Caribbean Travel Roundup
Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor
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Date: Mar 3-11, 2001 The Crew: Captain Vinnie First Mate: John (me) Crew: Jen, Jim, Jane, Steve, Joan, Jill Ages 35-55 Getting there Day 1 Sat Mar 3: Jim and Jen left from Baltimore and were on time into SJU and EIS, the rest from Boston. To Tortola via San Juan on American Airlines (who else?) Left late due to de-icing in Boston. Arrived 1.5 hrs late and missed our American Eagle flight from SJU to Tortola. Arrived around 4pm. (See comments on American Eagle below). 4 of us went "stand by" on the next EIS flight. 2 of us were delayed for 6 hrs in SJU. Arrived at EIS and met by Moorings staff and taken to the Moorings base in Road Town. We had arranged (and paid) to get on board that night. Chart briefing and boat checkout in afternoon so we could get an early start the next day. Dinner that night at C & F. This is an outstanding restaurant the best we had on the whole trip. It is run by a local family. Outstanding local cuisine. Best ribs we had (2 racks per serving). Fish dishes great. The place is in a small ally off a small street near the Ritway near the Moorings base. Get a cab to take you. The rest of our crew made it to base by 10pm. Slept aboard. Good breeze and comfortable for being in a marina. The boat: We were in a Moorings 4500 Cat. "St Somewhere" out of Seattle.4 cabins, 4 heads. Very comfortable and spacious. One of us is 6ft7in and was able to stretch out in the bunk. The boat sails well, anchors well, and is comfortable underway and moored. Lots of cabin, cockpit, and galley space. Plus the trampoline was great for sailing and stargazing. Boat check out went well. We were advised the winds were "off" in that normally there are NE winds down the Sir Francis Drake Channel, this week they were Southerly and SW. We were advised not to moore at the Baths and Cane Garden Bay because of big ground swells. Since we wanted to partake of local bars/restaurants we stocked with provisions (thru the Moorings) for breakfasts and lunches and booze. The Dinghy: We had a brand new dinghy that was comfortable for 8 of us, not getting wet going ashore. Day 2 Sun Mar 4: Had breakfast at Moorings (buffet) then set off around 9.30am. Motored out then set sail for North Sound Virgin Gorda. Made a pitcher of "Painkillers" from a modified (to taste)recipe of 4,3,2,1 (Rum, Pineapple Juice, Orange Juice, Cocoanut milk) Good winds and arrived at Leverick Bay, North Sound at 2.30pm. Picked up a mooring. Happy hour at Pussers and ate at The Lighthouse restaurant. We had wanted to start our "Pussers Triangle" there but the restaurant is no longer affiliated with Pussers. Food was good and a nice open air restaurant. Day 3 Mon Mar 5: Had bacon and eggs aboard then got a cab to the Baths. ($10 each round trip). This was a great decision because you get a tour of the island and some great views getting down there (about 30 min). Got to the Baths before the Cruise ship crowd and walked the path to Devils Bay. Snorkeled a bit, lounged on the beach (as the Cruiseship crowd arrived). Some of us had our hair braided on the beach there. $2 per braid up to $35 for a whole womens head. Nice job the braids lasted till we got home. Had lunch (burgers) at the Top of the Baths. They have a fresh water pool to dip in to get the salt off. (This was one of several great tips I read from these boards). Very pleasant and drop dead gorgeous views. Our cab ("Tiger Taxi") met us at the appointed time. Tip: don't pay until the return, that way you are sure to be picked up. Motored over to moore at The Bitter End Yacht Club about 3pm. Went ashore and took showers (theirs are the best on the island) $2. We had prebooked the Moorings Anegada Flotilla (until you have done it once the Moorings won't let you sail to Anegada on your own). For $50 you participate in the flotilla, cocktail party at The Bitter End, T-shirt, dinner at Nelptune's treasure on Anegada). Went to the briefing and met others in the flotilla. Had dinner at Saba Rock. (Previously we ate at The Bitter End but found, as others have said, it to be overpriced). There is also a live steel band and dancing at Saba Rock. Dinner was a buffet with ribs, fish, chicked, carving stations of beef, pork and lamb. Really yummy. Day 4 Tue Mar 6. Joined the flotilla. They had it organized so the slower boats went out first then the faster. There was a "chase" boat (under sail and motor) with Moorings staff to make sure no one got in trouble. This was not a "follow the leader" trip. We had been given sailing instructions so the next time we could go on our own. This worked well. The winds were Southerly (unusual) and we were sailing due North so we motored most of the way. Left at 9.15am and arrived at 11.40 am. Anchored (moorings are limited) in 7 ft of water. Went ashore a cabbed to snorkel and "hang out" at Loblolly Bay. Great snorkeling. Good beach. Beach bar (essential so you can "re hydrate"). Returned to boat (cab $10 round trip). Had dinner at Neptune's Treasure (prepaid as part of the flotilla) Paid extra and had an Anegada Lobster. Excellent meal. Restaurant run by a Portuguese couple. Lazed in hammocks on shore before and after dinner. There are flamingos on Anegada and we saw lots of flights of them. Very colorful. Day 5 Wed Mar 7: Left at 8 am and motored (wind was light from S and SW) to Marina Cay. (the only disappointing thing about our trip was the wind direction prohibited us from sailing to and from Anegada). Arrived at Marina Cay at 12.30 pm. Picked up a Mooring. ( This week was crowded with people and boats and in all anchorages mooring balls were gone by 3pm). Hung out on the beach at Marina Cay and snorkeled there in the afternoon. Went to Happy Hour at Top of the Hill Robb White Bar for 2 for 1 painkillers ($4.50). Entertained by Michael Bean who was funny and entertaining. Went to diner at Pussers Marina Cay and started our Pussers Triangle for real. (drink a painkiller at 3 different Pussers and get a pennant and certificate). Day 6 Thur Mar 8 Replenished our water and ice supply at the Marina Cay dock then sailed off to Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke. Due to the "storm" there were large ground swells (10-20 ft) so a rough time getting there (under power). Many queezy people, no one chummed (threw up) however. Anchored and managed to hook on the first attempt. Great Harbor is a notorious