It may seem like bad timing to write a “happy” post about a cruise right now. But I am going to anyway. I do think it is appropriate to comment on the events of the last couple weeks, however:
You would have to be pretty “out of touch” not to have seen some of the numerous recent “news” shows exposing the negative side of the cruise industry. For those passengers and their families who have experienced it, I have no doubt it is every bit the “nightmare” the media have dubbed it. I am truly sympathetic to them. And it goes without saying, that the gutless and criminal acts of the captain last year, whose irresponsible acts took the lives of passengers is reprehensible. We cannot excuse such conduct. But at the same time, we cannot stop living our lives. In the past week I have wondered why the cruise industry as a whole hasn’t taken a hard inward look at their safety and disaster response programs. Wouldn’t it be feasible, for example, for the industry to coalesce to build and jointly own a small fleet of “rescue” ships, dedicated to responding to these situations?
There is a lot of “good” news in the cruise industry, too. For each of the disasters we have seen in the past couple years (and I have no doubt there have been numerous, previously unreported – or lesser reported situations – after all, these are man-made mechanical contraptions being run by imperfect human beings), there are hundreds of “event”-free cruises. Far from veterans yet, my wife and I have been on 3 cruises in the past 3 years and are headed on what might well be the most exciting one to come, in the Mediterranean, in September. More (lots more) on that later. So far, ours have been all of what we expected. Maybe if we have a bad experience, I’ll sing a different tune, but for now, we will keep participating.
For the traveling photographer (and probably for lots of other travelers), cruising has its pros and cons. The main advantage in our minds is that we get to see parts of the world we have never seen. In some cases, we may see parts of the world we might not otherwise see (without being on a boat of some description, we could never see some of the things we did during our Alaskan “Inside Passage” cruise). A secondary advantage is the existence of nice quarters which do not require us to repack and move our luggage several times. Having a 5-star restaurant aboard, with “regular” reservations is an added plus.
For the traveling photographer, cruising has its pros and cons
We had formerly cruised on one cruise line (Princess), partly because we have been very pleased with their accommodations and the way they handle things, and partly because we thought it made sense to gain the “status” that repeat cruisers get. But this year, we were given a unique opportunity to join nearly 100 other members of a private “wine club” we joined on our 2011 visit to Napa Valley, California. Bart and Barb Obrien, the proprietors of O’brien Estate vineyard and winery, became our gracious hosts for a week long Caribbean Cruise adventure on the Celebrity Reflection. They offered a package, which included a (not surprisingly) several wine-oriented events during the week, as well as all the other expected cruise amenities, and ports of call. This third cruise for us was the first time my wife and I ventured on a cruise without knowing any other passengers. We are glad we went, and we made some great new friends. It was great getting to know you, Bart, Barb, Lou, Penny, Jay and (the other ) Lou, John, Agata, Mike, Susan, Mike and many others. We had so much fun, I barely had time to devote to photography. There were lifelong memories and hopefully, lifelong friends gained from this cruise.
For photographers, there is the proverbial “good news and bad news.” The bad news, is that you are often (usually) in ports during the worst shooting light (arriving in the early morning and usually departing in the late afternoon to early evening – precisely the times when most of us want to be set up and on location). Along with that, ports of call are commonly no more than a day, during daylight hours. This means very little time to find, and shoot scenes. The opportunity for night shooting on shore is rare. And, most cruises (it’s the nature of the thing) have some days when you are “at sea” between destinations. There is not much to point your lens at off the boat (unless you like vast expanses of open ocean), and only so much to shoot on board. Once you have “been there and done that,” it may be time to put the camera down and just relax and enjoy a little downtime and your family.
There were lifelong memories and hopefully, lifelong friends gained from this cruise
On the other hand, there are some unique opportunities from the deck. We have spoiled ourselves. I have never been in an “inside” berth and cannot see the point. If I am going to pay the $ for a cruise, I want my own balcony deck. On the inside passage cruise, my tripod lived on the deck and much of the time, I was out their behind the lens. That deck could be seen from some folks on higher decks, and I got to be known as “camera guy” by some of our neighboring passengers as they would ask what I was seeing. We try to do our homework and make sure we are in the right side of the ship to see things we may cruise by.
