Our day with Oceania’s Insignia in Dominca began on a low note and ended with a high and noisy one on this, the last day of the year.
The shore excursion we had booked was cancelled the night before our arrival due to lack of interest. We’d planned a Jeep safari through the rainforest and natural wonders of what we’d been told is one of the Caribbean’s wildest and most unspoiled islands. Luckily, Insignia’s destination services crew found room for the two of us on the afternoon Champagne snorkel excursion, so we turned in for the night determined to make the best of the ship’s brief stay at the island.
But when we opened the draperies and stepped onto our veranda the next morning my heart sank. It was pouring rain with dark clouds all around showing no sign of a break in the weather. And, because another ship was docked at the main cruise terminal in the capital, Roseau, we were in a port stacked with shipping containers with nothing of interest to be explored on foot. The Oceania crew thinks ahead, though, and organized a complimentary shuttle into the city. We boarded in drizzle, but by the time we reached our destination 15 minutes later we were in a downpour. Bill and I were the only passengers who got off the packed shuttle; the rest turned around and went back to the ship.
We high-tailed it across the street to the Dominica Museum and stayed dry studying exhibits explaining the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates and the volcanic history of the island. An exhibit on the slave trade that populated Dominica was positioned near an open window overlooking Old Market Plaza where slave auctions once took place. Today colorful but dripping umbrellas were struggling to keep vendors and their handicrafts dry. We moved on to the museum’s replica of a Carib hut and a collection of Arawak pottery. Interspersed among these finds were odd bits of miscellany prompting Bill to joke, “Looks like someone just cleaned out his garage.”
The rain let up so we wandered over to the Fort Young Hotel for a look at portions of the building belonging to an 18th-century fort. Today, instead of providing protection for the island, they house duty-free shops that only threaten your wallet.
We made it back to ship in plenty of time to get organized for our snorkel excursion, but as soon as we stepped aboard the snorkel boat the skies opened again. Cold rain blew in on us from all sides below the boat’s sun shade. The look on our fellow passenger’s faces told the tale: Are we having fun yet? At least we were planning to get wet anyway, I rationalized. Already drenched, the boat dropped anchor just off the coast, we donned snorkel gear and jumped in.
Wonder of wonders, the sea water felt warmer than the air, the clouds lifted and the sun peeked out. Our snorkel guide led us over a reef, pointing out different types of fish and free diving to the bottom to pick up pieces of dead coral for us to examine. He left the best to the last, however, when we followed him to Champagne Reef where bubbles escape from underwater volcanic vents. I could have stayed for another hour snorkeling above them, the sunlight catching the bubbles and turning them into bright strings of crystal. And when I swam above them, warm water enveloped me. What a fabulous experience, and how fortunate our Jeep safari cancelled so we could be here.
Back on board the snorkel boat, the mood had turned jovial with everyone laughing and talking. There was no Champagne, as the shore excursion brochure coyly explained—the bubbly referring to the reef not the drink—but the crew made up for it by passing around cups of fruit juice and rum punch. All of us were soaking wet, our hair plastered and in disarray, and red marks from our masks ringed our faces. No one cared. High spirits carried us back to the Insignia.
I must say, the collection of passengers on Insignia’s holiday cruise cleans up well. Though the ship’s dress code is country club casual, this night is New Year’s Eve and many of the ladies were sporting evening gowns and beaded cocktail dresses, a few men in jaunty bow ties. After a lovely dinner in the Grand Dining Room—beef Wellington for Bill, duck l’orange for me—we had many a hearty laugh over the comedy performance of Brooklynite John Joseph in the Insignia Lounge.
Then, as the witching hour approached, Martinis and Horizons lounges filled up with passengers in party hats. The crew passed around flutes of complimentary Champagne and we all counted down aloud to the New Year while cruising through the Atlantic time zone. Noisemakers squawked and Constantine the pianist led us through the singing of Auld Lang Syne.
Finishing my flute I reflected on 2016, a year with so much trouble in the world. But there were good things for us: a new grandchild and our beloved Chicago Cubs won the World Series—finally. I made a resolution then and there that in 2017 when the sky darkens and rain threatens, I will think of the bubbles in my glass tonight and on the reef this afternoon and keep a sunny disposition.
Photos by Katherine Rodeghier