hard anchorage. Why they don't put down mooring balls is a mystery to us. We went ashore to Foxys. Unfortunately he wasn't "playing" that day. He was there mingling with customers though. We ate there and had a great Roti (island rollup). Day 7 Fri Mar 9--FULL MOON Left Great harbor at 8.30 for a short sail to Sopers Hole. Ar 9.30. Picked up a mooring. (Moorings gone by 11am). Took a cab to Cane Garden Bay, passed Bombas Shack on the way (more later). CGB was almost deserted. Because of the seas no one was anchored there and there were no cruise ships. It was glorious. One of the most beautiful beaches in the BVIs empty. Had drinks a Rhymers. Dinner at Jolly Roger Inn (we did have our painkiller at Pussers --2nd leg of triangle). Good food. One of our group recognized Trey Anastasia, lead singer of Phish at the next table. Vacationing with his family. No one else in the restaurant know who he was. Looked like your basic beach bum (like us). Returned to boat for a rest then went to Bombas for Full Moon Party. This was unbelievable. Because it was Fri night a lot of locals added to the thousands of tourists. This is a wild bash. Litterally a shack on the beach with a band, booze, and Bomba. For exposing yourself to him he gave out blinking buttons to be displayed on the breast. Many women had these. (Turns out for $10 you didn't have to expose yourself). The main road runs beside the shack and there were vendors selling t-shirts, food, booze. The boooze was cheap ($2 beers, $3 painkillers--mostly rum). Several people passed out. This "party" can be likened to a frat party in the states with older people. (Adult Spring Break) We left around midnight before it really got wild (passing out the "tea". Day 8 Sat Mar 10: Left Sopers Hole at 8.15 am and really sailed (tacked) across Sir Francis Drake Channel to Norman Island. For those of you who sail this is what it is all about. The winds had returned to normal (10-15 knots out of NE). A glorious sail. Snorkeled at The Indians and The Caves. Lucky to pick up mooring balls at each place. Great snorkeling, lots of fish. Went into the Bight and picked up a mooring ball. Had happy hour at Billy Bones then dinner at the William Thornton. Lots of college kids here. This was the beginning of spring break week for many colleges. This was a "watered down" version of Bombas. Day 9 Sun Mar 11 the last day. Left The Bight at 8.30 and sailed over to the Moorings base in Road Town. Showered and left the boat by 11am (Very Sad). Went to Road Town to have lunch at Pussers and complete the Triangle. Getting home: We had been scheduled to go American Eagle to SJU at 4.45pm to connect with AA to Boston at 6.30pm. Unbeknownst to us American Eagle had changed out flight time such that we were rescheduled on an earlier flight in order to make our connection. There are flights about every hour from EIS to SJU. We got to the airport and found out we had "missed" our flight. Somehow the change had not been communicated to us or the Moorings who were responsible for reconfirming our flight. Consequently we got split up. 4 of us went standby on the next flight and made out connection by the skin our our teeth. 2 didn't and flew to NY, overnighted, then on to Boston the next morning. Overall impressions: The BVIs have some of the most glorious places to visit, see, snorkel, eat and drink. We managed to hit most of them. Helpful suggestions (also made by others on these boards): 1. bring a pair of work gloves to protect your hands with lines (main halyard) and anchoring. 2. bring extra clothespins to hang wet clothes, towels on safety rail. 3. bring extra binoculars and flashlights 4. find a way to "mark" your boat so when you return by dinghy at night you can find it. They all seem to look alike. 5. to get back into the dinghy from snorkeling (a real challenge to us "older" people, we rigged a line from the bow to stern of dingy and hung over the side to stand on to climb into the dinghy. A great accomplishment. The Moorings get high marks for their operations (we don't as yet know who was at fault for us not knowing our return flight time. American Eagle and American Airlines don't seem to communicate. It is best to consider American Eagle like a 3rd world airline with bigger planes. Our inbound flight from Boston got us to SJU and we "missed" our flight by 10 min. There were 14 people on our flight affected. It would seem they could have delayed until we got there. Suggestion: Don't trust anybody, reconfirm yourself. Don't schedule a connection with a tight window. Allow 2 hrs for the San Juan airport. Unfortunately it is hard to avoid American Airlines. Restaurants: They are remarkably similar in their menus. ribs, chicken, fish are mainstays. Ocassional pasta. Lobster common. Not as good as Maine Lobster but still good and relatively cheap. Best restaurant we had was C & F in Road Town. I would go out of my way to go there again. Summary: A glorious week sailing, snorkeling, sightseeing, drinking. We have already begun our planning for the next trip.
Trip 7/2000 It seemed at first like a doomed idea. The two of us have been to many interesting and beautiful places since we were married nine years ago. These trips were often therapeutic in nature as they gave us an escape from the pressures of managing a mixed family household. Co parenting and stepfamilies are not always delightful Brady Bunch experiences and the brief getaway was just what we needed. But this time we decided to take all the kids who wanted to go. Of all those invited two of Carolyn's (Michael and Jason) and three of Ken's (Celeste, Camille, and Emily) took us up on the offer. We chose Cozumel because of the water (warm, turquoise, and caribbean), Suntrips, and the fact that we went there on our honeymoon back in '91 and just loved it. This plan was made possible by an adjustment on out W-2 withholding, i.e.. we got a big tax refund this past spring. We worked directly with Suntrips and ended up paying in the neighborhood of $540 per person. We then went searching on the internet for a place to stay. A hotel wouldn't do, we needed a house. We ended up with the Casa Caribena which was offered through At Home in Cozumel. We were there in the off season so it cost us $2156 for seven nights. We left San Francisco Intl. at midnight on Sunday, July 10. After flying for 5 1/2 hours of cramped torture we arrived at Cancun about 7am. After clearing immigration and customs we only had to wait