Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On The Caribbean

We’ve been home for awhile, but I’ve not posted any pictures from our Caribbean Cruise. The 14 day cruise took us to several interesting ports of call. Aruba, Curacao, Grand Turk, St. Maarten and Puerto Rico. The whole purpose of the cruise was to see Puerto Rico...which we did and now we both want to see more. It might be worth our while to spend about a week there exploring what that pretty island has to offer.

We were on a Holland America ship, the Westerdam, which was ok, but not great! People had told us that HA cruises were more sedate than Princess or Royal Caribbean, and we found out they are! The sedate feeling started with the dark blue hull of the ship which led into an interior decorated with dark colors. It was nicely done, but it did not have a lot of pizzazz. It took me a week to get used to the darkness of the interior. In addition, there were no “WOW” features on the ship. The atrium was a mere 3 stories tall and while it did boast a beautiful chandelier, it was the size of my dining room with a spiral staircase. The “big room” where nightly performances were held was nice, but again, nothing that made you say “WOW...this is SOME place.”

Given that, it was a nice ship. We had a veranda room which was roomy and filled with light. The veranda was a nice place to sit and relax as we sailed from one island to another. With a small sitting area, it was a nice place to get away from the world. The drawback of any veranda or balcony is neighbors. The first 7 days we had quiet neighbors; the last 7 days we had noisy neighbors who smoked cigars! That’s the downside of having a veranda. My favorite cabin is a window cabin near the middle of the ship on a lower deck. It’s stable, has enough room and a view of the great outdoors. I know there are folks who like their penthouse suites, but face it...when you are way up in the top of the ship, there is a lot more movement than when you are near the water line. I don’t like the constant swaying back and forth. In addition, the penthouses are rarely in the middle of the ship, they are at one end or  the other, where you have more rocking. Give me a nice window cabin that is low and mid-ships and I’m happy. On some ships, I even like an inside cabin (i.e., the Sun Princess has inside cabins on deck 5 by the elevators, near the Promenade deck and not too far from the show room, the big atrium, and music.)

Our first stop was to Half Moon Cay which is an island in the Bahamas owned by Holland America. Princess and Royal Caribbean also own little cays in the Bahamas. It is a good way to get introduced to the Caribbean’s warm water and weather.

From there we stopped in Aruba. This was our second time in Aruba, so we did not take an organized shore excursion. We just walked the downtown area enjoying the heat, the colors, the boats in the harbor and all the tourists trying to buy stuff made in China from little stalls along the beach.

Next stop was Curacao. We did go on an organized excursion here...a mini-submarine/glass sided boat, that floated over the reef. It was great to see the fish and coral. From there we went to the Curacao plant and tasted 10 different types of Curacao liqueur which was quite tasty. My favorite was a mixture of coffee and chocolate.

Willemstad, Curacao (the capital) has 2 wonderful is an old pontoon bridge and the other is a zoomy, modern Queen Julianna Bridge. The bridges tell the story of the 2 sides of all the Caribbean islands...they are a mixture of old and new and sadly the new is usurping land from the old, changing the feeling of the place. If you want to see the old Caribbean you probably need to see a movie filmed there in the 60s as there is not much “old” left (at least not on the islands we visited on this trip.)

These 2 islands are part of the ABC group (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) and are in the Netherlands Antilles. There’s a lot of Dutch influence on the islands which can be see in their architecture...but with a Caribbean bent. In Holland the colors are dark, in the Caribbean the colors are bright and garish and completely wonderful. The license plate for Curacao shows off the typical architecture and color.

We learned how the Antilles got their name. The area was discovered by the Spanish in the 1500s and they called the little islands “Islas Inutiles”which means “unusable islands.” Over time the word “Inutiles” was corrupted in Antilles. So now you know a piece of not very useful information.

From Curacao we circled back to Fort Lauderdale and we got off the ship and saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. The movie came out the day we sailed, so we were unable to see it on opening day (which we have done in the past). Using Fandango, I found a theater in a shopping mall in Ft. Lauderdale that was going to show the moving the following Friday. When we landed, took a taxi to the mall and saw the10 AM show at their IMAX theater. (I liked the movie, BTW.) When it was over, we called the taxi, he picked us up and we were back on the ship before sail-away. See the other DrC’s blog for a review of the movie.

