We flew into Orlando the Wednesday before the cruise, to spend a few days with my husband Don's cousins. We picked up our rental Friday afternoon for our drive down to Ft. Lauderdale, and left Summerville (near the Villages) at 6;30 a.m.
I'd spent many hours and sleepless nights worrying about the transfer from the airport (where I had to return the rental) to Port Everglades. I knew it was only a ten-minute taxi ride, but we had lots of luggage, and I worried about schlepping it all from the rental building to the terminals where taxi pick-up is.
When we arrived at Hertz, Don asked about taxis. They asked where we were going. "Don't take the bags out of the trunk," we were told. In a minute, a Hertz driver appeared and drove us to the Port—a complimentary service. He unloaded out bags and the ships porters grabbed them. Couldn't have been smoother or easier. Kudos to Hertz!
We waded through the requisite lines, and in about half an hour made it on board. Rooms were not ready yet, which I'd known, so we were sent to the Lido self-service restaurant. This was actually the most unpleasant part of the whole trip, as it was mobbed and difficult to get your food and find a seat. Don and I found a spot to perch on the edge of the pool, just outside the restaurant. Not bad at all. Many who arrived after us milled around looking for seats. However, within and hour we were allowed to go to our rooms. Don took a nap, while I explored the ship. I took the "guided tour", which was basically just a walk-through. At 4:15 we attended the mandatory life boat drill, and the ship set sail around 5 pm.
We enjoyed a glass of wine in our stateroom before the first seating at 5:45 in the Vista Dining Room. We met our tablemates at table 21, a very congenial group including Dr. Frank , Associate Professor of Music, emeritus, and his wife, Gudrun. Dr. Miller would be celebrating his 82nd birthday and 55th wedding anniversary on Thursday (as everyone on the ship knew, by the end of the cruise).
I will say now that dinner each night, food and service, was great. Our waiters, Zul and Bevoy, couldn't have been more attentive. They asked our names, and always addressed us by them. (Sunday morning, as I got myself a cup of tea in the Lido dining room, I heard someone say, "Good Morning, Marie. How are you? Where is Don?" There was Zul, our waiter from the night before! Don had the same experience later in the week.)
Don had been thrilled to learn that the Patriots game was going to be shown in the Queen's lounge that evening, and he hurried off after dinner to get a seat. I watched with him for a while, then left to attend the show, (which was a song and dance number—OK, but not my cup of tea) and then snuck back in to see the Patriots win.
Sunday we had a "meet and greet", arranged by a fellow participant in the CruiseCritics. We were treated to cocktails (Mimosas and Bloody Marys) and hors d'oeuvres and met the activities director, beverage director and other muck-a-mucks, in addition to some of the folks we had been corresponding with. The remainder of the day was spent lounging around on deck, reading and eating—we were "at sea" all day. .
That evening was the first formal night. Don donned his tux, and didn't he look spiffy. We had our fotos taken by no fewer than three photographers, in countless shots—including a "glamour" shot of me, that Don couldn't resist purchasing the next day. "For your next book cover," he told me. We received unsolicited comments from bystanders exclaiming how "marvelous" we looked. After dinner, we watched a little of the show (with a complimentary glass of champagne) while the Captain introduced himself and the crew. That was the first time we met Oro, a waiter with a great sense of humor, and big ambitions. He has several inventions he wants to manufacture and sell—as soon as he finished putting his brothers and sisters through college.
Monday was our first port of call—Grand Turk, in Turks and Caicos, a British Colony comprised of 40 islands. I'd made arrangements for us to visit the Grand Turk Inn, run by Sandy and Katrina, two feisty, semi-retired Australian sisters. They first came to this country as swimmers at Cypress Gardens. One subsequently married a European baron and became a Baroness. The operated a bed & breakfast in the Florida Keys until that became too commercialized and homogenized, then retired to Grand Turk. However, they found retirement not to their liking; hence the Grand Turk Inn.
The Inn fronts on a beautiful little beach, with not a soul on it (except me!) Turquoise water that made me drool, white sands, and blue, blue skies. I swam and sunned and did a little snorkeling. There wasn't too much to see—a few pretty fish. Then I saw what I took to be a beautiful, smooth black stone—maybe a chunk of marble? I dove down and was able to snag it off the floor of the ocean. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be a lens from someone's sunglasses!
Sandy served us lunch on a cool, shaded patio, while she and Katrina regaled us with stories of life on the island. Above the patio, the view from the porch was stunning-the amazing waters framed by swaying green palms.
When we returned to the ship, I succumbed to nagging doubts that had been nibbling at my subconscious. The next day we'd dock in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, where I wanted to take a ferry to The Baths on Virgin Gorda. I'd researched this trip extensively on the internet. The Baths would be a highlight of the trip for me. (Don felt he wasn't up to 'waddling like a duck', as one traveler described the entrance into the maze of rocks). I'd been assured that it was not necessary to book the ships tour; there was easy ferry service available locally, and it was a much more economical option. However, ferries left at 12:30, 1:30 and 3:30. We were supposed to dock at 12:30. But what if we docked late? If I missed the 1:30 ferry, I was SOL, as it was a 45 minute trip, and the last ferry back left at 5:30. I decided to override my stingy nature and purchase the ship's tour.
Tuesday around noontime we passed through Drake's Passage, the strait that Sir Francis Drake followed when he explored the Virgin Islands during the 16th century. The deck on the bow of the ship was opened, to allow us to view this amazingly beautiful juxtaposition of sea, sky and verdant green islands. I took tons of fotos—couldn't stop myself from shooting just one more view.
