Greetings from the deep blue waters and sunny skies of the Mexican and Central American coastline! Temperatures have lingered in the low 80s since we embarked on March 9. UI Alumni Association staff members Joe Rank and Scott Williams are hosting 48 EXPLORERS participants from all three University of Illinois campuses, plus a few new alumni friends we have happened to meet on board the Oceania ship, Regatta. Our 650-passenger size and friendly crew s make us very grateful we are not aboard one of the mega ships we have seen that have more than 5,000 people aboard!
Our first day out of Miami was a day at sea, and everyone enjoyed the relaxing day in the sun --- what a contrast to the Midwestern winter weather we left behind. The captain hosted a typical welcome party that first night where passengers were introduced to the crew and staff . . . and each other.
In George Town, Grand Cayman, most passengers had a chance to mingle in the shallow clear water with friendly stingrays and feed them calamari (imported from California, believe it or not). Joe was photographed kissing one of the slippery creatures, perhaps overly encouraged by his local guide, Hardie Welcome (allegedly his real name). Folks have visited Mayan ruins, snorkeled from the sandy beaches and lounged on the ship deck listening to the six-member dance band comprised of Ukrainian musicians or the quiter indoor sounds of the Polish string quartet.
We enjoyed rappeliing and zip-lining through the rainforest treetops in Belize. Most mornings Joe works out on the treadmill while Scott circumnavigates the exercise deck (13 laps = one mile). This is followed by coffee on the verandah as we work up the energy to enjoy the bountiful breakfast buffet. Eggs Benedict never seem to grow boring!
We've tasted fresh coconut juice and scooped out the sweet, fleshy pulp, formed and cooked our own corn tortillas over a fire-heated clay bowl and sampled local produce and rice and beans from sidewalk vendors. Joe competes with the Scrabble master inside his Kindle and converses with the ship's crew. Scott reportedly snores a bit.
Scott Williams, Director of the EXPLORERS Travel Program