Being up on the high vantage point a cruise ship affords and out in the water, you often have unique views. The image of “Old San Juan” from off shore, could only be obtained by a boat or a plane. And a small boat would not have given us the high vantage point (the downside is that you are moving rather fast, relative to your subject).
Being up on the high vantage point a cruise ship affords and out in the water, you often have unique views
One of my favorite images (myonly regret is that it was taken handheld with my Canon G12 P&S—the only equipment I had with me) is the (2012) dawn images of the boats moored in St. Thomas, with the lights of Charlotte Amalie up the hillside in the background, as our cruise ship came into port early in the morning. This kind of “birds-eye” view perspective could only have been accomplished from the unique vantage point of a large ocean vessel that could get me high above the water—like a cruise ship.
This year’s Caribbean Cruise took us to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, back to St. Maarten, and to St. Kitts, as our ports of call. The old fort(s) on San Juan were the highlight, photographically, in my view of this year’s Caribbean adventure. San Juan is a major starting cruise port for the Southern Caribbean, and I can see spending a day or two back there before boarding the ship on our next Caribbean cruise (which will likely venture into the Southern Caribbean). We arrived in port a about 3:00 in the afternoon, and were back on the ship by 10:30, so it was a different time frame than we were used to. There are colorful buildings and narrow streets in Old San Juan, and I am sure there were some night shooting opportunities. We went ashore with our new friends Lou and Penny and focused (pun intended), tripod-based shooting was not in the cards. We did get nice images from the high view of the San Cristobal Fort, however. I think the colorful, pastel palate of much of the Caribbean is made to order for color photographers.
The old fort(s) on San Juan were the highlight, photographically, in my view of this year’s Caribbean adventure
In 2012, I fell in love with the laid-back, “island feel of St. Maarten.” However, we confined our day to Philipsburg, on the Dutch side, and I wanted to “explore” the rest of the island this year. This year, we took a tour of the entire island, spending an hour or two in the French capitol city of Marigot, and seeing most of the other sites. We ended at the relatively famous bar that skirts the beach at the Princess Juliana International Airport, where I have my on major regret of the trip. I really messed up here with one of the things I have preached and preached on this blog—the old “Boy Scout Motto,” be prepared! This is the beach where the planes land coming in directly overhead. It is a pretty awesome sight, and one which, while hackneyed, would be nice to have in your portfolio. We were there for only an hour and only one jet liner was scheduled to land. We had about 45 minutes to its scheduled landing, so we sat at the bar and ordered a drink. We were at a major tourist destination with hundreds of people, so I left the camera in the backpack I was carrying to be more discrete. The plane arrived and landed 20 minutes before the scheduled time, while I sat and watched, my camera still in my backpack! . Of course I know planes are often ahead and/or behind schedule. I will probably be on St. Maarten again, and will probably go back better prepared.
It’s hard not to like the Caribbean Islands
Our last stop was St. Kitts. The islands of Nevis and St. Kitts are an independent sovereignty. The population is very diverse, but appears to be very British influenced, with English being one of the main languages spoken. They also drive on the (“wrong” ) side of the road there, which can be an unnerving experience for us “ugly Americans.” Up until 2005, the main economic engine of St. Kitts was its state-owned sugar cane industry. Due to economic conditions, including the removal of subsidies by the EEC, they closed down this industry in 2005. Our guide told us there were refineries, rum distilleries and the like in St. Kitts until that time. Now, their primary industry is tourism and they have been in the process of gearing up for the Cruise line industry. They only have docking facilities for at the most 3 cruise ships (when we were in St. Maarten, there were 8 ships in port), at this time. There are several towns in St. Kitts and its diverse geography includes beautiful sandy beaches and a complete rainforest.
It’s hard not to like these Caribbean Islands. Its warm, the people are friendly, and the food and drink is good. I know I’ll travel back to explore those places I haven’t yet seen, and to return to some of them I have.
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