Bicycling in the Bahamas

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Today is our first full day on the ship but it feels as though we’ve been aboard much longer. Our first port, Princess Cays, is today. Princess Cays is kind of a pseudo port. It is part of a small island leased by Princess to give its passengers a special place. It is quite nice. Before we left Colorado I rented a “clam shell” on the beach which is a small 2 person, 3 sided shell that includes two chaise lounges. It is perfect for getting out of the sun and keeping bags and yourself out of the sand.

Princess Cays is on the southern part of the Bahamian island of Eleuthera (which means ‘freedom’). Because we found ourselves with over $600 in cabin credit, basically free money, on this cruise, and hoping not to leave any of that money on the table, we booked a bicycle tour excursion on Princess Cays. But first, breakfast. I fortify myself with oatmeal and fruit because I know the lunch provided on the beach is heavy with hot dogs, burgers and brats; and I know the vegie burgers they serve aren’t great. Oatmeal should last me a while.

Since the ship is too large to dock at the island so we can walk ashore, passengers are “tendered in” with the lifeboats. At breakfast we notice that it looks a little rough out, not bad, but not promising for snorkelling, and when the tenders start to run we see them rolling and bouncing in the choppy water. Suddenly the ship’s loudspeaker comes on. “Uh oh” we say together. The announcement is that because of weather conditions, all excursions on the island have been cancelled, except the bicycle tour. Hooray! We didn’t want to have that money refunded, and it will be nice to ride a bike for a bit.

In our cabin we gather our stuff, which includes a change of clothes for me because I’m not going to ride a bike in my swimsuit. We have a beach bag for wet items like towels and snorkel gear and a backpack for dry stuff – a Sudoku book and our Bluetooth speaker, etc. With our bags and excursion tickets in hand we go to the meeting place to collect our tender tickets and await our turn to disembark. A young couple, Braden and Haleigh from Utah, join our table. They’ve left their 18-month old at home with grandma and are enjoying a couples’ vacation. We explain to them what Princess Cays is all about . Since it is leased by Princess, the food and chaise lounge chairs are free. We ask if they rented a clam shell, but having never been here they didn’t know that was a good idea. (And reservations had to be made in advance.)

Our numbers are called and the four of us go to the tender, getting separated in the line. Jeff and I board and who do we end up sitting next to? Yup, Braden and Haleigh. Instead of being tendered in on a lifeboat, we are on a larger tour boat and not only is it roomier which is more comfortable but we’re also able to sit on top and enjoy the fresh air. During the short, bouncy, rough ride to shore we tell them about our excursion and offer them the use of our clam shell while we’re away. Deal! On the beach, the four of us stick together, pick out our clam shell location and put our stuff inside.

Jeff, Jane, Haley and Braiden with Pokey and Gumby, of course.

Braden and I head straight for the water. AAHHH… I think the waves would be a little rough for Jeff and he probably wouldn’t enjoy it. I swim around some and when I get back, Jeff is returning from the picnic buffet, hot dog in hand. We’ve only 10 minutes before our tour so I hurry off to change into dry shorts and tank top. We leave “the kids” in charge of the clam shell after telling them about the Bluetooth speaker and Sudoku book, and to make themselves at home.

The bikes for our tour are big tire, one speed bikes with the brakes on the pedals – like when you were a kid. I choose one with a basket so Pokey and Gumby will have a good view.

Jane riding bike with Pokey and Gumby in her basket

Our guide tells us right away that this is a bicycle TOUR and not a bicycle RIDE. The requirements for the tour are “excellent physical condition” which we are far from, but looking at our tour mates I feel quite buff!

We set off…and go about 500 feet before we make our first stop! Here we see the three different types of mangroves that grow on this island and there are spiny urchins in the water. A few minutes later we ride, oh, maybe 1500 feet and stop again. I try not to laugh thinking this should be called a “get on/get off your bike” tour. Here our guides talk about a very old structure made of ground conch shells. This building was used to store tomatoes before being shipped to Nassau or to Florida. I’m guessing that maybe the structure had some insulating properties to keep the produce from over ripening.

Okay, now we ride a little further to the ruins of the first church on the island, an Anglican church. The original structure was leveled by a hurricane and rebuilt. The new church was subsequently also leveled by a hurricane and it is those ruins we explore.

Anglican church ruins

(The church was then rebuilt further inland.) I’m sorry that I don’t remember the dates or time periods though the guides’ information was interesting and well presented. I do remember that the minister was also the school teacher but not much else took root in my long term memory.

Back on our bicycles we continue down the small asphalt/packed dirt road – this is the only road that goes all the way around the island and it is called the “Queen’s Highway.” The island is 110 miles long and 2 miles wide. Our last stop is at the beach.

Jeff & Jane on beach at Princess Cays

Here we spend about 15 minutes walking around peering into the tide pools. You are permitted to take shells and rocks from here (we don’t).
I ask one of our two guides if they ever have people on the tour who can’t do it (which seems unlikely to me), but she says “Yes! And we’ve even had people fall off of their bikes!” I realize that this is probably the reason the first part of the ride is so short – I bet they are checking if people can ride a bicycle.

Now we are riding back to where we began. Pokey and Gumby have enjoyed themselves. I’m happy that we have a bit of an uninterrupted ride going back. Though it is short, it is very pretty. Back at the bike racks we realize that we left our tip money in our cabin. Oh crap! Jeff walks over to one of the men on our tour ands asks if we can borrow some money! The guy gives us tip money (!); of course, we get his cabin number so we can pay him back later.

Time to head back to the clam shell and evict our squatters. They made good use of their time: sleeping in the shade and doing Sudoku. Haleigh is a high school math teacher so I’m not surprised she was into Sudoku.

We have 2 hours before we must be back on the Caribbean Princess. Braden and Haleigh decide to go back to the ship while Jeff and I use our clam shell at least for an hour or so. I change back into my swimsuit; Jeff decides that it isn’t worth it for him to change and get all wet so close to time to leave. When I head for the water, he lays down on the lounge to listen to some music.

Jeff in clam shell

The water is very refreshing and I play around for a bit. I didn’t bother getting out my snorkeling gear because the water is so murky. The beach is nearly deserted now. The last tender to the ship is at 3:30 and it looks like many people have left to beat the rush. Eventually I get out of the warm ocean, dry off and we pack up to join the line of cruisers returning to the ship. It was a fun and relaxing port stop. Granted we didn’t use our clam shell much but we were glad that Haleigh and Braden did.

Once back on board we get cleaned up and go to the piazza for a quick bite to eat. I haven’t had much to eat today and after that strenuous (NOT!) bike ride, I need sustenance. I have a bowl of delicious vegetable soup and a small plate of shrimp with shaved fennel. Jeff enjoys a small Greek salad.  When we finish eating we go back to our cabin to hang out for a couple of hours and, what’s this?? This cruise just keeps getting better and better! In our bathroom I find a pretty bag tied with a ribbon; it is filled with nice toiletries. We’re pretty sure now that Princess does think we’re elite passengers. Guess we won’t dissuade them of that idea.

I make a gin and tonic with our free mini-bar goodies and pour it into my water bottle. Jeff puts a couple of beers in the small thermal bag we always pack (referred to as our “BOB” bag) and we go upstairs to claim good lounge chairs for the Movie Under the Stars. While we are waiting for the movie to start, Jeff goes to get a salad and slice of pizza. I pass on that because I plan to eat popcorn. Soon the “Black Panther” is playing, the sun is setting and there is a steward handing me a bag of yummy popcorn.

It was a good day…

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