Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My husband and I in Nassau at Fort Fincastle

Several months ago my parents and I walked along Waterfront Park in Charleston, enjoying the views of the harbor and the historic homes.  Children played in and by the water fountains.  We walked towards the dock, planning to sit on the swings to enjoy the view and to visit.  For the first time since moving here, the Carnival Cruise Ship was in port.  With its bright colors and red fin smokestack it looked glaringly out of place.  The ship was larger than I expected.  I had seen the billboards debating the effect of the cruise ships on the area but I had not seen the ship in port before.
            My parents and I complained and grumbled a little about the giant colorful ship docked alongside the historical city, then I remembered I had a scheduled vacation on that ship in a few months.  I fell silent.  A large tanker sailed into harbor and deeper along the river, loaded with crates to offload.  Charleston is a port city and many ships pass through the harbor daily, bringing in goods from all over the world.   These tankers dock deeper down the river.  The cruise ship docks in the middle of the tourist area of the city, just down from the City Market.  I visited downtown several times before and after that day without seeing any cruise ships in port.
            Months later my husband and I arrived at port early in the morning, ready for our cruise.  Embarking early, we found the process easy.  In almost no time we were sitting on a back deck, nearly alone, sipping lemonade and enjoying the view of the Ravenel Bridge.  We were able to walk around the ship, enjoying views of Sullivan’s Island, the ocean and the skyline of the city with all the church steeples reaching into the clouds.  Just before launch time we moved to the front of the ship, leaning on a rail.  A few people were waiting on the city dock to see us off.  It was a chilly day, but sunny.  At 5:00, departure time, the ship blew its horn once.  It was so loud I ducked, nearly diving to the floor to the amusement of everyone around me.  The ship slowly pulled from the dock, backed up along the shore until it was lined up with the deeper channel, we turned and headed out to sea.  The passengers were festive, but the wind was brisk and cold.  Quickly we entered a fog and lost sight of land before we had pulled away.  Most passengers quickly tired of the cold wind and moved back inside, but my husband and I enjoyed the thrill of the wind in our faces as we sailed off. 

A quiet place to enjoy our meals,  in Charleston and during the cruise

            Our cruise had begun, and we enjoyed a wonderful 5 days, docking twice in the Bahamas.  We walked around Nassau and rode a moped around Freeport.  Our last day we woke in our homeport and quickly found our favorite deck for coffee and our last moments to enjoy the views.  The sun was barely up.  The fog was thick and all we could see of the Ravenel Bridge was the light at the very top triangle.   As the sun rose and brightened the fog burned off.  The water was golden in the morning sun.  Sea birds skimmed just above the sea, their wings dragging golden ripples across the smooth water.  Dolphins surfaced and dove.  The harbor was breathtaking.  The trip had been great, the ports beautiful, but how wonderful that it was our home port that took my breath away!

Last night, leaving Freeport

            The cruise ship held 2200 passengers during our trip.  The ship had 10 levels, and we were able to explore all but the bottom 3.  Our room was small, with no window, but it was very comfortable.  The only times we felt crowded were when we walked along the promenade deck during the evening.  This was the deck with the casinos and bars, and everyone seemed to be there at night.  We usually hung out on our favorite back deck, looking at the stars and the ocean.  Truly each person on the ship had a different vacation, from the dancing, drinking and gambling group to the families eating and shopping, those that visited the spa and gym, and then us.  We walked the ship during the day, sat and enjoyed views, toured on our own at the ports and enjoyed the excellent dining.  I am glad we went.

 Getting around town on a moped gave us freedom to explore away from crowds

Nature preserve, this is how the Bahamas looked before development        

    As to the controversy about the ships docking in Charleston, I am unsure.  In Nassau the dock was full of giant floating hotels, and these ships could be seen from all scenic spots.  In Freeport the ships docked in an industrial area, and tourists had to take taxis or rent mopeds, as we did.  The effect on the town seemed less obvious.  The water was clear and beautiful in both ports.  There is a lot to read about the cruise ships and I have just started.  Some people are concerned about the black smoke that comes from the generators when the ship is in port.  I can understand that.  Some people do not want the type of tourist they think cruise ships bring into town.  At a City Council meeting this type of tourist was described as “Heavy-drinking, balloon hat, flip flop, fanny pack wearers.”  Is this a cultural judgment on certain types of people?  Many of the tourists on the ship only made it to the shops in each of the ports.  As sad as that is from a travel point of view, they spent money in the port, good for the local economy.  And for every fanny pack wearer shopping, there were others that explored the restaurants, beaches and other attractions.  Travelers are a diverse group, even those on cruise ships.

Quote is from A Look at Charleston’s Cruise Ship Controversy, by Paul Motter.  Fox News.  Nov 1, 2011.