Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Cruise

Sunday, November 11th, 2007
Springfield, Virginia to Ft Lauderdale, Florida
To board the Caribbean Princess

Flew Spirit Air
Mostly Sunny and Breezy

Cold this morning at 5:30 when Candy and I headed to the airport to catch our flight to Florida. Nasty time of day to be traveling, but at least the traffic was really light on the way to the airport! And lines were short to get through security!

Candy lucked out – I brought my computer, so I could make notes about the trip for the blog, and make sure my pictures were saved – and I had planned to share some of my old pictures with her while captive on the plane! But we were separated by an aisle, so the pictures must wait for another day!

I was impressed with Spirit Air – we paid a couple bucks extra for extra wide seats, and it was worth it! Nice roomy seat with adjustable headrests, which I haven’t seen before. Couldn’t understand a word the crew had to say over the intercom system – not enough volume and/or lousy enunciation. But flying is flying, so it was no big deal as long as we were comfy!

We were talking about how to get to the docks when we spotted a Princess cruise rep, who offered us seats on a bus going straight to the boat! Ship, it’s called a ship! We were wandering in the direction of an immense line to check in, when a fine gentleman in uniform took pity on us, I guess, and opened the ropes to let us cut in front of several hundred others. We certainly couldn’t refuse such kindness, now could we?

We had sort of planned to board late in the day, to avoid all the madness, but in hindsight (and with that extra help!) it was nice to have the extra time to get squared away in our room before all the festivities began.

The Caribbean Princess is a huge boat – ship! Our cruise had 3150 passengers and 1200 crew. Nice odds – 1 crew per three guests! And you really do almost trip over all the help – they’re everywhere! We have our own Stateroom Steward – Ruel – who is just so sweet and helpful!

And, trust me, the help is very much appreciated – there are 17 levels and more restaurants than I can count. I think we saw 9 big hot tubs, and I’m pretty sure we missed some. And a great big movie screen by one of the pools, for afternoon football and evening movies! More scouting is necessary.

Most of the restaurants were open, but one was offering the ‘welcome buffet’, and it was everything you hear about the food on a cruise! Unbelievable spread! It was almost disgusting to see the amount of food some folks piled on their plates, knowing dinner service was to start in just three hours! But it all looked sooooo good! The only thing we were disappointed in was the cookies – they were really dry. The veal and pork and beef and chicken and shrimp were all moist and tasty! Looks like it’s gonna be a good feed trough for a week!

We managed to miss the mandatory ‘exercise’ – how to evacuate the ship. It meant walking down seven flights of stairs – not my favorite thing. But we were good girls – we read everything there is, and there’s lots, on the hows and wheres and whys.

And finally, we threw off the lines and left the safety of the docks – with horns and whistles, we headed out to sea! We stood on our own balcony and watched it all!

It’s obviously the event of the weekend in Ft. Lauderdale for the big cruise ships to leave the harbor – lovely setting, of course, with beautiful homes along the waterfront, and many people came out to wave us on our way! With horns and whistles from land too! And one clown, with a serious loud speaker, called out greetings and hints (don’t eat the lobster; drinks are on the captain; have a lot of fun – I know you will; quit blowing the horn to drown me out - and jokes) and had everyone laughing!

Sunset was spectacular, as expected! And then – dinner! The ‘Sailaway Buffet’ featured mounds of shrimp (cooked to absolute perfection), lobster claws (not as big or well cooked as those I had in Maine – the guy on the waterfront was right!), crab legs and joints, smoked salmon, and much much more! We took embarrassing full plates back to our stateroom, so as not to appear the gluttons we were!

The stateroom? I was offered a special deal from Coast to Coast, a membership RV outfit, for this cruise – a deal I couldn’t resist. A balcony stateroom! The room is adequate – the service, superb – the bathroom, larger than I expected, but the shower is smaller than the one in my RV by quite a bit – plenty of closet space and storage – about 20 TV channels, with 4 music – refrigerator, daily stocked with fresh ice. Very, very nice overall!

Monday, November 12th, 2007
Day at Sea

Mostly sunny

After some fairly heavy seas last night, enough to rock us gently to sleep, and the sound of waves breaking against the hull (a sound I love), we awakened to fairly calm seas and gentle breezes. Gentle, until we tried opening our stateroom door, that is. We’ve chosen not to take advantage of the air conditioning provided, and leave our balcony door wide open. Makes a hell of a wind tunnel when trying to open the door!

