We escaped Minnesota winter on the MSC Orchestra to the Caribbean 2/14/09.We had read reports of horrible times on the Orchestra and we were a little afraid. As it turned out, we had a marvelous time. It was our first cruise with DJ 15 and Brittany, 12.
We left the frozen North the night before and stayed in Minneapolis. Well, we got all our stuff in the motel room and headed out for dinner at McCormick & Schmicks. As the waiter handed us our menues, to our surprise, it said "Happy Birthday D.J. Happy Valentines Day! Bon Voyage!" What a nice way to start out a vacation. DJ had fried shrimp and Brittany got them to make Shrimp Scampi just for her! We even had a fantastic dessert! Six hours till the airport. Time to hit the hay and catch a few winks before we trot off to the airport. We flew out a day early. We instantly became the hero grandparents. DJ and Brittany got their first plane ride from Minneapolis to Memphis, en route to Fort Lauderdale. The Flight attendant Ruth saw to it that they got pilot wings and a wonderful certificate marking their first time leaving the ground in something heavier than air. It was a DC-9 50. The flight was uneventful, thankfully. We checked in and spent the night at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66. This glitzy 22-acre hotel complex at the edge of Port Everglades got its start as a gas station; now it's a 388-room recognizable landmark, with a 17-story tower and lanai rooms that rim the pool. It's a lush environment, with Spa 66 and privileges at the Grande Oaks Golf Club. There are six restaurants, a "three-pool oasis" and a 40-person hydrotherapy pool. We had a lanai room with two queen beds and a settee. It is amazing sitting at Pelican Landing, watching the birds, sailboats and yachts sail by. We even saw one yacht that was so big that it had a helicopter on board! Brittany couldn't finish her meal...a 12 inch hotdog! Valentine's Day we got upWhat a day! We got up and packed and went to the breakfast buffet at the Hyatt. Brittany loved the breakfast potatoes. The orange juice tasted like real oranges! Maybe because we are in Florida? After we finished breakfast we had our bags delivered to the door and then took a taxi van to Port Everglades. $11/head and tip. The kids really liked the Hyatt. We had a Lanai Room, two queen beds and a chaise loveseat, poolside, by the four outdoor pools.
Embarkation moved right through. The line to get into the port was long, as there weDJ said his first impression of the ship was it was huge! While we unpacked, DJ and Cliff explored the ship and got the lay of the land. Our cabin is a queen with two pull down bunks over the bed. It is cozy but sufficient.There are seven ships in port. The princess line had a world cruise leaving today. After the lifeboat drill, it was time for the 5:30 sitting of dinner in L’Ibiscus at table 517, a round table for four. For dinner Brittany had steak and baked potato. The boys had Chicken (Pollo ala Cacciatore), and Peg had gnocchi. The polenta appetizer was delicious. Our waiter is Nomi from Indonesia. Giovanni is the Main Steward. There was cheesecake, a special Valentine’s dessert and Brit had Chocolate ice cream. Peg loved the apricot soup. We cruised the ship after dinner but the pools were closed. We went to the Midnight in Paris floor show including the cancan and some very scantily clad young women. DJ was interested but Brit told him to close his eyes! We went to a meet and greet and met some couples from CruiseCritic.Com. I brought a gift to trade including a book of How to Talk Minnesotan and told about Devin and the Ball of Twine. The kids played Uno on the computer for a while and journaled and we hit the hay. It was a BIG day! Tonight is our first formal night. Our day started with croissants and coffee in the room followed by a real breakfast in the Villa Borghese dining room. Brittany packed away scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, pancakes, milk, sausage, along with a roll and toast and hash browns. The girl loves breakfast. Actually she loves food. Pesak, from Indonesia, was our waiter. He was very congenial. It was much less crowded than the buffet and it was nice to order from the menu. Brittany is off to the pool. I am having trouble connecting to the internet. We may have to wait until Florida to post. I am making this as a word document to send later. Brittany took a great picture at the formal dinner of Grandpa