor the night lights of Rio. I had hoped that the lights would cheer her up a little, but I could tell she was getting more upset about her missing bag. Then, after nearly 20 minutes of literally driving around in circles, the driver turns to me (I swear I am not making this up!) and asks me if I know where the restaurant is located. Somewhat concerned, I tell him that it is somewhere in Copacabana.

“Is that the beach area next to Ipanema?” he asks.

“You’re a taxi driver and don’t know where Copacabana is?” I am now more than somewhat concerned as we are now going to be late and he has not even turned off the meter.

“I’m new,” he replies somewhat defensively.

“How new?” This is not good. I could sense SailorJill’s stress level going up. Not only is she wearing wrinkled clothes, but now she is sitting in a cab to nowhere and is going to be late for our appointment.

“Actually, this is my first day in Rio.”

“Oh. OK, where are you from?”

“Santa Rosarita.” SailorJill’s eyes narrow and her breath starts coming in short spurts. After years of marriage I recognized the signs – and they aren’t good. Yet, unthinkingly, I blurt out:

“And what did you do in Santa Rosarita?”

“I was a baggage handler for Copa Airline and Lawn…”- moving quickly I was able to grab SailorJill before she could get over the front seat!

Well, to make a long story short, after stopping several times to ask directions of other cabbies, our driver finally found Casa de Feijoada and we wound up having a delightful dinner. Feijoada, as we found out, is the national dish of Brazil and is basically a stew consisting of turtle beans, salted pork, pigs’ ears, bacon, pork ribs, smoked sausage and jerked beef ( both loin and tongue) -basically whatever happens to be in the kitchen. I’m guessing that Feijoada is actually Portuguese for “leftovers”. Once again, I am impressed with SailorJill’s knowledge of international cuisine. I never realized it, but we have been having Feijoada once or twice a month for years!

But it has been a tiring day, so we bid goodbye to our new friends, leave the House of Leftovers and catch a cab back to the Sheraton.

Day 1 - Boarding Day

All is well! A call to our hotel at lunch reveals that SailorJill’s suitcase has not only been found, but is at the concierge’s desk at the Sheraton! The very kind members of our roll call, who are on our tour of Rio, voice no objection to the bus making a quick stop to pick it up when our tour takes us by the hotel. Speaking of the tour, I would be remiss if I did not express our appreciation to Dee, who arranged the tour at a fantastic price and made sure that everything went smoothly!

At the conclusion of the tour we were dropped off at the Star, completed the registration process, and retreated to our balcony cabin – from which we were able to watch the end of one of the many political demonstrations between protesters and police (who were backed up by several van loads of SWAT teams). The demonstrations had actually been known in advance by our tour guide and she had structured our tour itinerary to avoid them.

Day 2 – Rio

We were able to use the Star as our Hotel in Rio and had another full day to explore Rio before the Star left for our first port of call - Santos. We take advantage of the time to shop and explore Rio on foot. By the end of the day we found ourselves back at Copacabana beach and settled into one of the many small refreshment stands to have a Caipirinha.

While relaxing at the beach side bar, we spotted a lad that we guessed to be around 11 or 12. His clothes were worn and patched, but he was well groomed and exuded a confidence far beyond his years. From a bag suspended by a strap around his neck he withdrew a T-shirt and approached our table:

“Boa tarde, Senhor. I have an offer to you that you will find nowhere else.” Whereupon, he held up the T-shirt that read in bold letters, Rio de Janeiro -2016 Olimpic City.

“What is this?” I asked him.

“Senhor, it is the first official shirt of the Olympics. It is – how you say in America – hot off the press!”

(I had no doubt that it was hot – as well as nearly 6 years early.) “If it’s official why is “Olimpics” spelt wrong?”

Frowning at the shirt for a moment, he turned to me with a broad smile and said, “But Senhor, that is how it is spelled in Portuguese!”

“And how much is this official T-shirt?”