We each went in for an early morning full body massage – the proper way to begin a relaxing cruise, don’t you think? The Lotus Spa is terrific – everything from full beauty shop, to manicures and pedicures, massage therapy, classes on detox and health, make-up, and more! There were almost as many men taking advantage of the benefits as women! All that was for a fee, of course, but not unreasonable. Then a continental breakfast on our balcony, enjoying the sea and breeze! Life’s hard.

We learned that Princess, as most lines, will sign on new crew members for an eight month contract. Ensuing contracts are for 6 months, with your time off between pretty open. Crew members do get to visit the ports of call, just like the passengers, although they trade off days so someone is still manning the ship. Crew quarters are not the best, and they have their own dining room, but they are welcome to eat at the passengers’ dining rooms as well, during off hours. Probably does take a special mind-set to live that life, but Princess must do it right, because every single crew member we saw was friendly and helpful and positively delightful throughout the entire cruise. And they came from all over the world – South Africa, Sweden, Germany, one of the old Russian countries I can’t spell, Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Belize, Australia, and on and on. Some of the English was a little rough, but they all tried!

Food – again! There are so many dining options - (there are three ‘main’ dining rooms, plus all the alterative dining options.) You can choose ‘traditional seating’, meaning you go to the same dining room every evening at the same time, sit at the same table, with the same table mates, at either the early or late seating. We chose ‘anytime dining’, meaning we could go to either of two other large dining rooms, at whatever hour we chose, and sit with different folks at each sitting. We all ordered off the same menu, which changed every day. Plus there were all the alternative dining options – the buffets, pizza or hamburgers (of course), an ice cream parlor . . . plus two special dining treats – elegant restaurants that cost a few bucks extra – Sabbatini’s, very fancy Italian, at $20 a head; and the Sterling Steakhouse, offering excellent cuts of meat, at $15 a head. These two restaurants require reservations, and you go as real people out on a date – you don’t have to sit with other passengers! We made a reservation at Sterling for our last night onboard. And, just like we’ve all heard many times, some of the various restaurants are open 24/7, so you never go hungry. There is also room service 24 hours a day, but that menu is limited. We chose to have a continental breakfast delivered every morning, and then did brunch!!

Oh, and more about food – we could order a fruit basket to be delivered to the room … apples, bananas, kiwi, oranges, pears, and it could be restocked as often as we wanted. I asked for strawberries too, and they were delivered right along with everything else, even though they weren’t on the menu!

Tonight was the first of two ‘formal’ nights, where you are required to wear fancy duds to the dining rooms. We were so relaxed after such a leisurely day that dressing up just didn’t appeal. We went to a buffet for dinner instead, where the formal wear isn’t required.

Just info here – we passed by San Salvador Island shortly after noon, which is where Columbus first made landfall in 1492!

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007
At sea


Candy and I both started this day by having facials – what a treat! Went for the whole deal – had a micro-abrasion treatment. I doubt anyone else would notice, but I sure could tell a difference! And it felt sooooooooo good! I do love being pampered! Why wasn’t I born rich??

We ran into some funny crazy folks at lunch today – a couple of gals, Cheryl and Paula, both nurses, who have cruised without their husbands a few times, and a couple of the funniest guys, Ted and Wade – the kind who leave your sides aching from laughing so much. Ted came out of the closet some time ago, after 28 years of marriage and three kids, and makes no bones about it. Turns out there’s a group on board – GLBT – (we’d seen mention of various gatherings of the GLBT at specific times in this lounge or that in the daily "Princess Patter") – and we learned who they were … Gay, lesbian, bi and transvestite. Ted and Wade didn’t party much with them, ‘they were too strange’.

Candy is as much a fanatic about the sky, clouds, sunrises and sunsets as I am about bridges and steeples -
she took some phenomenal shots - hard to pick just one to represent the couple hundred she shot.

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007
St Maarten, Dutch Antilles

Mostly sunny

We arrived early into the harbor at Phillipsburg, the main port of Saint Maarten. We had a busy day here, with two excursions planned.

First, we sailed on the Stars and Stripes!!!!! She’s a past champion of the America’s Cup race in 12 meter sailing. This was probably the highlight of this entire week for me! There are five retired boats from the America’s Cup circuit, that race a set course with the tourists. We had two of the boats racing today, each with an experienced crew of three, and about 18 folks from the ship. Captain Morgan was our skipper, and he assigned jobs to all on board. And we sailed a true race, considering the weather and the talent of the ‘crew’. It was positively grand! Captain Morgan dipped our rails, to the shock of several of the older ladies on board, and to my absolute delight! There wasn’t enough wind for a spinnaker, but there was enough to blow hats off several of the crew! It’s been a long time since I had the ocean wind in my hair and I loved every second of it!

