A Travellerspoint blog

Wednesday, March 30, 2011, Basseterre, St, Kitts

sunny 30 °C

Today we got up and got organized for our Zip Line excursion. After breakfast we set out to meet our group at the end of the pier – as usual. They always say you meet at the end of the pier but when you get out there it could be anywhere – you just have to look for the people with the signs naming your excursion. It is always safe to go a few minutes early because you never really know where you will end up. Actually with everyone being on Caribbean time – everything is a little late anyway.

We met our group and signed the most extensive release form yet – they took quite a medical history and even made us step on a scale to weigh us – there is a maximum weight that they will take. I guess they know that we all think we are lighter than we are because we don’t count the pounds we load on while on board. We boarded a small taxi van and headed through the town of Basseterre. The driver, Gabriel, was very informative and told us about a lot of the local customs and history. St Kitts and its sister island, Nevis, share the same government. In 2005 there was a dramatic change to the economy when the government withdrew the massive subsidies to the sugar industry. Overnight growing and processing sugar cane stopped. Amazing how a subsidy like that can create a false economy. The island’s economy is now mostly based on tourism. There is still some local agriculture but only enough to support local needs. Unfortunately, with little industry there is significant poverty on the island and like so many islands in the Caribbean they show very little pride in their surroundings. The roadsides are littered with garbage and there are rusting car bodies everywhere. In the villages the alleyways are piled with junk and garbage. The contrast with Hawaii is remarkable. It they could take Hawaii as a model and just clean up the litter that is everywhere on many of the islands it would be much more attractive to tourists. The root cause is hard to determine without a major sociological study but it is sad to see.

When we got up into the mountains to our Zip Line destination we were loaded into a small truck with benches in the back and driven 15-20 minutes up a very primitive dirt road (called the Walk of Shame because if you chicken out of the Zip Line that is your only way back down) to the start of the Zip Line. We chose this particular one because it was described as being of modern construction with lots of safety features and that it met US safety standards. We were not disappointed. We were issued with helmets, 5 point harnesses which actually acted as little seats, and a dolly which is attached to the cables and hooked to our harnesses. When hooked up it is really quite comfortable and it is even possible to sit in without holding on although neither of us let go with both hands. We had a small training run where we learned about stopping. They told us to lean back and raise our legs and bend our knees (the birthing position) in preparation for hitting the 20 foot long spring at the end of the Zip Line run which would slow us to a stop from a speed of about 60 kph. The training run rattled Hazel’s teeth so she learned to set her jaw lightly so eliminate the possibility of cracking another cap!

All Geared Up for a Zip Line Adventure

There were a total of 4 Zip Line runs ranging from about 1200 ft long to the shortest at about 300 feet long. The total length of all of the runs is around one mile. On the longest run between two hill tops we were 350 feet above the jungle floor and reached speeds up to 60 kph. It was scary and accelerating all at the same time. We would certainly do this one again.

The down side of the day was a long delay in coming to pick us up to return to the pier. When a driver did finally show up he had a smaller dirty van with reggae blaring on the radio and a cold beer in the driver’s cup holder. I’m afraid this is much more representative of local transit that or original ride up to the mountain. Like most of the Caribbean driving in St Kitts is not for the faint of heart. They drive on the left side (unnerving for some of us all in itself) and have no stop signs or stop lights. They just watch who is coming and move through intersections as they wish. They careen around the small bumpy roads coming quite close to oncoming traffic. We did not notice many missing side mirrors so they seem quite successful at staying alive.

Once pack to the Cruise pier area we walked around the usual collection of jewelry and souvenir shops finally returning to the ship to cool down and relax before dinner.

Posted by DavidandHazel 09:26 Archived in St Kitts/Nevis Comments (0)

Breaking News - A new adventure – Tuesday March 29th

sunny 29 °C

In our last entry we mentioned we had to send our passports off to David’s old employer, Lafarge. Well a week ago while in one of the ports we received an urgent email on David’s Blackberry asking him to contact his old boss, Greg Sheardown who was a Regional President in Canada before moving to the Middle East in 2009. Greg is now President of Lafarge operations for the United Arab Emirates. Due to some unexpected developments in the Middle East Greg’s HR VP is being transferred back to Cairo as of April 1st. After some discussions with Greg and Paris David has agreed to come out of retirement for three months and go to Dubai as the VP of HR for Greg’s Region until a permanent replacement can be moved from another part of the company. Probably the biggest challenge is that they want us over there around April 10th. Given that we are still on a ship in the Caribbean and still need to get Visas and make arrangements to have our house looked after that does not seem like a realistic date, however, we will be over there as soon as possible after we get home. It will not be without its challenges but we are truly looking forward to the adventure. We will be based in Dubai although David will have a fair amount of travel to Abu Daubi as well. Accommodation is still being set up but it looks like it may be at the beautiful Marriott Executive Suites hotel in the Marina district in Dubai. We will be sorry to miss out on several planned motorcycle trips but this seemed like a great opportunity for some great travel and adventure.