“Senhor, (I was getting “Senhored” quite a bit here) for only 30 American dollars you can be the first person in America to have an official Rio de Janeiro Olympics T-shirt.”

“$30 for that T-shirt” I replied, “you must be kidding!”

It was then that the little imp, with the saddest, most crestfallen look I have ever seen on a little boy (and one that I am sure the little con artist practiced nightly in front of his mirror), turned to SailorJill and said, “Senhora, can you help me, por favor…my family….?” And, I swear to God, I am sure I saw a tear start to form in the corner of his left eye.

“JACK!!”

And, basically, that is how I came to be the first American to own an official Rio de Janeiro – 2016 Olimpic City T-shirt.

Day 3 - Santos

Santos is not only the largest port in South America, but it is the jumping off point for tours to Sao Paulo – the largest city in Brazil and the 7th largest metropolitan area in the world. However, we elect not to visit Sao Paulo, but decide to spend our time taking a tour of Santos. We are especially interested in visiting its beachfront garden which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is (at 5.3 km) the longest beachfront garden in the world. (It was gorgeous!)

While driving through Santos our tour bus rounds a corner and we come across what I first took to be a rather violent confrontation between police and demonstrators. We had witnessed similar scenes of political unrest in Rio, but nothing of this size and scope. Somewhat concerned, I turned to our guide and asked her what the riot is all about.

Our Chamber of Commerce licensed guide says that it is, in fact, not a riot at all, but is actually their annual teargas festival. “It is much like your Civil War reenactments in the United States. What you see are patriotic citizens dressed up in black paramilitary uniform costumes with toy automatic weapons who are reenacting the defending of the republic against outside agitators by joyfully firing tear gas into the air. The people not in military costumes are playing the role of foreign motivated provocateurs and are yelling patriotic slogans. However, this festival is not meant to be witnessed by tourists so we must go.

As the bus backs up and turns the corner, we stumble across the Burning Tire Ceremony – which, judging from our speedy departure from the area, was also not meant to be seen by tourists. I’m thinking that the person at the tour company who lays out the itinerary is going to have some ‘splaining to do!

Day 4 – At Sea

After a lazy morning out by the Terrace pool, SailorJill reminds me that our Meet and Greet is scheduled for 11:00. Returning to our stateroom we each take a quick shower and dress for the occasion. I put on a pair of khaki shorts and Sperry topsiders, but balk at putting on a present from SailorJill - a powder blue (with pink trim) Princess polo shirt. While expressing my thanks to SailorJill, I note to her that it takes a man secure in his own masculinity to appear in public in a powder blue (with pink trim) shirt with the word “Princess” written on it! Actually, I think the meet and greet is one of the few places that I could actually wear that shirt. Secure in my masculinity as I might be, I would also have to be prepared to confront my own mortality if I were to wear a powder blue (with pink trim) shirt that said “Princess” on it into, oh…I don’t know, say a Biker Bar or a WWF Extreme Smackdown event!

Now that I think about it, who designs a man’s shirt in powder blue and pink anyway? I don’t totally blame the designer (although he should be sent for reeducation), but I think the problem is endemic to the whole organization. Who names a cruise line “Princess” in the first place? I mean, at least 50% of the passengers are men and “Princess” is not a name you use when you are trying to appeal to a male clientele.

To wit:

First Biker Dude: “Man, that is one killer ride MadDog, what is it – a chopped down and tricked out Harley Fat Boy?”

MadDog: “Nope, it’s actually my L’il Princess.”

1st Lieutenant (on the radio): “Captain! We are pinned down by two Tiger Mark IV tanks and are barely holding on…where are those Sherman tanks you were sending to support us?”

Captain: “The Shermans were already committed, but I have a couple of Princesses coming for you.”

1st Lieutenant: “Sergeant, where is that white flag?”

But I digress.

