Friday, March 20, 2009

It all ends, back to reality

February 13, 2009 - Friday too!

The disembarkation day is always always a pain, unless you are staying on, but we are not we are getting off.

We had arranged to do walk off, which means you meet in a designated lounge at your time with all your bags and you are the first off. We chose this because we had a flight at 11:15 am and we wanted to get off first.

And yes were off first, and in a taxi by 7:45 am! Very smooth, no problems. When we got to the airport (which is only 15 min. away - with traffic) we both said, now what. Sure we could of booked the 8:30 flight but who would want to risk it. So we grabbed a coffee, got our our Ipods and waited for our flight.

The entire trip was very uneventful, we made it to Houston, then transferred to our flight to Seattle. We arrived in Seattle on time and we in the parking shuttle 10 min. after getting our bag.

We were home around 10:30 pm, which is 1:30 am Forth Lauderdale time, it was a very long day but we are home, and now we have two days to getting things back to normal before work starts on Monday.

Being away from home for just over a month is weird, it is the longest I have been away and the stacks of mail prove it. The house smells musty and our bed feels devine.

In the end I put on 10lbs! But know that will come off quick once I get back into a routine of eating healthy and working out again.

I would have to rate this one of the best vacations we have ever taken. We met and reconnected with so many great people. It also reconfirmed our love of cruising.

Our next cruise is a one day cruise Vancouver to Seattle on May 9th. Then a week later we are travelling to Alaska on a seven day cruise. So stay tuned for more travel adventures.

Last Day - At Sea

February 12, 2009 - Sea Day

Can't believe it but this is the last day! Am I ready to go home, well yeah. I certainly could handle more time on the ship, but I am relaxed now and ready to go back to the day to day life at home.

We first had to try and figure out what was going on with our bill. As Platinum members (sailed more than five times on Princess) we are entitled to an Internet package of 250 minutes each free. We signed up for this on the first day but have had nothing but problems since we did. It seems that every time we log on we are charge $100 - we had gone up to the Purser's desk to clear up on more than one occasion and every night the charge comes back on? Today we meet up with our friend Gianfranco the Passenger Services Director and explain the situation and he takes care of it for us.

But we are leary of keeping our account open until the next night so we close the account completely at around 10 pm that night. Better safe than sorry.

Sea day -- Our favorite days on ships. Time to relax, as if we are not relaxed enough already. We head up on deck to catch some last few rays of sun. It is a little cooler in the air, must mean we are heading north.

Being the last day you get all your stuff in order, pick up those last few photos you want, settle your account, print out your airline boarding passes, exchange emails and start the packing. Now some people are so organized and their suitcases are outside their door before dinner. Not ours, we have decided to walk off tomorrow with our bags in order to catch an earlier flight. More on that tomorrow.

We arrange to meet up with friends Carole and Sue for dinner tonight. They have both been so much fun this trip and we hope to keep in touch with them.

This gentleman (darn it I can't remember his name) was travelling with his wife, both from Hungary initially, fled to Chile, then moved to Toronto. Very interesting to talk to, had dinner with them a few times.

Bernie with Sue and Carole on the last night

Sue just loved Phillipe our Matr D'.... it looks like she is attacking him but really he is just going in for a big hug. Phillipe took very very very good care of us this trip, best we have ever had.

Our final night, and again we close the dining room.

Bernie and I brought a bottle of this sake called Wandering Poet that was first tried with a friend of ours from the Emerald Princess last year, Mr. James Deering (PSD) and we are hooked. We raised our glasses in his honor and wished him well. Every cruise now we have to bring a bottle.
After dinner, Bernie didn't want to go out, he was tired so he went back to the room and started packing, me being the smart one and getting out of packing, went to the Vista lounge to enjoy the last night of Princess Pop Star. Princess' version of America/Canadian Idol. It was the first time I had ever been to one and it was hilarious. It was a nice way to end the cruise.

Should be Grand Turk ?

