Our Voyage of the Dawn[treader]
For years, our family has enjoyed an escape from the cold, Minnesota winters, indulging on a cruise ship in the Caribbean Ocean over our Christmas/New Year holiday break. It was our Christmas gift to ourselves and to one another. We anxiously anticipated our time together, basking in the warm sun and sandy beaches, enjoying the unlimited dining and beverage packages, and the ocean breeze off of our private balconies.
COVID abruptly put that time-honored tradition on hold!
After a two year break from all travel, including – and especially – cruising, we cautiously ventured back into the world of cruising. Despite the CDC ominous warnings not to get on a cruise ship.
“Bah Humbug, CDC!”
After a week together with family on Clearwater Beach, my husband and I set sail out of the Port of Tampa, Florida on the NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) ship, the “Dawn.”
I am reminded of the book titled “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” part of the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. The tale features our young travelers as they journey around a sea of islands aboard a ship, the Dawn Treader. In their travels, they face adventures, challenges, uncertainty and dangers which lurk at every port.
Such was much of our experience on our “Dawn-treader!”
Our journey, very much the same as that of our Narnia travelers, was also complete with uncertainty, challenges and danger!
The unseen reality, but ever-present dangers of COVID-19, lurked ominously at every port of every island.
The scheduled itinerary of our 11 day cruise would meet head long with the relentless challenges this enemy created.
Four days at sea with no ports became six days at sea.
Six different island stops became four island stops; and those changed on a day-to-day basis! We only left the ship twice!
To NCL’s credit, they handled the whole situation professionally and communicated well, avoiding any Mutiny on The Bounty!
We were prepared well in advance! All passengers were required to provide proof of vaccination to even book a reservation. Before boarding the ship, a negative COVID-19 test was mandated and administered in a parking ramp conveniently next to the ship’s entrance. Bright green wrist bands were assigned. No bright green wrist band, no admittance. This included passengers, staff and crew.
Masks were required by all except when actively eating or drinking, or in an outdoor space where social distancing was easily accommodated.
The “full to capacity” ship appeared to be at only 1/3 of its normal capacity; lots of space to social distance.
In fact, the entire ship felt eerily empty and quiet.
Join me as I share highlights of our Cruise thru COVID on the Voyage of the Dawn-treader!
Departure: Port of Tampa
This is the first time we’ve left from the Port of Tampa. Due to height requirements for going under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge which connects Tampa Bay area with the Gulf of Mexico, this is a much less busy port that the Port of Miami. It was relatively quiet and calm, compared to leaving out of Miami! It also provided me with an interesting vantage point of Tampa Bay that is typically seen from land!
Port of Tampa
On the Ship
Our Balcony – Home Sweet Home
Due to the COVID restrictions – masking, minimal ports of call – we spent a lot of time enjoying our balcony – and unlimited beverage package!
Our Balcony: Home Sweet Home
Sunrises were stunningly spectacular off of our balcony!
Ship Deck & Pool
The “Dawn” is a smaller ship in the NCL fleet with a lot less amenities than some of the newer, larger ones, but because of this, it could dock in the Port of Tampa (see above). It was just a nice size for our cruise.
NO SMOKING anywhere on the ship (except in designated Cigar Lounge areas) made outdoor areas very inviting! Due to COVID, smoking was even forbidden in the Casinos!
Ship Deck & Pool
The swimming pool is important to me and it was perfect!
It was wide enough and deep enough to allow me to enjoy my morning water exercise routine. Having use of an outdoor pool in January is a real luxury for a Minnesotan!
Because of the COVID restrictions on ship capacity, it was never an issue to find an open chair on the deck to lounge and socially distance too!
Dining Rooms, Lounges & Entertainment
Dining options on cruise ships are always an important part! We enjoyed the main dining room (Venetian) – as well as the specialty ones: Cagney’s Steak House and Le Bistro French dining.
Eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner is one of the highlights of being on a cruise ship!
Bars, Lounges & Entertainment
One COVID difference I noted was that the bars and lounge areas did not serve snacks (i.e. nuts, pretzels, etc.) as we previously enjoyed.
Dining Rooms & Lounges
We opted to eat our lunch in the seated Venetian dining room vs. the buffet as another precautionary way to stay safe.
We took our drinks back to our balcony vs. sitting at the bars/lounges.
Entertainment was modified to accommodate COVID as well.
The huge Las Vegas style shows were replaced with smaller ones by individual musicians, comedians and magicians – or performances such as acrobatics by couples. One night we watched a movie which was great on the GIANT screen! (Only thing missing was popcorn!)
There was only one show/night at 8:00 pm (vs. typical two shows). Due to the lower passenger count, social distancing in the main space for shows was easily achieved. Masks were still required unless one was actively drinking during the show!
