05.03.2006 - 12.03.2006 -17 °C
Monday morning we slept in a bit and just woke as the boat was coming into dock in St Thomas. We went up and did our yoga on the deck in the fresh warm air with a view of an island with palm trees – there are definitely worse ways to start the day. After a good healthy breakfast of lots of fresh tropical fruit, yogurt and a pastry it was about time to head ashore for our excursion to St John. We had a few minutes to look around the shops first and then boarded a ferry for a 45minute ride around the south side of St Thomas to Cruz Bay on St John. On the way we passed the mangrove swamps and a few pretty cays. Cays are island that are created by silt build-up on rocks and vegetation attaching to it rather than by volcanic activity. St John is a much more lush island with more palm trees and whiter sand beaches at was a great day trip. We got into an open bus for a tour round the island which was a bit hairy at times because the roads are quite narrow and very windy and step I parts. We stopped for a few nice viewpoints then at trunk bay to drop folk off to snorkel for a couple of hours. We continued on the bus, which then stopped at Cinnamon bay, which was gorgeous and also has a campground, and we would love to come back to and camp for a week. We just had a few minutes to paddle our toes in the water, which was lovely and warm, before moving on to Annadale where there is an old ruined sugar mill. There is a very nice windmill there and the ruins were quite interesting. One of the guides pointed out some of the fruit trees to us including a key lime tree, which he said as well as key lime pie you can make a great tea from the leaves. So I picked a few leaves to try it out later. We saw a fruit plantation along the way as well with bananas, guava, mangoes and breadfruit all ripening and also saw quite a lot of pelicans flying round. They are very elegant birds in the sky and we even saw one dive, which looked pretty effective and deadly to anything underneath it! Then we went back to Trunk bay and had 40 minutes there so had a quick snorkel about. Trunk Bay is supposed to be the second most beautiful beach in the world (after somewhere in Australia. We thought we have seen nicer beaches particularly the beach at Tulum in Mexico, and Cinnamon bay we also thought was about as nice. However that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a gorgeous beach with lovely white sand and clear blue sea. There was an underwater guided trail for snorkelling, which was quite neat. We saw a few pretty fish and some nice coral but a lot of it had been damaged by the hurricane last year. Then it was back on the bus then ferry and back to our boat. We got some lunch – rather late!! – then strolled around the ship again till it was time to leave. The ship sailed at 5.00 and we went up onto the promenade deck and sat in the café watching the scenery as we left and listening to live piano music so it was extremely pleasant. We were on the ocean side looking at the Caribbean and had a view of St Croix and a lovely sailing ship going by. The sunset looked like flopping because the weather had turned a bit and there was a big black rain cloud in the west but it cleared just in time and turned out quite pretty. We went tot he welcome aboard show, which was quite good and certainly funny. They did a few awful things to a few passengers but in a very fun way and there was a comedian and the cruise director is also a really funny guy – unfortunately Australian – but very entertaining. Our dinner was at our proper table this time and we were pretty unimpressed. We had been put at a table for 4 instead of 8 and our dinner partners never appeared so we ate by ourselves (not that our own company is not lovely but we were looking forward to meeting people) and the service was pretty lousy. Four tables in our wee area complained about the service, lie getting their food all at different times and wrong things. The service we got was not bad – it just wasn’t good and our head waiter seemed pretty uninterested in us. The starter however was fabulous – we both had New York duckling with a berry mousse and red onion. The mains were poor and we didn’t bother with dessert but decided to go up to the buffet instead for dessert. Unfortunately because the service was so slow it was too late so we went without and were both still feeling a bit hungry. We had a stroll around the deck then went down to our room. We were still awake at 11.30 so went up for the late night buffet but it was only burgers, hotdogs and fries so we went to bed still hungry.
