Thursday, March 31, 2011

St Maarten/St Martin Two countries, one beautiful island! I pre booked a private excursion with a tour guide named Bernard. He’s kind of famous in the Caribbean cruise world and had received loads of positive reviews on cruise critic. We met about 9am and started our 5 our tour of the island. The group was large so we ended up being in a separate van with only one other couple and Bernard! He told us some interesting facts about the island –the history of the wars between France and Holland over the land and their eventual agreement to split the island in two, the fact that tourism has been the island’s chief source of income since 1949 when salt mining and cotton were abandoned by the govt, each side of the island has different currency, their own airport, etc. There are numerous differences in the laws for example: marijuana use and drinking and driving are both legal on the dutch side… hmmm. We also learned that the average person pays about 18% of their wages to taxes but that includes free education including college and govt health care for all…. hmmm again.

We made our way around St Maarten (the Dutch side) and St Martin (the French side) and, as always, I marveled at how beautiful it all is. We stopped at a rocky spot and were shown an absolutely enormous starfish (which I honestly think they may have planted there but that didn’t keep it from being real), live sand dollars, a sea star, and both black and white sea urchin. I’d never seen a white urchin before. It was very cool!

Then we were off to Orient Beach which is well known for having a nude portion—yes, they were absolutely naked. Whatever. We rented some chairs and an umbrella ($10!) on the merely topless side of the beach and G spent the next 2 hours running and jumping in the water and digging in the sand. They had seadoos for rent and Bobby was super interested but decided to pass since the strong and constant wind made the water really choppy. Bummer.

After that we went to an open air market in Marigot. There were only a few booths due to it being Sunday but I still managed to find a necklace and bracelet made of stone that the vendor called red dragon jasper. G slept through the shopping portion since she was pooped from the beach.

Then were finally headed to Maho Beach which is famous for only one thing: its about 50 feet from the take off/landing strip of the airport. The planes are so low as they come over the beach that it shakes the people below. Some crazies actually stand right behind the planes as they power up for take off so they can get hit with the jet blast. Uh yeah, interesting to see from a distance but it didn’t seem like those people who were getting pelted with sand were having much fun. Anyway, watching the planes land, especially the big ones, is pretty neat. Luckily G woke up just in time to see a 747 land. I thought she might be a little freaked out by the noise but she really liked it!

After that it was back to the ship!

Dinner in the dining room tonight was the best yet :-) The night before the assistant maitre d’ came by to ask how everything was going and we felt somewhat forced, unfortunately, to advise him that our service had been less than stellar. We felt bad complaining –the cruise crew work very hard but we felt like we couldn’t continue to ignore it. He said he’d take care of it right away and much to our delight, everything was tremendously improved! Our food was extra yummy (shrimp cocktail, chicken wellington and cheesecake for Bobby, crostini, duck wonton soup, pork tenderloin and banana walnut cake for me, and shrimp cocktail, cream of mushroom soup, mac and cheese and strawberry ice cream for G). Again G was excited about seeing the show and I’m so glad we did because it was fantastic! It was some sort of juggler who was not only a great juggler but very, very funny! As much as G wanted to see it, she crashed when it was about half over. These are just really big days for a little girl.

Our official St Maarten/Martin photo:

This picture is funny because every time G sees a sign or something, she wants to have her picture taken by it. She'll excitedly run over while screeching "take my picture mommy!"
I think this is the biggest starfish I've ever seen in the wild. It was the only one there though which kind of made me think that they parked it there. There was a lot of sea life there though. Many urchin and sea stars, etc.
Checking out the sea star
Isn't that little island/sand bar behind us to the left cool? It seemed like a neat place to snorkel.
G with the white urchin.

G enjoying her nightly ice cream. She ate so much ice cream on this cruise... eeek.
My silly girl

This is a few of our professional shots from that night. When the photog suggested that G stand on us she was super excited. She's always asking me if she can step on my back. She's such a goof.

