Cruising

Sunshine & Splashing

Oh my gosh, we are back from another cruise!  This one was super special, since we took our daughter’s family with us and that meant the first cruise for Karina, Jason and our grandsons Wyatt and Owen.  And once she heard about it, my sister Linda just had to join in the fun with the boys, bringing along “Uncle Norm”.  

This was a 5 day cruise out of Charleston, SC aboard Carnival Sunshine heading to Nassau and Half Moon Cay.  We all gathered at my brother Jeff’s house days before departure, since it was only 2 hours from the port.  It made for a great start to the cruise, even though it did leave my brother with major FOMO as we departed Charleston!

So what happened, how did it go, what are some stories from the trip??  I will mostly let the pictures tell the story, but here are some highlights (plus a NEW video of the fun):

It was a BLAST!  Our rooms were on Deck 9, the Lido Deck, all the way forward.  Only a few rooms have this full wall of glass facing the ocean ahead for an amazing view.  The boys totally loved it.

Ice cream and pizza were a hit – Wyatt had a record 6 cheese pizzas one day, Owen was not too far behind.

Waterslides were also a hit, but maybe not the big ones.  Wyatt was brave to try one of the racing waterslides the first day with Karina, but probably didn’t know just how fast it would be.  One and done for him, but he quickly made up for that on the smaller slides with Owen.  Whole lotta splashing going on.

The shuttle tender ride from the ship to Half Moon Cay was pretty much a sardine packed trip, but the beach and water more than made up for it.  Absolutely the best beach in the Caribbean and we all made a nice long day of it.  Uncle Norm was definitely a perfect playmate: “quit acting like a kid”.

The Serenity Decks (three of them) for adults were a nice break for us old folks and they gave a nice overview of the entire midship pool deck and it also was good for sunset watching.  The bar was close at hand, too.

Most of us stayed onboard when in port at Nassau.  As you can see by the pictures, the arrival area of the port is undergoing some major changes and all the docks have been rebuilt.  Surprisingly we were the only ship in port that day.  Linda and Norm took a snorkel excursion to a reef that had been pretty much blitzed in the past but they said it had recovered wonderfully over the 2 year pandemic.  Ah well, Jackie and I missed out on that one, but the time aboard with the family was pretty great too, much quieter.

The grandsons were very well behaved during dinner and sea day brunch in the main dining room, with a couple of activity books to help pass the time.

Ah the casino – something that has not always been kind to me, but entertaining anyway.  I bet conservatively and always hope my money will last long enough to have fun, but for two nights the craps table was hot.  Lots of fun and way longer than I expected – plus I definitely came away with some chips this time around.  Yay me.

The arcade and candy shop were also pretty exciting for the boys – heck anytime you have pizza, ice cream and gummies 24/7 it’s a good time.

Probably the only odd moment was one late night toward the end of the cruise when I discovered I had squeezed out anti-itch cream on my toothbrush instead of toothpaste.  I just caught it before brushing, but I was clearly getting cruise-tired!

I know we all declared it a major success and totally enjoyed ourselves – with thoughts of doing it all again (well, way into the future at least).

What’s next for us (after we do laundry and get our bearings)?  We have a week of camping at our local lake with paddleboards, kayak and the grandsons – plus Alex is going to try out his new/old camper.  Only one month of summer before everyone else is back to school and work, so we have to make haste.  Thanks for joining us on our travels and check out the videos posted on the PLACES and VIDEOS page.

Categories: Cruising | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Family Sail-Away to the Caribbean

So the topic around the dinner table was whether or not lobster would be a good choice the next night.  About half of us were looking forward to it and the rest were “so-so” about it, saying that it was often disappointing – being a bit tough, not too tasty and well, just not the best.  Four of us were scheduled to eat at the Sabor Mexican specialty restaurant and would be missing the last fancy meal (I didn’t time that meal choice right) and even Jackie expressed concern that we would miss out.  She was reminded that she has a shellfish allergy and wouldn’t be eating it anyway, but she felt bad for Doug missing it.  But before we finish that story, let’s start at the beginning.

Last April my brother Jeff announced that he and Vickie were going to spend spring break on Harmony of the Seas and did anyone want to join?  Since it seemed likely the pandemic restrictions would be gone and cruising would surely be back to normal by then, we said sure and talked it up.  Soon we had nearly the whole family booked (14 of us) and were excitedly planning the adventure.  My nephews Adam and Chris had gotten married during the pandemic and were anxious for something fun to celebrate with the family – their wives Ashley and Becca were all in, plus Ashley’s twin sister Chelsey had also gotten married last year to Eric and they were also up for some fun.  Our son Alex and wife Bethany were in and my sister Linda and husband Norm said they would fly in from California to be part of this.  Ok, big group!

