This is our first real pleasure cruise, although I've certainly spent a lot of time at sea. When I was just a lad, back around 1950, I sailed to Europe aboard the New Amsterdam, a Holland-American Line ship. Although it wasn't a pleasure cruise, I have some fond memories of that trip. My mother, brother and I were on our way to join my father, an Army officer stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. When we returned the next year we sailed on a former troop ship which wasn't nearly so pleasant. With those two exceptions, all of my time at sea has been aboard Navy ships, which were far from luxurious.
So far we've made one port stop, in Labadee, a peninsula on the north coast of Haiti. It's a rather strange place. The cruise line apparently leases it from the Haitian government and has turned it into a playground for their passengers. It has all the amenities: lovely beaches; all kinds of water sports and other forms of recreation; shops where one can buy local Haitian goods; and, of course, bars and dining facilities. All of this in an area isolated from the rest of Haiti, the poorest and most densely populated country in the Americas. The cruise passengers can't leave Labadee and very few Haitians can enter.
(The above photo shows Diane and me on the beach in Labadee, Haiti. I'm already looking a bit chubby thanks to the omnipresent shipboard food.)
This visit, then, has generated some mixed feelings. I suspect the money given to the Haitian regime goes nowhere but in the pockets of its corrupt officials. But some Haitians probably benefit from the arrangement, either through jobs or the sale of their cottage industry crafts and other products. On balance, however, I suspect it has little positive impact on the average Haitian and only enriches the regime and provides the cruise line with a cheap place to let their passengers relax ashore for a day. I've included a few photos so you can get a idea of what Labadee looks like,
The ship has cellular service at sea along with a number of WiFi “hot spots” for Internet access. Of course, they charge for Internet access (they charge for everything) but it's not too unreasonable provided one doesn't spend a lot of time surfing the web. I've used it only for paying bills, checking email and posting on this blog. We also have satellite TV service so one can keep up with the world if brief isolation proves too painful.
I had forgotten how beautiful the sea is...and how awe-inspiring. At sea one can better appreciate the greatness of God's gifts to us. Watching the seemingly endless sea as our relatively tiny ship passes over it is not unlike the sensation one experiences when staring heavenward on a dark, star-lit night. Yes, God is great and, insignificant as we are in the face of His creation, we are blessed to be loved so much.
(The above photo of NE Haiti was taken early in the morning as we arrived at Labadee.)