Day 10 sea day and home

Day 10 – At Sea and then Home 

“There is no unhappiness like the misery of sighting land — and work — again after a cheerful, careless voyage.”
Mark Twain 

Homeward bound

Hi all – 

Today, Saturday, we’re at sea, making our way across the eastern side of the Caribbean to San Juan.  We thought the quote above was particularly apropos today!  The trip flew by much too quickly, but that happens when you’re in a different port every day, and you’re torn.  You really want to see what this port/country has to offer, but it’s a go-go schedule and you can miss out on the relaxing part of a vacation as well!

 We began the day with a Champagne breakfast brought to our room.  Once again, they’ve accommodated our GF food need with ease – it’s been very impressive!  Since their quiches included flour, they made us omelets instead – huge ones filled with veggies and cheese!  And about 4 ounces of smoked salmon per person, along with GF brioche (which has appeared at dinner each night too) and cream cheese with chives and capers.  And melon and berries.  And pastries.  And a half bottle of bubbly, along with OJ and coffees.  Needless to say, we don’t need to worry about eating again until dinnertime! 

The sea is very calm today – small swells of about 4 feet which the ship handles with ease.  And LOTS of sun!  We’re hoping to avoid the last vacation day temptation of spending too much time outside, ending up burned for a long trip home!  It’s just very pleasant to look out and see nothing but lots of water, smell the salt air, listen to the waves as the bow moves through them.  There may be land in sight on the port (left) side of the ship, but from our starboard (right) side balcony, it’s all open water.  (And now that we’ve looked at the map on TV, there isn’t any land close enough to see anywhere – but lots of birds!) 

We wiled away our time on the balcony, for the most part.  Sitting in the shade with the sound of the sea, it made for a peaceful place to read.  After a brief walk around the ship one last time, we’re packed as well.  The large suitcases go out at dinnertime, and we’ll see them again portside.  We’ll make a final clothing change at the airport, jeans being required as we understand it’s about freezing at home after dark.  Then the long trip home tomorrow. 

We have lots of pictures to share, so look forward to those on Facebook in the coming week.  All in all, it’s been a great vacation – just way too short!  Those dogs are just going to have win us the lottery!!! 

Love, Y & J

Day 9 Barbados

Day 9 – Barbados and Rain! 

Barbados

Hi everyone – 

Friday found us in Barbados, one of the most densely populated countries in the Caribbean.  The ship berths in the commercial deepwater port among freighters and container ships.  The activity is fun to watch – amazing how fast a container ship can be unloaded and reloaded and once again be on its way! 

This island was discovered by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and was then claimed by the English who settled it with sugar, tobacco, and cotton crops.  Even from the harbor, you can smell the flowers, particularly orchids, that are plentiful on the island.  There are more beaches, shipwrecks and reefs here as well.  And of course, all of the expected shops make yet another appearance, along with – yes – more rum!  (That seems to be a ‘specialty’ on every island here!)

We had originally planned another ship and snorkel trip today, but decided to cancel out of it.  And are we glad we did!  The boat was built for speed but has no cover.  It then anchors in deep water for a snorkel over a shipwreck and seas turtle area.  Much as we love sea turtles, there probably wasn’t going to be a lot to see as the clouds gathered overhead and the rain poured down! 

Instead, we spent part of the day at The Sanctuary, the private adults-only area forward on the ship at the very top.  Under its light canopy, you can enjoy a light meal or drinks, listen to your own iPod or use one of those provided, swim in a private pool, or just take a nap on the well-cushioned chairs.  We opted for swimming and reading, dipping in the resistance pool (swimming against wave action if you want it) and then sitting in one of the hot tubs.  

There are five pools on the ship.  One forward is for the crew, and unless you find your way to the balcony over the bridge (an area not appearing on the ship maps), you would never know it was there!  The resistance pool in the spa area serves The Sanctuary as well, and it is for adults only, as is the pool aft, at the very back of the ship.  One pool midship has movies or other entertainment running all day long and Movies Under The Stars at night.  (We wanted to try this but never got around to it!)  And another pool midship has live music for part of the day. 

Surrounding the pools and at various other little mini-deck areas there are lounge chairs.  You can select just about any view you want to enjoy, and since most people only fry themselves for a short time before the direct tropical sun drives them under cover.  Since we were below the 14-degree latitude, it is intense! 

In the evening we celebrated Yvonne’s birthday, complete with a cake with a candle and a happy birthday serenade by the headwater, our server, his assistant, and other staff.  Unfortunately, we missed taking a picture here because the camera decided to malfunction!  But the memory will live on! 

