Wednesday, February 26, 2014

TRAVEL – February 22, 23, 24, 2014 –       

AT SEA .... Crossing the Equator

As far as I am concerned, being at sea on an “at sea” day is some of the best time of the trip. In the morning I get up for breakfast, meet with my knitting ladies to knit all morning long, have some lunch, either read, write the blog, or something else until late afternoon and then get ready for dinner. We have a favorite server named Jenny, and we usually sit at her table at around 7 o'clock PM and then either see a show or go to bed.

Now, the ship offers a number things to do during the day. They have a full service spa, a very nice fitness center, many pools, a library, lecture series, dance classes, trivia, bridge classes, ship tours, art auctions, jewelry auctions, shopping, coffee bar, checkers, putt-putt golf, basketball, belly dancing classes, health and circulation classes and movies…just to name a few. On February 24 the ship also celebrated crossing the equator.
King Neptune and court
King Neptune's crew

King Neptune requested all Polly-wogs (those who had never crossed the equator on a ship) to attend the equatorial trials of the Crown Princess. Some of the Polly-wog passengers were invited to attend court and stand accused of various crimes and submit to judgments passed down by King Neptune. Everyone else watched. 

 The guilty had to kiss a fish, kiss King Neptune’s feet and all were slimmed with something that looked like whipped icing/lard and punch. It was great fun, but I’m really glad I was not selected as one of the accused. Pictures were hard to take, but I've tried to include a few just to give you an idea. Half the ship’s passengers were hanging on the rails and five rows deep watching the action. The accused eventually were thrown in the pool to clean off the slime. Great fun was had by all.

No….Sea Days are NOT boring!! The adventure continues…Next stop Recife, Brazil.

Travel – February 21, 2014…..

Trinidad and Tobago
Mt. St Benedict’s Monastery 

I thought I’d change gears on this one, and the following introductory comments were drawn from a January 2014 CIA World Facts Book.

First colonized by the Spanish, the islands came under British control in the early 19th century. The islands' sugar industry was hurt by the emancipation of the slaves in 1834. Manpower was replaced with the importation of contract laborers for the Cocoa industry. The discovery of oil on Trinidad in 1910 added another important export. Independence was attained in 1962. The country is one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean thanks largely to petroleum and natural gas production and processing. Tourism, mostly in Tobago, is targeted for expansion and is growing. The government is coping with a rise in violent crime.
Many oil rigs around city harbor

Trinidad has over 1.6 million people. Building on the island is at an unbelievable pace. Our short walking tour to the downtown Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad was a clear confirmation of the CIA facts book. The city was large, with lots of people and an enormous amount of traffic. We decided not to go on an organized tour. There really was not much interesting offered, and the traffic really could not guarantee that you would make it back in time for the ship’s departure.
Dock at Port of Spain

Instead we walked off the boat without a map and just wandered. Maybe not the wisest thing to do, but we did it anyway. We first met a local city provided tour guide in a red shirt standing on the corner and asked where the nearest shopping was. She gave us directions, which was contrary to where all the crowds from the ship were going. We were not quite sure she had given us good guidance. Later we asked a couple coming from the other direction what they had seen. They looked wide eyed and said they had turned around when they heard that the shopping was a very long way away and the pick-pocketing was rampant and they had seen police with machine guns. They had turned around before reaching the shopping area. At that point we decided to follow the local guide’s instructions.

Market just outside port
Independence Street

We crossed the street and headed down Independent Street toward the center of downtown. We hit the main downtown city shopping area. It included a number of indoor shopping malls and outside markets. It was interesting to walk around the markets. There were a lot of people walking around, both local residence and tourists, however, it appeared little trade was taking place. The shop owners were just standing around watching the crowd. The only thing I really saw as maybe a final team member of a pick pocket team stuff a purple wallet inside his pants. Seems that this trade is also popular in all types of crowds. Everything is normal in a big city…no matter what part of the world you are in. And so it goes for time in eternity.