Bowing to the inevitable, I don the shirt (and take a stiff shot of Crown Royal). SailorJill, on the other hand, is wearing a very brief multi-colored ruffled Lycra halter top, matching string bikini bottom with a matching ruffled wrap-around skirt that doesn’t quite wrap around all the way, and red peek-a-boo platform shoes with five inch stiletto heels. Oops, sorry - that’s actually my newest screen saver. SailorJill is actually wearing shorts, sandals, and her “I Married a Complete Idiot” T-shirt – a gift from her mother on the occasion of our fifth wedding anniversary.

We spent an enjoyable hour meeting our fellow roll call members, and although we did not participate in the gift exchange we found it to be an enjoyable event. As we had several things to do, we left early to have lunch and to prepare for the afternoon’s activities.

When we returned from dinner last night there was an invitation to attend an art auction today “for collectors of fine art.” This was obviously going to be a very exclusive event, as it would not only be preceded by a champagne reception, but it also included an opportunity to win “free art.” I am not quite sure how we came to be invited, but maybe the good people at Princess had heard about my renowned collection of international beer cans and used golf balls (we live next to a golf course). In any event, I felt that this was a most propitious omen…I mean, what were the chances of being on the Star on the very cruise that was to be the venue for an exclusive international art auction – and then to be invited to attend? Anyway, the timing was perfect - as I had been dabbling with the idea of becoming an art collector ever since watching The Thomas Crown Affair. I have to admit, I liked the ring of it… “SailorJack, Collector of Fine Art.” I could almost picture myself in a gray tailored suit and felt bowler hat!

So, at the appointed time, we made our way to the Explorer’s Lounge for the auction and were somewhat surprised at the large number of people already in attendance. Nearly every chair was taken or spoken for. Quite frankly, I had no idea that there were this many serious art collectors on board! “Jack, they are here for the same reason you are – free champagne.” “Not true,” I protested to SailorJill, “It would have been impolite to turn down the invitation. Besides, this is a great opportunity to acquire fine art at 40% to 80% below gallery prices!”

After convincing SailorJill to go register us, I flagged down a steward and liberated two flutes of champagne. The line to register, however, was apparently quite long and as I waited for SailorJill to return I was obliged to acquire several more glasses of that bubbly concoction. Eventually, SailorJill returned and informed me that there was no need to register and asked for her glass. “I, ah, must have misplaced it”, I said, “but I’ll get us a couple more.” Being a serious art collector was certainly proving to be enjoyable.

As the bidding was about to commence we found two seats and sat down. The first object d’art was something called a “lithograph” with a lot of blue in it and, as best as I could make out, was apparently done by someone from El Salvador named Dolly.

“Let’s start the bidding on this beautiful original reproduction at 5 – do I have 5, give me 5, who’ll give me 5?” intoned the auctioneer. As blue has always been one of my favorite colors, I raised my hand to place my bid. This was going to be really cool. I could hardly believe it – nobody else was bidding! At these prices I really could become an art collector! I could already picture my Dolly original reproduction hanging next to the velvet Elvis print I got at the Pottery Barn this past summer.

“We have $500 from the gentleman in the Che Gueverra T-shirt. Who will make it 6?”

What! “I bid $5.00, not $500!”

“Sir, you really don’t think you are going to get a Dolly for $5.00 do you?”

“But, I can’t afford $500, especially given the fact that that really isn’t even my favorite shade of blue.”

“Well… normally all bids are final, but as I haven’t closed the bidding I will allow you to withdraw your bid this one time. Please pay attention on future items.”

“Thank you… this won’t hurt my chances for the free art will it?”

Day 6 – Salvador

We awake in that delicious predawn grayness where the line between sea and sky is but a pleasant blur, to discover the beginning of a steamy, sultry, and very humid Bahian morning. The Star is moving slowly, and barely leaves a wake as it slips through the softly rolling swells of green-blue water. The gentle rhythmic rolling motion of the Atlantic hints at another lazy and languid day in the South American tropics.

