Caribbean 2018

This year we traveled to the Caribbean to go on a 14 day cruise to the islands of St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, Bonaire, Curaçao, and Aruba. We sailed on Celebrity Eclipse which left Miami on Sunday February 18th and returned on Sunday March 4th.

Sunday February 18, 2018

We left for the airport around 4AM to catch a 7:10AM flight to Miami. Sue’s parents, Dick and Gloria, are traveling with us. Dick is having back problems, so we got someone from the airline to come up to the car in the parking ramp with a wheelchair to take him through check-in, security, and then to the gate where we boarded the plane. The man who helped us was real nice and friendly, being very concerned about Dick’s comfort. Somewhere during the conversation, he mentioned this was a part-time job. His real job is in broadcasting with a radio station owned by Hubbard Broadcasting. I said I used to listen to KSTP talk radio. He asked which show. I mentioned Joe Soucheray and Garage Logic. He said he is The Rookie on that show.

We would like to thank The Rookie very much for making the first part of our trip a success.

The flight was a little over 3 hours. Shortly before landing, we flew over the Florida Everglades. I think I got some good video of that.

After landing, another airport helper was there with a wheelchair for Dick. The guy was very nice, but he didn’t seem to know very much. Someone from Celebrity (our cruise ship) was supposed to meet us at the baggage claim area. Other cruise lines were there, but nobody from Celebrity. The guy asked some of the other workers, and they pointed us in the wrong direction down a long corridor. After several minutes of going the wrong direction, dragging our luggage in tow and Dick taking a long wheelchair ride, there was nobody from Celebrity. So, we started back to our original location to try the opposite direction. Another worker said it was at door 7 (we had been all the way down to door 23 in the opposite direction). So, we headed down that long corridor. This was where international arrivals were picking up their luggage. Again, there were representatives from other cruise lines, but nobody from Celebrity.

After several minutes, our wheelchair guy (who was acting like he needed to get back to his regular post) asked another worker, and that person pointed us down the corridor even further to door number 3 (twenty exit doors from where we had been). This time there was a counter for Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. This was the location where we waited for a bus transfer to the ship. By this time Dick was very irritated and Gloria was in pain from all the walking. We almost decided to just take a taxi.

The bus took us to the ship terminal for check in. Another guy with a wheelchair was there waiting for Dick. This guy was real nice and knew exactly where we needed to go and what forms to have ready at the counter for check-in.

We were able to get onboard the ship around 1:30PM and our rooms were ready for us. Dick and Gloria were in so much pain by this time, they spent the rest of the day recuperating in their room. They ordered room service instead of going to the dinning room with us for dinner.

It is too bad, because I think if Celebrity had been there waiting for us at the baggage claim area, like our transfer passes said they would, it would have made the experience much less stressful and painful. It was already a long hard day of travel, even if everything had gone smooth.

The ship left port around 4:30PM. Sue and I went by ourselves to dinner at 6PM. We are at a table for six, so there will be two others sitting with us for dinner each evening (we all sit at the same table with the same people for the entire cruise). The other two people at our table are Karl and his mother Tiff. They are experienced travelers and have been on this cruise many times. Celebrity is a very nice ship. We are very happy with the accommodations. It is just too bad it turned out to be such a long stressful painful day for Dick and Gloria.

Monday February 19, 2018

Today was a much better day for Dick and Gloria. They had time to rest after the long day of travel yesterday. Dick rented an electric scooter to get around the ship so that he never has to walk very far. He said it is comfortable to sit on, and the chairs in the dinning room are comfortable as well. I think his back pain was much more manageable today. For most of the day, they relaxed in their room, but they did get out and about a few times, and they went for dinner with us in the evening.

One problem is people are sometimes oblivious to the needs of people in wheelchairs and scooters. They would walk right in front of Dick on his scooter, and if he didn’t slam on the breaks, he said he would have run right into them. Elevators can also be a challenge, because if there is a line waiting, some people will get on and not think about letting the people in wheelchairs and scooters on first. For one of the busy times, Dick and Gloria had to wait until there was nobody left to get on the elevators. Something to think about when you are in a crowd and you see somebody in a wheelchair or scooter.

