14 Days in the Southern Caribbean, aka, most fabulous last-minute vacation eva!

Happy Pi Day! Pi may not have been much on my mind recently, but pie certainly has been. For you see, I recently returned from a vacation with my extended family’s most accomplished pie maker—and I don’t think an evening went by between Feb. 25 and Mar. 9 that didn’t feature a mention of pie or a discussion of our ship’s standard Apple Pie a la Mode in comparison.

Ft. Lauderdale, two sea days, Aruba, Curacao, sea day, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten, St. Thomas, two sea days, Ft. Lauderdale

My maternal grandfather, Leo, has four siblings with whom he’s always been close, and in the last few years my grandparents have taken several cruises with these siblings and spouses. Gleo (Gloria+Leo), started planning this two-week Southern Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Constellation several months ago, and as I continued to enjoy my funemployment I had in the back of my mind the idea of joining them. I wasn’t sure I had the time to do it until the morning of February 22, however–and within four hours, Ro and I were booked on a cruise departing three days hence! We were thrilled to join Gleo, along with great-aunts Lee and Bert, great-uncle Bill, and great-aunt’s-boyfriend Irv as a last-minute surprise.

Last-minute is pretty key here. We ended up booking the cruise and flight to Florida about 50 hours before we left for the trip, and we literally booked our return flight from Ro’s iphone while waiting at the airport for our departure flight. We got about the same price for our cruise as we would have gotten if we had booked several months earlier, but our airfare cost about twice as much as my grandparents’ (booked in November). Since I’m a champion packer—who, shh, was still partially packed from Southeast Asia and recent weekend trips—getting my suitcase ready last-minute wasn’t an issue. (I approach packing using the container approach, using separate organizers/bags/folders for each category of clothing and accessory, since you asked.) Instead, our biggest problem with such a short prep period was that we didn’t have much time to plan for our destinations.

Knip Beach, Curacao

Our two-week cruise featured five sea-days and eight ports in the Southern and Eastern Caribbean, with a day spent in each port. Usually before a cruise (and did I mention this was my 18th cruise? jeez), we would have spent time researching each port and figuring out the most interesting things to see most cost-effectively. For example, since ship’s shore excursions are often more expensive and more limited than excursions booked directly through independent operators in each port, with more time I would have done more research on operators and recommendations. (To get started finding non-ship’s excursions, searching for recommended operators on Cruise Critic is a great place to start.) We were able to do some of this, and all of our port days turned out well, but with more time time we might have done more planning more calmly.

Deciding, within a four-hour period, whether I+Ro could go on this trip and whether we could justify the cost and time away was a little stressful, but in the end we were very glad everything worked out so well. I got to know family with whom I had never spent much time, and I don’t know if another opportunity like this one will come about again. And with great weather, beautiful beaches and islands, and delicious cruisey food, how could we go wrong?

I know you probably don’t want to read a step-by-step rundown of our time on the cruise, so instead I’ll leave you with my favorite kind of trip summary: by the numbers.

Average age of the members of our party, excluding Ro and me: 86.3

Approximate average age among the 2000 passengers on the ship: 65

Number of people ages 3-18, out of these full 2000 passengers: 11 (Do you see what I’m getting at here, about the demographics of this cruise?)

Number of injuries or illnesses among our party that required a visit to the ship’s doctor: 6

Most serious injury in our party: broken nose and two black eyes from a ship lurching-related fall

Most ridiculous injury in our party: driving Leo’s electric scooter over one’s own feet

Most important piece of family trivia learned: In his youth, Leo could skin 85 muskrats in an hour (with carcasses purchased from the fur trappers and pelts then sold to the traders)

Games of trivia played on the ship in which Ro’s and my team either won or tied for the win: approx. 6/14

Most important game of trivia played: Broadway Name That Tune, which I won despite playing solo versus teams of up to 6

Number of pages of novels read during trip: 1700

Most embarrassing moment of trip: when Ro and I tried to leave a show early and were called out by the performer from stage. This happened TWICE.

The family on the final formal night. Clockwise from top left: Ro, Me, Irv, Lee, Bert, Bill, Leo, and Gloria.

Number of first-time ports for me: 8/8

Number of islands visited that are independent countries I can add to my list of countries visited: 4

Number of islands visited that are kind of independent countries: 3

Total number of countries I have now visited (counting generously vs. technically): 48, 42

Official ship’s excursions taken: Aruba (catamaran and snorkeling); St. Lucia (jungle mountain biking excursion); St. Thomas/St. John (ferry to St. John for snorkeling and beach)

Non-ship tours taken through private operators in port: Curacao (all-day van tour of island with Peter Trips); Barbados (found a 3-hour van tour at the tourism desk when we got to port); Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten (all-day minibus island tour with Bernard’s Tours)

DIY days in port: Grenada (walked around town, took a cab to the beach); Antigua (cab to the beach)

Island to which I’d most like to return for a longer visit: Curacao for a low-key vacation, Saint-Martin for a partying-and-French-food vacation, or Barbados for a no-cost-barred vacation

Planes landing overhead at Sunset Beach, Sint Maarten

So, a great trip overall—very different from my recent tromp through Southeast Asia, but variety is the spice of travel. Cruising has its drawbacks, like not getting to spend more than a few daytime hours in any given place, but it’s hard to find an easier, more accessible vacation. Cruising caters to a range of activity levels, since you can do anything you want in port and still make it to Family Cocktail Hour and Dinner. Two members of our group never even left the ship and still had a lovely time hanging out on the ship and enjoying the family. Ro and I enjoyed plenty of beaches and sightseeing, and got a taste of where we might someday care to return, and only had to unpack once.

The next big adventure? Moving to DC! As I’ve mentioned before I’ve had a tentative job in DC to start around April, and today I got an official start date. I’ll be working as a management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, and am starting April 9 and heading to DC shortly before that. Very excited that everything has worked out, and although spending six months at home while job searching and then waiting to start work wasn’t what I expected, I have no regrets–especially since I got to spend so much time traveling and with family.

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