As we leave the Star to explore Salvador we meet three delightful people from the Canadian province that holds the Guinness record as being the most mispronounced province in Canada – Saskatchewan. Together we take the famous elevator up to “old” town and are greeted at the top by a spectacular view of the bay and marina in back of us and several of Salvador’s reputed 365 churches in front of us.

Should anyone want to study ancient religious architecture Salvador is the place to do it, as it has the largest concentration of Baroque architecture in Latin America. In addition, “old” Salvador and its 1800 buildings are now protected as a UNESCO world heritage site. The ancient buildings that line the narrow cobblestone streets hint at the history of a city that was founded in 1549 and served as Brazil’s first capital. The capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1650 when poor financial planning by the city fathers apparently resulted in Salvador going Baroque.

We finish the day enjoying a well deserved cold beer at the Mercado Modelo and return to the Star – tired but pleased with our day ashore. SailorJill’s only regret was that because it was a Sunday most of the shops were closed and she was unable to do much shopping. However, rumor has it that our ship tomorrow will have a woman officer at the helm. If true, I know SailorJill will be ecstatic as it means that the ship will probably put into several cute little ports for some shopping on the way to Recife.

Day 7 – At Sea

With no ports today, we decide to explore the ship. While touring the ship I came across a very opulently appointed area on deck 16 and inquired of a nearby crew member as to its nature and was informed that it was… Sanctuary!

My first thought, as I took in the luxurious massage tables and the buckets of iced Champagne, was that Sanctuary has come a long ways since the Hunchback Quasimodo rescued the desperate Esmerelda from the angry mob, slung her over his shoulder and carried her into the dark and forbidding entrance of Notre Dame – crying out “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!”

My second thought was why did these people need Sanctuary? They didn’t look desperate…in fact they looked pretty damn comfortable! And from what were they fleeing? As I pondered the imponderable, I could hear the faint music emanating from one of the refugee’s MP3’s and recognized the lyrics from the Beatles, “

.”

Upon seeing a steward ushering in a cart of cracked lobster tails, foie gras, and Vacherin Mont d’Or], [/color]I walked over to take a closer look at Sanctuary, but was stopped short when two security officers – garbed all in black – blocked my entrance. I spoke to the taller officer, whose name tag read “Ranger” and told him I was just seeking Sanctuary.

“You need a reservation.”

I was incredulous. “I need to make a reservation to get Sanctuary?”

“You should have made it before you got on the ship.”

“But what if I didn’t know I was going to need Sanctuary back then?”

“Sir, you are beginning to upset the people who paid for peace and quiet in Sanctuary.”

“What! You not only need a reservation, but have to pay to get Sanctuary? How much does it cost?”

“That depends on how long you want to be in Sanctuary.”

“You mean not only do I have to know in advance if I am going to need Sanctuary, but also for how long?”

“Sir, please take a step back like a nice gentleman and go about your business.”

Somewhat disappointed, I took a step back. Disappointed, because Sanctuary was just what I might need when SailorJill sees my bar tab from last night! As I walk away, deep in thought about what I had just learned, I couldn’t help but think of poor Esmerelda. She probably didn’t have a reservation …or any money either. Did they make her leave?

Day 8 – Recife

As we step out on the deck the heat hits us like Thor’s hammer. I estimate the temperature to be just slightly cooler than the surface of the sun. Seriously! The temperature of the sun’s surface is roughly 9,800 degrees Fahrenheit ( 67 C) and it takes 8 minutes to reach the earth. As we are just south of the equator (which is the part of earth closest to the sun – it may take only 5 minutes. So how much can it cool in just 5 minutes!

The princess’s port brochure says that Recife was founded in 1534, but I have serious doubts about that. I don’t think Recife could have been founded much before 1902 – the year electric air conditioning was invented. Granted, the buildings look old, but I think that is due to the extreme heat. In the two minutes I was outside my yellow hat had faded to a dull white.