Posted by DavidandHazel 09:24 Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011, Philipsburg, St. Maarten

sunny 30 °C

We had the best shore excursion ever today! We had the opportunity of being crew on a mid 1980’s vintage America’s Cup 12 meter yacht. They have 3 down here – “Stars and Stripes” – the 1987 winner of the America’s Cup which was helmed by Dennis Connor.and which defeated Australia to return the cup to the US. Also here are the two Canadian challengers of the same era “Canada II” and “True North” which was the only yacht ever to beat Stars and Stripes. They load up each of these yachts with 16 of us tourists plus 3 trained crew members. All of the tourists who wish are assigned to active crew positions. The rest are assigned minor roles or get to sit in a spot out of the way of the action. We then sail the yacht out into the outer harbour and practice tacking back and forth using the winches and coffee grinders for 30-40 minutes. Then the organizers mark out a proper modified Olympic style race course. They set up a proper timed running start and off we go. It takes about an hour of tacking back and forth as well as two down wind legs before one of the yachts finally wins the race. These big sixty-four foot beauties handle like a boat half their size and cover the large distances very fast in the solid trade wind breezes here. Everyone on board gets very competitive as the lead changed several times during the race as winds shifted and as they always do in sailboat racing. The good news was that the boat we were on won the race, the bad news was that we were on Stars & Stripes and not one of the two Canadian boats. It was a lot of fun and most people agrees that it was one of the best excursions ever. It was surprising the amount of work for the tourists. Dave was a main sail grinder (really hard work) and Hazel was a winch wench (surprisingly challenging to know what to do and when). It is easy to see why this excursion has been voted the best in the Caribbean. It was also nice to see how well maintained these sailing beauties of over 20 years ago are. Due to the fact that these yachts are flat out racing machines and custom built solely for the purpose of sailing in the America’s Cup race they are often put out to some inglorious pastures very soon after the America’s Cup race since the next race will require the very latest in yacht design technology to even be competitive. We were told that the 1987 campaign of Stars and Stripes to win back the America’s Cup cost the sponsors in excess of $70 million. Pretty pricey for a boat that has neither an engine nor a head (bathroom) and is essentially obsolete a month after the final race is over.

America's Cup Racing Yacht in St. Martin's

On the ship side of things, we had a request from Lafarge by email for copies of our passports. Easy to do if we were home but when we are on a cruise ship? However, they are pretty resourceful on this ship and a quick trip down to the ship’s concierge proved that point once again. He did not even bat an eye. Of course we can help you he said without a moment’s hesitation. I’ll just scan your documents into a pdf file and email it off right now. In three minutes he had it done. It is just one example of the tremendous “can do” attitude of all of the crew. You gotta love modern technology. For an explanation of why we needed to send the passport copies off. see the next section.

This evening’s main stage entertainment featured the full cast with a high tech, high energy show of popular music and dancing with some Cirque style high flying aerobatics thrown in.

Posted by DavidandHazel 09:19 Archived in Saint Martin Comments (0)

Monday, March 28, 2011, San Juan, Puerto Rico

sunny 28 °C

We woke to yet another sunny and warm day. After getting ourselves together we wandered up to Deck 14 for a light breakfast. Since we don’t tie up in San Juan till 1:00 pm we set to updating blogs and logs which we had neglected the past couple of days. We normally do our write ups in MS Word and then just cut and paste the text into the web site once we hook up since internet access is often a challenge here in the Islands. The ship has wireless but access to the internet using the ship’s system is VERY slow (1 Mbps vs 54 or 100 at home) and it costs around sixty cents a minute so we minimize the time we are actually hooked up to the internet.

