Finally, time for our first port! I was so excited to see my first of the nine islands we were going to visit, and this promised to be a very exciting way to kick off our port days because...we were going SCUBA DIVING! Time to cross my first item off my "list," my friends!
We woke up before 8:00 that morning to get ready and have breakfast at the buffet before getting off the ship in Aruba. We checked in for our Discover Scuba excursion, and I did some souvenir shopping while we waited to depart (Eric and I collect a magnet and a postcard from everywhere we go, plus I decided to mail Eric a postcard from every port).
My first view of Aruba, from Heather's port hole: a wall. A brightly colored wall, yes, but still...a wall.
We took a shuttle to a hotel for an introductory lesson. We were outfitted with vests and fins and taken to the hotel pool, where our instructors got us hooked up to our air tanks. They taught us how to breathe through the mouthpiece, how to discharge water from it, how to get water out of our masks (without going to the surface), how to equalize our ears, what to do if we lost our mouthpiece, and the basic hand signals to use with our instructors while under water. For example, if you're trying to tell someone you're okay, you have to resist the urge to give a thumbs up, because thumbs up means "I need to go to the surface." Instead, you give the "a-okay" type hand signal.
After our quick lesson, they gave us some time to swim around and try out everything we had learned in the pool. I have to say, I really did not like it in the pool. I could not get used to breathing through the mouthpiece; I think I did not trust the equipment yet. Every time I would go underwater I felt like I couldn't get my breath, and then I felt panicked and I kept coming back up out of the water. I was starting to feel pretty anxious about going to the ocean - if I had to keep coming up now in the pool, what was I going to do when we were 25 feet underwater and just popping up to the surface wasn't an option? Heather was very sweet and kept telling me, "we don't have to do this, we can just stay on the boat," but I really didn't want to chicken out.
After the lesson they gave us some wetsuits (which was good, because we were cold!) then we all walked out to the beach to board the boat that would take us to the dive site. I was really trying to psych myself into excitement rather than anxiety, I have to admit.
After a short boat ride, we arrived at our dive site: a sunken tanker from World War II. I was still very anxious and afraid I would panic underwater and not be able to come to the surface if I needed to. I told one of the instructors this, and she was very sweet. She said she would stay with me and we would go slow so I could do it. I felt a little better but still pretty nervous. Again, I just tried to pump myself up.
If Heather was nervous, she didn't let it show at all. Also, excellent demonstration of the "I'm okay" hand signal.
One by one, everyone jumped into the water. You just held on to your mask and your weight belt and took a giant step off the boat. I was the last one in. I tried so hard, but I started panicking again. The instructor who promised to help me did just that - she pulled me back to the surface and got me to calm down my breathing. I took a deep breath and was finally able to get myself in the right frame of mind. One person from our group did get out and decide not to do it, so I knew if I backed out I wouldn't be the only one. But, Heather was already down there underwater. I didn't want to give up, and then Heather wouldn't know where I was.
So I did it. I relaxed and tried again. The instructor held my hand as we descended and I did fine. We would go a few feet, she would remind me to equalize (pop) my ears, would ask if I was okay, and when I said yes, we would continue. I had a little trouble equalizing my right ear for a bit, so whenever I told her my ear felt off we would go back up a foot or two and try again. It was a slow process, but I made it to the dive site - I was doing it! And Heather was down there waiting for me. I was so glad I made myself do it. Honestly, if Heather hadn't been there, I don't know if I would have gone through with it.
Once everyone was down there, we swam around that sunken WWII ship. It was so cool. There were lots of fish and various types of coral. Heather said one of the first things that happened to her when she got down there was a school of fish swam right at her and actually parted around her head as they swam past. Awesome! The dive lasted about 35 minutes, and before we knew it, we were heading back to the surface.
When we got back on the boat, I was just so overcome with excitement that we really did it. I really tried my hand at scuba diving. I was so close to chickening out, but I conquered my anxiety and I DID IT. What an awesome feeling. Heather and I were both just on cloud nine and so excited.
