Perhaps I saw a couple of manatee when we were driving our rental car from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale (from one cruise to the next) where we had pulled into a small park beside Indian River – or maybe they were just seals. Dolphins were more plentiful: as each ship left port, and again on our return, dolphins entertained us. One turned into a duo: mom and a small-sized duplicate “attached” to her side, copying move for move, dive for dive.
From our balconies we endlessly watched flying fish disturbed the turbulence created by the ships’ engines; these silver, winged shapes looked like birds as they flew short distances and longer. Sometimes they skipped like stones from one wave-top to another before disappearing. Stormy petrels often accompanied the ships and woe betide a tardy flying fish! The birds dived straight at them, effortlessly scooped one up, turned it lengthwise and swallowed, all while on the wing. They seldom missed their target.
The favourite activity for bestest buddy Joan and me when in port was to go snorkelling. On each outing we saw more different kinds and colours of fish than I could count or remember; always something special or different would show up. On the excursion from Nassau in the Bahamas new coral growth, peeping out of the sand or older larger corals, displayed brilliant colours. Beside St. John’s Island near St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands we floated above a turtle, watching its beaked face graze along the sandy ocean floor, totally undisturbed by the human shapes above it. Joan is from the Maritime Provinces of Canada where we had feasted on lobsters in 2013; here in the Caribbean we learned that their equivalent, a spiny saltwater lobster, is sometimes referred to as a crayfish because it does not have the large front pinchers. We saw one, as large as any lobster we had eaten, its matching legs moving it along beside the coral when we snorkelled near Grand Turk.
Each cruise-line with vessels afloat in the Caribbean Sea, it now seems, has its own tiny tropical island – or part of one – equipped as a playground for their passengers. From the ship we could see low-lying land with palm trees, white sandy beaches laden with beach chairs and sometimes a tallish structure for an unknown purpose. At each one, company boats came out from a protected harbour to our anchored ship, loaded a couple of hundred swim-suit clad people, and took them ashore. Here, an array of inevitable shops plus a bar or two were the first small buildings, dark, smiling attendants vying for our attention and U.S. money. At the first one, we hoped to avoid the blaring onboard music, but each person or couple had brought their own, so we had it coming at us from each side and behind. That quickly got us into the water, surfacing for lunch at the so-called barbecue. Piles and piles of food awaited us, brought ashore from the ship. At the second one the aroma of cooking meat kept our digestive juices flowing as we dined.
An excursion here offered the chance to swim with the sting rays. While not tempted to participate, Joan and I did walk over to see them. Able to go in and out of the enclosure, huge unmistakeable shadow-ish shapes complete with spine-tipped tail were still drifting around after the swimmers had emerged. “You should have come!” we were told. “They are so smooth to stroke and pat.” Somehow we had managed to enjoy ourselves in and on the tropical seas without doing that.