Our last day

This is the problem with a week long cruise – it is over much too quickly!  We are determined to make the best use of the little time we have left and get up early.

Something I forgot to mention during this blog was that there were a couple of days that you did not see Pokey or Gumby, so I want to reassure you that they were always nearby. Closer than you might think because a friend recently gave me a pair of Pokey and Gumby socks! I have them on today.

We have breakfast and then walk our mileage on the Promenade deck. The weather is just amazingly beautiful and, as I have every time we’ve walked, I’m keep a close eye on the ocean as I look for dolphins or whales. No luck.

We have about $35 of non-refundable cabin credit that we need to spend today and, just our luck, there is another sale. After breakfast we go check out the offerings. These sales that occur near the end of the cruises are usually items (hats, sweatshirts, bags) for ports other than the ones we’ve been to.  For example, today we see a lot of Panama Canal hats.  But there are other things, too, like sundresses, ties, shirts, etc.  Jeff and I get to the sale about 30 minutes before it ends and we do find a couple of items to spend money on. Jeff buys a short sleeved button down shirt with a tropical print and I pick up a small manicure set. The manicure set will go into our “always ready to go” travel kit. We take our treasures back to our cabin and head back down to the fancy coffee place. We are going to enjoy a couple of mocha lattes. I think I’ve consumed most of my calories this week either with alcohol or fancy coffees!

We sit in the piazza and people watch for  a while and then go back to our cabin to hang out on the balcony. The boat is sailing slowly because we don’t have far to go today to reach Fort Lauderdale. There is another cruise ship trailing us – it is much larger and we watch it in the distance.

This afternoon we go to a special talk in the Princess Theater. The guest speaker is Amy Purdy, a para-Olympian snowboarder. She was super inspiring and very, very funny.  She lost both of her legs below the knees due to an infection and she cracked us up with her description of her artificial legs. Apparently she can adjust the height of her legs anytime and she would make herself taller or shorter depending on who she was dating at the time. hahaha!  She also has several different set of feet depending on what shoes she wanted to wear. Jeff and I have never seen the program, but she came in second on “Dancing with the Stars.” She played a short clip of dancing and it was spectacular.

Amy Purdy on Dancing with the Stars

She has a book out and after the talk was going to sign copies. (We skipped that part.)

It has been a fun, semi-lazy day.

We go to the ‘elite’ passengers happy hour in Skywalkers on the topmost deck at 5:30. There is smoked salmon with toast points and capers; the usual cheese and crackers, olives, and vegies.  Here is where we will spend the last of our non-refundable cabin credit.  Jeff orders a beer and I have a margarita – delicious! This finishes off our non-refundable cabin credit. We dip into our refundable credit by about 75 cents leaving us over $150 to be refunded. Yippee!

We sit with an Australian couple, and are soon joined by another Australian couple. They are a riot! They met on the cruise but you would think they’ve been friends for years. This is only the second time we’ve been up to happy hour on this voyage – had we know they were here we would have made more of an effort.  As happy hour winds down, people are beginning to leave; a man who was sitting behind us stops to chat. Then he asks if he could do a song for us. What??  Well, this guy was unbelievable! He doesn’t sing, he whistles. Holy smokes!  He does a song for us and then, because he says he is in the mood, asks if he can do another. Yes, please!  (This video is so short because of the limitation in upload size. The song was about a minute and a half.)

Apparently he tried out for one of those “America’s Got Talent” shows and got cut at the point that they were picking the people to actually be on TV. I can see why he didn’t make the TV time, because, let’s face it, whistling isn’t very exciting. But he really was good.

We’ve closed out the cocktail party and are heading for dinner. Our shared table tonight was very fun and we laughed a lot.  Where have these people been all cruise long? LOL.

Back in our cabin we sadly pack our suitcase. We were so late returning from dinner that we have to hustle to get our bag out before the 10 p.m. deadline. We were careful to remember to leave clothes out to wear tomorrow…

One last evening – we finish our bottles of wine and stand out on the balcony until late.  It was a fun day and  a great cruise!

We’re happy that you came along with us and hope to see you on future adventures.

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At Sea

Thursday, May 31, 2018

One of the reasons we booked this particular cruise is because the last two days, returning to Ft Lauderdale, are days at sea. No ports, no packing beach bags, no busses or crowded beaches, just relaxing on the ship. Sea days are our favorite days.

This morning we even slept in a little; eventually making our way to the coffee shop and on to breakfast. There is a special “everything is $10″sale this morning and we wander through the offerings. We still have non-refundable cabin credit to spend so I don’t feel badly for choosing two small zippered cosmetics bags and a very cute little sling backpack. I don’t wear makeup; we will use the bags when we travel. They are the perfect size for keeping chargers and cords organized in one place and rounding up small stuff that seems to always migrate to the bottom of our bag. The little sling backpack? Well, I’m a sucker for cute bags. $20 poorer we go back to the cabin to drop off our goodies.

Time to get some exercise. Jeff debates whether to go to the gym or to walk and we decide to walk around the Promenade deck together. We are aiming for at least 5 miles. We set our fitbits and start out. Very soon, too soon, my fitbit buzzes that we’ve walked a mile…in 6 minutes? I don’t think so! I look at the mapping and see that though we are walking a big circle, the fitbit is keying off the ship’s position. It thinks we are walking in a straight line (apparently we have untapped potential and can walk on water!). I turn my fitbit tracker off and set it to just count steps. Around and around, up and down the steep metal stairs. The ocean is very calm and there is a gentle breeze. This is much more pleasant than the other day when the wind was so strong. We hit our 5 mile goal and decide to keep walking another 10 minutes to make an hour and a half of exercise. Very nice.