The race was over way too soon, and we were nosed out at the very last minute by True North, the Canadian entry, due to a mistake by one of the experienced members of the crew – he lost control of a line and sail and we lost our wind. Captain Morgan was not pleased!

I would happily have spent the entire day right there!!! Even without the rum punch that all crew received after the race!

But we had also booked a tour of the island. Our guide was hysterical – a very opinionated guy who didn’t approve of very much of the way the island was governed, and we learned about it all in great detail! For instance, all the wonderful and beneficial government projects-each due for completion on December 15th. And anyone could see there wasn’t a chance any of them would be finished by December 15th of next year even! He kept us laughing the entire 3 hour tour.

St. Maarten, part of the Netherlands Antilles, is the Dutch side of the island. The French side is called St. Martin! The Dutch side is more developed for tourism than the French, with big hotels and time-share developments. Its capital, Phillipsburg, where we docked, is a favorite destination of cruise ships and is wall-to-wall with tourists when ships are in port (often 6 at one time!!), and is a duty-free shopper’s paradise! The French side offers a wider selection of designer fashions and art.

The French and Dutch sides of the island, although definitely culturally distinct, with French spoken on one side and English on the other, and dollars accepted on one and Euros on the other, have a shared history dating back to the early 17th century. Early settlers banded together to ward off the Spanish, then divided the 37-square mile island between themselves. Folk tales suggest that the two leaders got a little drunk and agreed to walk around the island from where they stood, and where they met would be the other border marker. One obviously moved faster than the other. The hilly, southern Dutch side is the smaller half, covering only 16 square miles! The miles of white sand beaches all the way around are spectacular!

The Arawak Indians named the island Sualouiga, or Land of Salt, and the Great Salt Pond near Phillipsburg remains a prominent geological feature and income industry.

All in all, the island reminded me a lot of Mexico – tropical, of course, but also quite poor, with a lot of unfinished construction. Narrow roads, dogs everywhere. And the people – happy and friendly, no matter the poverty level. I like this island!

No time for shopping, but the ship itself offers lots of shopping opportunities. There was an ongoing art auction, jewelry sales, clothing sales, duty free shop, etc. But rudely, if you bought booze duty-free, you couldn’t take it back to your cabin to drink! They kept it until time to disembark back in Florida. Probably mostly law, but also, prices onboard for drinks is so high, they didn’t want you to be able to drink in your cabin! And if you bought booze onshore at a duty free shop, they took it ‘for safe keeping’, again until docking back in Florida! Except for wine or champagne – so I sprung for a bottle of bubbles so we could have it in our cabin!

For more info on St. Maarten, check

Thursday, November 15th, 2007
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Mostly overcast

It was only 115 nautical miles from St. Maarten to St Thomas, so it was a slow gentle overnight cruise to the next docking.

We had two excursion scheduled for this day also, but after the very busy day yesterday, we decided to bag the early morning tour of the city, and just take the afternoon champagne catamaran cruise!

The tour description said we’d be taking a “brief safari bus transfer” to board our “sailing catamaran” to cruise along St. Thomas’ eastern shore before a “brisk sail” across Pillsbury Sound . . . to a special mooring off the palm-fringed beaches of St. John, safe-guarded by the National Park Service. We expected at least 90 minutes to “swim, snorkel, beach comb and just relax under the swaying palms.”

Well !! The brief safari bus transfer turned into an almost frightening hour of speeding on the wrong side of the road (they drive on the left here) over really narrow winding roads that were overgrown with the lush tropical trees. As with St. Maarten, the island seems to be in a state of constant destruction and re-construction, and detours abound, through quiet neighborhoods business parking lots. This is, of course, partly due to the hurricane that whipped through here (about 8 years ago, I think)(for a fascinating history of hurricanes in the Caribbean, check The ride was actually mostly enjoyable, with some spectacular views, but we were hanging on for dear life as our young driver wove in and out and dodged people and trucks – not a single chance for a camera shot! I was on one of the outside seats, so at least I had side beams to hold on to for support, while ducking the swinging tree branches.

Our catamaran captain, Doug, was a kick – a funny joyous beach bum transplant from Oklahoma or some other famous sailing mecca, who had arrived for a visit 12 years ago and never left. He and his crew kept us laughing with tales of their adventures. The “brisk sail” was not – we motored across to St. John, but that was OK because it was a gorgeous day and again, having the ocean wind in my hair made me very happy!