As I prepare for a day lying in the pool drinking Rum and Cokes, SailorJill announces that she has signed us up for an independent walking tour of Recife. Through a throat already parched dry and seared by my two minutes outside I try desperately to utter something profound – like “No!” – but am unable to form even that simple syllable. While I struggled to say something – anything – a line from Alfred Tennyson flashed through my mind – “into the valley of death rode the 600.” Like the Light Brigade, I knew it was wrong, but I also knew I was going to have to do it.

Recife (continued)

We are back from our three hour walking tour and the only reason I am here to tell the tale is that a tour bus on the way back to the ship stopped and picked us up about 600 yards from the port entrance. I think he recognized that I was in the final stages of delirium and was about to collapse en flagrante. There is a special place in heaven for people like that bus driver.

The good news, however, is that I no longer need to diet as I have lost 6 suit sizes. The bad news is that when I stand sideways and stick out my tongue I look like a 6” 2” zipper.

Day 10 – Forteleza

It has been raining on us constantly ever since we first saw Forteleza’s coastline.

Forteleza (official flower: mildew) has an annual rainfall of 57 inches – most of which apparently falls during visits by cruise ships. This will be our last – and most challenging- stop in Brazil before we cross the equator and sail into the Caribbean. And, while we have had safety concerns in previous ports we have been warned to take extra precautions in Forteleza. This fact has been driven home by the fact that the ship has set up a second security zone around the ship.

Our port lecturer yesterday said the one mile walk into town was particularly dangerous because of a favela that was situated about halfway into town. However, we were told, if we exercise reasonable security measures we should be somewhat safe. For example: Once we leave the security zone, it was stressed, we should always keep moving. Never, ever, stop! Ignore the empty wallets, purses and camera bags that are scattered about the walkway and focus on the beach next to Forteleza. If we can reach the beach we should be OK.

Another “reasonable and basic” safety measure we were taught was the Fox and Hounds maneuver. This involves getting a group of people together at the edge of the security zone and then sending out a decoy – someone who has absolutely nothing of value on him. Then, when the brigands descend on the decoy, the rest of the group can make a break for the relative safety of the beach and then into town.

Returning to the ship, however, will be somewhat trickier as the brigands will be wise to the decoy trick and we will be weighted down with our purchases and will not be able to run as fast as before. As a result, the return trip involves another set of “reasonable and basic’ safety strategies. First, the group should buy several inexpensive, but brightly colored knickknacks as well as some cheap plastic wallets.

Then, using the natural cover of burned out cars and beached oil rigs we are to creep as close as we can to the ship before being spotted. Once spotted, we are to sprint towards the ship. As the brigands close in we are to toss the knickknacks and wallets to the side. This will slow our pursuers as they stop to retrieve the items and should afford us the needed time to reach the outer defensive perimeter. With good timing and coordinated teamwork, most of us should be able to make it into Forteleza and back with no problem.

Or, one could simply pay $10 and take the ship’s shuttle into town. This brings to mind the old Jack Benny bit:

Holdup Man: “Your money or your life!”

Holdup Man (after several long seconds): “Well?”

Jack Benny: “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”

As one Jack to another, I completely understand the dilemma: pay $20 for us to ride the shuttle, or Logan’s Run? I’m thinking! I’m thinking!

Day 11 – Crossing the Equator

During the Age of Sail, crossing the equator was an occasion to initiate pollywogs (newbies) by dumping vile substances on them and then tossing them overboard. With some variation, that is what occurred today aboard the Star. I am not sure if Princess approves of this practice - as I am sure that it must violate at least 2 U.N. resolutions regarding Human Dignity – or if the crew seized upon the Crossing as a means of, ah, balancing the scales.

While there were far too many pollywogs to initiate, the crew asked for “volunteers” to represent all of the ship’s pollywogs. But I couldn’t help but notice that most of the “volunteers” were people who had been somewhat disruptive at one time or another.

As an example, I was present on two occasions when Passenger “Greg” was at the reception desk. It was apparent that Greg had been able to bring aboard a couple of bottles of Dr. Good and was having his own private little spring break:

Greg: “…and another thing; my wife has been missing for three days now. When are you going to do something about it?”

