Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Friday, January 28, 2011

Day 7 Holland America’s own little island

Blues Cruise Day 7 (20) I think most cruise lines that have Caribbean itineraries must own a piece of the Bahamas, some own whole islands, as this one owned by Holland America, others seem to own Cays on a bigger island somewhere.  Either way, it’s usually a day before the final disembarkation that the ship slides into it’s own private dock and with only 2000 people or so to spread around, it can even feel a bit remote if you know how to get away from the crowds.

these tenders can carry 250 people at once This morning our private island was Half Moon Cay (key), somewhere in the Bahamas.  I finally looked on Google Earth to try to get the lay of the land among the sea, but still don’t have a good handle on all of it.  This little island is very small, just a few miles across, and very low to the earth.  The vegetation is short and scrubby with the only palm trees some newer planted ones around the newer fake West Indies Village.

Blues Cruise Day 7 (28) Blues Cruise Day 7 (29) I didn’t care about all that, though, because today we had pre-arranged our one ship excursion and were going to kayak on the inland lagoon.  It was a good day to choose a bit of entertainment, since there wasn’t much else to do on the island except hang on the beach and listen to the music.  Have I mentioned music on this cruise?  Several bands were conducting our own private beach party by the water and it drew most of the ship’s crowd to that localized area for most of the day.

Deb was excited about the kayak trip, and we both knew there would be plenty of time for music later.  We stayed on the top deck to watch the ship pull part way into the bay and see the tenders coming out from shore.  These tenders are stored on the island so are much larger than the tenders carried on the ship, with a 25o person capacity.  They would run all day at fifteen minute intervals so cruisers could come and go at will.

Once we landed, in no time we were on shore, signed up for our little kayak trip, and told to wait under the shelter for a half hour or so before we would be driven inland.  There are pathways and narrow roads, with small open air vans that transport people to various water excursions, including para-sailing, jet-skiing, sailing, all the typical cruise excursion types of activities.  We were glad we hadn’t tried to do any snorkeling with the cool temperatures, and high winds.  Even kayaking was a bit of an effort in that stiff breeze, but it was still great entertainment.

heading out into the lagoon on Half Moon Cay I have to admit, I felt like I was slogging along the entire time on that heavy, sit-on-top plastic boat, with paddles that weighed five times as much as my slick new Werner’s.  Deb and I asked for single boats and two other couples were part of our group in tandems and we set out on the crystal clear lagoon that was landlocked on the island.  There were mangrove alleys to explore, but the tide was too low for entry, so we stayed on the main part of the water.  Our guide was young, very talkative, and provided a basic view of the island life but didn’t have much knowledge of the actual ecosystem beyond grade school level, so that was a bit disappointing to me.  I was there for the boating, however, and managed to have a great time.

Blues Cruise Day 7 (48) Afterward, Deb and I chose to walk the pathways back to the beach and the big island bbq provided for us, with ribs and chicken and all the fixings.  It was a decent meal, and I really enjoyed the watermelon and fresh berries.  We then ambled down to the beach to find a couple of chairs and sit in the sun.  The far end of the beach was quiet enough, but it was getting colder as a storm approached and the winds made it too uncomfortable to think about snorkeling, so we swam a bit and sat in the sun a bit before walking back to the beach party. 

Blues Cruise Day 7 (76) I walked to the far end of the beach, watching the people on the horseback riding excursion following the leader along the beach.  They advertised riding in the ocean, but I didn’t see them enter once.  They looked hot in long jeans and helmets, even on this cool day.  Deb had considered the “ride the horse in the ocean” excursion, but we thought better of it and decided to kayak instead.  I’m glad we did.

Blues Cruise Day 7 (63) We needed to get back to the ship before 3:30, and the tender line was quite long when we went there at 2:30.  It probably took 45 minutes to actually get back on the ship, but standing in line was entertaining while we listened to great music and had interesting conversations with other line-ees.