and Grandma. Grandma liked so much that she put it on her computer desktop! DJ took fantastic pictures with his new camera of the cruise ship. I will have to burn a disk for him. After breakfast Brittany went swimming for three and a half hours in the salt water pool. We were waiting for her to become a prune. She said salt water burns your throat. Grandma said, you’re not supposed to drink it. Grandpa said, “Get over it.” While grandma played with the internet to get it connected for the post to the blog, the boys tanned, soaked up the rays, and enjoyed the “scenery.” Lunch was in the Buffet. The food was fantastico! As we sat on the 13th deck at a window table, we had a wide variety of fine foods. Italian never tasted so good! All of the sun, water, and food required the traditional Italian siesta. After we ate we taught the kids to play Hearts. They are quick learners. We will play again tomorrow to reinforce it. Before we knew it, it was time to dress for dinner. DJ learned that if you don’t unpack your dress shirt, you can lie on it to press the wrinkles out of it. Come to think of it, we did the same thing with Grandpa’s shirt. Getting four people dressed in a room smaller than my kitchen is fun. We invented a towel cave/dressing room under a bunk for the young lady. DJ learned to shower like they do aboard ship. Wet down. Water off. Soap up. Water on. Rinse off. All within three minutes. The shower was so small that when he smiled, his teeth touched the wall, Grandpa said. We were on time for our seating. Grandma and Brittany looked lovely in the dresses, Grandpa said. Brittany said, “Cuz we’re that awesome.” Brittany has a delightful sense of humor. We had a seven course meal: We had escargot(which they enjoyed). We are waiting to tell them tomorrow what escargot is! Second course was Lobster soup. Sald was spinach or Cesar, and Brittany opted for a second course of chilled strawberry soup instead of salad. She was hoarding her soup after the first mouthful. We had foccacia with olive oil. The pasta course was a crepe Florentine or risotto and we all shared both. Brittany had Prime Rib for her entrée with asparagas. DJ and Grandma Shrimp with saffron rice. Grandpa had veal picatta. We all traded tastes. We were rather full and skipped the cheese course. Dessert was tiramisu and after trying it, Brittany had the chocolate mousse withy toasted hazelnuts. Grandma ate most of the nuts. Grandpa said it was the best tiramisu he has ever had in his life. We went to the circus floor show which had fantastic acrobats and juggler and magician. One of the Paraguayan musicians was flirting with Brittany so we took his picture. Later Grandma and Brittany went to the Mr. Orchestra contest. Think 70 year old men doing Full Monty…it wasn’t exactly full, but it was funny. Think Chippendales in the old folks home. LOL.
Monday, 2.16.09, Cayo Levantado, Dominican Republic We will tender into the beach for a bit. There are some 1,000 miles of excellent, pearl-white beaches. Back in 1824, a sailing vessel called the Turtle Dove, carrying several hundred escaped American slaves, was blown ashore in Samaná. The survivors settled and prospered, and today their descendants number several thousand. The churches here are Protestant; the worshippers live in villages called Bethesda, Northeast, and Philadelphia; and the language spoken is an odd 19th-century form of English mixed with Spanish. Sportfishing at Samaná is considered to be among the best in the world. In addition, about 3,000 humpback whales winter off the coast of Samaná from December to March. Major whale-watching expeditions are being organized and should boost the region's economy without scaring away the world's largest mammals. The Dominican Republic is busy year-round. During the usually quiet summer season, Europeans flock to the lovely beaches, keeping rates high from mid-June through August. However, in late spring (after Easter until early June) and early fall (September to October) you can get good deals. Unlike many islands, where rain showers are usually a temporary passing thing, the rains in the D.R. can linger when they do come, especially from June through November. The largest event in the country is the annual Jazz Festival in October, which draws enthusiasts from all over the world. Carnival celebrations are held in Santiago and La Vega. The Festival del Merengue is held in Santo Domingo in late July and early August.
