Cruise Holidays - Attheta Travel

I am proud to be certified by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) as an Elite Cruise Counselor. The Cruise Counselor Certification Program is CLIA's most comprehensive training which requires agents to successfully complete a number of compulsory training courses and exams, attend cruise conferences, and conduct ship inspections. Anita Thompson, Attheta Travel, dba Cruise Holidays.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grand Princess Caribbean Cruising

November 22 – December 6, 2010
Sunday November 21 – Maija and Al arrive in Fort Lauderdale
Uneventful flight for Al and Maija from SeaTac to Dallas, and then Dallas to Ft. Lauderdale.

Dinner at Johnny V’s was extraordinary! The desk clerk at the hotel recommended it because it is directly across the street and the chef is an awarding winning chef on Food Channel.

Jan and Steve narrowly avoid the ensuing snowfall, about to descend upon the Puget Sound area, as they board their red-eye to Miami. Their plane was de-iced, as was Al and Maija’s early that morning (very early, at 6:10 am).

Monday November 22 – Embarkation at Fort Lauderdale
Jan and Steve picked up a Budget rental car at the Miami airport, which was only $68 for the day, which enabled them to pick up Al and Maija at the Riverfront Hotel. The drop off, which is a few blocks from the cruise ship terminal, was not well organized (took the guys at least 45 minutes), but it’s still well worth it. Having the car was an ideal way to pick up wine (28 bottles!) at Total Wines, and drop the girls with the luggage at the cruise terminal. Total Wines is an amazing wine outlet! The inventory is never ending.

Breakfast was wonderful on Las Olas, at. This hotel and location was a great combo…. much better than other times when we’ve departed from Fort Lauderdale. Al found the hotel on, $65 for the night.

Our Elite/Platinum access to the ship was great. Other passengers were in a very long line.

Jan and Steve’s inside cabin has two drop down singles, which made it feel too tight. They opted to have their beds split to two singles, to provide floor space in the middle.

Maija didn’t have time to get a pedicure at home, so she has an appointment at 5:15. Nice job by Tamar, with the gel treatment. A bit pricey at $75…. whatever! Maija is annoyed that a pedicure client has to complete a questionnaire, which asks for a listing of the client’s meds, health issues, etc. Way extreme for a pedi…. Maija fills out a comment card.

Tuesday November 23 – at sea
Al and Maija begin the Pilates regimen…. Oooh, we’re sore! A week later we see our ship’s fitness director, Cami, with her cigs on the beach. Gross!

Jan and Steve sleep in their “cave” (indoor cabin) until 11:00, in the sleep deprivation chamber. Well, they needed it, after that red-eye flight.

Wednesday November 24 – at sea
We hoarded four pool chairs early, but by 10:45 we had little notes on them, indicating that at 11:00 our stuff would be removed, if we didn’t occupy them. Fortunately, Al and Maija happened to show up, just as the nasty notice appeared. Lesson learned…. you really can’t hoard chairs (nor should you).

Afternoon movie in the Princess Theater was “Killer” with Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl and Tom Selleck. It’s funny…. CIA, Ashton as hit man, until he falls in love with Katherine. Tom Selleck is her dad.

Thursday November 25 – Thanksgiving in Aruba
Headed to Amsterdam Manor for beach time at Eagle Beach. The taxi supervisor/driver did not want to take us there because they make more (and get kick-backs?) at Palm Beach. We insisted, which didn’t make us popular. This worked out perfectly. Amsterdam Manor is Dutch clean, welcoming, friendly, and it’s only $10 per person to have access to their pool, towels and the beach. Their beachfront restaurant is great for beer, cocktails and lunch. Thanks to Al for uncovering this choice on the web.

Friday November 26 – Willemstad, Curacao
Willemstad is the capital. Colorful colonial buildings, charming old town. Pontoon pedestrian bridge, which opens to allow large ships to pass through. It’s hot here, but not unbearable. Shopping is not noteworthy. We found just one decent T-shirt shop…. a shirt for Al, and Christmas gift for Gary E. Most of the T-shirts are tacky, too bright and lots of embroidery.

The fishermen selling fresh catch, off their boats are worth seeing, as is the produce market, which includes “drive by” shopping for the locals! Patrons “drive by”, hardly stopping, right in front of the stands, and get loaded up with sacks of potatoes, gigantic banana leaf bunches, produce, etc. We later learned from Helena that it is customary, particularly during the Christmas season, to prepare “Hallacas” from the banana leaves. Through a cumbersome process, it becomes quite a delicacy (stuffed with various fillings), which is then ready anytime (refrigerated) guests arrive unexpectedly. Slenderizing cream was available at the local market. Although slightly tempted, Maija and Jan opted not to make this purchase.