Reception Clerk: “Sir, as we have explained to you before, you booked a single, paid the single supplement and boarded the ship alone. Your wife did not come aboard with you.”

Next day

Greg: “Princess owes me money. I have spoken to several people who are getting money back because the ship missed several ports, but I haven’t heard anything about a refund!”

Reception Clerk: “Sir, the refunds are going to people who experienced problems on the previous cruise from Valparaiso. You boarded, as scheduled, in Rio de Janeiro. You can’t be reimbursed for what happened on a previous cruise.”

Greg: “But nearly everyone I talk to is getting money back! This is discrimination! If my wife were here – she’s been missing four days now, you know – you wouldn’t get away with this.”

Reception Clerk: “Sir, as we have….say, how would you like to volunteer to be part of our Crossing the Equator ceremony?”

Greg: “If I did would I get what’s coming to me?”

Reception Clerk: “Sir, you would most definitely get what’s coming to you.”

Greg: “Now you’re talking!”

The ceremony itself involved the “volunteers” kneeling at the edge of the pool while raw eggs were cracked over their heads, whipped cream was squirted into their pants (or down their blouse), and chocolate syrup and other substances were poured over their bodies. Then the crowd would chant “Kiss the fish! Kiss the fish!” – whereupon a dead fish would be thrust in their face to be kissed – and then they were summarily shoved, thrown, or pushed into the pool.

Passenger Greg, I noted, was the first to go.

Day 14 – Barbados

Looking over the tour options for Barbados I noticed the most reasonably priced tour I had ever seen on a cruise ship – 3 ½ hours of relaxing at the “newly renovated” Cariboo Beach Club. Before they can realize their mistake, I quickly sign us up for the tour and board the bus for a relaxing day at a tropical beach. Hopping on the bus, we start to introduce ourselves when the bus suddenly stops. “We are here,” announces the driver.

When we looked out the window what we saw was a one room clapboard building sitting between several three-story sugar mill factories in the part of town you wouldn’t want to visit after dark. “Newly renovated” apparently meant that the front door had been painted sometime in the recent past. The Cariboo Club would have been more appropriately named if they simply dropped the “Cari” as we were all afraid to get off the bus. We just sat there hoping this was just some kind of terrible mistake.

It wasn’t! We were forced off the bus and into the street (there was no place to park) and huddled together for safety and comfort. Finally, with no other place to go, we inched over to the Club. The one room Club could not hold all of us so we were forced to line up and wait to be “processed.” While in line we were serenaded by the intermittent scream of super heated steam escaping for ancient boilers in the adjacent factories. I preferred to think that the occasional shrill cries we heard from the workers inside those buildings were simply shouts of joy coming from carefree islanders who were happy to be working in a factory made of sheet metal in 90 degree (6.5 C) temperatures.

Once inside I looked around at the stark walls and politely requested permission to go back to the ship. Instead, I was cuffed with a bright orange wristband and informed that nobody had ever successfully escaped from the Cariboo Beach Club. I turned to SailorJill for sympathy, whereupon she said, “Well, what did you expect for $9.95 – that they would send us to Sandals?”

Turning back to the Clerk I was informed that I was entitled to one complimentary cocktail (from a selection of 3 available drinks). Hemlock was not one of the options.

As we exited the back door of the Club we were confronted by…a beautiful beach! A palm tree shaded walkway led to a wide expanse of caramel colored sand which, in turn, sloped down to the inviting turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Bright blue beach chairs, grouped under equally bright white umbrellas, offered up shady places of repose for those who might seek respite from the hot tropical sun. Off to the side a half dozen horses frolicked in the white surf while, from somewhere in back of us, came soft and delightful calypso music from a very good steel drum band. This was not so bad after all!

(Mother, Father, kindly disregard this letter!)

Day 15 - Antigua

We have arrived in Antigua on a beautiful sunny Caribbean morning. The Antigua stop has come to be what is known in fashionable travel circles as an “extreme vacation” - somewhat akin to gorilla safaris, shark diving, and camping in Kandahar province.