0111 Blues Cruise 300 Once on the ship, we cleaned up, relaxed a bit, and went to the last dinner of the cruise in the dining room.  This time we asked for a table for two only, not wanting to have to carry on conversations this evening with anyone but ourselves.  It was good we went early, because the dining room filled almost immediately with very large groups of people pulling tables together and raucously celebrating the final night of the cruise.  The dinner was excellent as usual, with the obligatory surf and turf meal that is usually offered at least one night on a cruise like this one.  I am not a filet lover, and that was the steak on the menu.  I also am of the mind that any good steak requires charcoal, so wasn’t too excited about my choice.  When it was served, however, with our bottle of truly great Spanish wine, I was impressed.  It was butter tender and flavorful even without the smoky flavor I think I require. 

0111 Blues Cruise 313 As we approached the end of our meal, I asked our waiter if the crew was going to do the dining room dance, the one where all the folks wave their napkins.  I know it’s silly after the first time, but Deb hadn’t experienced the first time, and I remember how tickled I was when this happened to me on my first cruise a long time ago.  Our waiter said, “No, we don’t do that on a charter cruise like this one. But if you wait just a few minutes there will be a special surprise.” In a few minutes, a few members of our Indonesian dining room staff took center stage in the brilliantly lit stairwell and proceeded to entertain us with a rousing blues tune that they had practiced for two months in readiness for this cruise.  They were received with a standing ovation and lots of rowdy calls while several diners jumped up to dance.  The small band played a few more songs and then played some of their own local Indonesian music for us as well.  It was really sweet, and a real treat, and they were so proud of themselves.  I’m glad the blues cruisers were the kind of people to appreciate their efforts and cheer them on.  Old travelers can get a bit jaded and hard to impress sometimes.  I was glad to see the happiness on their faces and the delight on the diner’s faces as well, including mine.

The dress code for the evening was pajamas.  We decided to NOT wear pajamas to dinner, but afterward went to change.  I have to admit, I felt truly silly in my pajamas, cute capris though they were, and while many people were wearing all sorts of get-ups, including shorties and big slippers, many people had avoided the pajama thing entirely.  I wished I had been one of those, and before long went back to my cabin to change into something a bit more reasonable.  It was just too dang early for pajamas.

Blues Cruise Day 7

Many more photos of this blue day on Half Moon Cay are located here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Day 6 Sea Days and Mardi Gras Nights

Blues Cruise Day 6 (4) Blues Cruise Day 6 (5) The juxtaposition of wide open ocean and relaxing sea days with wild party nights and non-stop music on this cruise is dramatic. After two port days in a row, I was really looking forward to a bit of deck time with my new Kindle, finally getting around to reading the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”.  This morning after breakfast, Deb went on her way to explore some of the day’s offerings while I found the 11th deck, as you can see, completely empty.  I had the deck chairs all to myself, but the problem with this ship is that there is so much protection from the wind, that you don’t even get much of a breeze and the pool is very far away.  I drug my chair into the shade and gave up on getting much of a tan this time around.  I am red-haired and freckled anyway, so I shouldn’t be doing such things. It was rather amazing to spend a couple of hours on the top deck without the presence of one single other human being on a rather small cruise ship.  The faint sounds of music emanating from several sources explained it, however.

St John Day 5-136Blues Cruise Day 6 (8)  Deb managed to get down to the Lido aft deck for the Sisters of the South and the rest of the afternoon just sifted away till we ambled up to the Crow’s Nest to see Ryan Shaw, one of my favorite performers on the ship.  Ryan won a couple of R&B Grammies, and his blues slips into that RB thing more often than not.  Not being a particularly big RB fan, there was something amazing about this young man’s art.  He sang about love and spirituality and humanity in ways that reminded me more of Rastafarian lyrics than anything else, but with a blues twist.  I loved hearing him and watching him, and found myself heading toward whatever venue he happened to grace.  In fact, when he sang Imagine, I cried big silly tears all alone behind my sunglasses.

Blues Cruise Day 6 (17)The Crow’s Nest was fun, more intimate that some of the other stages, and Deb joined me there at the bar where I had managed to save a couple of seats right at the dance floor.  I had one more “cruise drink”, a pina colada again, but still didn’t get any umbrellas.  I guess that umbrella in a pineapple boat with all sorts of fruit is saved for old ladies on old lady cruises.  Ha!

