A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: shaneandnicola

Caribbean Cruise - Part Four

We are nearing the end of our cruising adventure with only a week to go. We have dropped off another load of passengers and picked up some new ones. We only have 3 ports of call remaining. Shane put this together so you can hear the ships horn.

21st March
Today we arrived at Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic which is on the north coast.
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There is a resort at the port where you can just relax. We had a wander around.
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Puerto Plata was discovered by Christopher Columbus in the 1490s. Columbus designed the town and established it as La Isabela, the first settlement in the Americas. It was only 7 miles to Puerto Plata so we decided to take a short tour to look around. It was drizzly and overcast but still quite humid. Security was pretty high and guards and police followed us everywhere. Puerto Plata's city center displayed historic buildings. This is Independence Square.
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This is City Hall.
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This is the San Felipe Cathedral.
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The Victorian homes around the square were really colourful.
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We then went down to the beachfront.
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Just off shore there is a small island with a statue of Neptune.
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In 1540, Fuerte de San Felipe, the first fort in the New World, was built, and today it anchors the city and stands as one of the oldest colonial period fortresses in the region.
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22nd March
We arrived back at St Thomas, US Virgin Islands today so we had the opportunity to see more of the place.
We took a boat ride to the island of St. John, known as the "Emerald of the Caribbean." Upon arriving in the charming town of Cruz Bay, we jumped on open-air safari transport for a scenic drive around the island. This is a view of Cruz Bay.
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Along the way, our guide provided insight into St. John's rich history and there was beautiful scenery everywhere.
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We went to the scenic lookout at Trunk Bay( one of the most photographed beaches in the world).
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We also saw panoramic views of the British Virgin Islands.
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We also visited the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Mill, an 18th-century sugar plantation with an abundance of greenery and flowers bursting among the stone ruins.
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After a lovely afternoon at St John it was time to catch the boat back to St Thomas. We had been so lucky with the weather so were able to see some magnificent views.

23rd March
Today was our final stop before heading back to Fort Lauderdale for the last time. These were the views as we sailed into St Maarten.
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St. Maarten offered a delightful case of split personality. Legend has it that a Frenchman and a Dutchman divided ownership of the island through a walk-off: Standing back to back, the two headed in opposite directions, walking around the island until they met. Perhaps the Dutchman paused for a refreshing brew. At any rate, the French ended up claiming 21 square miles of the island to 16 square miles for the Dutch. This lively tale says much about St. Maarten's easygoing ways. No formal boundary exists between the Dutch and French sides of the island; a simple welcome sign tells you when you cross from one country to the other. But the differences are as noticeable as the spelling of the island's name. The French spell it St. Martin the Dutch St Maarten.
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We had two activities planned for the day. What better way to get to know St. Maarten and its amazing surroundings than by exploring its beauty in, on and under the water?
The first part of our thrilling morning began at the pier where we boarded the canopy topped power raft. After boarding our vessel, our friendly onboard guide shared his knowledge of the island and its history as we zoomed down the scenic coast and into beautiful Simpson Bay Lagoon. This is the Simpson Bay Lagoon causeway bridge.
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En route to our snorkeling spot, we travelled from one side of the island to the other, and passed the French capital of Marigot before crossing under the French-side drawbridge and finally venturing out to sea.
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We then got to have a final snorkel in the Caribbean's clean, calm waters. The visibility off St. Maarten ranges between 75 and 125 feet, all the better to observe the fringing coral reefs, submerged rocks and schools of small colorful fish.
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We then cruised around the north coast of the island where we entered the shallow water of one of St. Maarten's world famous white sand beaches, often called the "French Riviera of the Caribbean." We passed famous homes that were pointed out to us. The home on the hill belongs to Chuck Norris.
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The white house on the hill belongs to Janet Jackson.
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And of course President Donald Trump owns one of the biggest here on the beach.
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We had time for a swim and enjoyed refreshments as we soaked up our last swim in the Caribbean.
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On our return to the ship we passed the famous St Maarten airport. It has appeared on many shows as the runway is right by the beach. We watched a plane land.
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This link to You Tube shows you the beach perspective. Its amazing.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCIJ0F62og4
After lunch we went to see some of the island on shore. We went to the Dutch capital. Philipsburg may only be four streets deep and one mile long, but it contains everything that anyone, especially a traveler, could need. The capital of Dutch St. Maarten, it was founded in 1763 by John Phillips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy. Philipsburg soon became a busy port for international trade and today it's a bustling town with historical buildings, lovely street activity, and an abundance of shops and cafés.
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Along the way to Marigot and the French side of the island, we passed the Great Salt Pond. The Amerindians named the island "Land of Salt" centuries ago. It was a Dutchman who discovered that salt could preserve food, which was of great use on long sea voyages. Salt was scarce, but when the Dutch set foot on St. Maarten they were delighted to find an abundant supply in the salt ponds, which are connected to the sea. We enjoyed a stop at Cole Bay Hill with a panoramic overview of Simpson Bay Lagoon, Simpson Bay Village, Queen Juliana International Airport and the lowland areas of French and Dutch St. Maarten.
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As we entered the French side there was a simple sign.
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We were then on the French side.
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We passed an old French fort.
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At one of our stops there were a number of different iguanas.
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We visited the French capital of Marigot. Colonial houses, sidewalk cafés, bistros, pastry shops and quaint stores are reminiscent of a French market town.
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On our return to the Dutch side we passed the border monument.
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We had a great last day on shore and St Maarten was a nice way to finish off the Caribbean.