Tuesday morning we did yoga on deck again but it was a bit trickier because we were still at sea and there is a bit of a breeze. The ship arrived in Dominica at 9.00 after we’d had two breakfasts and showered and got ready for our day out. Our excursion for the day was a hike to Sari-Sari falls and when we got on the bus at 1030 we were a bit worried about some of the folk on it as they were in their sixties and didn’t seem just the fittest. It quickly became apparent that they hadn’t read the description which said it was a high level of exertion and very steep climbs so we were worried about them but also relieved that I wasn’t going to be the least fit person there. We had a 50minute drive from the dock at Roseau over to the Atlantic coast. We stopped in the hills for a toilet stop and local market where we bought fresh coconut for the milk and the flesh and also some sugar cane. I haven’t eaten sugar cane since I was a wee kid and it was lovely. It was a big bag so we shared it around the bus and everyone was fascinated that sugar came from that and how sweet it was! I guess these are people that think milk comes from a carton. The hike to the falls was certainly exhilarating and a really good rainforest hike. The actual difficulty of the hike was no problem to us and it was only about 45minutes but the heat certainly made it hard work. There was a scramble up the river bed at the end to get to the actual falls and then a swim under them. At the base of the falls it was like being in the really bad storm – the wind was pretty strong and the ‘rain’ lashing in your face – only it was warm and refreshing and very very pleasant. The falls were very beautiful and well worth the hike. Only one other person made it for the swim and the rest stopped a wee way short with just a view of the falls. It had taken us somewhat longer then 45 minutes because the older folk really struggled however they were all really good natured about it and genuinely had fun. They just kept on trooping on despite slipping, tripping, sliding and even falling head first in the river so although they had us up a bit we were never annoyed about it and they were great fun. We were supposed to stop at a black sand beach on the way back where there are turtles nesting but had run out of time so just had a very brief photo stop there and no sign of turtle nests. We got back to the boat about an hour later than we were supposed to and went back to our room for a shower and dry clothes then had a very brief stroll around the market in Roseau, which was pretty uninteresting. The ship sailed as the sun set and we watched it from the top deck then went down and got all dressed up for formal night. There was a captain’s welcome party with free cocktails and nibbles in a variety of lounges so we went to the one that had some jazz on. We were the first in there and the last to leave and quite enjoyed it and got plenty of nibbles and drinks – lime daiquiris, whisky sours, manhattans and wine
The alarm woke us on Wednesday morning because we got into port at 8.00 and wanted the whole day available. We did our yoga, had our 2 breakfasts and showered and packed (the regular morning routine) then joined the queue to get off the boat. We went into the tourist info centre in the port and found a trip on a catamaran snorkelling at some shipwrecks and with turtles that saved us $50 on what we would have paid for the same thing from the boat. We had time to go back for the underwater camera then got picked up from the pier and taken to the catamaran. It was a fantastic trip with just a small group of people who were all really friendly and another couple were from the cruise boat. There were free drinks all day and the only thing they were reluctant to give freely was non-alcoholic drinks so they were not impressed with me! It was all in good fun and the guy was eventually satisfied We went first to a bay just near the boat to snorkel on two different wrecks – there are five wrecks in that bay and the two we snorkelled were fairly close to the surface so very easy to see down too and Steve managed to get down to the level of them even with only a snorkel. I still panic when I put my face in the water and have trouble breathing through my mouth so just stay on the surface but I could still see lots. The water wasn’t amazingly clear and there weren’t millions of different fish but there were lots of fish and they were really close to us and some very pretty coloured ones. It was really cool to see them around a wreck too and to be able to do that without having to scuba was really great because I thought I would never see anything like that (since I won’t scuba). Then we got back on the catamaran for a sail along the west coast of Barbados to Payne’s Bay where there are turtles and we hopped in the water for a wild turtle encounter, which was simply awesome. I didn’t think we’d get as close as we did but they were swimming right up to us and all around us and there were lots of them from 17 years old (about a foot long) to 40 years (about 4 feet long). We must have seen 15 –20 turtles and up to 7 all around us at one time. We could stroke their backs, which was very cool, and I had a very close turtle encounter when one swam straight towards me and was only about 8 inches from my face. We were both on the surface of the water and he ducked at the last minute and went straight under the length of me scraping along my belly as he went! After the turtles we were dropped off at the beach and driven back to the ship. We had lunch with Terri and Lyle who were the other couple from the ship. They have just about persuaded us to go and live in Manitoba, Canada for a while as she works for the health authority and says there is no shortage of jobs for me there. It sounds great for a while and they have winters where we would be sure to get snowed in! After lunch we just chilled out on the boat for the afternoon. We sat in the Jacuzzi for a while and lay in the sun on deck then say in the lobby listening to the live classical music and watching the sunset. We had a look at the restaurant menu and decided to have our dinner upstairs at the buffet but we still never made it till after 8pm. We actually had a much pleasanter evening just eating our dinner, just the two of us. We started with a Caesar salad then had pizza and fries and chocolate cake for dessert and all of it was great. The issue of chocolate cakes puzzles me because the chocolate cakes in the buffet seem to be much better than the chocolate cakes in the restaurant and it seems to me it should be the other way round. I guess the chocolate cakes in the buffet are just good honest cakes without trying to be anything fancy and the restaurant ones are trying to be fancy and not quite pulling it off. After dinner we just headed down for a fairly early night because tomorrow was to be a long day at sea.