And we stayed up way past our bedtime!  We went shopping (the shops are only open when we’re at sea, not in port), and dancing!  (Okay, we really need to take some dancing lessons – but we say that on every trip!)  Since the dance floor was packed and the music was lively, you couldn’t do much other than shake your body a bit, but it was fun and great exercise! 

Tomorrow, a day at sea, one of our favorite things! 

Love, Y & J

Day 8 St Lucia

Day 8 – St Lucia and Sea Kayaking 

St Lucia

Hi all – 

Last night we enjoyed the gentle rocking of the boat, the ‘roughest’ water we’ve encountered so far.  It was very relaxing, like swinging in a hammock!  We awoke as the ship was turning for its berth in Castries, port of St. Lucia. 

St Lucia is another sovereign state associated with Britain.  The topography is much more varied with taller peaks and more hills and valleys.  It is also very green, giving us much more of a tropical island feel.  The city is noisy, and it seems that the common method of driving is with one hand on the horn and the other hanging out the window to greet friends or offer encouragement about someone else’s driving!  (You’ll notice we said nothing about a hand on the wheel!) 

 The experience here is much different from the other islands, less desperate in the craft market (and people actually have varied items, not just all of the same thing!)  This island is famous for its textiles, and we did the only real shopping of the trip – a couple of t-shirts, a ball cap for John, a sarong for Yvonne, and a couple of sarongs to serve as tablecloths.  If you want o buy diamonds, tanzanite or other jewelry or watches, you have many choices in each port – and they are all part of the same chains. 

After a light lunch of grilled vegetables and Greek salad at the International Café, we were ready to head out for the excursion of the day, sea kayaking.  While the write-up noted that this was a trip for novice kayakers (definitely us) the passes noted “Must be in good physical condition”.  How good, exactly, is “good” supposed to be?  This was causing Yvonne some real trepidation! 

As the group lined up on the pier, her concerns were allayed.  It’s rude to say, but compared to many of the others, we’re ready for Olympics!  A short bus ride took us to Rodney Bay (named for Admiral Rodney who was very important in the development of commerce on the island – the famous island rum bears his name too) where we received floatation vests (just in case) and our lessons on how to kayak. 

Shoving off and staying balanced proved to be very easy, despite the waves being kicked up by the winds.  We paddled to a couple of different stops with our guides, and ended up on the beach at Pigeon Island National Park.  All in all, we paddled for about 45 minutes, which was just enough to warm up muscles and create a pleasant sense of achievement for the day.  Next time, Yvonne’s going to be sitting in back, as we discovered that she has a stronger paddle stroke (those hours on the rowing machine in the gym were actually good for something!)  It is definitely something that we will do again! 

We got in some snorkeling in the park too.  Here everyone is required to wear a float vest (probably to keep anyone from surface diving in this area) and fins (we really prefer snorkeling without them!)  While there were fewer types of coral present here, there were a lot more fish, and a terrific wide variety.  We have pictures of many that we did not recognize, so we have things to look up once we get home. 

We enjoyed sailaway from our balcony again, offering yet more pretty views of this island.   We look forward to an opportunity to return and explore St. Lucia, which is our favorite stop so far, other than Puerto Rico. 

In the evening, we took a break from the dining room and instead had ‘dinner’ in Vines.  On the Crown last year, we really liked to hang out there, have sushi and tapas, and enjoy some wine.  We hadn’t had a chance to do that yet on this trip, and since the dinner menu didn’t hold any must-have’s, it was a good night for something lighter.  The wonderful tastes and fresh textures of these light snacks proved to be exactly right. 

This evening Vines had the final in a series of Stammtisch events.  A Stammtisch is the German word for a communal table in a bar or restaurant that is reserved for the same guests each day and each week.  It’s intended to be a place where you share opinions, viewpoints, and camaraderie.  Here in the ship, it’s a wine tasting event paired with food.  This evening it was white wine with seafood, and we tried some different selections both alone and then with seafood that was unadorned, and then finally with the companion sauces.  It was an interesting way to try some wines we would not otherwise order, but which proved to be more enjoyable with the right seafood. 

So far, we still haven’t seen a show or done an evening stroll on the Promenade deck.  Our plan to take that walk on deck tonight was hampered by the rolling of the ship as it turned into the Atlantic for the final port, Barbados.  We’re sure it isn’t fun for anyone who gets motion sick, but we get a kick out of lifting a foot to take a step and not being able to put it back down as the ship rolls in the opposite direction – along with you!  One more port, then a day at sea to enjoy! 

