Thorn Around the World

"Dartin' For St. Martin"
When it comes to cruising, I like to think I know all the tricks: how to find a great deal, get free upgrades, and how to save on hidden costs like excursions and alcohol. For example, this fifteen day cruise on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas from Spain to Panama only cost $400-so cheap I could afford a room to myself for double price. Unfortunately, I never got upgraded to a balcony room, but who spends all their time in their cabin anyway? Of course, avoiding the expensive excursions is easy-just don't sign up for any, and walk off the ship to find the same tours for half price through a private driver in the port. And then there's the alcohol: it's usually fairly easy to take a bottle or two on board in your luggage and save a bundle on costly cocktails. This plan worked when I first boarded in Palma de Mallorca, and I wanted to re-supply in Tenerife with a couple bottles of rum-before five long days at sea crossing the Atlantic. But, luck wasn't with me that day-I couldn't find any darts in Santa Cruz, and I couldn't get my liquor past ship security. It was either going to be a long, dry, sober trans-Atlantic crossing, or an expensive one.

Luckily, I had plenty of friends by now. Several people from my dining table assignments turned out to be great fun-couples from Israel and Switzerland, gals from England or Holland, guys from Canada or Germany, travelers from Australia and the USA, tons of expats living in Central America, and even a pair of Uruguayans were part of my growing social circles. Everyone had interesting and endless stories to tell.
The days just rolled together into one long cycle of relaxation and entertainment. Every other night I'd splurge on some drinks, but mostly I just wandered the boat from one activity to another, hanging out with new friends or making more.

When I wasn't playing trivia or scrabble by the pool, I'd be leaning off the deck, counting flying fish and looking for whales or dolphins. I imagined the early explorers that first crossed the oceans, and then think about the luxurious conditions I was enjoying. It was amazing and humbling to be in the middle of the Atlantic, days from land. But, the Caribbean-and our next port, St. Martin-was getting closer. If I wasn't daydreaming or playing games, I might be in a table tennis tournament or playing piano in a lounge overlooking the sea. Afternoons and evenings were filled with buffets, fine dinners, and adventurous conversations. Of course, after the comedian, juggler, or musical show, there was an obligatory hour or so at the sky high disco on the top deck.

Other than an alcohol shortage, there was more luck to be had. Crossing the ocean from east to west meant that every other day we'd be in a new time zone every other day-and we'd get to turn the clocks back by an hour those nights! It was also late autumn, and the clocks spun back another sixty minutes for Daylight Savings Time. Overall, this fifteen day itinerary included nine extra hours of cruising! It was awesome to stay up later partying, get up earlier for breakfast and still get plenty of sleep.

Finally, after five sunsets and five sunrises, we woke to the heavy warm air of the Caribbean. Islands began to appear in the distance, and St. Martin was one of them. After so many sea days, people were ready for some tropical paradise, giddily watching the ship slide into port. It was a gorgeous day, and after a hearty fresh breakfast aboard ship, some friends and I went ashore without a plan-maybe a drive or walk, a tour or a beach, waterfall or snorkeling. And, spying for darts.

Like most Caribbean islands, St. Martin has a unique mix of history: half the island is controlled by France, the other half Netherlands. Surely, I could easily find a dartboard or two in the primary Dutch port of Philipsburg. Alas, we would dock in Marigot, the French port, and oches would be harder to find. Plus, it was morning, and we had an early departure time-not many night pubs would be open.
We walked, a bit aimless, from the port shops down some streets through throngs of vendors and local tour operators selling their goods. We stopped at a beach side bar, fittingly named Sint Rose. We got a couple ice cold Carib beers, and looked out at the coconut trees, beach umbrellas and glistening bay. We spied some other friends under the shady palms, and went to say hi-they already had a giant bucket of ice, filled with beers, and looked set for the day. "Six frosty beers for five bucks, and the best table on the beach, can't beat that," said one with a smug smile. They were clearly experts at this. The dread-locked waiter dropped off a second bucket full of Caribs. "Wanna join us?" said another with grin.

It didn't take long to decide. The search for darts on a tropical island could wait-maybe in Barbados in Antigua; so could snorkeling, waterfalls or seeing the sights.spending too much and trying to hard to cram it all in. Besides, I'd done it all before. Today, I would sit on a perfect beach on a perfect day and get drunk-one ice cold Carib lager at a time, listening to steel drums, and munching on fresh fruit and fish, until sunset.

It's hard to say just how relaxing it was.

Over and double out.

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