Let’s jump back into the wild and wacky world of festive furloughs with my 4th tip on making the most of your luxury cruise vacations.
If you have been following along you know that, in order to assure you the highest level of vacation satisfaction, I have arrogantly appealed to your primal nature to emotionally embrace the following 3 life altering habits:
1. Always Walk to the Right
2. Stand Your Ground When Walking to the "Right"
3. Avoid Long Lines at All Costs
Today, I want you to consider making the most difficult choice of your cruise vacation experience by being courageous and impulsive and................Follow the Unbeaten Path
Take the Road Less Traveled
I understand that when you are on vacation you are basically there to relax and unwind that giant ball of stress you have created during times in between vacations.
You don’t want to make waves (that’s a funny cruise pun) and add even more stress to your life with making risky decisions while on valuable vacation time.
Making sure you have your travel itinerary all planned out before boarding the ship or booking all of your shore excursions while on the ship is a good way to travel.
No surprise, no mistakes. No stress.
My recent cruise took me to Nassau in the Bahamas, St. Thomas in the British Virgin Islands, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Grand Turk Island.
All four of these locations offered some cool excursions available through the cruise ship: historic tours of Nassau, Bahamas, swimming with stingrays in Grand Turk or shopping in downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico.
That’s fine for some people.
You travel in comfortable buses, stop for lunch at nice, clean restaurants and even get to meet some of the locals.
In fact, my partner and I booked a snorkeling tour on Grand Turk that was probably the highlight of our trip.
Even though I have done it before, there is something about swimming out over an island shelf and watching the coral sea floor drop from 7 feet to 7000 feet below you to get your adrenaline rushing.
But, what I am asking you to do is make sure you really grab your vacation by the horns and live it.
“No regrets” is the name of the game.
So often, in our daily life, we shield ourselves from truly experiencing life.
Back home we confine ourselves to an overly-burdensome work schedule (that seldom yields the desired payoff we expect) and we trade years of our lives for many late nights sitting at an empty desk in front of a computer screen.
Why wait to experience all that life has to offer? Things do not miraculously get better as you get older. The more set in your ways you become, the harder it usually is to uproot and explore yourself and the world around you.
You already made the decision to break away from the boredom of your work-a-day world by taking a cruise vacation so why not put a little life in your trip.
Sometimes you have to take a chance to find the true heart of a place you have never been.
On our recent cruise my partner and I had absolutely no plans when we walked off our ship at the port in San Juan Puerto Rico at 7 AM Thursday morning.
We basically had 8 hours to explore the island and make the stop as memorable as possible.
We walked off the pier with the rest of the cruise ship "lemmings" that were filling up buses ready to take them on their predetermined tours.
We strolled to the edge of the all of the activity and talked to a few of the outlying bus drivers to see what they were doing.
It appeared that nothing really opens up in San Juan until at least 10 in the morning.
We found one rather rickety looking van that was giving a tour of the local part of the island for $10 so we jumped on board.
It may not have been the fanciest of guided tours but we got to see most of downtown San Juan, we heard a lot about the local history and made stops at local beaches.
The best part of the tour was that the driver did what the passengers wanted. We traveled down side streets, stopped to look at local architecture, visited the historic Sixto Escobar baseball stadium built in 1935 and even made the driver stop at a local Puerto Rican "Starbucks" to refill our morning coffee. The owners were excited to see 20 people pile into their tiny shop sampling different coffee blends and pastries.
The tour continued but after an hour and a half we decided to jump off the bus in Old San Juan to explore the Forts and history there on our own.
Puerto Rico’s geographic position at the western edge of the Caribbean made historic San Juan one of the key frontier outposts of Spain’s West Indies dominions.
Almost the entire city of Old San Juan is surrounded by fortress like walls and is designated as a National Historic Site.
There was too much to take in with the short time we were in port.
We did explore one of the two citadels built in the 1500’s/1600’s Castillo San Felipe del Morro and the incredibly captivating cemetery next door.
We opted to search through the city itself to see what we would find in the hopes of returning to the island in the future to see the other citadel Castillo San Cristóbal, Fort San Juan de la Cruz and the other historical landmarks.
Like I said earlier, having no plan is sometimes the best plan.
We had been walking for several hours (and got caught in a brief rain storm in the cemetery) and getting parched and knew we had to start heading back toward our cruise ship.
