Monday, July 9, 2018

The Castaways of Coco Cay - A Private Island Day in the Bahamas

Thankfully, after the hassles and fiascoes of the first day of this trip, we got a good night's sleep. Morning found us still at sea. Soon, an island came into view along our side of the ship. This must be Coco Cay, one of the Bahamas' Berry Islands, Royal Caribbean's private island. We are to spend the day here.

First, we must eat breakfast and the buffet is at the bow of the ship. We're eating there because the dress code is more relaxed. Tim and I are dressed in swim trunks (I want to change his clothes as few times as possible) so we're skipping the main dining room for today and hitting the buffet instead.

The buffet is a zoo, with everybody cutting in line, butting their way in to grab some bacon, being wide to scoop up some scrambled eggs. There's no rhyme or reason to how people should line up or what direction to go in.

I finally grab some food for Tim and I...Letty's on her own for this one.

The announcement comes over the PA that the boats to the island are now in operation and to make our way down to the bottom deck to go to the island.

This is the great unknown for us. Coco Cay is a tender port, meaning that there is no pier for the ship to dock at. Smaller boats...tenders...shuttle passengers back and forth to shore all day long.  Tenders mean that there is no guarantee that wheelchairs will be able to disembark, it's strictly at the crew's discretion.

I had tried to ascertain with Royal Caribbean before we left on if a wheelchair would be able to go on the tender. All I could get was "we can't guarantee it," but browsing through people's reviews and trip reports online before we left suggested that it could be done so this will be a gamble for us.

(NOTE: Royal Caribbean is in the middle of a massive construction project on the island. In 2019, a pier will be opened for the ships to dock at, making the tender transfer obsolete)

No need to worry, though, there's a ramp to the tender (after going through security to get off the boat) and a flat area up front where wheelchairs are allowed to sit during the short journey. The crew graciously lets me stand there with Tim, although Letty is told she must sit in the seats inside with the rest of the passengers.

A shore excursion specialist is standing next to me for the trip. He tells me he's from Chile and we talk about all the things to see and do there, also telling me what destinations I should see, where to fly to, and more. A font of information for a future trip...I'm putting his suggestions into the memory bank for that distant vacation.

We talk about shore excursions and I tell him that in Nassau, we plan to take the glass bottom boat because that's the only one that was listed as accessible.

"Oh, that excursion's been cancelled to to lack of bookings," he tells me, "but we have one on the island today."

Once on the island, I follow him to the excursion office to sign us up, "be back here at 1:15 this afternoon."

I should also mention that when we left the tender, Tim's power wheelchair was traded for a beach wheelchair with fat tires for the sand. We'll exchange them back when we leave (NOTE: although special needs passengers are advised to get on the island early because beach wheelchairs are first-come, first-served, we noticed that there were a lot of beach wheelchairs, much more than the demand for them).

With that taken care of, the three of us head to the sand where we have an easy time finding some lounge chairs to relax on.

The Bahamas, while usually uttered with the word "Caribbean," are not part of that tropical sea. Rather, it lies just outside of the warm Caribbean east of Florida. This is readily apparent when I go for a swim and there is a definite chill in the water.

It's clear. I can see the coral, some fish swimming around, and not a trace of cloudiness. It's just not warm. I do my best to get used to it but a half hour in that chilly ocean water is really all I need. It actually feels warmer when I get out and back into the air.

I go to get some snacks. I went healthy for Tim and I, mostly because the more 'junk' food stands at the Island buffet were overrun just like the breakfast buffet. The salad and cold cut bars were mostly untouched.

Letty went to get a bucket 'o pina colada from one of the bars. I had a beer and filled up two of our soda glasses. Then is was time to go on our glass bottom boat ride.

Arriving at the counter, we're given the bad news...the weather's not good enough to go out so it's been cancelled.  We've pretty much done all we wanted to do so we trade back for our power chair, go through security, and get back on the tender to the ship.

About halfway back, cool drops of rain fall on Tim and on the bow of the tender...while we wait to get back on the ship.

Since Tim won't go in the ocean, I take him up to the pool deck. There are a couple of lifts for handicapped people. He usually floats around in an inner tube we bring along, The ship also has a variety of swim vests, intended for children but some of the larger sizes looked like they'd fit. We ask the lifeguard...who's Russian...what we should do for Tim.  He says to go with our inner tube.

After we get it inflated, the lifeguard along with a pool attendant comes over to operate the lift. We get Tim in the chair and I jump in to get him out and ease him into the inner tube. That's when I found out that the ship's pool is not heated.

Tim is eased down and is also a bit shocked at how cold the water is but he's still game and in he goes.  I figure we'll get used to it...which we do for the most part...and float around for an hour before moving on to something else.

About 20 minutes later, the lifeguard comes back up..."you done with swim?"

"Well, no, I figured we'd stay in for awhile longer to make it worthwhile," I tell him.

"That okay but you know rain coming. Lightning."

"Oh, I understand, let's get out then."

We get out, drops start falling so we move under shelter near the side of the ship. Then, a deluge hits. Lightning, thunder, and buckets of water. We're fine under the roof but many out in the pool and lounge chairs are caught out. I also think of the hundreds of passengers that are still on the island and have to make their way back.

I see that we're next to the Windjammer buffet's side door, which I can get to without getting too wet so I go in to grab some hot dogs, fries, and fruit for Tim and I.  I also take our soda cups to their machines...which are out of everything except Diet Fanta.

That's when I find the only other soda machine onboard is in the middle atrium, on the 6th deck. So, get cups good for unlimited soda on the ship. There are only three machines...two in the buffet and one in the center...for 2,400 passengers.  You can see where the math gets dicey. You can also get soda from the bars and main dining room, but the cups are specifically for the three machines on board. To fill 'at your leisure.'

Well, the food's still good so we relax here until the storm passes then we go to our cabin until dinnertime.

Dinnertime comes and, true to their word, we have a more accessible and appropriately-sized table assigned.  The food is good, the waiter is very good if a bit on the talkative side, and it all goes off without a hitch.

We do a little shopping in the duty-free mall onboard but Letty and Tim aren't onboard on with seeing any of the ship's entertainment that night.

All in all, this was a much better day than the first day. Still a few issues here and there but even Tim said he had fun today. After a couple of cocktails in the quiet mid-ship bar, we call it a night and head back to our cabin to relax until bedtime.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

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