About a month ago, I was lucky enough to take a little break and escape from the harsh winter cold of Canada and go on the world’s largest cruise ship, the Allure of the Seas.
It was my first time going on a cruise and I didn’t really know what to expect. Well let me tell you, it is a whole other world. Think of it as it’s own resort in the middle of the sea.
It was truly spectacular to see the immensity of such a vessel and to come face to face with technology so advanced to meet all of our needs.
At 1, 187 ft. long, with the capacity of over 6,000 passengers, a two-deck dance hall, a theatre with over 1,000 seats, an ice skating rink, 25 dining options, 7 distinct “neighbourhoods”, and of course the first ever Starbucks coffee shop at sea, the Allure of the Seas had everything and anything you could have ever asked for (and more).
I have to thank this cruise for allowing me to not only live some of the best moments of my life, but for also showing me that the utopia I was living in was merely a façade hiding the harsh realities of the real world.
I know that this beach was privately leased off to Royal Caribbean, and from a tourist’s point of view, it all seemed so scenic and beautiful.
The gap between us vacationers wealthy enough to afford to go on the world’s largest cruise, feasting at buffets on board, and having no worry in the world as we visited this picturesque Haitian beach, while tens of thousands of homeless Haitians wander the streets in search of food and water was extremely dystopian and very well hidden.
But I went on an excursion that allowed me to come face-to-face with the people of Haiti- the real Haitians, the ones struggling and fighting each and every day of their lives.
It was about an hour tour on jet ski’s around the island, stopping at major tourist points so that our tour guide could point out certain tourist attractions such as Tortuga Island as seen in The Pirates of the Caribbean.
There was a moment on this tour where all of us tourists were idle on our jet skis, near the island shore waiting for the other tourists to catch up. This was when we were approached by the local Haitians. As they kayaked towards us from their mountainous island, our tour guide informed us that these locals would be offering us hand-made crafts to purchase and that we could easily say “no thank you” and they would eventually understand.
As I sat there on my jet ski, one Haitian man approached me on his kayak full of beautiful yarn bracelets, each beaded in a variety of different colours. His friendly smile immediately warmed my heart. As he began to show me all his crafts, and speak to me in his broken English, I could see his hands- those of a hard worker, dry and calloused.
“They’re beautiful,” I said. “How much is that one?,” as I pointed my favourite bracelet out. “20” he replied. I knew that I only had 10 bucks left back on the island and told him I didn’t have twenty. “Okay, what do you have? Whatever you have is fine,” the Haitian man replied. Right then and there I knew that any amount of money for these people was a lot to them. They didn’t care how much we gave them because anything was good enough and better than nothing.
“Okay, I have ten,” I said, “But it’s not on me. It’s back on the island.” He shook his head and smiled. He grabbed the bracelet, took my hand and tied it around my wrist. “Just pay when you get back to the ship,” he said.
As our tour guide began to start up the engine to his jet ski and start to send off the tourists, I began to blurt out all my questions: “Who would I pay? Where would he be? How would he even know? How would I even know? Would the money get back to him?”
The man smiled and waved me off. “Thank you,” he said. “I appreciate so much.” As he turned his kayak away and rowed back to his land, I turned on my jet ski and continued with the tour, looking back at the Haitians returning back to their land on their kayaks.
Although I have always been well aware of the global disparities between the rich and the poor, physically being there and interacting with this one Haitian definitely hit me. I could make out the huts back on their island. Little, tiny homes made of natural objects, no electricity, no sign of civilization. Or at least what I considered to be a civilization. And then there was us- the people on the jet skis, returning back to this massive boat to make it back for our buffet dinner, and continue our night with dancing and fun….where no one cared about leaving the lights on in their staterooms, or wasting water or throwing food away.
When I returned, sure enough there was a man who worked for the cruise line and did take any money to return back to the locals.
As our ship called us to board again, I pondered on the moment I had just shared with the local. As I was returning to my ship to take a warm shower and feast on whatever I felt like eating that night, perhaps that man was struggling for his dinner and a glass of fresh water….
Another moment aboard the Allure that also struck me was when our cruise stopped, and turned around for Cuban refugees that were spotted bobbing in the ocean on their yellow inflatable raft.
Everyone on board rushed to get a view as they leaned over the boat’s railings. A rescue boat from the Allure lowered into the sea and approached the Cubans but of course they refused to get on board as they continued their mission to America.
The sadness overwhelmed me of these brave Cubans, floating amidst the harsh and dangerous waves of the sea, open to the dry heat and scorching sun during the day, and complete and utter darkness of the night.
Hoping that they found their way safely to shore, all I could do was watch as our ship continued on its route, and the Cubans disappeared into a tiny black spot amongst the vast blue ocean, struggling towards their freedom.
Again, it made me see the drastic difference between us cruisers, living it up on board, and the harsh reality of those Cuban people fighting in hopes for a better life in America.
As any other cruise vacationer can tell you, the Allure of the Seas was extraordinary and everyday truly felt like a dream as we moved from one destination to the next. But for me, it was far more than that. It was about living an extraordinary experience and going home with eye-opening memories and real-life examples that will last me a lifetime. It was about connecting with the locals in each of our destinations, hearing their stories, their beliefs, their values, and learning to appreciate what I had because in this world, there are many, many, many people who aren’t as lucky as me.