Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Day 3: Grand Turk on the Carnival Vista

Believe it or not, I was actually starting to stir a little when the alarm went off. Maybe it was the natural light seeping in around the curtains; I don't know. If it was, it definitely made getting up a little easier. If I had to pick one downside to port days, it would be having to get up "early." Hey, we're on vacation and if I don't have to get up before 8'ish, I won't. We've had a couple of port days where we had to be up at 6, yes 6, to get to our dive operator on time.

Today, though, we got to sleep until 7. Since everything was ready to go, Cindy and I dashed up to Lido for a quick breakfast then returned to the cabin to grab our dive bags. We were off the ship by 8 without even feeling like we had to rush.

Welcome to Grand Turk

I'm sure most of y'all reading this know just how badly that part of the Caribbean got hit by hurricanes in the Fall of 2017. It's bad enough when one major hurricane blows through, but two? Wow!  Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria both slammed into Grand Turk within a short time of each other. I can't even imagine facing two major hurricanes, back to back like that. According to several news outlets, Grand Turk was hit particularly hard and had no electricity for weeks afterward. At the time, we wondered if Carnival would be forced to change our itinerary and select a different port. 

Remarkably, Grand Turk made great progress with repairs and was ready for tourists around November. We booked our dives with Grand Turk Diving Company ("GTDC") since we used them the last time we were here in 2013. As we did before, we walked through the cruise terminal area to the taxi stand, where we met up with another couple and shared the van. Our fare from the cruise terminal to the dive shop was $6 per person. Not bad! Due to the rules of the terminal, wasn't allowed to pick us up in their boat, but they drop us off. Works for me!

During our seven-minute ride, the driver gave a thorough commentary of Grand Turk, including its part in history during the John Glenn's Mercury MA-6 mission. He splashed down very close to Grand Turk, in case you are curious. Here's the point where Cindy, if she was proofreading this, would call me a nerd......again......and give me that "Oh, bless your little nerdy heart" look. And she would be right.

With all the news reports we heard about how badly Grand Turk was damaged, I was amazed at how little destruction we actually saw on the way to the dive shop. There were a few buildings here and there that were obviously damaged, but just to look at the island, you wouldn't have known two major hurricanes wreaked such havoc just a few months previously. 

Has it really been four years since we were here last? It surely doesn't seem like it. We are glad just to be back here again. I still wear my GTDC cap I bought last time frequently. Not on this trip, though. While we dive in different ports on a given cruise, I always feel awkward wearing a "local" dive operator's cap, even though they are not in direct competition. So, if we are cruising the eastern Caribbean, I'll take a cap from somewhere in the western Caribbean. On this trip, I wore my "dive Cayman Islands" cap. When we do a western Caribbean cruise, such as Cozumel, Belize, and Honduras, I'll wear the GTDC cap. Yeah, I know, I'm probably wayyyyy overthinking this, but I feel better doing it this way.

GTDC dive shop

Jason, our divemaster from 2013, still works here and was actually scheduled to be our DM again. Something apparently came up, though, and Smitty, one of the owners, took us out. Originally, there was going to be four of us: Keith, Barbara, Cindy and me. With Keith and Barbara not feeling well, it was just Cindy and me. It was too late to e-mail GTDC and let them know that there would only be just the two of us the next day. While GTDC had every right to cancel this trip due to only two of us, they took us diving anyway. That just validates what I thought from the beginning, that they are truly a top-notch dive op. Thank you, GTDC!

Hello, Smitty!
photo courtesy of GTDC

I'm happy to see they still use the same dive boat we were on the last time: New Moon. She's fast and comfortable, and seeing her again was like seeing an old friend.

New Moon

I almost always take some sort of camera with me when we dive, be it a still camera or my GoPro. Today, though, I opted to leave my GoPro on the ship. I just wanted to dive, and not be thinking about capturing that next ultimate shot. Since photos, at least in my humble opinion, add so much to a story, I thought I'd add some from our previous trip here. While not from the exact location we made our dives, they'll be close enough. Lesson learned, just take the damned camera.....on every dive! I should've learned that lesson once in Grand Cayman (that's a whole 'nother story) but apparently, I'm too thick headed to listen to myself.