Tug boat seeing the ship out to sea

There are some places to visit like Queens Park Savannah, the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Asa Wright Nature Center and the Mt. St Benedict’s Monastery. Our friends visited a few of these places. They loved the guide and the information about the island, but other than the view they were not too excited about the tour. I enjoyed going back to the ship early. I love being at sea!! 

The next few day we will spend at sea!! You might wonder what we do at sea. Well, hang on! My next blog will give you an idea what happens where you cross the equator on board a ship!! The adventure continues!!

John and our friend Cindy

Friday, February 21, 2014

Travel – February 19 and 20, 2014

Antigua and Barbados

What breath-taking islands these two beauties are. Both are independent countries with very proud citizens. When asked how you like their country and you gush with glee, they proudly smile and tell you when they won their independence. It would appear, however, that both are dependent on their neighbors, tourists and the world for their survival. Neither is self-sufficient and there is not enough industry to keep everyone working. In Barbados the unemployment rate is about 13% and the rate is going to go higher as the government is forced to lay off people in order to trim their budget. Hummmm - sounds so familiar. This repeats around the world. You need a going economy and good jobs before anything works. On some islands though, there is really nothing to make a good economy except the tourists. Other than that they are all living in heaven on earth. At least that is the case during the non-hurricane season.

Antiqua Beach and Boat harbor

In 1492, when Columbus sailed by Antigua, he named this island in honor of Maria de la Antigua, the saint he worshipped in Seville. Eventually the English gained control, and retained it until just 25 years ago when Antigua achieved independence.

The island was an important colonial base of the Royal Navy. The remains of its presence are still some of the most fascinating attractions to tourists -- a walk around historic Nelson's Dockyard and the grounds of Shirley Heights reveals remnants of a working Georgian harbor, old forts and officer's quarters, as well as a multitude of crumbling sugar mills from the days when sugar plantations ruled the island. In more recent years, English Harbor has become the capital of international yachting and sailing, whose activities are responsible for the surge in population during the winter months from 70,000 to 100,000. The season opens in December with the Antigua Yacht Show, and ends in May with Antigua Sailing Week, the largest annual regatta in the Caribbean.

Since gaining independence, Antigua has all but abandoned its agricultural heritage in favor of a tourist economy. The real highlights of the island lie well beyond the port town. With 365 beaches to explore, it's best to check out at least a few of them during your trip.

Antigua Harbor where the Crown Princess was docked
In Antigua we went sailing. What a kick that was. We took a local bus/van all the way across the island. It was an interesting trip and we really got to see the country as a local does. I sat next to a nice young man who worked for the park service at Nelson’s Dockyard. We started to chat about the island, America and Canada. If it wasn’t for him we would have gotten off miles early and really messed up the trip. Thank God there are gracious and kind people everywhere and we keep on running into them.

Rain squall and a sea swell ...AHHHHhhhhhh.....

Another couple Brooke and Larry from Denver, John and I rented a 40 foot sail boat with a crew of two, Lincoln and Simon from “On-Deck”. Lincoln and Simon are a very apt crew. Lincoln, late 20's something, is a professional crew and skipper guy who has participated in big-name ocean races and trans-ocean delivery of yachts. Simon, maybe 20, is just getting started. We sailed out and around the back side of the island for about two hours. Larry and Brooke race their boat on Chatfield Dam Reservoir back in Denver, but they also have experience out in the Caribbean. I could tell from the start we were in for a fast moving trip. The winds were blowing at 20 to 23 knots with gusts to 29 and the seas were choppy between 6 to 7 foot swells. From my perspective both seemed much faster and larger. The water kept coming over the bow and rolling over the gunnel. We were soaked to the bone by the time we got off…but we were all smiling. YAHOOOOooooo!!

Mushroom coral rocks on the beach

About 150 miles off the northeast coast of Venezuela, and the easternmost island in the Lesser Antilles, is the island of Barbados. It was discovered by Spanish navigators in the late 15th Century. The Portuguese visited the island in 1536, but they left it unclaimed, with their only remnants being an introduction of wild hogs for a good supply of meat whenever the island was visited. The first English arrived in Barbados in 1624. They took possession of it in the name of King James I. In 1627 the first permanent settlers arrived from England, and it became an English and later British colony. The population today is about 280,000.

