thereadrovers

Our retirement adventures

Caribbean Cruise

on January 9, 2014

24 November 

Leave Westgate Palace at 8am and hit the Turnpike to Miami. Not sure about the toll system but collect ticket at booth some 10 miles from joining. Easy journey down South with clear open roads. Exit Turnpike some 75 miles from Miami for $12 and join adjacent I-4 for final part of journey. Some mad drivers around including one who suddenly cuts across two or more lanes right in front of a truck doing 70 and onto a slip road; I was just waiting for the car to flip over, he was swerving and going so fast after he got onto the slip road. 

Stop for a break at a nearby Panera Bread and then on through the outskirts of Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood until airport signposted. Fill up with gas at a local station rather than the one closest to the airport which was selling gas at $4.75 rather than the $3.39 or so we paid. Signage at Miami airport for car rental return is poor to say the least but eventually find our way to the Car Rental Return which is some way from airport.

Drop car and head for transfer area, see sign for taxis, decide on taxi transfer to Cruise terminal and get approached by guy working for Alamo/National who directs us to waiting free shuttle (to the cruise terminal) transfer for their hire car customers – bonus. He didn’t mind we had rented with budget!

Miami from the Norwegian Pearl

Miami from the Norwegian Pearl

At Cruise terminal, long queue to go through security and check-in for our cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) but it does move reasonably quickly and we are soon in our cabin. Many people with cases of water, cola which is allowed on; half drunk bottles are not, weird. 

Thanksgiving week was possibly not the best of choices as there are lots of families on board and this is not like a P&O cruise ship, much more informal in both dress code and style. Grab some BBQ lunch by pool but nowhere to sit so eat on our balcony.

Explore library and then get to Theatre for show. Not crowded at all but maybe it will be later in the week. 

Cruise not now going to the Bahamas due to strong winds so 2 days at sea before we get to Jamaica. Late dinner in one of the cafe’s and an early night, we are shattered. 

We have three big suitcases and two little ones, total overkill for the week on board and as all our clothes for the week are in one case, the others are secreted around the small cabin relatively easily so we don’t trip up on them.

25 November 

Breakfast in our room is included, say no more! Anyway, it is a sea day today as we are not going to the Bahamas so no hurry to get up. Wind speed up in the 60s with a Force 7 hitting us as we cruise along the northern shores of Cuba, probably about 5 miles out. Get the layout worked out of the ship, do at least a mile walk and whilst Sally has some spa treatment, Richard people watches.  Pool area very crowded and very, very noisy.   

Not sure about an average age but I’m guessing about 40 with lots of families. Spend some time on the top quiet deck but no chance of reading up there, too windy.

Sunset over North Coast of Cuba

Sunset over North Coast of Cuba

Even on our balcony, the wind is a problem although it begins to drop by sunset which allows a decent or two sunset photos over Cuba moment. 

Show time tonight which is well done and almost up to P & O standard although the diction of the singers wasn’t as good. 

26 November

Wind dropped overnight and we are now racing along at the snail like speed of about 1 knot off the southern coast of Cuba en route to Jamaica.

No wind now so breakfast on our balcony is a more leisurely affair before we head off for the shopping show. Boy can Jennifer talk!! We are only in there about 10 minutes before we leave others to listen to her but she has hardly taken breath in telling us several times over about all the savings we could get when we go shopping in the 3 ports of call.

We happen to walk past about 45 minutes later and she is still going strong! No wonder her husband calls it the Jennifer channel rather than the shopping channel. 

Talk on back problems actually turned into a sales pitch for some shoe inserts selling at $189. My ones at home from Boots cost about £26 so no sale there! Even before the show tonight, a 4 Seasons tribute band (ohwhatanighttribute.com), someone was trying to sell raffle tickets and whilst you paid $20 for 15 goes to win a free cruise, you had to endure a Bingo session on Saturday. 

An absolute scorcher of a day, searing heat, virtually no clouds and the main pool packed to the rafters with birds circling overhead.IMG_2802

Not our scene at all, especially as it is as noisy as a children’s unsupervised play area might be – we must be getting old. The quiet area on deck 14 is deserted and whilst it was too hot for sunbathing earlier in the day, 4pm was fine for about an hour until the sunset. 

Change tour in Mexico to one that doesn’t include a 1.5 mile walk to some ruins and the same back in the soaring heat. Nowhere was this mentioned before we booked the tour, not impressed.

Also not impressed with organisation outside the main dining area. Reservations are not possible we had been told at the Reservation desk when we asked on Sunday but guess what, you can reserve. We only had to wait about 10 minutes for a table but the staff member outside seemed to know nothing, spoke poor English and was, according to a waiter, “not part of the restaurant staff”. Not a good excuse for total disorganised chaos. Food not bad though, especially the bread and butter pudding. 