This cruise is nice that we have two days of sailing before we get to our first port of call. This gives us a chance to explore the ship and to see where everything is. I am a coffee drinker, so I need my coffee in the morning. We are on Deck 9 towards the front of the ship, and the buffet is on Deck 14 towards the back of the ship. A long walk just to get coffee. I got dressed and went for breakfast early by myself while Sue slept in so that I could get my coffee fix.

Most of the passengers spent the day sitting in chaise lounge chairs on the upper outside decks next to the pool or along the sides with an ocean view. The entire length of the ship has sitting areas for people to sun bathe and relax. There are a number of hot tubs as well, and if you don’t want to be outside in the sun, there is also an indoor swimming pool with hot tubs and plenty of space for sitting and relaxing. The back of the ship has an area with real grass where people can sit on the lawn or play lawn games like croquet. And there are numerous bars to get adult beverages and soda throughout the ship.

After the evening dinner, Sue and I sat in one of the lounge areas to listen to some live music. Then at 9PM, we went to the main theatre to watch the show for the evening. Jesse Hamilton was the headliner. All of the entertainment on the ship is included with the price of the cruise.

Tuesday February 20, 2018

This is the outdoor pool on the upper deck at night. The sliver of the moon faces down when viewed from the Caribbean.

Today was another full day at sea. We are headed to Philipsburg on the island of St. Maarten where we are scheduled to dock tomorrow morning around 8AM.

There is not much to report for today. I spent the morning writing about a tax court case (this is a working vacation for me) while Sue and Gloria went shopping. Apparently, Sue was able to save me all kinds of money with the deals she got.

Dick and Gloria were doing much better today. We are all getting settled in to our daily routines onboard the ship. After dinner, Sue and I got some more video of the various live bands that entertain passengers throughout the ship.

Wednesday February 21, 2018

Today we arrived at the port of Philipsburg, Saint Maarten. After breakfast, Sue and I walked into town to check out the gift shops. The island of Saint Maarten is only 37 square miles in size and is the smallest land mass in the world to be shared by two different nations. France owns the north side, and the Netherlands owns the south side under a treaty signed over 350 years ago. The Dutch and the French agreed that residents of either side of the island can be commercially active on the other side without any red tape or border difficulties. This peaceful coexistence turns out to be the oldest active, undisputed treaty on the planet.

The temperature was in the upper 70s with partly cloudy skies. But on occasion, for about 10 minutes at a time, storm clouds would roll through and dump heavy rain on us. There were four cruise ships in port today, with thousands of tourists scrambling for shelter in the shops and cafes during the rain storms. I think we had to duck for cover about 4 times during the 3-hour walk to town and back.

After dinner, Sue and I went to the main theatre to watch the entertainment for the evening. Our ship left port around 5PM and we were probably about half way between Saint Maarten and Antigua, which is the island we visit tomorrow. The winds were howling, and the waves were huge. The ship was rocking back and forth, similar to the small hurricane we experienced two years ago on our Norway cruise. It wasn’t as bad as two years ago, but it was close. I got video of the water in the swimming pool crashing back and forth from the ship rocking. The wave in the swimming pool was probably about a 2-foot wave as it splashed back and forth in the pool. Obviously, nobody was trying to swim in the pool at the time.

The wind has been strong for the entire trip. It is fine when we are in the shelter of a port. But when we are out at sea and sailing at about 20 miles per hour into the wind, it can be a challenge in some spots trying to walk outside along the upper outdoor decks without getting blown over.

Thursday February 22, 2018

Today we visited the Caribbean island of Antigua. This island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, but it took more than a century for the island to have a permanent colony of Europeans. Sugar cane became the dominant force, with the first sugar plantation established in 1674. Even after emancipation of African slaves in 1834, local residents had limited control over their economic freedom. Antigua was a British colony until it gained its independence in 1981. That is why they drive on the left side instead of the right side of the road. Today, about 60% of the economy is tourism.

Our ship docked in St. John’s, which is the capital city with a population of about 32,000. After breakfast, Sue and I went on a tour that took us to the other side of the island and back. We visited the English Harbour, which is where the Royal Navy established its base of operations for the area during the eighteenth century. There is also a national park up on the cliffs overlooking the harbor and the ocean. Eric Clapton has a house just down the coast that we could see from the viewing area on the cliffs.

After dinner, we skipped the evening show in the main theatre because we have to get up early for another excursion tomorrow morning.