26th March
Our cruising time had now ended so it was time to head off for the final part of our adventure before heading home. So, we made our way to the Fort Lauderdale airport. As our flight was announced they informed us that it was going to be delayed. So, 3 hours late we took off in a small 2 propellered plane for a short 45 minute flight to Orlando. We only flew at 3000 feet and it was really bumpy. We were glad to finally land.
Orlando is located in central Florida. It is also known as the theme part capital of the world. However, we did not come to Orlando to go the theme parks. (well so we thought – more on that later).
We are staying at Universals Cabana Bay Beach Resort. We chose this hotel as it had lots of options for relaxing. It even had a food court and coffee shop which seemed appealing for when we get home after some long days. The resort is really retro with a 60’s, 70s theme. They have been playing clips of The Munsters, Gumby (Shane didn’t know about Gumby).
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27th March
Today we had a long drive out to Kennedy Space Centre. This is something we were really looking forward to. To make the most of the day we hired a driver to take us out there and pick us up as it was an hour away from where we were staying. Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex is where NASA made history and where it’s still being made today. This is where humankind first left Earth to explore the heavens. This is where the future of space exploration launches, and where you can experience the wonders of space like nowhere else in the universe. The basic Visitor Complex admission gave us lots of things to do. This is the entrance.
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This is just inside the gate.
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There was a lovely fountain there. JFK was the one with the vision for space travel.
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This is the original countdown clock that has been moved to the Space Centre.
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We even found an astronaut walking around.
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Our first stop was the Heroes and Legends Hall featuring the US Astronaut Hall of Fame.
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Nicola with a projection of John Glenn.
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We watched a mission unfold in the Mercury Mission Control Centre.
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We then visited the Rocket Garden. We walked amongst the towering rockets that tell the story of human kinds quest for the stars.
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In the rocket garden was the Gemini Spacecraft. Frank Borman and Jim Lovell made 206 orbits – 14 days in this cramped spacecraft. They were unable to even stretch their legs.
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Shane then tried out the Apollo Spacecraft. Although it was spacious in comparison to the Gemini, there wasn’t much room. Gene Cernan wormed in through the small hatch, then moved over to his position on the right side of the compartment. Tom Stafford squeezed through the hatch and scooted into his place on the left side. Finally, John Young settled into the empty seat in the middle and hauled the hatch over his head into place.
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This is an F1 engine. It is the most powerful liquid fuelled rocket engine ever produced. It was a critical component in sending the astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program. Within 3 minutes the rocket would be travelling at a speed of 9,656 kph. Just one F1 engine provided as much thrust as all three space shuttle main engines combined.
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Here is Shane with Orion spacecraft.
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This is one of NASA’s supersonic jets. They were used for astronaut training and proficiency flights.
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Our next stop had us really excited. After 126 million miles of space travel, an American icon landed at KSC. The Space Shuttle Atlantis
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We stood nose to nose with the real Space Shuttle Atlantis.
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All the tiles under the shuttle
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Shane at the control panel.
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Nicola at the control panel.
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A 1/15 scale replica
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Actual tyres used on one of the missions.
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This is the astronaut van that takes them to the launch pad for the shuttle missions.
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Space exploration.
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We then strapped ourselves in for the sights, sounds and excitement of a space shuttle launch. Apparently, it is the closest thing to the real thing. We were shook around but it was really exhilarating.
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We went on the Kennedy Space Centre Bus Tour.
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We got a glimpse of the entire working spaceflight centre. We saw real launch pads. This one is being updated. The poles are lightning rods so that the rockets don’t get hit by lightning.
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This is a tower being built for the new rockets being built.
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This is the Launchpad used for shuttle launches. We couldn’t get close to that one today as there is a Spacex rocket being launched in a couple of days from that pad.
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This is one of the tractors that brings the rockets to the launch pads. They use lots of rocks to stop any sparks.
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This is the vehicle assembly building. It was massive. You can drive a bus between the stripes of the flag on the building to give you some perspective on how big it is.
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On the bus tour, they dropped us at the Apollo/Saturn V Centre.
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This is part of the original Apollo mission launch control.
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We saw an actual Saturn V rocket up close. We were able to stand beneath the largest rocket ever flown. Look at the size of the engines.
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The top of the fuel tank.
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We got to touch a moon rock and watch a re-enactment of Apollo 11’s moon landing.
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This was the Apollo astronauts van that took them to the launch pad.
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This is the moon rover.
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This is the Apollo 11 command module that returned to earth.
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We visited the Astronaut Memorial.
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There was a Hubble Space Telescope display.
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We attended a Mission Status Briefing where we received a briefing from a space expert on Kennedy Space Centre and the recent and upcoming NASA activities. That was really interesting. Since 2011 when the Space Shuttle Program ceased they have to send the astronauts to Russia for training and they then go up with the Russians to the International Space Station. They do however have plans underway for the next generation of astronauts to go into space from Cape Canaveral.
After a long day, we headed back to Orlando.

