There's nothing that attracts attention on a cruise ship — or maybe anywhere else — like something you don't expect to see. Call it curiosity or perhaps living vicariously through somebody else. In any case, motorcycles on a cruise ship will do it.
When the Explorer of the Seas left for nine days en route to and in the Caribbean, on board were about 50 bikes…not the kind you pedal. And when they put their pedals to the metal, however gently, crowds of cruisers gathered to watch.
Beyond that, most cruise passengers felt the bikers — we called them the Harley Boys, although not every bike was a Harley-Davidson — were kindred spirits when they spotted the two-wheeled entourage on the streets of St. George's, Bermuda…or St. Maarten, St. Thomas and San Juan, the other three stops. Many cruisers have seen this act before, because it has been around for 16 years, under the auspices of ETA, an acronym when fleshed out becomes not "Estimated Time of Arrival" but Entertainment and Travel Alternatives.
For us, it was a first-time experience. There we were, just like all the other rookie watchers.
"It's a blast," George Hardy told us.
George is a sophomore participant. He's from Valley Forge, which is just outside Philadelphia, and he has plans to make it a three-peat, at least.
For these bikers from a broad age demographic, Royal Caribbean has been a favorite mode of transportation, but not the only cruise line on ETA's unique itineraries. The attraction for these unique tourists is to visit other countries (or in this case islands in the Caribbean) on their bikes. They make arrangements with local motorcycle clubs, who become their hosts as they see parts of an island that would surely otherwise be impossible to visit.
Bermuda was a bonus. There is only one day a year on which the Bermudan government allows such an influx of motorcycles on its cozy island. The day happened (?) to be the day the Explorer of the Seas was docked.
And it's cheaper to take a bike on a cruise than take yourself. This 9-day junket cost the bikers $325 for each of their bikes. As George Hardy explained, compare that to what you are likely to spend on shore excursions, local buses, taxis or shuttle boats on a four-island stop, and it's a bargain.
What's more, you have an audience, especially getting on and off the ship.
Nobody but the bikers themselves is likely to plan a cruise around whether there are bikes on board.
It is, however, one of those unexpected extras.
Holland America Westerdam
November 9, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): Grand Turk, San Juan, Half Moon Cay
Cost per day: $71