Check in was supposed to be between 12 and 3 with sail away being at 4pm. We arrived at about 12:45. There was a hold up loading onto the boat, something about customs and coast guard where doing inspections. We didn't get to check in till about 2pm. Check in was typically slow but smooth. Finally, we are onboard. The ship is quaint and lovely with a lot of dark wood and antiques. The perfect atmosphere for an adventure like the Amazon.
Cabin is typical ship close quarters. We have been upgraded to a balcony, which I am really glad about. I am reminded of the reasons that I really should always book a balcony. The extra space and view is such an asset. Also, I really like the ability to leave the balcony door open and get fresh air.
We are on the late dinner at 8:15. By this time we are a bit bushed, having to get up at 4:00 in the morning. Dinner selection was varied and it was quiet a decision making process. I settled on spring rolls for an app and Fettuccini Alfrado, which I requested a chicken breast be added to. They had no problem with my request. Love good food and good service. Sean had a seafood pate that he loved for an app and a crawfish dinner that ended up looking like a potpie. He also liked that but Sean is the least picky eater there is and would never complain. I figured that a table for six would give us a great opportunity to meet some people. The one couple was from Southern California and they are great. They engaged everyone else and really kept the conversation going. Enjoyed dinner very much. After dinner we were just too tired and skipped the show. Which was too bad it was a comedian and we wanted to catch it.... always next time.
This is a day at sea. There is quite a swell and the boat is swaying. Slept in ...yeah! Missed breakfast but headed to the buffet for coffee. Sat outside on the stern of the ship. Ended up sitting with the nicest lady. She was so interesting, on the ship by herself. She lives in a golf community in Orlando and has traveled everywhere. She was like a one woman travel show, mention a well know destination and get a first hand play by play. Everywhere from a safari in Tanzania, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Egypt, Europe and a less than inspiring trip to China. She spoke of visiting Tuscany in September and the wild animals of Africa with such passion that I wanted to start booking trips. That is one thing I have noticed about this cruise, the people on board are avid travelers and there is constant talk and comparison of cruise lines and destinations.
Lunch was amazing. They had a Chinese buffet, complete with dragon ice sculpture. The food was excellent and I though Sean was going to OD on sushi. After lunch the sway of the ship got the better of me. I headed to the room for a little time out. Ended up having to put a seasickness patch on, kind of feel like I gave in but I don't want to be unable to enjoy the cruise. We did make it down to the art auction. They are always so interesting to watch but I think a lot where thinking like us. There were many people watching but no one buying.
Formal night tonight but we have decided to opt out of the formal dinner. The dinning room is at the stern of the ship and I was worried the motion of the boat would be bad. Not to mention that Sean really didn't want to dress up.
St. Maarten is a lovely island, from what we saw a little more forward and Americanized than some islands. There was a very nice shopping area right where the ship docked. The town of Philipsburg was a short 10 min walk or a very reasonable water taxi ride ($4 one-way, $6 return). We walked to Philipsburg and took the water taxi back. Philipsburg was very nice, with a boardwalk along the beach. The next street into town was Front St. Both areas are chock full of shopping. They had everything from typical island wear, upscale brand shops, jewelry and more jewelry. There was even a very cute candy store owned by a former Canadian. We bought a mask to add to our mask collecting, just a little cute on but our wall is getting full. I think a lot of future masks will have to be on the small size.
We stopped at one of the many beachside bars. The one we stopped at had a pirate theme and old guns hung on the wall...which just seemed appropriate. I had my usual Heineken and Sean had a mango margarita.
After a good rest in the bar we got a couple of beach chairs and longed on the beach. The beach chairs appeared to be owned by various bars. You paid for the chairs, an umbrella and drinks all in a package. It was a very busy beach with each chair right next to the chair beside. We spent a few hours there relaxing and reading.
Back on the ship we grabbed a snack and bided our time until dinner. Our dinner was very good and the company was great. After dinner we took in the show. It was a comedian; he was okay, got a few laughs.
In planning for St Lucia we really didn't think there was much for us to do. We had just been to St Lucia a year ago and had rented a car, so we saw lots of the island. However, once in port we started talking to a taxi driver and decided to tour some of the areas we missed.