Tribute band good if a little raucous. 

27 November – Jamaica.  

Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Ochos Rios, Jamaica

The 25th country we have visited since retirement and we arrive on time at Ochos Rios in glorious sunshine. The organisation of the tours is not at all like P&O with everyone meeting in the theatre and no stickers or checkin.

Our tour is called about 15 minutes later and we make our way to the exit along with everyone else for all the tours, it seemed to work OK though.

Our tour was bamboo rafting down the Martha Brae river which was a drive of about an hour away along the N coast of Jamaica past many small developments and plenty of goats by the side of the road.

Jamaican Market stall

Jamaican Market stall

A refreshment stop on the way was very welcome although there was not a lot to see or buy at this and the two shops at the river.

Patric the Bamboo boat captain

Patric the Bamboo boat captain


Our guide and “captain”, Jim, was one of the more mature guides, very knowledgeable and hopefully thankful to talk a bit about cricket rather than talking to Americans who, going by one guy, didn’t know who Usain Bolt was!

There was a lovely sense of quietness on the river as we meandered down what we were told was 3 miles but may have been less. A couple of vendors plying their trade but none were particularly pushy.

Did buy a souvenir from him, hand carved but the $25 we paid including tip was worthwhile for an interesting 60-90 minutes. Drive back along same N Coast route, past run down shacks, new builds in gated American style developments, a few classy and a few run down holiday places.

Bamboo boat ride

Bamboo boat ride

Always, there are trees and vegetation, no barren land to speak of. A small port for the Limestone; another, for the sugar beet and the Bauxite.

Discovery Bay Port is a bit of a blot on the landscape but keeps locals employed and of course brings money to the island.

Surprisingly, there are a few walkers along the side of the road as well as many goats, reared for their meat rather than milk or cheese, that appear to be running wild. Stop at a small shopping complex near port so that some others in the tour party could spend money on souvenirs. T shirts and jewellery very popular but we head back to ship for lunch. 

Nice touch was the free soft drinks on embarkation. Good comedy show by “The 2nd City” as our entertainment tonight but again, conflicting information given out by crew.

Tomorrow is a landing by tender in Grand Cayman; reception and newspaper say tender tickets available from 7:30am tomorrow, Entertainment director at show says 7am. Another case of left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. 

28 November – Cayman Islands

Wake early and get tender tickets at 7am for group 1, so much for handing them out at 7:30 – Entertainment director was right, reception staff were wrong!  A miserable day weather wise and we are moored about 5 miles from town on the South coast with a $US5 each ride into Georgetown instead of the tender alighting us in the middle of town as would be normal.

Car hire had been booked but in circumstances, don’t take this option and head for town and a cafe as in our haste to get tender tickets we have to forego breakfast on boat. Nice but expensive breakfast and time to download e-mails, and send e-mails to car hire place cancelling and to Nick Wilkins at Coutts, asking him if he can bring forward lunch to 12. You can tell why the cruise ships would not dock in the main area today, the swell was quite high and the rain too bad to get my camera out for long.

Cayman shops in the rain

Cayman shops in the rain

Windy & wet day in Georgetown, Grand Cayman

Windy & wet day in Georgetown, Grand Cayman 

There has never been much in the way of sights to see and photograph in Grand Cayman so mooch around town, buying a couple of souvenirs with many other tourists, some soaked to the skin.

There were supposed to be 5 cruise ships in today but only 2; Carnival Sunshine and us, made it but the few town shops still feel crowded. Get taxi to Dukes, a cafe adjacent to the Coutts building for lunch.

I hadn’t seen Nick in over 11 years since I had worked on the RBS Internal audit team, auditing Cayman Trust. Surprised to hear Coutts Cayman is to close, redundancy notices having been given out on 13 November!

Nick philosophical on the matter and his family wouldn’t be averse to moving to the UK but with a daughter aged 9 and a boy of 3 it is not all that simple especially the vast change in temperature.

One consideration is the horrendous cost of living on Cayman with, for example, power costing $400 a month.

Cayman's south Coast

Cayman’s south Coast

Still it rains so we don’t even get to walk on the wonderful sandy beach that is Seven Mile Beach, even though it is just over the road from the cafe.

Cayman has changed since I was there last with lots of new buildings, many since Hurricane Ivan in 2004, but still a few older ones that I remember.

Get some cash out of ATM in new building that is patrolled by security guards. Taxi driver back to cruise ship talkative and informative advises there had been a few robberies of late with the culprits boarding planes at the airport about an hour later, usually bound for Jamaica. Trouble was they were caught trying to spend Cayman Dollars in Jamaica!

Taxi driver also says that Richard Branson has been there exploring the idea of bringing Virgin Atlantic to Cayman but with no extension to the airport runway planned that is not going to happen.