February 11, 2009 - Grand Turk

We woke up excited because after three days of trying to get to the beach we knew today would be a lovely to just relax and tour the island and hit some beaches.

The last time we were here 2 weeks ago we spent the day at Jack's Shack. Today we planned of renting golf carts and touring the island. We really wanted to check out and see the island after last year's hurricane.

We are in an inside cabin so to get our view of the outside we turn on the t.v. in the room and put it to the Bridge Cam. We noticed the Captain was taking it slow, going to the other side of the pier. Very different from last visit. Things just didn't feel right.

Sure enough we were told over the loud speaker that Grand Turk would have to be cancelled due to high winds. Now on deck you don't notice the high winds; however when you pull along side the pier the ships' thruster go into effect to dock and we were told later that the winds can not be over 30kmh for the thrusters to work correctly.

This is the first time in 18 cruises that I have missed a port due to bad weather. So I guess I was due. The Cruise Director came on the PA to announce a whole arrange of new activities planned for the day. That was impressive how quickly they turned things around on a dime and had a bunch of things for us to do. Even the guest lecturer gave an improptu lecture. All shore excursions were cancelled and refunds were being credited to your on board account, along with port charges for Grand Turk.

What I found really funny was all the people complaining how they missed Grand Turk. Some were demanding on board credits, some were emailing their Travel Adgent, some were complaining to the Purser's Desk. Are these people NUTS. Safety first, I wonder how loud their complaints would of been if the ship did dock and did damage or worse someone got hurt. Truely Grand Turk is a lovely island, but for 80% of the people on board it was just a beach day at Margarittaville. So what if you now have to go up on deck and relax in the sun, not much different.

We easily go with the flow so I got my camera out and starting taking pictures of the ship. Here are a few.

Of course an impromptu day at sea calls for lattes, muffins, and cakes in the coffee bar and a good book.

The Horizon Court is busy today. Well it was earlier in this shot.
Bernie and I relaxed today, we watched a movie, we went up on deck and suntanned, we participated in Pictionary and I even gambled away some money. All in all I believe Princess did quite well with this sea day financiall.

The cruise is winding down with only one more sea day.
We decide to skip the dining room tonight as it is formal night and we just don't want to dress up again. Plus the Horizon Court has Lobster, Crab and shrimp!

This is one of the few cruise staff, his name is Ricky but everyone calls him PeeWee... man that guy had energy. Carole is in the shot here on the left.

Santiago - La Romana

February 10, 2009 - La Romana

and Santo Domingo

One of the ports we were really excited about was Dominican Republic and visiting Santo Domingo. Prior to boarding the cruises we pre booked a shore excursion to Santo Domingo thru Princess.

Now for those of you who know us know we NEVER book ship sponsored excursions. After our first visit here two weeks prior we did a bit of research and realized that the trip to SD (Santo Domingo) would take approximate 2 hours to get to each way and taxis were $150. The ship was offering a tour on a bus, with guide, many sites and lunch for $99 each.

Bernie had always wanted to see SD the first city in the Western Hemisphere and tons of history. For me I could care less -- but I was excited because I was looking forward to seeing the architecture, the people and getting some great photo shots.

We got off the ship early! Found our bus, a large greyhound type bus that was pretty much already full. We found seats right at the back!

Our view from our seats

We are off, and thankfully we had a pit stop to use the facilities. But because we were about 40 we had a long queue, man I envy the men at times like this.

We get into SD and we stop beside a few site where the guide talks about what we are looking at. WHAT we don't even get to get off the bus. So I quickly take shots thru the window. What? I can't hear the guide.... is he speaking English? Yup... we look at each other hoping for a miraculous translation. Bernie looks frustrated, I know he was really looking forward to this trip and he is such a history buff he is missing out. The problem appears to be the sound system on the bus, if it is too high he gets feedback, but turned down we can't hear it at the back.

Thankfully we get to get off the bus!