We arrived as expected in Tortola, and I headed for the Vista Lounge, where the tour was to meet. Along the way, I heard the tour was sold out. We were waiting to disembark when we learned that, due to "technical difficulties", the ship had not yet docked. Next they announced that we would tender rather than dock. We were then told we would board the ferry for Virgin Gorda directly from the ship. Next message was that we were waiting for "local authorities to clear the vessel". When this finally happened, it was announced that the ferry had difficulties tying up to the ship. The other tours began to leave, and those of us bound for The Baths at Virgin Gorda were still waiting. Passengers not taking any of the ship's tours were not permitted to leave the ship until all the tour passengers got off. Finally everything worked out and by 1:45 we were on our way. Had I not booked with the ship, I would have missed my ferry and my day on Virgin Gorda.
And what a beautiful day it was! Again, I took way too many fotos. Huge, rounded boulders have been tumbled together by Mother Nature, forming tidal pools and a maze that connect two beaches. I never made it to the second beach (too many wrong turns in the maze), but the views were stupendous. And an unexpected surprise—the snorkeling was some of the best I've enjoyed. The boulders, below the water, are covered in coral, allowing you to get up close and personal with the beautiful tropical fish that abound. We needed to return to the jitney that would bring us to the ferry by 4:45. To lure us there, we were promised a complimentary rum punch—the only way they could have pried us away from the Baths promptly.
Don and I had dinner reservations at the Pinnacle Restaurant that night, as I knew I'd miss our 5:45 dinner hour. This upscale (additional cost) restaurant was very nice, but I'm not sure I'd do it again. Service and food were so great in the Vista Dining Room that it's really not necessary to upgrade to the Pinnacle. They do have some very fine wines to taste, tho.
St. Thomas was next—we awoke to another beautiful day. We'd booked the Catamaran Sail to Honeymoon Cove on St. John. Don didn't snorkel, but stayed on the Cat enjoying "painkillers" (rum punch) and chatting with the young chick who served the drinks, while I spent an hour surveying the spectacles of the ocean floor. Honeymoon Cove was as idyllic as a beach can be—water you would swear cannot really be that color, with a white sand beach framed by bright green foliage.
On the return trip I worked hard to catch up with Don in the painkiller department—that may explain why, once we'd returned to the ship and showered and changed, I confined my shopping to the small group of shops right by the pier. I bought some very cheap booze, and a postcard. I was a bit jealous when all our tablemates were showing off the jewelry they had purchased in St. Thomas. But I wouldn't have traded my day for theirs.
After dinner on Wednesday we were invited to an exclusive cocktail party with the captain. This was thanks to our participation in the "Meet and Greet". (They want those who will potentially write reviews online to have a great shipboard experience!) We enjoyed an open bar, and chatting with several of the ships officers. We passed on the hors d'oeuvres tho', as we had just left the dinner table (two appetizers, dinner and desert). The party ended unceremoniously when a surprise shower suddenly appeared—the only rain we experienced on the entire trip.
Thursday was our second "day at sea", and we spent it equally as laid back. A little reading in the sunshine, a little reading in the shade, a little time playing video poker in the casino, and of course plenty of eating, that culminated in our second formal night. It was Dr. Frank's birthday/anniversary celebration. Of course we sang "Happy Birthday", and the Indonesian staff sang a lively celebratory song in their native tongue.
Later that evening, Don and I ran into Frank and Gudrun in the Ocean Bar. They are ardent ballroom dancers, and entertained us with a display of their talent. I tried to dance once or twice with Dr. Frank, but he was somewhat exasperated with my ineptness. Don and I chatted with Oro, learning more of his aspirations. He also pulled a shell bracelet out of his ear and slipped it on my wrist. I still have it on today.
Our last (sob) port of call was Half Moon Cay, Holland Americas Private Island in the Bahamas. What a jewel! How can I describe the beach without being repetitive? Turquoise waters...blue skies...sugar white sand...Sound familiar? We were tendered in from the ship. A short walk from the welcome area brought us to the beach, where there were rows of lounge chairs. We'd brought a small shade shelter (thanks to a suggestion I read online) that was very easy to assemble right down near the water's edge. We were able to put two lounge chairs inside, and were the envy of all who strolled past us on the beach. (HA rents 'clamshells', but they were much less airy, and set far back on the shore.)
The day we were there happened to be the 10th Anniversary Celebration of Holland America's opening of Half Moon Key, so we were able to participate in the special celebrations, attended by the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, and the President of Holland America. (Free drinks, too!)
We opted not to participate in any of the activities offered, instead enjoyed some time on the beach, then headed off to the BBQ luncheon (5-10 min walk). It was a great BBQ—burgers and dogs, chicken and steak, shrimp and ribs, corn on the cob, salads and chips. Desert selection was a bit skimpy, but who could eat it anyway?
After lunch Don headed back to the ship, afraid of getting too much sun. I didn't care how much sun I got, and did lots more swimming, sunning and snorkeling. Not much to see in the way of fish, but I did find several sand dollars. It was very sad when it was time to leave—especially so as I knew I'd be returning to frigid Connecticut the next day.
We said our final goodbyes to our new friends at dinner that night, and packed up our suitcases, which were to be left outside the cabin by 1:00 a.m. I caught a bit of the last show, gambled a few last dollars, finished the last of my wine, and let the gentle sway of the ocean lull me to sleep one last night.
The following morning sat on the observation deck until we were forced to abandon the ship at 8:30 a.m. Boo-hoo. As our flight was not until 2:30, we took a taxi to the Ft. Lauderdale beach and snuck in a little bit more time in the sunshine. We knew what we were heading home to!