I've never been on a cruise before and am told I have to try it now I'm in Florida. So I'm off to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. How to describe the cruise ship that leaves Miami ? It is as glittery and tacky as the Starship Enterprise. A floating Blackpool. The passengers aren’t exactly the upper echelons of American society. Imagine your average Jerry Springer audience and you just about have it right. And most of them would make two of me. The cause is fairly clear. There are mountains of food, sit down restaurants, sushi bar, burger bar, pizzeria, café, most of it open all day. They still pile their plates as if Lent is about to begin.
In order to cope I investigate the cocktail menu. Lime daiquiris are much too good. As is a green concoction called a sour apple martini.
'Smirnoff, Stoly, Grey Goose or Absolut ma’am?'
Life on Board
I 'm duty bound to spend most of my time in the piano bar, avoiding the Butlins style shows. My cabin (which is surprisingly roomy though right at the bottom of the boat) turns out, unfortunately, to be wired to the loudspeaker system, but we don't quite sink to hi de hi. There is room telephone too, which my table waiter Dennis, (Denzel Washington look alike) uses every night (against company rules) to call and ask if he can come and drink wine with me in my room. It's a case of 'Which part of no don’t you understand?'.
There is a posse of other single guys around, or rather men on their own, as rather too many of them, confess to being married under interrogation. So I hang out round the piano bar with melancholy Barry, the piano man from Wisconsin. After serenading me with Van the Man and Billy Joel he asks if I will go and visit him in Florida. He says he’ll drive me to New Orleans.
So plenty of opportunities – just not very inviting ones. I spend a lot of time stretched on a sun bed snoozing and hook up with the only other English people on the boat. Juan and Omar (OK I know they don’t sound English but they are), a couple from Dulwich. They had much the wittiest conversation, although to be fair the competition is not strong. Juan is totally shaved with two silver teeth in front, while Omar has gorgeous eyes and a very wide mouth that makes him look just like Zippy. On Friday they feed me so many cocktails of the day that I totally lose the afternoon. They are reeling a bit from the experience too. (The cruise that is).
The Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory, three islands in the western Caribbean Sea. They are believed to have been uninhabited before the first Welsh settlers came in the seventeenth century. The smaller islands had been sighted by Columbus and Sir Francis Drake landed on Grand Cayman. Early maps refer to them as Los Lagartos, meaning alligators or large lizards, But by 1530 this had become the Caymanes after the Carib word caimán for the marine crocodile. There must have been a lot of them. There were also plenty of turtles, which were quickly depleted, as they became the mainstay of the economy, for export and eating.
Grand Cayman, the largest island, is known for its beach resorts and varied scuba diving and snorkelling sites. Cayman Brac is a popular launch point for deep-sea fishing excursions. Little Cayman, the smallest island, is home to diverse wildlife, from endangered iguanas to seabirds such as red-footed boobies. The territory is most well known, perhaps controversially, as a major world offshore financial haven. As a result of all these wealthy people visiting, Cayman is considered to be up-market and ultra expensive. It's more British than Great Britain. There's a governor who presides over garden parties wearing one of those big cockaded hats.
We're headed for Grand Cayman. I disembark from the ship and sit in a café in the minute capital of the Cayman Islands, Georgetown, waiting for my snorkelling boat. I can see my monster ship straddling the bay, alongside a couple of smaller liners. An English resident, out for his constitutional, strikes up conversation.
'Which one is yours?' he inquires.
I blush and point. 'Ah yes', he says, 'we call those the trailer trash of the sea'.
Today, Cayman is miserable even in the sunshine. It's been totally flattened by a very recent hurricane; there isn't a a building with a complete roof left and the famous Seven Mile Beach is a pile of wreckage.
But the snorkelling is great. There's a moray eel – fat and green, with huge eyes like Omar’s. Then we swim with the stingrays at Stingray City. They climb right up you, really soft and velvety and very tickly. We all squeak like crazy.
I can't help thinking of that old joke.
'No, she went of her own accord'.
She did. Though Bruce insisted that a cruise out of Miami was an unmissable experience.
Originally inhabited by the indigenous Taíno peoples, Jamaica came under Spanish rule following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. Many of the indigenous people were killed or died of imported diseases, after which the Spanish brought large numbers of African slaves to Jamaica as labourers. The island remained a possession of Spain until 1655, when it was conquered by the English. The country had been named Xaymaca "Land of Wood and Water" by the Taino but this was anglicized to Jamaica. Jamaicans, however, refer to their home island as the "Rock".
Under British colonial rule Jamaica became a leading sugar exporter, with a plantation economy dependent on the African slaves and later their descendants. The island achieved independence from the United Kingdom on 6 August 1962, but the Queen of the UK remains head of state.
Jamaica has a typical Caribbean topography of mountains, rainforests and reef-lined beaches and Jamaica's economy is heavily dependent on tourism. But it's also famous as the birthplace of reggae music (its capital Kingston is home to the Bob Marley Museum) and the Rastafari religion.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Ocho Rios is a port town on the north coast of Jamaica, described as up-market and safe (unlike some parts of the island). It's a former fishing village, transformed into a too busy cruise ship resort and a packed bay beach, lined with hotels.
There are Dunn’s River Falls to visit, but I'm told there isn't much water there and they're crowded, full of tourists slipping over. The USP is the scramble up them. And I'm tired of the masses and the massive cruise ship organisation involved in arranging excursions, So, I've chosen to wander on my own this time. Before we landed in Jamaica the on-board entertainers made us practise saying 'Ya man'. On land it is more a case of 'Naw man'. The whole time I'm walking I'm offered grass or I'm tapped up for education or hospital fees. Otherwise, it's a beautiful lush island, with great beaches, but the snorkelling is mediocre. Cayman in reverse.
Back to Florida.