Smitty gave a very thorough pre-departure briefing, showing us where all of the safety/emergency equipment was located and soon we were heading to our first dive site, Amphitheater. I'm going to try something a little different on this blog, and I'd love some feedback on it. I thought I'd add a scan of my dive log printout from each dive. I don't keep a paper logbook anymore. I download the data from my dive computer into a dive log software and keep everything electronically for the most part. I do keep about a year's worth of dives printed out in a traditional logbook though so I can refer to it when traveling. Why is this important? 

Well, I knew that the last time we were diving in Grand Turk, I used 14 pounds of weight. I figured I could drop to 12 pounds on this dive. It's too hard to remember specifics like this, especially if it's been several years between dives in a given area. 

Before we knew it, Smitty had us tied up at the buoy for Amphitheater. He gave us a detailed site brief and in we went. The water temperature was a balmy 80 - 81 degrees throughout most of the dive. Visibility ("viz") was fantastic, probably 75 feet or better on average. Honestly, it did feel a bit odd for me, not having a camera in my hands. Many different species of fish, as well as turtles and rays added to an enjoyable dive, not to mention some beautiful coral. 

taken just south of Amphitheater at Alien Nation

Hiya, Mr. Grouper!
taken on same dive as above

Around the 45 minute mark, we ascended to 20 feet and did our 3-minute safety stop. I still had enough air in my tank for a few more minutes but wanted to keep my nitrogen loading down. Another fun dive in the books! Then again, I have yet to have a dive that's not a "fun dive."

I set my dive computer to record data (depth, air pressure, time, water temp. etc.) every fifteen seconds. That's the shortest time interval available. I can then download this data into software that will generate all kinds of neat graphs and analyses. Below is a scan from a printout of my electronic log from this dive. The graph represents depth in feet (vertical scale) versus time in minutes (horizontal scale). 

Amphitheater dive log

While there doesn't appear to be much narrative in my notes, I keep that section relatively brief, noting only the most important details. The software will allow much more narrative, but will only print what that text window will display. I usually add many photos to the electronic log in its own section to complete the story.

All three of us climbed back onto the boat, shed our gear and reviewed the dive while quenching our thirst with water. Scuba air, for those readers who don't dive, is extremely dry! As ironic as it is, we are completely submerged in water, yet will be really thirsty at the end of even a short dive. 

I knew we'd have at least an hour between dives (called the "surface interval" or "SI") that we could use to relax, get rehydrated, have a snack, make notes about the dive, etc. Depending on the dive operator and location, sometimes we'll get lunch or a snack on shore. Smitty decided it would be most efficient to spend our SI on the boat. Cindy broke out some Cliff bars to snack on and I started making notes on the dive to add to my log. What a beautiful day to be diving, too! We had blue skies with just a few clouds and a gentle breeze created the perfect temperature to relax in the shade of the boat's awning. Good thing there wasn't a hammock rigged up in the boat, or I would've crawled in and taken a nap.

During our SI, Smitty slowly moved the boat south to our next dive location, English Point. This location is a bit north of Windmills, our second dive from 2013. Since I've been tossing all these dive site names around, let's take a look at where they actually are in relation to each other. I only mention this to give you an idea of the variety of locations any given area will have. 

GTDC dive sites
image from GTDC website

Clicking on any of these photos will display a larger version in a new window, just like any blue text will link to a specific site in a new window. Just a reminder for my new readers. After another thorough site briefing, we donned our gear and splashed in. Ahhh, this water feels sooooo good! This site was every bit as nice as Amphitheater, and Smitty lead us along some beautiful reef formations, pointing out interesting species of fish along the way. 

As is customary, our second dive was a bit shallower than our first dive, so we were able to squeeze out a few more minutes than our first dive. We stopped in this flat area where there were quite a few garden eels hanging out and swaying in the light current. Smitty was able to coax one from the sand so we could see the entire thing, maybe 8 inches long. These eels are extremely shy and only keep their heads above the sand. They look like an index finger just poking out of the sand. They'll quickly hide completely under the sand as you approach them, so it's difficult to get a good photo of them. 

I found a suitable photo of some garden eels I took near the C53 wreck (one of my absolute favorite dive sites) in Cozumel a few years ago so you'll know what we look for.

Can you find them?