  After the great music we headed down to the 9th deck and the Lido pool to try to actually get in a swim before dinner and the big Mardi Gras celebration to follow. One thing about this cruise that was different was the absence of children. I think there were only 2 kids on the ship, and one of them was Joanne Osborne’s little girl. The other child on the ship was in the pool with his dad, but it was still fairly uncrowded considering it was a reasonably warm sea day. Deb’s braided hair was great for swimming, but I had taken mine out after getting tired of the headache and the stupid gray haired scalp showing through my skinny braids. 

Blues Cruise Day 6 (65)By the time we had some supper at the Lido (skipping the dining room tonight) the party antics were swinging into high gear on all decks.  I have never seen so many people in so many crazy costumes this side of San Francisco, although I have to admit, I haven’t been to New Orleans during the Mardi Gras either.  One previous Blues Cruise Day 6 (72)evening during dinner, we were joined by two Norwegian couples who told us how popular the blues are in Norway, in fact most of Scandinavia has a rather large blues loving population that frequents the big blues festivals held there.  It seems that they called the 10th deck “Little Norway” and referred to the 40 plus Norwegians on the cruise as “The Vikings”.  They were all great people, who certainly knew how to have a good time.  Cruisers will recognize the “formal portrait” lineup in the photo, but the get-ups of the subjects are a bit different than the formal wear usually reserved for ships dinners and portraits.  The Vikings were especially good at this part, and I wondered just how much extra they paid for all the luggage flown from Europe. 

The night was loud and raucous and great fun, with the Mardi Gras costume parade as a high point that just set everything up for a long night on all the top decks for those who had the stamina to stay up.  Again, I reminded Deb that we had a port day tomorrow and an early kayak trip scheduled and needed to be ready to disembark as soon as the ship landed.  Do I sound like the Mom here? Or some kind of old fuddy-duddy?  Deb was patient with me, and I’m sure she would have done just fine without my mom worry stuff.  I think the crew enjoyed this cruise tremendously as well, they all sure looked like they were having fun and loving the crowd and the music.  While Deb danced away into the night, I fell into the bed around the toweled animals and slept like a rock.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 5 Deb celebrates a turquoise birthday on St John, USVI

St John Day 5-45 For me, this was the day I had been waiting for the entire cruise.  When Mo and I cruised in 2009, we ported in St Thomas and didn’t have enough time to take the ferry across a few miles of water to explore this magnificent island paradise.  I read about St John, and wanted to see the lovely land covered by forests and trails and surrounded by pristine beaches and pure white sand.

St John Day 5-3 Cruz Bay, located on the west coast of the island, is the largest commercial center and the location of the main port.  We heard later in the day that it is rare for a cruise ship of this size to actually port in Cruz Bay, with most cruise lines choosing the more commercial port of Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas. The population of the town is under 3,000 people, and while there are shops and restaurants, the island is much more celebrated for it’s beautiful beaches and national park.

Word of the Blues Cruise landing here had spread St John Day 5-5throughout the local islands, and many folks from the British Virgin Islands, and the US Virgin Islands were also on shore ready to jam with the musicians on our ship.  The St John department of tourism planned a full lineup of the local entertainment, cultural activities, and educational events to complement the arrival of such legendary performers.  My daughter knew of musicians in St Croix that made the trip especially to be part of the shoreline activities on this day.

It was Deb’s birthday, but I was the one with a particular agenda for this day.  No matter what we did later, I really wanted to spend some quality  time on a St John Beach.  With Trunk Bay being the most famous and listed somewhere as the second most beautiful beach in the world, I thought it would be a good choice.  However, most of the blues performances were across the island at Coral Bay, all the pubs filled with great music all day long.  The famous pubs there included Skinny Legs, Island Blues, and Shipwreck Landing, and the pub crawl was the order of the day. We compromised on a plan that included a taxi trip to Trunk Bay, possibly going on to Cinnamon Bay and ending the day at Coral Bay, taking the ship provided shuttle to return in time for the sail away.