Friday February 23, 2018

Today, we visited Saint Lucia, the second largest of the Lesser Antilles Windward Islands. The island is a rich tapestry of forested mountains, gentle valleys, banana plantations, wide beaches, rocky volcanic mountains, giant tree ferns, and wild orchids. We docked in the port of Castries, which is a harbor within the flooded crater of an extinct volcano.

After breakfast, Sue and I went on the St. Lucia Aerial Tram by Rainforest Adventures. The ride was like a zip line in that we traveled through the tops of the trees in the rainforest on steel cables. The difference is it is not a fast ride. The aerial trams are basically a big cage that seats eight, plus a guide who talks about the various rainforest plants and animals as the tram slowly moves through the forest. And like the name of the company suggests, it is a rainforest adventure, so naturally, it was raining today. The highlight was seeing the giant tree ferns. These things looked like they are from the age of the dinosaurs.

Saturday February 24, 2018

Today we visited Barbados. This is the easternmost island of the West Indies and is one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations. The west coast is lined with over 10 miles of perfect white sand beaches and perfectly clear water. It has been dubbed the Platinum Coast. All of the beaches are public beaches. Land owners along the coast cannot make the beaches in front of their property private.

Barbados is mostly a flat coral island, but there are also rolling hills and many deep ridges and gullies, with an interesting distribution of flora and fauna. Within the Barbados coral core, there is a vast array of caves and underground lakes which provide an excellent supply of drinking water that is amongst the purest in the world.

At 9:30AM, Sue and I went on the Submarine and Island Tour shore excursion. We started off with a narrated scenic drive around the island. The tour guide talked about the colonial history of the island (a British colony until 1966). One of the stops was Farley Hill National Park which was once a sugar plantation.

Along the coast, we drove past million-dollar mansions right next to tiny run-down shacks owned by the locals. The tour guide said that the poor locals will hold on to their property until they are ready to sell for the right price to developers who tear down the shacks to build expensive homes for the rich. The poor and the rich living side-by-side.

At the end of the bus tour, the driver turned down one of the poor neighborhoods where only the locals live. He drove up to the house where Rihanna was born and raised. He said she is responsible for increasing the number of tourists to the island as she always mentions her home island when she accepts another one of her many Grammy Awards (nine so far).

After the bus tour of the island, we went on the Atlantis submarine tour, which is a real submarine that takes tourists down to see the coral reef. The submarine is licensed to take tourists down to about 150 feet deep, but is capable of going down over 600 feet deep. The coral reef was about 50 feet down. Towards the end, they took us down to about 140 feet to see a sunken ship on the bottom of the ocean. On our way back to the surface, we all sang along to Ringo Star’s Yellow Submarine.

After dinner, Sue and I went to the main theatre to see Jayne Curry, a very good singer and comedian. This was by far the most entertaining show of our trip. After the show, we went up to the Sky Lounge on deck 14 to listen to big band music.

Sunday February 25, 2018

Today was a day at sea with no ports of call. This gave us a chance to sleep in, relax, and recuperate from the busy schedule we had for the last four days visiting a different port each day. A few notes so far from our first cruise to the Caribbean:

1) For those of you prone to motion sickness, I suggest not doing a Caribbean cruise. There is a reason why they call these southern Caribbean islands the Windward Islands. Its always windy. Wind + open ocean = waves. Big waves. And even though these ships have stabilizers, they still rock back and forth with the constant bombardment of big waves. This cruise is much different from our Alaskan cruise when we sailed through the calm waters of the inside passage.

2) If you want to visit a beach, you need to book a shore excursion that includes a beach stop. So far, only one island had a beach within walking distance of where our ship docked, and that was a good mile walk to get to the beach, which was crowded with other cruise ship tourists and guests from the surrounding hotels. When we walked to that beach, a guy wanted to sell us a spot on the beach with lounge chairs for $10 each. The cruise ship has plenty of space to lounge on the upper deck next to the pool and along the sides with an ocean view. So, expect to spend most of your time in the sun on the cruise ship instead of the beach.

3) If you want to do anything besides sit on the cruise ship, you need to book a shore excursion. There are tourist gift shops at each stop, down where you get off the ship, but nothing else. If you want to see something interesting on the island, you need to go on a tour.

