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Our T/A on the Vision - with stops for Mamajuana, Nude Snorkeling and Mama Chang

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Two of my adversaries lie motionless on the deck, victims of my lightning fast counter-ripostes, but the remaining three were pressing me so closely that I could smell the cheap rum on their foul breath. Using my saber to hold them off with my amazing attaques simultanes, I ventured a quick glance at SailorJill. Holding what was left of her tattered bodice against her heaving bosom, her back pressed against the ship’s railing, she had no more room to retreat. I knew now that our only hope of escape lie in my quickly dispatching these three remaining brigands before their cronies returned from burying their ill-gotten loot on the large island that lie off our port beam.


Suddenly I…. Oh No! My reverie was interrupted when our plane banked sharply and the island of Hispanola slid into view. Long a haven for pirates of the Caribbean, Hispaniola was to be our departure point for our long anticipated cruise on the Vision of the Seas. Reluctantly abandoning daydreams of buccaneers and buried treasure for a seatbelt and a table tray in the upright position, I prepared for our arrival in Santo Domingo – capitol of the Dominican Republic.


Actually, Hispaniola is home to two countries – Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Relations between the two countries have rarely been good - perhaps due to the fact that Haiti has invaded and plundered the Dominican Republic on more than one occasion. As a resident of Georgia - which, against the strongest of objections, is forced to share a border with Alabama – I can sympathize with their predicament. The last battle of the War of Northern Aggression was fought in Georgia when Union forces invaded from Alabama – three days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.


Santo Domingo


We have arrived in Santo Domingo! As our first order of business is to secure transportation to our hotel - the Santo Domingo Melia – we paid our $10 tourist tax, cleared customs, and allowed ourselves to be hustled over to the taxi stand.


Legend has it that the elephants in Africa have a secret graveyard to which instinct unerringly leads them when they sense it is their time to go. In a similar vein, I now know where Cuban cars go when bailing wire and duct tape can no longer keep them alive – Santo Domingo. As I stared in disbelief at the mélange of taxis with cracked windshields, treadles tires and missing headlamps, the dispatcher informed me that the cost to ride in one of these demolition derby losers would be $40.


Negotiating the rate down to $35 was easy, but I ran into stiffer resistance when I insisted on $30. However, with a gracious smile the dispatcher finally agreed and asked me to wait while he arranged for a special car. A special car! We wouldn’t be riding in one of these ancient wrecks after all! With justifiable pride I turn to SailorJill and tell her that many Latin cultures hold a great deal of respect for skillful negotiators and to not act surprised if, our of deep respect, we are rewarded with a new BMW – or even a Mercedes.


We actually heard our taxi coming before we saw it, when the grinding of gears and the shriek of metal against metal announced its impending arrival. As it lurched around the corner, my first impression was that the front-end of a ’51 Studebaker had mated with the rear-end of a ’47 Soviet Trabant. While Cuban patchwork had apparently kept the car working beyond all reasonable expectations, the rear passenger door appeared to be hanging from a single hinge and rear passenger window was completely missing. As the car came to a shuddering halt in front of us, it gave a final belch of blue/white exhaust and the front bumper slowly sagged and came to rest on the concrete curb.


The ensuing silence was broken only when SailorJill turned to me, and in her sweetest and most velvety voice asked, “Oh, Jack, how marvelous! Is it the BMW or the Mercedes”?


After our luggage was loaded into the trunk, we both cautiously climbed into the back seat – avoiding the springs poking up through the thread-bare upholstery, and watched as the driver touched the two ignition wires together. As the engine caught fire (figuratively, thank God), the front bumper, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, lifted up off the curb and the car staggered out into traffic. Over the sudden blare of horns and the outraged shouts from other drivers I could hear SailorJill softly singing “What a friend we have in Jesus.”


And so it came to be that our grand arrival at our five-star hotel and the beginning of our grand transatlantic adventure was heralded by a trail of scattered nuts and bolts, a cacophony of sporadic backfires, and a billowing smokescreen of burning oil worthy of a Spruance-class destroyer.


But I digress.