Fun times started right away.  The cruise departed from Port Canaveral, Florida so we all planned to travel the day before and stay local overnight before boarding.  The SC gang quickly posted a travel selfie from the road followed by us (taken safely while stopped) as we made our way to Orlando and Cocoa Beach.  It was something of a relief to be on the road, considering that we each had to have a negative COVID test the day before – which also involved a lot of “negative” text messages among the group as we sweated the results.  

In Orlando we had to wrangle a bit to get us all to a place to eat, but we managed to squeeze into the Rav4 and hit up Rockpit Brewing for some beer and barbecue. Thanks to Bethany for taking the far back storage area to make us all fit!

Next morning I dropped Linda and Norm at the airport so they could catch the shuttle bus to the port, circled back to the hotel, packed up the rest of our crew and we were off to the port.  Checking in at the port was a bit of a crowd at first as everyone had to pass a health check, wear their masks and go through security, but once aboard we were told the masks can come off and it wasn’t long before we all caught up on the top deck to gather and grab that “Welcome Aboard” first drink.  Yeah, we all bought the drink package.  Oh, and somebody’s hat decided to sail away overboard as we departed Port Canaveral.

Ok, so here are some stories from the trip – at least those that I know about.  For some of us it was our first time cruising, for some it was the first time on Harmony of the Seas, for some of us it was our second time aboard, and for a few it was our third time on the ship. Newbies went exploring right away and we all had different activities on our “checklist.” (You can now watch some video highlights at “How we did Harmony of the Seas . . . Again“).

Flowrider and Waterslides

Jeff and I got on the Flowrider almost first thing and mostly got the hang of it again.  The boys joined us and did well considering it was their first time.  Linda was in charge of photos “Is it on?” and did a decent job.  Of course we all had to try the waterslides, some of us nearly getting stuck mid-way with not enough water pressure and the day was VERY windy at the top. 

Onboard Entertainment

I think we tried to catch everything on board, from “Grease” to the ice show and aqua show to comedy to trivia and dance parties.  Some of us did quite well with the dancing, others not so much.  The gaming tables were probably a break-even plus a little more for the craps and roulette players, but I think some of the guys did better at blackjack.  It was exciting fun anyway.

Poolside on Sea Days

We started off on the solarium deck the first day, but once we found a better spot by the pool with good bar service and mostly enough chairs, it made for a base of operations.  The sun got pretty strong, so some of us moved in and out of the shade, grabbed munchies at the mini-bites and solarium bistro and had our share of frozen drinks and beer.  Oh, and milkshakes from Johnny Rockets!  A few braved the Abyss dry slide, which we were told “needed waxing” so it wasn’t too zippy scary.  

St. Marten

Our first port of call was Phillipsburg in St. Marten.  It was going to be a busy day with four big ships in port.  Half the group had an awesome ATV trip around the island exploring beaches and mountains and half the group had an excursion to Creole Rock on jet boats to try snorkeling.  Jackie and I were on the jet boats with Norm, Linda, Alex and Bethany and had a blast bouncing across the blue waters and among lots of sailboats.  The snorkeling was not great, since the reefs were pretty well blitzed, but the water felt wonderful and it was a thrill on the boats.

St. Thomas

Our second port of call was St. Thomas and we again split up for different excursions.  Jackie and I, Norm and Linda took a FastCat boat to snorkel at Turtle Cove and then hang at Hollywood Beach on Water Island.  Snorkeling was much better, water was awesome and clear – we did not see turtles but there was a barracuda under the boat that most of us spotted.  The beach spot was just perfect, as we bobbed in the clear shallow water.   

Perfect Day at Coco Cay

We were joined by Independence of the Seas at the dock on CoCo Cay, so it was going to be a crowd at the watery oasis.  Some of us found chairs at the Oasis Lagoon pool, some at the South beach area in the sand.  We spent time at both spots and I enjoyed the pool, which was a bit chilly, except that the music by the swim up bar was rather loud and created a very congested “spring break” style crowd.  Too many people, too loud.  Otherwise we all got plenty of water, sun, drinks and snacks.

Dinner

Our plans for dinner were to eat in the main dining room and I thought I had things pretty much set for everyone to be together at a reserved time each night, but it took a little negotiating at first to smooth things out – the result was a long table for 14 and the BEST dinner service ever.  A few of us had specialty restaurant reservations during the week, but the table was lively every night.  Our first night was a champagne toast to Dad, who along with Mom, introduced the joy of cruising to all of us.

For the most part the food was excellent and well received by all.  The prime rib slices were huge, the apps delicious – although there was some discussion about the lack of beets and oranges in the beet and citrus salad by some among us.  Someone finally got a banana split, french fries were quickly brought out for some of our diners and then there was the lobster affair.