St. John’s beaches are all they are cracked up to be – beautiful white sand - but you couldn’t walk out into the ocean – it turned to rock and coral when you were only out up to your knees! Doug had anchored out about 50 yards and ran a little dingy back and forth to the beach for the snorkelers and beach combers. Unfortunately, because of a late departure from the Caribbean Princess (someone forgot their camera or something and went back for it), plus the crazy drive across the island, the 90 minutes on shore turned into just over 30. That’s OK – we got our feet wet and walked in the lovely sand.

As soon as we were all back on the catamaran, they brought out the munchies and booze. Turns out the champagne was ghastly, but the excellent rum punch more than made up for it! Had a nice “sail” back, then another wild ride back to the ship. I think we were the last to board, as the ship pulled out from the dock before we even made it back upstairs to our cabin!

No time for shopping, obviously, which is probably a good thing. St. Thomas is considered the “duty-free mall of the Caribbean” with over 400 duty-free shops in and around Charlotte Amalie (pronounced ah-MAHL-yeh), the island’s main city and port.

St. Thomas is the most developed of the US Virgin Islands, with steep green hills across the middle of the island and really gorgeous beaches ringing the shore, with lots of picturesque little bays and inlets. It sits just 40 miles east of Puerto Rico, with its northern coast on the Atlantic and the southern on the Caribbean. Settlements date back to 2500 BC, though the first European to walk the shores was Chris Columbus, again, in 1493. It was mostly a haven for pirates and local Indians until about 1671 when the Danish took possession – which gave life to the pirate lore of infamous characters such as BlackBeard and Bluebeard!

The English twice seized the island in the early 1800s, but it remained mostly under Danish rule until purchased by the U.S. in 1917. It seems during WWI, the US feared St. Thomas’ perfect port area might provide a dangerous base for German forces, so we bought the Virgin Islands for $25 million in gold!!!

St. Thomas measures about 13 miles long and 4 miles wide, or 32 square miles in size, with a high point at 1556 ft about sea level. Charlotte Amalie is the busiest port in all of the Caribbean, and hosts several large and prestigious fishing tournaments, which hold many of the world records for bill and game fish – marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna, wahoo (ono to us Pacific islanders!), tarpon, barracuda, mahimahi and king mackerel, among many others.

For more info on on St. Thomas, check

Friday, November 16th, 2007
Day at sea

Mostly sunny

I pampered myself again today – double foot massage and back massage!! I could learn to like this life!

All the onboard shops are starting to have their final sales and the decks are jammed with people buying up everything they can get their hands on. Personally, I don’t think the prices are anything to write home about – they’re just taking advantage of the cruise fantasy mind-set. Fun to watch though! And the art auctions – prices seem high to me, and there wasn’t a single piece that I even looked at twice. As if I had any place to put it anyway!

This evening was the final formal night – and tonight we both dressed up. We decided to dine in one of the dining rooms instead of the buffet, met up with our two crazy nurse friends, and were seated with two delightful couples, related, who have taken several cruises together. The fellows were in white jackets and looked absolutely smashing! A most pleasant evening!

After dinner, Candy went out and partied with everyone, and learned, among other things, to fold naughty napkins! I retired to our cabin to enjoy the evening air on our balcony…such a very lovely way to spend some time!

Saturday, November 17th, 2007
Princess Cays, Bahamas

Mostly sunny

Early this morning, we anchored off the southern peninsula of the tiny island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas (100 miles long and a max of 2 miles wide!), where Princess Cruise Lines has a private resort. The ships tenders were lowered and provided continuous service ashore for the rest of the day!

There’s something for everyone here – snorkeling, transparent hull kayaking to enjoy the colorful fishies in the coral reefs, floating mattresses, basketball, volleyball, seaboards, aqua bikes, Hobie Cats, Sunfish sailboats, paddle wheelers, Banana boats, and more. There are three bars, live music on three stages, complimentary lunch, a Bahamian BBQ on the beach, hamburgers, chicken, bratwurst, salads, fresh fruit. Private beach cabanas could be rented, for a cozy twosome or up to six (for $200).

They do charge for the use of any of the equipment, and I think it was too pricey, so we didn’t do any of that. The beach also wasn’t the quality that we experienced on the other islands – busted up coral, so grainy and scratchy instead of soft and white. So we just lazed the day away!

This night, we had a special dinner at the Sterling Steakhouse – and my, oh my, was my steak a beautiful piece of meat, perfectly cooked! At least four servers waited on us, hand and foot. An absolute treat for our last night at sea.

We had to have our bags packed and outside our cabin doors by 9 pm, with loud speaker announcements made to remind people not to pack everything – “remember to keep clothes to wear tomorrow” – as apparently it’s not unusual for someone to panic in the morning because they just have the jammies they slept in to wear for departure. Needless to say, such a situation is more than just an ‘oops’. Finding one bag out of all those bags for the max passenger load of 3622 people is no fun, especially when debarkation begins at 7:30 a.m.!