Let’s see…breakfast, shopping, workout…time to relax for a bit. In our cabin we sit out on the balcony, Jeff is reading while I write. After a bit we go inside where I turn on the television (we are on vacation!) to see if there are any movies we’d enjoy. Oh boy! Jurassic World is available. I recently watched the previous 3 Jurassic Park movies, but we don’t own this one. Jeff and I get comfy and start watching the movie until, about half way through he asks me to pause it. He is going to look for snacks and soon returns with my favorite, guacamole and chips. (He had taken a zip lock bag with him and that’s what the chips were in.) Yum!

Tonight is another formal night so we get cleaned up and pretty much wear the same outfits we had on for the first formal night. There is a special, invitation only “Captain’s Circle” gathering tonight – it is to recognize people who cruise a lot on Princess. We are in the second seating and ours doesn’t start until 7-ish.  At the event, Jeff and I sit with another couple who are quite fun. Amy and I are having champagne and it seems that our glasses don’t get even 1/2 empty before the waitress delivers another. The captain and a hostess announce the people on board with the most days on Princess…of course, all three couples are from Florida.  The four of us decide that they should also have awards for people who do not live in Florida to make it really fair. There is music, free drinks and good conversation, but soon it is over and we make our way to dinner.

We share a dinner table tonight as well and join to other couples who are very fun. Tonight’s dinner is a special one as they have lobster and beef wellington. As a committed vegan (and allergic to shellfish) neither of these options sound at all good to me, but I have a yummy dinner as I watch almost everyone at the table order 2 entrees so they can have ‘surf and turf.’ Jeff was the smart one, though. He asked just for the meat from the beef wellington, so he didn’t also have the side dishes. We both splurge and have dessert – creme brulee for him and XX for me.

We return to our cabin, change clothes, pour ourselves some wine and stand out looking at the ‘just past’ full moon over the ocean. Gorgeous!

Back to Sint Maarten/Saint Martin

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Last fall, August/September of 2017, Jeff and I spent two weeks on St. Maarten. Well, actually we spent the first week sailing around it and nearby islands on a catamaran; the second week we actually spent on the island at the Little Divi Beach Resort. We left St. Maarten five days before it was devastated by hurricane Irma. Of course, we saw the subsequent news reports of the terrible impact the storm had on the Caribbean and are anxious to visit the island and see how it is doing.

We signed up for an excursion today – before we realized it would require us to be upright and off the boat ready to go at 7:50 a.m! It is okay though because this is an important excursion – it falls under the idea of “traveling with a purpose.” Our excursion group is going ashore to help, as much as we can in the time we have, with the island’s recovery.

We board the bus to our first stop which is St Maarten’s National Institute of Art. The Institute has been instrumental on the island in helping children and young adults deal with the trauma, fear and loss they experienced during and after hurricanes Irma and Maria.
When we arrived we first were greeted by the Institute’s director and then heard firsthand from two teenagers what they went through during the storm…having the roof of their house blown off as they struggled to the second floor to escape rising water. Leaving a parent to try and hold a door closed while the children tried to escape and not knowing if their father was dead or alive. It was, of course, powerful testimony and very moving.

Hurricane survival testimony

The Institute uses art and music as therapy and today we are going to do a little of both. Our group is split into two. One group, ours, is going outside to paint a mural on the wall surrounding the building. As we go toward the door, it begins to pour rain, but it passes very quickly. The staff dry off the wall as we select our brushes and paint colors. There are line drawings already on the wall and we are basically coloring them in, but many of us provide our own little flair. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body but this is something I really enjoy. It is just like coloring except on a larger scale.

Jeff working on the mural

We make a good deal of progress on the wall before our time is up. Now the other group comes out and we go in. Inside we are given our choice of many percussive instruments including a wide variety of drums.

Drum circle

Then the instructor teaches us several different types of rhythms and we all play together. This is wonderful…we play for a while, then everyone chooses a different instrument and we learn more about Caribbean music and rhythm. After our percussion lesson we go outside to see that the mural is finished and it looks fantastic!

We’re so happy to have been a part of this.

Back inside we have lemongrass tea. It is in one of those big coffee urns and one of the staff opens the lid for me to see in. It is filled with what looks like weeds! “It is lemongrass that I pulled out of my yard this morning,” she tells me. She simply put the lemongrass in the pot and added boiling water. It is delicious.

Time to go on to our next adventure though it is hard to leave the Institute where the staff, director and kids are so appreciative.

Back on the bus, we are driving to Mullet Bay to do a beach clean-up. When we arrive, we hear a short lecture about the impact of plastics on the ocean environment…and, of course, plastic is everywhere. Each of us picks out a pair of work gloves and are given a burlap sack. Our job is to pick up all the trash and stuff that just doesn’t belong on a beach. When our bag is full we bring it back to be weighed because this beach cleaning is part of an international movement and there is a site/organization that keeps track of the amount of trash cleaned off the world’s beaches. After your bag is weighed, you then throw the trash in a dumpster and begin again. I don’t know how many plastic straws and water bottles, glass beer bottles and styrofoam take-out containers I picked up. I found a big piece of plastic sheeting that looked like it had blown off of someone’s roof. It was kind of horrifying that it took so little time to fill my sack. While I was picking up stuff a woman, a taxi driver, called out to me, “Hello! Are you all part of a group?” I shouted back that we were off the Princess cruise ship. She thanked me/us for “helping my island”.  It was very gratifying. My second time out, I lugged out a huge piece of cardboard that turned out to be infested with biting ants. Ow! It was way too big to put into my bag so I dragged it across the parking lot, swatting ants off my hands and arms the whole way. My final round of trash pickup was three wooden pallets. Seriously? They were really awkward and heavy and weighed a ton; or felt like they weighed a ton as I was dragging them. They were very difficult to weigh, so we got one weighed and estimated the other two.

