(Click to make any of the photos larger! Some are just drop dead gorgeous, so they are worth opening!)
This morning we arrive to yet another view of the Celebrity Summit, we seem to be following them around. Today is the day I’ve been most excited about- I’ve wanted to go to Antigua since 10th grade when we had to read so much Jamaica Kincaid. The sky is clear, and we are greated by a steel drum band (first we’ve seen), it’s going to be a good day. We have booked an excursion with Adventure Antigua (the Eco Tour) and they are going to meet us at 9:50 local time. At 8:30 ships time we head to the meeting spot, and they are already there, they just don’t have a space to pull up to the dock yet. We are on the ship, with a few other cruise passengers (I think all from Celebrity, no one else mentioned Carnival, or had towels) at about 8:45- seems everyone is ready to go early! Then we pull out, but instead of heading out, we pull up to a spot where they can tie the ship up and we wait until about 10:05 local time. This time is spent with the crew on cell phones, and looking around, but unless they snuck on, I didn’t see anyone else get on here- so hopefully no one was left… you could tell the crew was stressed to be leaving late though- we had another pick up scheduled shortly, at Beaches resort. After the Beaches pick up, there were just under 30 on the catamaran (which was quite large), there was plenty of room for everyone- the front was full, but the back we all had space, and I saw plenty of places you could squeeze another person, so this was not a packed boat.
The start of our tour was just a bit of a drive around the island. The water was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen- crystal blue, aqua, azure, everything you think of when you think of the most beautiful water in the world. WOW. The crew talked a bit about the history of the island (colonized by the British, mostly for sugar production. When the British found they could grow the sugar beat at home, the sugar cane production stopped in Antigua, and now they have to import their sugar… tourism is the number on industry, but there is a small industrial area where they brew a few beers, bottle soft drinks, and ave started recycling on the island). Some of the wild life was pointed out, and one of the crew spoke about a turtle tracking project.
(After cruise edit: Well this is where I ran out of energy on the cruise to write anything. Everything else is based on one or two word notes! But I am still managing to write a novel...oops)
We drove around a bit more, splashing those in the front, but relatively calm for those of us in the middle (for those who want to bring nice cameras, there were three people with expensive DSLRs and for the most part, they stayed dry- just a few splashes, but my husband put his away at the end of the tour- and was glad he did…we got very wet then- there is a compartment to store all your things in) and were told about the reef systems, and the sand flats- as well as a story of one island that a very rich man bought, decided he hated the reef and had it pulled up,
which of course, caused the beach to completely erode away, so he had to spend a ton of money on an aritifical reef system, which has now grown enough that it has a good fish/coral population and is nice for snorkeling. (We even saw someone snorkeling there…)
At some point we were offered juice- I believe there was tamarin juice (described as tasting of ice tea and apples, which I heard as "ice tea and tacos" odd flavor!), passion fruit juice (I had this- yummy but with a bitter after taste), and "sky juice" aka water.
The first stop to get off the island was at Bird Island. We walked down the ladder on the front of the boat, into the water and then up on the beach. Bird Island is covered in white butterflies, something that apparently doesn't happen except for a few weeks each year. We hike along a very narrow path in the tall grass, then up some rocks (don't wear flip flops!) to get to the top of the hill. There we learn about the birds that nest here, as well as a snake that only lives here and Antigua is trying to repopulate into the rest of the islands. It's amazing the contrast between the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Carribean Sea on the other side. The views at the top of the hill are amazing. But we don't stay long and hike back down, go back to the beach and swim awhile. I actually do real swimming, not just to my knees like St. Thomas. The waves are a bit higher, but it's amazing how the salt water makes you so boyant that you pretty much float without having to tread water at all. Which is a good thing, because out with Kevin, I can't reach the ground! Snorkeling lessons were offered, here but I don't think there were any takers.
Also on bird Island was the group with Creole Cruises, they seemed to spend a very long time here, as they were still at the Island when we came back nearby for snorkeling, after Hell's gate.
After a bit of swimming, we ate lunch on the boat. It was cold BBQ chicken (the sauce was great, but I'm not really a fan of BBQ chicken), cold pasta salad, regular salad with Italian dressing (I also put some on the pasta salad, sweet fried plantains (sadly, they were the kind you make after the plantain ripens, but before, which are more savory. But these were still very good), and in addition to the juices before there was also Coke and Diet Coke. After lunch there was banana bread for dessert. There was more than enough for seconds for everyone, and thirds for some. It was an excellent lunch.
