Twenty years ago we boarded a Carnival cruise ship with two-year-old Christopher. I was so busy that I didn’t have time to do the usual vacation planning so we thought a Caribbean cruise would work out well. It sure did! We didn’t consider the advantages of the free child care, which would whisk Christopher away to Camp Carnival so that we could enjoy a leisurely meal, a few hours at the blackjack tables, or even an overnight on the balcony. Considering how much fun we had, it’s somewhat surprising that it’s taken us this long to board another ship. But then again, we like to travel independently unless circumstances dictate otherwise…
So I’ve had my eye on these “repositioning cruises” for years now. Cruise companies relocate their ships from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean sea to avoid hurricane season, often at great discounts for guests due to the many days at sea. We decided that 2018 was the year to try “repo cruises” to work our way over to Europe and back. We hoped that we would enjoy the trip, particularly as the first cruise we booked an inside cabin and I have a propensity for seasickness. And we were going to be on the boat for three weeks. That’s a long time!
Costa did not disappoint!
Not only did they upgrade our cabin to a room with a view, but the room itself was bigger than most we have booked on terra firma. Even more in our favor, somehow the dining room got confused over our super-cheapo wine package (conveniently bought pool-side) and gave us unlimited amounts for the first two weeks despite our attempts to clarify the situation! Best of all, the activities on the cruise were great. Fran and I were able to take super-fun Italian lessons from the fabulous Martina, which expanded both our verbal AND physical vocabulary beyond Duolingo. We improved on our salsa dancing and attempted a couple others (Bolero and Tango). I even got to attend yoga class fairly regularly. We learned about our destinations AND sampled molecular cocktails, including a “solid” Negroni and a funky blue pebbly drink. Best of all, we had a blast on our shore destinations, which was probably the biggest reason why we did the cruise at all.
In typical Rumsky style, I did a ton of research during all those rainy days in January, figuring out how to see the highlights in each port of call while spending the minimum amount of money. Steve and Jo Zimmerman also helped out by contributing a Fodor’s guidebook to the cause. So armed with guidebook pages and internet research on our kindle’s, we set out to do walking tours or unique excursions in each of our stops.
We quickly learned that each port had someone handing out maps and willing to give us some current information about local attractions and transportation, which was essential given that some of the websites I visited were not kept up to date. We also gave our best effort to visit a Post office at all of the new countries to expand Christopher’s stamp collection, which also gave a unique twist to our visit. The most important things we tried to do was either walk or take public transportation whenever we could, to truly soak in as much of island life as we could.
Given all this, our first stop at La Romana, Dominican Republic, gave me the biggest challenge. We had little interest in seeing the nearby touristy resort of Altos de Chavon while we were on Hispanola, the beginning of European civilization in the “new world.” I tried mightily to figure out how to take a local bus to Santo Domingo in the time period allotted until luckily, the cruise decided to offer a very reasonably-priced outing to this historic city. Imagine my disappointment when they cancelled the English-speaking tour due to lack of interest! Undeterred, we asked to sign up for the Italian tour. We figured we had so much information about the major sights that we could just supplement whatever we needed with our own research. To our good fortune, the guide was a fluent English speaker and took a liking to us, as did the rest of our cruise-mates, making sure that we got all the information we needed throughout the day. It was absolutely fabulous in every way, from the beautiful sights to the amazing history to the fun atmosphere created by our companions.
I would encourage anyone going to the Dominican Republic or even thinking about a visit there to spend some time in Santo Domingo. The oldest existing settlement founded by Columbus, and a UNESCO world heritage site, is simply stunning visually, and obviously full of historical significance for us Americans. Here you will find the Alcazar, where Columbus’s son (Don Diego Colon) stayed and governed the new colony (despite threats of cannibalism, starvation, etc). The building is over 500 years old, built by Tiano indios without the use of nails. The Alcazar contains all kinds of cool historical goodies and impressive artwork of the great colonizers, chock-full of interesting facts. For example, the beds used by Colon and his wife were short because they slept propped up with pillows in a sitting position. Pretty wild! We walked down the Calle Las Damas, where colonial ladies would show off their latest fashions, to the Catedral Primada de America, the first cathedral in the new world (and the driving force of Spain deciding to fund Colombus’s excursions). This sumptuous building provides a gorgeous backdrop to a decidedly Mexican-feeling “zocolo” or square, surrounded by impressive buildings, with little kids running after pigeons around the base of Colombus’s statue rising out of the center. Other impressive neighbors include the Fortaleza Ozama and the National Pantheon of the Dominican Republic, whose chandelier was apparently donated by Mussolini to the dictator Trujillo, now buried in the building. The tour did not even skimp on lunch, treating us to a nice buffet in a historic restaurant (Buche) where plexiglass protected the exposed ancient remains. Best of all, we were able to swing by the current house of the president, modeled after the White House, as well as travel across the river to visit the Moro, the lighthouse housing some of Columbus’s remains. The long, modern building is in the shape of a cross bearing the names of places he founded along the sides. The magnitude of this man’s impact is awesome, both positive and negative. When he was brought back to Spain, destitute and in chains, did he ever imagine the impact his journeys would have? Could he, in his wildest dreams, have begun to imagine the magnitude of the USA?
Obviously, the trip to Santo Domingo was extremely special from a historical standpoint. The next day, Costa took us to Catalina Island, its private property in the Dominican Republic. What a totally fun day! Two different rounds of snorkeling revealed a surprising and interesting amount of fish, and even some interesting coral. Fran and I have done so much snorkeling in western Caribbean that it was very fun to compare what we’ve seen to our experience in the eastern one. We also managed to buy some stamps for Christopher (after Fran heroically took a boat to the ship and back to grab some cash), and see a fun local performance. I always am a sucker for local singing and dancing! Overall it was a great relaxing day and Costa did a super job providing us with beach-related needs and food.