Jeff and another man helped me get them to and into the dumpster.

We had only about 45 minutes for our cleanup, but we brought in close to 500 pounds of trash!! And I came in 2nd for the amount collected! (The first place person picked up 5 more pounds than I did.) Now we’re all sweaty and hot but have a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

End of our beach clean-up

Back in the bus to return to the ship, we see a lot of evidence of hurricane damage. In fact, when we visited in September 2017, a couple we met, Les and Cathy, were staying at the Royal Sonesta resort. Today there are bulldozers leveling it…. The whole resort is a total loss. Unbelieveable.

As we drive through the capital of Phillipsburg to the cruise ship, our guide offers to drop off anyone who wants to shop. It is an easy walk back to the boat from here. We aren’t interested in shopping, but we do want to see how the city fared so we get off. Also, we know that if we went back to the ship and got cleaned up (or sat down!) we wouldn’t be interested in going out again.

The streets are familiar as we walk to the main boardwalk. This is the tourist area with waterfront restaurants, bars, beach chairs and umbrellas. Many of the building on the boardwalk still have smashed windows, boarded up windows and doors, missing roofs covered with blue tarps.

St Martin hurricane damage
Hurricane damage (notice the top ripped off the palm tree and the man working on the roof)











There are people working on buildings everywhere we look. But the boardwalk is bustling…the sidewalk  vendors are selling goods and the little restaurants and bars are serving food. Because tourism is the major economic driver here it was imperative that St Maarten be able to handle cruise ship tourists as quickly as possible after the storms. Today there are four cruise ships in port! We walk the entire boardwalk and then back to the ship. One on hand we’re happy that progress is being made on clean up and restoration and on the other hand sadden that there is SOOO much more that needs to be done.

Before we return to the ship, we stop at a duty free shop for a bottle of wine which I slip into my bag. We pass through ship security and the x-ray; no one notices or mentions our contraband wine. Yeah!

Back on the ship we take nice cool showers and put on clean clothes. Today I wore one of my favorite tank tops – it is one I bought in St Maarten last fall. When I took it off I saw that apparently I had brushed up against the wet paint of the mural and there is a large blue paint blotch on the back of my shirt. At first I was unhappy, but then it made me smile – that blue blotch was a reminder of my attempt to help St Maarten recover – so appropriate that it is on my St Maarten shirt!

Since we haven’t eaten since very early this morning we go up to the buffet for lunch. Being tired and starving, I did not make great food choices, but everything was delicious and I probably worked the calories off on shore. Now its time for a little nap or time to relax out on the balcony.

Jeff and I walk around to the back of the ship to watch the sunset before going to dinner around 7:30 or so, and after dinner we plan to go to the Movies Under the Stars. First though a quick stop in our cabin where Jeff puts beer into our little cooler and I mix a gin and tonic in my water bottle. We are going to see Jumanji. I love Duane Johnson (“the Rock”) and am looking forward to the movie. Neither Jeff nor I saw the original Jumanji starring the late Robin Williams so we don’t know the premise of the movie. Hahaha! The movie was hysterically funny!! Even a short rainstorm couldn’t make us budge from our lounge chairs. And, true to form, the popcorn was delicious. This was a relaxing way to top off our day of service.

Back in our cabin we stand out on the balcony and watch the ocean go by.

St Thomas

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

“Do you remember me sleep-walking last night for, say, 7 miles or so?” I ask Jeff as I strapped on my fitbit this morning. “What are you talking about??” he answers. We both know I don’t sleep walk. “My fitbit says I have over 13,000 steps and I’ve been out of bed for about 20 minutes.” We realize that the rocking of the ship has fooled my step tracker and it thinks that the gentle movement of the waves is steps. Wow! I’m going to be in GREAT shape by the end of this cruise!

We’re up and about – going for a leisurely breakfast. The ship doesn’t arrive in St. Thomas until about noon so we’ve plenty of time to dink around. After breakfast we go to the library to pick up the daily sudoku puzzle, get some fancy coffee and work our way back to our cabin on the Aloha deck (deck 12). We always use the stairs when going up or down and I swear this ship has the steepest stairs I’ve ever used. Whew!

We have two excursions planned today and since the first returns at 5 p.m. and the second departs at 5:30 we’re a little concerned about timing.

We get ready to go on our first excursion by packing swimsuits, towels, sunscreen into our beach bag and leave the ship to meet our tour group. We are going to “Coral World” with a beach visit to follow. Coral World is a 4.5 acre marine park, and though it was heavily damaged by hurricane Irma in September of last year (2017) and again by a second hurricane, Maria, roughly 3 weeks later, it has reopened with some exhibits. The description of the tour sounded almost apologetic, but these folks have nothing to apologize for! Though their recovery and cleanup are continuing (and here we are on the cusp of a new hurricane season) the tour was great. Coral World has a 360 degree observatory where there are many, many fish, stingrays and Caribbean lobsters. It was very fun to walk around the glass walls and see the fish, some of which were huge, swim past. A scuba diver entered the water and, so everyone could see a stingray up close,was feeding it and the lobster. She carefully walked all the way around the enclosure feeding the fish; several times the stingray plastered itself against the glass


and provided for some great photos. I say “enclosure” but there is a connecting tube that goes out into the ocean and small fish come and go quite readily.

