Monthly Archives: February 2012

Visitors, Not Locusts

What’s the opposite of “a plague of locusts”? How about “an enjoyment of visitors”?

We returned, not long ago, from our second Caribbean cruise. As before, we deliberately chose a small cruise ship with a mere 300 passengers, instead of a large cruise ship with thousands of passengers. Also as before, we loved it, and much of our enjoyment came from being on a smaller cruise ship.

If the ship is small enough, you get to visit places the big cruise ships bypass. You feel more like a visitor than a plague of locusts. We had avoided cruises for years because we heard mostly about the big mega-ships with four digits’ worth of passengers, fixed dining times, Vegas-style shows on board, and massive crowds descending on big tourist destinations. None of those features held any attraction for us.

On our first cruise, the difference was illustrated clearly for me when the ship stopped at Saint Martin. We arrived in Marigot, the capital on the French side of the island – too small for big cruise ships. Our 300-passenger ship was the big ship in port. We had a pleasant visit walking around the town and stopping for a nice lunch of local food. There were no crowds and no rush. We felt like visitors getting a taste of the local culture.

Then we took a bus over to Philipsburg, on the Dutch side (Sint Maarten). Looking out into the harbor, we saw several big cruise ships lined up. We guessed there were 5 to 10 thousand tourists swarming the place. Philipsburg was picturesque and welcoming, but the tourist area was crowded, crowded, crowded. That made it less enjoyable for us. It was somewhat like a trip to Epcot Center – a busy tourist-ized emulation instead of the real thing. (We’ve enjoyed Epcot Center in its own way in the past, but it’s still an emulation, not a substitute for experiencing another country or another culture.)

Saint Martin was the starting point on our recent cruise. We flew in a day early and stayed in Marigot. Again, we had a perfectly delightful visit. We got to look around the town, check out the market, relax when and where we felt like it, and eat some good food. We had our pick of where we wanted to go, because we weren’t swept up in a locust swarm. We got to talk to locals.

Interesting side note: In Sint Maarten, I didn’t spot a single word of Dutch anywhere, except where a Dutch surname showed up in some company’s name. All the signs were in English: stores, restaurants, civic buildings, road signs, everything. The Sint Maarten constitution says Dutch and English are the official languages; nevertheless, I didn’t see or hear a word of Dutch anywhere.

The difference between big ships and small was illustrated for us again when the ship landed in Le Marin, Martinique. According to the excursion manager on board, there were about 10,000 cruise passengers descending on Fort-de-France, several miles away. In Le Marin, we were visitors, and ours was the big ship in port. We had the chance to interact with the local population. We got to visit places that the local population would visit. It seemed like the most frequently asked question from the Martinicans was an eager “Are you Americans from the boat?”

At just about every cruise stop, the tourist crowds were small enough to let us enjoy the local sights and culture at a satisfactory pace. And our “hotel” (the ship) was nearby. That’s what we wanted out of a cruise.


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