Tomorrow St Lucia!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tortola… Woke up to find we were pulling into Tortola. Ahhh the beautiful blue of the Caribbean Ocean. Truthfully, I never get tired of looking at it and am constantly amazed at how gorgeous it is. The beaches by our house are such a letdown in comparison… cold, green water. Ick. Anywho, I had a trip planned to take a group catamaran to another island about an hour away called Jost Van Dyke. Things started out a bit rocky –we had some difficulty finding the boat, there was some confusion about times and how we were going to be picked up. But, by the time we left the dock it was all ok. The trip over to the island took us by several small islands. Lots of people sail between them so there are always lots of boats out. Again, the water is so clear and blue. I could sail all day. We arrived at Jost –which is a bit famous in the Caribbean I guess –and spent about 4 hrs hanging out at the beach. The water was a bit colder than I was expecting. Not cold but cooler. G found a few other kids her age to play with and had so much fun that she gave me a bit of a tude when she had to walk away to eat lunch! She got over it pretty quickly though. Nothing like 4 hrs of beach time to wear a toddler out! She crashed out in my arms almost as soon as we got back on the boat. Poor little thing. One we got back we needed to get ready for the first of our 2 formal nights. Last trip we didn’t do too much in the dress up department. With it being the five us and trying to pack for WDW and then the cruise and checked luggage being so expensive it just didn’t work out. But this time it was just the three of us and we were able to bring a lot more luggage with Jet Blue so it made formal nights easier.

I thought Bobby looked so handsome in his suit and, of course, G looked absolutely stunning. By the way, there are hardly any kids on this cruise. Apparently only 80 between the ages of 3 and 17 and, of those, only ten age 3-6. This makes G quite a novelty. She always is but it’s amplified on this trip. All comments are very nice though. The usual “oh my gosh, she’s so beautiful” and the crew all call her “princess” which she enjoys.

Formal night in the dining room was very nice. The food was only ok. Bobby had lamb which he said was good not great and I had quail which tasted fine but there wasn’t much to it. The starters (carpaccio--Bobby and salmon –me) and dessert made up for it though. I’m also somewhat bummed to say that our wait service is only ok. They’re not that personable and for the second night in a row they forgot my salad. I know, not earth shaking but still, kind of annoying. After that we took the opportunity to get professional pix done by the photogs onboard and then headed to the show. It was a ballroom dancing performance. Actually quite enjoyable with beautiful costumes and fun music and G really wanted to go. We only make it through about half when she was finally so tired, we had to go back to the room. Poor thing fell asleep while I was singing her bedtime songs.

I guess Tortola is a pirate island because that was the photo op for the day. Us on the way to Jost G loves the beach. She absolutely insists on wearing her lifejacket. I'm not sure if it makes her feel safer or if she just likes the way it feels. In any event, it doesn't bother me I'm not sure if you can tell from this picture but the water was absolutely filled with these small fish. Thousands and thousands of them about 4-6 inches long or so. You couldn't feel them but you could see them in the water. Very cool!Because of all the fish, the birds including lots of pelicans, would dive down into the water and grab them. It was somewhat alarming because they had no fear of people and would dive down very near to us, grab the fish then either fly away with it in their claws or gulp it down on the spot. G would happily dig in the sand all day long. Little cutie! Bobby decided to try a Painkiller --a rum drink from the beach bar The Soggy Dollar. It was $6 and pretty strong. Several people drank many and true to their name, they seemed to be feeling no pain :-) Isn't the water amazing? As you can see, many people sail here, drop anchor and go into the beach for the day. Its one of the few places we went to in the caribbean where there is no charge for the chairs. Yeah! Mini family photo at JostThis little crab came up out of the water then we chased him up the beach.