another hour or so to grab the small twin-engine Fokker to Cozumel. A couple of notes of interest here. With the cheap fares of Suntrips you also get the cramped quarters of sold-out flights. But the trade off is a fair one. Also, if you are taking your step-kids with you make sure you have the documentation. That is a real birth certificate and a notarized statement from the parent at home that is okay to take the kid out of the country with you. We had these just in case and were asked for them several times. If you don't have it you don't go. Monday After flying all night and getting little sleep everybody just crashed for the best part of the day. While the kids slept Carolyn and I went into town to get some money from the ATM and buy some groceries. ATM's are a great way of handling your money. The rate is very good, you can withdraw up to 3,000 pesos and the fee is nominal. I've found out in the past that no one wants travelers checks, and they are in US dollars. So you still have to convert them to pesos and wait in the line at the bank or take a bite on the exchange rate at the casas de . After getting pesos downtown (all the banks are on the east side of the plaza) we walked to the market. This was a mistake. Chedruai is across the street from Plaza las Glorias and that is a good 10 or 12 blocks from downtown. Chedruai is a big new market that has just about everything you could want (except pinatas) and at a good price. We bought all of our groceries here. Also, if you want to buy vanilla or tequilla to take home get it here as you will save alot over buying it downtown. Taxi fare from downtown was usually about 30 pesos. When we got home everybody was still crashed. It was going to be a lazy day. So we just did what came to be a favorite activity while there; we sat under the palapa in the backyard and watched life go by on the ocean. When everybody began stirring we started dinner and then went swimming in the sea right in our backyard. There is a ladder and a cement platform for access into and out of the sea. We used this a lot. We did not opt for the homecooked meals plan. With 8 of us it would have cost much more than buying groceries and using the kitchen ourselves. Not to mention we knew we'd be eating out a bunch of times. As it turns out you are not alone in the house. Javier and Rosi (the caretakers and people who would have been doing the cooking) live right there also, but not really in the house. They are kinda in the back, separate. If we were homeymooners and running around naked most of the time, and having sex in interesting places this would not have been a good arrangement, but since we were there with the entire family it did not matter. Tuesday Around noon we all loaded into two taxis and went into town. We wanted to look around some and make our obligatory visit to the Hard Rock. Prices, quality and noise were about the same as in the states. After lunch we walked around downtown. While on the pier checking out the ferry schedule for wed. I talked to a guy who had a glass-bottom boat and arranged a snorkeling trip for thursday. It was only $25 per person and he would come out to our house to pick us all up at the little dock in our backyard. Wednesday We all got up early today and went to catch the 7am ferry to Playa del Carmen. Our intent was to rent a van so all of us could go to Chichen itza. After a lot of looking there were no vans to be had so we rented two Chevy Monzas ( don't ask what kind of car that is here) and after two hours of waiting and delaying and getting gas at the local Pemex station we were off. We headed north on the main road (307) and just past Puerto Morelos we took the turnoff that led us to the new toll road that goes all the way to Merida. This new road is kind of expensive but it is sooooooo much better than the old highway. We saw few other cars and got there in a couple hours. Carolyn and I were the only ones to have seen this before so needless to say everyone was inspired. We climbed as many buildings as we could (alot were roped off) and went to the cenote to see where they threw the virgins. On the way back from the cenote it started to rain, than pour, and then thunder and lightning too. We were drenched in less than a minute and beat it back to the visitors center for shelter. After about a half hour wait it stopped enough to continue. But now we were wet, the ground was wet and the sun came out. In less than an hour the heat and humidity was killer and we headed to the parking lot. We ate at one of the buffet places back in Piste where all the tour busses go. Nothing to write home about. We hurried to get back to catch the 7pm ferry but were a little late and the next one was at 9pm so we killed some time in Playa del Carmen. Its amazing to see this place. Ten years ago there was practically nothing here. We watched a guy do a painting with cans of spray paint and found a McDonalds while we waited. When we finally got home we were bushed. Thursday At 9am our snorkel guy was waiting for us at our back dock. We all hopped in and he took us to four sites where the reef was not so deep we couldn't dive to get a closer look. It was a fun few hours for the kids but the best snorkeling trip we've ever been on was in the BVI on Peter Is. He even took us by the sunken plane just off the International Pier. Today was Michael's birthday so in the afternoon we all went to the plaza for dinner and shopping. We ended up at Pizza Rolandi. The meal was okay but the entertainment was better. There was a little turtle scooting around the floor under all tables. My wife decided to take a walk on the wild side and ordered a lemonade with her meal. Coincidentally she was sick the next day. We took a bunch of Cipro with us just in case and it came in handy. After dinner we all went to the plaza and bought recuerdos. BTW the farther you get from the plaza the cheaper the prices get on identical items. Friday Friday morning we called Alamo and arranged to rent a couple Trackers for a day. They came out to get us and we went to the office downtown to get them. The Trackers were around $60 each. Taxis are numerous and relatively cheap but having a car is much better. We went back home and picked everyone up and headed north to the end of the road. We found a guy there renting horses. Rancho Los Laureles. It was $25 per person for an hour or so. We went through the jungle and along the beach. It looked more fun in the pictures than it