We have three more islands in the next four days to visit before heading back to Miami. We skipped the evening show in the main theatre because we have to get up early for a shore excursion tomorrow morning in Bonaire.

Monday February 26, 2018

Today we visited Bonaire, the second largest of the five Dutch Antillean islands. Though not as famous as Aruba and Curaçao, Bonaire is a water sports paradise featuring diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, and water-skiing.

At 9:30AM, Sue and I went on the Mangrove Eco Boat excursion. The tour took us to a preserved mangrove forest in Lac Bay National Park. The boat was electric powered, allowing us to float through the narrow channels of Mangroves past wildlife such as Egrets, without scaring the birds off. On the drive to and from the boat ride, we also saw Pink Flamingos feeding in the shallows of the bay. Bonaire is a dry desert island. The center of the island looks like Arizona with all the cactus and sand.

After returning from the boat ride, we went back to the ship to have lunch with Dick and Gloria. They are enjoying themselves, but so far have not attempted to get off the ship at any of the ports. We eat dinner with them each evening in the main dining room where we can visit and talk about the day’s activities.

In the afternoon, Sue and I left the ship a second time to do some shopping in town. We found another half-submarine tour that took us across the harbor to see the coral reef along the coast of a small island. This was not a real submarine. It was a boat in the shape of a submarine that had viewing windows below the water line. The viewing was brighter and clearer than the submarine tour we took in Barbados because we were looking at the coral reef next to the surface, with more sun light shining through the water.

Tuesday February 27, 2018

For the next two days, we are visiting the island of Curaçao, which lies just 35 miles from the northern coast of Venezuela (South America). Some claim it is the most unique and diverse Caribbean community. Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao and the Netherlands Antilles, is one of the richest cities in the world in terms of culture and diversity. With a population of 135,000, it is composed of 55 nationalities, of which most are the direct descendants of Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, and Dutch settlers, as well as native tribes.

With our ship docked for two days, this gives passengers a chance to spend the evening in town visiting the restaurants and night life. There is no curfew to get back on the ship, so guests can stay out as late as they want. Sue and I booked the evening harbor cruise, which took us along the coast to see the many resorts, and then into the harbor to see the town center and watch the sunset.

There is a long pontoon bridge called the Queen Emma Bridge, which opens for incoming ships and boats by detaching on one end and swinging out into the harbor to let the boats pass through. This is the only way to get into the harbor, and pedestrians caught out in the middle of the bridge have to wait for the ships to pass through before crossing to the other side. Next to the bridge are colorful historic buildings that look like buildings in Amsterdam.

Sue enjoys meeting and talking with other cruise ship passengers sitting next to us on the excursions. We met a couple from Wisconsin, and Sue talked up a storm with the wife for just about the entire length of the excursion. The husband is blind. We were talking about taking pictures, and how digital cameras allow you to take as many pictures as you want, not like the old days when you had a roll of film in your camera with a 12 or 24 picture capacity. The digital cameras allow us to come home from vacation with thousands of pictures to look through to find the good ones. The husband said, he does the same thing with his audio recordings. He has thousands of hours of audio recordings, which are his way of remembering his vacations. I never thought about that before, but it makes sense that someone who sees life through sounds would want to take audio recordings of his vacation.

Going on our harbor cruise excursion meant Sue and I missed dinner in the main dining room. Not to worry, because the buffet on Deck 14 is open serving dinner until about midnight. The buffet also serves hamburgers and French fries, so Sue and I decided to have some good old American style burgers for dinner.

The evening entertainment in the main theatre was comedy juggler Pete Matthews. Very funny. Another excellent act.

Wednesday February 28, 2018

We did not go on any excursions for our second day in Curaçao. Instead, we walked back to the Queen Emma Bridge to do some shopping and to get a better look at the colorful Dutch buildings that line the harbor. They reminded us of the buildings along the canals of Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Tomorrow we sail to Aruba, our last island before heading back to Miami for the flight home on Sunday. We are having a lot of fun on this trip, and I think Sue is taking the heat very well. It has been in the 80s for most of the trip, but with the constant breeze in the Caribbean, it doesn’t seem too hot. We wear hats and put sun blocker on when we leave the ship for the day.