What a lovely city! I love it! I love it! I want to live here! But what oh the guide is calling us over - "have to stay with the group". Now remember we are a group of 40 or so.

Thankfully I have a good zoom and I can get some shots while we stand in a group beside something and he talks and talks, but darn it I still can't hear him. Again we are at the back of the group. Sure I could of pushed myself to the front of the group, but the group consists on many older people - at least mentally old, because man those people could move when they wanted to, like the food lineup. I swear I was going to get taken DOWN if I pushed forward.

We head towards the church. The first church in the Western Hemisphere we know because we read up about it prior. Not because we heard the guide!

Upon entering the church I am pulled aside by one of the attendants at the church. Apparently my skort is too short! So I am given a sarong and I wrap it around my waist. Kind of surprised, been a long time since I've been told "your skirt is too short", feels like Catholic school all over again.

The architecture is beautiful

We are out of there! Again I just hold back while Bernie took in the tour and I took pictures.

We start walking, hate being told what to do! We walk along the narrow streets and the rain starts and we are quickly ushered into a store. Sure sounds good until we realize this is the "designated store" yup the store gives a kick back to the tour guide on all sales. When we try to leave and go to a different store the guide yells out "no not that store, come back here". Again those who know me know I won't take that lightly. I purposely wander to other stores and check out and chat with many of the vendors. Now sure I know about these "designated stores" I was not born yesterday, but I always make sure not to partake in them. In fact when we were researching this tour I made sure that there was NO shopping on this tour. Nothing worse than paying for tour that makes you shop!

Our designated store, the art work

lots of tacky stuff - sorry if you bought anything there

Bernie waiting for the "designated store stop" to end

We start walking and pass this lovely square with restaurants all along. The rains have stopped so the waiters are cleaning up.

Beautiful streets

Vickie in her "short skort"

We encounter a group of school kids and handed out some Canadian pencils

We head down the street to stop at a restaurant that is going to be our lunch stop. But there are two people missing. Our group is so large that the guide misses two people who were at the back of the group at the last stop and got lost on the way to the restaurant. Needless to say the guide got a talking to from the man and woman when they caught up. Good thing they found us, imagine being left in SD!
Lunch was a disaster, mainly because the restaurant had our section already set up, but it was for outside and a cloud had come in and it was pouring rain. No place for 40 people to sit! We had to wait around in the lobby for over a half hour.
And because we are late leaving the restaurant parts of the tour have to be cut back and rushed thru.

The next museum was lovely... just wished we could of seen more of it.

What a cutie

We all board the bus and since we are both bus drivers for the city it is hard to be a passenger but to see this huge bus do a U turn on a six lane road tying up traffic in all directions and even ended up causing two cars to have an accident because they weren't looking. Oh my, oh my.
Now we are about a two hour drive away from the ship. The ship has told us to be back on board at 4:45 and it is 2:30 now! Can we do it. Well darn it if the driver isn't going to do it hell or high water. We were so nervous about the drive back that we put in our IPODS and read our books and didn't look up because occasionally when we did look up he was passing cars on a busy two lane road! ARGH.
We made it, we are back at the ship at 4:20! We are so relieved we made it back in one piece. Now we are a little upset about the tour, but feel we need to sleep on it or two nights before we head to the excursions desk to discuss.
Tonight is a Horizon Court night as we know from the previous cruise that lobster claws and prawns are on the menu and we had a feast. Nice way to end a night.
As a follow up we visited the excursions desk on the last day to discuss. Bernie maintained composure and explain our concerns about the overcrowded bus, lack of hearing anything, the rushed afternoon because of the late lunch, the lost couple that thankfully found us and then the expediated drive back to the ship. The excursions' rep commented that there were others that complained too and he would get back to us. Later that day they phoned to say they will refund us 30% of the trip, which we were happy to receive but were not expecting.