The second area was a turtle habitat that had enormous green sea turtles. These turtles have been rescued and for one reason or another cannot be released back into the wild. For example, one of them had been raised in captivity and had never learned to submerge! She didn’t know that her food was really sea grass under the surface of the water having been fed inappropriate things like processed turtle food pellets and fruit throughout her life. In addition, because she was in such an environment, she had grown very accustomed to human contact. Our guide said that every day, sometimes several times a day, staff would come down to the pool and either scratch her shell or slide into the water so she could touch them. If they didn’t do this, the turtle would get depressed and demonstrate stress by pattern swimming. So they were careful to keep her happy and healthy.

Our next stop was very cool! We crossed a walkway to a concrete tower and descended a couple of spiral steel staircases in near darkness. At the bottom we found ourselves about 20 feet underwater, separated from the ocean only by thick glass windows. Here we could observe a huge variety of fish in a completely natural habitat.





We saw an enormous school of “feeder fish” (about the size of minnows); our guide referred to them as the “potato chips” of the fish world. They are called feeder fish for a reason, and where they are found you will see many larger fish looking for a snack. Again a diver entered the water with a bag of dead fish and began feeding the fish. Naturally she was mobbed by fish large and small. Our guide told us that fish who commonly hide in the nearby coral emerge when the diver appears, and since this is the open ocean, sharks have been known to attend as well. As a result there was a second diver closely watching the first in case any of the large predators arrived as had been known to happen. Hey, free fish food buffet? You can see how that would attract lots of hungry mouths.

We climb back out of the cool dark tower into the heat and sunshine to make our way to the sea lion enclosure. It is only through the care and quick thinking of the staff at Coral World that these sea lions survived the hurricanes. Of course, Coral World had a hurricane plan which was put into effect; what they never counted on was the first hurricane taking the roof off the “safe” sea lion area. Luckily the animals had moved very far back in the cave like enclosure and were unharmed. But, with hurricane Maria bearing down they had to quickly find safe space for these three very large animals. The sea lions at Coral World are trained – not to entertain, but for research. For example, if a researcher needs to know the average weight or something like that, the sea lions are taught to get onto a scale. So the staff put their training skills to use. They acquired gigantic kennels, one for each animal, and with Maria getting closer and closer, began training the sea lions to go into and out of the kennels. Not an easy task, but a day or two before it was clear that the hurricane was to hit St Thomas hard, the sea lions were trained; and the kennel doors were closed on them for the first time. It really is a testament to the staff that the animals didn’t freak out at being enclosed. Then a giant crane picked the kennels up and moved them to a more secure hurricane ready building. As the hurricane hit, a young woman, one of the staff members, stayed with the sea lions, cleaning their kennels, feeding them, etc. and everyone was safe. Wow! During the sea lion “show” we did see one stand up on her front flippers, clap, bark, etc on command. All of these “tricks” are taught to help evaluate the animals’ health. It was a very, very interesting session.

We also learned that Coral World had had a shark enclosure, but as Hurricane Irma approached (the first hurricane) and its strength became clear, the Coral World staff realized that the shark tank would flood and the sharks would escape, with a high probability of injuring themselves in the process, so before the storm, they opened the gates and released all the sharks to safety.

Our next stop was to a small petting pool. Jeff and I had seen everything in the petting pool in the wild, and in at least the instance of the starfish and rays handled them in the wild. We enjoyed watching the little kids hold the various creatures. One little boy shrieked as the sea cucumber he was handling moved. Quite funny! He shouted, “That’s alive!” hahaha!

Red footed turtles

Like I said earlier, the people at Coral World have no reason to apologize for some of their exhibits being closed and for the still obvious damage from the storms. They are working hard to come back to full strength.

The beach part of our day is right next door to Coral World, so we walk over and find a mass of people. It is super crowded…not at all enticing. Jeff and I go back to Coral World and ask our guide about renting a locker so we can stash our beach bag. Though there is a fee for the lockers she doesn’t charge us which is very nice. Unburdened we go for a short walk around the area, returning to find our group all sitting around together. Our taxi driver out was “Mr. McQuire” and he told us to take “Grandpa’s” taxi back. Soon, grandpa’s wife arrived; immediately she is adopted and we all clamor for seats in Grandma’s van.

We get back to the ship about 4:45 and have plenty of time to go up to our room, drop off our stuff, and freshen up before we need to go back down to the dock for our second excursion of the day. Jeff has booked us on a catamaran sunset cruise. First, though, we walk and walk and walked to get to the dock where the catamaran is moored. There are not very many of us so the boat is not crowded at all. Soon the rum punch and champagne is freely flowing. The young woman piloting the cat puts the sails up and we are zooming across the ocean. Jeff and I start the sunset cruise sitting in the back on benches with older folks (i.e. people our own age +) but then I go up to explore the front of the boat. Oh! This is where we want to be! I motion for Jeff to come forward and we join a lively group…wind is rushing through my hair, great conversations, glasses of champagne (skipping the watered down rum punch).

The sunset is absolutely gorgeous!!!