Us at dinner. Note the bottle of hand sanitizer on the table to Bobby's right. They were absolutely crazy about the stuff. At the entrance to every restaurant and when re-boarding at every port they had someone standing there to squirt it into your hands. They didn't really act like it was voluntary either. And, at least twice a day, they had a public service type announcement reminding people of the importance of washing hands, for at least 20 seconds with warm water. On one hand it was annoying but on the other hand I was super glad they were encouraging people to wash their hands. Pictures, pictures, so many pictures! My beautiful girl. She felt like such a princess. After that evening she was regularly greeted by the ship crew and the majority of the other passengers as "princess". Oye. This is not the greatest picture of me but I like it overall. Its hard to get a good picture of the three of us, especially me. Tomorrow St Maarten/St Martin

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Going on the big boat!!! We started out the day by sleeping in a bit then packing up the room. This took a bit longer than planned. Normally, not a big deal but we’ve been basically running G ragged since we left. Trying to find breakfast nearby proved to be challenging but we were finally able to locate a table near the ferry selling fruit. The girls selling the fruit were nice enough to give us a banana for G. By that time it was about 11:30 and the restaurants opened up for lunch, yeah!!! We had our second completely tasty meal at the hotel burger place then it was time to catch a cab to the pier. Check in was quick and easy--much quicker and easier than our previous experience with Carnival. Our room is, of course, small but we got the balcony which will make the next 10 days much more enjoyable. We walked the ship and found that they have some very interesting art. Some of it seems kind of random. The ship itself is very nice with soft colors. It’s a huge difference from the Vegas style decorating of the Carnival ship. (It’s impossible not to constantly compare the two experiences) Finally it was time for dinner. We were so tired from the day that we almost decided to opt for the buffet rather than do the main dining room. But, Bobby reminded me how much we both really enjoy it and off we went! Dinner was good. I wasn’t all that hungry so just had a small appetizer and some lobster bisque ---yum! one of my favs! I did manage two small desserts though :-) G went with the always classic spaghetti and a shrimp cocktail and Bobby went full board with Coq Au Vin which he said was totally tasty. They had a show but it was a late one so we skipped it and got G to bed relatively early instead. After that we hung out on the balcony watching and listening to the surf –something I never get tired of --then it was off to bed. Right after we got on the ship. G went straight to the veranda to check it out. Isn't she beautiful?? The 178 square feet that would be our home for the next 10 days With Daddy overlooking San Juan. The ship wouldn't leave until 8pm that night
With Mommy. We have these same pix for our last trip also. I think we've started a tradition!
This is one of sculptures on the ship. Cute, right? But random.
Big day planned in Tortola tomorrow!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

El Yunque!
I had done tons of research in preparation for visiting the rainforest. Rent a car, go to caves, ranger tour times, shoot, I even knew what and where we were going to eat. I just missed one little detail... I didn't reserve the rental car. Oops. Stupid me, it just didn't occur to me that I'd have to reserve it ahead of time.

Since I still really wanted to visit the rainforest, Bobby suggested that we just go down to the port where the cruise ships dock the next morning and see if we could find something. So we did and we did-- a little too quickly actually as we hadn't had time to grab any breakfast!!! I'm sure I'm the worst mother in the world (G ate a couple bites of beef jerkey and some chips for breakfast and lunch (oops again). It wasn't the greatest trip of all time --there was zero flexibility and it was really short --but we did get there. On the positive side, it acted as a good intro trip for the next time we're in San Juan. I'm not sure when that will be but I have a pretty good feeling we'll be back here someday and when that happens, I'll be prepared!

However, it was still a very nice day and we got to see some nice sights. El Yunque is about an hour's drive from OSJ and very pretty. Amazingly, I got pretty good cell coverage there. Brett called me to ask how to cook corned beef and cabbage for his roommates (for St Pat's Day --he's so funny!) and I was surprised that ATT in the rain forest of San Juan is clearer than I can get when talking to him from home. Go figure.

After we got back, we caught the ferry over to Catano and had an early dinner. It was early so we decided to take a stroll around when Bobby got the idea to get some ice cream at the Ben and Jerry's we'd seen the day before. Unfortunately, we didn't realize how far away it was until he'd already told G so we had to walk over there. It was at least a mile! I think we've walked about 15 miles in the last 2 days, no exaggeration!