Yes, you'll have to click on the photo to enlarge it. Go ahead, I'll wait. Sort of like a "nautical Where's Waldo," right?

Did you find at least two of them? Here, let me help you out a little.

I circled two in orange for you.

Usually, there are many of them poking out of the sand, but as I mentioned earlier, they'll start hiding as you get closer. I was lucky to get at least these two on camera. 

I cropped the raw photo above to make it a little easier to see a pair of eels close together. One is sitting a bit higher than the other. 

There they are!

Once we got back on the dive boat, Cindy remarked how hard it was "to get close to those sandworms." Yeah, they are.......wait, whaaaaaat? What did she just call them?

No, she didn't just call them "sandworms!" My interior nerd sirens were screeching at top volume and a more rational part of my brain was trying to shout over my nerd sirens: "Don't do it! Just leave it alone!"

Yeah, right! With as straight a face as I could muster, I looked at her and said something like: "Oh, those are wayyyyy too small to be sandworms. Besides, we aren't on Arrakis." 

And there she goes.....calling me a nerd.....again......and she was right.....again. 

I tried to explain to her about the sandworms on Arrakis and got the same look I described before, with plenty of eye-rolling to accompany "the look." Smitty, to his credit, watched all of this with just the barest hint of a smile as he steered the New Moon back to the cruise terminal area. 

Sandworms of Arrakis
image from Google search

From the image above, you can see just how massively huge these critters are. Those little finger-sized eels aren't even close. Geeze, Cindy, how could you miss something like that? She did figure out I was imitating Beetlejuice when I then muttered, "Damn sandworms are 13% up!" Those sandworms are smaller than those on Arrakis, but still way bigger than our garden eels. And she's still married to me!

Thank you for indulging yet another of my nerd moments. I'll now return you to our regular blog programming.

We enjoyed two fun dives with Smitty, seeing many cool fish and types of coral. The viz was fantastic at both sites and the warm water kept all of us comfortable. 

English Point dive log

Smitty dropped us off about 50 yards from the cruise terminal. We could see a long line forming along the pier to get back on the Vista as we walked up to the security gate to get back into the terminal area. The line appeared to be moving quickly, so neither of us gave it a second thought. 

It was close to 1 pm when we got back on the ship. Our first order of business was to swing by our cabin and drop off everything but our dive gear. We headed up to the aft Lido to rinse the salt water off of our dive gear. We figured out several years ago that it is much easier to wash our dive gear in the fresh water showers by the pools. We also spread our dive gear on empty sun loungers to dry in the sun.

Now hold on, before the "no chair hogging" people get too bent out of shape.....we make sure to limit our gear to two loungers each and only if there are plenty available. That's why we wash our dive gear as soon as we get back onboard. The ship is usually much less crowded with many still on tours and off the ship. We also keep our gear out only as long as it takes to dry, then we gather everything back up and take it to the cabin. 

The aft Lido was remarkably empty when we got up there, and dozens of sun loungers were empty. We rinsed all of our dive gear and I babysat our gear while Cindy went to find something for lunch. This nice lady, Yanique, happened to be sitting on a lounger next to us. She heard our conversation and offered to watch our gear while I went to get my lunch.

I grabbed a Cubano sandwich from the deli and Cindy picked up a couple of slices of pizza. We split the sandwich and pizza slices and enjoyed chatting with Yanique. That was very nice of her to watch our gear, so I asked if I could buy her a drink when I got a couple for Cindy and me.  She seemed surprised at the offer but allowed me to buy her a daiquiri. I brought Yanique's and Cindy's drinks first, then ordered mine. About the time I sat down and took a sip of my drink, Yanique noticed a fly in hers. I jumped up and told her I'd take it back and have them make another. 

She then stood up and said "Oh HECK no! You've been running back and forth since you got up here. You sit down and enjoy your lunch and drink." I tried to convince Yanique to let me take care of this, but she would have none of it. At least we could watch her stuff until she got back. What a pleasant, charming lady! And that's another reason we love cruising....meeting nice people like her. I gave her one of our contact cards that has our e-mail and blog address on it and told her I was going to be writing a blog about our cruise. Yanique, if you are reading this, I sure hope you comment on it and leave your e-mail address. You are a class act!