We finished the last of our bottle of champagne to toast an absolutely delightful week, and crashed, for the early morning wake-up of 5:30! Yucky way to end the cruise, wouldn’t you say?

Sunday, November 18th, 2007
Back to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

2201.6 nautical miles (1.15 miles per nautical mile)
Mostly sunny

In very early, and sadly, the clown with the loud speakers wasn’t there to greet us with his silly comments as we pulled in. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy the debarkation process went, although I must admit, even though Candy was getting pretty antsy about getting home to see how the construction was going on her house, we did talk about staying on board for another week! It was a grand relaxing week, a great way to get reacquainted with an old pal, and a wonderful break from the road!

But it wasn’t over yet. We had booked a tour of the Everglades, which also provided transportation to the airport with our bags!! Because we were going on the tour, we were off-loaded from a different ramp than the rest of the cattle, which is something to remember for future cruises!!

This Everglades excursion, in my humble opinion, was great fun and definitely worthwhile! It began with an airboat ride, “the most thrilling way to encounter the wonders of the Everglades”, especially when your boat captain was called in on his day off and is cranky! He drove the thing like a teenager with his first car, sliding thru ‘corners’ and kicking up spray! I loved it!

The Seminole Indians called it Pahay Okee – the grassy water, and we saw alligators and colorful birds and ‘splatty dots’, a pretty little yellow flower, and swamp apples! Too short a ride thru waterways where you could be lost forever! Not the best place for pictures, but I really enjoyed it!

From there we headed to a pen of alligators, where we learned some facts of life about these fascinating critters. It was such a depressing place for the poor things – the kind that make people go to the ASPCA to complain - that I didn’t spend much time there.

It was a short bus ride from there to the Flamingo Gardens and Wildlife Sanctuary – a magnificent old homestead, originally owned by Floyd and Jane Wray, who created this sanctuary.

It includes gorgeous subtropical grounds with some of the most colorful flowers I’ve seen.

- the incredible flamingos in their favorite habitat

(between us, Candy and I took about 100 pictures of these odd looking creatures – I weeded them down to about 70!)

Neither of us realized that the underside of the flamingo's wings is black -

when they all did a brief dance together, it created a fantastic image!

The peacocks were elegant, and most had lost their tail feathers after the breeding season, but one fellow still had his and put the on display!

and then the wildlife sanctuary,

where injured creatures are rescued and re-habilitated,

and then provided a home if they are unable to return to the wild because of their injuries.

The eagles, in particular, were fascinating!

Finally, sadly, it’s all over.

Back to the airport for about a four hour wait for our Spirit Airlines flight back to Virginia. We waited and waited for our bags.

Thankfully, the Skycap we grabbed knew right where to go when he heard about our long wait for the plane in Florida. Turns out they caught an earlier flight that we couldn’t get on, and had been tucked away in a storage area since they weren’t claimed.

Candy’s daughter Kate picked us up, and it was almost midnight before we were home and ready for bed. I thought I might have a little trouble sleeping on land again, after rocking gently to sleep each night, but I was asleep before my head hit the pillows!

Now, it’s back to the real world. The fall colors are still going strong here - with some of the richest reds I've seen yet! I’ve had a lovely, easy Thanksgiving week with Candy and her kids – even though the house looks like it’s been thru the Caribbean hurricane that demolished the islands. But as of yesterday, we are actually able to start putting some stuff away in the new kitchen, so life is better! I’ll be hitting the road in the next day or so – still trying to decide if I should wait until Monday when most of the Thanksgiving traffic will be gone. Maybe I should just go take another cruise!

Except Penny would probably kill me! My phone worked for the first time in days while we were in St. Thomas, and it rang with the news that someone had found my dog! Found my sweet little dog? I burst into tears, of course!

Seems the construction guys left a gate open one day, and she got out. We are so very lucky – traffic is unbelievably heavy around here, so the fact that she made it across several roads is simply miraculous. Then she was found by a kind soul who called the number on her collar (she’s microchipped and registered with Home Again!) and they called me, and my phone happened to be working! Then when we returned home, she got so excited that she passed out! She has heart problems and obviously her condition has deteriorated.
Thankfully, Kate works for a vet, so she was able to get immediate care, and with new meds is doing just fine.
Poor baby – living in a strange house, that is under construction, with 3 (now 4) other dogs, and no mommy to sleep with – it was a tough week for her. Guess I have to find a cruise line that will let me take her with me!

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