28th March
Today we were due to swim with the manatees. However last night we were informed that the tour had been cancelled as there were mechanical issues with the boat. We were devastated as we had been really looking forward to it. So, as we had the day free we decided to go to Universal Studios Island of Adventure. As we were staying at a Universal Hotel we got in an hour before being open to the public. We walked Universal Walk. There was a massive Hard Rock.
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Of course, they had the Universal Globe.
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Entrance to Island of Adventure.
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We go to go to Hogwarts before it was open to the public but it was still pretty busy. So, we walked to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We entered the gates to Hogsmeade.
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We walked around the town.
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Here is the Hogwarts Express.
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Our first ride was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We arrived at Hogwarts.
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There were warnings about this ride if you were prone to motion sickness, but oh my god. It was the worst ride I have ever been on. I had my eyes closed for most of it and even Shane said towards the end he had his eyes closed. We were flying around the sky on our brooms, it was horrific, sometimes we were almost upside down. Before you hop on the ride you walk through Hogwarts.
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Shane then went on the Flight of the Hippogriff but I still wasn’t up to it. It took me a while to recover.
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To get to the ride he walked past Hagrid’s House.
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We also visited Marvel Super Hero Island. Shane went on the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman ride. I chickened out of that one too. Neither of us were brave enough to go on the Incredible Hulk Rollercoaster ride. Take a look at it.
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Shane met Captain America.
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We then went to Toon Lagoon. Another really colourful part of the experience.
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We went on the Popeye and Blutos Bilge-Rat Barges.
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We got totally wet. Drenched right though.
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Remember Wimpy.
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This is Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls and this too gets you wet as you can see.
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We adventured to Skull Island – Reign of Kong. We really enjoyed this attraction.
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Next stop was Jurassic Park.
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We went on the Jurassic Park River Adventure.
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At the end you do this big steep drop and get really wet.
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We visited The Lost Continent.
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We went through Poseidon’s Fury.
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And saw the stunt show called The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad.
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We then went back to childhood visiting Seuss Landing. It was really colourful.
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We went on the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train. This was more my style.
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Then on the Cat in the Hat ride.
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29th March
Today we were leaving the USA. So we headed back to the airport for a short flight to Miami. From Miami we had to fly to Dallas-Fortworth in Texas to get our flight back to Sydney. We decided to upgrade as it was a 3 hour flight. Well worth it. We arrived in Dallas at 8pm and caught the skytrain to the terminal where our flight was leaving. When we arrived we were informed that the flight had been cancelled. Great, twice in a year. It was really disorganised and we all lined up to get our letters to go to a hotel. That took an hour and a half. Then we had to queue for a shuttle to the hotel. It was taking so long that a few of us got together and paid $6 each to get to the hotel. Then there was another line for check in. We finally got to bed before midnight.

