CARRIBBEAN CRUISE VACATION, Feb. 23-Mar. 1, 2008.
Vacation's over. I had a great time! Here's a recap of the week:
Day 1: Day 1 was mainly a travel day. We were up at 4 am for a 6:30 am flight. I'm not sure I really slept the night before. Do we ever before something like this? The temperature when we left the house was 8 degrees. But at least it wasn't snowing!
Our first travel leg was to Detroit, where we had a 2+hour layover before leaving for sunny Ft. Lauderdale, FL. That gave us time to get a nice breakfast before taking off again.
The second travel leg was Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale. Of course, by now, some of you know going through Detroit probably means flying Northworst, and once again NWA lived up to its bad reputation. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, surprisingly, slightly ahead of schedule and then---sat on the tarmack for one full hour waiting for another plane with mechanical trouble to move away from the gate so we could get off the plane. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to be sitting, stuck in an airplane, seeing all that wonderful, inviting sunshine waiting for us??
We finally got straightened out and were able to get off the plane. The Ft. Lauderdale airport was HOT! I made sure I didn't wear anything wintery, but still, with a coat and pants, and after sitting in the plane for an hour with no air, I was beginning to sweat, and couldn't wait to get into a pair of shorts!
The Princess Cruise lines had representatives waiting at the airport with signs to help us locate our group. We collected our luggage and then struggled to get that load into the shuttle bus that would take us to the cruise port. I was getting very impatient at this point, but kept under control. Soon, soon, was all I could think.
Once we arrived at the ship, we were both awestruck by the size! Bigger than we could have imagined.
We actually were arriving at the tail end of the timeframe to board, so we didn't have too much of a crowd. We needed to fill out some more forms, go through immigration, get our cruise cards, and we were on our way!
We arrived just after 4 pm, and already the welcome party was underway. We went to our rooms first, and I was really expecting our bags to be there, but no luck, so I couldn't change into shorts. And did I mention that the temperature was around 83 degrees?
We decided then to head to the Lido deck, where all the partying was taking place. We no sooner went through the doors onto this outer deck and drinks were shoved into our hands. Not free of course, but why not?
We decided to find a spot on one of the outer decks to watch the ship set sail, and I was surprised at how windy it was. After that, we went for a short tour. We didn't actually set sail until after 5:30, so it wasn't long before the sun was setting.
After that, we found the dining room and ate our first of many delicious meals.
After dinner, continued our tour, attempting to find the gym for the next day, as well as other places on the ship we would need to find. We went out on the promenade deck. You can see how dark and windy it was.
Then, we were both really tired and decided on an early night of it. Only to find out that there was a theater directly below our deck on our part of the boat! Whoa! I couldn't believe how loud it was! At first, I thought it was someone's music on our deck, but realized it was a show going on. So it wasn't until after the second show, which ended at 11:30, that I was able to finally get to sleep. Oh well, go with the flow!
Day 2: Day 2 was a day at sea, so we had no shore excursions planned. I didn't sleep that well the first night, and was up 6:30 a.m. We had an inside room with no window, so we had no idea whether it was light out or not or what the weather was like. We dressed quickly and decided to go to breakfast early and go outside and check the weather and just see what we could see. I expected it to be as warm as the evening before, but being on the open sea, it was breezy and cool. We went to the buffet breakfast. The buffet is open 24/7 with a huge variety of foods, practically anything you would want, so we enjoyed the variety available and the leisurely enjoyment of breakfast. We both made calls home and were happy our phones still worked. After that, we sat on the outside deck drinking coffee and enjoyed the sun warming us. After about an hour, I decided it was time to get busy and get my workout in.
My planned workout for the day was a 6 mile run. This was week 2 of a 10 week plan, so I wanted to stay on track as much as possible. And I was looking forward to running outside for once. There was a jogging track on one of the upper decks, and a quick check the night before told me it was 10 laps to the mile. Acceptable enough. Better than a treadmill, I told myself. I got my water bottle filled, brought my room card, and headed to the track. Don went inside to use the bikes.
I had been warned about the track being busy, and that was an understatement. It wasn't even 10 am, yet all the deck chairs were filled with people sunning themselves. And the unfortunate thing about the location of the track was it surrounded one of the biggest lounging areas that wasn't by a pool. So there was a lot of traffic going to and from the deck chairs. That wouldn't have been so bad, but then you got the idiots who didn't seem to have a clue they were on a running track or the ones who decided to go the opposite way indicated, or worse yet, the ones who used it for photo ops and actually walked backward to get a camera shot! It was very frustrating, and I secretely wanted to knock someone down, but I kept at it, lap after lap. By the time I hit 3 miles, it was really getting quite warm, too. The weather prediction had been for over 85 degrees, and it was probably getting close to that. Still, I hung in there for another mile, having to stop half way through for water instead of after a mile on my other laps. After 4 miles, it was getting too warm for me to continue safely. I was getting that dizzy feeling you get from too much sun and I was getting extremely frustrated with all the people on the track not running. Many did not speak English, so it was impossible to get the point across that YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! So I did the wimp-out thing and headed to the gym and finished the last 2 miles on thr treadmill. But I got my 6 miles in!
By the time I finished working out, it was getting close to lunch. So after a shower and change we again headed to the buffet for another fantastic meal. We were getting used to the routine already. And it was great being able to eat and not have gobble my food and hurry off to somewhere else or back to work.
After lunch, we got in our bathing suits and headed for one of the sun decks to play some games and read. What a treat for me!
Then after a few hours of relaxing, it was time to get dressed for dinner. This was one of their "formal" nights, so we got dressed up.
