Posts Tagged With: Caribbean

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 … 

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Caribbean Cruising … again!

Let’s see, when we last left “Caribbean Jack” in October he was already talking about the next cruise.  It seemed too early to talk about another cruise, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas he kept checking schedules with various family members until it seemed that Jackie and I were the last ones standing … since we were retired and all.

Ok, I volunteered to research dates and itineraries out of Charleston and soon we had a date booked in April for a 5 day sailing to Nassau and Princess Cay.  Oops, we found out that was spring break for some schools in South Carolina, but by then it was too late.  What’s that Jackie?  Just like the romantic hike in the mountains for our anniversary that involved a gaggle of fifth graders? (see the post “Hike Inn Anniversary“).  Retired teachers can be soooo crabby!

Our “Welcome Aboard” drink!

So with bags packed and adventure awaiting, we set off for Dad’s – leaving freeze warnings at home amid April showers – with visions of the blue Caribbean and warm sunny days ahead.  He was all set, bags also packed and waiting, with a reminder that we needed to get the handicapped hang-tag out of his car and be sure to pack his walker.  That proved golden, as Charleston does not charge mobility-impaired passengers for parking and we were able to use their lift-equipped shuttle van and wheelchairs for a swift boarding process.  With little fuss we were soon on the Lido deck, poolside, with that first tropical drink in hand.

Ready for our day at sea.

Ok, it was a bit drizzly and chilly so we moved inside while we scanned the list of shipboard activities and planned our first day at sea.  Soon after we pulled away from shore and the Carnival Ecstasy was headed out of Charleston harbor and on to warmer and calmer waters.  If you are a cruiser, you know the exhilaration you feel at the sail-away moment, with all the stresses of life left behind and the thrill of the open water ahead of you.  This was going to be fun.

        

The itinerary was for our first full day at sea followed by a stop at their private island, Princess Cay.  That first day brought us into the sunshine, but the water temperature in the pool was still mighty chilly, so it was pretty much just the kids who were splashing about (when they weren’t filling up the hot tubs, that is).  Undeterred, we sat poolside, legs in the water, adult beverages in hand, chatting with other passengers – most from the mid-Atlantic and Southeast region.  I kept a look out for “that kid” who would sooner or later appear, gleam in his eyes, and flop in the pool, sending icy sprays of water over all the adults nearby.  Oh, wait, my glass was empty … time to head to the bar anyway.

Even the towel creatures had their day by the pool.

Those first days also involved casino strategy sessions – well, between Dad and I anyway.  Craps for me and roulette for Dad.  Jackie declared she was going to get to every comedy show and a few of the musical ones and Dad said he might join her.  After a slow start at the craps table, I headed to the room to find Jackie napping and with good intentions of making the evening shows, but we ended up crashing and leaving a note on Dad’s door.  He later said that he went to the musical performance (too loud, no real dancing, just wacky moves), then the casino and stayed up to nearly midnight.

Jackie was proud of the shawl she had crocheted – and it was needed.

What do you do on a five-day Caribbean cruise anyway?  Here is how we kept busy:

  • Talk about meals and food, check menus, and then talk some more about food. This is something of a pastime for my family anyway, but we would hear all about the great omelets, warm pastries, and breakfast dining room service from Dad on those days we went ashore.  Dinner was fun, with great appetizers (mussels, conch fritters, escargot, calamari) and main courses (lamb shank, short ribs, prime rib, crab ravioli, roast duck).  And dessert!

Roast duck and crab ravioli

  • Go ashore at Princess Cay for snorkeling.
  • Talk some more about meals and food. Guy’s Burgers were a big hit and the fresh tacos, burritos, pizza and Reubens all delicious.

Burger run from Guy’s Burger Joint

  • Hit the casino, and in Doug’s case hope for better luck at craps.
  • Go ashore in Nassau and pay to wander Atlantis on Paradise Island.
  • Read a book

Love that new eReader!

  • Hang something special on your door (Jackie has been great at crocheting shells, starfish, palm trees and such for the doors).

Of course mini golf!

  • Wander the ship and play mini golf, look at the fitness center, pass the duty-free shops, sit by the pool and maybe get wet.
  • Hear how well Jack did at the roulette table – again.
  • Check out the Chocolate Fantasy at the Lido buffet.