30th March
When we got up this morning there was a note stating our flight would be leaving at 13.30 and to be at the airport by 8.30. So off we headed to the airport. The flight is supposedly due to get in to Sydney at 21.45 so I doubt we will be heading to Adelaide until the following day. Anyway I am sitting at the airport and am going to close the blog off for this trip. Hope you all enjoyed it. Nicola and Shane signing off.

Posted by shaneandnicola 06:48 Comments (0)

Caribbean Cruise - Part 3

10th March
Our cruise headed back to Fort Lauderdale. This time we had 2 days before getting on our final ship the Regal Princess. So, we headed into Fort Lauderdale and stayed at the B Ocean Resort. We had a relaxing day at the hotel. This is the view from our balcony.
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11th March
This morning we were picked up from our hotel to head to the Everglades. The trip began with a stop at the Everglades Safari Park.
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This is the airboat.
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The driver hopped on above us.
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We had a great 40-minute airboat ride over and through the sawgrass prairies and pond apple forests of the Everglades.
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There was quite a bit of bird life.
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We were able to see a few alligators.
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We returned along a narrow channel where we were able to see more bird life and alligators.
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We then hopped in a van for a wildlife drive through the pine savannahs and cypress forests of Big Cypress National Preserve. We looked for alligators, turtles and birds and kept an eye out for the elusive Florida panther. We drove along a road called the Tamiami Road. It was the original road from Tampa to Miami. There was a canal on the side of the road with alligators everywhere.
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See the cars driving past the alligators.
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We were also able to see a soft shell turtle.
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This turtle was swimming around the garfish. These fish were everywhere and the alligators and birds live on them.
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This is an Anhinga.
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This is an egret.
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Next, we enjoyed a nature walk below towering bald cypress trees.
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There were lots of bromeliads in the trees.
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We found this little bird.
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There were some baby alligators.
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Shane found a dragon fly.
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We even found a snake.
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We then had lunch, which included alligator appetizers. I thought they tasted like calamari. We then hopped on board a scenic boat ride into the Ten Thousand Islands mangrove forest in Everglades National Park.
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This is how a mangrove area starts, with just one plant.
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Then after a couple of years it looks like this.
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During the cruise, we got to see quite a bit of wild life. Including:
An osprey in the nest. There were also chicks but they popped their heads down when we turned up.
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The brown pelican.
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Then the beautiful Roseate Spoonbill.
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We then got to see two manatees, but they only came up for a quick breath and then they were gone.
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Last of all we saw two dolphins and one of them followed our wake.
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12th March
Today, we said farewell to our hotel and headed back to the port to board the Regal Princess. This ship is sister to the Royal so we had already become familiar with the layout of the ship. Boy the port was busy today. There were 7 cruise ships in.
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So we headed out of the channel of Fort Lauderdale once again for more adventures.

14th March
Earlier on in our trip we had watched the vegetable and fruit carving. It is something that we never get tired of watching as they are so clever. Have a look at these work of arts.
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15th March
This morning we arrived at Montego Bay in Jamaica.
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Stunning natural beauty and a unique society molded by British, African, Spanish and Asian influences supposedly make Jamaica an unforgettable Caribbean port of call. I guess it will be unforgettable. We were extremely disappointed with Jamaica. It was dirty and poor.
We decided to have a look around Montego Bay and acquaint ourselves with the history and culture. We visited the historic waterwheel. This still functioning cast iron Water Wheel is said to be over 200 years old. It apparently suffered serious damage in the slave revolt of 1831 and has since been restored.
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We viewed the estate of Greenwood Great House where the Barretts of Wimpole Street fame took pleasure in plantation living. The Barretts were a hugely wealthy and respected family. The Barrett family treated their slaves relatively well and provided them with education, this was unusual at the time. As a mark of respect, Greenwood Great House was spared from damage during the slave rebellion in Christmas 1831 which saw many plantation buildings burned to the ground.
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We then learned about Annie Palmer, the infamous “White Witch” of Jamaican folklore. According to legend, a "white witch" called "Annie Palmer" who murdered three husbands haunts the Rose Hall Great House. An investigation of the legend in 2007 concluded that the story was fictionalised. We stopped at Rose Hall Great House but didn’t go inside. Rose Hall is widely regarded to be a visually impressive house and the most famous in Jamaica. It is a mansion in Jamaican Georgian style with a stone base and a plastered upper storey, high on the hillside, with a panorama view over the coast. It was built in the 1770s.
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There wasn’t too much else to see so we stopped at a shopping centre for a wander around before heading back to the ship.