was in person. A note of interest here. Don't do this with shorts on. For dinner this afternoon we went to Palmeras right there in front of the ferry pier. It was okay but not necessarily mexican food. The sodas were like a buck and a quarter each. Afterwards we loaded into the Trackers and headed south to circle the island. The windward side is still the prettiest. We stopped and played in the waves and were totally alone. It was getting dark so we had to leave. Incredible sunset. Saturday Saturday morning we woke up to the sound of torrential rain. We made a mad dash out to the front of the house in an attempt to get the tops up on the Trackers. Too late. We had wet butts the rest of the day whenever we got out of the cars. After breakfast we loaded up and went to see the ruins at San Gervasio. They were bigger than I had imagined. After a brief tour we headed back to town to turn in the cars. Once on food we walked around a little and had lunch at Comida Casera Tonita. this place was very reasonable, had somewhat authentic food, and to boot it had impressively clean bathrooms. I recommend this place. Sunday This was it. The last day. After breakfast we went into town only to find most everything closed. The deal was there were no cruise ships in town today. That being the case most everything was closed. Every day we were there (except Sunday) there were anywhere from one to five cruise ships in town. They wouldn't arrive in the morning only either. But the funny thing was with no cruise ships the place closed down. We went back home and returned in the late afternoon for dinner. This time we ate at Casa Denis. Its mentioned in most the books. I also very much liked this place. Prices were a half to a third of the other restaurants and the food was equal or better. For fun I paid a couple street musicians 30 pesos to serenade my wife. After dinner we wandered around the plaza waiting for the Sunday night social event. Every Sunday night lots of the locals dress all up and come down to the Plaza to watch people, socialize, and listen to music played by the band in the little round stage in the center of the plaza. Unfortunately the band never showed that night so everyone just stood around sort of waiting. But ten years ago it was different. It was the social event of the week. Campesinos would dress up in their best clothes (fancy shirts, big sombreros, and silver tipped boots) and check each other out while the women would talk and the kids would run around playing games. Now days its fancy Nikes and baggy skater pants. So much for old Mexico. Monday Finding two taxis at 6AM on a Monday morning is a difficult task. We found one taxi and he made two trips to the airport and back to get us all there. The flight back to San Francisco was uneventful except for two things. Cozumel has this little shakedown number they do to all people who go through there. They charge you a $13 departure tax that somehow is not paid with your tickets. We were warned about this so we had the money available but I can't help thinking if this were a legitimate fee it would be included in all the other numerous taxes you already pay in your tickets. Bogus. The other thing was our plane was late in arriving from San Francisco. Late by about 5 hours. No explanations were given we just waited. Unfortunately this put us home right in the middle of rush hour going over the Bay Bridge. Not a pretty sight. Oh well, these things happen. And after all it was a fun trip for all. Observations: My wife and I honeymooned in Cozumel back in 1991 and loved it for it's laid back old Mexico charm. Not like Cancun to the north. The plaza on Sunday night was the highlight of the trip. Now in 2000 I could not believe how much had changed. The town of San Miguel was MUCH bigger. Traffic was much worse and a lot of the charm was gone. As a Caribbean location it was still spectacular but not as quaint. The only thing the same was the windward side of the island. Basically I attribute this to the cruise ships. Back in '91 they docked at Playa del Carmen and you took a ferry over and then met up with the ship later docked in Cancun. Now there are anywhere from 1 to 5 ships a day in dock. Nine years ago it seemed that most people spoke quite a bit of English. This trip was different. Were it not for the fact that I could speak Spanish we would not have been able to do many of the things we did. We always use pesos. As I said before I recommend the ATM's. You get a good rate and its relatively cheap. If you let the merchants convert your dollars to pesos for your purchases, they come out ahead. Taxis are relatively cheap but if you are there for a while rent a car for at least a day or two. There is much to see by just wandering. I'm sorry to say we did no diving . Next time we're here this will be mandatory. Take the inexpensive charters that offer air/room deals. Like Suntrips from the west coast . The flight is 5 hours of hell but it's worth it for the week of relaxation. And you just can't beat the price.
Trip February 3-10, 2001 Overview This was my sixth cruise, but just our second cruise together, and the first on Celebrity. We took RCCL's Nordic Empress on a 4-night Eastern itinerary out of San Juan last year. Neither of us had sailed the Western Caribbean before. Though still partial to the Eastern islands, we loved this cruise and the ship. We did find by the end of the week that we craved a little more quiet and solitude than this very full ship provided. Otherwise, everything was top- notch, and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend this cruise, or take it again ourselves. Embarkation We arrived at Port Everglades at 10:45 a.m. and waited in the main terminal until 11:00 when they let us into the inside room to wait a bit more. Ten minutes later we were on board, after the first of many encounters with the cruise photographers. No passes, no lines, very simple and efficient; other cruise lines could benefit from a similar policy. Because the ship was still being cleaned, they did not escort us to our cabin. However, there were so few people on board, it seemed we had the entire ship to ourselves. We spent over an hour exploring, and saw few people until afternoon. Little did we realize how precious that solitude would be by the end of the week. We heard that they discourage putting bags in staterooms until the ship has been cleared by the Coast Guard, but we dropped off our carry-on bags around