That night was also the Academy Awards, so they had "Hollywood under the Stars" night where we viewed the program on a big screen on one of the outer decks. (daytime view)
Day 3: Day 3 was our first shore excursion day, Ochos Rios, Jamaica. I hadn't slept well again, but I didn't feel all that tired, and we were up early anyway. Don wanted to hit the gym early before we headed to shore. I was having an easy workout day, just a swim, and with most of the passengers either getting ready to leave the boat or already off, I had the pool to myself.
We actually took our time that morning, enjoying the quiet of the boat, ate a late breakfast, and then headed to shore.
But what a cultural shock it was for me! The cruise ship people recommended going to Island Village, a beach/shopping area within walking distance of the boat dock. We were also warned not to take any taxis that didn't have red license plates, but I'm not sure we ever found out why. Somehow, this information totally went out of our heads once we were off the boat. The problem, of course, is that you can't take one step off the boat without getting bombarded to take a taxi. We probably had 15 people try to get us to take a taxi before we finally relented. This one guy said he would take us to a "private" beach. "How far is that??" I asked. About 4 miles. I was alarmed, thinking we would have to walk back. Oh, no problem! (a favorite phrase there). For $10 we could go to the beach, shopping, and get a ride back. "And how will you know when we want to come back??" Of course I had to ask that! The answer wasn't reassuring, and the farthr away from the boat we got, the more the ride was starting to cost. What had started at a reasonable $2, was now up to $10, and soon it was $20 for a round trip, and finally I said to let us out. Now! Instead, the driver continued on further to a shopping center area before finally letting us out, probably 2-3 miles from the boat. And how much for that ride? $4. "$4? I thought you said $2." $2 each. Of course. No problem.
We immediately figured we were in a pretty expensive shopping center, and cash seemed to be the only form of payment. It became obvious to me that these drivers have prearranged shopping areas where they take tourists, maybe getting some form of kickback from the shopkeepers, particularly since it was farther away from the cruise ship dock. And I was quickly adding up all the cash slipping through my fingers, when I had planned on using mainly a credit card to not leave myself cashless. And the shop keepers followed you around, pushing stuff on you. And all had death breath! I was starting to worry about what disease I would get just from them breathing on me! And while I negotiated prices on a few items, I'm not really all that sure I got much of a bargain. I didn't enjoy this experience at all. Then Don decided he wanted to go to an open air craft market. We headed there and almost immediately got separated! I tried not to be alarmed, but I was a little concerned being there alone. If I thought they were pushy in the shops, they were worse here. They hounded you to death to look at stuff. "Can I just show you...?" Another favorite phrase of the day. I was actually looking for a particular item and did finally find it, all the while keeping a lookout for Don. I tried to attach myself to one gentleman, just to not look like I was alone, but the guy didn't speak English and didn't seem to have a clue what I was doing. So I moved on, found the item I wanted, bartered a halfway decent price, but then had to follow a woman to her "bag man" I guess you would call him, someone who she turned her money over to and got change for me. I wasn't letting her out of my sight with a $20 bill! I finally found Don and we quickly got out of there. Neither of us liked the experience. I felt dirty and violated after wandering through there.
Then we had to begin our walk back to the beach by the boat. I wasn't giving that up no matter what! I can't tell you how many beggers we passed, people hawking wares, pushing taxi rides on us, and even "weed" several times. A paradise for some, I'm sure! But we were not getting in another taxi. The drivers were crazy too. I doubt too many actually knew how to drive. It was very hot too, close to 90 degrees, so we stopped at the turtle park above. That at least took us away from all the street traffic and beggars, but the park guide pretty much dominated us the whole time, so it was hard to get pictures close up. They just don't leave you alone there for a minute it seemed!
We finally arrived at Island Village, a very nice little shopping area with a beach attached. And they took credit cards! Yipee, civilization! No one bothered us while we shopped either. And for "only" $5 each, we could rent a beach chair and sit on the beach.
Did I mention how much I love that water???
And while we have some fantastic beaches in Michigan, I always forget that the ocean water is so salty! We spent a couple of hours here and did our own version of snorkeling. The water was very clear, and you could see some coral and fish in different depths.
Then we decided to finish up on the shopping. I enjoyed not being bothered while I browsed too. Here are a couple of pictures of "rubber band man" as I called him, a very flexible local who performed for the crowds. We should all be that loose and limber!
That evening we went to one of the nightly shows in the clubs on the boat. We went to the 8:30 show, but I forgot that we would be hearing it again from our room at the 10:30 show. There was no going to bed early around there!
Day 4: Day 4 was Grand Cayman. We again did our morning workouts, headed to breakfast, and then to shore.
I was a little leery about what we would encounter once we hit shore again, but it was nothing like Ochos Rios. There are numerous jewelry and other shops all within walking distance of the tender boat docks, and a huge parking lot full of taxis, bus taxis, etc., so it was a simple matter to line up transportation if you needed it. And no one bothered you to buy stuff or take a ride. Here I am with one of the "locals."
The beaches weren't close by, however, and we were forced to take a taxi to the famous Seven Mile Beach.
Here again, we did our own snorkeling and saw many schools of fish below the surface, as well as a lobster or crab beneath a cement block in the water. Couldn't be sure which. We both swam between the swim buoys too. I had a hard time navigating, and Don kept saying he felt really heavy in the salt water. I felt like I floated much easier!
That night, we watched another movie under the stars, Bee Movie, which I had seen before, but Don hadn't. The cruise ship covers all the deck chairs with terry cloth coverings, and puts out blankets and pillows to use while watching. It had turned cooler and somewhat windy, so it was also necessary to dress a little warmer for the night. The weather would also prove to be an omen for what was to come.
(To be continued)