First stop was Diamond Falls, with included a botanical rainforest. It was beautiful, species of flowers and trees that I had never seen before. The falls make a great photo op. Sean even found a giant caterpillar! On our way to our next stop we chatted with Anthony our driver. We told him we had stayed at Ti Kaye Resort last year and he told us about the snakes in that area. According to Anthony the area is well known for snakes...boa constrictors and 3 poisonous varieties. Pretty scary; I might have to Google this when we get back and I have better Internet.
Next stop was the sulphur springs and volcano in Soufriere. It is the only collapsed volcano in the world that you can drive up to. It was super cool. Steam was coming up through crevasses and the water was boiling. It did have a very strong sulphur smell. We decided not to go into the sulphur baths but I was so glad we saw the volcano. Our last stop was Marigot Bay, which is totally beautiful. We stopped at a little restaurant overlooking the bay and had a beer. Then took a trip right down by the bay and walked around. It was more modern that a lot of areas in St Lucia and by the looks of the huge yachts it is frequented by the wealthy. There was a beautiful resort there called Discovery at Marigot Bay, I think I might look into that resort if we return to St. Lucia. Which is quite possible as St Lucia is probably my favorite Caribbean island.
I learnt something very interesting from our tour guide Anthony. Rasta is a type of religion. The religion involves a pureness of heart. Typically a true Rasta will be a very kind person. They do not believe in the use of combs and mirrors, hence the long dreads. They are also vegans and do not eat any meat or fish. Also a true Rasta will not have any piercings, which is a way to tell a true Rasta from an imposter. They do however frequently take part in the wacky tabacky (as Anthony called it) but do not drink.
We got back to the ship at 5pm and we were hungry so we decided to skip the dinning room at 8:15 and eat at the buffet. Sean thought it was great, I thought it was okay. Then back to our cabin for movie watching and relaxation.
We arrived in Tobago with no plans. Thought we would go on shore and then get an idea of what to do. Sean really wanted to go SCUBA diving but I had forgotten my PADI card at home. Also, the short notice seemed to be an issue with getting a diving excursion arranged.
Our second option was a rainforest tour. So we asked about that. We were directed to tour director Harris McDonald. We met up with Harris and he told us we needed a change of clothes (for the rain) and that my flip-flops weren't really appropriate. So back to our cabin to get better equipped. I wore running shoes but ended up renting a pair of Wellingtons. I am really glad I did. Harris passed us over to his colleague Curtis. Curtis was a great tour guide, very knowledgeable. Curtis was also a policeman, so we felt very safe.
The rainforest is gorgeous. The trees huge, some of the biggest bamboo I have ever seen. Curtis told us that particular type of bamboo grew 6 inches every day. When it reached 60ft it stopped growing and then it would flower. Once it finished flowering it would die.
We saw many types of birds. There were parrots flying over the canopy and we could hear them but only catch glimpses. We also saw these amazing little ants. These leaf cutter ants could be seen wandering along carrying pieces of leaves that were 4 times their size back to their nest. There wasn't a lot of wildlife but the scenery was amazing.
As we came out of the rainforest there was a man selling ice cream. We decided to indulge. I am still wondering if that was a good idea. The man couldn't speak well, so we aren't sure what flavors he had. He did give us a spoon of each to try. The first was vanilla; the second was a mystery fruit, but quite good. We both choose the mystery fruit. When we asked how much it was he could tell us. So Sean held out the money he has in his hand, a $5 bill and four $1 bills (USD). The man took all the money! And wouldn't give us any back. So our little one-scoop ice creams in cups cost $5 each! That was more expensive than the gelato we got in St. Maarten from the trendy ice cream shop on the boardwalk. I guess that is the price you pay for rainforest side service.
The town of Scarborough was our ship docked wasn't the nicest for tourist shopping. It was a typical busy Caribbean town center more suited to the locals than to tourists. This town like so many in the Caribbean involves all the senses, beautiful bright colors, the warmth of the sun, the constant sound of music and even the smells. There is a hustle and bustle but everyone is happy. It always make me think.... many people assume that money will make them happy, what really makes people happy is a simple, easy life. The locals might not have a lot but they are very friendly and happy. Not only to the tourists but even to their friends and acquaintances that they see along to way.