Pre-Boarding Day – Morning in Santo Domingo


As the day is gorgeous – sunny and 85 degrees, SailorJill and I hire a taxi to take us to an isolated beach and we make arrangements for him to come back later to pick us up. The beach is perfect – the sand is the color of freshly pulled taffee, the water an azure blue, and the green palm trees, laden with coconuts, offer relaxing shade – and, best of all, we are the only people there.


Later, while drying off after snorkeling amongst schools of brilliantly hued fish on the reef off shore, SailorJill opined that a cold beer would be “just heaven”. Needing no further urging, I glanced up and down the beach and, off in the distance, spotted what appeared to be either a very rustic bar – or the unfortunate remains of the Kon Tiki. As I approached what indeed turned out to be a bar, I peered inside, and through the smoke and murkiness, could make out the shapes of several patrons at a dark corner table as well as a small bar in the back - behind which stood a barkeep with long black braided hair.


With thirst overcoming discretion, I stepped inside. “Could I have two bottles of Presidente?” I asked the barkeep. To which he replied, “Surely, mon, but how ‘bout you try dis fine Mama Juana. Why me? I mean, I don’t resemble either Cheech or Chong, but this is the third time since arriving that I have been encouraged to participate in an alternative lifestyle. With the barkeep looking at me expectantly, I begin humming bits of the only Bob Marley tune I could remember and look for a safe and graceful way to exit the bar - as I tell the barkeep that I am sure that the Juana his Mama has is very good, but I really just wanted a drink.


Well, to make a long story short, it turns out that Mamajuana is actually a national drink of the Dominican Republic. Who knew? It is made by mixing dark rum, red wine, honey, tree bark, roots, berries and “special herbs” together in thick black kettles and allowing the mixture to reach critical mass before siphoning it off into shatter proof bottles. (I will leave it to you, dear readers, to figure out what the “special herb” was). Shumba, (the barkeep) offers me a small sample and I notice a smattering of grins among the other patrons in the bar. “In addition to its pleasing taste”, says Shumba, “it also has very powerful aphrodisiac powers – much like your ****** in America”. I smile inwardly at this silly native superstition, but buy four bottles as a sign of respect. I was halfway back down the beach when I remembered the beer.


Pre-Boarding Day (Cont’d) - Evening in Santo Domingo


As we crept down the rocky steps leading ever deeper into the forbidding cavern below, the only sounds that could be heard were the muted splash of water dripping from stalactites and the occasional scuffling of shoe leather against stone. Then, as we rounded a sharp corner in the narrow passageway, I could see below, by the barest of light from flickering candles, the blurred images of people huddled over tables - studying what appeared to be maps or charts. We had stumbled upon the pirates’ den! Hearing voices coming down from behind us, I realized that our retreat was blocked. We had no alternative but to press on; but we had faced greater odds than this before and, with the element of surprise on our side, I had no doubt that we could overcome this motley crue. But we had to act quickly!


Pulling a brace of flintlocks from my belt I checked to make sure they were primed before handing them to SailorJill. A crack shot, I knew she could handle the tables to the left while I engaged the main group to our right with the boarding ax and cutlass I had liberated from the Green ship. I had only to give the signal to SailorJill and we would spring… but wait - one of the figures had detached itself from the main group and was coming directly towards us. We had been discovered!


“Good evening, may I help you, sir”?


While I fought to regain my composure, SailorJill rolled her eyes at me and spoke up. “Good evening, we have reservations for a table for two please”.


OK, it was coming back to me now. We were at the ultra chic restaurant, El Meson de la Cava. Situated in a magnificent natural limestone cave far below the city of Santo Domingo, the restaurant occupies a cavern that was once used as a hideout by pirates – perhaps most notably by the infamous Bermudan pirate Long John Shortts. The restaurant is, in a word, awesome. Ancient Taino artifacts and artwork decorate the limestone walls, and narrow crevices and secret passages lead into private nooks and hide-a-ways that provide secluded and romantic tables for those in love - or even married couples.