We didn’t know that at the time.
All we saw was an intriguing looking colonial building atop a hill on the corner of Calle Cristo and San Sebastián Streets.
It was right on the corner across from the Plaza San Jose with open walls so we could see a long wooden bar and tourists enjoying themselves.
We instantly knew we found the right place.
You couldn’t beat the ambiance and we began to enjoy some frosty cold local beers Magna and Medalla served up with a smile by the bartender Luis.
Luis surprised us with several rounds of local rum shots with whipped cream toppers that were delicious.
We stayed as long as we could.
Luis hooked us up with shots for the road, travel cups for our beer and a couple of bottles of cold water to keep us hydrated.
This is a place we will definitely be back to.
Long story short, we wandered our way through Old San Juan enjoying the historic sites and architecture while stopping several times to relieve some of our beer consumption at local bars.
We met some great fun locals and saw some wonderful old buildings.
This was an afternoon we will cherish and remember forever.
We took a chance and chose the unbeaten path and are far richer for the memories.
Back last decade when I was part or the corporate rat race, the company I worked for took their superstar employees on trips to celebrate their success.
Well, one such trip was to the Hilton El Conquistador Resort located way out on the Eastern edge of the island.
You know the kind of place: a beautiful resort with its own beach island, golf course, restaurants and at the time I think it even had its own Casino.
But, if you haven’t figured it out already, I was driven to experience more of the local flavor and find the unbeaten path.
One day, a couple of us found a service path down from the resort which led to a dirt road which led to the small fishing village of Las Croabas.
It’s definitely a sleepy little place snuggled in the surrounding jungle. Well, as fate would have it we found a couple of local bars and spent the afternoon talking with the locals. We came to hear about something called the local "Bioluminescent Bay" and were intrigued.
Bio bay (as the locals called it) was first spotted by the Spanish in the seventeenth century when they stumbled upon the “devil” glowing water lagoon.
The uniqueness of bio bay waters consists in its ecocommunity of luminescent microorganisms, named dinoflagellates, which are able to light up in the dark.
They float in the water in masses and emit light when disturbed.
One again, the fates aligned and we came to meet Captain Tony (name is changed to protect the innocent) who promised to sneak us into the bay that evening for a nominal fee.
I have to tell you that this was an experience of a lifetime.
We had no idea what we were getting into.
They loaded up a cooler of beer for us and we all boarded his little skiff and headed around the coast and into a narrow inlet hidden by overhanging Mangrove trees.
Every so often Tony would shine his spotlight in the trees to catch sight of Monster-sized lizards snoozing the night away.
The air was filled with the singing of the local Coqui tree frogs.
Since the bay is a “preserved natural park” area, Captain Tony made us duck down and be quiet in order to escape the surveillance of the DNER (the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources) rangers.
Basically, we were breaking the law because swimming is prohibited in the bioluminescent bay and a limit of the total number of people that can paddle into the bay on a daily basis is enforced.
As soon as we entered the lagoon you could tell this was a special.
The night scenery was lit up by a half moon and it had begun to drizzle (which in effect increases the bioluminescence of the waters) and everywhere there was thriving concentrations of glowing microorganisms.
Those of us who were courageous enough slipped over the sides of the boat and swam with the light “devils” through streaks of emerald green and ultramarine blue and yellow.
It was amazing.
Visiting and swimming in Bio Bay was a mystifying and humbling experience.
There are other examples I am always willing to share if you have the time. All it will cost you is a couple of cold beers.
Would you like to hear about our unique private tour by “El Marko” and his young cousin in Nassau, Bahamas that included unscheduled stops to purchase drugs?
Maybe you would rather hear about our stoned rastafarian cab (I take artistic liberty calling a rusted out 1968 Oldsmobile a cab) driver that showed us the "sights" in Jamaica.
How about the time I was snorkeling by myself near Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas and came face to face with a fish (I think it was a Grouper) so big it could have swallowed me whole.
Try taking "The Road Less Travelled." Maybe you will meet a "Luis the bartender" or a "Captain Tony" of your own.
But only if you take a chance.
What do you say if tomorrow we talk about a couple of tips that will make your time on the cruise ship more relaxing and enjoyable.
Thanks for joining me…………………….