noon, and just left the door ajar as we'd found it. All our luggage was at our cabin by 1:30. We were impressed. There is a duty free shop in the main terminal where one can purchase liquor and cigarettes. Reserve and prepay when boarding, then pick up the goods back inside the terminal between 3 and 4 p.m. just prior to sailing. We didn't get liquor there, but a carton of Kools cost $17.00. Ship & Cabin The details of the Century is well detailed elsewhere, so I will just confirm that everything heard about her being spotless and absolutely beautiful are true. One cannot tell that this ship is 6 years old. We saw staff dusting ceilings, and the tops of baseboards(!). We had absolutely no complaints about the condition of the ship or our cabin. We had cabin 8026, category 5, deck 8 outside forward starboard, and were very happy with the location. The cabins are indeed very efficient and roomier than one would expect; the bathroom was easily twice the size of the one in our cabin on the Nordic Empress. I cannot, however, figure out what the deal is with the 'mummy-you-up' shower curtains on ships. There must be something better. However, the shower itself was the best. It had very strong pressure and a good showerhead. We loved the shampoo and lotion dispensers on the wall. Do take your own hair dryer as the one provided is weak. The very large window was wonderful! We opened the shade at night and could look up at the sky from the bed. A bit of serendipity as there was a full moon, which shone into our room every night. It was lovely, and we enjoyed the window throughout the cruise. Not sure we could do another inside cabin. Steward Rowell (Philippines) was helpful when needed, but otherwise was unobtrusive and the cabin was very well kept. Embarrassed to say we never learned the name of his assistant, a very pleasant guy with poor English who was actually much more visible than Rowell. It seemed he was folding towels in the hall every time we passed by, whether 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. We wanted to store our own soda in the fridge, so we asked Rowell to remove the items in the "pay as you go" room fridge, which he did. At $1.95 + 18% gratuity per can, we brought our own. Soda is never free on this ship. It is highway robbery. The Sony interactive TV is great when it works, but it was temperamental and tended to 'hang up' like a computer crash. We frequently had to turn the TV off then on again to use the various functions. That said, it was very handy to periodically check our ship bill. Curiously, our movie channel broadcast was in dubbed German, even though every other channel was in English. Casino Well, what can I tell ya. It's a cruise ship casino, characteristically small, but staff was extremely friendly and overall it was a fun place. Has the usual slots, blackjack, roulette, poker and craps. There were many more slot jackpots over the week than we expected, and fairly good action most nights on the tables. There were a few dismal nights in the middle of the week, where no one seemed to be winning, but things picked up. We lost more than we budgeted, of course, but the roulette wheel was very kind the last night, and I ended up... um... almost even for the week. Clientele Overall, everyone we met was very nice. In a group so large, there are always a few who are annoying, and they always seem to be nearby, don't they? Oh well. We just avoid them. There was a full range of ages, from small kids to elderly, but the majority appeared to be 40-80, many at the upper end of that. We talk to everyone, and are not very age-conscious, so don't notice things like that much. Most were American, but there was a large German contingent on board as well. Days at Sea We'd never been on a 7 night in the Caribbean, so never had days at sea before. What a treat. Might just seek out cruises with more sea days and fewer ports next time. We sunned, swam, sat in the hot tub, wandered the ship, did spa treatments, napped... it doesn't get much better. Deck Chairs Relative to Days at Sea Oh boy. Should I even comment on this? Okay, at the risk of starting something, I will say that the propensity for nastiness over chairs is appalling. It would be great if everyone played nice and didn't reserve blocks of unused chairs for hours, but the sad truth is some people are simply not considerate of their fellow travelers. The attitude of entitlement displayed was embarrassing. We could not always find chairs around the pool--because of saved, but empty seats--but there were always chairs on the upper deck. We found that we actually enjoyed the upper deck more because it was quieter. The cruise lines need an enforceable policy on this, and that's all I'm going to say about it. Dining and Food We have booked early seating on both our cruises. When we sailed the Nordic last year, we booked a table for 10, and only one couple showed up, so we had just a foursome. Granted, we got serendipity in the form of a window side table, so we're not complaining. This time we booked a table for 6, and just one other couple showed up, so we had a foursome again. While we enjoyed our table partners both times, we think we'll book for 8 next time to increase our options. It's nice to meet others and compare notes about ports and activities. We are not fussy eaters or gourmands, but enjoy a decent meal. We thought the food overall was wonderful. We do not expect 5* food in what is essentially a banquet setting, and thought they did a great job. Meals appeared cooked to order, fresh, hot, and beautifully presented. We were not really disappointed in anything we had, though I did have ginger chicken one night that was a little overwhelming. Desserts, as anticipated, were wonderful. Our waiter, Timothy Codner (Jamaica), and assistant, Made (Philippines) were both fantastic and they brightened every evening. Timothy was working on the Seabreeze when Premier went bankrupt. They spent 3 weeks in Halifax waiting for a decision as to their next stop. Not sure he ever got paid. He had only been on the Century for a month or so, and this was the first week he and Made had worked together, but we sure couldn't tell. Timothy is absolutely a class act, and we had superb service the entire week. Both were well spoken and had a great sense of humor. Can't say enough positive about the two of them. We had breakfast in the dining room two times, and while it was nice to order French toast off a menu, breakfast is pretty much breakfast. With semi-open seating (they do seat you, but it's not at your regular table), this allowed us to meet some new people, and we enjoyed that. Breakfast and lunch buffets were standard cruise fare. Some okay, some not so, but no one appeared to be starving. The burger/hot dog bar at the pool area mid-day is very good. The pizza, served from 4:00 on, is surprisingly good, and we even had one delivered to our cabin one night for dinner. Next time we'll order two--it was really too small for both of us. Entertainment We went to the evening entertainment all but two nights, and enjoyed all. We both enjoy music, and can find something of merit in just about any show. The song and dance troupe is young, energetic, quite talented, and we thought they did a good job. In my very humble opinion, the nature of this setting lends itself to cheesiness, and the Vegas show did not disappoint, but it was still good. There was a show called, "The Beat Goes On" where they never did that song, but they did sing "Daydream Believer" while slides of the Mamas and Papas appeared on the big side screens. I resisted the urge to tell them that that song was by the Monkees. ;-) The comedy show with Jim McDonald was just okay, a little tame for our tastes but probably suitable to the majority of the audience. He did do a slide show toward the end that was hilarious. In sum, I suppose he had his moments... The cheesiest of the cheesy was Mark Preston of the Letterman, who wore a sequined black tux and diamond jewelry, and worked the crowd shaking hands throughout the house as he sang "Copacabana." He got a guy in the audience singing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" to his wife, which was a huge hit with the crowd. That guy was a real sport. Despite the ultra-Vegas atmosphere, I enjoyed the show (though John didn't particularly); Preston has a wonderful voice and had a good selection of music. Think Tom Jones without the hips. What little other on-board music we heard was good. This included a band that played at the pool, a duo that played in the lounge prior to dinner, and an acapella group we heard sing one song. Imagine there were others as well, but we didn't spend much time sitting in lounges, and we don't disco. Expenses on Board You already know my thoughts about paying for soda, and the spa details are below. The only other comment: We asked about having our formal clothes pressed the first day on board, and Rowell told us to give him the clothing the next morning, once we were at sea. After reviewing the price sheet as we were putting the items together to give to him, I realized they charge a 50% surcharge for same-day service. So... if you want your formal clothes pressed for the first formal dinner on the first day at sea, you will pay 150% of the usually fairly reasonable charges. They know people will want clothes pressed for formal night, and it just seemed deceptive to me. Embarrassed to say I gave Rowell quite a hard time about this (but sheepishly and contritely apologized immediately afterward). Not a huge economic deal--paying 7.50 instead of $5 for something... on a $1000 cruise-- but it's the principle. Just be aware. Fitness Room Used this only the first morning; my intentions were good anyway. It's a decent facility with great views off the bow of the ship. It seemed to get heavy use, and the equipment seemed somewhat worn. I also did one stretching class that was well attended, mostly by females (go figure). There are free classes and activities every day. Spa This is an attractive spa with nice facilities and pleasant staff. A basket with towel and bathrobe is provided when entering, and lockers are available. The locker rooms each had a steam room, and toiletries and the usual shampoo dispenser in the shower. The first day at sea, we couldn't resist the Rasul Mud Treatment for couples. An attendant took us into a multi-chamber room. The first area has cabinets and stools; it's a place for talking to the spa staff and undressing/dressing. They offer little paper g-strings if you're modest, but frankly, I doubt they'd hold up to the process. Best to go naked. The middle room has two showerheads, shower stuff and benches. The inner room is a steam room. After undressing, you go into the middle room, shower just to wet the skin, then use Dead Sea salt, facial scrub, and body scrub to exfoliate (each other). After rinsing, move into the steam room, where there are three bowls of mud. One is for faces, one for front of the body, the other for the backside. You smear this mud all over (each other), and sit in the steam room while the mud conditions your skin and runs all over the place (it's fun, really). About 15 minutes later, showers in the steam room ceiling come on and rinse most of the mud off. That rinse is about the best feeling in the world. You then go back into the middle area, and shower from head to toe. The attendant knocks when the shower goes off, you go back into the outer room wrapped in towels, and are given oils and lotions to put on (each other). We were both soft as a baby's behind. Incredible. Before and after, we spent about 1/2 hour at the Thallasotherapy Pool (T-pool), which contrary to some reports is not just your average Jacuzzi. Difficult to describe, but I'll try: it is approximately 10' x 20' and has several stations with varying arrangements of strong water jets. There is an area at one end with horizontal metal bars that form a seat spanning the width of the pool. You lay on it, and bubbles come up between the bars, pretty much massaging you all over. There is an area at the other end with tremendous 'surf' that would have carried me across the pool had I not hung on. As I said, difficult to describe, best to experience it, but trust us: if you like hot tubs, this will knock you out. It's simply wonderful. The whole spa experience was very relaxing. If purchasing a spa treatment, the T-pool is available for about 1/2 hour on either end of the treatment. And unless booked in a suite, the T-pool normally costs $15/day (or $80/week). Well worth whatever it takes, and highly recommended. Rasul is offered to singles with an attendant doing all the "partner" scrubbing and mud application for $75 (I assume they don't actually participate...), or do it as a couple for $80, plus the usual 10% service fee, for what we're not sure. We thought for $44 each it was a good deal, especially with the T-pool. The