While several cruise lines have dropped Antigua as a port of call, Princess feels we should be safe if we take sensible precautions. They have advised us that we should avoid the beaches, not travel to isolated locations, stay in tight knit groups, and avoid eye contact with other people. They have also given us a “List of Safe Locations” to visit. The list, previously known as the “Princess Preferred Shopping Guide”, includes several jewelry stores, a linen shop, and a designer clothing boutique – all equipped with close-circuit cameras, security guards and armored vans to return you to the ship with your purchase.

While we note that many of the disembarking passengers appear to be on group tours, SailorJill feels confident that we can avoid the latest island crime wave with a large can of pepper spray and a memorized list of key phrases such as, “The couple behind us are New York diamond merchants”, and “How much money can we have, we are in a ‘guarantee’ cabin”, and “We’re so sorry, but we were already robbed on the last corner.”

Thus armed and forewarned, we set out to explore St. Johns – the capital of Antigua. It is a delightful town and in the midst of strolling the quaint streets we spot a large Crime Stoppers bulletin that read, “On Friday 4th December 2009 at around 6:45pm a jewelry store on Brownes Avenue was robbed by a masked man about 6’ 6” with a green dragon tattoo on his left forearm. He fled the scene in an orange and yellow Hyundai Tucsan with registration number A29876.” (The jewelry store in question was not one of the Princess preferred stores – he probably avoided those out of professional courtesy.)

I’m thinking that a man that tall (mask or no mask), with a green dragon tattoo, and driving a hideously colored car (including the tag number) on an island that is only 14 miles long and 11 miles wide should have been caught before Crime Stoppers even had a chance to print the notice - and that the police would have been waiting for him at his place before he could get home. Heck, we think we saw him twice ourselves – once while he was robbing a group of people off the NCL Dawn and later in front of the “No Questions Asked” pawn shop.

Oh well, it’s a local matter. Continuing our walking tour of St. Johns we encounter no further adventures and have a light lunch at a sidewalk café. After lunch, eschewing the city scene, we hire a taxi and head out for Darkwood Beach. It is a ten minute drive south of St. Johns and turns out to be an amazing beach. The water is a magical turquoise blue, the beach sand the color of pulled toffee, and the cool trade wind blowing onshore was offsetting the hot Caribbean sun. This is what a vacation should be. We snorkel in the clear waters amid an amazing variety of vibrantly colored fish, snooze in the warm sand, and sip on frosty margaritas in the shade of a beach-side stand. And we weren’t robbed!

As the sun begins its inevitable late afternoon slide towards the distant horizon, we reluctantly pack up our stuff and head back to the Star. Our disappointment in having to leave Darkwood to return to the ship is tempered only by the knowledge that our next stop is St. Thomas – with its own set of great beaches to experience.

Day 16 - St. Thomas

As we sail into the outer harbor of Charlotte Amalie, I am struck by the natural beauty of the island and can only hope against hope that somewhere amongst this lush, verdant, unspoiled land - dominated by stately palm trees and brilliant bougainvillea - I might be able to find at least one Jewelry store or T-shirt shop in order to get a souvenir of this beautiful island. But first, we have booked a snorkeling trip to Buck Island. As we dress for the trip I am pleased to see that my regimen of exercise and diet are finally paying off as my new swim trunks are no longer tight but are actually quite comfortably loose. I guess there is something to be said for healthy eating after all.

Our trip out to Buck Island was on a new catamaran and took about an hour. Once there, we were given a short orientation from the Captain and invited to jump in – which I promptly did – with calamitous results. For reasons which we need not to go into here, the Captain has now started referring to the island as Buck Naked Island.

Once back from snorkeling I managed to negotiate a taxi ride into town for $5 and we spent a pleasant afternoon shopping and sightseeing. As we headed back to the ship a taxi pulled up and the driver asked if we needed a ride back to Crown Harbor.