Now in what seems like odd planning, right after lunch we took the boat out again, this time in to the open Atlantic waters. This was some ROUGH waves, and I remember thinking that if this was the "eco" tour, what the heck must the "extreme" tour do? The driver was excellent, but this was quite a ride. (Nothing like the taxi's we experienced the previous, or would experience the next day though!)
But the ride was completely worth it, as this trip took us to Hell's Gate. Hell's Gate was amazing. First, this wasn't a down the ladder into water to your calves walk onto a beach. This was jump into the ocean and swim to the island! They did offer buoyancy belts, but only a few people took them...
There were 4 choices related to the island.
1) Stay on the boat (I think someone did, actually)
2) Snorkel around the island (no one did)
3) Stay at the landing which is a natural whirlpool, the water from the waves crashes into it, circles around and drains out. (Quite a few people chose this)
4) Hike to the top of the rocks. (Most chose this)
The guide told us he was sure we could all make the climb because last week he had a guy on the boat who was 96. Someone said "and he did it?" The guide laughed and said "No! Of course not. He was 96". It was quite funny, but made a few people feel more at ease about the climb ahead.
Into hell's gate we went. There is a little cave to the side that you climb up in (duck and suck that tummy in! It's low and very narrow. We were cautioned not to watch our feet too much, as you want to watch your head!), the most difficult part is that the rocks are so sharp. Then once we were all grouped together inside the cave, we climbed out of it onto the top of the rocks. This part had one tough part for me, because I can't lift my weight with only my left leg, but I had a place where I had no way of shifting my weight. In the end, I tried to use my arms to lift myself as much as possible.
Once on the top of Hell's Gate we were cautioned only to stand on rocks, not grass- as you didn't know if the grass was on solid rock, or in a hole. Then we walked across the top of the arch (seeing the atlantic crashing into the island, with almost an invisible line separating it from the calm Carribean Sea- so that's the difference between a sea and an ocean!) and down into the whirl pool that we started in. This was the slowest part, as the crashing waves meant you couldn't see where you were stepping, so the guide had to talk each person through the steps one by one as they went around the rocks.
It didn't take that long, but it was an amazing little hike. Then we swam back to the boat. Well, kind of. No matter how much I tried to swim, I didn't seem to get anywhere, so Kevin kind of pushed me while he swam!
Then, we got back into the boat and parked nearby Bird Island, but still quite far out in the open water (“Welcome to here” as the crew put it). There were 3 groups here- those who wanted to snorkel in the advanced group (Kevin and Michael did- they went quite far out) those who wanted to snorkel with the beginners, and those who wanted to stay on the boat. I tried to snorkel with the beginners, and actually got a mask and snorkel on and looked into the water (amazing!) but in the end, if I would surface I'd have panic attacks over not being able to breathe, coupled with not being able to propel myself well in the open waters, so I chose not to go out with the snorkel group either. (Wish I had done some off the beach snorkeling, as in the end, I really didn't do any at all). So I made my own group. While some ladies hung their feet off the edge of the boat, I grabbed a buoyancy belt and just floated in the water, as the waves crashed the boat back towards me. It was quite fun- I had to keep kicking off the ladder to get a little further away!
Then we had a wild ride back to Sandalls to drop some of the guests off and a calmer one to drop off the cruise passangers. Kevin was VERY glad he had put the good camera in the hull, as we were all completely soaked. This was an INSANE powerboat style ride- not something you expect from a catamaran. (Seriously? What must the extreme tour do?)
After what I was sure was the best excursion I'd ever go on ended we still had some time to go around Antigua port, but we chose to skip the shopping and went back home.
Kevin wasn't feeling well, so he took a nap, and I went to the pre-dinner show with Michael and Rachel (I have a feeling that as soon as we got back I had enough time to run to the Lido deck and get Indian food as they were closing, but I don't remember clearly, and I didn't write it in my notes...). The show tonight was "Jump, Jive and Wail" and had some really good singing and dancing. It was more impressive than the welcome aboard show for sure.
Dinner was slow, but the dining room had stopped vibrating! So that was a huge plus. For dinner I had fried mozzarella, black bean enchilada, and vanilla ice cream. I didn't eat much of the entree at all, once again it was good, just not my favorite. I know I'm a picky eater, so it doesn't surprise me when there is nothing I want on the menu, but I think overall Carnival does a pretty good job of keeping me fed!