St. Thomas

February 9th (I think) - Charlotte Amalie

I find it funny because everywhere I go on the ship people keep saying "hey I saw you on the morning show" sometimes they don't even say that they just say "Vickie can I ask you something?" Then I have to wonder, how do I know this person. Funny

We pull into St. Thomas, and we are docking at Havensight. We are disappointed, many are happy though they love all the shopping available at Havensight. We prefer Crown Bay, it is quieter and we wanted to go to Emerald Beach or perhaps back to Water Island.

We took our time getting ready and left the ship after the crowds/tours got off. We hadn't been to Havensight in about 7 years and we noticed that a lot has changed. A lovely Marina has just been added and a walkway all the way into Charlotte Amalie.

First even though you can see major clouds in the distance it is HOT, MUGGY and we are sweating like crazy when we finally get to town (about 20 min walk). And wouldn't you know it, as soon as we arrive in town the clouds open and it POURS. We take cover in a coffee shop and enjoy a cup of tea.

We walk down the main street, and pick up the only thing we came into town to get. Perfume -- yup perfume. Now usually we buy all our perfume at the duty free shop on board because we find the best prices on board. But the ship didn't have the Angel perfume -- actually they have it but I purposely bought the refill bottle to be "green" and have been having trouble getting the perfume that refills! Well we find the perfume and decide why hang out here when we find it too crazy lets head back to the ship and figure out what we will do.

On the walk back we talk about it, should we go to the beach? Bernie has never been to Magen's Bay, but he says he doesn't feel like paying for a taxi to go across the island only to end up on a crowded beach. So we get back to the ship and get lunch in the dining room and then we both change into our bathing suits and venture up to the Sanctuary.

Have I spoken about the Sanctuary? Well it is a lovely Adults Only area that is at the bow of the ship. A nominal fee is charged to enter this area, $10 for half day. The lounge chairs are padded with mattresses that I swear are thicker than the beds. Plush towels are then placed down. A sanctuary steward comes with a cool towel to cool yourself down and a glass of water, either flavoured with cucumber or orange. There is a special menu that you can order from and it is delivered to you for a small charge of $3.

It was a very nice relaxing afternoon and a chance to build our tan and get that much needed afternoon nap.

This is a shot of the new Marina -- lovely boats, and great shops all along the walkway. A shoppers paradise.

Me and James our Cruise Director

St. Kitts

February 8, 2009 - Basseterre

We really wanted to do a beach day, especially since we missed the beach the day before in Barbados, but the weather was not cooperating again. We figured it was just cloudy and that the sun was going to come out in the afternoon so we packed up our bathing suits in our knapsack and went to the gangway.

Low and behold who do we run into.... Sandy and Carole who are up to no good... he he he so we hooked up with them and wander the streets a bit.

Can you hear me now

Piccadilly Square but in St. Kitts

We decided to do a tour to kill some time -- now we've done island tours here but we thought heck we can see it again. We negotiated a tour with a taxi ($20 per person for 3 hours).

He took us north past the veterinary hospital, up to Rommely Manor and the Batik factory. The gardens are beautiful.

Bernie and I

What a hoot Carole and Sandi are

A woman doing Batik

We wandered around the gardens for a bit and went into the store and looked around. I already have a Batik dress but did buy some lovely homemade soap. We got back in the van and started heading South. As we tried to turn onto the main street we were caught up in some traffic. Now this is a Saturday and there is only one main road. We wondered what was up! A boat was what was up! They were towing a boat on land. It was huge and barely made clearance on each side of it. They even had to have someone to lift the wires above so that they wouldn't get caught.
This photo was taken from the van's window, see how tight it is.

And then it passes us, it seems like none of the locals are surprised, guess this is an everyday occurrence for them. And they were all so patient no road rage here.

We drove to the south end of the island to this lookout. We have a similar photo from last year. It was very very windy.

Here is the link to a great tourist site on St. Kitts

this is Friggate Bay beach, very quiet because of the weather but it looks like a lovely beach and will definitely try and make it back here some time.

this view always makes me think of Cape Breton but it is St. Kitts