Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Cruising - Barbados

Another overnight trip and early in the morning we docked in Barbados.

It didn't have the same hilly and lush look of the first 2 islands and there was considerable industrial activity around the port. A quick breakfast and off the boat to go and find a cab. We had an agenda on this island. First we went to the Mount Gay Rum Plant. We had time in the gift shop and then an interesting tour to learn the history of "The Rum That Invented Rum".

The knowledgeable Guide outlined how rum is made and the history of rum making on Barbados. All very interesting and nicely displayed. We were interested in this particular rum due to their tendency to sponsor regattas.

However, during the rum tasting we were interested in the rum!

We were given 2 rum punches before the tour and then tasted 3 more, from youngest to oldest, straight, during the tour.We tasted the rum as we would wine; swirling it in the glass to observe the drips, sniffing over the glass for the aromas and finely sipping and identifying the flavours. I found the oldest one to be quite sippable, almost like a liquor. Not sure if that was because it was that tasty or because I was getting drunk by then.
After the tour, because we were obviously a little dry, it was time for a free
rum cocktail at the bar. 
We staggered out and into another taxi, through the downtown area with a taxi driver who made a great tour guide. A very clean, affluent looking town with impressive looking government buildings and churches.
Building in downtown Bridgetown.
Next stop was the Barbados Yacht Club. Al, a sailing friend, had arranged for us to be signed in at the club for the day. After a short visit to the office we were able to hang out at their private beach, lounge, swim and walk the beach. It was lovely and felt peaceful after the hustle of life on the cruise ship.
We felt quite privileged.

Crystal clear, warm water. Lake Erie just never gets this warm or this clear.

BYC dining room.
What every yacht club needs. I really don't know why Port Dover Yacht Club
doesn't have a cannon.
Then the camera died, so no more pictures for this day.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Cruising - Antigua

Antigua was our next port of call and we watched our arrival from the bow. Another island with steep hills and a sheltered harbour.
As we sailed into port.
Docked right at the city of St Johns, Antigua. In the distance you can see
the two towers of the the church we walked up to.
After a quick breakfast we went for a walk through town. St Johns is a combination of modern office and bank buildings, old clapboard island buildings intermingled with dilapidated structures of questionable age.

The church of St John the Baptist, at the top of the hill was closed for renovations so,
unfortunately, we couldn't go inside. But we went further up the hill and saw a building
to another local religion: the cricket stadium.
On our way back we meandered a little off the beaten track, through some residential areas and ended up at a fish dock and market, almost in the shadow of the cruise ships. There were 3 in port that day, towering over the town.

The fish market was noise and smell and beautifully colourful fish. A feast
for the senses.
We returned to the ship to eat (of course, it is a cruise after all) and then sun and hot tub. Out at the bow for departure  we watched and took pictures of the islands in the distance.
It's a rough life.
I think this is Montserrat with its perpetual cloud cover over the
volcano at the left end of the island.
Couldn't resist sharing the photo of the Mickey Mouse cloud.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Cruising - St Thomas

Our first port of call was St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. We got up in time to be at the bow as we approached the island
and to watch the docking procedure for the first time. St Thomas appeared to be quite hilly with houses going up the sides that must have marvellous views. We docked quite close to the town, right next to an extensive modern marina.
St Thomas, from the cruise dock, edge of marina on the right.
We had a quick breakfast and then walked into town, a mile away along a nice flat harbour side pathway.
There was a boat show for travel brokers going on at the marina so we were able to walk by some beautiful,
big rental catamarans, all decked out with their dining tables set and water toys on display.
Although the island is owned by the United States and residents are U.S. citizens, they drive
on the left just like in the British Virgin Islands.
We walked into the downtown area with its jewellery shops, bars and hawkers all trying to get the cruise passengers to visit their shop (because of course its the best, the cheapest etc). It's a very busy harbour with two cruise terminals, a ferry dock to take passengers to the nearby islands and float planes landing and taking off regularly. There are also plenty of privately owned yachts, water taxis and fishing boats zipping around. We were told that the season had not really started yet and that there would be far more private yacht traffic into December, January and February.
"Pirate ships" awaiting tourists.
The Oasis, a huge cruise ship that holds over 4,000  passengers, docked at the other cruise terminal.
The seaplane dock was at the far end of town, next to the ferry dock.
An inter-island ferry.

The Carnival Dream docked behind us. Taller but not as long. Had a water
slide on the top deck.
We walked around for a couple of hours, probably walked about 5 km. This proved to be too much for George's hip and we were more careful on subsequent islands. Returning to the ship we had lunch, In the Venetian Restaurant and then lazed by the pool until we left port.
The big windows are the Venetian Restaurant and we were often able to get
seated by the windows for views of the port or the ocean while eating, lovely!