You will recall I mentioned that the next-to-last meal was the fancy lobster tail meal choice.  Linda and I had booked the Mexican restaurant for that night, not knowing it was lobster night, so we were going to miss it.  Well, we resigned ourselves to missing what could have been a meal of average lobster – and most of us figured it would be chewy and tough anyway.  But the next day our crew said, guardedly, that it really was a spectacular meal and the lobster was the best they had ever had.  In fact, beside two tails each, the wait staff brought our extra plates of tails.  Oh, boy, that news didn’t help.

As we sat for dinner the last night and our waiter described the choices, I made pinching motions with my hands and told him that he could bring me my missing lobster tail from the night before.  I joked with him quite a bit but ordered the short rib anyway – and when taking my order Al said he would try.  Word around the dining room was that they had exhausted their supply the night before and not a lobster was on the ship.  That’s ok, I was fine with my order of short rib – I won’t pout.

When I finished my appetizer, the dining room manager Catherine came to my shoulder and asked how my day went in Coco Cay.  She said she saw I missed the lobster dinner the night before and then slipped a plate in front of me and revealed … a whole lobster, split and beautifully broiled!!  

After that last meal together we took some last group shots, broke off into small groups, packed our bags and some of us returned to sit on our connected balcony overlooking Central Park and reflected on a very satisfying family get-together that was the perfect start to the summer.  Even our armadillo mascot Heffe enjoyed himself.  I love our family!

I have some video I will soon edit and post, both here and on the “Videos” page, so watch for that update.  

What’s next?  This upcoming weekend we volunteer to pour at the Kennesaw Beer Fest and in 2 weeks we take the motorhome down to the panhandle of Florida and Grayton Beach State Park, meeting our good friends Dan and Terry, and … another cruise?  Stay tuned.

Categories: Cruising | 1 Comment

Snorkeling the Western Caribbean

It’s mid-October in Atlanta and the temperature has finally dropped from 97 degrees to a more fall-like 65 degrees with 40’s overnight.  Jeans have replaced shorts, shoes replaced sandals and it is cold enough to use the firepit. Yet here I am at the pool bar, sipping a fruity frozen drink as a warm breeze blows ripples across the water.  What just happened? Maybe I better back up the story a bit …

You see, since our last great cruise on the Harmony of the Seas this summer, Jackie and I stated rather firmly that we would not be cruising again for a year or so, since we had plenty to do back home with grandson-sitting, beer festivals, maybe a fall camping weekend and such.  But it was just fine if Dad and the family wanted to head out to the Caribbean once again, we would wish them well. So plans were made for Dad, my brother Jeff and wife Vickie – even my sister Linda and husband Norman – to head out to the Western Caribbean on the Harmony of the Seas for a fall cruise.  Good stuff – wish you well.

But things got complicated when Norm’s family announced a trip to the Canadian Rockies and suddenly Linda was a single cruiser and gosh she needed a way to get to Port Canaveral via Atlanta (from California) and wouldn’t it be nice if Doug picked her up from the airport and drove her to the port and heck, he could even be her cabin mate.  Hey, Doug, whatcha think? Well it seems that, being retired, Jackie and I go where we are needed: so that meant cruising as a plus-one with my sister.

Turns out it was a great time.  We drove to Orlando and spent the night, checking out two breweries of course.  Hourglass Brewing had a lot on tap so of course we had two flights between us. Then a return visit to Rockpit Brewing meant another pint to try before returning to the hotel. 

 

Up early in the morning and off to the ship! We parked, checked in and were on the ship by 10:30 – just minutes before Jeff, Vic and Dad arrived. This trip Jeff arranged a scooter for Dad, so we had to practice getting him in and out of the room and around the ship.  Turns out it was the BEST move, as he was soon zipping along on his own.  

 

How about some highlights from the ports and sea days aboard ship you ask?  

Perfect Day at Coco Cay

The scooter made a world of difference for Dad, who was down the gangway and on his way across the dock to the Oasis Lagoon pool in no time.  We found lounge chairs by the huge pool and were soon sloshing around with drinks in hand. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, as you can see from the pictures.  

The only disappointment was the snorkeling reef.  Over the years we have been coming here, the area to snorkel has been corralled in closer to shore and the last hurricane seems to have damaged the reef enough that you really didn’t have much to see.

Cozumel Snorkeling

The three reef excursion Linda and I took certainly was a change from Coco Cay.  We walked around and through the maze of shops on shore to find a taxi to the departure marina to meet our guides. 