There were some flowers, but not that many. When I saw some that were pretty, I snapped away. The whole time I’m taking pictures and learning how to use my new camera. I bought a Canon EOS 60D DSLR camera which is huge, has all sorts of bells and whistles and can capture some good images.

The next day we were on the Caribbean again sailing toward Grand Turk and Caicos Islands. I was expecting to see a huge island because the name is GRAND...and I was a bit disappointed to see a small, flat expanse in a very blue sea. We had a shore excursion planned for the island, but it was cancelled, so we walked around looking at the beaches and birds.

One of the newer “things” that is happening on all the Caribbean Islands are formal shopping zones that have been built at the end of the piers. The ships tie up to the piers and the first thing a passenger sees is the newly built Duty Free Shopping Zone.

They all look the same; they all sell the same stuff but with different island names on it; and they are all a waste of time, in my opinion. While they are clean and well organized and air conditioned, they have reduced the charm of the islands. The “old” ways have been replaced by a new commercialism. To add to that is the number of condos that have been built along the beach. The first place I saw the over-build-up of condos was Bora Bora where you cannot see the beach from the interior of the island because it has been built up with fancy hotels and condos. Well, the Caribbean is getting that way too.

On the other hand, there are beaches here as it’s not quite as built up as the bigger island. You might be able to see that Grand Turk is flat!

The beaches in Curacao were filled with condos, the same with Aruba and even Grand Turk. Grand Turk had these low-rise condos.

I’ll stop whining...Grand Turk is named after a cactus that has a flower that looks like a fez. It’s wild all over the island. I know it sounds strange that there are cacti growing in the tropics, but that’s not uncommon. There are cacti in Hawaii.

The next stop was St. Maarten/St. Martin. It is an island with a split personality. St. Maarten is Dutch; St. Martin is French. On the Dutch side the coin of the realm is the Gilder; on the French side the coin of the realm is the Euro. The Dutch-side license plate is more typical of the US, while the French side license plate is from the Euro-zone with the characteristic F on it for France. It was a good place for a bargain as they were taking US Dollars as par for Euros...about a 40 cent differential.

We took an island tour driving along the 16 miles of Dutch territory and the 21 miles of French territory. The two sides of the island are different, but the yachts found in the harbor were something else!

 The water is absolutely wonderful...look at that blue...and the temps were running in the 80s!

As you know I count the countries I have visited based on the list found in the Century Travel Club...and St. Maarten/St. Martin are considered 2 countries, so we have now visited 87 separate countries and we’ve seen an 88th (Pitcairn Island) but it does not count. You have to step foot on the country for it to count and we only saw Pitcairn.

This is a statue peg-legged Peter Stuyvesant--you’ve heard of him of New Amsterdam/New York fame. He lost his leg in a battle on St. Maarten. The story goes that the leg is buried on the island, but the rest of him is buried in Manhattan.
From SM/SM we sailed to Puerto Rico, the destination we wanted to go to in the first place. We did not arrive on the island until noon and we only stayed about 6 hours.

We did not have enough time to see everything, but we did take a tour of old San Juan and we did see the beautiful old fort built in the 1500s. I had wanted to see that fortress since I was 14 and my sister’s in-laws lived in Puerto Rico. I read about that distant island and I was mesmerized by pictures of the Fort. It was all that I expected and it was good!

Note that the Fort is on the license plate...and it’s very fitting.

The last stop was Half Moon Cay again, then back to Ft. Lauderdale where we were met by our friend from Sarasota. It took 2 days to fly home, but you’ve already read about that mess. I must admit that the flying fiasco was rewarded by United. They asked me to evaluate their flights, which I did. Today they told me they were sorry for our inconvenience and they rewarded me with 12,500 miles and I was given United credit for the Continental miles. While not a monetary reward, I can always use more frequent flyer miles and they did hear my plight by responding to me personally. I was impressed and surprised!
This has been a long entry, but I hope it gave you an idea what it was like to sail in the Caribbean. There are few more islands to visit, but I would like to return to Puerto Rico for a week or so and explore it before taking another cruise there.
It’s now time to sail off in the sunset for the next adventure.

There are some more pictures to post from the Caribbean, and I’ll get them out next posting.

No comments: