Caribbean Journey – Part 4: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Ft Lauderdale, Florida ; and Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos (2022)
Half Moon Cay
After a relaxing day at sea we dropped anchor off Half Moon Cay on March 26. During the sea day the ship held a Mariner event (Mariner Society is HAL’s loyalty program, giving credits for time at sea and onboard purchases). They award medals for number of days on board HAL ships and we received gold medals this time. They look like you won an Olympics event, but actually they represent being one of HAL’s best customers. Our picture was taken with the Captain (left) and Hotel Manager.
Located about 100 miles from Nassau, Holland America purchased Half Moon Cay, then called Little San Salvador Island, for $6 million in 1996. It has developed just 50 acres into a cruiser’s playground with the remainder of its almost 4 square miles left as wildlife habitat. The current name of the island comes from its 2.5 mile long soft white sand beach.
There is no deep water dock here, at least so far, so we had to tender ashore. We waited for the early rush to subside while having a leisurely breakfast, then boarded the local tender (not one of the ship’s lifeboats) which dropped us off at the pier (on the right side in the picture above). We walked through the facility, mostly shops, and down to take a look at the beach. There are cabanas at the beach that can be rented for the day, but at a very high price in our opinion.
We walked down the beach for a while, beyond the cabanas to the paddock where the riding horses live. A platform was set up on the beach to help cruise passengers mount the horses and a donkey was wandering around the paddock.
We returned along the inland path surrounded by many flowers, palm trees and other fauna.
On the way back to the pier we passed a small white wooden church that is used for weddings and a conch shell fountain in the vendor court. The children’s playground had an impressive pirate ship to climb on.
We were back on board in time for a late lunch and spent the afternoon reading before the ship set out to sea toward Florida.
Ft Lauderdale, Florida
The first leg of our voyage ended in Ft Lauderdale on March 27 and we sailed again that evening to begin the second leg. More than 200 passengers were staying on for the next leg but everyone had to leave the ship and be re-identified before reboarding. This process has been known to take up to a couple of hours so we decided that rather than waiting around for that we would take an excursion to the Everglades, where we had never been.
The Everglades ecosystem covers much of southern Florida up to Lake Okeechobee, basically a slow moving river 60 miles wide and 100 miles long. Florida has been inhabited for 15,000 years by indigenous people, who were driven into a much smaller area of southern Florida during the Seminole Wars of the 19th century. European settlers wanted to drain the area for plantations and in 1882 construction of canals began, continuing through the first half of the 20th century. In 1934 the Everglades became a National Park. A flood control project established by Congress in 1948 led to more than 1000 miles of canals and other water control measures being built, much of the water being diverted to the booming metropolis of Miami and to support the farming of sugarcane.
We were bussed across the metropolitan area to a place called Everglades Holiday Park. Located on the edge of one of the Everglades canals, they provide rides in large airboats throughout the nearby canals. An airboat is a flat bottomed boat with one or two large fans or propellers mounted on the back. These fans blow air back from the boat, which propels the boat forward at speeds up to about 60 miles per hour. Mounting the propulsion system above the water ensures that it will not get tangled in the grass and other things growing below it.
As we were waiting in line to board an airboat (this works much like a Disney World line to board a continuous ride) we spotted some birds relaxing on a float and a fellow out fishing in the canal in a small boat.
We cruised through several canals lined with saw grass and what appeared to be some sort of water lilies. This marshy area is natural but the canals are man made. Everglades means “river of grass” and there was plenty of grass in the water and on the marshy shores to explain why.
We went down a side canal that was lined with grass and very pretty trees growing in clumps with above ground roots reaching into the water, which we think are mangroves.
The Everglades is famously home to alligators, among other indigenous species. In the 21st century, however, Burmese Pythons began appearing here. It is speculated that some young ones were purchased as pets (exotic pets being popular in Florida) and were released by their owners when they became more difficult to control. Accurate assessment of their numbers is almost impossible for a number of reasons but it is estimated that there are between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands living in the Everglades today, eating indigenous animals and causing many to become endangered. We did not see any pythons (they hide and are tough to spot) but we did see alligators along the edge of one canal.
The airboat ride was a lot of fun, but that wasn’t the end. We have never seen the TV show Animal Planet but apparently they have featured an alligator rescue group called Gator Boys. This rescue facility is located in this park so I guess those TV shows were filmed here. Anyway, after the ride we were ushered into a small amphitheater where a bunch of alligators were on the stage with a guy who kept up a running patter about how dangerous these alligators were and how brave he was to be there with them. The alligators actually were mostly lying all over each other and looked like they were having trouble staying awake. It was all in fun, though, as he performed some tricks with them amid the humorous monologue. There were also some large turtles in this facility.
We returned to the ship and when I took off my glasses to download the pictures to my computer, this happened. These glasses are about 20 years old and fortunately I brought a backup pair, because you never know. But it still was a pretty distressing end to an otherwise fun day. We sailed away from Ft Lauderdale with a mostly new (and somewhat smaller) passenger complement to begin the second leg of our cruise.
Grand Turk Island, Turks & Caicos
On March 29 we visited Grand Turk Island, part of the Turks & Caicos archipelago. We had stopped at Half Moon Cay again on March 28 but unless you were planning a day at the beach there was no reason to go ashore here for the second time in three days. So we didn’t, staying on board and treating it as a sea day.
The passengers continuing on the second leg were required to have a new COVID 19 test, which was administered before we reached Ft Lauderdale. But that same day they apparently discovered they had a lot of positive people on board (not us, thankfully), because they suddenly re-imposed a mask mandate for most indoor venues and set up a quarantine section of the ship. We don’t know why they didn’t anticipate needing this and set it up at the beginning of the cruise because quite a few passengers had been quarantined over the previous month or two & there were quite a lot of unused cabins on our cruise. So with a minimum of planning they could easily have had a quarantine section prepared just in case. Instead, to create a separate quarantine section now they required a number of passengers to change staterooms to other areas of the ship . . . for one night before reaching Ft Lauderdale. We talked to one couple in this situation who were, to put it mildly, not pleased. Anyway, once most of the old passengers left in Ft Lauderdale the Captain eliminated the mandatory masking order and made masking only “recommended.” You can imagine, I am sure, the low percentage of people who followed this recommendation (we did). Then, on our first morning out of Ft Lauderdale it was announced that continuing passengers would have to get yet another Covid test; it was unclear why, but apparently something had been wrong with how the tests were administered on the way to Ft Lauderdale. We duly lined up, took the test and were negative again. We don’t know if anyone tested positive and was quarantined . . . they don’t release that kind of information to mere passengers.
So that brings us, finally, to Grand Turk. We had never been to Grand Turk before, but it turned out to be essentially another beach stop similar to Half Moon Cay. The island’s population is only about 5,000 and we had read that there really wasn’t much to see here that would make an excursion worthwhile. The island is named after the Turk’s Cap Cactus found there. Some experts believe this was the island where Columbus first stopped during his first voyage of 1492 but apparently that is not the majority opinion.
We were docked at a long pier which we walked down to reach the port. We walked through the usual collection of vendors’ shops, the central feature of which was a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville bar & restaurant complete with crowded swimming pool, and took a look at the very nice beach.
It seemed a lot more people were in the water here than in Half Moon Cay, perhaps because of the weather (hot) and because two ships were here at once. But we spent the rest of the day on the ship relaxing until the ship left for the Dominican Republic.