DJ took some fantastic pictures.. We had breakfast with a couple from Tennesee, and another couple from Houston. They were going strong at 83. After breakfast in the Villa Borghese, we got our tender tickets. We tendered into Cayo Levantado. It was a gorgeous day. After our original dunking, we sunned and the “fish” played in the water. We perused the craft stalls but the prices were too high. When we got back, it said it was 100.4 degrees on the board. We tendered back for a late lunch and met our North Carolina Cruise Critic friends Lynn and Bob Mack. DJ tried the Caribbean fish sticks, and Britt had a turkey burger. I tried the pasta dish as did Cliff. We played cards until tea time and Cliff napped. Before we knew it we were weighing anchor and it was dinner time. Britt was so full by now that she only ate two bites of apple from her waldorf salad. After mushroom failutte, DJ had gumbo and I had gazpacho. D J and Cliff had the Fettuccini Alfredo and split an eggplant Parmesano. They like us so much they brought us a dish of pasta fazzoli which was not even on the menu so we could try it. DJ had double dessert, and later Brittany went to the Plumcake Party and cartoons. We also told the kids they had snails yesterday, and enjoyed them. Britt thought she wanted to throw up, but had to admit, she did enjoy them. D J was glad he tried them, and so was Britt. After dinner, we are pretty sure, that Brittany has been taking card shark lessons, as she came from behind and whipped out butts at Golf (the card game). Cliff got to try a real expresso tonight…and …might not sleep for a week. We had trouble with the internet, so we couldn’t post today. They boys will try the Americas Cup 12 meter yacht in St. Marten tomorrow while we girls check out the shops. They cancelled the tour to Orient Beach we were going to try. Better luck next time, Britt. The kids are having a ball, as are the grandparents. Actually we are supposed to tell you they are having a horrible time, won’t eat, and are crying to go home….and my nose is growing, Pinocchio. It is a real pleasure to travel with them and they are good travel companions…unless you are playing cards with Brittany ;-) Brittany says, “Ha! Ha! Bill Gates! Who needs internet.” Phillipsburg, Sint. Maarten,Tuesday D J and Grandma snuck out of the cabin and went to breakfast in the Villa Borghese dining room and left the sleepyheads behind. Grandpa caught up with us as we had Eggs Benedict and visited with John and Julie from England. Britt was a little under the weather with travelers discomfort, but Grandma fixed her up with yoghurt and dry Rice Krispies and convinced her to eat a tablespoonful of black tea leaves dry…followed with water to keep it down. It is a cure Grandma learned in Turkey, and it did the trick. (Horribly, Britt said.) Grandpa and D J were off on their own adventure watching the approach to St. Maarten, passed the remains of the Fort, and the second fort, and watched the docking and the way the crew was able to back this 94,000 ton ship into a spot makes one wonder why a person can’t parallel park a car. Meanwhile, Britt and Grandma snoozed like ladies of leisure. The kids got to try Baba Ganoush and pita chips. Brit and Peg split a cheeseburger with fried onions made just for us. D J had a tuna sandwich and Grandpa loved the fish and chips. Soon the boys were off to sail on the Canadian Racing Yacht KC2, an Americas Cup yacht, against the Stars and Stripes, the American Racing Yacht. I understand their yacht won, because Grandpa was the timekeeper, and DJ was back up wincher. They thought he was on steroids he did such a good job. They threatened to test him! No one got any sun today, either, and my nose is growing again…Grandpa’s head looks like a shiny beet after the aloe was applied (Thank you, Colleen!) Brittany and Grandma hit the shopping strip and got our diamond bracelet charms at Diamonds Internationals. After we wore out our wallets we went to the beach and Brittany found a million seaweeds, a nice tan, and more shells. Then Grandma and Brittany went looking for a taxi. We found Iva who took us to Orient Beach so Brittany could see nude men, opps! The idea was to see the beautiful beaches on the French side, but she got to see some other beauties. As we pulled up to the beach in the taxi to let Britt dip her toes in the water, Britt turned to Grandma and said, “There are nude men here Grandma!” Sure enough, in all his glory, there was a very tanned gentleman walking the beach. Iva said, “oh, they aren’t supposed to come down here that far.” Then we saw the second man. They didn’t have any tan lines, and Britt saw a woman with her Bikini top off. Ewwwww! I missed that one. He was definitely tan all over, with no Coppertone lines like Brittany had by the end of the day. We road back to the ship and met up with the boys at the Duty Free store. For dinner they tried frog legs. Britt had Bolognese sauce on pasta and Pasquali fetched chocolate milk for her…and smacked Dj when he drank one of her three cartons of milk. I think he is taken with her. She came back and Gameboy-ed as she was still not up to a seven course meal and was feeling guilty after slamming Grandpa in Golf yesterday, coming from behind. As Grandpa was about to taste his fruit soup, it was swiped from out of in front of him by Pasquali…who then supplied a fantastic dish of pasta because he thought the soup was not that good. You should have seen the look on Grandpa’s face! For dinner we had lamb! It was fantastic. D J really liked it. For dessert they had white chocolate mousse. D J loved the little red champagne type grapes. They are much sweeter than the green grapes here. All the produce on St. Maarten is shipped in from the Dominican Republic. After dinner, Grandma finally got the computer to post the pictures. It has been very slow. To put it mildly. I think I may not send any more pictures until the airport. When Grandma was doing this, Grandpa tried to regain his honor from the trouncing he got from Britt yesterday. They said it really wasn’t a trouncing, it was a sneak attack. Today was a trouncing by D J. Last night Grandma had a reaction to the fermentation of the Pasta Fazolli and as we were trying to go to sleep, the gas attack caused us all so many giggles that we were afraid we would wake the neighbors. Britt supplied her own hot air contribution. In fact, Grandpa had the Pasta Fazolli, too. Poor innocent D J. The worst was when Britt asked Grandma if she could use her breathing machine. I told her it only trapped the gas and we giggled some more. As Grandma Gawne would say, we always get around to it! Antigua, St. Johns, tomorrow!