We had a long lie in the morning and then did our regular morning routine less one breakfast because we also went to the gym after yoga so it 10am before we went for breakfast. Sea days on the boat are hectic and we always seem to struggle to find time to relax. We went to a talk about Aruba at 11am then there was an ice carving demonstration at 1pm. In between we lay on deck for a while and worked on our tans (or burns, more to the point) then had lunch and lay on the deck for a bit longer. It was pretty tricky finding a deck chair because with everyone on the boat there were a lot of people on deck and many just kept their stuff on loungers while they went off to lunch for an hour or more, which is a bit rude. The sun here is not really burning as much as in NZ so with sun block on we are ok out and about. I have never grasped the concept of lying on a deck chair doing nothing and get bored and restless very quickly. Steve assures me that this is a form of relaxation and that doing nothing is actually ok and the people that do it not necessarily simple minded. I just can’t keep my mind still but apparently this is an issue unique to me. One of the really nice things about doing the excursions organised by the boat is that you meet people that you will see again and it was lovely to be able to keep bumping into people we know for a wee chat. There have been some very nice people on some of the trips and its great to see them again. We had a wee soak in the Jacuzzi then went downstairs and changed for our ‘previous cruisers party’. Again it was a fairly good deal because they gave us free cocktails and nibbles for an hour. We and another couple we sat with made sure we left with a full drink. We drank blue margaritas, which were very tasty and left with a glass of wine each. We had a wee rest before dinner which was another formal night so we went to the restaurant again and got all dressed up. It is fun to see everyone all dressed up and there are some really beautiful people on the boat as well as some pretty ordinary people with great fashion sense and also some just very ordinary people so we never feel out of place. It was also the midnight grand buffet so we had to stay awake till then. To keep awake we went to the restaurant for dinner and the food was pretty good again. We both had a wee seafood starter then Steve had tiger prawns and I had more long island duckling. The service was also much better and some of the staff had taken smiling lessons during the day so it was a much better experience. Our waiter even asked us something about cricket in NZ so must have recalled something about us, which was a bit of a surprise from how much attention he’d paid us up till that point. They served baked Alaska as an extra dessert as well as the chocolate cake we had which was pretty decent. After dinner we went to the show, which was good and very elaborate costumes and sets but unfortunately was the same show we’d seen on the last cruise. Then it was time we could go and take photos of the midnight buffet and the food was spectacular again. This time we had decided we wanted to try tasting some of it too so had to wait till 1230 then join a huge queue. We got a plate of savoury and a plate of sweet and shared them back in our cabin (they call them staterooms to make you think they’re bigger). Although beautifully presented most of the food wasn’t actually that great to eat so we only had a wee taste of quite a few things. By the time we got to sleep there was not long till waking up in Aruba.
Aruba was a long day stop so we didn’t have to rush right off and had a slightly leisurely start but skipped the yoga and second breakfast to speed the process up a bit. Off the boat we were just looking for a taxi when a tour company accosted us selling cheap tours of the island so hopped on the bus and then waited. A very loud group of women got annoyed with waiting so we joined them in leaving the bus. The tour operators very quickly got a small bus then for the 14 of us and we had a hilarious day with these crazy women. We went to the Casibari rock formations, which were pretty stunning, and we were able to climb up onto the rocks where there was a pretty good view over Aruba. Aruba is very flat and the highest point is apparently about the same height as the top of the ship so not really worth the 362 steps required to get there. It is basically a desert island and has no rivers so all their water is either treated seawater or collected rainwater. They have no agriculture although seem to grow plenty of cacti and there are wild goats. Next stop was Zoutman fort - an old castle on the north coast, which was wild and rugged. There were lots of wee piles of stones, which were originally put there by fishermen when they found a good fishing spot but some tour guides who didn’t know that told the tourists they were for good luck so now there are thousands of them put up by tourists for good luck. The natural bridge is also along that coast and was quite spectacular until it collapsed last September at 6am as a cruise ship of 3000 people docked on their way to see it! Bit of a shock to everyone – especially the park ranger who heard a loud noise and went out to see Aruba’s number one tourist attraction collapsing before his eyes. Next we drove by the California lighthouse and then got dropped off at one of Aruba’s best beaches – Palm Beach. We were unimpressed by the beach and after a short dip where we got covered in seaweed and sand we left the ladies behind to argue over paying $8 for a burger on the beach or going to McDonalds. We walked along the beaches, past eagle beach, punto brabo beach and druif beach. The closer we got back to town the nicer the beaches got but I think they had had a storm the night before because almost all the watersports had been cancelled and the beaches were pretty rough. We ended up walking all the way back to the boat which was about 5 miles mostly along really nice beaches. We had a couple of nice swims on t he way to cool down and had lunch back on the boat at 500 and soaked our sore muscles in the Jacuzzi then just chilled out on the boat for the rest of the evening then had dinner up at the buffet again and got an early night.
Saturday was our last day on the boat and a day at sea. There wasn’t a lot on so we spent most of the day just relaxing. We did go to a couple of seminar things in the gym and spent quite a while in the Jacuzzi. We had breakfast in the restaurant and weren’t any more impressed with the service so had the rest of our meals upstairs in the buffet. The dinner was really excellent and definitely a good choice. Then we had to get all our stuff packed up to have our bags outside the door before we went to bed.
On Sunday morning we got up and got our final packing done and had breakfast and were waiting to get off the boat by 8.00. By 9.00 we were outside the information centre in San Juan being told it was closed till 10am and there were not busses anywhere and we had missed the ferry anywhere too.