Monday, February 6, 2012

Cruise, 2012

Jenn and I enjoyed a great cruise last week.
We left for San Juan on Sunday morning. The choice for San Juan was made to minimize our days at sea, and also because we wanted to get down to Barbados. No ship leaving from Florida gets down to Barbados on a seven day itinerary. More on Barbados later.

Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas is on the left,
Princess is on the right.

Adventure of the Seas is a pretty amazing ship. There was an ice rink, a rock climbing wall, several nice theaters and lounges, three huge dining rooms, a shopping plaza within the ship, etc., etc., etc. One can tell that their ship designers and engineers have some fun building their vessels.

Getting into Puerto Rico relatively early gave us plenty of time to get to the ship and check stuff out before it got too crowded. Our room was really nice, and we were very pleased with our choice. This time we decided to get a balcony room, and ours was located on the back corner of the ship, on the ninth floor. Jenn chose this so we wouldn't have a dining hall or disco club above, beside or below us. Just having the sun come in our window was very pleasant and we enjoyed getting a first look at the islands before we left for our excursions or days at the beach.

Top Left: View from the door to the balcony.
Top Right: View from the corner looking toward the center of the ship.
Bottom: View looking up toward the Windjammer Cafe two floors above on Deck 11.

Jenn and I enjoyed a very good dinner on Sunday evening and it was quite late, because after our Muster Station Drill, everyone made a mad dash for the dining rooms. As we were finishing up our desserts around 9:30pm-ish, I overheard the man sitting at the table next to me mention something about a Firestone High School. I said, "Excuse me. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but I heard you mention Firestone High School, are you from northeast Ohio?"

As it turns out, Pete is a graduate of Walsh High School but has lived in Chicago for the last number of years, most recently selling real estate. He and his wife, Maureen, a pharmacist, have three kids a few years younger than Jenn and me, and we got to talking about this and that and we ended up closing the dining room with the wait staff. On our way out, we set up reservations for the same time for the rest of the week.
We thoroughly enjoyed our dinners during the week. The food was great, our waitress, Romona (pictured above, w/ Pete & Mo), was first class, and Pete and Mo's company was a lot, lot, lot of fun. They shared their wine package with us through the week, and we went to a number of the shows together. We talked work, kids, family, military (one of their sons just became an Army Ranger), weddings (one son was married at the end of 2011, and their other is getting married in a few months to a young lady from Bath, OH... go figure!)
They were one of the two couples that we got to know and really enjoy during the week.

St. Croix was our first stop. As one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, it's friendly, and not too much of a culture change from the states, aside from it beeing a really cool island with consistent weather and a laid-back perosnality. After doing some reading and research, Jenn decided upon an excursion off of the Royal Caribbean list. We stopped at the Cane Bay Dive Shop in Frederiksted and arranged for a ride to Cane Bay.

While we were waiting for the bus to arrive, another couple found their way to the Dive Shop, and while we waited together, we started talking with them. V and Monica became our excursion buddies. They've got young kids, V works on the finance side of a hospital and Monica is an MD in Family Practice, grandparents were taking care of their kids for the week while they recharged... we got along great!

So we arrived at Cane Bay, and while it was windy and the water was cooler than we anticipated, the snorkeling was pretty good, and the sun was beating down on us. That we got sunburned a bit was a bummer, but we didn't find out about that until later on in the evening and the next day. Between sunning and snorkeling, we forgot that we didn't have any lunch, so we got some food back at the ship around 4:30pm, but that was okay because we weren't going to have dinner until 8:15pm.

On Tuesday we arrived at St. Maarten. It turned out that the Atlantic Ocean was too rough and our excursion was cancelled. That left us with not too many options, so we elected to hang out on the beach close to the pier. While the setting was beautiful, the constant nagging of the clothing venders and massage peddlers got very, very old. I know there are some that love St. Maarten/St. Martin, but we haven't had fantastic experiences on the island. If our next cruise (you know, the one we'll be able to take around 2018) skips St. Maarten we won't be disappointed. Or if we go back, we'll check out the French dining and shopping at Marigot, the one somewhat big thing on the island that we haven't done.

