Sunday, 30 April 2017

Caribbean Cruising (March 2017)

I wasn’t sure if cruising would be my thing or not. The idea of six countries in seven days was great but would I have enough time to enjoy each one? Thankfully, with the exception of Puerto Rico, they were all small islands thus, during the 9 hour dock, there was enough time to get a feel of each.
Miami beach Barbados
The cruise started in Barbados. I flew out four days prior, but there really isn’t much more that I can say about this amazing island than I’ve said in several blogs over the years. Highlight of Barbados this year - $100 dollars from Chefette as a thank you for the themed cake I baked and shared on Facebook. The quality of their food has declined a bit - but the ice-cream was as good as ever.

There was a busy hustle at the port on the morning of our departure but thankfully I was at the front of the queue so it wasn’t too long before boarding the ship. There were six of us in my party and only one had cruised prior so it was great sharing this new experience with some of my nearest and dearest. 
Carnival Fascination is one of the smallest of the Carnival fleet but as I wasn’t planning on spending too much time on board, I wasn’t disheartened by the lack of things like a climbing wall (which I had always associated cruise ships).
The embarkation process was smooth. Many passengers were thrown by having to have printed ESTAs but crew were very helpful in printing them for us. I’ve travelled to the US almost every year since they were introduced and have never had to provide the printed document (kindda defeats the purpose of it being electronic). We were talked through the crucial elements in 2’s and handed the key cards for our staterooms before having our photos taken. We were then free to deposit our luggage in our room and head on up to the Lido dinning area for lunch. All I’ll say on the food front is that I ate way too much during my time on board. 'Sampling’ everything going for lunch, three course breakfast and evening meals in the Sensation Dining Room where I ordered multiple starters, mains and desserts was to prove detrimental to my waistline by the time I disembarked. 

A few hours after we set sail, I felt a little queasy and a little unsteady on my feet. But I pushed through and happy to report I wasn’t sick at all.

St Lucia
First stop. I had visited this island in 2002 but couldn’t remember much more than the volcanoes. We went with one of the taxi tour guides from the port. Ignatius welcomed us to the island and gave us lots of information as we drove. I asked the family travelling with us who they were. Tracey, Kenny and their 17 year old son Wesley were from Novia Scotia. Great family to be paired with.
We drove by plantations, lots of greenery and residential areas. We stopped at some popular view points on our way to Soufriere volcano. There were several views of the Pitons from various locations on the island and I even had the chance to take some photos of Margot Bay, where the original Doctor Dolittle was filmed.  

                                                                                St Kitts
It was my first time here and I loved everything about this cute little island from the moment I left the ship. Talbert (but said we could call him William) welcomed us to his Safari style bus with speakers so we could hear

him as he drove. Again lots of information about the island. He not only told us about the fruit trees but stopped to pick us samples when possible. The rain threatened to spoil the tour but the plastic covers he pulled down the sides sheltered us while still providing a clear view. I enjoyed listening to the accents on the island as I’m not familiar with anyone form St Kitts. While Caribbean islands are very similar in many ways, I enjoyed noticing some of the little difference. Like there was definitely a lot less pressure to buy stuff from locals than in St Lucia.
The view from the top of the island where The Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea and where I could see Nevis (St Kitts ’twin’ island) in the distance was stunning.

St Maarten
Something about this gorgeous island made it my favourite of all our stops. Roland our driver was great. Friendly, funny, engaging. We just happened to be touring with the family we had met in St Kitts so it was fun exchanging our cruise stories thus far. I got the feeling that St Maarten, divided into both French and Dutch sides, was so far the dearest of the islands we had stopped at. Still, I was able to haggle down my St Maartens bag from US$10 to $7. St Barts and Anguilla were visible in the distance.
We drove through a nudist beach where I could see an older gentleman strolling the sand in all his glory…but we didn’t bathe there.  Instead I asked Roland to take us to Maho Beach on the Dutch side - where the planes fly so low over the sea it feels like you can reach up from the water and touch them. Exciting and slightly scary at the same time. Something like this would NEVER be allowed in the UK. There was also a slight pull as the waves receded from the sand, so I’m watching the planes land and take off and trying to stay upright in the ocean all at the same time. I was the only one to venture into the sea from our group but I throughly enjoyed every moment of it. I didn’t get to stay as long as I would have liked but that’s okay - I will definitely be back God spare life for a longer stint on the island. There was just enough time for a spot of souvenir shopping before returning to the ship.

                                                                                     Puerto Rico
My best day was followed immediately by my least favourite on our next stop. We’d been touring as a group so far and today was they first day that we had planned in advance to separate. Despite my best effort to avoid any confusion or umm-ing and arr-ing, things went pear shaped. Mum veered from what she said she was going to do shopping wise, which meant that we missed our 10am walking tour by about ten minutes trying to sort her out. My preference was to wait for the 11am tour but I relented and went with the rest of the group on what they deemed to be the free trolley tour only it wasn’t a tour. We just drove around aimlessly for about ten minutes before getting out and taking a taxi to Las Americas Shopping Mall. Tony went to watch a film, Mich and I wondered the shops, Mum and Phyliss headed to K-mart and Tash shopped solo. I did purchase my first bottle of OPI nail polish for a mere $3 (usually £12 in UK) as the brand was being discontinued in PR but otherwise it was a wasted day on my part. I was grateful for the time I had at the end to wonder the streets of Old San Juan but no way near enough time to do any real justice to this historic city. 

Day at sea
The following day was an entire day at sea.  A lovely brunch was served in The Dining Room but my over indulgence was catching up with me and I felt like I didn’t quite do it justice. There were

several activities to keep us occupied throughout the day and thankfully my desire to eat constantly has started to wane. 

St Thomas
Our final stop before returning to Barbados the next day. Our driver, Miguel, in St Thomas wasn’t as informative as the ones from the other islands which was a bit of a shame but he did answer all the questions I posed re the island. He also didn’t have the facility to speak to us via loudspeaker as he drove. We stopped at several vantage points and I again marvelled at just how gorgeous the turquoise seas are in this part of the world. There was slightly more time for shopping after the day’s tours. The advantage here was that St Thomas is a US Virgin island so the same cheap prices as the US but less the tax we had to pay in Puerto Rico. (I say cheap, but with the terribly poor exchange rate of the sterling I didn’t really feel the benefit)

There were nightly shows at the Palace Theatre and I was the only one in the group to attend all seven. Night one was Marcus Anthony. He had a good voice but spent too much time chatting and not enough singing. Night Two was a Motor City production which was good. Next was a Love & Marriage show with 3 couples chosen from the audience; funny in parts but could have been better. Then it was Manny Zuniga the juggling comedian; very skilled. The Game show the following night was a little lame. Next it was the Welcome Aboard Show mostly geared towards those who had joined the previous night. And the last night was the Divas show. I also braved the karaoke and did an appalling job of howling out the lyrics to Whitney's, I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

Not enjoying the frog legs
My final few nights in Barbados saw me dine at The Deck Restaurant. Lovely location, perfect for a night walk on the beach and nice Caribbean style buffet. I also saw me braved the karaoke at the bar next door to our house. I say braved because Bajans take karaoke very seriously and I’ve never seen a local do it badly. I sang I Will Survive but pre-warned the audience first. I think it was my energy and enthusiasm that got the DJ to get me to restart from the beginning part way through and a round of applause - not the actual noise coming from my mouth.

All too soon I was back on the plane heading home….but it would only a matter of weeks before I headed off again. 

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