attendant asked about our skin types, do we have stress (uh, yeah), etc., then plugged a few products at the end. We didn't buy, and she didn't push. We also didn't tip, since they added the 10% and after all, we did everything. That said, it wasn't exactly a hardship. My understanding is on the Millennium, this is called the "Etruscan Chamber" and it's $83 per person. It was worth $44 each to us, but not sure we'd spend twice that for it. Ubiquitous Photographers Aren't they though. These folks make me crazy. They are everywhere on every cruise, and in my experience, there usually isn't one photo worth buying. This time we actually had one formal shot and two others that were good enough to buy, despite the ransom. With 8 x 10's costing $24.95, and reprints for $20 each, one can drop a good amount just on pictures. At the risk of admitting copyright infringement, I bought the photos and had a friend scan them onto a disk for me... Ports: We did not preplan anything, and took no cruise line excursions. In the past, we found group tours crowded and unpleasant. We knew what we hoped to do in each port, and decided to wait until we were on shore to arrange anything. If we were not able to do what we planned, we'd find a beach or something. And, we are not drinkers, nor do we generally visit the usual tourist spots, e.g., Carlos & Charlie's. Sorry. Monday, Feb 5: Jamaica We did not want to climb Dunn's Falls, so we planned only to go take pictures, buy coffee and return to the ship. While we were in the cab to the falls, the driver mentioned he'd do private tours, so we decided to do that instead. For $50, he would tour us wherever we wanted to go for 3 hours. We thought this was a good deal. As Jamaica gets some very bad press, we wanted to learn more about the people and their lives, hoping to balance the negatives we'd read, and spending time with a local seemed the best opportunity for that. The driver (John W. Edwards, aka Slow Eddie, JUTA tours, 917-2140 (his card does not have area code), was polite, informative and humorous, and we highly recommend him. He drove into the mountains, through Fern Gully, the rainforest, and several small villages. He took us to the so-called "Blue Hole," a spring-fed swimming hole and water source. We stopped at the base of Dunn's Falls to take some pictures (no charge, except the $1 tip to the guy at the door who did nothing but sit at the door), and at the Dolphin Encounter overlook. He also took us through St. Ann's Bay--where Columbus is said to have landed, making a few more photo stops along the way. We also shopped briefly near port to get coffee and cigars. Got coffee haggled down to $12.95 per pound (was twice that the next day in Cayman), and Macanudo cigars about $12 for 10, against $7 each on the ship. Our tour was very enjoyable, and we saw and learned things we would not have on an organized cruise line tour. We ended up paying him $70 for the two of us, figuring he could have made more than that running folks to and from the port during those 3 hours with us. While touring, we talked with Eddie about life in Jamaica. The population is 2.2 million, unemployment is about 52%, minimum wage about $.80/hour U.S. and tax rate is about 60%. The schools are so crowded, the kids go in shifts--some in the morning, some in the afternoon. Like most islands, there are problems with what to do with garbage, and the poverty seemed overwhelming to us, though probably not much worse than many Eastern Caribbean islands. It just seemed so much more crowded in Jamaica. As noted elsewhere, locals have to be extremely resourceful to make a living. Guys in costume on stilts (think Mocko Jumbie) dance on the streets in the mountains. If you take their picture, a tip is expected. Others with animals or birds also expect a tip if a photo is taken. Anyone who does anything for you expects a tip. We did not take any pictures of people in the streets, nor pay any tips, except to Slow Eddie and the guy at the door at Dunn's Falls. We are glad we went and learned what we did, because it did increase our appreciation for the hardships they face; however, we doubt we'd return. We're not that interested in a place where however wonderful the resorts may be, visitors are discouraged from going outside the resort gates. Quite unfortunate. Though the country is geographically beautiful, we found people in the shops and walkways overbearing, and sorry to say, occasionally creepy in their pleas to "look at my goods." Our driver and those we met through him were very nice, but the grabbing and hard sell by others was a major turn- off. While I respect their efforts to support themselves, there's got to be a better way. Wish I had the answer, but I don't. How Jamaica and Cayman--which both achieved independence from Britain about the same time--can be so economically divergent is a mystery to me. Maybe someone out there can explain it? Tuesday, Feb 6: Cayman We wanted to go to Stingray City, and as expected, there were many vendors selling these trips as we got off the tender. We decided to go with Captain Larribee & Sons on the Cayman Beauty (she wasn't much of a beauty, but was seaworthy. Cell phone: 345-916-4934, fax: 345-946-4597, email: email@example.com). We booked with son Shane for $25 per person. The captain drove us and another couple to 7-mile beach to kill a half hour until they were ready to go to S.C. They picked us up there, and drove to the marina. The cruise line trips each had 60-70 passengers packed onto each boat at $49/pp; for half the cost, we had about 12 passengers on a very comfortable boat, free soda included. The waters were rough and the skies overcast as we motored out, but once we arrived, the clouds cleared, and we proceeded to feed and swim with the stingrays. We stopped at Coral Gardens for some snorkeling on the way back. Waters were very rough, and the snorkeling so-so at best, but anything would have paled next to Stingray City. This experience was fantastic and quite special. We'd do it again in a heartbeat. A do not miss. Wednesday, Feb 7: Cozumel We did not dock until almost 11 a.m., after stopping at Playa del Carmen to drop off Chichen Itzen daytrippers. We rented a jeep at the pier. Some say rates are about $10 less in town, but since a cab is $5 each way from pier to town, we decided we may as well rent from someone at the pier. We ignored the first two guys who accosted us as we walked into the area, and chose National, which