A view from the top of the island of Barbados

I think that Barbados would be my island of choice. The weather was perfect, the island was beautiful, and the beaches were picture perfect. They have sugar cane, rum, and an inner island with promising agriculture possibilities if handled correctly. John and I both joked that we spotted a vacation home with our name on it. We took a 4X4 jeep tour planned by the ship. It consisted of a trip across the island to Bathsheba, through a small preserve with a dirt road, hence the 4X4 title of the trip. We saw the mushroom coral rock beach and lots of beautiful country side. I know there is much more to see in Barbados. Guess we will just have to come back! Darn!!!!

Back on the boat in the evening, we celebrated our 21st anniversary at the Crown Grill with Ed and Cindy. We had a lovely time and enjoyed being with good friends. I can’t believe John and I have been together that long. We are very lucky!! We both enjoyed the night and are looking forward to visiting Trinidad tomorrow. Then we have four days at sea. I think many of us are looking forward to a little rest. I know…..a rest from vacation….you think we are crazy! Well, hang on, there is more for this adventure. Hope you are enjoying the trip!

Barbados Country Flower

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Travel –February 15, 16, 17 & 18, 2014,

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

First pool with movie theater outside.
Second pool with bar and Jacuzzi
A long outside hallway along the 15th floor of the ship.

Boarding the ship on the 15th of February was a long arduous affair. Not everyone is as organized as John. Once we arrived at the registration counter it took us all of three minutes to check in, however, to get to the counter took about two hours. Some people on board indicated that they waited as long as two and a half hours. I guess the ship is going to so many countries with so many visa requirement and so many foreign passengers there was a lot to check at the reception desk. The first afternoon everyone was wandering around to familiarize themselves with the ship. The elevators were very slow and crowded. Now that people have spread out and gotten into a routine the boat is like a mini ant hill. It is an amazing thing to see. The boat holds a maximum of 3,000 passengers and 1,400 crew. The ship is 19 stories tall….yes….I said 19 stories. That is above the water line. It is a city, holding more than some towns in the US.
Another cruise ship leaving the harbor just before sunset

The pools are great!!!! (That is for my swimming buddies.) They have two pools that are 5 to 7 feet deep…YEA!!! Now…if I can only find a time when the lappers are not in the pool. There are a few other pools too, but smaller. For those who swim the Crown Princess is TOPS! They also have great food too! I could do with a few less people, but then again, that is just me. Pictures always say more than words. This is a nice ship!!! Two days at sea was very enjoyable, and I found a large group of women that like to knit. What more could I ask for?
Back bar and third pool...AWESOME!!

Coming in to St. Thomas on Tuesday morning rain clouds were all around. We planned on going on a catamaran sailing trip and snorkel trip to St. Johns. By the time we docked and the sun was fully up, the clouds were gone. This is the tropics! I have been on both islands a number of times. John has been here at least once, and I keep on reminding him of that…. no recollection. I don’t blame him. When you travel as much as we have some time you can forget a few. It always looks different, nothing ever stays the same. You can go back to a place many times because things are always changing. We docked at a new port and everything was new for me too. All the shops were new and we were farther away from the old downtown area. It is not a big problem for us. We are not big shoppers of diamonds and gold so we skipped that.

A beach near St. Thomas

St. Thomas is about 30 miles due east of Puerto Rico, and one of the world's most heavily trafficked cruise ports.  It is the most popular port of call in the Virgin Islands. Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the Virgin Islands, welcomes visitors to its shores. The island is packed with attractions, beaches and world-renowned shopping as I mentioned above.

Driving to and from the catamaran was informative and gave us a view of what St. Thomas living was really like. There are the really rich and the really poor. We saw both. Not quite sure where our tourist dollars go, but they don’t trickle down very far. There is a fair amount of poverty when you get away from the tourist area. I guess it is like all the U.S. Territories. They primarily exist for the tourists, but the tourist dollars support just a very few. Not sure how this is fixed, it is so around the world.

