ABOARD CRYSTAL SERENITY_Today we are docked at St. John’s, Antigua, and the weather is almost perfect. Little wind and calm seas, with highs in the mid-80s. This is our first visit to this small island, one of the Leeward Islands located 200 miles east of Puerto Rico. Antigua and its companion island, Barbuda, are part of the British Commonwealth.
This is a stop we’ve been looking forward to, not because of its 365 snow-white beaches or sightseeing opportunities, but to visit the donkeys.
When we booked our cruise excursions, we discovered the Crystal “You Care, We Care” initiative. Launched 10 years ago as part of their shore excursions, its promotes “voluntourism,” where guests can participate in worthwhile causes at the various ports of call. There is no charge — Crystal takes care of everything. You just need the desire to make a difference.
One of the programs they support on Antigua is the Donkey Sanctuary and Animal Shelter. Managed by the Antigua and Barbuda Humane Society, it houses some 150 rescued donkeys, along with a smaller number of dogs and cats. Pam and I, along with 13 others, have volunteered to work at the shelter.
We get into two, open-air Land Rovers and buckle up for the 45-minute ride. Our driver, Kissoon, stops along the way to point out locally-produced fruits or photo opportunities. The roads can be quite rough at times, so we make sure our seat belts are pulled tight.
Once we arrive, we are split into three groups — one for the donkeys, one for the dogs and one for the cats. Pam and I are on donkey duty, and the first task given us by Darren, the chief caretaker, is rake and shovel manure. We are assisted by Michael, who mans the wheelbarrow. For city slickers, the three of us make a pretty good team.
Next, we are on brush detail. The donkeys are so docile, they stand patiently while we brush their coats. My donkey seemed to really enjoy it, nuzzling against my body if I stopped too long.
Hats off to both the humane society and Crystal for their efforts, where the donkeys “will continue to live in the Sanctuary and receive humane care for the rest of their lives.” Back on board, we clean up and head for lunch at Waterside.
Noteworthy from last night was the Rock and Pop-A-Mania Show, staged in the Stardust Supper Club.
Starring the Crystal Showband and an ensemble of Crystal singers and dancers, it was a high-energy tour de force, offering selections that ranged from the Doobie Brothers to Bachman-Turner Overdrive. It left us wanting more.
Afterwards, vocalist Karin Kovacova sang some Diana Krall-style ballads as the Ambassadors and their partners demonstrated their ballroom dancing skills. Later in the cruise we have reservations for dinner and dancing at the Supper Club, designed to evoke the classic New York nightclubs of the 50s and 60s, something we’re really looking forward to.
Later this afternoon, there’s a Sailaway Party at the Seahorse Pool, and tonight’s show in the Galaxy Lounge is Broadway star Rachel York. And the cruise planners haven’t forgotten today’s the day for the College Football Playoffs. Fans can watch on the big screen at the Stardust Supper Club. I may sneak in there myself.
Tomorrow, the port of call is beautiful St. Lucia. Stay tuned.
Cover photo: Antigua, Pam brushing donkeys, credit Gerry Barker