was not soliciting folks. We did check, and every company seemed to be charging the same, $55. We did not opt for the extra insurance. The tank was almost empty when we picked it up, which is apparently standard, but we had enough to drive around the island, about 55 miles. We stopped first at Playa San Francisco, which has a bar and facilities and rental chairs for about a buck. Snorkeling is only fair since it's not really near the reefs, but it was still very nice. The beach was free, but the guy in the parking lot expected a tip. We proceeded along the south to east shore, which is incredibly beautiful. The beaches are very long with huge crashing waves and blowholes. It looked too rough for good swimming, but the scenery is terrific. There is very little development on that side of the island except for a few bars and souvenir shops. We got a heavy, beautifully woven multi-color Mexican blanket for $20 at one stop. Do haggle; the first price given for the blanket was $45. Lighter weight blankets are available for just a few dollars, but heard they shrink up like a cheap t-shirt. Off the cross-island road on the way back to the pier, we stopped at San Gervasio ruins to explore (about $6/pp, well worth it). We also stopped briefly in town to shop. It took about 5 hours to do the entire tour, and we felt completely safe. People we met were very nice. Though the ship didn't leave until 8:00, with early seating we returned to the ship about 5. We were somewhat unhappy about this, since we didn't have time to do the snorkeling we'd hoped to do. We easily could have used several more hours here. A caution: We put $5 gas in the Jeep, which admittedly may have been a little less than needed to cover our travels, but National charged us $7 additional for gas. Not worth fighting about, but better to put a few extra dollars in before returning the jeep than get totally skewered (as it were) by the rental company. Friday, Feb 9: Key West We intended to spend the morning on shore and be back to enjoy our last afternoon on board by early afternoon. We walked the two blocks to the ticket booth for the Old Town Trolley Tour (this is not the train). It cost $19 each, and we tipped the driver about $5. It was a very enjoyable 1-1/2 hour narrated tour that covered much of the island. Many hop on and off at various spots to explore, but we didn't. We then shopped a while, picking up tee-shirts at Hog's Breath Saloon and the Harley shop, and Key Lime pie and cookies (yum!) at the Key Lime Shop. The proprietor there was a hoot-- definitely a real Key West guy. It's a fun environment, and we hope to go back sometime for a longer period. Post-Cruise and Miscellaneous: Following the cruise, we spent a few days in Clearwater. We love to ride motorcycles, but weather in Ohio has had John's bike garaged since last October. Craving a fix, as it were, he rented a Harley Davidson Heritage Softtail from Street Eagle of Tampa (17510-C US Hwy 41 N, Lutz (north Clearwater) FL, 877-305-8899, firstname.lastname@example.org). Owners Tony and Cindy Waters were great to work with, and we enjoyed our day of riding in sunny, 82-degree weather. Cost about $100 for the day. They do offer a 10% discount for HOG members. Highly recommended. Air travel: We flew US Air Columbus-Charlotte-Fort Lauderdale, then FLL-Pittsburgh-Columbus. We also flew Southwest from Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa. All flights were on time. No luggage was lost. Airline personnel were pleasant. There were no delays, problems or annoyances. Probably shouldn't even say that out loud, eh? Hotels and Car Rental: To save money on our one night pre- and three nights post-cruise in Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale, I used Priceline (PL) for hotels and cars. Costs are provided to show what's available if one is willing to be flexible on lodging and car companies. All prices are our total cost, rounded to the nearest dollar, including all taxes and PL fee of $5.95 per booking. Hotels: 2/2/01, Ft. Lauderdale: La Quinta, W. Cypress Creek Road, PL cost $40. We arrived after 11:30 p.m. and left at 8 a.m. The room was clean and comfortable and we slept well. There was a nice pool area, which we didn't have time to use, and a continental breakfast that we didn't eat. The cab from the airport to the hotel was about $30. We had a back-up reservation at the Ramada Airport in case I found nothing on PL, but heard scary reports about it, so at the last minute decided better to cab to a less expensive hotel farther away. We ended up spending about the same amount we would have at the Ramada, but we were happier. 2/10-2/12, Clearwater: Residence Inn, Ulmerton Road, PL cost $98. We stayed here two nights. The room was large and very comfortable with fully equipped kitchen, sitting area, balcony, comfortable king bed, large bathroom. There is a nice pool and hot tub, grill for cooking out, laundry facilities, and a basketball court on-site. The free breakfast was wonderful and extensive--omelets to order, Belgian waffles and hot dishes every day. A bargain. 2/12, Ft. Lauderdale: Homestead Village, West Commercial, Tamarac (north FLL), Pl cost $47. This is a fairly new property in the middle of a business district. Uninformed front desk clerk couldn't suggest places for dinner, but we found many restaurants in the area. No pool or other amenities. Coffee maker in the room, but the cup holding packets of creamer and sugar had bugs in it. Yuk. Shower drain was very slow, we stood in 3" water during a 5-minute shower. Yuk. Very comfortable bed, though. One night was okay; wouldn't stay there again by choice. Note to non-smokers: Each of these hotels put us in non-smoking rooms. When we asked to be moved to a smoking room, we were given ashtrays and told to smoke anyway. Just letting you know. Rental Cars: 2/10-2/12/01, Tampa: A compact from Hertz, PL cost $15/day, total for the two days, $46. Received a new Cavalier. We kept the car two hours past our 1:00 p.m. return time on 2/12, and were charged $8.75/hour by Hertz, which was less than if I'd booked through PL for three days (they book cars only in 24 hour periods). 2/12-13/01, Ft. Lauderdale: A standard from Alamo, PL cost $19/day, total for one day $33. Received a new Toyota Camry with sunroof. Very nice car. Would have liked it for the two days in Clearwater. ;) Well, that's about it. Or all I remember at the moment.
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