This was our last Caribbean island of the trip. It will now be very interesting to see how South America compares.
Day at Sea
Waters are a bit rough and wind is up. It feels as if our ship is traveling on a slant, with an added in wobble now and again for good measure. The staff reassured us that this is unusual for this ship; that the weather is the culprit. Walking around the ship takes a bit of balance and the sparse areas of the ship would indicate more than a few people are spending time hiding out in their cabins.
We spent our morning sitting with the very interesting, world traveling women from a few days ago. It was a wonderful chat, and she is so full of knowledge and insight. We ended up chatting for quite a few hours and she was no end of insight. She even taught me something about Disney that I didn't know (and I really thought I was somewhat of an expert there). It is possible to go diving in the aquarium in Epcot. I think that would be amazing fun and will have to look it up when I get home. Being on this ship is a lot like speed dating. We keep meeting new great people; yet only spend a short time with each.
We decided to take in some wine tasting...not for the faint of heart when it is on the 10th floor in weather like this. It was tremendous fun. Every Princess cruise I have been on has had two wine tastings. An initial tasting of some basic wine and general information for a nominal fee, in this case $9.00. Then a more elaborate tasting for those interested in some better wines and more detailed information for a slightly higher charge, in this case $25.00. This particular tasting was the later.
The tasting occurred in the Italian Specialty restaurant Sabatinis. We were seated at a table for 4. The other couple were from Ohio, and very nice. Their preference was towards reds, Sean is more into whites and I waffle back and forth depending (not sure what it exactly depends on...maybe my mood). I am a wine pairings nightmare. I like both red and white, however never pair them with food, more with my mood and the weather.
The wines we got to taste were a champagne from Reims, France, Heidsick Monopole Blue. I don't particularly like champagne or sparkling wine, even to the point of giving away bottles I acquire. I have to say this was the best champagne I have ever tried. Not that I would go out of my way to buy it, but definitely the best. The next wine we tasted was Poully-Fuisse from Burgundy. France. This chardonnay was excellent; it was very light and very clean tasting. It had hints of fruits but nothing too over powering. It fit well with my pairing of weather and would be an excellent chilled wine on a hot summer day. This is a wine I would buy. The next wine was Cuvaison Chardonnay from Napa Valley. It is unbelievable how two chardonnays from two different parts of the world could taste so different. This chardonnay was a much heavier wine; the aroma and taste reminded me of fruit, in particular bananas. With its legs and texture it almost reminded me of a light red.
On to the reds. First up was a Meritage from Murietas Well in Livermore Valley, California. I am a big fan of Meritages, done right the wine make can perfect a great balance of grape varieties and make a very easy to drink wine. If unsure on a menu, I will often go to a meritage. The one was good, not the best meritage I have ever tasted but more than drinkable. I find whenever traveling that Canadian wines are completely overlooked. They could replace this meritage with the meritage from Vineland Estates Winery in Vineland, Ontario and then they would have a wine to showcase. The next two reds where excellent and exuded quality, however, even just sniffing these wines they screamed to be decanted. The staff putting on the wine tasting new that both these wines would taste their best decanted so I have no idea why they didn't for the tasting. The first was a Tuscan wine, Luce Della Vite, a mixture of merlot and sangiovese grapes. It was a full-bodied wine just full of potential. However, you could smell the tannins coming off it and all the swirling I could do wasn't going to change that. This is a good wine, which would be a great wine decanted. I would drink it any time and I usually stay away from Sangiovese, but as I experienced in the Chardonnay, one particular grape can give you such different experiences. The last was from the tried and true Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley. Anyone who likes wine knows that this is a winery that will always be sure to please. We have the pleasure of trying the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, again a full-bodied easy to drink wine. Loved the texture and taste, would of given anything to try this wine after a bit of decanting.