St John Day 5-7The trip to shore was Deb’s first experience on a tender, and we were in line for an early departure from the ship so were on the first tender ashore.  In this case, the tender process required a visit to the Main Stage to get a tender ticket, and then on to the tender.  Deb went down there first and I was to follow immediately, but then realized that I had forgotten something, and had to run back to the cabin.  Another long walk before I discovered I was going toward the wrong end of the ship made for more confusion.  By the time I showed up at the Main Stage, they were calling my name and Deb was a bit distraught.  It ended well, and we still managed to get on shore in plenty of time to locate an open air taxi to Trunk Bay.

St John Day 5-20 At Trunk Bay, the magic of the Caribbean washed over us completely.  Deb rented chairs and an umbrella, and we walked down to the far quiet end of the beach to settle in for the morning.The air was warm, the skies were clear, and the water was translucent turquoise.  The seas were still a bit rough from previous storms, however, so the famous national park snorkeling trail at Trunk Bay was closed.  It would have been Deb’s first time with a snorkel, so we though better of trying to teach her the technique in choppy water, and instead filled our hours with swimming and floating and oohing and ahhing over the clarity and color of the water, the brilliance of that magic blue line between sea and sky, and the sound of palm fronds waving in the warm breezes. 

St John Day 5-23 If I were to think of a perfect vacation, it would include a week or so in a little house somewhere on this island, with time to explore every single one of it’s beaches and hike as many trails as possible that thread throughout the national park. I loved St John, and so did Deb.  The photos of her on this beach are some of my favorites of all time. What better way to spend a birthday than this!

As mid afternoon wore on, we thought it might be time to amble on to Coral Bay, so reluctantly packed up and found another taxi.  It seemed more reasonable to go back to Cruz Bay rather than try to get all the way around the island, so we did that with the encouragement of the taxi drivers.  Once back at Cruz Bay, the entertainment going on at Frank Powell Park sounded fun, and someone St John Day 5-42said, “Hey, the music here is better than anything at Coral Bay”.  That sounded fine to us, since we were tired and hungry and just wanted something good to eat and drink.  Wandering down the walks through town led us to a little open air restaurant along the bay with a view of sailboats and water and our ship around the corner.  We waited in the bar area for a seat, and a sweet looking man came up to us asking if we wanted lunch, and when we said yes, he led us to a big table for four right on the waterfront.  Laughing, he said, “ I am the owner, I can seat you anywhere I want!”

St John Day 5-84 I had a pina colada to die for, and we ordered some truly fabulous yummies for our late lunch.  Dang if I can even remember what I ate, but I remember Deb saying hers was the best she ever had, and I know mine was. Again, I am reminded of just how much I can lose about a trip if I don’t write about it while I am doing it.  As Erin reminded me recently, the goal is to have fun, not to write about it, so that is exactly what I did on this trip.  So I have no clue what we had for lunch, but I do remember feeling absolutely and wonderfully happy and a bit tipsy as well.  Perfect feeling for an afternoon on a tropical island, I think.

St John Day 5-92 We sat there for a long time watching the water, listening to the distant music, before we decided we had no need to go anywhere else except this sweet little town. We ambled around town a bit, and then back in a park somewhere Deb ran into a young man who was incredibly sweet and friendly, offering her a bit of rum and talking about his life on the island.  St John Day 5-105The flirtations were quite adorable, and safe, since her mom was with her and we were heading for the ship!  I laughed with them and felt like “mom”.  I was sure our sweet little guy had all sorts of ulterior motives, and  Deb decided that she wanted to quit her job and move to the USVI where everyone was cute and friendly.  Instead, we managed to return to the ship and to our cabin.

 St John Day 5-115 Once back on board, we had no need for supper and instead enjoyed the wild music sail away party on the back deck before going back to our cabin and dressing up for the evening.  It was Deb’s birthday, after all, so she wore one of her prettiest dresses and we went back upstairs to listen to more music, dance, and have birthday toasts.  Deb’s name was listed on the Daily Program with a few other birthdays, and a lovely chocolate cake was delivered to our stateroom. She also got several happy birthday coupons for spa treatments and such, but most of them including spending a fair amount of money, so she didn’t bother.