I think this is the best, definitely the most romantic, excursion I’ve ever been on. Everything was perfect…the people we hung out with, the weather, the sea spray splashing on us as we sailed across the ocean, and the sunset. I wanted to never get off. I think even the crew was having fun…one of the mates said this was the first time they’ve actually had a sunset recently because either they’ve had to return to port before sunset or it has been cloudy. We were late returning, but no one cared.

What a wonderful way to end our day in St. Thomas!

Up and At ‘Em

Monday, May 28, 2018

One of the things that Pokey and Gumby were adamant about on this cruise is that we all get up early – especially on the days at sea so we can enjoy the full day of cruising. Today is our first and only sea day on our journey south, and to the delight of our rubbery friends, we are up around 8. The facts that our cabin is on the east side of the ship and that we don’t close our curtains has helped with our early awakening – it is hard to sleep with the sun peeking in on you.

Jeff is more awake than I and has already dressed and reviewed today’s “Princess Patter” for events we might be interested in. He found a good one! The steel drum musician is giving lessons this afternoon, but you need to pick up tickets at 9a.m. We hurriedly get dressed, grab our thermal coffee cups and go the place where tickets are being distributed. We get there about 7 minutes before 9 and get the last two tickets. Since the lesson is not until later this afternoon, we get our fancy coffees and have a very small breakfast of coffee, fruit and bran muffins. Then we go back to our cabin to change into workout clothes. I decide to walk around the Promenade deck and Jeff goes to the weight room. Around and around I go; each time I go around the front of the ship, the wind is fierce and I struggle to stay on my feet (seriously). I have to go up and down a set of metal stairs to make this circle and each time I make the circle and descend, I aim myself for the side of the stair railing because, as I make the bend, the wind is now pushing me forward. I don’t want it to shove me down the stairs. What a great workout! Walking, walking with resistance, balance practice (i.e. not getting blown over) and almost trotting to stay on my feet. I walk only for a couple of miles though it seems like more with the humidity, the rocking of the boat and the wind. Returning to the cabin, I find that Jeff has also returned and is studying his Spanish.

We get cleaned up and change clothes. This is the third set of clothes I’ve had on today and it isn’t even noon! Our drumming lesson is at 11:30 and it is quite fun. Pokey and Gumby enjoyed it, though Gumby was better at holding the mallet.

Gumby on the steel drum

The lesson was very easy for Jeff and I. The drum had little letters stuck on it showing where the notes were on the pan and we had a piece of paper written like: GAB 1 2 BCC 1 2 F# ADD which indicated what letters on the drum to smack and the numbers were to count when you didn’t hit it (rests). I had a little bit of a hard time with the letters because my brain was trying to translate them into musical notation rather than just smack the letter. The man next to me was just awful. He was hitting the drum like it was alive and he was trying to kill it and the poor guy had NO hand/eye coordination at all. Good thing it was a metal drum otherwise I think he would have broken the drum head. Our lesson was 45 minutes – just enough time to get a feel for the instrument. We aren’t sure we’ll take the next lesson or perform in the show at the end of the cruise, but we’ve had fun today.

Time for lunch – I had some nice tomato basil soup and fruit; Jeff had a wrap and a salad. It’s a little after 1pm and we think this is the perfect time for a nap! Going back to the cabin, we flick on the TV and are surprised to see a wide variety of movies available. I’m excited because there’s a disaster movie, “Geostorm” that I’ve never seen (I love disaster movies; the hokier the better), so we leave the movie on while I write and Jeff naps. I ask him if it is stupid or wrong of us to be in our cabin watching tv, and he points out that we’re on vacation. Perfect answer.

What a relaxing afternoon! Tonight is formal night and though we didn’t bring any truly formal clothes, we do each have a nicer outfit to wear. The first formal night of the cruise is also the “Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall” which is always fun, plus all the free champagne you can drink (and I love champagne). We get dressed and go down to the festivities…our plan is to hang out, snag a couple of glasses of champagne and get in line for dinner. All goes according to plan. We get seated for dinner almost immediately because we want to “share” a table. Jeff and I both had red snapper for dinner; I liked mine but his was a little dry. One of the items on Princess’ dinner menu that I really enjoy is their soups – especially their cold fruit soups. And tonight I am having that for dessert, trying to save calories where I can. Being on a cruise ship is a challenge not because there are not healthy choices, there are; but because there are many, many not-so-healthy options tempting me at every food venue. It is difficult to keep a healthy mindset.

We sit with two other couples and enjoy the conversations at the table. Sharing a table is a crap shoot but we usually have nice folks, some experienced cruisers, some not and tonight everyone is participating and sharing stories.

Leaving dinner we quickly run upstairs to our cabin for wine and dash back down to the 9:30 show in the Princess Theater. Tonight is a special presentation, “Bravo” involving the ship’s entire cast and a guest soprano, Kate Gordon. Bravo was excellent – it was light opera and pop opera songs (Queen!)

Afterwards back in the cabin, we pour more wine and stand on the balcony watching the waves and looking at the stars. A wonderful, relaxing day on the high seas.

Bicycling in the Bahamas

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Today is our first full day on the ship but it feels as though we’ve been aboard much longer. Our first port, Princess Cays, is today. Princess Cays is kind of a pseudo port. It is part of a small island leased by Princess to give its passengers a special place. It is quite nice. Before we left Colorado I rented a “clam shell” on the beach which is a small 2 person, 3 sided shell that includes two chaise lounges. It is perfect for getting out of the sun and keeping bags and yourself out of the sand.