Love, Y & J

Day 7 Antigua

Day 7- Antigua (An-tee-ga)

 Hi everyone, 

Another warm, partly cloudy day and just another tropical island.  Antigua is larger than we expected.  The captain’s announcement that we had docked in the city of St John’s woke us this morning.  We had decided that today we would take a break from shore excursions and just walk into town, so we got our caramel macchiatos and headed to the buffet for a late breakfast.  We are in the travel mode of two meals a day. Fortunately, Princess offers lots of veggie selections, so our diet is very healthy.

 Antigua is a former British colony and achieved Statehood in Association with Britain in 1967.  It became a sovereign country in 1981.  The currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar.  Prices are marked in both the EC and US dollar.  Most Caribbean countries accept the US dollar as well as credit cards and traveler’s checks.   

We docked within sight of downtown St John’s and the shops start right off the pier.  Town is much more populated than any of the other stops we have made and requires you to run a gauntlet of taxi drivers and tour sellers who are almost shoulder-to-shoulder across the pier leading from the cruise ship docks.  Beaches circle the island and the common cruise practice is to catch a taxi to one of the beaches, or to hire one of the cab drivers for a tour.  It reminded John of the condo sellers in Mexico.  We repeated ‘no thank you’ about 40 times on our brief walk.

 Prices in most of the shops are high, but they also have a local flea market.  Each flea market seller has about a 5×5-foot square stall packed with the same tee shirts and hats as the neighboring stall and the feeling of desperation made us both uncomfortable.   The best advice is to move over at least one street from the one disembarking cruise ships.  There are less taxi hawkers and the shops become quainter.    

We spent the remainder of our morning by the pool, where Yvonne enjoyed her drink of the trip – the mojito.  This afternoon, Yvonne has an appointment for a Swedish massage. She won $50 toward the cost in a raffle the first day, so the cost will be very reasonable.  The best time to schedule spa services is on port days.  The cruise lines will often offer discounts for port days.  John is on the balcony with a glass of wine doing blog duty.  (Note from John – I’ll do blog duty in a tropical port with a glass of wine any time if you need someone to fill the position!) 

We had planned to have tapas and sushi in the wine bar tonight, but when they announced that tonight is Italian night, plans changed.  Yvonne has decided on veal scaloppini as her entrée.  John will make a spur of the moment selection, but we already have a favorite dry Italian wine that will accompany dinner.   The dinner wine selection is good, and Vines, the wine bar has a very comprehensive wine selection.  As you all know, we believe life is about food and wine, cruises make a wonderful venue for us.   We have both decided to start a detox and de-calorie program after the cruise! 

A very relaxed Yvonne will now give you her impression of Antigua.  

*****

Ah yes, the massage was most excellent!  The spa services are extensive on the ship, very professional, and expensive.  Expect to pay about 2 ½ to 3 times as much as at home.  But it IS SO worth it!!! 

This port can accommodate up to four ships at the cruise docks, and probably more in the neighboring deep-water port area.  We were one of two ships in town today, the other from a line that (shock of shocks) we don’t’ recognize!  If you have watched the bridge cam for the ship (just google bridge camera Caribbean Princess), you’ve noticed that we appear to come into every dock nose first.  This means that we typically push away from the dock (thrusters push again the dock and reverse thrusters back us up on the other side – hard to explain) and then back up.  

In every port, a pilot comes on board to guide the ship until it’s out of the harbor.  While the blue-green water is deceiving, you can look down and see that it’s not very deep.  Three long blows of the horn and we’re away.  Then a final horn sounds the ‘good-bye’ to the port.  Tonight leaving Antigua, with two ships pulling out, we have a symphony going! 

Tonight also seems to be the night that many people chose to sit on their balconies for sailaway.  While there’s a party on deck every night when we pull out (and every other night for that matter), there’s a point when you just need to kick back and enjoy the ‘resort’ side of being in this floating village.  We liken it to staying at a five-start resort and then leaving every day, never visiting the pool or other amenities. 

As the ship backs out and then pivots on its center point, we think about a shower (you get used to the need to take a couple each day) and dressing in tonight’s theme, tropical shirt/smart casual.  The couples traveling together in the mini-suites below us move back and forth between balconies through small adjoining doors, sharing cocktails and stories from the day. 