We don’t have any shore excursions planned for Puerto Rico today as we were here a year ago and did an escorted city tour at that time. We didn’t see any high activity excursions offered by the ship so decided to just wander around old San Juan for a few hours. Once we were tied up we left the ship for the old downtown area. San Juan is a very old city with lots of small narrow streets immediately adjacent to the cruise ship terminal so fun to explore. Shortly after starting our walk we stumbled on the omnipresent Starbucks with a Wi-Fi hotspot, however, the spot was virtually unusable so we continued on our exploring of Old San Juan. Much like most Caribbean port areas the downtown area is loaded with jewelry stores. One of the main activities of cruisers must be buying jewelry since every port no matter how tiny always has a number jewelry stores. In many ports there are more jewelry stores around the cruise pier than T-shirt shops. In almost every port area there is a Diamonds International store or even two plus many others. While we are no experts in jewelry purchases we have made a couple of purchases over the past couple of years necessitating a bit of research. Prices here do not seem to be any better than a good discount store at home or a duty free shop at the border. However, the one advantage in most ports here is that there is no sales tax. So I guess if you are spending $20,000 on a necklace there could be a significant $ saving. I guess we just don’t think in those terms. Probably the person who spends $20k on a piece of jewelry would think $25k for a motorcycle is just as crazy. Each to his/her own.

As we started walking back down through old San Juan towards the ship we noticed several people sitting in a little parkette using their laptops. Hazel pulled out her iPod Touch and checked for an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot. The iPod is the greatest little hotspot finder ever. Sure enough there was a public hotspot right there in the little public square. A very slow one but at least it was a connection. We pulled out David’s laptop from the backpack and updated the blog plus checked our home e-mail.

Old San Juan

Once completed we made our way back to the ship and got ready for another evening out on the town (or perhaps I should say night on the ship) as the ship cast off and sailed towards a morning rendezvous with the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts.

Posted by DavidandHazel 09:07 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Sunday, March 27, 2011 at sea day

sunny 25 °C

Well here we are again, back on the road so to speak. Several friends have asked us recently what do we ever find to do on the days when we are not off on some shore adventure exploring or snorkeling. How do we pass the time at sea. Neither of us are good beach sitters so it would stand to reason that unlike a lot of our ship mates we are not good deck sitters. So for today’s blog we thought we would give you a fairly typical day in a life at sea while on our way to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

On a day at sea our day usually starts off fairly late with us rousing around 8:00 am. For the first few minutes we will often go out on our balcony and admire the bright blue sea and marvel at the weather – always warm and always sunny. Frequently when we are in the busier sea lanes we can see a ship off on the horizon. Once fully awake we jump in the shower and do the usual morning things. We quickly scan the daily program called Celebrity Today for events that may interest us. This daily itinerary is a nicely laid out program for every day and is delivered to our rooms the evening before. It contains a listing of all the activities for the day, write ups on special events, weather forecast and often does a short feature story on one of the facilities on the ship such as the Internet Café or similar items. It is a must read every evening or morning

With our morning primping completed we head on up to Deck 14 where we walk towards the aft end of the ship along the open air jogging track to the Oceanview Café at the stern of the ship. The Oceanview Café is Celebrity’s main buffet area. Although there are numerous eating venues including the elegant main dining area on Decks 3 and 4 we tend to like to go to the buffet for breakfast and lunch. The Oceanview is set up in a Marché fashion with probably 8 different food stations set up in the center of a large open area. On either side of the open area is seating with floor to ceiling windows lining the entire length of the area. There is everything you can possibly imagine for breakfast from bakery stations to hot food stations to egg prep stations, to cold meat stations to fresh fruit stations and of course two beverage stations stocking coffee, tea and juce dispensers. We like the buffet for breakfast as we can pick away and custom build our light breakfast of yogurt, fruit and nuts etc. It is easy to see why people gain an average of 7 pounds on one of these cruises with the volume, variety and quality of food at every turn. We are bound to keep our weight gain to a minimum so are watching our consumption carefully. We have only eaten breakfast in the main dining room once when we treated our selves to a full breakfast of eggs Benedict and the usual croissants and baked goods. The service at all of the food outlets is impeccable.

After breakfast we head down to the Guest Relations area on Deck 3 amidships to pick up a copy of the daily Canadian news bulletin. This is a daily publication that is done for a number of countries. It is not much but it does give us the high points on news, financial markets and sports. We found out that Canada is going to have another federal election – just what we need. We could use the ship’s satellite Internet service but as we have said earlier it is very slow (2Mps) and expensive – 65 cents a minute. For our second week we did breakdown and buy an Internet package but even with the package it is 50 cents per minute.

We will often sit out on deck for 15 minutes or so and read the Canadian news. Our next task this morning was to go down to Deck 6 to the iLounge to get our Internet wireless account set up. The iLounge is a lovely spot about the size of a small classroom set up like a classroom and equipped with a dozen or more Apple computers set up at workstations. In addition to the usual IT tech support for everyone onboard ship (Mac or Windows) they conduct different classes using the Mac system every day. The center is open 9-5 and 7-9 every day.

