Cruising the Caribbean Sea

Cruising the Caribbean Sea

By Wendy Howarter

Crystal clear, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, powdery, white sand private beaches, swaying palm trees, fine wine, five-star dining and four islands in seven days. Sounds like the perfect romantic vacation, right? Well, not exactly. It was, however, the trip of a lifetime for 13 family members embarking on a 60th wedding anniversary cruise.

Last June, Monticello's own Dean and Linda Howarter and their family boarded Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas, bound for the Western Caribbean. Three generations of Howarters assembled in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to start the celebration. We couldn't wait to share this momentous occasion on the high seas.

We spent our first day at sea investigating the ship, which was more like a floating city. Measuring more than 1,100 feet long and holding 4,375 passengers and a crew of 1,360, the ship had 14 guest decks to explore. We easily got lost several times a day for the first few days.

Our first port of call was Labadee. This isla bonita is privately owned by the cruise line, just off the shore of Haiti. If you have never spent the day on a private island, I highly recommend it. The atmosphere is festive, there is plenty to do and there is no need to carry cash or credit cards, since your cruise pass is accepted everywhere.

Shopping for festive tropical clothing, hats, swimsuits, flip-flops and decorative items is bountiful on Labadee. You can also ride a zip-line from one end of the island to the other. The beach was perfect, with super soft sand and plenty of lounge chairs available.

The following day, we landed at Falmouth, Jamaica. We walked the port area to find the best shopping deals and taste several Caribbean rums. Because there was another ship in port at the same time, the two behemoths formed a wind tunnel through the shopping area. The gusts were so strong, many people were chasing their hats and holding their sunglasses tight while walking along the promenade.

Our next stop was George Town, Grand Cayman. This island was the most upscale with plenty of jewelry stores, small malls, restaurants and well-dressed locals. You can spend a leisurely day shopping and strolling the main streets along the sea or sign up for any of the exciting excursions offered.

Our last stop was Cozumel, Mexico. Some adventurous folks enjoyed a parasailing adventure that launched from a boat that looked like a shark. After the amazing airborne view of the bay, it's traditional to wet your whistle at Seor Frog's. The party atmosphere and conga line kept us laughing, along with the balloon hats custom-designed for each of us. Later, we felt obliged to share our inflated headgear with our cruise dining room staff.

The trip sailed by much too quickly, and we all parted ways just after celebrating Independence Day onboard. The entire Howarter family shared a wonderful experience and made memories that will last a lifetime.

If you are planning a life celebration or family event, be sure to consider booking a cruise. Most cruise lines have special event planners who will help you organize the reservations, room assignments and special activities for your entire family.

Wendy Howarter left northern Illinois and a successful law practice of more than 20 years to start a new adventure in Colombia, South America. Since settling in the city of Medellin, she has pursued her passion for writing. She also is a conference presenter, focusing on living overseas.

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