Likewise with the harbour, the Government only recently rejected a proposal by Carnival to allow them to build a deep water jetty. Cayman is the only Caribbean island not to have a cruise ship jetty, very short sighted. 

Today is thanksgiving, so the restaurants back on the ship are decorated and there is Turkey on the menu. 

Another good show on board, this time songs from the shows including, Wicked, Mama Mia, the Producers and Movin’ Out (featuring music by Billy Joel). Sea a bit on the rough side tonight across the Gulf of Mexico to Cozumel. 

29 November

A late breakfast in our cabin today: there is something about having breakfast on a ship whilst watching the waves crash against the side as you speed along at probably about 25-28 kts. 

Cozumel, Mexico 

Country 27 and the last “new one” for some time. There is another NCL vessel alongside which makes for some banter between the two crew and a lot of people disembarking at the same time. We had first wanted a tour to Tulum Mayan Ruins but none of the advance information indicated that there would be a mile and a half walk to and from the ruins from the coach drop off.

We only found out as it was printed on the ticket so had cancelled the tickets. Here again, the organisation of NCL leaves a lot to be desired.

Our cancelled tour boats

Our cancelled tour boats

Cozumel transport

Cozumel transport

The tour we had opted for in replacement, the Reef explorer semi-sub has now been cancelled due to inclement (windy) weather.

Whilst it is sunny and hot, it is breezy and the sea choppy so the cancellation is not really surprising. 

Still, it is a shame and we are left with wandering along the prom admiring what sights there are and looking at the tacky gift shops, trying to avoid eye contact with the shop workers who are all touting for business and trying to entice us in.

Cozumel statues on sea front

Cozumel statues on sea front

Come across some dodgy looking hotels down a side street and some very iffy cars/bikes for hire.  Not sure that I would want to hire from these guys or stay in these hotels.

On the sea front a few statues exist but walking along, we are put off by Army personnel in trucks that keep passing with their automatic guns at the ready, what are they expecting?   

All in all, not a place that endeared itself to us and we retreat to the ship for free food and drink, a rest before dinner and another show by The Second City; not as good as the last one but still very watchable.

Tonight is a Chocoholic evening with absolutely loads of chocolate and many people eating too much – it seems the whole of the ship has descended on the cafe to eat as much chocolate as they can. 

Richard has another cold coming on and appears to have left his sun glasses on the security scan returning to the ship after Cozumel.  Only the first thing we have lost but how come we have both ended up with two colds in the 7 weeks when neither of us have had colds in the last 17 months at least. 

30 November 

A day at sea and now only 3 more days until we return to the IOM!  I can’t believe it has gone so quickly. 

Try Breakfast in one of the restaurants rather than in our bedroom. Bad choice as pancakes cold and when we ask for them warm, they get put in the microwave, strawberry and sauce included. Waiter thinks it funny that we are not over happy. Try to go and see a Murder Mystery but at $20 a head, don’t think it is worth it, we only wanted to watch. Crew show was good though, but not sure if the water spitting part would be allowed in the UK; Health & Safety you know.

Spent most of the rest of the day in cabin with the waves crashing alongside, quite relaxing. Freestyle cruising includes freestyle disembarkation. We choose what time we want to leave and collect our luggage labels, pack and watch the final show on board. A surprisingly good ventriloquist. 

1 December 

Miami, end of cruise. Disembarkation, as efficient as P&O and only a short wait for taxi to Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami for our last night in the USA for this trip.

Even though it is only about 11am, our room is ready and we also get a late check-out to 2:45 tomorrow.

Miami Cruise Terminal from Intercontinental Hotel

Miami Cruise Terminal from Intercontinental Hotel

Walk to Bay shops for a Margarita each at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co and back to watch the 5 cruise ships depart at steady intervals from 4:30 onwards.

Our hotel room is on the 22nd floor overlooking the whole of Miami Beach and up north to the next City, Hollywood?  Shame our colds have exhausted us and we can’t go and call on James Pratt, Richard’s cousin once removed, or is it 2nd cousin!

Henry Moore sculpture in Intercontinental Hotel, Miami

Henry Moore sculpture in Intercontinental Hotel, Miami

2 December

Our final day and a walk around the hotel area, trying to get on the free metro to a nearby Publix.  

Lunch in local French Restaurant and after a relaxing afternoon, take taxi to airport for check-in and flight to UK.  Met at Heathrow by representative of Airports Pickups and transferred speedily to Gatwick where we were able to change our flight to an earlier one back home to the Isle of Man.

And so our adventure – well this one anyway – is over.

7 weeks away,

4400 miles driven,

4 countries visited,

16 states in the USA travelled through and the best bits were?

(Well you will just have to ask us directly but we both agreed that it was a fantastic experience.)

Some places are worthy of a return visit, especially The Blue Ridge Mountains, Charleston & Savannah.

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