For dinner we decided to try one of the best known meals of the Dominican Republic – La Bandera – which consists of white rice, beans, goat, vegetables and fritos verdes. (Goat meat in the DR is most unusual as the goats spend their lives grazing on wild oregano and therefore come to us already somewhat pre-marinated). Our dinner, as expected, was excellent - although it was obvious that our entree had been pre-marinating itself for many, many years. Over dessert (a most delicious Bizocho Criolla) I asked SailorJill how she had enjoyed dinner. “Well”, she said, “it’s been a long time since I’ve had such an enjoyable and romantic dinner with two old goats.”


After dinner we decided to try some of the nightlife in Santo Domingo and discovered the Club Aire - when we were drawn in by the strong, mesmerizing, and pulsating beat of Ibiza music. The club itself was in an old Colonial house and the patrons were obviously local people. As I looked around, I surmised that we were probably the only tourists there. This is the part of travel that I enjoy the most – getting out and meeting people and learning about the local culture.


At the bar I met several guys who were genuinely interested in meeting an American. We talked about life in America and before I knew it they were actually buying the drinks. SailorJill was talking with several very attractive ladies at one of the tables and I kept looking for an excuse to go over there, but did not want to be rude. Carlos then suggested we try a drinking game that was popular in Santo Domingo called the Dirty Pint. We grabbed a table and, I have to admit, had a great time – even though I was losing most of the time. Maybe it was the beat of the Latin music, maybe it was the tequila shots, but even though I usually find it difficult to make friends, I was amazed at how quickly the camaraderie between all of us was developing. This was becoming quite a party and could well be one of the more memorable highlights of our transatlantic cruise.


Around midnight I noticed that the place was filling up with a lot of the guys wearing leathers and western gear and asked Juan what was happening. He explained that this was western night and there would be American country music upstairs in the club’s private disco. He then pulled out a pair of leather chaps from his backpack and went in the back to put them on. Phillipe gave me a jovial slap on the leg and said he had an extra set of leathers and suggested we go out to his car where I could change. I was tempted, but felt guilty leaving SailorJill, so I said I would pass. “No problema”, he said, and ordered another round of tequila shooters. Juan returned shortly and I have to admit – with his chaps, boots, and 10-gallon hat he looked a lot like a Latin Josey Wales.


I told him he looked like a genuine Texas cowpoke and he gave me a quick hug of appreciation. “I hear the band,” he said, “time to go upstairs.” Rico threw his arm around me and said “Come on, I’ll show you my version of the Texas two-step.” As we headed towards the stairs I looked around to call SailorJill, but she was already standing behind us and saying it was time to go. We all protested, but SailorJill was adamant and so, reluctantly, we bade farewell to our newfound friends.


Outside, SailorJill pointed us in the direction of our hotel and, feeling really, really, good, we started off towards the Melia. SailorJill must have had a good time also, because she was smiling broadly and had a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Giving me a quick peck on the cheek she said, “So Jack, tell me now, how did you enjoy your first visit to a gay bar”?


Day 1 – Boarding


Because of the deal we received on this cruise, our stateroom was what Royal Caribbean likes to call a “guarantee” stateroom. A wiser sailor than before, I now understand the hierarchy of rooms:

1. Suites

2. Balconies

3. Inside/Outside

4. Crew

5. Engine Room

6. Guarantee


I knew we were in for a new experience when I asked for directions to our cabin and was told to take the elevator as far down as it would go, then take the stairwell down three flights, and then take a right turn after we pass the brig. That said, we had no trouble finding our room, although SailorJill was a little disconcerted when the inmates in the ship’s brig started yelling, “New fish, New Fish”. However, I thought I detected just the hint of a smile at the ensuing wolf whistles.


Although the room is rather deep in the ship, we found it to be quite nice and quiet. It wasn’t until much later (a little after midnight, if you must know) - when the ship’s 20,000-megawatt 200 ton air-cooled, turbocharged desalinization unit kicked on - that we realized why our room was so inexpensive. At that point, we discussed (via sign language) that perhaps we should try for an upgrade to the crew level. (Note to self: on next cruise suppress Scottish penny-pinching DNA and spring for a stateroom a little higher up on the food chain).