The pier at St. Maarten is big enough to accomodate six ships, and that's how many were in port shortly after we arrived. It's pretty impressive to see six cruise liners docked up next to each other. It's even more impressive to picture the pile of money that was dumped on the island in that one day.
All in all, we were glad that there were more stops after St. Maarten.
Wednesday brought us to St. John's, Antigua. I could have done without wandering into the city, and not much has changed since the last time I was on Antigua back in the mid-'90's. The vendors are oppressive, and I was harassed by a cop while Jenn was shopping because he thought I was trying to take his picture. After showing him most of the photos I'd taken to that point on our vacation, he was satisfied that I was not, in fact, trying to take his photo. If I must say one good thing about our experience around St. John's, Antigua, it is this: they had the best pier music of all of the islands. This steel drum band was very good.
Our excursion on Antigua was a Kayak & Snorkel trip with Antigua Paddles. This is the way to enjoy Antigua: get out of the city and off the island. We drove across the island to the house of the man who owns the excursion, and it was beautiful.

We walked through this dense garden beside the host's house to get to the boats in his "back yard."
After a short boat ride, we arrived at a pier in the middle of a number of small islands that had chains of kayaks tied to it. Kayaking in the wind was hard work, but a good workout (we hadn't yet begun ordering two desserts at dinner time). The water was beautiful and getting close to the trees that lined the coasts was really neat.

We then took another boat ride, one that left me soaking we as the wind whipped the sea spray all over me in the back of the boat, to our snorkel location over a coral reef just off of Great Bird Island.
I didn't see too many unique fish, but Jenn saw a Barracuda, some Flounder and a variety of cool plant and fish life.

On Great Bird Island, it was a short hike up to the top to look out over bays and small islands... just beautiful. There were all sorts of birds, but I could only hear them. They seemed to be good at hiding out of camera shot. I did see a decent sized lizard and the longest snake I've personally seen in the wild. We were assured that nothing on the island was poisonous. And then on the way back, we passed a cliff that had become a pelican nesting ground.

Thursday landed us on St. Lucia. I can understand why people spend days in St. Lucia. The beaches aren't fantastic as there's not a lot of sand on the island (they actually have to import sand), but there is a good variety of things to do, see and eat on the island. The Pitons were majestic to see rising out of the water, and the bays were pretty to see from high up on the smaller mountains. What did not go unnoticed was the pride that the natives have in their island. The cabbies even kept their rims shiny during the day!

St. Lucia was the stop were we had the excursion that gave us the best value for our dollar.

Jenn had settled on Cosol Tours during her research of the island. He came highly recommended on Trip Advisor & Cruise Critic. He did not disappoint.
  • We stopped here
  • we stopped there
  • we visited a banana plantation
  • we at a huge variety of island cuisine at the home of a local (it may have been his house), which was tasty and impressive
  • we went snorkeling under one of the Pitons
  • we stopped at a number of small road-side markets
  • we took a quick gander through a botanical garden
  • we visited an active volcano
  • we received a good commentary of the island from our guide, Ben, who had grown up and lived on the island his entire life
  • and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things.
They could have made half the stops and given us a fraction of the food throughout the day, and I still would have been pleased at the end. It's hard to recommend anything else on St. Lucia, particularly if you're only going to be there for one day. Count us as two more that highly recommend Cosol Tours!

Friday was our last stop, and just like our last cruise that got better each day, we finished with a bang this past week with Barbados.
Of all the islands we visited, Barbados is our first choice for a week's stay. There was a couple on our Cosul Tour that had just been to Barbados on their Carnival cruise. They had been thinking of going on a catamaran excursion to snorkel among the sea turtles. After some consideration, they decided to go to the beach where the catamarans came to feed the turtles and simply swim out to the spots at feeding time and then hang out on the beach after the boats left. This sounded like a good idea to us, and it was a lot less costly than going on the official excursion. V & Monika and Jenn & I jumped in a cab and went to Paynes Bay. Interestingly, there was another couple in our cab that had the same idea, and they, too, were from Michigan. Nothing like a beach full of midwesterners!

