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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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!

Jan 22 Off on the Legendary Blues Cruise

Day 1 Blues Cruise I have four kids, and with their partners, their children and their partners, and their children’s children, it’s a good sized family. I often hear of moms who take their entire families on reunion trips and cruises, and it sounds like so very much fun. That would take a lot more dollars than I can manage, so my choice is to take each of my children on a one-time special trip of their choice. One-on-one time with Mom, which is also nice, and usually doesn’t happen during the big family get-togethers. My eldest daughter Deborah chose this Legendary Blues Cruise as her dream destination, one that she probably wouldn’t be able to manage on her own any time in the near future.

0111 Blues Cruise 009Of course, Deb and I wanted to fly together to Miami, and the Portland airport is  big enough to serve as a good jumping off point. The weather cooperated fairly well with my choice to drive to Portland on the Friday of our late evening flight. I left at 7 in the morning from Rocky Point and chose to go the I-5 route, even though it’s a bit longer, it seems a lot safer than icy HWY 97 at this time of year. It was a lovely drive and I was in Portland by 2 in the afternoon, just in time for Deb to arrive home from her short work day. Deb is a financial director for a non-profit in Portland and has a long commute. I guess the price of a good job sometimes is that dang commute. When she got home, she was pretty excited. Deb works hard and doesn’t get much time for vacations so this coming week is pretty special to her.

The skies were gray and chilly, but the traffic was light. I love being a passenger when my daughter drives through Portland traffic because she is really good at it, and knows just when to jump off the freeways and wind her way through downtown back streets to get to the airport.

We chose to park in the economy lot to save some extra dollars, but the shuttle was quick and efficient and without any glitches we were in the terminal, checked in, and through the security line. Since we had a long layover in Seattle before our red-eye flight, we skipped some of the great restaurants at PDX in favor of killing time nicely with dinner in Seattle.

The Alaska flight from Portland to Seattle is less than an hour, with just enough time for the crew to deliver complimentary wine and beer from a local brewery and winery. I guess that makes up for the little planes and the fact that you have to do a gate check of your carry-on if it is much bigger than a purse.

Day 1 Blues Cruise (2)Once in Seattle, we were already inside security with a three hour wait so it was nice that there are some very good restaurants available. We settled on a slow delicious supper at the Alaska Grill with yummy seafood and Juneau’s great brew. Our flight was on time and it didn’t seem very long before we were settled in to our seats for the long overnight flight to Miami.

As we approached Florida, we could see nothing but thick fog blanketing the landscape. As we circled Miami, I felt the ominous lift of a plane circling back higher, and before long the pilot announced that we couldn’t land and would have to return to Orlando for fuel. It didn’t take very long to fuel up again and fly back to Miami, but once there we continued to circle and circle. I heard later that one of the planes coming in couldn’t land anywhere and was running on fumes. Eventually we landed, a couple of hours late, but it didn’t matter because we were scheduled far enough in advance that it wasn’t a problem.

I love that first smell of Florida when I get off the plane in the early morning, walking up the jetway. It’s thick and robust, wet and organic in a way that you don’t often get out in our dry western landscape. The skies were cloudy and the temperatures were in the low 50’s. Once again, Florida was experiencing a colder than normal week and we were in the middle of it. I hope that someday I can get back to Florida when it is full of gorgeous warm velvet air, but this year I haven’t been very lucky in this regard.

0111 Blues Cruise 018We barely had time to pick up our bags when a Holland America representative met us, “Are you Deborah and Sue?” In just a few moments we were whisked off to the curb, our bags were loaded into the shuttle, and we were on our way to Ft. Lauderdale. Once there, before very long we were through security, checked in and received our cruise cards and were on the ship. I have been on only 6 cruises now, but this was the slickest embarkation I have experienced so far.