2.18.09 St. Johns, Antigua Today started out very early for us cruisers. We woke up at seven in the morning as we landed in St. Johns, Antigua! We went to breakfast that early in order to ensure that we would get enough time to enjoy St. Johns. There, DJ had a big plate of red grapes that were gone by the time he brought them back to the room with him! He really does love those grapes. Anyway, Grandpa and DJ took off for St. Johns as Grandma and Britt sat and enjoyed breakfast. The guys went up to the old Cathedral in St. Johns in order to investigate. There were tombstones older than Grandma there! After that, the boys walked the town, examining all the unfinished sidewalks and streets and discussing where Grandma was going to take Britt today. (First a Chippendale show, then a nude beach, what could be next?) They then decided to give DJ’s wallet a good workout. They bought a souvenir for his dad, his stepmom, his mom and his stepdad. Now he just needs to get something for himself. (Grapes, perhaps?) In another store, they met up with Grandma and Britt, met an old man drumming and singing for money, taped Grandpa dancing with the singer of a band outside our ship, and boarded our ship. For the next two hours, Grandpa and Britt napped while Grandma and DJ sneakily went off to lunch. They both had wonderful carbonara. It was so good DJ went back with Grandpa and Britt when they got up for another helping! Grandma said, “It’s the best I’ve ever had.” After that, Grandma napped while DJ and Brittany, feeling so full to the bursting point, raced up to the 13th floor via stairs, ran around the deck a few times and ran back downstairs to see who got there first. Naturally, DJ, being older and wiser, won the race. The kids then sat down to a game of golf, where Brittany cheated yet DJ still won! After that, if you’ll believe it, it was time to sit down for dinner! Our waiter, who knows what Grandpa likes and dislikes, ordered for Grandpa tonight, as well as for Grandma and DJ. Brittany had the clear beef soup and salmon fillet. The other three had tomatoes and cheese for an appetizer Insalata Caprese, which the grandparents liked but DJ wasn’t a fan of, a pretty good salad with avocado, and some wonderful veal cordon bleu. For dessert, we all had a simple ice cream sundae. ..and D J rounded it off with another plate of grapes. Grandpa is severely sunburned on his head. His shins are not much better. Those darn kids, Grandma said, will they never learn? We played Hearts until grandpa was winning and everyone wanted to play golf instead. Brittany cheated again. She dealt and got 4 kings. Hmmm. Only two were in the deal so maybe she only looked like a cheater, but…Grandma took Britt to the local grocery store to fondle the potatoes…just kidding it was the plantains and the chicken feet and turkey necks. Needless to say, we didn’t buy anything to eat in THAT store. Our drink bottles have been a big asset on the trip, and DJ has found the best place to fill them. Tomorrow is a Sea day and formal night. The men will suffer through the ties again for us. Britt can wear her pretty dress. In town Britt and Grandma got their new charms for their bracelets. Dj has a new trick. He laughs until cranapple juice spurts out his nose. It is one of his finer table skills. Just kidding. Both children have excellent table skills and we have been very proud to have them with us. Many people have commented how well behaved our children are…and it is fun to say, “No. They are our GRAND children.” Tonight Britt and Grandma suffered tremendously through some very bad karaoke to fetch sandwiches for the men. We just put our breakfast order in for room service for the morning. The clocks go back tonight so we get an extra hour of sleep…which we sorely need. Having fun is very tiring. Time to go…they want room service before bed….
