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On the second night of the cruise, Captain Glenn Edvardsen welcomes all guests in the beautiful Palm Court high atop the ship for his Cocktail Party. Enthusiastically, he grabs the microphone and after introducing his fellow officers, he jokingly asks if we have enjoyed today's call at Freeport, Bahamas. The unified "No!" that rises from the crowd says it all. On this cruise, the ports of call almost seem to let the Crystal Cruises product down. In fact, many guests seem to prefer to stay on board in port!

Each winter, Crystal typically schedules a couple of short "taster" cruises in the Caribbean which are ideal to attract newcomers to the line. On this 7-day Thanksgiving cruise, the ship is fully booked and the number of repeat passengers (often exceeding 40%) is much lower than usual.  Calling at Freeport, Nassau, Cozumel and Key West with two days at sea, our voyage starts with a 9:00 pm departure from Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday. The next morning, Crystal Serenity slowly approaches Freeport and docks right next to some container ships, dry docks and an oil refinery. A 15-minute taxi ride brings us to Port Lucaya, a custom-built tourist trap with brightly colored shops, a straw market and some restaurants and bars. Being a Sunday and with only one cruise ship in port, most shops are deserted and the same goes for the sprawling resort area that is being developed next door. However, with a crystal clear sea, white sandy beaches and a Bahama Mama (the drink, that is) in hand, who can complain?

Crystal Serenity docked in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island

The next day Crystal Serenity docks in Nassau, fun paradise in the Bahamas. There are four large ships in port and the lines to leave the dock area are endless. T-shirts vendors and taxi drivers are everywhere. In Nassau's Main Street the crowds work their way through rows of duty-free stores, returning to their ships carrying boxes of cheap liquor.

Wednesday sees our ship anchored off the town of San Miguel on the Mexican island of Cozumel. I have fond memories of my two visits to the island in 1992, when a distinct Mexican flavor colored the touristy town. However, times have definitely changed here, because on this November day, no less than eleven cruise ships call at Cozumel. You can see them arriving from all directions. The Norwegians, Carnivals, Princesses, Disneys, Royal Caribbeans and Celebrities belch out tens of thousands tourists who immediately take possession of the island. Gone is the Mexican flavor; on this day Cozumel feels like an overdeveloped U.S. annex where you can buy cheap Corona beer and Cuban cigars. And again ... lots of t-shirts!

Despite its huge tourist appeal, Key West has retained much of its charm and friendliness. We arrived on Friday morning and are transported to the center of town by trolley. There and then, we decide to take the full 90-minute tour that shows us many of the fine homes and the southernmost point in the Continental USA. With its laid-back atmosphere and rustic tropical looks, I can't help falling in love with Key West.

 For a cruise that is labeled "Seafare's Expedition", I would have expected a somewhat more adventurous array of destinations. Still, Crystal Cruises provides excellent port information sheets that can be picked up from the Reception area. Well done!

Arriving at Freeport, Grand Bahama Island

Beach at Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island

Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island
Crystal Clear Caribbean waters

The Little Mermaid? ... Cozumel's Fat Tuesday

Nassau's Atlantis Resort as seen from the ship
Mexican still life
Crystal Serenity anchored off Cozumel
Sloppy Joe's - Key West
Key West as seen from the ship

The end (or beginning) of Highway 1

Much photographed: Key West's southernmost point
Key West beach
Farewell to Key West

 

All photos and text: 2004 Bart de Boer - www.ShipParade.com

First published on January 2, 2005

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