But I’m getting ahead of myself. After stowing our gear, we set out to have lunch and explore the ship. It was then that we got our first exposure to climbing back up the stairs to reach the elevator. It was good exercise and, as a SCUBA diver, I understood why the elevator did not go to our deck. Our cabin was probably so far below the surface of the water that if we rose too fast we could suffer from nitrogen narcosis (the bends) – a debilitating illness that could put a severe cramp in our cruise.


As the Windjammer is closed for this cruise, we head for the restaurant for lunch. I am eager to try the “honey stung chicken” that I had heard so much about. Similar to chicken strips, this particular entrée is only served on day one of the cruise and then only for lunch. After sampling several pieces I concluded that it is no accident that the acronym for Honey Stung Chicken is the same as for Highly Saturated Cholesterol. While I am reluctant to call them greasy, for the second time in my life I am reminded of how my car must feel like after it has gone through Jiffy Lube. However, on the up side:


1. It is an excellent way to get rid of the chicken left over from the previous cruise.

2. It doesn’t taste that bad if it is smothered with mashed potatoes and jalapenos.

3. It is an excellent chewy snack to take ashore if you forgot to pack beef jerky or dried cuttlefish.


Day 2 - At Sea


After a quick breakfast in the main dining room on Deck 4 and a brisk walk around the jogging track on Deck 10, SailorJill and I return to our room in the ship’s basement to shower and dress for the upcoming Meet and Greet. I put on my topsiders, kaki shorts and VOS t-shirt. SailorJill is wearing a pair of skin-tight black leather shorts, a very low-cut backless black leather lace up bustier, thigh high black leather stiletto boots with fishnet stockings, a silver spiked collar, miniature silver handcuff earrings and -- oops, sorry - that’s actually my new screen saver. SailorJill is wearing white sandals and shorts and her “I’m still married to an idiot” t-shirt – a gift from her mother on the occasion of our second wedding anniversary.


After the meet and greet we head for the purser’s office. As I was somewhat remiss in researching some of the ports for our cruise I, for the first time ever, decided to inquire about purchasing an Internet Package. I say reluctantly, because there is no privacy when you use these machines onboard and I am, to say the least, somewhat challenged when it comes to computers. As it turns out, “Internet Package” in Royal Caribbean speak translates to “cruise line stimulus plan”. After running a credit check to see if I could actually afford to use the shipboard Internet, they approved my application and then gleefully called the home office and told them that they had just secured financing for their next ship, the Subdivision of the Seas.


But I needed to research St. Maarten, so I entered the internet room and took the only available seat – which was next to a kid who appeared to be about 10 or 11 and who was typing with one hand, listening to his ipod, drinking a coke, and doing what appeared to be quantum physics calculations with his other hand.


As I sat down and stared blankly at the machine, the Kid (I later came to know him as Damien) leaned over and turned the machine on for me. “Its Ok”, he said, “lots of older folks have trouble with computers.” Ok, embarrassing moment number 1, but I put it behind me and brought up the Google page all by myself. I glanced over at Damien and gave him my best “I’ve got it down now” smile. Next I typed in “St. Maarten”, but apparently actually typed in “St. Marrten”. Because, in big red letters the size of a newspaper headline, Google asks me: DID YOU MEAN: St. Maarten? Top 2 results shown.


Of course I meant St. Maarten. I knew I meant St. Maarten – Google obviously knew I meant St. Maarten, (after all, it had the top 2 results all lined up and ready to go) and now everybody walking down the aisle knew I couldn’t spell St. Maarten. I mean why couldn’t it have simply brought up the St. Maarten pages, or printed a discreet little message just for the two of us, or simply whispered – “Psst, SailorJack, a little typo here”, but there I was – held up to public ridicule by a smug computer program that was probably written by some kid named Chucky. At least Damien had the good grace to hold his response down to a smile.