Turns out there were only four of us on the small boat, which was awesome. Snorkeling in Cozumel is usually a float over the reef with the water current moving you slowly along.  We saw triggerfish (Queen and black), angelfish (Queen and French), parrotfish, yellow snapper, blue tang, butterfly fish, scrawled filefish, trunkfish and a couple of black and white eels.  Check the video:  Cozumel Reef Snorkel

 

 

We had a photographer along who kept attracting the yellow and black Sergeant Majors in front of us to get photos – nice at first, but a bit annoying if you were looking at something else on the bottom.  Overall, it was amazingly clear and a great snorkel. A float vest I purchased worked out perfect, along with a rashguard shirt that substituted for sunscreen (they are serious about protecting their reefs – no sunscreen).  Fish identification was much easier thanks to some waterproof cards I bought from fishcards.com. Thanks to Michael Greenberg for all his help getting us these essential cards. We had a few cold Coronas on the way back to the marina while sharing what we saw. 

Roatan Snorkeling

 

Getting to the reef in Roatan from our dock in Coxen Hole was much more of an ordeal than in Cozumel, where the reef was in sight of the ship.  Jeff, Vic, Linda and I made our way ashore (where they are in mid-construction of a second big dock), wound through the maze of shops once again and found our excursion driver.  Into a van with four other divers and we were off to the northeast coast. It was an hour’s drive up and over the mountains along a busy 2-lane road that was surrounded by small houses (barely one-room shacks by our standards) and market stalls.  Despite all the happy house hunters I have seen on HGTV, I can’t say that I would have chosen to retire to the island. Not exactly prospering.

   

But once we reached our destination at Turquoise Bay Beach and Dive Resort it all changed.  The small marina had several dive boats and we were soon joined by 5 others with Subway Watersports to head to the reef and snorkel.  Next to us was a beachside resort that we would be able to enjoy after the snorkel. Not far off shore we were moored and ready to slip in the water in a sandy spot that was maybe 6 feet deep with a few sea stars.  There was a bit of wind chop as we were directed ahead to find an underwater oasis of coral, sponges and fish that were just amazingly beautiful.  

The “wall” was covered with sponges, fans and corals of all sorts.  The fish were much like what we saw at Cozumel, darting in and around the corals.  A lionfish was pointed out to us along with a yellow trumpetfish. Our guide took my gopro down to get a shot of the lionfish (which was stunning, although destructive to many native fish on the reefs).  Again, my vest was a big help, since we were probably snorkeling the reef for an hour. The sponges and corals (thanks to my ID cards) seemed to be sea whips, sea fans, tube sponges (blue and yellow), sea fingers, vase sponges, staghorn coral, brain coral, star coral … gosh so many colors and shapes.  Check the video:  Roatan, Honduras Snorkel

As I mentioned, we were able to hang out at the beach resort until our taxi arrived to take us back to the ship.  Totally gorgeous spot on the water – dreamy. But since we would be leaving port early and Roatan was 2 hours behind ship’s time, we were a bit anxious when it had not arrived. We were told we would be waiting for the divers in our party to return, but when they were overdue and in fact were choosing to continue their dive, the excursion owner opted to have one of his staff drive us back to port.  We made it with time to spare, but grumbled about the decision by our fellow passengers to have extended their dive at our expense.

Costa Maya Shopping

We were surprised to hear Dad say he wanted to go ashore in Costa Maya to buy a shirt, but once again the scooter made that possible.  He was down the gangway and speeding along the dock ahead of all of us, making a beeline for the cluster of shops on shore. He found his shirt while shopping, as did the rest of us, and soon we were all back aboard.  Costa Maya is pretty much the shopping arcade, a water park and some nearby excursions and nothing else for miles around. But the coastline is very pretty and our sail away was beautiful. 

Around the Ship and Sea Days 

Now this is a big ship and you have a few of your close friends with you – about 6,000 of them, with about 3,000 crew members.  So finding a lounge chair on sea days can be challenging. You have to first get your Irish coffee at the Park Cafe, find something good for breakfast (waffles with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate syrup maybe?) then grab a mimosa or bloody mary and head for the towel check.  Maybe some sunscreen gets slathered on and you are all set – until Jeff says “hey let’s go do the waterslides!

   

So we climbed the stairway to the waterslides for the highest view aboard ship and zipped down.  The “toilet bowl” slide was a first time for Linda and she screamed the whole way down. I did the dark Abyss dry slide again; we bobbed in the pool and Jeff and I decided to brave the Flowrider kneeboard.  The board took a moment to get the hang of, what with all the water shooting at you, but soon we both got up on our knees and … well, we took a few falls and scooted around the fast-moving sheet of water. Totally fun and a real blast – I definitely got better as the week went on, but neither of us felt confident enough to do the stand-up wakeboards.  Check the video: How We Did Harmony of the Seas

 

Dinners were in the main dining room, except the night that three of us ate at Jamie’s Italian (oh my gosh was it a lot of delicious food!).  A plank of meats and cheeses, garlicky prawns, lasagna, pasta and lamb chops washed down with a delicious red wine and followed by a huge plank of desserts. We had a delightful serving staff at dinner, with special after-dinner shots to toast the day (thank you Mikayla).  Late nights involved pizza slices and Octoberfest beer and lunch involved the famous Royal Kummelweck roast beef sandwich in Central Park. We all lunched at the Sabor Taqueria one day and had a fabulous and filling meal – so much so that we skipped the dining room and just did nibbles for dinner.