  • Check to be sure you haven’t hit your 15 drink limit for the day (not even close).
  • Enjoy the sail-away each night and watch for flying fish (yes, there were many of them popping out of the water at the bow as we left Princess Cay this time).

  • Buy the drink package and enjoy yourself for a few days. We bought the special Tervis insulated cups to hold our favorite drinks.

We enjoyed our previous snorkel on Princess Cay and were hoping for just as much fun.  Caught an early tender and walked down to the snorkel reef area.  It is an easy, sandy entry into the water and you can snorkel along the shoreline to see corals and fish pretty easily.

Easy entry to the snorkel area.

Jackie saw a large barracuda and Doug saw a small flounder and eel besides the parrotfish, yellowtails, blue tang, sergeant majors, crevalle and lots of the typical reef fish. It began to get a bit choppy after a few hours, so we tried another spot that was more protected, but more jetty than coral reef.  It was a good morning on shore and we were back aboard by mid-afternoon.

You can’t beat the color of the water in the Caribbean.

The snorkel reef from above. Just beyond and below the waves were fans, corals, and reef fish.

How was Nassau this visit?  Lots of flowers in bloom and fresh paint on most buildings made Nassau a colorful port of call.  We had three other ships in port with us, but we were in the slip right along the embarkation dock.  Easy on and off and a great way to people watch along shore.

   

     

   

This time we purchased tickets to walk the grounds of Atlantis on Paradise Island, so we caught a cab and zig-zagged our way through traffic to the resort.  If you have never been there, I recommend it – even though it is pricey to just walk through expensive shops, a gorgeous casino and tropical grounds.

        

        

 

After wandering through the casino and gazing at the Chihuly glass sculptures, we found our way outside and around the waterfalls and gardens.  And typical for us, we walked in The Dig aquarium from the exit (we managed that by accident in another aquarium).  It didn’t really matter, we were out of the way of strollers for a while.  It is a pretty nice aquarium, with all sorts of artifacts that add to the experience as you gaze at the reef fish, including some spotted eagle rays and a very large manta ray.

       

When you make your way to the lobby above, you can also look down on the pools to see the schools of fish.  In the Predator Lagoon area there are several species of shark and three very big smalltooth sawfish.  We were at the rail where a guest was feeding squid to the sharks and got a pretty good look at the frenzy.

 

Further on we saw turtles and hammerhead sharks before climbing the dunes to the beach.  Hey, we didn’t buy a wristband for beach access … nor did we buy the water park pass, but we somehow ended up next to their signature waterslide.  Darn, we didn’t have our bathing suits on!

       

Another wild ride back to the ship and Jackie headed onboard to have lunch with Dad while Doug walked around town for some photos of the local scene.  From the edge of the harbor it really is an amazing sight of clear blue waters and large white ships, with street vendors and excursion boats sprinkled in.

            

And what about the casino onboard?  Well, Doug had his new craps strategy in play during the week, but was up and down (mostly down).  He would sit and play roulette with Jack for a bit, then Jack would watch him play a while at the craps table.  Dad stood at the rail and played craps one night but opted to return to roulette.  So it went, up and down.  But the last night got a bit more exciting.  While they were both at the roulette table, Dad said “I’m going to do a crazy bet” and he covered one whole column of numbers.  Of course he hit one and got a nice payout.

Aboard Carnival Ecstasy (15)

“You have to have a system …”

Doug heard the call of the craps table for one last time but when Jack joined him his stack of chips was dwindling.  Jack stepped to the end position on the rail and it was soon his turn to shoot the dice. By then, Doug had ditched his strategy and was back to just odds on key numbers.  “So what do I need to roll?” Dad asked.  “7”.  “Okay, here goes.”  Bam, we got a seven.  And another.  Then he hit his point as Doug managed both their bets, and again hit his number.  “Am I still throwing?” he asked several times, to which the entire table replied “hit it again, Mr. Jack.”

That was how the night went on until he crapped out and we cashed in.  Everyone was fist bumping him around the table congratulating him for a great run.  Our stacks of chips were back to respectable size again!.  A good recovery for sure, but these are only $5 tables, so it’s never that much money, just good fun.

Our last night in the dining room was a special celebration, even if a bit teary-eyed.  We ordered a round of champagne and toasted good fortune (finally) and good sailing, with a nod to the memory of Nancy and all the cruises she and Dad enjoyed together.