The beach was beautiful, the snorkeling, both with the turtles and over a reef about a hundred yards down the beach, was awesome and the scenery around the bay made for a great, relaxing end to the islands. There were a number of other excursions around the island that were appealing, but alas, we could only choose one thing to do, and we left with no regrets. Maybe when we spend a whole week there we can hit the other fun things.

The final day, Saturday, was our day at sea. It's quite easy to spend the whole day eating, and while we did spend some of the time eating, we also got some activity in by going up and down the stairs a number of times for not much reason and by taking a couple of laps around the promenade deck. There was also time devoted to napping, because after a week of lots of sun and snorkeling, staying up late for our dinner reservations followed by shows, taking the stairs all week up and down the ship instead of the elevators, and rising with the sun each day, we were wiped out!

One of the fun events of the day at sea was the belly flop competition. Jenn got a great seat for the display, and I had a great vantage point for seeing the final splash. When it came down to the final two, one was a 270-pounder from Boston while the other was a 160-pounder from Utah. The big guy made bigger splashes in the pool, but the smaller guy made bigger splashes with the crowd, as he really knew how to put on a show. The first photo shows Jenn on the right hand side (sitting next to Monica & V). The guy in the purple shirt was Richard Spacey, the hilarious cruise director. The second photo was the contest-winning jump.

On the subject of the cruise director, Jenn and I had a hard time believing that we'd have a funnier, more entertaining guy than was on our last cruise. But Richard kept us laughing all week. While many of the shows were very good, including the Love & Marriage evening with a Newlywed-style set-up that made us laugh until our faces hurt, we wouldn't have been disappointed if Richard would have performed each evening. He is a very gifted entertainer.

Jenn and Christopher Columbus

We had to be off of the ship quite early on Sunday. Rather than sit at the airport for six hours, we signed up for a tour of Old and New San Juan.

Old San Juan is really neat. The fort around the city was fascinating, and the streets are perfect for leisurely strolling around. Jenn and I were amazed at all of the different ethnic restaurants in such a small area: African, Turkish, Latinasian, Chinese, Latin, etc. Great effort is given to preserve the old architecture, and the narrow streets, originally designed for cart and buggy, are simply not conducive to lots of traffic, so walking is the way to get around. We were also impressed with how clean Old San Juan is. We drove past the slum area, but that seems to be pretty well-contained. (Our guide told us of the current efforts to clean up this last dirty area, so we'll see as time goes by.) There is definitely a pride in the nation and a pride about their city and nation's appearance that is evident in Old San Juan.

And while it wouldn't be an inexpensive way to vacation, spending a number of days in Old San Juan simply eating at all of the different restaurants sounds appealing.

On the way back from the airport, while listening to the Super Bowl in the radio, we heard an add for Puerto Rico and how we should plan a trip there. Jenn and I looked at each other and said, "Okay!" While it's not as far south in the Caribbean as Barbados, we could certainly spend a good, fun-filled week in Puerto Rico and probably find some entertaining things for the kids.

And speaking of the kids, it was great to see Lincoln and Lydia when we got home. Grandma Laura gave good reports for both Lincoln and Lydia of them and apparently Lydia talks a lot more around Grandma than she does around Mommy & Daddy. We'll have to work on that. I also had forgotten how funny Lincoln is with his ever-expanding vocabulary.

On the way home, it dawned on Jenn and I that the only big thing remaining between now and when we go to China for Henry is... wait! There isn't anything big and out of the ordinary before we go to China! It'll be here before we know it. Yikes!

1 comment:

Emily said...

Wow! Looks like so much fun. . .2018 is not bad! We're hoping for a trip 2025. . . maybe! =)