Another great dinner tonight. I am really enjoying our tablemates, there always seems to be no end of good conversation. I look forward to getting together over dinner and sharing ours day's adventures. Tonight the meal was excellent. It was an Italian themed dinner, complete with Procuitto from San Danielle, this holds special meaning for me as my father is from San Danielle and my parents have an apartment there. We are hoping to make it there this summer, but that is for another blog. I had spaghetti and meatballs for my main course and I think it might have been the best spaghetti I have ever had.
It was the roughest night so far. All through dinner the boat was leaning from one side to the other. I have never been on a ship with such large movements. There was supposed to be a Broadway (singing and dancing) type show tonight but because of the movements of the ship they changed it to a comedian. We thought about going to the show, but would of had to wait around for a while, so we opted out. One thing I have noticed on this cruise is that the entertainment doesn't seem as good as other cruises. Maybe being a smaller ship with fewer passengers affects the talent they can book.
Well, that sucks! We were supposed to go to Devil's Island today but because for the winds and swells it is too dangerous for the tenders. So, it is another day at sea. Which will make 4 days at sea in a row before we hit our first port in Brazil. I had read about this happening in some of the reviews. Makes me wonder if it happens often. Many of the passengers are doing the round trip and will head back this way. I hope they get a chance to visit the island. We did take some pictures from the ship. I thought it looked beautiful, lusher and tree filled then I expected. The sea around the island was very interesting. It had very obvious changes in color from brown, to blue, to black. We tried to take some pictures, so I hope they work out. It must be a change in depth along with sandy bottom that makes the color changes.
Sean and I did play some trivia this morning. We were supposed to work in teams of 6, and everyone already had preset teams from previous trivia games. So, Sean and I played as our own team. We were not as good as I thought we would be. All I am going to say is the knowledge obviously does come with age!
At Sea.... again!
We are starting to get into a routine. Each morning we have coffee and a bit of breakfast on the back deck. This deck of the rear of the buffet and at the back of the ship is becoming one of our favorite places. We really enjoy sitting out here to enjoy our breakfast and also meet up with people we know. Today we sat with the same lady from a few days ago. She has traveled extensively and is so interesting. We ended up spending hours chatting with her and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Off to trivia again this morning. We teamed up with a couple from the UK. Thank goodness we did, all the questions seamed to be from very old British history and our new team was very good at coming up with the answers. We ended up winning! No thanks to Sean and I, what a bit of fun.
Much of the rest of the day we spent in our stateroom. Sitting on the balcony reading...we really are an exciting couple!
For dinner, instead of the regular dinning room, we thought we might try the Bistro. The Bistro is in the buffet area but instead of the buffet they seat you and you order off a menu. The menu had a lot to choose from, Sean had a roasted garlic soup and seafood pasta, I had a chicken Caesar and lasagna. The chicken Caesar was excellent and I think I would choose it as a main course.
We were both amused by a lady sitting next to us. She ordered the lasagna but with no cheese! When the waiter came back and said that the lasagna could not be done without cheese...duh! She proceeded to tell him there was nothing else on the menu that interested her. There is no pleasing some people.
I had not known about the bistro till today. It is an excellent dinner option if you don't want to have to dress up or eat a certain time. I am very happy we found out about this option.
At Sea (or river, as the case may be)
Much more of the same thing. Except today it Christmas day, so the say thing with lots of Merry Christmases mixed in. Breakfast was again in the same area, just of the back of the boat. Today because it was Christmas we splurged on the expensive coffee. Which is pretty much the same as the regular coffee just comes out of the pot and you have to pay for it.
We entered the Amazon today and then had to wait for the authorities to clear us so we could continue up the Amazon. Well, this ended up taking until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. So we basically spent all day anchored in the middle of the river. The Amazon River, for anyone who doesn't know is chocolate brown!
I got a great book from the onboard library the other day. The library is excellent. I wasn't sure really what to expect but it has a lot of recent books and best sellers. Now, I just need to read every chance I get, so that I can get the book back before we leave.
There was a holiday brunch today. We had a look at the menu, which looked really good but maybe too much this early in the day for us. It turns out that the rest of our tablemates at dinner had taken advantage of the brunch and they say it was excellent.