We wound our way up the gangways and started exploring the Holland America MS Eurodam a bit, and within just a few minutes it was announced that our staterooms were ready. That was fast! By 11 we were in our room unpacking, checking out the large closets, the nice veranda, and the very comfy beds. The skies were still overcast and breezy and the views of Fort Lauderdale were a bit dingy. We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the ship, trying to find where all the venues were located, and enjoying a great lunch buffet at the Lido, the main area for casual dining on the 9th deck.

Day 1 Blues Cruise (20)The mandatory safety muster was easy, with no requirement to wear our life jackets, but we had to be there on the Promenade Deck 3 below our designated lifeboat to check in. It’s surprising to me how differently this is handled among different cruise lines, with some doing the entire thing in one of the bars. The sail away was a bit confusing because I have this “thing” about wanting to be at the high point on the ship as we leave. However, the Eurodam is designed in a way that makes it hard to find the highest point very easily, with convoluted access to some of the decks, and stairways that stop in the middle of a restaurant and don’t go anywhere. As a result, Deb missed the waving crowd along the Fort Lauderdale beach while I led her around in circles trying to get to the top of something. Silly me.

Day 1 Blues Cruise (29) It was pretty cold and windy out on the aft deck, but the music was good and the atmosphere was energizing while everyone danced and drank and laughed and started up what was to be a seven day party. Deb and I had the cruise drink of the day, something called the “Bluesarita” that was a tasty treat at around 5 bucks, plus tips and taxes of course. The “Sail-Away”party was in full swing by 4:45 with a rear deck southern bbq with ribs and all the fixings, but we didn’t eat because we wanted to enjoy our first full dinner on the ship in the main dining room. Rick Estrin and the Nightcats set the pace with some rousing blues and everyone was having a great time out on deck.  They even closed down the aft deck swimming pool for this cruise and converted it to a dance floor. Deb and I found the stairs to the 10th deck above all the party people for a better view and more room to dance. The banners on the ship above the party deck were certainly not your ordinary cruise logos!

0111 Blues Cruise 025When we purchased our tickets, we scheduled early dining at 5:45 so that it wouldn’t interfere with the music of the night during the cruise. We thought the seating was for a table of six with Deb’s friends, but when we arrived at the dining room, it seemed that it was open seating. This turned out to be the case throughout the cruise, with our choice of table changing each night and our seat mates coming and going at will. We didn’t get to know our servers in the way that you do with assigned seating and I missed that a bit.

Day 1 Blues Cruise (35) Dinner was lovely, and our choice of table by a big rear window was great, with views of the coast fading in the distance as the sun set through the dim gray skies. The excellent dinner was typical of the rest of our dining experience on the Eurodam. I liked the food on this ship. While not of Celebrity quality, it was still very good most of the time, flavorful and well prepared, and served with a bit of flair. Much better than our recent Princess cruise, but again, nothing like what Mo and I experienced last year on the Solstice when we went through the Panama Canal. An example would be the Bananas Foster dessert, on Celebrity it was flamed directly in view of our table, and on the Eurodam  there wasn’t a flame in sight.

Day 1 Blues Cruise (45) In the blur of activity, I have no idea what we did that first night after dinner. I am sure that music was involved, and I am sure Deb was dancing at one point or another. I have lots of blurry photos of people dancing and Deborah laughing and hugging her friends from Portland that had been on this cruise in the past and were really excited to be doing it again.

I spent the obligatory hundred dollar bill to ensure internet access throughout the cruise, making good use of my great little wifi booster that I bought back in Desert Hot Springs. I had an excellent connection in my stateroom and never had to go wandering off to a ship café to get good internet. However, “good” is relative with the ship’s satellite connection and it was never as fast as I needed to really peruse for any length of time.

It had certainly been a long time since I left Klamath, and a long day since we landed in Miami, so I was definitely ready for my comfy bed with the down comforters and the high end pure white cotton hotel style sheets that awaited me.

If you care to see the rest of the photos, with pictures from around the ship, and including those blurry dance photos, the link is here.