And of course we had to spend time in the casino.  The odds were not in our favor on the craps table and as the week went on, fewer folks were playing it.  But Dad had pretty fair luck at the roulette wheel, so he spent more time there than we did. He also seemed to attract his share of women who became helpful friends.  One couple adopted him as their good luck charm and we ran into them several times around the ship. Actually, everyone he met was very accommodating and helpful as he navigated his scooter.

   

     

We were naturally concerned about Dad on the days that he remained on board and we went ashore for excursions.  When we returned from Cozumel he told us that he had found the spa and toured the gym and made an appointment for a haircut and shampoo.  Then when we returned from our Roatan excursion he shared how he drove around the buffet with a plate of food and a bowl of soup, driving one-handed.  And to think we were worried about him!

       

The shows were also well done – we all watched Columbus the musical, the Fine Line aqua show (twice) and Linda and I saw the ice show 1887 (very good).  Headliner show was the Company Men, which Dad declared all “yelling and screaming – I don’t recognize any of the music” but the rest of us thought their mash-ups from the past decades was well done.

       

But aboard this huge ship, you can just sit somewhere and relax, maybe in the Central Park gardens while a guitarist plays.  Or people-watch on the Promenade on formal night. Or ride the elevator with the piano player. Or watch the sunset from the Mast Bar on deck 16 or even better from the “King of the World” overlook.  Maybe create your own drink from the robots in the Bionic Bar or discover the quiet Wonderland Bar for a martini. Watch the street parade from the Schooner Bar with a coconut mojito. It is easy to forget you are cruising off the coast of Cuba or Honduras.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Canadian Rockies . . .

 

… Norm was enjoying a beer in a hot tub in the midst of a snowstorm – – while his replacement was lounging by the pool in the warm Caribbean sun.  Ahhh, Life is Good.

Categories: Cruising | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The BIG Cruise

Some time after the holidays this year my brother told me that he and Dad were planning their next cruise in April and I enthusiastically wished them well. Jackie, John, Dad and I had done a Carnival cruise over Halloween to Nassau and I was just fine passing up any cruise for the next year. But things evolved and the cruise choice was no longer a 5-day out of Charleston but a 7-day out of Port Canaveral aboard the Oasis of the Seas, the first mega-ship by Royal Caribbean. Jackie and I still felt we were just fine sitting this one out and, again, we wished them well.

During a late January visit with Dad, he and my brother leaned on me to join them on the cruise — Dad pulling a bit of a guilt trip “I just want both my boys with me .. not sure how many cruises I have left in me” .. so I agreed to think it over, which meant of course we booked ourselves on the cruise shortly afterward. Heck, it should be fun on the Oasis class ship.

Then an accident happened while the ship was docked in Nassau for maintenance. A crane fell into the stern AquaTheater, the ship slipped and the (new word) azipods were damaged below. We kept our fingers crossed, but two weeks before sailing we learned the cruise was cancelled, refund was on the way, future cruise credit to be applied. Oh well.

But we would not be deterred. Since that meant that 3 cruises of 6,000 passengers each were now looking to re-book their cruise, Jeff and I jumped on the phone to contact our travel agents and find some options. The solution was the next ship scheduled to leave from Port Canaveral, the newer Harmony of the Seas, which was the same Oasis class of ship that hosted 6,000 guests and 2,000 crew. We booked the second week of June for an Eastern Caribbean cruise and hoped for the best.

So our most recent adventure just completed was an amazing cruise aboard a floating hotel/mall. Seriously, this ship had everything and really felt like you weren’t even on a ship most of the time. Not sure I can fully describe the wonderful time we had and all the available amenities the ship had to offer, but I will certainly try. I also have some videos that will take a bit longer to edit, but I promise to post them soon. I was having fogging issues with my 35mm camera aboard ship, what with the cold AC in the room and the warmer, tropical air out on deck, but the GoPro was good with the underwater shots and such.

Pre-Cruise Orlando
We drove to the Orlando airport area the day before, since it is about 7 hours (8 if you drive through rainstorms like we did) and stayed overnight. That meant we were less than an hour from the ship’s terminal and would have no problem arriving before Jeff, Vic and Dad (oh no, I am not competitive at all). So after checking in at the Best Western we searched for “breweries near me” and found several choices.

 

Since Rockpit Brewing also served barbecue, that was the choice for dinner, followed up by Dead Lizard brewing. I enjoyed Rockpit’s Yudu Yuzu, a sour Berliner Weiss, Jackie liked Nudge, Nudge golden ale and we both liked a mango beer that neither of us can remember the name of.