Somewhat nonplussed -- OK, completely rattled -- I tried to correct my mistake before the whole ship saw what was happening, and started typing – until, for no apparent reason, the entire screen went blue. Now I have nothing against blue, but I was paying by the minute here! Then, completely aghast, I stared at the screen as big white letters paraded across the blue screen informing the whole room “this computer has performed an illegal action and will be shut down.” As Damien fought to keep from spitting out his coke, all I could think of was how much an illegal action was going to cost me on my SeaPass account. At that precise moment, over the intercom speaker in back of me came, “This is the Captain speaking”. “Please”, I begged, “please, please don’t announce the computer thing to the whole ship.” Thank God, it was just the weather update.


Day 3 - St. Maarten (truly aan islaand paaraadise)


This is our first visit to the island (the smallest land mass in the world to be shared by two different nations – the Netherlands Antilles and France). We arrive at Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side, and have no preplanned activities (for reasons previously described), but anticipate an exciting day ashore exploring this gorgeous island. As we exit the dock area, a nautical looking gentleman wearing a sailor’s cap handed us an illustrated brochure advertising Captain Alans Nude Snorkeling Charters. “Without anything around your body, you will experience total freedom in Caribbean atmospheres on the boat and in the water”, it read, “and we treat you to the famous mud bath of Tintamare.” As beads of perspiration begin to appear on my brow (due no doubt to the bright morning sun) I consider how to best suggest to SailorJill that this healthy and invigorating activity might be an ideal way to work on our tans while, at the same time, allowing us to admire the bountiful nature of St. Maarten.


As I put on my brightest smile and turn to SailorJill, I could sense immediately that there was about as much chance of this happening as there was of us getting a free upgrade to the Royal Suite. I am not sure how I knew so quickly - perhaps it was the way her warm little smile turned my beads of perspiration into little droplets of icy frost. As it turned out, not only were we not going to go on the clothing optional charter and experience the famous mud baths of Tintamare, but she also took away my amply illustrated brochure and handed it back to Captain Alan. As SailorJill turned to leave, the Captain, with a sly wink and a knowing grin, handed me back my copy of his amply illustrated brochure. There will always be a special place in heaven for men like Captain Alan.


With a small sigh of regret I hurry to catch up to SailorJill and together we explore Phillipsburg. Taking the short walk into town we are greeted by a wide boardwalk which is bordered on the one side by quaint B&Bs and various purveyors of food and drink – and on the other side by a beach upon which rows of lazy waves wash ashore to gently massage the sugar-white sand before reluctantly retreating back into the warm, aquamarine waters of the Caribbean. It is a delightful introduction to “The Friendly Island” The town itself is clean and well laid out, and the sun-drenched buildings are in showcase condition. If it wasn’t for two very bizarre incidents I might well have been tempted to take one of the “free” timeshare tours being offered.


As we finished our initial exploration of the town, we decided to enjoy a cold, refreshing beverage at one of the beachside taverns. SailorJill spots The Green Iguana – a tavern with an inviting deck and a large chalkboard reading “Select Beers – 2 for $3.00” in large block letters. Never one to pass up a bargain we take a seat and I inquire of the waiter which of the beers are “select”. “None”, he replies, “The special is only good from 2pm to 4pm.” I apologize for inconveniencing him and tell him that we may be back after 2.


As we are leaving (and I swear I am not making this up) the manager comes bounding down the steps and yells at us – “The sign says 2-4 - are you blind”? Completely taken aback, I apologize again and explain that I just didn’t see the special hours on the sign. “How could you miss it? Its right there in red letters”. As I look at the sign again I finally see the red lettering. Squinting to read the small letters on the bottom of the sign, I do a double take and look up at the manager.


“But, it’s written in Dutch!”

“Of course its written in Dutch – this is the Dutch side of the island!”

“But the rest of the sign is in English”.

“Of course it’s in English – that is what most tourists speak!”


It was at this point that I realized that either (a) I am on candid camera, or (b) I have just entered the Twilight Zone. As I don’t see Alan Funt around, I grab SailorJill’s hand and, with frequent glances over our shoulder, quickly hurry up the boardwalk – until we spot Mama Chang’s Bamboo Bar. With a restaurant on the second floor and a bar on the first floor it is advertising “Carib and Red Stripe Beer – 99¢.” Demonstrating to SailorJill that I am a quick learner I ask Mama Chang (before sitting down) how much for a Carib beer.