16th March
Today we arrived back at the Grand Caymans. While getting ready to get off the ship they made and announcement that it was touch and go whether we would be able to get ashore today. This was a tender port and there was a 5-foot swell. After a few trial runs they made the decision we would go ahead but warned us that it was going to be pretty bumpy. Having the tender smashing against the ship and hearing cracking noises does not bring confidence, but Shane said that fibreglass is pretty tough. So, after we all slowly boarded the tender we had a rough trip to shore. They then tried to dock and had similar problems, but we eventually landed.
On our last visit, we had encounters with stingrays and dolphins (we were glad we had done that on our last visit here as due to the seas these trips got cancelled this time around). Today we decided to go and see some of the island.
We took a scenic drive straight to Hell, a community just outside West Bay, on the northwest tip of Seven Mile Beach. As we pulled in to this small town, we were struck by its teeny size. It may look like half a soccer field but it's big on photo opportunities.
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No one knows how the town got its name but it could be from the various limestone formations rising out of the ground. Short spikes of eerie-looking black rocks look like lava in the aftermath of a volcano.
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Apparently at dusk, the rays of the setting sun cast a supernatural glow onto the spikes, resembling burning hellfire.
We then, experienced a taste of the Caribbean's original world famous rum cakes with a visit to the Tortuga Rum Cake Centre. We found many varieties of freshly baked rum cakes, including chocolate, coconut, banana and coffee, and of course they encouraged us to have a sample or two.
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Our next stop was at the Blow Holes, these are rugged coral rocks that have been carved by the Caribbean's rough waves. When swells converge against the rocks, it creates a spectacular waterspout that can gush as high as 30 feet! This side of the island the water was pretty tame so there was nothing coming out of the blowholes unfortunately.
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The next stop was the site of the Wreck Of The Ten Sails. In 1794, the British merchant ship Cordelia, part of a convoy on its way to Britain, ran aground on the coral reef at the island's East End. Although it sent a warning signal to the other nine ships, each one ran into the dangerous reef. Happily, the lives of the crew and passengers were saved due to the bravery of island residents. Legend says that King George rewarded Grand Cayman with freedom from taxation.
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Our final stop was Rum Point on the north coast of the island. Here we had time to stroll along the soft, white sand, dip our toes in the warm water and linger under a shade tree. Then it was back to the ship for another interesting and bumpy tender back to the ship. It took quite a long time so we ended up leaving a bit later than expected.