Slipping in the door of Dead Lizard we were immediately asked if we had a lighter – it seems they were having a birthday celebration going on and no one brought matches for the birthday candles. Sorry, we are just here for the beer (and the sticker), so we moved to the bar and ordered a flight. Pretty funky vibe to the place and we enjoyed a Hefeweizen Orange Ya Glad I Didn’t Say Banana and Key Lime Chameleon Cream-Sic-Ale. On the way out we got totally drenched in a downpour before heading back to our amply-air-conditioned room to chill for the night.

All Aboard!
Up and out and we were on our way through the Florida sunshine to the Cape and our ship. No traffic, no problems, parked close to the ship, breezed through check-in and we were in the boarding area by 10am. Within 20 minutes we were joined by the rest of our party and, gosh we were onboard in no time. Kudos to Royal Caribbean for a very smooth check-in and embarkation process. Now, where is that first drink??

We explored the ship, got lost and turned around more than once, found our way to the Solarium Bistro for lunch, found several bars, stood for the safety lesson, checked out our room and settled in for fun. As I have said before, the first day aboard ship is the most exciting and the sail-away is exhilarating. As you stand on the rail watching the shoreline pass by and disappear into the distance, all the stress of the trip and worries back home just slip away. It’s party time!

So what exactly did we do?
I’m not sure when we did just what onboard, mostly on the three sea days, but I can share the activities. And we had three ports of call, so hang on, it’s a busy schedule.

Perfect Day CocoCay
This was a totally different experience from our last visit to the private island. The investment of over $250 million to transform this island into a waterpark with a new dock (no tenders!) was fantastic. We didn’t pay the extra fee to ride the waterslides, zipline or splash in the wave pool, but we did enjoy the upgraded food service, bars, huge Oasis Lagoon pool with swim-up bar and the snorkeling off Chill Island beach. It is a clean, lush landscape that just opened officially and it is a game changer.

 

 

After snorkeling and lunch we were enjoying the pool while a film crew used drones to capture the crowd for an upcoming promotional video. Perfect Day got a little less perfect when thunderstorms moved close and everyone was whistled out of the water. The rain made it easier to find a lounge chair, but I am guessing that thunder-rumbling, rain-soaked footage won’t make the “perfect day” video. Darn, and I was looking pretty good in those fly-by shots!

St. Thomas
We cruised into the port at St. Thomas about noon, a beautiful approach to this island. We were keeping it pretty casual that day and decided not to fight our way to a beach or snorkeling location, since we had a nice excursion planned for the next day.

So it made for a good day of having fun around the ship without the crowds. We never really felt like there were 6,000 other people crowded around us anyway – except on the pool deck on sea day afternoons – which is to Royal Caribbean’s credit for having so many places to hang out.

St. Maarten
This was our first time to the French/Dutch island and we were lucky to be the only ship in port at Philipsburg. Another gorgeous green-mountain island with a broad curve of beach along the harbor.

We had booked a snorkel excursion on a small-boat tour, hoping to avoid the disappointing experience in Nassau where we were overloaded with 60+ folks on a kayak, paddleboard, snorkel, party boat. Jackie and I walked the half-mile along Great Bay to the boat dock to check in and were told that once the other party of 2 arrived we would be good to go. That meant that all four of us had the boat to ourselves for a fabulous private tour along the coast.

First stop was snorkeling in Little Bay, a cove below the pelicans of Fort Amsterdam with clear water and some reef fish. The bottom was mostly rock and not much in the way of fans and corals, but there were fish around and some sunken artifacts (canon, helicopter, small sub, grocery cart?).

Back onboard and we zipped along the coastline, noticing the remaining damage from previous hurricanes (two Cat 5 within 10 days). Captain passed around a bowl of french bread, cheese and apple slices and we washed it all down with a cold beer. Hey, snorkeling is hard work. We stopped in the path of approaching aircraft as a jet passed overhead to land at the airport. This is the famous Princess Julianna airport with an over-water approach where people get blown around during jet takeoffs. Just Google Maho Beach. Then we crossed to the French coastline and hopped out for a swim in a turquoise water cove, Baie Longue, surrounded by villas that rent for thousands a night (Belmond La Samanna). Ahh, and we got to enjoy the same beautiful waters that they did. Time to head back to the ship and across some choppy water that made for a bouncy ride on a beautiful afternoon.  Snorkel video is posted here.

The excursion was really a treat. Back at the dock we stepped out of the boat with our gear, except that I was so focused on my footing that I completely missed the overhead metal rail of the bimini and “klunk” I hit it hard with my head. Had I been watching earlier, I would have noticed Jeff do the same thing as he was getting out. Ah … what’s a little blood in the scalp?