Nancy and Jack aboard Forbes yacht Capitalist Tool

It had been a great five days at sea and we declared it a success.  I think I heard something about “not sure I have another cruise in me …” but I chose to ignore that one (of course he does).

Leaving the ship was a breeze. Thanks again to Jack’s walker we were able to do a late departure and rolled off the ship to head home.  Yep, rainy conditions again and more freeze warnings at home.  As we look out at the leaves just popping and the azaleas finishing their bloom, we can’t help but compare the low 30’s temperatures to the warm breezes of the tropics and ask ourselves “weren’t we just snorkeling in clear, blue waters three days ago?”  Cruising is magical.

Be sure to look at all the photos below to get a sense of the ship and ports of call.  I should point out that the underwater shots are at the aquarium, not from our snorkel.  Soon I should have snorkeling video edited and posted on the Video gallery.  Thanks for following along on our adventures.  Next trip is Panama City Beach in the motorhome.  Yippee!

Planning a cruise?  You can get a great deal and we get some credit if you book through Cynthia Long at CruisesOnly.  Their loyalty program will give you extras like shipboard and resort credit on top of the cruise line’s best deals.  Give her a call at 617-587-6000 x 38584 and mention that Doug and Jackie sent you.

 

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Caribbean Jack

It seems you can’t keep Dad away from a good cruise.  He really needed this respite break and some of the family was happy to join him.  So Jackie, Jeff, Vickie and Doug set out from Charleston Harbor on Carnival’s Ecstasy for 5 days in October to enjoy the sand and sun.

Rat Pack ready for the Cruise

Sail away day is the BEST day of a cruise … you grab your colorful favorite drink and the party starts right away as you leave your troubles behind.  This was our first trip out of Charleston and the weather was just perfect to head past Fort Sumter and into the Atlantic.

Here’s to getting aboard first!

Charleston Harbor

Charleston Harbor and Ft. Sumter

Happy Jack

After a day at sea we arrived off the shore of Princess Cays.  Took an early tender and our snorkel gear to see what we could find.  Since the drink package did not include anything on the island, we all figured to spend just the morning ashore and be back on ship for lunch, drinks and dinner.  The snorkeling beach, however, was quite a surprise.  It was one of the best small reefs we have encountered in the Caribbean.

Princess Cays and the snorkeling spot

A small sandy entry point gave access to a sloping reef that was loaded with fan and pipe coral, sponges and all sorts of reef fish.  Several flounder were spotted, along with plenty of the other colorful reef fish: blue tang, parrot fish, sergeant major, angels … and a good size barracuda.  What a good morning of snorkeling (oops, no pictures).

After a Fine Meal

Dinner each night was in the main dining room and was good service with darn good food.  Dad certainly enjoyed the selection.  After dinner the guys tried their luck at the casino and the ladies did the shows.  Doug and Jeff tried a new strategy at the craps table that started out really well, but ended up working against them.  Overall, I think we all played as much as we wanted to and pretty much broke even.

Cheers!

Back to the “Cheers” program and our handy list of gotta-try drinks.  Some of us were fretting that the prepaid drink program’s limit of 15 drinks per day was going to be a concern — but we must be lightweights, because only one of us hit the limit on one night (and we agreed it was because the day started with a bloody Mary!)

Cruise Oct 2017 (67)

Rough day at the office…

Cruise Oct 2017 (65) b

Popular spot for us on the pool deck

Our favorite bar was the RedFrog Rum Bar, poolside, but we also frequented the lobby bar, the BlueIguana Tequilla Bar, Alchemy Bar (for some wild martini productions) and the casino bar (but that was tricky — had to make your bets last until the drink arrived!)  So, despite our history of craft brewery visits and beer festivals, we were quite happy to try lots of fruity and colorful concoctions.

Freeport shops

The other island visit on this trip was a stop at Freeport, but we all decided to stay aboard ship and just watch the crowds wander the shopping plaza adjacent to the ship – and to giggle at the late arrivals who almost didn’t make the ship’s departure.   It didn’t appear that the recent hurricanes had a significant affect on the two ports we visited.  Jeff and Doug decided that with so many folks off the ship, it was time to try the Twister water slide.  Pretty wet and wild affair, and we hung in there for several runs.