“How much?”

“Four dollars each.”

“No thanks, I paid $5.00 to get here. Will you take $5.00?”

As the taxi slowly pulled away several people who were standing nearby asked if I had really negotiated a rate of $5.00 (I really had). At that point the taxi driver (and I swear I am not making this up) actually stopped the car in the middle of the street and GOT OUT OF THE CAB!

“Four dollars each is a fixed price set by the government,” she yelled. “Paying less than that is illegal!” Wide-eyed, SailorJill turned to me and said “Now they really have caught us Jack, and we are going to do hard time!” I explain to her that she has nothing to worry about. The driver is not really yelling at us, she was trying to scare the people who had now learned that you really could negotiate rates.

Just as a note, the taxis in St. Thomas are actually open aired vans than can carry up to 16 people. Fully loaded, which many vans were, that meant that the driver gets $64 for driving the two miles from town to Crown Harbor – that’s $32 a mile! Where else in the world does a taxi get $32 a mile!

I tried to explain all this to SailorJill while we sat in the back seat of the police car, but I could tell she was still upset. I told her that I would smooth this whole thing out and then see if the police officer would take us to Crown Harbor for $5.00.

Well, to make a long story short (which I know I am not doing) we made it back to the ship and retired to our balcony with a glass of coconut rum on the rocks and enjoyed the late afternoon sun.

Fort Lauderdale

Our trip is finally over and it has proved to be one of our best cruises. We met wonderful people from all over the United States and Canada, as well as people from foreign lands such as Tasmania, the Maldives, and Alabama. And to top it off, the Star has proven to be one of the most magnificent ships upon which we have sailed. We are so impressed with the Princess Cruise Line that I have even bought a souvenir hat. Nothing says you’re a man like a hat that says Princess!

But will we sail on the Star again anytime soon? You got to be kidding! With so many other Princess ships to explore it could be MONTHS before we make it back to the Star!

P.S. Anyone want to buy a slightly used powder blue (with pink trim) Princess polo shirt?

Edited by SailorJack

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OMG! Loved the review!

 

I spoke last night to a friend who was also on your cruise (and missed the first leg before yours).

 

I was laughing just as hard when speaking with him as I was when reading your review.

 

Best wishes on future cruises and also getting rid of that polo shirt!

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Absolutely FANTASTIC review.............so very funny and informative at the same time....I would love to read more of your reviews in the future.Kudos to you for taking the time and doing such a great job.

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Now I know what happened to Dave Barry after he retired from doing his column!! He's making the rounds of Princess ships!

Thanks for the fun read, Dave...oh, sorry, I mean SailorJack..wink,wink..!;)

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One of the more interesting reviews I've seen on the boards. Thansk for taking the time to post it.....:):):)

 

Bob

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Thank you for your creativity and the time it took you to post such a wonderful review.

It was an amazing read.... made my morning coffee and Monday morning start off with a bang.

Thanks again

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Absolutely the BEST! Can't wait to read this masterpeice of entertainment to my husband this eve! :D

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Ok, I had to come back three times to read it all, but now that I am finished, all I can say is "YOU MADE MY DAY". :D:D

You need to add that to a list of cruise experiences and have it printed up somewhere on it's own site on the internet for ALL to read when they search for cruise experiences, it was hilarious!

Thanks for the chuckle, now back to work I go. When my company arrives later today to spend the week, I sure hope they understand why things aren't all ready for them when I tell them I am an hour behind as I just had to finish reading a review of the Star Princess. ;)

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Thanks sailorjack for this fantastic review, I laughed and laughed. What a great way to start the week, and now I cannot wait for my next cruise on the Star in November.

 

Amelia

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Thanks for the great review! So good I couldn't put it down! Thanks for giving me a laugh before a long day at work.... less than two weeks to go and I can't wait!;);)

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When I saw how long your review was I didn't plan to read the whole thing. Now I'm glad I did :D:D

 

Thanks!

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