We had another wonderful dinner. Being Christmas it was formal night. I love seeing everyone dressed up; I think how people dress for formal night says a lot about a person. Some people are quite flamboyant and so interesting. I must say our table was very middle of the road, everyone dressed nicely but no one was over the top. I saw one young girl in a full-length gown. She was absolutely stunning.
I think by this point everyone was quite anxious to get off the ship and the fact that we were finally in Brazil and on the Amazon made it even more exciting. There weren't a lot of tours offered, so Sean and I decided we would just get off the ship and see what we could find. As soon as we were on the dock there were taxis available. They spoke English and had a large sign with the tours available. Sean and I decided on the zoo and then to be dropped off in town. This would cost us $35 USD. We also hired an English-speaking tour guide for $15. The highway we started off on was a regular paved road but when we turned off for the zoo we were on dirt roads, which looked to be made of a red clay.
The zoo is quite small and run by the local university. They take in local species and try to rehabilitate them. I most consisted of birds, small reptiles and small monkeys. Although small, we did find it very interesting. However, I am not sure it would be for everyone. The English-speaking guide really helped because we could ask a lot of questions and have them translated. The monkeys were the best. The spider monkeys were very tame and would put their arms and tails through the cage to touch us. I was held on to by one monkey the whole time we were there. There tail is quite strong and they do definitely us it as another appendage. He did try to steal my necklace and sunglasses when he got a chance and did once hold onto me by my hair. Not in a mean way and he didn't pull, he just held on. I loved him and Lesley (our amazing pet sitter) and Kirsten (our vet) should be very glad that I couldn't bring him home to add to our menagerie.
After the zoo, we headed into the main part of the city. It was very interesting; different than any of the Caribbean cities we had been too. I also found it very dirty. The gutters were full of garbage and not very pleasant looking water. Also, Brazil is very hot. The city was a bustle of activity and we saw stores that sold everything, even a tack store!
Boca De Valeria
I really wasn't sure of what to expect from Boca De Valeria. I had read mixed revues on the various boards. Many people felt that there wasn't much to see and I even had heard it called "bucket of Malaria". In the elevator we even ran into a man who's wife wasn't going to Boca de Valeria because she was afraid of the mosquitoes!! Seriously, who spend a tremendous amount of money to book a trip to the AMAZON, then not want to go outside because of mosquitoes!?!
Well, we loved Boca de Valeria. When we got on the tender there were boys with little sloths, they passed them to us to hold and take pics. Then we gave them a dollar.... we went through a lot of dollars in Boca de Valeria. There was pretty much a dollar price tag on everything. The houses were basically wooden shacks up on stilts; even their gardens were up on stilts. There were lots of animals to get your picture taken with, sloths, monkeys, caymen, capybara, iguanas and other various bugs. At first I was enthralled by these interesting animals that I got to interact with. Then I met the dogs, they were skinny and flea infested. I felt really sorry for them, especially because they were extremely fearful. If you tried to approach them, they gave you this come any closer and I will bite you look. There is something about a place were you can hold and pet all the wild animals but the pet dogs are afraid of people.
We took a short boat ride, which was very cool except for the fact that the canoe was very wobbly. I kept think about the fact that the brown murky water underneath me contained both piranha and caymen. I had to keep reminding myself that I was on a river in the Amazon and this was, really, really cool. So, we didn't fall out of the canoe and it was excellent.
After the trip up the river, Sean and I wandered along a path that went up a hill and by the last of the houses. Then it got much smaller and went off in to rainforest. We just kept walking along this path that leads into the rainforest, with no idea what was in there and were it would leave. It was amazing! To actually be walking somewhere in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. The thing that you notice the most is the noises. The forest is so incredibly filled with life and you might not be able to see it but you can hear it. It was truly an amazing feeling.
So, I really have no idea why people who would choose a trip to the Amazon would not like Boca de Valeria. Sean and I both thought that this is what it is all about and wished every stop were more like this.