Aboard Ship
When we weren’t lounging by the pool or slipping down the waterslides, we might have been walking down the indoor Promenade (just like a mall), sitting at an outdoor cafe in the garden areas of Central Park listening to Spanish guitar, having a drink at an Irish Pub with a folk guitarist, watching robots fix our drinks or trying our luck at the casino. Our rooms were upper level balconies that overlooked the Central Park “canyon” so it was also nice to sit with a drink and listen to the music or wake up with a cup of coffee out on the balcony and people watch.

 

 

 

The casino was a destination for Dad most evenings, as he loves to play roulette. Jeff and I sat with him and played a few times – actually we donated to the casino, but our game is the craps table. We had our ups and downs and some nights were just wild at the table with some good runs, but in my case I came away just less than even for the week. Actually that is great, considering how long we played all week and what fun we had. We met the friendliest casino dealers who would really help you understand how to improve your odds and by week’s end came to recognize you. What fun.

Food
We did our best to try every eatery on board and enjoyed them all. Of course everyone heads to the Windjammer buffet for breakfast and lunch but we ventured away from that most days. The Park Cafe had delicious roast beef sandwiches and salads for lunch on the terrace in Central Park and Sorrento’s had pizza almost all night. The Solarium Bistro (the adults-only area on the decks 14 – 16 at the bow) had slightly lighter fare and a great view. There were several up-charge specialty restaurants that we mostly skipped.

Dad, Jackie and I ate lunch at Jamie’s Italian (complimentary for balcony bookings) on a sea day and were totally stuffed. Appetizer was an antipasto plank of cold meats, cheeses, olives and veggies; main courses were pasta, burgers and salads. We each made a dessert choice, whereupon our waiter asked why not all of them?

So, as you can see in the picture, we were served another plank with Tiramisu, Lemon meringue cheesecake, brownie, Almond sponge cake, and a raspberry pavlova confection. Yikes.

Dinner was mostly in the main dining room (short ribs and rack of lamb were the best), but we also tried the Solarium Bistro on the upper deck for dinner as we sailed out of St. Thomas and then the Izumi Japanese hibachi grill on the last night. That was a hilarious show of food preparation that none of us had yet experienced. Chef tossed pieces of egg for us to catch in our mouths – ok, weird but fun – and a few of us (Doug and Dad) nailed it on the first try.

Lobster, scallops, chicken were all delicious, and the tenderloin beef was mouthwatering. And some strange ice cream-filled dough balls for dessert.

Jackie and I also had a complimentary dinner at Wonderland, themed with Alice in mind.

Definitely something different, with all sorts of special food effects – smoked buffalo chicken eggs, “liquid” olives and mushrooms, spicy tuna in frozen limes, baked halibut and branzino. Quite the presentation, capped by a dessert plate of fungi: mango sorbet with cake and meringue mushrooms in pop-rocks dirt and a crazy bit of wizardry: The World – a chocolate sphere that melts before your eyes as the waiter drizzles hot caramel sauce, revealing salted caramel ice cream and chocolate mousse. Wow.

 

Drink
I did get a chuckle on the first day when I pulled out a bar checklist for each of us – crazy Doug – but later in the week we were all caught checking which bars we might have missed! “Oh, did I get a drink on each floor the Rising Tide bar stopped at?” “What about the Bionic Bar?” “Darn, I missed a glass of wine at Vintages.”

The robot arms of Bionic Bar

If you purchase the Deluxe Drink Package, you will have more than 16 bars to choose from. Poolside, in the Central Park garden area, restaurants, Promenade (mall) area, Solarium (adults only), plus the island of CocoCay. Yeah. That’s right. You try it without a list! Plus specialty coffees with a shot to start your day, like Icy Bourbon Mint Coffee.

We definitely gave our beverage package a workout.

Fun
Yep, another checklist just to be sure I didn’t miss anything. Besides the snorkeling in St. Maarten and CocoCay, there were plenty of activities onboard.  Check the video that combines the fun from our two cruises on Harmony of the Seas:  How We Did Harmony of the Seas

 

 

Whirlpools, main pool, the 9 deck drop on the Ultimate Abyss dry slide, three waterslides, rock climbing wall (made it halfway), zipline over the boardwalk “canyon” … busy, busy. We didn’t ride the carousel, ice skate, or play mini-golf, nor did we try surfing the flo-riders, but it was fun to watch. We saw the Jules Verne styled ice show “1887”, “Grease”, “Columbus, the Musical”, “Fine Line” and “Big Daddy’s” aquashows and a rock tribute band, all of which were top-notch entertainment.

 

You might not have the pool to yourself

Riding the waterslides was crazy, since two of them were designed for you to race your opponent. Jeff and I swapped winning times, but maybe my worst showing was when halfway down the dark tube I realized the water was pretty much disappearing and I slowed to a stop. “Send water!” Soon a gush hit me from behind and I started to move along again, but it might have been a long squooch, squooch crawl to the end. And yes, Jackie did try the Ultimate Abyss, which also lost some steam at the finish and we both had to scoot ourselves out of the last 3 feet of slide. The launching pad was the best part, as you are perched on a glass floor high above the stern of the ship!