Princess Cays is on the southern part of the Bahamian island of Eleuthera (which means ‘freedom’). Because we found ourselves with over $600 in cabin credit, basically free money, on this cruise, and hoping not to leave any of that money on the table, we booked a bicycle tour excursion on Princess Cays. But first, breakfast. I fortify myself with oatmeal and fruit because I know the lunch provided on the beach is heavy with hot dogs, burgers and brats; and I know the vegie burgers they serve aren’t great. Oatmeal should last me a while.

Since the ship is too large to dock at the island so we can walk ashore, passengers are “tendered in” with the lifeboats. At breakfast we notice that it looks a little rough out, not bad, but not promising for snorkelling, and when the tenders start to run we see them rolling and bouncing in the choppy water. Suddenly the ship’s loudspeaker comes on. “Uh oh” we say together. The announcement is that because of weather conditions, all excursions on the island have been cancelled, except the bicycle tour. Hooray! We didn’t want to have that money refunded, and it will be nice to ride a bike for a bit.

In our cabin we gather our stuff, which includes a change of clothes for me because I’m not going to ride a bike in my swimsuit. We have a beach bag for wet items like towels and snorkel gear and a backpack for dry stuff – a Sudoku book and our Bluetooth speaker, etc. With our bags and excursion tickets in hand we go to the meeting place to collect our tender tickets and await our turn to disembark. A young couple, Braden and Haleigh from Utah, join our table. They’ve left their 18-month old at home with grandma and are enjoying a couples’ vacation. We explain to them what Princess Cays is all about . Since it is leased by Princess, the food and chaise lounge chairs are free. We ask if they rented a clam shell, but having never been here they didn’t know that was a good idea. (And reservations had to be made in advance.)

Our numbers are called and the four of us go to the tender, getting separated in the line. Jeff and I board and who do we end up sitting next to? Yup, Braden and Haleigh. Instead of being tendered in on a lifeboat, we are on a larger tour boat and not only is it roomier which is more comfortable but we’re also able to sit on top and enjoy the fresh air. During the short, bouncy, rough ride to shore we tell them about our excursion and offer them the use of our clam shell while we’re away. Deal! On the beach, the four of us stick together, pick out our clam shell location and put our stuff inside.

Jeff, Jane, Haley and Braiden with Pokey and Gumby, of course.

Braden and I head straight for the water. AAHHH… I think the waves would be a little rough for Jeff and he probably wouldn’t enjoy it. I swim around some and when I get back, Jeff is returning from the picnic buffet, hot dog in hand. We’ve only 10 minutes before our tour so I hurry off to change into dry shorts and tank top. We leave “the kids” in charge of the clam shell after telling them about the Bluetooth speaker and Sudoku book, and to make themselves at home.

The bikes for our tour are big tire, one speed bikes with the brakes on the pedals – like when you were a kid. I choose one with a basket so Pokey and Gumby will have a good view.

Jane riding bike with Pokey and Gumby in her basket

Our guide tells us right away that this is a bicycle TOUR and not a bicycle RIDE. The requirements for the tour are “excellent physical condition” which we are far from, but looking at our tour mates I feel quite buff!

We set off…and go about 500 feet before we make our first stop! Here we see the three different types of mangroves that grow on this island and there are spiny urchins in the water. A few minutes later we ride, oh, maybe 1500 feet and stop again. I try not to laugh thinking this should be called a “get on/get off your bike” tour. Here our guides talk about a very old structure made of ground conch shells. This building was used to store tomatoes before being shipped to Nassau or to Florida. I’m guessing that maybe the structure had some insulating properties to keep the produce from over ripening.

Okay, now we ride a little further to the ruins of the first church on the island, an Anglican church. The original structure was leveled by a hurricane and rebuilt. The new church was subsequently also leveled by a hurricane and it is those ruins we explore.

Anglican church ruins

(The church was then rebuilt further inland.) I’m sorry that I don’t remember the dates or time periods though the guides’ information was interesting and well presented. I do remember that the minister was also the school teacher but not much else took root in my long term memory.

Back on our bicycles we continue down the small asphalt/packed dirt road – this is the only road that goes all the way around the island and it is called the “Queen’s Highway.” The island is 110 miles long and 2 miles wide. Our last stop is at the beach.

Jeff & Jane on beach at Princess Cays

Here we spend about 15 minutes walking around peering into the tide pools. You are permitted to take shells and rocks from here (we don’t).
I ask one of our two guides if they ever have people on the tour who can’t do it (which seems unlikely to me), but she says “Yes! And we’ve even had people fall off of their bikes!” I realize that this is probably the reason the first part of the ride is so short – I bet they are checking if people can ride a bicycle.

Now we are riding back to where we began. Pokey and Gumby have enjoyed themselves. I’m happy that we have a bit of an uninterrupted ride going back. Though it is short, it is very pretty. Back at the bike racks we realize that we left our tip money in our cabin. Oh crap! Jeff walks over to one of the men on our tour ands asks if we can borrow some money! The guy gives us tip money (!); of course, we get his cabin number so we can pay him back later.

Time to head back to the clam shell and evict our squatters. They made good use of their time: sleeping in the shade and doing Sudoku. Haleigh is a high school math teacher so I’m not surprised she was into Sudoku.

We have 2 hours before we must be back on the Caribbean Princess. Braden and Haleigh decide to go back to the ship while Jeff and I use our clam shell at least for an hour or so. I change back into my swimsuit; Jeff decides that it isn’t worth it for him to change and get all wet so close to time to leave. When I head for the water, he lays down on the lounge to listen to some music.