“Two dollah”

“But your sign says 99 cents”

“That outside price. In here, two dallah”

“You mean if I step out back onto the deck and place an order it’s 99 cents”?

“That right.”


Well that was a no-brainer. I took two steps backward and ordered two Carib’s -and a glass for SailorJill.


“No glass! You buy beer for 99 cent and expect me to pay someone to wash glass? No glass!

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

“You bet you no think. You too cheap to bring nice lady into bah and pay two dallah for beer in glass! Say, what you name”?


Before I could stop myself, I blurt out the awful truth.


“Hah, I knew it! You Scottish! I bet you have first dallah you ever make. How nice lady get you to buy cruise”? Then answering her own question she yells, “Hah, you so cheap you prob’ly buy Guarantee cruise! You some cheap guy – no deserve nice lady.”


Not only can I not believe this is happening, but there is no way I am going to come out of this looking good. Grabbing SailorJill’s hand once again, we turn to flee, but find our way blocked by a street merchant who wants to sell me a T-shirt that reads “St. Maarten – the Friendly Island.”


Finally escaping the madness and walking back to the ship in the hot midday sun, I see a smile slowly play across SailorJill’s lips. Before I can ask her, she turns to me with hands on hips and says, “Hah! You to cheap to pay four dallah for Taxi for nice lady!”


This was going to be a long cruise. A long, long, long cruise.


Day 4 – At Sea


It has been several years since I last sailed on RCI and I have noticed several changes since my transatlantic on the Brilliance. One of the more noticeable changes appears on the dinner menu in the main dining room. It appears that you can now order a special steak by paying $14.95. While there is a free regular steak on the menu, I did sense subtle social pressure to purchase the special steak.


I had the opportunity tonight to speak to out waiter about it and asked him about the difference. “The special steak is expressed in daily”, he said “and is from our private Argentinean herd. It is cut from only the finest grain-fed prime beef – dry aged to perfection, tenderized in an aged balsamic and single barrel soy sauce marinade, and seasoned with a dry rub of exotic herbs and spices that are hand picked at the peak of ripeness and flown in from India and Madagascar. Fire seared over a mixture of Black Walnut, Oak and aged Applewood chips that are cut from sustainable forests, they are so tender and so perfect that each comes (for an additional $4.95) with a certificat d’ provenance attesting to its quality and nutritional value”.


“Are you implying that the free steak isn’t good to eat”?


“Certainly not, sir. I think the free steak is from grass fed cows in England, and one hardly hears about mad cow disease there anymore. In addition I am positive that the free beef has not been fed growth hormones or steroids and has not been irradiated before being frozen and placed in a container for shipment to our supplier. Moreover, it is prepared using microwave safe containers. Which would you prefer this evening”?


“On second thought, I think I’ll have the fish”.


“Excellent choice, sir. Will that be the Sashimi grade finely marbled blue fin tuna caught just hours ago using dolphin safe nets made of recycled coconut fibers and served with a fresh wasabi and organic soy reduction sauce- for $25.95; or the free fish that was previously frozen and falls well within the FDA guidelines for mercury content”?


“Do you have any Pasta that you charge extra for? Not yet? Great – I’ll have the Pasta.”


Day 9 – Funchal, Madeira Island


We arrive at Funchal, the capital of the Madeira Autonomous Region amidst unexpectedly delightful weather. Our guidebook says that Funchal, the largest Portuguese city outside of Portugal, took its name from “Fennel” – an herb that is endemic to the island. While I am not quite sure what Fennel is, during my undergraduate years at UCSB (with later visits to the Bahamas) I developed the Sailorjack Herbal Identification Test. It is basically quite simple. If you see the herb for sale in a stall or store - you eat it. If someone offers it for sale to you while you are lying on the beach – you smoke it. (Note: this test is not valid in Holland). As we later saw “fennel” on a lunch menu in a café, I surmise that the herb falls into the former category.