 Last night and again tonight will be some of the longest distances sailed between ports.  On the first couple of nights, we only needed to travel about 50 miles!  As the ship turns west into the setting sun, on to another port – St Lucia!

Antigua

 

Love, Y & J

Day 6 Tortola

Day 6 – Tortola  

Hi friends! 

Tuesday in Tortola dawned cloudy, though the forecast is for broken clouds and a high of about 79.  The humidity is surprisingly low – 71% this morning.  But we know we’re in the tropics because Yvonne has curly hair!  This morning we could have a lazy start, since our tour didn’t leave until 1 pm.  

Purported to have been originally discovered by Christopher Columbus, the British have held the islands since 1666.  Road Town, the capital city on the protected harbor where we’re docked, is colorful, with much of the architecture still showing evidence of its settling by the Dutch.  This area of the archipelago that forms a boundary between the Caribbean and Atlantic was most famous for its buccaneer heritage, and when you see the harbors that dent significantly into many of these islands, it’s easy to imagine their sailing ships coming into the bays and dropping anchor.  The principle commerce here now is livestock, offshore banking and tourism.  

Caribbean Princess is the sister ship to the Crown, which we took across the Atlantic last spring.  Princess has a very loyal following and the fans of the larger ships will alternate between Crown and Caribbean depending on the itinerary.  When we first saw Caribbean Princess, we swore it was a smaller ship than Crown, but the length and gross tons are identical.  Caribbean actually holds 20 more passengers than Crown.  The ships have many of the same features, but they are placed differently and may be larger or smaller depending on the ship.  The wine bar, Vines, is larger on Caribbean, as is the tour desk. The specialty restaurant, Crown Grill is smaller on Caribbean. 

Our balcony is forward (near the front of the ship) on the 14th deck named Riviera.  We are happy to be on the starboard (right side) of the ship, since we are getting the better views in each port.  The main difference between the balcony we have on Caribbean and the mini suite we had on Crown is the size of the bathroom. The mini suite had a shower and a tub, and this balcony only has a small shower.  There is still plenty of storage space and we have quickly adapted to life in a smaller space.  Most of our time is spent on the balcony when we are in the cabin.  It is hard to be inside when the world is your back yard! 

One of the pleasures in any port can be listening to the noise signature of each port.  In one it might be the commercial port beep-beeps that indicate forklifts moving.  In another it’s the gulls screeching constantly.  Just about everywhere here the skiffs are criss-crossing the bays.  Traffic on shore, ambulances or other emergency vehicles, car horns, and people, also add to the serenade.  Each port sounds different, each smells different, and there’s always interesting things to see – like vehicles that don’t yield the right of way and play chicken until the last second before a head-on crash! 

Today’s adventure was a catamaran sail and snorkel. Since rainsqualls were moving through, it was a good day to be in the water.  We sailed to Norman Island, the inspiration for Treasure Island, for a snorkel off the boat.  We selected seats under the sunshade to get out of the sun.  It turned out to be a wise choice since those on the front of the boat got soaked by either waves or rain.  Everyone tried to huddle under the sunshade to escape the rain on the way back. 

John spent the full first 45 minutes in the water, exploring the various inlets and the reef.  We next moved to a beach where John and Yvonne spent 50 minutes in the water exploring another small reef.  The common opinion among the passengers who have been to Hawaii is that the fish are more plentiful in Hawaii, but the coral is more diverse here in the Caribbean.   

We were both surprised by how cool the water is!  It seems to be much warmer in Hawaii.  We suggest if you plan to do much snorkeling or diving here is to bring a Shorty wet suit (a long sleeved light shirt that cuts both sun and cold).  Our standard dress for snorkeling is swimsuit, polo shirt and bandana.  John developed this required attire after being fried to a beet red in Hawaii! 

After almost two hours in the cool water, even John‘s Buddha belly was not keeping him warm!  He was huddled under a towel on the ride back to the ship.  Once aboard, it was time for a long hot shower and then of course time again to eat.  We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so our stomachs, used to the constant ‘feed-me’ routine, were growling!   Since we had preselected our gluten free meal, so just had to show up for our reserved table.  Yvonne had cioppino and John had Cod with a chorizo sauce. We found a wonderful dry Italian white that is a new favorite. 

On to Antigua!

Tortola

 

Love, Y & J

Day 5 Caribbean

Day 5 – St. Thomas – Really Blue Waters! 