Jeff in clam shell

The water is very refreshing and I play around for a bit. I didn’t bother getting out my snorkeling gear because the water is so murky. The beach is nearly deserted now. The last tender to the ship is at 3:30 and it looks like many people have left to beat the rush. Eventually I get out of the warm ocean, dry off and we pack up to join the line of cruisers returning to the ship. It was a fun and relaxing port stop. Granted we didn’t use our clam shell much but we were glad that Haleigh and Braden did.

Once back on board we get cleaned up and go to the piazza for a quick bite to eat. I haven’t had much to eat today and after that strenuous (NOT!) bike ride, I need sustenance. I have a bowl of delicious vegetable soup and a small plate of shrimp with shaved fennel. Jeff enjoys a small Greek salad.  When we finish eating we go back to our cabin to hang out for a couple of hours and, what’s this?? This cruise just keeps getting better and better! In our bathroom I find a pretty bag tied with a ribbon; it is filled with nice toiletries. We’re pretty sure now that Princess does think we’re elite passengers. Guess we won’t dissuade them of that idea.

I make a gin and tonic with our free mini-bar goodies and pour it into my water bottle. Jeff puts a couple of beers in the small thermal bag we always pack (referred to as our “BOB” bag) and we go upstairs to claim good lounge chairs for the Movie Under the Stars. While we are waiting for the movie to start, Jeff goes to get a salad and slice of pizza. I pass on that because I plan to eat popcorn. Soon the “Black Panther” is playing, the sun is setting and there is a steward handing me a bag of yummy popcorn.

It was a good day…

Tropical Storm Alberto

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Happily hotel checkout is noon so when we finally really wake up at 9:30 we aren’t panicked. There is very little to do this morning. We have our hotel room coffee; I ate my apple from yesterday and Jeff has his granola bar. Breakfasts of champions. We put the few things we had taken out of the suitcase back in it, make sure that Pokey and Gumby are ready and we checkout.

Leaving the airport is easy. We walk out to the Super Shuttle stop and ask for a shared ride to the Fort Lauderdale cruise port. Amazingly we are the only ones on the shuttle. Excellent! This is great because I innocently ask the driver if there is a liquor store close to the port to which we can walk. “No, but I will take you to a convenience store that has beer and wine.” “Oh, thank you!”. Tropical storm Alberto is heading north from the Yucatan Peninsula. The first named storm of the 2018 season and it is raining like crazy, so we’re very happy that he is able and willing to do this for us. Jeff hops out of the van and quickly returns with two bottles of wine which we stash in our backpacks. If there had been other passengers on the shuttle, our side stop would not have been possible. Of course, we tipped the driver quite generously.

Since we have just the one suitcase we decide to take it through embarkation with us. We’ve never done this before but we see other people with the same idea, so we skip dropping our suitcase off with the porter. If we can do this we won’t have to wait for our luggage to be delivered later. Success! Not only is there not a problem with our suitcase but no one has noticed or mentioned the small bottle of champagne packed in it or the bottles of wine in our backpacks. This cruise is off to a great start!

We were on this ship, the Caribbean Princess, in 2013, and WOW! it has been updated since then. Very nice.

We drop our bags in our room (breaking more rules because you aren’t supposed to go to your cabins until after 1pm), and go to the “World Fresh Marketplace” (formerly known as the Horizon Court), buffet to get something to eat. I had delicious grilled salmon, a lemon quinoa dish and green beans. I also had 6 french fries – couldn’t resist. Also irresistible was a small dish of tapioca with mandarin oranges..

Soon everyone is able to go to their staterooms and we go to unpack. We are flummoxed. Normally we book a mini-suite but on this cruise we’ve opted for a smaller balcony cabin. This cabin has a smaller balcony than a mini-suite; it doesn’t have the extra seating area of loveseat, chair and coffee table; and there is no tub in the bathroom. The tub part is important, not for bathing, but for space. The ‘shower only’ setup makes for a teeny bathroom where, if you drop the soap, you really do have to get out of the shower to have enough room to pick it up!

I said we were flummoxed and that is because in a mini-suite we know exactly where to put stuff. Today we have to make decisions like “which drawer shall we keep the electronics in?” Eventually we figure it all out and its time for a short nap.

3:15 and time for the “Muster”, the internationally required safety drill that all passengers must attend before the ship can leave port. Hahaha! Not only has the ship been refurbished and updated, but so has the safety drill. It is now given with Love Boat theme music and safety instruction lyrics. Pretty funny and much less dry that previously. I think people paid better attention, too. What we found interesting during this drill was that passengers weren’t to bring their life jackets. Instead, how to wear the life jacket was demonstrated and people were told to practice in their cabins.

The “Sail Away” party which is always held on the uppermost deck has been moved inside because of the wind and rain. Jeff and I opt to skip it and celebrate on our covered balcony. Leaving time is 4p.m.; it comes and goes and we’re still moored. The captain announces that they are loading the last of the luggage and waiting for some final paperwork so we’ll set sail in 15 minutes. 20 minutes later we’re still looking at the same spot on the dock. The captain comes back on to tell us that they are working on an immigration issue, and, also, there has been a medical emergency and a passenger needs to be taken ashore. Finally, though, we are underway. Jeff and I continue our tradition of glasses of champagne when we set sail. Since we snuck the small bottle of champagne in our suitcase we have only water glasses instead of proper champagne flutes in the photo.