The city itself was what everyone wants an exotic port to be. Narrow cobblestone streets wend their way between whitewashed houses which are fronted by meticulously tended gardens. Broad avenues, home to delightful sidewalk cafés, are shaded by a canopy of arching branches from the trees which line the walkways. Sweeping stands of turquoise tinted bamboo provide a background to idyllic ponds - which are fed by inviting waterfalls and which are home to snow white swans which regally preen themselves – oblivious to strollers who pass by on secluded gravel paths.


We had actually arrived in Funchal during their annual Flor Fest (Flower Festival) and the city was awash in color. Trees were displaying brilliant hues of purples, golds, and reds, and the parks were conducting a virtually symphony of colors with nearly every annual and perennial you could care to name. Winners of various flower competitions were proudly displayed in a magnificent building on the main promenade and statuary throughout town was adorned with cut flowers in nearly every color of the spectrum.


As you might well imagine, as a worldly seafaring man, I care naught for flowers (or any other matter of an unmanly nature) and only deigned to pause and reflect on them as a boon to SailorJill. (But, gosh, were they pretty!)


I cannot speak to the other seasons, but should you ever have the opportunity to visit Funchal in the spring – just do it.


Day 11 – Lisbon, Portugal


We have arrived in Portugal. We have been here before and have a sympathetic soft spot in our hearts for this country because it looks so lonely; it is sort of like the orphan of Europe. I imagine the creation of Europe probably went something like:


Supreme Continental Architect #1: Well, it was a lot of hard work, but we have finally finished organizing and assembling Europe, and, amazingly, all the countries fit. By the way, that was good work with Liechtenstein - I didn’t think you could squeeze it into that small space, but you did. Well done! Let’s go grab a beer.


Supreme Continental Architect #2: Wait a minute, we have a country left over – it looks like, ah, Portugal.


SCA #1: Forget about it. You always have parts left over after assembling something. Remember the Mid-East – when we ran out of space and wound up dropping Atlantis into the sea. Besides, Europe is looking real good to me as it is. Just toss Portugal into the spare parts bin and let’s get that beer.


SCA#2: We can’t do that. The instructions here clearly say we have to have a Portugal.


SCA#1: All right already. Let’s see – why don’t you just stick it way over there on the very end of Spain. It will be out of the way and won’t clutter up the good work we’ve already done. NOW can we go get that beer?


Well, as you can just imagine, by the time this was all ironed out the other countries had a head start in getting organized and had had time to pick the really cool animals for their national symbols: Britain got the Lion, Russia got the Bear, America had the Bald Eagle, Arabia – the horse, Germany – the police dog, and China - the Dragon. Portugal was left with – the jellyfish. Oh, sure – they tried to dress it up by calling it a Man-O-War, but a rose by any other name is still just a jellyfish. No wonder they don’t put their national symbol on top of their flagpole.


With so much going against it, you would have thought that Portugal would have been content to just make good Port and doze in the sun, but the city of Lisbon is a modern metropolis and a renowned cultural center - with outstanding museums, magnificent boulevards, eclectic art galleries, an active Opera venue, and, of course, the International Horror Film Festival.


Day 12 – Vigo, Spain


We have arrived in Vigo, Spain in time to participate in their annual RainFest, which apparently runs from the middle of January through the end of December. Despite what Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews may have us believe, the rain in Spain does NOT stay mainly in the plain. With umbrellas in hand, we leave the ship to explore the city, but are pleasantly surprised when the dark clouds are replaced with a bright late morning sun.


Vigo is a charming port city and its biggest claim to fame occurred in 1702 when a combined British and Dutch fleet bottled up the fabled Spanish Silver Fleet and captured or destroyed every warship and galleon in the ensuing Battle of Vigo Bay.