We are also enjoying the comforts of the cruise ship. The service on board is excellent, and I think we will miss having someone to wait on us and say hi, good morning everywhere we go. We are hoping that Dick and Gloria will agree to go on more cruises, because they are enjoying the trip and Dick is getting the royal treatment from the crew every time he leaves the room on his scooter. He enjoys sitting on their balcony and watching the action when we are in a port. A cruise is a very easy way to travel and see the world.

Thursday March 1, 2018

Our last Caribbean island on this trip is Aruba, located 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela and 42 miles west of Curaçao. Covering about 75 square miles, the island is 20 miles at its longest point and 6 miles at its widest point.

We are docked in the historic Dutch capital city of Oranjestad, which has a population of 35,000. The city was founded shortly after Fort Zoutman was built in 1796. The island was first colonized by Spain when they discovered it in 1499. The Netherlands acquired Aruba from Spain in 1636. Before the Europeans arrived, native tribes from Venezuela migrated there to escape attacks from other tribes around the year 1,000.

We had no shore excursions planned for this day. It has been a long trip, and Sue and I decided to take it easy for our last island visit. We walked into town to see the gift shops and found an open-air restaurant for lunch. Very good hamburgers and French fries. There was a very expensive looking resort close to where our ship was docked. The above picture was taken from the resort looking out into the harbor.

Dan Grueter was the comedian for our evening entertainment in the main theatre. Another funny act, but some people were offended by his constant harassment of the people sitting in the front row. It is funny for a few minutes, but he was picking on them for almost the entire act.

The ship left port around 4:30PM and will spend the next two days sailing back to Miami, where we are scheduled to arrive Sunday morning around 7AM.

Friday March 2, 2018

Full moon over the Caribbean.

Today and tomorrow are full days at sea with no ports of call. We are heading back to Miami where we are scheduled to leave the ship Sunday morning. The ship has a bus transfer arranged to take us to the airport. Our flight back to Minnesota takes off sometime in the early afternoon. We get home Sunday evening.

This is the part of our vacation where we are mentally done with the trip and want to go home. Sue and I miss our cats.

It has been a fun vacation. This was our first time visiting the Caribbean. The islands are interesting, but not so much if you do not book a shore excursion. The places where the ships dock are not the places you see in postcards with the white sandy beaches and palm trees as you lay on a lounge chair soaking up the sun and sipping on a Rum and Coca Cola. We went on shore excursions several times but did not take any beach excursions. Maybe 20 years ago when I was younger and in better shape I would have been interested in snorkeling and swimming in the ocean and laying around in a swim suit. Now I am afraid somebody might call the marine wildlife rescue center on me.

On Saturday we pack our luggage and put our big suitcases out in the hall in the evening for crew members to take off the ship. We pick up the luggage at the terminal after being cleared by Customs. The trick will be to figure out how to get even more stuff acquired on the islands into those suitcases which were already packed full when we first got here. Perhaps a lesson in physics is needed before our next trip.

So, this will be my final post before we get home on Sunday. Hopefully all of the Minnesota snow and cold will be gone by then.

Sunday March 4, 2018

We docked in Miami around 6AM and left the ship a little before 9AM. We then took a bus to the Miami airport. Our flight home took off at 1:50PM (Eastern Time) and landed in Minneapolis around 4:30PM (Central Time). We got home around 6:30PM, where we were greeted by a bunch of cats. Thanks to Auntie Cheryl for doing such a good job taking care of our babies, despite their little outside walk-about adventure earlier in the day. You can ask Cheryl about that, if you are curious.

The flight to and from a vacation is always the hardest part of traveling. It is a day of hurry up and wait. Airports around the world are always a hassle when you are not familiar with the layout. You are dependent on signs and information from airport workers to get you through the process of making it onboard your plane.

On that note, I’d like to take a minute to thank the Sun Country Airline workers at terminal 2 in Minneapolis. An excellent job, and the two wheelchair assistance people went above and beyond the call of duty. Miami? The difference between Miami and Minneapolis is obvious. I’m not going to bore you with the details but let’s just say the workers at Sun Country Minneapolis terminal 2 were excellent. It is too bad over 300 of them are about to lose their jobs due to corporate greed.

Thanks for following my blog. Check back on this website in July of 2019 to read about our next trip to Norway and Iceland.


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