St John Day 5-149 A perfect ending for her birthday celebration was the ships Dessert Extravaganza on the Lido Deck at 11pm.  I have to say, I wasn’t that impressed with the artistry of the offerings at the Extravaganza.  I guess I may have been spoiled by the beauty of our formal buffet’s at sea with Celebrity, but Holland America seems to be lacking in the expression of true loveliness and creativity that used to be standard with these kinds of specialties. More sweets, more music, and I went back to the cabin to fall into a deep rocking sleep while Deb danced up on deck until who knows when.

Not a bad birthday for this first born child of mine.

The rest of the photos for our day on St John are located here.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25 Antigua

Blues Day 4 Antigua (6)

Today we port in St John’s, Antigua, largest of the British Leeward Islands, where Lord Horatio Nelson headquartered for his forays into the Caribbean to do battle with the French and pirates in the late 18th century.  Appropriately, the theme for the night is “Pirate Night”, with the highlight of the evening to be the Pirates Parade at 10:00 PM on the aft deck. 

Blues Day 4 Antigua (9) 

In the mean time, we have a beautiful sunny day to explore the island and soak up the sunshine.  With a mostly sunny forecast and a temperature of 77 degrees F, it couldn’t be any better.  I am excited about seeing this island, since I haven’t been here before, and it’s Deborah’s first landfall anywhere in the Caribbean.  There’s something really special about being around for a “first” like this with Deborah.  Her eyes light up and she gets excited in the way that a jaded traveler might not.  It’s like having the experience for the first time myself all over again. For some unknown reason,  Antigua was on one of Deb’s long time lists of places to see, and today we were going to be there.

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We had planned a room service breakfast the night before, so we could be on deck for the sail in.  Each day we ordered coffee and tea in our room and it was always delivered right on time.  The breakfast we had only once, and it was terribly bland and boring compared to the offerings upstairs, so we didn’t do that again. On this morning, however, the small sweet rolls and coffee were just enough. 

I love the morning arrivals, and we found our way to the 11th deck to watch the ship sail into the harbor, watching the landscape appear as we approached the dock.  The island looked green and beautiful in the warm morning light and before long, the captain announced that the ship was cleared and we could go onshore. 

0111 Blues Cruise 091 Blues Day 4 Antigua (13)

I thought that Antigua was small and simple enough to explore on our own, without being tied to the timing of a group tour from the ship.  Sometimes it makes things easier, but it really is a lot more fun to amble off the ship when we want to, and walk through town at our own pace, to see what we want and leave when we want.  It worked perfectly for us this morning, as a sweet woman met us coming off the dock with offers of hair braiding.  I know, I know, but it did sound like fun, and she really was a sweet lady.  In a moment, she led us to her outdoor salon and had Deb in her chair.  Deb has very curly hair and often wears hair bands, so the braids and beads looked perfect on her.  I somehow got pulled into the fun, and while braids and beads looked rather stupid on me, I was still glad I did it.

Blues Day 4 Antigua (12)Blues Day 4 Antigua (76) Jenny, our braid lady, was originally from Montserrat, but was run off the island a few years ago when the volcanic eruptions caused 80 percent of the islands population to leave.  I hadn’t realized that this famous volcanic island was so near to where we were traveling.  Jenny’s story was fascinating, as she discussed her 11 aunts who had to leave Montserrat and their home forever.  Living is expensive on Antigua, more so than it had been on Montserrat.  Jenny laughed with us throughout the morning and her sweet warm nature was a delight.  I was glad to pay to have my hair braided even if it looked a bit silly on me.  It was great for swimming at least, and Deborah looked gorgeous.  She might have to try to find a hair braider back in Portland!

Blues Day 4 Antigua (27) Blues Day 4 Antigua (29)

After our little island culture experience, we ambled up the streets of the town, outside the slick confines of the port area, the town was a bit shabby, and felt very real.  We found a shoe store where Deb bought a great pair of sandals cheaper than they would have been back in the US, and then perused the standard linen shop with all the embroidered tablecloths and runners, where we found a great runner for Deb.  ( I have plenty of such linens from my previous Caribbean voyage, so didn’t need more).  We talked to Jenny about getting around the island and she pointed out some of the tours offered up the street.  We found one that looked good, and for 20 bucks each, joined 4 other folks in an enclosed van that promised a trip over the island and commentary on island history with some stops along the way.