Waterslide awaits

Cruise Oct 2017 (95) b

Yikes!

Oh yes we did!

Overall, a good cruise and a nice ship with friendly staff and good food and drink.

Mango Magic

The point of this cruise was to make sure Dad had plenty of sunshine, good food and companionship — and that he did.

Pretty sure this was one good week for him!

Sleepy Jack

Planning a cruise?  You can get a great deal and we get some credit if you book through Cynthia Long at CruisesOnly.  Their loyalty program will give you extras like shipboard and resort credit on top of the cruise line’s best deals.  Give her a call at 617-587-6000 x 38584 and mention that Doug and Jackie sent you.

 

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Caribbean Adventure

Back home from a great time in the Eastern Caribbean!  If you have cruised in the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands you know what this fantastic sailing was like … if not, you should know that we had crystal clear waters, white sand beaches, warm temperatures and plenty to eat!  What a great time.  Check out the Places page for a few more photos and soon, some of the snorkeling video.

Ready for a flight at Twisted Trunk

Ready for a flight at Twisted Trunk

We drove down to West Palm Beach the day before departing, and quickly located a cool brewery called Twisted Trunk.  Lots of fun and some great craft brews on tap (getting to be a habit with us now, but trust me these are fun places to hang out).

Welcome Aboard!

Welcome Aboard!

Setting sail!

Setting sail!

Retirement feels good

Retirement feels good

Our sailing took us from Ft. Lauderdale on a dreary, drizzly day to Grand Turk for an easy day of beach time and snorkeling.  Folks told us the beach was “right there” and to have a drink at Margaritaville and float in the pool “just off the pier.”  Well, they were right about everything being just off the ship.  I think this might have been the best time in the water, with plenty of fish around the rocky bottom and along the ledge to the deeper water.  Highlight was an eel in the rocks, plus plenty of parrot fish and other colorful, yet-to-be-identified fish.  Good day out, for sure.

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San Juan, Puerto Rico was a grand arrival and departure around the harbor and the protection of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a World Heritage site that is so easily recognized by the cylindrical sentry boxes along the outer fortress walls.  We walked the cobbled streets with overhanging balconies and lined with colorful shops, homes and churches.  Christmas preparations were evident in the carved wooden figurines and larger representations of the three kings and holy family.  Our microbrew “radar” seems to be working just fine, as we found a local brewery and had a flight to cool off (it was a hot one in San Juan).

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Busy Harbor at San Juan

Busy Harbor at San Juan

 

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Our kinda place

 

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Cheers to San Juan!

 

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Yay! Heffeweisen!

Next port was St. Thomas and a boat ride over to Trunk Bay on St. John.  Beautiful islands, amazing water and just gorgeous.  We didn’t really get to explore St. Thomas, since our excursion to St. John took most of the day, but the homes and hotels along the coastline, plus the pirate castles, looked just perfect.  The snorkeling in Trunk Bay was not enough time, but the marine life seemed to be spotty.  Plenty of coral and colorful fans, but I didn’t think there were as many fish as at Grand Turk.  But the beach and water were pretty terrific, if only for 90 minutes.

 

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Amazingly clear water at Trunk Bay, St. John

Amazingly clear water at Trunk Bay, St. John

 

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Did our backyard deer alert them we were in town?

Did our backyard deer alert them we were in town?

Half Moon Cay, the Holland America private island, was also just a perfect day, even if it was mostly cloudy.  Snorkeled along a rocky shoreline and saw two very cool turtles swimming around.  Water was so clear and sand so white it seemed almost unreal.  Nice lunchtime barbecue on shore, since you never want to be too far from more food than you can eat!  Calm departure as the day ended with a nice sunset.

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Half Moon Cay

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The drive home was one long 11 hour stretch, but we talked over the highlights of the trip, so it didn’t seem so bad.  Wonderful week (was that all?) spent cruising the Caribbean with folks like our parents and grandparents.  There are stories about the “walker/scooter” brigade onboard, the “lively” nightclub, and the craps table in the casino (“What did she roll, I can’t see”, “a 12”, “What?” “12”, “Oh.  What does that mean?”), but maybe I should save them for another time.  I still want to be welcome aboard another Holland America cruise.

Final Happy Hour at Sea!

Final Happy Hour at Sea!

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