View of St. Thomas as the ship departs.

Back at the ship we washed the sand out of our suits and off our bodies, checked our email and waited for the ship to sail. It was a quick, short visit to St. Thomas and St. Johns but this time the swimming and beach landing will be memorable. This is another place I’d highly recommend for its beauty and various activities.

Guess what?? It is raining….it is the tropics!! Tomorrow we are headed to Antigua and we are going to sail with another couple on a Beneteau 40 ft. sail boat. This should be a load of fun!! Stay tuned; our adventure shall continue.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Travel - February 14, 2014 - 
Happy Valentines Day!!

We had another wonderful day in Florida.  Early this morning we woke up for an early breakfast so that we could meet Ralph from the tour company.  He picked us up about 9 o'clock to take us, plus three other couples, out to see the Everglades.  We road a van about 45 minutes outside Ft. Lauderdale to a park called Everglades Holiday Park and Gator Boys Alligator Rescue.

I'm going to keep the words to a minimum tonight and just share a few pictures.  I had a large video to share with you, but technology has over taken me.  Maybe tomorrow I'll have better luck.  It seems that Blogger, Picassa and Google like to continue to play with their programming and videos are no longer user friendly.  I'm also sure I am using a large amount of hotel band width.  Good thing it is late at night!

The photos were taken during our ride on the air-boat.  Some pictures were taken while on that ride and others were take during the Alligator wrestling demonstration and the Alligator rescue "education" show.  All in all, the gators just wanted to bask in the sun and sleep.  Who could blame them???  It was a fairly chilly day by Florida standards; around 67 degrees.  I wore a long sleeve sweater to dinner....buurrr...almost Seattle weather!!  We had a wonderful Valentines dinner with our friends at our favorite local restaurant at Pier 66.  Thanks was GREAT!!!

Tomorrow we board the ship.  It should be a busy day getting our luggage on board, unpacking and getting to know our way around the ship.  

The adventure just keeps getting better!!  Sure glad you are coming along for the ride.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

February 13, 2014 – Travel

Tampa, Florida, a little before 1 o’clock in the morning and the pilot advised that the storm in Ft. Lauderdale had passed and the airport was open. We were cleared for take-off and the ride would take about 39 minutes. We were one of about a half a dozen planes that had been rerouted due to the storm. I think we must have all arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at once.

Taxis were at a premium at 2 o’clock in the morning, but we eventually made it up to the head of the cue. Check-in at the hotel was quick and we had no problem finding our room. 
We were pleasantly welcomed by Charlie, a three inch cockroach running across the hotel room floor.  (No pictures were taken...I didn't want him to get away!)  It is a good thing I have lived in a warm, cockroach infested environment before. One big stomp and Charlie was headed for the trash. A few of his small cousins were also destined for the same end and we were ready to move in. AHHHHhhh home sweet home for a few days. Yes…we are in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida…a little humid after the rain, but not too bad. I’m not complaining. This is the best time of the year here!

Late to bed and late to rise, we had a tour schedule for later in the afternoon, but decided to reschedule for tomorrow morning. We are going to see the Everglades. That should be a lot of fun! We decided to take it easy, sit by the pool, take pictures, and catch up on the blog, sleep and just take it easy. AHHHhhhhhh, nice start to the first day of the trip after such a crazy plane ride.

After meeting Charlie last night, we met some of the other critters in the hotel courtyard today. I thought you might like to see a few. While we were lounging on our pool chairs Ignacio the Iguana decided to slither by.

I had three cameras with me, but the only one really handy was my phone. Ignacio poised for a while and then ran into the bushes again. You could hear the folks around the pool running for their cameras as he decided to make another appearance. I think he just like to play with the tourists. He probably does this every day. A program we just watched on TV indicated that they bite and can put you in the hospital. I’m sure glad I respected his space! Who knew???

John decided to go to the room and leave me alone with these creatures. I’m still writing the blog, when Emily the Egret decides to walk by and take a drink in the pool. She was very tame. She must be another one who enjoys entertaining the tourists. This time the closest camera was my computer. Isn't it wonderful to have so many tools available to capture experiences when they happen? Even so, it is still hard to reach for them fast enough.