Parting view of St Thomas
On to an overnight sail to St Johns

Monday, 18 November 2013

Cruising - Days at Sea

We were on a 14 day, repositioning cruise from Boston to Tampa. We visited 6 islands so the rest of the time we were "at sea". The first and last days were quite rough. Gale force 8 winds, waves 12 to 15 ft was what was posted on the Captains Log which we could see on one channel of the TV. Even in an inside cabin, amidships, we could feel the shudders in the ship and things would creak.
Whatever the weather, we got into a routine that we followed (with some flexibility) each of the days we were at sea.
We would get up at about 8am. We had to set an alarm, as, with no window in the cabin, we didn't naturally wake. Breakfast in the Venetian Dining Room could be any thing from Eggs Benedict or Smoked Kippers to cereal and juice. We tended to be pretty self disciplined; yogurt and fruit for George, egg white omelet, fruit and coffee for me. I did try the kippers once but found it too strong a flavour for breakfast. We would then go up to the gym which was large and very well equipped. I would do yoga for about half an hour and then ride a bike for about 20 minutes. George would use the weights and exercise equipment for about the same length of time, until he found someone to play Knights and Cities with and then he tended to skip out of the gym earlier.
The view as I did yoga in the morning. I would sometimes see flying fish
while stretching and contemplating the water.
We would then head up to the pool area for a hot tub and find a lounge chair to settle into for the day. The 2nd day was surprisingly warm and lounge chairs were hard to find but after a while people found other things to do during the day and we could always find one either overlooking the pool or on one of the decks at the bow. I would spend the day reading and George would play games on the tablet, go in the hot tub or wander around talking to people. We ate lunch at the buffet restaurant on the same level as the pool, restricting ourselves to one plate full. I have a weakness for sweets so my plate tended to be half salads and half desserts. Sometimes there would be a BBQ by the pool and George would select from that. We would always have a bowl or cone of ice cream in the middle of the afternoon, served from the bar by the pool. Usually we would stay on deck, often in the hot tub, to watch the sunset and we had some fabulous ones.

It surprised me how often we had the bow area, or periphery of the ship, to ourselves, very few people seemed to pay any attention to the fact we were at sea. Everyone was focused inside to the pool, band, bar, food etc. Focused on this floating, artificial environment created just for our pleasure and relaxation. It felt rather surreal, looking out at the ocean, seeing the flying fish and sea birds and then looking into the pool area with its mass of baking and floating humanity. Not that I didn't partake of all those luxuries but I found it disconcerting. It was a little like my reaction to the artificiality of Palm Springs, California, last year.
As it got dark we would go back to the cabin, shower and then go to whatever show was on in the theatre. The entertainment was excellent and varied. Then we would go to dinner in the Venetian Dining Room unless it was one of the 3 nights we had booked to try the speciality restaurants. The food was very good and there was total flexibility in what you could order. For instance we quite often had 2 appetisers (perhaps a lettuce wedge and a smoked salmon dish) as they tended to be quite small portions. One side of the menu remained the same the whole cruise with 4 main course choices. On the other side of the menu there were 5 different selections every night. It was often difficult to choose. The dessert menu changed slightly every night but always had a sherbet, fruit plate and cheese plate. We tended to choose one dessert (George fell in love with the cheesecake and ordered it frequently) and shared either the fruit plate or the cheese plate. Service was excellent. Most of the staff were Philippino or Indonesian and all spoke excellent English. There was time to talk with the serving staff at breakfast, as it wasn't as busy or fast paced, and many were coming to the end of their 9 month contracts and looking forward to going home. There was some concern when news of the typhoon in the Philippines came out but we heard that all but one had been able to hear from their families.
By the end of dinner it was usually about 9pm and we would go to the Atrium area to listen to the couple who entertained there most evenings. He was from Montreal and played guitar and they both sang. They had a huge repertoire of songs from the 50s up to present hits and were very personable. We were in bed by 11, tired by the sea air and by doing nothing.
Each night we were greeted by a different "towel animal":

I didn't get a good picture of the towel monkey, hanging from the ceiling, with a note on him reminding us to turn the clocks back.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Cruising novices

George and I decided to try a cruise for our fall vacation. George being George, much Internet research was done and we finally booked it about 2 weeks prior to the departure date. It was just "the luck of the draw" which cruise line we ended up on; Norwegian Cruise Line was it.
We have never cruised before so had no expectations. All we knew was that we would have 14 nights accommodation, food and visit some islands.
Boarding went very smoothly and we were on the boat by about noon and had lunch looking over the empty pool.
The pool area while we were still in Boston
The pool area on our second day at sea, it was already nice and warm.
The pool was salt water and constantly full of people floating. There were 4 hot tubs around the pool, also salt water, but you could always get a seat in one of them. We tended to use the hot tub that overlooked the bow as you didn't have to listen to the noise/music from the pool there.
We had booked an inside cabin and were surprised at the amount of room there was, closet, 2 little desk areas, fridge, drawers, TV, bathroom with a roomy shower
Our "stateroom", yes they're all called staterooms!
We spent the afternoon exploring the ship; which staircases and elevators went where. The ship held about 2200 passengers and was about 1,000 ft long.
The Venetian Restaurant, one of the 2 main, full service, dining rooms. There was also a buffet dining room
 and a 24 hour restaurant or you could get room service, if, after all that, you were still hungry.
The Stardust Theatre. The entertainment was varied and very good. This theatre
was packed for at least 2 shows every night.
This is looking down into the 3 story atrium with elevators that went right up to the
12th floor, from the 4th. There was entertainment in the Atrium every night
We were scheduled to leave at 4:00pm but we didn't and we spent the time watching the sun going down over Boston from the bow. This was to become our favourite area as we watched every arrival and departure from the bow and many sunsets from the bow hot tub.
A magnificent sky to see us off.