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.


January 25 Antigua

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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. 

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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. 

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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!

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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.

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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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