Steve and Maija, in the old Jewish section, found a Curacao distillery’s tasting room. We sampled banana, pistachio and amaretto liqueurs. Tasty, but very sweet.

The museums have entrance fees of $6 - $10 per person. Not worth it to us for the maritime museum, synagogue, postal museum.

Recommended by a local policeman, on the street beat, we had lunch on the shore, at “The Grilling – Family Steakhouse & Seafood”. The owner/waiter tossed leftovers into the water, so we got to watch a moray eel and tarpon, right off the deck. Our lunches were excellent.

Saturday November 27 – at sea
It’s a cloudy, windy day. Not a day where we feel compelled to ensure we have four chaise lounges by the pool…. nor did anyone else.

Couples massage class for Al and Maija. Wine tasting in the afternoon for Jan and Steve.

We opted to watch “Movies under the Stars” tonight. It was a very silly movie, with Steve Carrel, called “Dinner for Schmucks”. Fun for on top, but not even worth renting.

Sunday November 28 – Grenada
Celebrity’s Millennium ship is docked right next to us. The two ships look massive, next to one another on the dock.

Sunday morning Gospel service at Evangelistic Center on Market Hill in St. George, Grenada. Wonderful beat and energy!

2 ½ hour walk (workout program, given the hills and stairs). No shopping in sight, which was perfect. No “Little Switzerland” or “Diamonds International”! We approached the fort from the backside, and encountered the locally (self ?) appointed “security officer”. The fort tunnels had gun turrets, and cannons on top. In 1983 the heads of government were executed in the fort’s plaza, before the Americans came in to overthrow the coup.

Lunch at Jenny’s French & Creole Restaurant on Grand Anse Beach – marlin sandwiches, Creole chicken, taro soup (called Calalloo soup). Since it was Sunday, local families were on the beach. The Grenadian people are warm, welcoming, polite and inclusive. We loved watching the kids frolic, under the watchful eye of their parents.

Our first truly relaxing evening on the deck, since the seas are now fairly calm. Great sunset reflection on the clouds.

Monday November 29 – Barbados
Sea Princess and a Club Med ship (out of Martinique) are in the cruise ship port with us. We opted to walk to the terminal building, but the shuttle is complimentary, and the walk on the terminal dock is not picturesque – just a big cement walkway, and you’re dodging the smelly shuttle busses. Take the shuttle, and save the walking for once you’re out of the terminal building.

We walked to the center of Bridgetown, stopping at the local fish processing and sales facility. The fish comes directly off the fishing boats, and a huge crew of expert fish handlers are busy at work, trimming and prepping the fish for sale. It was very impressive….. and very clean!

Onward to the center of town. It’s a bustling city environment, and there really isn’t much to draw you, unless you’re ready for yet another Little Switzerland or Diamonds International. On November 30, 1966 Barbados declared independence from Britain. The entire month of November is devoted to their independence celebration. The parliament buildings are decked out yellow, black and blue banners, in honor of the independence celebration.

We grabbed a cab by the marina, to return to the ship ($10 total for the four of us). Our taxi driver, a woman, was on a mission to sell us a cab ride to a west side beach, Mullins Beach, supposedly about 20 minutes to the north of the cruise ship dock. She took a long route back to the ship, which included streets with residential bungalows. It’s possible she was taking the extended route, so she could “sell” us on the concept of the beach up north. We politely declined.

The ship’s cruise director recommended “The Boatyard” for beach time, on nearby Carlisle Bay. The $12 (per person) entry fee included a shuttle back to the ship, one free drink, a beach chair with umbrella; the swimming beach was perfect – the ultimate Caribbean blue water, soft white sand beach, and very easy, gradual entry into the water. Maija had heard from a source that the south side beaches are the best. It is something to consider for the future.

We shared the catch of the day for lunch, mahi mahi. Very good, and for the first time on shore, the fries were good. The guys wanted to sample the local beer, Banks, but since “The Boatyard” is sponsored by Carib (and Mount Gay Rum), it’s the only Caribbean beer available at this bar. Al and Steve settled for Carb, quite contentedly.

On the beach, the guys were enamored with the destroyed catamaran, “Heat Wave”, a victim of Hurricane Thomas (maybe?). Perhaps, more so, they were enamored with the cruise ship staff (girls!) in their bikinis.

Tonight’s cocktail hour was especially fun…. first video of Mira crawling came to us! You go girl!