2.19.09, At Sea We’re a rockin’ ‘n’ a rollin’ at sea. It started last night and has calmed some but sure hasn’t cut down on our eating. We’ve seen a lot of Indians, Grandpa said. I said that I didn’t see any. He said, “Yes, A-patch-ee.” He was referring to the Dramamine patches that people were wearing behind their ears. We had no such trouble and let the sea rock us to sleep…several times today, actually. We awakened for first breakfast of coffee and rolls delivered to our cabin and proceeded to second breakfast in the dining room. DJ told us we should eat breakfast like kings, lunch like princes, and dinner like paupers. He was okay until he got to dinner. Today was a catch up on sleep day and see how sunburned DJ could get. Actually it was not planned but he did get his first sunburn on his shoulders and back of his neck. Thank God (and Colleen) for the Aloe gel. Grandpa is happy we have it too because his forehead is still fried. Grandma checked out the spa today. The hot tubs up there were not crowded, and the Turkish steam room was both beautiful and toasty. After lunch some of us napped. Britt and DJ went to the pool. We dressed for second formal night and had a formal picture taken. The men were handsome in their ties and suits, and Brittany was gorgeous in her green sundress and white shawl. Dinner was shrimp cocktail, manicotti, risotto, duck a la orange and lobster. The dinner show included Flaming Baked Alaska by our waiters. Tonight’s theater show in the Covent Garden Theater was Celtic Spirit. The dancing and music were wonderful. As we walked in, four of the entertainers followed Grandma and mimicked her. Everyone had a good laugh. As if it wasn’t bad enough with nude beaches and Chippendales, tonight they watched a pole dance. Granted it was a maypole, but DJ reminded us it was a pole dance. Britt got her Game Boy back. DJ finally got a plate of red grapes after three tries today, but Romi took good care of him at dinner. Brittany ate the broccoli, we think, because her bed is vibrating. The coffee has been excellent and the eggs Benedict have been wonderful. Brittany is fascinated with the confetti and streamers they shot into the crowd during the show tonight. As she said, it takes little to entertain her. No one was awake long enough to take pictures today LOL. Tomorrow, Nassau! Oh, my! We almost forgot about the midnight buffet. We’ll have to report on that tomorrow…if we ever get repacked.
2.20.09, Nassau, Bahamas Grand Buffet last night was busy and might have been more enjoyable if we weren’t already stuffed to the gills from six days of eating. We brought our plates back to our cabin and could not even finish them. We got up this morning and began the horrible task of packing after another fantastic breakfast with John and Julie from Williamsburg, and Lynn and Bob Mack from North Carolina. I don’t know how we accumulated so much in one week, other than inches around our waists, but we managed to stuff most of it back into the bags…including using the vacuum hose to suck the air out of our space saver bags. Grandpa has lost the most weight of all, but perhaps that is because he has decided to measure it in metric. After the great packing morning of ’09, as DJ put it, we were back off for more food. We finally arrived in Nassau and had to wait to disembark and were lucky we didn’t get trampled by the impatient crowd. The Nassau port is at security level one so we needed passports and picture I.D.’s. We kept Grandpa out of the sun and DJ, too. In fact, Grandpa bought a hat at the Straw Market. We missed our People to People guide but visited the Tourism Office. Then DJ, Brittany, and Peg went on a horse-drawn carriage tour of Nassau. The horse was named Bahama Mama and our driver was Freddy. He even took our picture at the end of our tour. We saw Key lime trees and avocado trees. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ship for dinner. Tonight’s attire was informal. We had a wonderful lamb dinner, and boy did Brittany clean her plate…and started on Grandma’s…but she did ask politely. It would have been a quiet meal, except for DJ’s screaming when he got a mouthful of what he thought was innocent enough, but turned out to be a pile of wasabi for his sushi California roll. (He thought the roll was nasty, too.) You should have see his face and eyes when the wasabi hit. He made the mistake of drinking water, rather than milk. He learned something new about quenching fire in his mouth. Milk works better than water! The big surprise tonight was when the waiters sang Happy Birthday to DJ and brought out a fantastic Italian whipped cream cake to make his special day. It was a pleasant day. We followed up with the final packing and it was bags out by 930pm. We were even early!
We had a ball. Our wait staff were wonderful. The Italian food was great. The price was hard to beat with kid's only paying port charges. It is a different experience on MSC, more European, but definitely lovely and both we and the children were treated well. Only being in Nassau a short time was our only real disappointment.