Photo stop on our way up the hill
The guide told us they grow medical marijuana up this road somewhere... hmmm.
In front of Coca Falls. This place was mobbed with people. I don't know how I got this pic with no one else around.
As soon as G saw this tower she started saying "I want to go in the castle mommy!!" Then she decided it was a tower "like on Rapunzel movie". :-)
So, we have just one more half day in San Juan before getting on our ship. Then we'll be on the boat and without internet access for 10 days. Its kind of love/hate thing with me. I love being able to access the net but it will be nice to unplus for awhile.

I'll post when we get back.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 2 we checked out some of the historical sites. We started with El Morro which is the larger of the two forts in Old San Juan (OSJ). Its really beautiful and the weather was so nice. We walked all around the fort, upstairs and downstairs, over and over for about 2.5 hrs. Then we walked down into OSJ to find Bobby a hat, then back up the hill to El Morro, then down the coast to the second fort, San Cristobal, then up and down the streets of OSJ wandering, shopping, stopping for snacks, then finally back to our hotel. We left our hotel at 9 in the morning, returned at about 7 and had only stopped for about an hour for lunch. Yes, you calculated it right, that makes about 9 hours of walking. The good news is I'm feeling pretty good about all the food I'm probably going to eat on our cruise :-)

This is us in front of El Morro. The lawn area on the sides of us was the battlefield in the 15 and 1600s. Kind of cool. Now, people use it as park area. Its pretty windy so people fly kites!
G overlooking a little island area. It used to be a leper colony hundreds of years ago but now is being turned into a resort area.
G doing one of her many funny poses in front of actual canonballs --400 yrs old +/- 100 yrs. Overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea. These pix do absolutely no justice for how gorgeous it was.
Bobby and G in one of the garitas (watch towers). Only a few of the original ones remain. I don't think this was one of them. G has a pretzel in her right hand but her left is a pretend gun!
The lighthouse. I've always loved lighthouses. This one is quite a bit newer than most of the fort. I think it was originally built in the 1800s and has been rebuilt several times.

This picture cracks me up! I have no idea what she's looking at.
My beautiful girl! She had lots of fun running all around. Then she'd crash in the stroller for a couple hours.
More fort. It started to rain suddenly and we sought shelter at the stop of one of the stairwells with another family. Five mins of rain, just enough to cool things down, then the sun came back out. Nice!
Georgie just loves these pay a quarter telescopes. Mind you, she can't see out of them worth beans. I think she likes the idea of them more than anything else. "Oooh, a telescope!! Can I have a quarter Daddy?"
Another pic of the roads in OSJ. This one from about 1/3 of the way up the hill. Yes, we started our walk all the way down at the bottom by the ocean!! There's a reason there are no chubby locals in OSJ.
We came around a corner and saw this park filled with pigeons!! My first words "Georgie, do not scare the birds. Do you understand? Do NOT run toward the birds." Luckily, the pigeons are not too skittery and she didn't run at them, thank goodness. That could have been ugly. I guess they live there all the time and aren't really afraid of people. There's a lady there selling baggies with crushed potato chips to feed them. We passed. The tree trunk is pretty fascinating too!
The facade of an old church. Not sure when it was built but its old!
There's this very cool cemetary next to El Morro filled with statuary. We walked all the way down to it (see that little road on the left, it goes down to a very narrow tunnel that includes a blind turn. It was kind of scary. We walked back up very quickly and hoped to hear no honks of oncoming cars) but found that it had closed about an hour before. Bummer. Not that I'm really into cemetaries but this one look different.
More of G's funny poses! This was a garita at the smaller fort San Cristobal. Its about 2 miles down the coast.
The front of San Cristobal. In a lot of ways it was similar to El Morro. But, it did have a few things that El Morro did not (at least as far as I could see) like a dungeon. Eeek. I would not have wanted to be a prisoner in that dungeon. It was a tunnel about 30 feet long, 7 feet wide and 8 feet tall cut into the fort. The only air and light came from a small (think 6x12") hole cut into the side. OMG, I really feel sorry for anyone in history who had to spend any time in there. There are drawings of boats on the walls said to have been done by former prisoners. I didn't get a pic though cuz, I know its funny, but being in there creeped me out a bit.
Next post, El Yunque