Tuesday November 30 – St. Vincent
We dock at Kingstown’s cruise ship terminal (SE side of the island). At 8:30 we met our expedition guides, Emmas and Harvey, right on the same dock (very convenient). We were supposed to be touring with Wayne, the owner of Baleine Tours, but he was ill with the flu. There were about 20 Princess Ship passengers on the excursion, at $80 per person. It was the first time we’ve been entirely with a group mostly our age or younger. A very nice group of people. Debbie & Heath from Kansas City, MO, Jo-Ann DiGeronimo and her husband, Nunzio (born in Sicily) from Florida (New York transplants).

The boat was notably seaworthy, about 35’ in length, with three 300 hp Yamaha outboards. It was a soft, comfortable ride, even when Harvey opened it up. Emmas was very fastidious; he was constantly tidying up and washing off the black sand.

The guys provided an informative dialogue of the west side coastline and harbors. Although, they were a bit hard to understand with their Caribbean accents. Fort Charlotte and Wallilabou Bay are spots where “Pirates of the Caribbean” was filmed. The bat cave at Buccament Bay was interesting. It’s possible to take a boat through the cave, but not a boat of our size, especially with the wave action we were experiencing.

We cruised quite a distance to the north, and saw the volcano, La Soufriere (which is 1 mile across the top of the crater); it has a considerable cloud cover hovering on top. La Soufriere erupted in 1902, killing about 2,000 people because they had no warning signals in those days. It became active again in 1979, which resulted in 12 days of small eruptions. Fortunately, this time no lives were lost. Emmas and Harvey pointed out lava flows #1 through #4, as we headed north of Richmond (the last town, where the road ends) and to Larikai Bay. No dolphin sightings, perhaps a bit rough.

Lunch was delivered to our shore stop, at Mt. Wynne Bay, by a restaurateur from town. The choice was chicken or fish of the day. We all opted for the fish, which was red fish. It came with Caribbean rice (seasoned rice, with peas), a corn cake, sweet potato, hunk of taro root, and plantain. The fish was tasty, as was the corn “cake”. The “disha”, which we later learned was taro, was rather tasteless. It was also not a very appetizing color – sort of a bluish-white “cake”.

Harvey then took us to the bay around the point, for snorkeling (masks and snorkels provided). This was among the finest coral snorkeling experiences ever. Amazing fan coral, bright yellow tube coral, and an impressive variety of fish. The “shelf” started very close into shore, so one didn’t need to venture far to see an exotic display.

Wednesday December 1 – St. Kitts
We’re docked at the cruise ship dock at Basseterre, with the Emerald Princess alongside. A beautiful five mast sailing ship (sailing out of Barbados on 7-10 day cruises), Royal Clipper, was anchored in South Friar’s Bay. Our destination for the day is Shipwreck Beach (located on South Friar’s Bay), a short taxi ride, which was only $12 + tip (each way) for the four of us. As we have experienced on other islands, the taxi driver wanted us to go to Turtle Beach or Cocklshell Beach (at the far west end of St. Kitts), rather than Shipwreck Beach. We learned that this is because those destinations generate double the fare.

The water was incredibly clear, and azure blue. We paid a $10 (per person) beach access fee, which included beach chairs, and grass umbrellas. The setting was perfect, just steps from the water. That was good because the sand was very hot! The snorkeling here wouldn’t be anywhere near as great as yesterday at St. Vincent, but if we had our own snorkel gear it would be a fun place to just putt around, which a lot of people were doing.

This spot is known for its population of monkeys and mongoose. We brought cut up bananas and apples from the ship (ordered extra bananas from morning room service), which Maija was immediately anxious to share with the furry beasts. The monkeys came running, nearly rioting to gain access to the treats. A couple of employees offered stern words of caution about getting too close to monkeys because they can become agitated and aggressive. That became readily apparent! However, it was fun to watch them, including a couple of baby monkeys, which were hovering together, under foliage. Later we saw the mongoose, as they feasted on leftover burgers and fries, which provided a delectable mongoose smorgasbord, placed there just for them. The monkeys don’t interfere, since they are vegetarians.

Our funky beach restaurant served the best conch fritters we’ve ever had, with a wonderful accompanying dip. “Goat water” was one of today’s specials. Typically that would be a thick stew made of – what else – goat meat! However, “The Shipwreck’s” version featured mutton; it still sounded a little too heavy in the heat. Maija and Al enjoyed fabulous fish tacos, and the best Caribbean rice we’ve tasted so far! Jan and Steve’s fresh cut French fries were also the finest we’ve had thus far on this trip…. Yummy!

Maija enjoyed the shells, washing up on the beach. It was a good beach for walking, in both directions.