Specialty Dining Rooms
My favorite atmosphere for specialty dining was the Le Bistro, French restaurant, with its French Impressionist paintings!
Off the Ship: Ports of Call
Our ports of call were on constant “subject to change” status – as noted earlier. For whatever reason the ports would not allow our cruise ship to dock. At all the ports where we were able to dock, passengers were required to have ship issued excursions if we did want to get off the ship. Just wandering around the island on our own was not allowed. (Probably just as well…)
Sadly, we missed visiting the islands of St. Thomas, San Juan, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. John’s Antigua. We got in one beach day in Barbados (not on original itinerary – but a lovely day on a lovely beach). We had one “touristy” day at Ocean World in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
Dominican Republic – Puerto Plata – Ocean World
The Dominican Republic (east) shares the island with Haiti (west). Originally called Hispaniola, it is the second largest island in the West Indies. With both Spanish and French roots, and history and issues too extensive to go into here – the two are vastly divided politically and economically.
Puerto Plata is officially known as San Felipe and is the 3rd largest city in the Dominican Republic. It is a trading port, with numerous resorts (boasts of over 100,000 beds in the city!).
Our Ocean World Day Pass proved to be the only real “excursion” we took on this cruise! It was well worth the price – and our only regret was that we could not have stayed longer.
Four hours was not nearly enough to enjoy all it had to offer. There were quality shows of dolphins, sea lions, sharks and exotic birds. The ambiance of the tropical rain forest and colorful foliage were a feast for one’s eyes.
The man-made sandy beach, freshwater swimming bay and huge water slide were a major attraction. We could easily have spent several hours in this spot alone.
Local artisans displayed samples and goods for sales that included handmade chocolate, hand-rolled cigars, carved woodwork, coffee and handcrafted items.
I really enjoyed swimming in the man-made freshwater bay with sandy bottom and beach
Skip enjoyed reading in the comfy lounge chairs with umbrellas while I enjoyed the water.
Bridgeport Barbados replaced our scheduled stop at St. Lucia, which also would not allow us to dock. St. Lucia was one island we had been really looking forward to visiting. We honeymooned here 44 years ago and fell in love with the island while we fell in love with each other!
Barbados Beach Break
Little did we know that this would be our only beach break! We enjoyed it thoroughly. The air temperature was warm – but not too warm. The sand was sugary and soft. The puffy clouds added a bit of shade. The water was calm and warm – and great for actual swimming! The beach chairs and umbrellas were perfect for some reading and lounging.
Shopping options for handmade goods from local vendors
Getting on the Island!
All the ports had temperature checks as we entered the island. Uniformed guards stood to enforce the consequences of one did not fall in the correct “COVID safe” category!
We – and those in our tour groups – were OK. Whew! (No one got “kicked off the island!”)
Our local means of transportation to the beach!
St. Maartin was a new port on our itinerary which replaced the cancelled St. John’s Antigua port which would not allow cruise ships to dock.
St. Maartin is interesting in that it is only 37 square miles! It’s claim to fame is that it is the smallest land mass in the world to be divided between two governments. Per the NCL daily ship news post, the southern Dutch half offers casinos, duty-free shops, and island culture. The French half is more subdued and sophisticated. We’ll have to check it out on another visit!
Sample of St. Maartin
This port might have been fun to explore, but one could go ashore only if one had an excursion booked with the ship. Because of the options and timing of the excursions, we decided to remain on the ship. I enjoyed using the swimming pool with a near empty deck.
Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands. It is known for its beautiful white sand beaches, harbor with a yacht club and sailing boats, national park with trails and sweeping views of neighboring islands. We could enjoy a view of many of these islands from our vantage on the ship as we left port mid-day.
I had been looking forward to exploring Tortola but once again, one could only go ashore if one had a ship based excursion – none of which fit our interest or schedule.
We decided to remain on board to enjoy the ship. This is the port where I took lots of photos of the ship deck. We enjoyed the pool and reading on our balcony.
Taste of Tortola
In the end, it was a great vacation. While very different than previous cruises in many ways, it provided a much needed and desired time away from cold weather and schedules. We relaxed and enjoyed the warm sunshine, far away from the sub-zero temperatures that were invading Minnesota! We spent much time reading and for the first time in several years, we each actually finished several novels! We enjoyed daily fine dining, just steps away from our room! And we returned home COVID-free!
And we’re still smiling –
with another cruise booked for this spring!
- Reserve a room with a balcony so you can enjoy the outdoors, sunshine and sea air on the ship if other plans fall through.
- Plan something to do in Quiet Time: reading, drawing, card games, word puzzles, needlework (if you can get the tools through airport security!) and anything you might do at home while watching TV.
- Explore the other options on board that you might not normally do; there were lots!
- Be sure to book travel insurance in case you decide to cancel or re-book
- Don’t let CDC negative press notices keep you from cruising!