 

I guess this all sounds like one big commercial for Royal Caribbean, but it turned out to be a much easier cruise for Dad than we expected and I do have to give credit to the cruise line for a ship that was well designed. It never felt crowded, it was gorgeously appointed, there was plenty to do for all ages, the rooms were thoughtfully laid out, staff was abundant, friendly and attentive. Dad had his walker and our rooms were close to elevators, so it was easy enough for him to head to the casino or up to the buffet on days when we were ashore. Jeff and I figured out how to push him along backwards in the walker when we needed to cover some ground quickly, and he was a good sport to go along with it. These twice-a-year cruises are his big vacation getaways, and as his escorts we are happy to go along (but seriously, we need some time to recover!)

Once we got back home we were greeted by two of the five fawns born around our yard this year. I guess they thought we had left town for good this time and they had the run of the place. Kodi keeps a careful eye out now and the mommas don’t seem to be as fiercely protective, so it seems safe to use the backyard again.

Up Next?
Well, it isn’t really an adventure, but it does involve the motorhome. We head to the mountains of North Carolina to help John with some work on the cabin he is building. It is under roof now and I think we will be doing some staining and working on the deck railing. Once again we will pack the motorhome with supplies and the pets for a trip to the mountains.

If you haven’t checked out some of my latest glass creations, be sure to look over the Glass Totems page and then catch up with recent events on the Happenings page. Stay tuned for a brief blog with some of the crazy video from the cruise, once I get it edited.

Thanks for following along on the adventures. And to borrow a phrase from our cruise director, “bing bong.”

Doug

And I should thank Alex and Bethany for watching Kodi and Merlin.  It looks like Allie kept a wary eye on Merlin, though.

Categories: Cruising | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Halloween on the High Seas

Here we go again with a Caribbean cruise, and just a week after returning from our Leaf Peeping in New England adventure!  Yes, crazy.  But this cruise should be a blast, with Jack (Dad), Jackie and first-time cruiser John (Jackie’s brother).

Of course the first objective is to board the ship quickly and early, get a drink (especially the colorful,  fruity kind), then take and send a selfie to everyone back home.  That was pretty easy actually, and we met John while getting checked in and headed for the Lido deck and got our drinks to celebrate!

I think the sail away on that first day is the most exhilarating, as the ship navigates the inlet and the shoreline slowly slips away with all your thoughts of things back home.  And with it, cell service, so the phones start to disappear and you direct your attention to the open sea.

The cruise was another break for Dad, although his current independent living is a pretty sweet deal for him.  But they don’t have a casino at home, so that is always a big attraction for him on cruise ships.  And he has quite the luck – overall doing much better than I did at craps.  I tried a new strategy that Jeff tried on our Alaska cruise, and I did hang in there for over 2 hours one night, but I think I paid for Dad’s winnings!  Ah well, it was fun just the same.

This was our first cruise over Halloween and we really didn’t know what to expect.  We thought we were clever packing some masks to wear to dinner, but soon saw that we were outdone by some pretty elaborate costumes.  John looked snappy in his pirate outfit, but there were many more aboard with us.  Kids (yes, there were school-aged kids aboard) were dressed up and even had a special onboard trick-or-treating night.  Certainly was festive fun.

~Halloween Cruise 2018 (64)

Two days at sea gave us a chance to relax on the pool deck, as the temperature was in the 80’s and sunny.  Yes, I did the water slide again, although it was a bit chilly. One nice sunny day was spent at Princess Cay and we were snorkeling around, checking out the reef full of fish and coral.  A  decent sized barracuda was hanging around the spot, but once there were enough swimmers, he moved on.

At Nassau, a port we have visited several times, we all wandered ashore to the Straw Market and the Woodcarver’s Alley.  Not exactly our style of shopping, but it was an experience nonetheless.  Oddly, we were the only ship in port and for some reason we were at the farthest pier.  It did give us a chance to work off some of the great food we have been eating.  We found out later that Dad had met some nice ladies on-board who shared a nice group picture.

The only spot of bad weather was just an afternoon drizzle off the northern Florida coast, but the worst of it stayed off our bow.

All of us ended the cruise in good spirits, glad to have been in sunny, warm Caribbean waters for a week and totally ready for the coming colder, colorful fall back home.  I know Jackie and I will be just fine spending a few weeks at home and not changing ports, cities, campgrounds and state locations every day.  But no complaints at all … it has been an awesome adventure-filled fall for us.

I have no idea what the next adventure will be, but stay tuned as our retired life’s adventures continue.  Time to get started with the planning … 

Categories: Cruising | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.