We were only in Parintins for a few hours. Sean and I hadn't booked a tour, but we were finding that we liked the option of organizing something when we got to the island. It was much more relaxed to not have to stick to a timeline and decide once we got to the destination and could have an idea of what it was like. There wasn't much when we got off the boat in Parintins, a few booths set up selling local wears but not much else. They do have tricycle taxis, so Sean and I decided to take a tour of the city by tricycle. The tour lasted about an hour and a half and gave us a great overview of the city. Our driver/rider/guide didn't speak much English, so it was more a case of Sean and I watching as the city went by. It was like a smaller version of Santarem. There were not many cars and people got around either by bicycle or motorcycle.
Every year in June, Parintins hosts the Festival do Boi-Bumba. This huge festival is the second largest in Brazil each year, only Carnival in Rio is bigger. The festival celebrates a local legend about a resurrected ox. It is a flamboyant show that consists of signing and dancing in a competition between two teams. One team is red and the other is blue. Supporters of each side dress in the appropriate color and everything in the town seems to support either red or blue. They hold a smaller version of the show for tourist during other times of the year. This show was an option from our cruise. Many people chose to go to the show and had a great time. They said it was very entertaining and the costumes where awesome.
We are very sad to be at our last port. I would love to come back and explore more of the Amazon. I feel like we have come all this way and just barely scratched the surface. Our Brazilian Visas are good for 5 years, so who knows, maybe we will get a chance to come back.
Still trying to stay away from the ship organized tours we went onshore to look for our own tour. The first tour company we found was already booked up for the day by our ship. However, they were able to direct to someone else that could help. We ended up booking a boat tour for 3 hours. The boat was a large motorized canoe type boat. It would hold about 20 passengers. We had a captain who manned the boat and an English speaking, tour guide.
Our first stop was a floating gas station, which I found very interesting, if not very environmentally friendly. I have been thinking that a lot of the 'save the Amazon' efforts could possibly start a little closer to home. The water around the floating gas station went from the usual chocolate milk color of the Amazon to a strong tea. I just figured that couldn't be a good sign.
From there we went through the meeting of the waters. Right at this point we saw a few freshwater dolphins popping out of the water. We never got a really clear view of the dolphins and it was next to impossible to get a good picture. Our guide had us put our hands in the water as he drove from the darker water to the lighter. I couldn't believe the temperature difference. There had to be a 10-degree difference between the two waters.
From here we went on to park the boat at a floating restaurant. There was a wooden walkway that ran along side the restaurant and off into the jungle. The elevated walkway was a little precarious. That along with our guide saying "Watch out for Anacondas here" made for the whole brave, Amazon explorer experience. The walkway ended at lake January and a beautiful view of the giant lily pads.
Next stop was a little house on the water. Inside were three children, one with a Caymen, and one with a sloth and a little girl with a huge Anaconda. For a few dollars you could take your picture with the animals. There were no parents in sight only the children, I wondered if this was the Amazon equivalent of a lemon aid stand.
Another stop, another walkway to Lake January. This time we saw a couple of Caymen in the water. Our guide also took us to see a huge tree, a Kapok tree (Cieba pentandra). He said that natives would use these huge trees to send messages. The noise from banging on the tree could be heard for long distances.
After returning from our tour we wandered around town. Manaus was definitely the biggest city we have visited, with a population of about 2 million. It is the eighth largest city in Brazil. Downtown, close to the port was crazy. Vendors lined both sides of the sidewalk and both sides of the street as far as we could see. We wandered up and down streets and there was everything you can imagine for sale. From food, to hardware to underwear, it was like being in the world's largest dollar store.
Close to our ship, there were two jewelry stores that offered free shuttles to their stores. Both located in the Tropical Manaus hotel. We took the shuttle out to the hotel, they told us about 20 min, but it was more like 40 min. The hotel was a beautiful change from what we so far had experienced in Manaus. We did enjoy a slightly overpriced, yet very good coffee in one of their restaurant areas. They had a great shopping area, which included a really good selection of stores. Probably the highlight of this hotel is that it contains it's own zoo. The number and quality of animals in the zoo pleasantly surprised us. Not what you would really expect from a hotel.
This is our last day in Brazil. Actually, since we are leaving at 6 am, it isn't much of a day. It has been a wonderful trip. We have learnt so much and I am so glad to have seen the Amazon River and rainforest in person. I do hope to make it back to Brazil in the future; there is still so much I want to explore.