Once our gear was dry, we gathered it up and were taking it to the cabin when we ran into Brian, Denise and "B-Man." They were coming up to Lido to relax by the pool after their day in Grand Turk. They saved a couple of loungers for us while we dropped off our gear and returned. Now that we didn't have gear to babysit, we all enjoyed hanging out in the hot tubs for sailaway. We talked about our respective days in Grand Turk and soaked in the hot tub until 4:30. We needed to shower and get dressed for dinner. 

Our late lunch was tasty, but I was still ready for dinner. Half a Cubano sandwich and a slice of pepperoni pizza, after diving, served its purpose of tiding us over. While we were getting cleaned up in the cabin, I had our mp3 player cranking out Christmas music while the TV displayed the map channel. Cindy and I headed to Deck 3 for dinner, wondering if we'd see Keith and Barbara there. We knew Brian, Denise and B-Man would be there.

I was glad to see Keith and Barbara at dinner. They were feeling a little better, but still not quite 100% yet. They still have a couple of days before our next dive in Curacao. Shall we have a look at the menu?

Appetizer: "Cannelloni"
Ricotta, bacon, shaved parmesan

I don't recall having this particular app before and was pleasantly surprised with it. The pasta was cooked al dente, just as I like it, the smoky bacon adding another layer of flavor to the richness of the ricotta and parmesan. I'll definitely order this again if it's available the next time we cruise.

Main: "Grilled Beef Tenderloin"
Polenta, red wine sauce

Pleasant surprise number two tonight: The polenta was loaded with flavor! Thick and rich, it served as the perfect counterpoint to the beef. I didn't need to add salt or pepper to anything on the plate.

Dessert: Caramelized pineapple and ice cream

This was a hybrid dessert of sorts. I ordered the caramelized pineapple off the featured dessert for the day and supplemented it with buttered pecan ice cream, available daily. There are few things more decadent and satisfying than caramelized pineapple slices. Add a couple of scoops of buttered pecan ice cream and you get one heckuva finish to a tasty meal.

We waddled back to our cabin to change back into our "comfy clothes" and plan our evening. Our cabin steward left us a gorilla, I think, towel animal and tomorrow's Fun Times. 


We had no specific plans for La Romana the next day. From my pre-cruise research, the diving didn't appear to be that good around there, and no tours (excursions) looked that appealing, at least for the price we were willing to pay. That meant we could sleep in, enjoy breakfast on the balcony and play the rest by ear. At worst, we could get off the ship and check out the local merchants in the terminal area. 

For tonight we'd check out the other comedian currently on the Vista, Jason Blanchard. His adult show was as funny as Rob Little's. All seven of us had a great time, and I'm looking forward to hearing him again. Thanks for the laughs, Jason! The night was still young, so we figured the piano bar would be a good place to listen to some tunes, sing along to them and see how much fun we could have. A lot, apparently, as we stayed there until midnight. 

Midnight? That's, like, four hours since we've eaten something. We can't have that! Up to Lido, we went, contemplating what sorts of munchies would make the perfect ending to such a fun day. I think more pizza is in order. That, and ice cream. It's a classic midnight-on-a-cruise ship pairing, you know. 

So that was our day in Grand Turk. I hope y'all enjoyed reading about our dives and activities once we got back on the ship.

My next blog will cover what we and some of our traveling group did in La Romana.

For your convenience, here are links to each blog in the series so far:

My Grand View of the Carnival Vista (first in a series)
Day 1: Embarkation on the Carnival Vista
Day 2: Our First Fun Day at Sea on the Carnival Vista

Until next time......

carpe cerevisi


  1. Did you say, "Worm Signs"? "Usul, we have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen." Yep, like that movie and have watched it a FEW times!! Hoping you did the Brewery Tour - want to read a review from you on that!! I have the Vista book in Oct with an Havana Aft Extended balcony. I will be doing the Brewery Tour on that cruise!! Nice job as always on your blog, my friend!!

    1. Thank you, Steve! I have a lot of fun writing these. If you ever meet Cindy, she'll tell you I do that to her all the time. About as much as John Myers and I would quote movie lines at A&I.

      We tried a couple of times to get on the tour, but were always too late and the tour was full. I'll make it a point next time, though.

      I've heard those aft Havana cabins are NICE. Y'all will prolly never leave that part of the ship, except to eat.