After returning to dry land and handing in our scuba gear, Heather and I went across the street to have lunch at a little restaurant called Salt & Pepper. Their "thing" is that every table has a different salt and pepper shaker set, from all over the world. If you bring them a unique set of shakers, you get a free glass of wine! That made me think of Toni, because Eric always brought her salt and pepper shakers whenever we traveled. It became sort of a running joke. If she ever makes her way to Aruba and wants to unload some of her collection, she could get good and drunk off free wine! Anyway, we had a delicious lunch (mahi sandwich for me, seafood wrap for Heather) and enjoyed some Balashi, the local beer. Very refreshing.
After lunch we went back across the street to Palm Beach for a while. We found a nice spot in the sand and laid out. The water was so gorgeous, and the sand was white and soft.
After about an hour and a half at the beach, we caught the city bus back into town. We walked around the town (Oranjestad, the capital) for a bit - talk about colorful! I remember when my family first moved to Florida from Ohio, we were amazed at the colorful houses. I mean, you just don't see pink houses in Cleveland, but you do in Florida. But let me tell you...Florida has NOTHING on Aruba, or any number of these Caribbean islands for that matter.
A lot of places in town were closed for a holiday (Carnival), but some souvenir shops were open. I bought a cute beach bag and we took some pictures before we had to head back to the ship.
I like this picture because it shows small boats, bigger boats and really big boats (our cruise ship!)
After getting back on the ship, we went to Heather's cabin to rinse our sandy feet and make a cocktail. We got creative and invented our own tropical beverage, which we quite obviously named an "Aruba Scuba" - Bacardi, raspberry daquiri mix, champagne, and a splash of orange juice. Absolutely delicious. We took our Aruba Scubas up to Deck 15 for sail away. There was a Caribbean band playing festive music and we looked out over the edge at Aruba as the ship departed. Gorgeous.
Sipping our Aruba Scubas at sail away
(Also pictured: my miracle [for now] seasick patch behind my ear)
(Also pictured: my miracle [for now] seasick patch behind my ear)
After sail away, we went back to the cabin to shower and get ready for dinner. I got to call Eric again to tell him about our scuba adventure, too!
That night, in honor of Heather's first night off on this cruise, we fancied things up a little bit and ate in the Dining Room instead of at the buffet. We had a fabulous meal. (You all might remember from my Europe recaps how I love to describe/photograph food, so be forewarned that this vacation was no different.) We both started with shrimp and scallop appetizers and shrimp, spinach and crab soup. Heather had lamb as her entree, and I had a seafood medley of calamari, shrimp, scallops and a crawfish. We also split a penne pasta with mussels and white sauce that was very tasty. For dessert we shared a New York Cheesecake and Fudge Cookie with ice cream.
Mmm, food. From left to right: shrimp & scallop appetizer; shrimp, crab and spinach soup; seafood medley; penne pasta with mussels; NY cheesecake; and fudge cookie with ice cream
We had a very friendly waiter named Vanny who told us all about how he is from Portugal and will be moving to New York at the end of his contract to be a computer engineer. He seemed to take a liking to Heather and made sure to give us his Facebook information before we left. Ha! He was funny.
After dinner we stopped back at the cabin to refresh our wine, then we went to the Princess Theater to see a pianist named Kyle Esplin from Scotland. He was very good! He played lots of rock 'n roll-y type music and he was very cute. He is completely self-taught and can hardly read music. Interestingly enough, his wife is a classically trained pianist. I liked that!
After the show we went to the Explorers Lounge for a martini (this time, Heather tried a Toasted Almond and I had a Milky Way, on Heather's recommendation). We listened to the Caribbean band "Flare" and watched people dance until the set ended, then it was back to the room for another episode of Jersey Shore before bed. What a day!
Up next: A lovely day in Curacao, and another day at sea.
Just a reminder - check out our photo share site for more pictures from Aruba!