Today, Vigo is known as the jumping off point to visit the cathedral of Santiago de Compostello – a UNESCO world heritage site and rumored burial place of the Apostle James. As the bus ride to Santiago is nearly two hours long, we elect, instead, to explore the port of Vigo - which is known as the Olive City. On our tour we inspect the city’s official olive tree, visit the Olive Museum, admire the olive tree on the city’s heraldic emblem, buy a jar of official Vigo Olive Oil, but pass on packages of Vigo Stuffed Queen Olives.


In an effort to escape the incessant reference to olives, we take a seat in a small seaside patio bar to enjoy the sultry afternoon warmth, along with a cold beer, and notice a sign promoting the specialty of the house – The Charles Dickens Martini. I ask the waiter why the martini is called the Charles Dickens and he proudly announces that it is because it comes with an Olive or Twist. Beaming widely at his own witticism, he proceeds to ask, “What can I get olive you?” Then, just as I figured it couldn’t get any worse, I spot the name of the bar on the menu – The Olive Garden.


It was the straw (or olive) that broke the camel’s back. RCI’s transatlantic spice cruise finally got to me. I could take the pre-marinated oregano goats, the “herb” infused mamajuana, and even the island so overrun with fennel they named the capital after it, but the city that never met an olive it didn’t like did me in. SailorJill led me back to the ship a broken man, doomed to forever sit in a rocking chair reading books by Oliver North and watching movies directed by Oliver Stone.


Day 13 – Coruna, Spain


I wish I had the space to describe our fantastic visit, but as I have already written a tome here I will save my discussion on La Coruna (and our side of what happened to us) for a future report.


Day 15 – Heathrow


Our adventure and our most bizarre cruise (with the possible exception of the a past cruise on the Dream) was over. As we sat in our chairs at Heathrow awaiting our flight we discussed the three things we were most looking forward to: 1) Getting home to see friends and family, 2) printing out our pictures and reliving our marvelous adventures, and 3) finding a local source for Mamajuana. And not necessarily in that order.

Edited by SailorJack

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OMG!!! I am LMAO!!!!! But I am a teacher and I am at school......no time to finish. I'll have to come back later. I really appreciate your humor and the time it has taken you to write this review. I'll be back when I can ditch a few students!!

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Bravo SailorJack!!! You've written the most entertaining piece of literature (er, review) that I have read in a long time!!


Thank you for sharing!

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I needed that today! That review was the highlight of my day!


Thanks for the laughs.



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I knew better than to open up a SailorJack review while I was at work!!:D



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Truly a "must read" review!


I laughed, I cried, it bacame a part of me...


Thank you!


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I could not stop laughing at all!!! This has to be the best review of any trip I've ever read! Your writting is incredible, heck I even feel like doing spell-check before I submit this to be sure it's posted properly! LOL!!! Thanks for your entertaining story, I'm only wondering is SailorJill has read it!


Edited by texlatin1

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For those of you that are new to the SailorJack style of writing, I highly recommend searching for past reviews by him. His review of the Norwegian Dream is a classic that should be required reading for all Cruise Critic members.:D

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Outstanding review!! I'll have to look up that Dream review!


Thanks for your efforts!

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SailorJack is the best reviewer by far! Thanks for another hilarious short story. I'll also buy your book.:D

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Thank you so much for your review. My parents just got back from that same cruise and I think they will love to read your review.


I am also from Georgia and love your opening about how similiar GA/AL and Haiti and the Dominican Republic!! :eek:


I just wish I had talent like that.....:D

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I knew when I opened this, it would be refreshing, funny and entertaining. You never disappoint. Loved it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


By the way......did you sail on the QE2 recently???

Edited by Bargeo

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OMG that was the FUNNIEST thing I have read in years ..... Thank you for a great read Sailor Jack.... and to think I got in trouble when I told SWMBO I would not book below deck four as I had heard all the rooms below that came with a pair of overalls and a large coal shovel !!!!


BTW could I get one of your screensavers ???? It sounds great .....




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Sailor Jack, the one and only. And the best:D


Do you write for a living, or just to amuse us?


Thanks for your kind comment - and to everyone else who has been so gracious!


I don't write for a living, but I do get a kick out of writing about the humorous aspects of cruising. Glad you enjoy reading it.

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