Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blog Update 1/11/09
Hello from the Mariner of the Seas somewhere between Barbados and Brazil, our next destination. It is day 8 of our cruise, and we are enjoying it immensely. The weather has been sunny, warm, and somewhat humid, but enjoyable. Today there is a rather strong wind blowing across the upper deck where we walk for exercise, so we are doing most of that inside. The exercise and weight room is large and well-equipped and we have been using it a lot on days when we are at sea. Of course, on port days we have enjoyed exploring the islands, places that we have never visited before.
Our first day on board was busy because we were reconnecting with our friends and getting established in our rooms. Of course, our dining table assignments had been all screwed up by CruCon, the agency that most of us booked with. So although we have 22 people in our group on board, only 10 were assigned to the same table for dinner, and the rest of us were scattered all over. Elaine and I visited the man in charge of seating 3 times before we managed to arrange another table for the leftover 12. Luckily we got a wonderful gal as our waiter and the assistant is good too, and we have been periodically exchanging a few people between our 2 tables, so that everyone can get to know each other. Next we have to make sure that they give us two tables together for the next leg of the cruise, which starts in Rio on Jan. 19.
Another thing CruCon messed up was the room assignments. Most of us have been assigned to three different rooms for the 3 legs of this 46 day cruise, so we will have to move twice. Pretty inconvenient. So we are recommending that no one EVER books with CruCon ever again. The price of the cruises dropped twice between the time we booked and when we sailed, and we insisted on a refund each time, so they are probably doing it as punishment. Next time we will wait until the last minute to book, expecting the prices to drop, and also book directly with Royal Caribbean.
The first port of call we had, after leaving Port Canaveral, was a private island in the Bahamas, owned by Royal Caribbean, called Coco Cay. It is really very well set up, with beautiful coves for swimming and snorkeling, lots of lounges to sunbathe on, a nice area with covered tables for eating lunch, a sand volleyball court, a Straw Market where natives sell local stuff, and a nature trail of about 1 ½ miles. The barbeque lunch was delicious, and we really enjoyed it after walking the nature trail both ways. The weather was perfect too – sunny and warm. The water in the Caribbean is always such a beautiful blue, it is hard to imagine not having a good time at such a place.
Our second port of call was St. Maarten, a small island which is the name of the Dutch side of the island where we docked. Phillipsburg had many nice shops and services, but was pretty touristy and we didn’t want to spend all our time there. So we went with Joe and Carla Calwell on the public bus (which was actually a van), over to the French side, to Marigot. Here we walked around and enjoyed the different architecture and better ambiance, especially near the waterfront. Then we took another minivan to an even smaller French town called Grand Case. This was quiet and scenic and we liked it a lot. There were small BBQ restaurants called LowLows near the beach, where we ate chicken and tried the local beer: Carib, and liked it a lot. When we first arrived on this island, we wondered why Joe & Carla’s son and his wife had selected it for their honeymoon. After enjoying the French side so much, and finding the smaller towns, we agreed with their choice!
St Kitts was our next island the next day and here there was a lot of British influence, although the island is now independent. Basseterre was the town a short stroll from our pier. Because we were only going to be there until 3PM, we again went with Joe & Carla and this time we contracted a minivan driver and tour guide named Jim to take us around the island. Jim was such an interesting and intelligent man who told us so much about the island and his price was very reasonable at $20 per person for about a 4 hour tour. We drove by the sights in Basseterre and then he showed us some Carib petroglyphs which happened to be located right near the place where Jim was born and raised. These were about 4100 years old, so the island has been inhabited for a very long time. Unfortunately, the native Indians were killed in a bloody battle between them and the Europeans who were fighting over the island, and those that weren’t killed were removed. Our next stop was Romney Manor, which used to be owned by Thomas Jefferson’s great, great, great grandfather. Joe and Carla told us that Alexander Hamilton also had history in the islands, as he was originally from Nevis. I wonder how many other plantation owners important at the time of our nation’s beginnings were transplanted from other Caribbean islands, where they no doubt also owned plantations. Romney Manor house no longer exists but the grounds were extensive with many beautiful plants and an African Saman tree that is so old and large that it covers over ½ acre. There is a big Batik factory and saleroom there now and we had a brief look at the process and the beautiful results. We didn’t buy anything, as we were hurrying to move along on the island tour, but even I (the non-shopper) now wish that we had stayed a bit longer there as the goods were absolutely beautiful and not overly expensive. Next we drove up a very steep road to a tall hill where Brimstone Hill Fortress is now a national park and a UNESCO world heritage site. The fort, which was started in 1690, has been beautifully restored and has well-done and interesting displays about life in the fort, medical care, the soldiers, the history of it, etc., as well as stunning views from the top. There are lots of cannon that have also been restored and returned to the fort. It was well worth the $8 entry fee. As we rounded the island, Jim showed us an area of unusual black volcanic rock formations and also the place where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic. You can tell because the waves come in at about a 45 degree angle from each other. The Atlantic waters are rougher when they hit the shore too. The last place we drove around was the expensive area near Frigate Beach. Here there are huge houses and estates, a 900 room hotel, several golf courses, and was in great contrast to the way people live all over the rest of the island. Jim told us so many things about the way of life of the majority of the people and we were happy we had taken his tour. You can probably find his services on line as his company is called Rose and Jim’s, and I had previously read about him on the Cruise Critic website.
Yesterday we were in Barbados, which is a larger island and also does not have the towering mountains of the other islands. We stayed in Bridgetown, a large city near the port. Nine of us from our group rented a taxi which took us to a heritage house which used to be owned by an early plantation family which was also active in the politics and government. The house was very open and airy and had lots of interesting antiques and photographs. Outside there were examples of slave huts, a chattel house, outhouse, rum house, blacksmith shop, and a few other small support buildings. After being dropped back in the city, Carla, Joe, Elaine and I enjoyed seeing the very old Anglican church, Parliament buildings, and the restored marina area along the river. Of course, we had to try the local beer here, which is Banks beer. We liked Carib beer better.
Today is the first of 5 straight sea days and we are glad to have them. Three straight port days was physically exhausting. On sea days we enjoy working out, soaking in the hot tub, visiting with friends over meals, and many of the other activities such as lectures, dance lessons, mini-golf, etc. Last night instead of the usual live entertainment in the theater after dinner, we went to the first ice show. It was really well done and so much better than the ones on the Navigator of the Seas trip we did in November. The food is much better on this ship as well. Tonight will be the second formal night at dinner. We will also use these sea days to catch up on laundry and do some research for the next port, which will be Salvador de Bahia, our first Brazil port.
We have checked e-mail once for messages from family and friends and I will be posting this entry from the ship’s internet service. At 55 cents a minute, I hope it doesn’t take long! We will also do the internet in Salvador, so please feel free to send us a newsy message! Look for another blog update after we arrive there.


CaliforniaGrammy said...

You're off to a great start, Mary. The island excursions sound so much more interesting than just strolling around the tourist areas. We're going to take your advice when we get to St. Maarten's in February. Great post . . . but hey! Your posts are always welcome and newsy.

Betty Prange, Nomad, from somewhere on the road said...

Sounds luxurious....as I try stuffing my back pack with assorted stuff for two months and varied weather...snow in Madrid a few days ago. But ready to go.
Enjoy the rest of your cruise.