At the end of the day, we all opted to get off the ship again, and headed for the free WiFi hotspot in the terminal’s bar/casino. We’ve had difficulty getting our emails to download using the ship’s server; it can be a time consuming process. We boarded just in time, as the passenger “all aboard” was 4:30.

Thursday December 2 – St. Thomas
After an expeditious one-hour jaunt into town… specifically to the “Jewels” store, which specializes in David Yurman (where Jan and Maija got new gems!), we headed to Coki Beach on the north end of the island. The taxis are pre- dominantly pick-up truck frames, with ~ 16 passenger open bench seating. $4 per person to go into town from the cruise ship dock, and $9 per person from town to Coki Beach. The island is very hilly and lush, with windy roads. Vehicles travel on the left hand side of the road, which is kind of odd, since this is a U.S. territory.

We had beach chairs right in front of Jahshae’s Bar and Grill. Reggae Christmas music played all day. Jingle Bells, 12 Days of Christmas, Joy to the World – all pretty funny, in Reggae style. This beach has the most perfect Caribbean blue water we’ve seen thus far! Beyond the small island to the north (which we were facing) lie the British Virgin Islands. If we’re to become true conch fritter connoisseurs, we must sample them wherever we go, of course. Jahshae’s were 5 for $15. Different than yesterday at The Shipwreck in St. Kitts, but very good, with a sweeter dipping sauce. The jerk chicken wraps ($10) were very good. Not too spicy, but with a unique blend of seasonings. Our beach waitress, who was darling, recommended the wraps; it was a good choice.

Hanging out on this beach was idyllic, and we were sorry that this was a day we had to be back on the ship by 3:30. The temperature was perfect. We didn’t want to leave Coki Beach. It would have been fun to rent snorkel gear for $5 and putt around in the clear, azure waters. Roger, the friendly fellow, who handed out punch samples, said the snorkeling is quite decent. We just ran out of time.

Friday December 3 – Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Today’s plan is to stroll through the old town, known as “Zona Colonial”. It is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, situated on the Ozama River. This district dates back to the 1500s. It was the first settlement made by Christopher Columbus and the Spanish explorers in the New World. Columbus’s mate, Rodrigo de Triana, was the one who was up on the mast, and first sighted Hispaniola. There is a statue commemorating this occurrence in Santo Domingo.

The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with neighboring Haiti. Haiti actually ruled the Dominican Republic, for a period, until 1844.

Conde Pantonal is a lengthy pedestrian only shopping street. We started at Isabel la Catolica, where our cab dropped us off ($15 each way for the four of us). The plaza in front of Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor (the first cathedral in the Americas) is a gathering place, and great for people watching. We particularly enjoyed the kids, of all ages, in their school uniforms. Opposite the cathedral is a high-end cigar shop, Caoba Cigars. It’s a must for cigar aficionados. It was interesting to watch the guy hand making them; he crafts 300 a day. Each cigar has five different leaves, and ultimately the cigars are wrapped with specially imported leaves from Connecticut. This shop brands their cigars under two different names. We also sampled a very tasty coconut liqueur. A couple of vendors were offering the typical Venezuelan “cachapas”, which are a tamale-like pancake of corn, filled with cheese. They looked very good.

The original inhabitants were the Taino (thai-ee-no) people. Much of the local artwork replicates the aboriginal gods (such as Diosa Luna, Goddess of the Moon – she is the one with the semi-circle head) and petro glyphs. A common art form is one of prints on canvas, depicting either Taino symbols or scenes from local life. Many are crafted by Haitian people. They are remarkably reasonable, ranging from $10 - $30, and very colorful. Jan and Maija both bought one.

We had a lovely outdoor lunch at Diam’s Café-Lounge (C/ Conde No. 60). Their website is Their indoor seating is very Euro, with sleek furnishings, mirrored chandeliers and dark surfaces. The four of us shared a wonderful appetizer medley, which included baguettes with tomatoes, and with Serrano ham, curried chicken on skewers, and what we thought to be yet another version of conch fritters. All very tasty. Then we ordered two plates of paella with seafood. Maija shared some of her seafood with the resident blue-eyed, white kitty. A duo of local musicians serenaded us, fortunately from an acceptable distance. They handed their metal instrument, which looked and sounded like scratching on a cylindrical grater, to the guard at the art academy, and he played along with them. This instrument is called a charrasca. The sound it makes even sounds like that…. Not so pleasant!

San Souci Pier presents quite a navigational challenge for the captain. It’s like threading a needle to maneuver back out to the Caribbean Sea. We watched from our balcony, with amazement.

Sunday December 5 – Relaxing on Princess Cays
During the cruise we steamed a total of distance of 3602 nautical miles. (1 nautical mile = 1.15 statute miles)