Next we headed up to the quiet sun deck on Deck 16. We have not spent much time this trip sitting on deck sunning but it was so nice outside with a lovely breeze blowing we decided to sit for an hour listening to our Harry Potter audio book on the iPod.

By 11:00 am we were off on the go again to Deck 15 amidships to the big grassy area – yes much of deck 15 is a sodded manicured lawn. It is funny to watch them watering and trimming the grass on a ship but it is nice to walk across the grass in your bare feet on a hot afternoon. At one end of the big lawn area is the Corning Museum’s Glass Blowing demonstration area. As I have said earlier this is a sizable area permanent installation of glass furnaces etc. Today we wanted to stop in to see them creating some exotic blown glass creations.

Once the glass blowing demo was over we headed back to Deck 3 where Sarah Moulton of Food Network TV was giving a big presentation in the big central display area. It was quite a show with TV cameras and the whole nine yards. They also had a demonstration of the tricks of several of the ships star bartenders with bottles twirling and lots of fancy handwork in drink mixing. All in all it was quite entertaining.

Once the cooking and bartending presentations were over we walked over to the small theatre to see a hour long Powerpoint presentation by one of the ships officers on the who navigation and trip planning process used by Celebrity to get these monster ships in and out of port as well as along their voyages. It was our second time seeing this presentation and the questions from the audience and the subsequent answers on a range of ship topics were as interesting as the main presentation.

After the ships presentation we made our way up to Deck 14 again for a late light lunch at the Oceanview Café. Again lunch is a buffet and there is tremendous variety at all the food stations including a Mexican food station and an Indian food station which David likes to frequent.

With a late lunch behind us we decided to head back to our cabin for an hour or two and sit out on our own balcony and watch the ocean go by while we got in another couple of chapters of our Harry Potter story. We are now on the last half of book seven (the final book in the series) and finding it very enjoyable. The audio book format is much slower than reading to yourself but allows your imagination to roam more freely as the narrator reads.

By late afternoon it was time to get showered and primped for tonight’s formal dress-up dinner. We are having an early dinner tonight as the main stage show starts a little earlier. Since we have selected open seating we often have new people sitting with us and lots of great conversation which extends dinner out for a couple of hours. Around 6:30 pm we headed down to Deck 4 for dinner. Tonight we were seated by a big window at a table for 6 and once again tonight we had Fran and Jack from Long Island sitting at our table. We met them last night and enjoyed their company. They own a small business installing and maintaining garage doors and related equipment on both commercial and residential properties. The business has been in the family now for two generations and sounds like they have enjoyed running the business for 30 odd years.

After dinner we head down to the main stage theatre which is packed tonight with I suspect well over 1000 people. Tonight the Captain introduces all the senior officers prior to the main entertainment. The entertainment is sort of a bit of a Vegas style review of song and dance numbers ranging from Tommy by the Who to West Side Story to Cats to Phantom. We find one of the female lead singers in this production particularly irritating as she is a bit of a screamer when she sings in some of these numbers so we had decided earlier to leave the show once we got to the more irritating portion. Besides we have already seen this show a week ago.

We headed off to Deck 5 and the Ensemble Lounge where there was a great light jazz guitarist /singer (Jonny Matra) performing light jazz and popular music all week. The Ensemble Lounge is a small dark quiet intimate lounge and bar with seating for possibly 25-35 in deep comfortable lounge chairs.

After the set ended in the Ensemble lounge set ended we walked back to Deck 4 where the classic rock band D’Revelation were playing in the main foyer which is at the bottom of the 15 story high main atrium. They are a great six piece band (all Malaysian) who are extremely versatile and do great covers of everything from the Righteous Brothers to classic 60’s rock to cross over country like Shania Twain to current classic rock. They are an audience favourite and the towering atrium of the grand foyer gives them great acoustics. They also play in a variety of other venues throughout the week. They truly work their entertainers on this cruise. By now it was 11:00 pm and time to head off to our cabin catch a little TV news from CNN or MSNBC or the BBC World News and catch some shut eye. Tomorrow we’ll have a busy day as we dock in San Juan about noon.

Some of the activities we passed on this evening included the big casino, the college kids social, the singles mingle activity, the all request dance hour in the beautiful Sky Lounge at the front of the ship, the almost nightly Karaoke at one of the other bars or the late night dance club that goes to the wee hours.

Posted by DavidandHazel 15:10 Comments (0)

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