I also got my Nikon D600 out and enjoyed a little camera time. I’ll spend more time with those and share them on my Artfully Ann’s Etsy Shop.

Stay tuned…the Everglades are on the slate for tomorrow!! I can’t wait!!

February 12, 2014 – Travel

Let the adventure begin! John and I left at a reasonable time Wednesday morning for the airport. Weather was beautiful by the time we arrived at the airport. Our flight took us from Seattle/Tacoma to Denver and then on to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. With the weather so horrible around the country and so many flights cancelled, we felt fortunate that we had good weather and smooth sailing all the way. At least that is what the Weather Channel and the meteorologist were saying.

The flight to Denver was smooth and uneventful. There was chop over the Rockies, but there always is. Denver skies were clear and you could see for miles. The sunset was one to remember. Our plane was full and it took a while to get everyone on board. I sat next to an interesting lady from Boulder who owns her own event planning company.

From the time we took off from Denver the pilot kept the fasten seat belt sign on. He indicated that there was weather in the area and we all had to stay seated. Oh really? It was some of the smoothest flying I’ve experienced. This was a four hour flight. For the first two plus hours everyone stays seated….no potty and not drinks…UGH!! People started to get restless. Eventually they let us move around. Stay tuned, there is more to this story….

I hear a whimper….yes…a whimper under my seat. Did you know that they let dogs on the plane?? Not just service dogs, but dog – dogs??? I’ve flown quite a bit in my life, but never with a dog. Her name was Sasha and she was from Denver. She actually belonged to the daughter of the lady that sat next to me. She was so sweet and spent most of the time curled up on the daughter’s lap. I just had to take a picture!!

About 45 minutes without seat belts and then there goes the  seat belt light again. An hour later and we are already to land in Ft. Lauderdale when the pilot announces that there is a major thunderstorm in the Ft. Lauderdale and the airport is closed. Could have fooled us. It’s still smooth sailing with our belts on!

They have diverted our plane to Tampa. Here is another first for me. Questions abound as to how and when we would make it to our destination. Would the weather eventually clear? Would the pilots still have enough flying time to take us to Ft Lauderdale? Would they bus us? Would we have to rent a car? By this time it is 1 o’clock in the morning East coast time the next day. John and I looked at each other and said…”Yes we are traveling again….”

Welcome to our next adventure!!!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Travel - February 4th,2014

A New Adventure!!!

John and I are taking off next week for Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  We are headed back to our old favorite Hyatt Regency on Pier 66.  This is the same hotel were we stayed prior to our trip across the Atlantic early in 2013.  This time we are getting ready for another adventure.  We are heading out on the Crown Princess, of the Princess Cruise Lines, for a trip around South America.  We end our trip in Los Angeles in early April.  It is going to be the trip of a life time.  

We will spend 49 days on board and of those 9 will be formal nights.  Packing is becoming a challenge.  I have a couple of "little??" black dresses and a variety of scarves.  I hope my Girl Scout training of dressing up and down a plain dress is up to this!  Thank goodness we have decided to pack a third bag or I don't think I would have had much to wear.  Shoes are so heavy and I'm not a one shoe girl.  Some of our friends are taking a side trip to Antarctica and have to pack polar gear as well.  Sure glad we have decided to skip that piece.  We will get to see penguins in the Falklands.  That works for me.

Here is an overview of our itinerary.  Some of my favorite days are those we spend at sea.  We will have a number of them through out the trip.  It is nice to rest between ports of call.  Otherwise is can be exhausting.

Cruise Itinerary Map

John and I will be blogging before or after each stop.  We look forward to sharing our experiences and letting all our friends, family and followers know what we are up to.  When my kids were little I always made everything we did an adventure.  Sometimes they were good adventures, sometimes they were challenging.  When I mention an adventure these days they just roll their eyes.  AND YET...they are still up for a good adventure when one is in the offing.

We hope that you will come along on this adventure and enjoy the ride.  Get your sea legs ready!!