0111 Blues Cruise 104 Blues Day 4 Antigua (35)

The island is actually quite nondescript, not particularly scenic as Caribbean islands go in my opinion, but it was green and the air was spectacularly fresh.  Our guide Nathanial offered stories of the history of the island as we wound through the streets and neighborhoods and traveled to the central part to St Barnabus Anglican Church, established more than 250 years ago and is the oldest church on Antigua.  Continuing to the southern side of the island, we saw a lovely view of English Harbor and Eric Clapton’s big rehab house on the hill above the bay.

Blues Day 4 Antigua (56) Once on the south side of the island we had a misty view of the island of Montserrat on the horizon.  A low cloud obscured the top of the volcano, and it looked mystical and dangerous.The Soufrière Hills volcano on the island began erupting in 1995 after a long period of dormancy, and has been active ever since.  It destroyed the capital city of Plymouth and more than half the island is completely uninhabitable now.

Blues Day 4 Antigua (62) We had time to wander a bit on the beach before arriving back in St John’s and the ship.  We were a bit worn out from the day, and we needed some cash after spending most of what we had, so needed to return to the ship.  Once there, however, we found it too hard to get back off the ship and just decided to stay onboard and relax a bit before supper and another night of music an parties. 

Blues Day 4 Antigua (72)Pirate Night on the ship was great, with amazing, detailed pirate costumes paraded around the ship by a majority of the cruisers.  People who have done this cruise in the past are known for bringing a complete extra suitcase of simply costumes, although it isn’t as easy any more with all the baggage restrictions on the airline.

evening sail away from Antigua Eurodam flying the Jolly Roger for pirate night



Can you see the Jolly Roger flying on the aft deck as we sail away from Antigua?

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Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24 Another! sea day

Day 3 Blues Cruise (5) It’s not often on a short 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise that you get to enjoy two sea days in a row.  Seems as though the most important thing to do is shop for diamonds and tanzanite in as many ports as possible.  Since the focus of this cruise was music and not diamonds, we had only three port days and two full sea days in a row.

My idea of a sea day is a lazy morning by the pool, a brisk walk on the upper deck, some reading on the veranda before a nice dinner and a show.  Ha!  Not so on the Legendary Blues Cruise.  The theme for this day was “Gimme Back My Wig”, but thank goodness we didn’t have to do anything about that theme until after dinner.  The schedule for the day was filled with all sorts of activities, including a harmonica workshop, a presentation by Taj Majal on the history of the blues, and a silent auction for items donated by Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Kenny  Wayne Sheppherd and others to support the Music Make Relief Foundation, and Gimme 5! New Orleans Artist Relief Fund.

Day 3 Blues Cruise (10) I actually have no clear memory of what I did all day before the “Wig Parade” at 10 pm and I wasn’t imbibing either!  It’s just that sea day thing, where it all starts to run together. Deb and I had a lovely breakfast in the Lido before she went off to the Autograph Signing Party to get her poster signed by the greats.  We shopped a bit for Legendary gear and I did succumb to a Blues Cruise tee shirt.   I do remember my walk, and how gorgeous the indigo seas looked through the white portals on the third deck.  I took some photos of the frigate birds following along the ship, and actually saw flying fish from the veranda.

The Wig Parade was much more than merely wigs, with people dressed up in all sorts of crazy costumes to support their wig of choice.  Deb and I sat back on the deck watching the people lining up for the parade and Deb even participated, getting her photo taken on stage for another one of the twenty buck cruise photos.  They sure didn’t miss any chances for photos on this cruise, even more than usual.

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After the parade, I fell into bed while Deb danced into the night and slipped into the stateroom long after the midnight hour.  I told her I wanted to be on deck by 6:30 in the morning for our sail in to Antigua, and she said, “Sure, Mom, no problem”.  Tomorrow, finally, we should have a nice warm day on an island.  Tomorrow, Antigua!