Hi everyone –

St John US VI

 

Monday dawned bright, warm and sunny.  The temp was reported to be about 78 degrees, but it feels warmer – probably all the sun and humidity.  St. Thomas is a lot drier than we expected – in fact, cactus grow on the hillside next to the cruise dock!  There are iguanas everywhere, big and small, an object of great interest to anyone with a camera.  And the water is REALLY BLUE!

Actually, the blue is more like turquoise.  You know the pictures you see of the US Virgin Islands and the incredibly clear bright blue water?  It’s all true!

The US Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark in 1917 for $25 Million in gold, because the US wanted a base of command closer to the Panama Canal due to problems with Cuba.  A gallon of milk costs $12!!!  A gallon of rum – $2.  Just about everything gets shipped in. 

Sailboats are anchored in the same harbor as the cruise ships, and they are gorgeous to see.  Most are live-aboards, as the attached skiffs give them away.  You hear dogs barking from some of them – not that ours would ever be able to stay enclosed for that long!  And there are quite a few still wrecked on the beach from Hurricane Earl about four months ago.

An early start to the day meant the alarm clock – ick!  We had purchased coffee cards yesterday and made use of them to get mochas this morning.  Hard to imagine that after a huge dinner last night we were hungry, but we were!

The early rise for the trip was well worth it.  We boarded a ferry, Island Girl, for the half hour ride along the southern shore of St. Thomas to St. John Island and Trunk Bay, a famous area for snorkeling.  Actually, you probably couldn’t make a bad decision about a beach around here!  The dozens of beaches throughout the islands are all public, and they all seem to have some good to great snorkeling or diving available.  And guess what – there’s a Capella Island in this chain too!

Originally we thought that an hour or more in the water would not be enough, but truth be told, we both found that to be more than enough time!  We had plenty of time to see many different fish and types of coral, though the periodic clouds made photos difficult to frame.  Besides, we hadn’t eaten in a few hours and we were hungry – again!

The return to the harbor revealed a few more cruise ships.  We seem to be jockeying around with the Royal Caribbean Allure, Noordam from Holland America, a Regent ship and one other.  While it doesn’t look very big, this harbor can handle 9-10 cruise ships at a time, the second largest in the Caribbean.  We passed the afternoon on the balcony, watching the boat repair drydock next door attempt to float and direct a small cutter back in the water, and the various ships returning with visitors.  The cutter kind of looked like a baby being taught how to swim, surrounding by small pangas (skiffs), a small tug, and another cutter riding right alongside.

Tonight is formal night, and it’s also the night we are celebrating our anniversary.  We get an extra special something tonight with dinner – not sure yet what that is – and we also have canapés coming beforehand, something that happens on formal nights.  The champagne tower happens tonight too, and we hope to enjoy it – last time we were at dinner instead!  And there’s still bubbly that we haven’t yet opened!

Nap time now!!!

******

Formal night was a blast!  It was the night we selected to celebrate our anniversary, and the kitchen made us custom GF carrot cake to enjoy!  That was truly special.  We have “our” table now – we don’t’ need reservations, just go when we want and tell the maitre’d who we are and we have servers who know we get the ‘special’ bread.  The headwaiter briefs us on what goes into the various dishes and makes sure we’re making GF selections.  On Monday night, he showed us the menu for Tuesday, which includes a pasta with mussels preparation that Yvonne wants to try.  They’ll make sure to have our pasta prepared for us. 

The food on the ship is fabulous – and for two foodies like us, that’s important!  We’ve already become addicted to an oriental rice pudding that is made for breakfast – cooked white rice soaked in cream and honey overnight, with raisins, served cold.  We now have ideas on how to make it in both a sweet style like this (dessert?) and a savory style that could be an accompaniment or intermezzo.  Luckily, we’re taking pictures of the food we love the best so that we can remember what we want to try when we get home!

Last night was also the Captain’s welcome party.  This is the time when the champagne tower makes its appearance.  Each manager d’hotel does this differently; on this cruise, the women put a hand on the manager’s arm and he shakes the bubbly bottle over the glasses.  On other trips, the manager actually pours into the top glass and lets it cascade – a lot more stylish! 

We also had a chance to catch up with Lloyd, our Vines waiter from the Crown last year, and met another couple that was on the ship then too.  It does get to be like old home week, because you get to know the servers and staff and recognize them.  And there are many passengers who are loyal to Princess, making it fun to share stories and compare ports!

On Tuesday, we’re on Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands.  A catamaran sail and snorkel with beach time is our afternoon’s adventure there.  Busy, busy, busy!

Love, Y & J