Setting sail champagne

We go down to the piazza to people watch and enjoy a chai tea. From 5-7 pm there is a daily “platinum/elite/suite” passenger appetizers and drinks gathering in the ship’s topmost lounge. Though neither of us is hungry we go up to schmooze. I’m psyched because today there is guacamole and chips – and their guacamole is really good. Yum! We get plates of vegies: artichoke hearts, olives, celery, carrots, etc.to accompany the guac and sit and chat older couple. Now we’ve eaten enough that we are not interested in dinner.

Back in the cabin we open our wine, happy that our room steward has brought us proper wine glasses, and go down to the Wheelhouse Bar to listen to a steel drum musician. I’m fascinated by steel drums and have always have enjoyed the sound. The musician, Dennis Smith, is very good but we’re both a little disappointed that he is playing to recorded music. It is difficult to distinguish what is him and what is recorded. We stay for about 45 minutes, run back to our cabin on Deck 12 to refill our wine glasses and then dash back down to the Princess Theater to watch the 9:45 comedy act. The comedian had a couple of good lines but that was about it – I’d give him a C. We chose the comedy show because we didn’t fancy sitting out in the wind and on again/off again rain to watch a movie on the big screen.

Happily tropical storm Alberto is going north as we are heading south and we’ll soon be away from the cloudy weather.

It is 11 p.m. when we get back to our cabin where we are stunned to find a complete mini-bar setup.

Our magically appearing mini-bar

We stare at each other for a couple of minutes. “I didn’t order that.” “Me neither.”

So we read the accompanying card. Apparently somewhere in their system Princess has us down as “elite”members (we aren’t, we’re platinum). Elite members get a free full minibar setup per cruise. “This cruise just keeps getting better and better!” Jeff says. (Our guess is that Alvin, the room steward, simply made a mistake; so we will be drinking the evidence.)

Check back tomorrow to see if we have any other unexpected surprises!

Pokey and Gumby are leaving the country…again!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Pokey and Gumby have been sitting on a packed suitcase for about an hour. If they were not made of rubber I’m sure they would be tapping their toes, or in Pokey’s case, hooves.

Pokey and Gumby are ready to go!

They are anxious for days of sun and sea…so we are joining them on a Caribbean cruise!

Our cruise leaves tomorrow from Fort Lauderdale, FL so today we are flying from Denver to Miami. Yes, I know that Miami is not Ft Lauderdale, but there is a plan for our craziness- we can fly to Miami for free with airline points. This cruise is on the “Caribbean Princess” and is a week long; just enough time to relax and unwind.

Jeff puts our one suitcase in the car, we grab our backpacks and are off to the airport. We are pleased with ourselves because even with our snorkelling gear we are sharing just one suitcase for the weeklong trip. This is Friday of Memorial Day weekend and traffic to DIA ( Denver International Airport) is heavy and slow. We have plenty of time because we’ve left home 30 minutes earlier than we normally would. I check my phone to verify that our electronic boarding passes show that we are TSA pre-approved and hmm… oh yikes! “Hey, our flight time is 3:35 not 4:05!” I tell Jeff. “What?? when did that change?” “I don’t know…” He pushes down harder on the gas pedal.

We arrive at the airport without delay and thank goodness we are pre-approved because my “FlyDIA” app shows the normal security lines have wait times of 35-40 minutes. Luckily for us the TSA lines are only 6-8 minutes.

The flight to MIA was a little bumpy and seemed longer than its scheduled 3-1/2 hours. Right after takeoff we gave the flight crew a thank you note and bag of fancy chocolates acknowledging their hard work. Then we spent the rest of the flight fending off their offers of free drinks, though we did accept two free bottles of water. Because we are arriving in Miami very late, and because Frontier Airlines charges for everything (I’m surprised they don’t have pay toilets), I’ve packed two big bowls of teriyaki noodle salad (recipe upon request 😀) and a grocery store container of cut-up melon. Those things along with our apples, carrots, snack bags of mixed nuts and granola bars will tide us over.

Also because we arriving late into Miami, we’ve opted to stay in the airport hotel – a first for us. Because the flight was turbulent the seatbelt sign was on most of way and we are happy to get off the plane. After collecting our suitcase, which seemed to take forever, we walk to the Central concourse to find the hotel. It was well hidden but we got there eventually. We checked in, went to our room and neither of the electronic keys we’d been given worked! Well, crap. I took the elevator back down to the lobby, exchanged the keys, back up to the 6th floor where one of the keys worked and one didn’t.

We stepped into our room. “Holy crow!” I said to Jeff, “We’re in Japan!”

Our tiny hotel room

The room was miniscule! We both, startled by its tiny size, and being quite tired, started laughing. To use the toilet, you had to go all the way into the bathroom and close the door before you could sit down!

You faithful readers of our travel blogs know Jeff and I well enough to know that after sitting all that time that we’ve got to get some exercise. What better place to wrack up some “steps” than in a nearly deserted airport with lots of long concourses? It is the perfect walking arena. We walk until we both have over 10,000 steps (5 miles for us) and go back up to our room where…neither of our new keys work! Seriously?! Back down the elevator, back to the lobby where we get 3(!) new keys, I promise the woman at reception that we won’t leave our room again, back to the 6th floor where the first key we tried worked.

Though it is only 8:30 pm in Colorado we’re exhausted. How can sitting on a plane be so draining? Now that we’ve had our exercise, we’re going to sleep.

Tomorrow we set sail!