17th March
Today is St Patrick’s Day. When we arrived for breakfast this morning there was a Mexican leprechaun serving Irish Coffee. Today we arrived on the island of Cozumel which is part of Mexico. Mayan myth claims that Cozumel was home to the gods. Of course, the gods weren't the only individuals attracted to this terrestrial paradise: during its long and colorful history, Cozumel has been home to pirates and buccaneers. Cozumel is 6.2 miles off the mainland Yucatan peninsula. It is Mexico’s largest island – 30 miles long by 10 miles wide.
We couldn’t come to Mexico without visiting the famous Chichén Itzá. It was going to be a bit of an adventure taking 10 hours in total, but one we thought worthwhile. Our day of ancient discovery began with a 45-minute ferry ride across the Channel of Cozumel from Puerto Maya to Playa del Carmen on the mainland of Mexico.
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Upon arrival at Playa del Carmen, we boarded a bus for over a 2-hour drive around 180 km. The road we took was a toll road so no locals can afford to use it. It was empty of traffic.
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Chichén Itzá, once a massive, complex city built by the Mayan people, was most active between the years 600 and 1250 A.D., serving as both a bustling urban center and a religious site.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by an awe-inspiring maze of structures, including huge stone pyramids, columned arcades, dramatic temples and other monuments that made up this ruined city, the core of which covers more than 1.9 square miles. As we studied this fascinating archeological complex, we understood why it was given the distinction of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!
We saw the impressive Temple of Kukulkan, or El Castillo, which demonstrates the advanced astronomical skills of the Mayan people. The pyramid has exactly 365 steps, one for each day of the year, and twice a year, only on the days of the spring and fall equinox, the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramids main stairway. This causes 7 isosceles triangles to form, imitating the body of a serpent roughly 37 metres long descending the pyramid until it joins the huge serpents head carved of stone at the bottom of the stairway.
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Tzompantli is called The Wall of Skulls.
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The platform of Eagles and Jaguars
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The platform of Venus
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We continued our exploration at the Temple of the Warriors. The Temple of the Warriors is one of the most impressive and important structures at Chichen Itza. It might be the only known late classic Maya building sufficiently big enough for really large gatherings. The temple consists of four platforms, flanked on the south and west sides by 200 round and square columns.
The Temple of Warriors is approached by a broad stairway with a plain, stepped ramp on either side, and each ramp has figures of standard-bearers to hold flags.
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There is a reclining chacmool and serpent columns.
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We viewed the Great Ballcourt. Here it is believed that participants tried to put a 12-pound ball through a stone scoring hoop during a series of ritual games. Accuracy was certainly important, as it is believed that the losers were put to death!
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The pictures prove the beheadings.
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At the entrance to the ballcourt is the temple of jaguars.
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Iguanas live at the site.
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Both a religious site and a busy urban center, Chichén Itzá was a hub of trade in the region for centuries, but during the 1400s the site declined, though it is not known exactly why. A subsequent Spanish conquest found the city largely undefended and divided the lands around the city among its own soldiers.
After this unforgettable 90 minutes at this Mayan architectural wonder, we boarded our bus for another couple of hours back to the ferry, which took us to our awaiting ship. By then it was dark.
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Those 10 hours went by pretty quickly. We were in awe of the amazing site and have another thing crossed off our bucket list. It was totally worth all the travel to get there. We only got a small glance at this part of Mexico but have already fallen in love with it and hope to come back.

Posted by shaneandnicola 09:10 Comments (0)

Caribbean Cruise - Part Two

1st March
This morning was a tender port. Here is Shane on the tender.
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This is what the tenders look like.
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We were back at Princess Cays today.
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Princess Cays is in the Bahamas.
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We decided to do something different today, we went on a dune buggy safari.
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We followed our guide to the southern part of the island. We had some narrow bumpy roads to have a bit of fun.
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Along the way, we learned how European settlers, known as the Eleutheran Adventurers, arrived in 1648 from Bermuda seeking religious freedom. As we explored the unspoiled beauty of south Eleuthera, we traversed a landscape of low, rounded limestone hills, sometimes rising up 100 feet, set against a backdrop of turquoise water and sapphire blue sky.
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The southernmost tip of the island is home to Lighthouse Beach. Naturally it is named after the lighthouse that is there. The lighthouse is still in use but is no longer a navigational lighthouse.
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The Atlantic and Caribbean waters converge here. We went out on the tip where you could see both the Atlantic on the left and Caribbean on the right.
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The convergence crushes microscopic sea creatures called foraminifera. Their bright pink shells are pulverized and washed ashore resulting in a shimmering blush color. It was slightly pink but not what I expected. We got to feel the clean, powdery pink sand between our toes.
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We then admired picturesque views from the top of the historic old lighthouse.
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Shane found a lizard.
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We had got quite hot and dusty so went back to Princess Cays and decided to head back to the ship. The sun was shining and the white beaches stood out in the distance.
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We fare welled Princess Cays. (we have another stop here in a couple of weeks) so will decide what we want to do then.
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2nd March
We had a relaxing day at sea while we headed to St Thomas. We are really enjoying our sea days. We have headed to enrichment lectures on watches, scotch and diamonds and other precious stones and learned quite a lot. We then went to a lecture on acupuncture as there is an acupuncturist on board. Shane’s wrist has been playing up so he has decided to try something different and booked an appointment. We are also getting through quite a few e-books. Loving our balcony room.

3rd March
Today we were back at St Thomas. Last time we were here we did some sightseeing but we were glad to come back again as we really wanted to do an undersea activity that they run here. BOSS, the Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter, is the most thrilling way to explore the aquatic world with no diving experience necessary…and you are the driver. We boarded a 60-foot custom-built dive yacht for a scenic cruise out to the crystal clear BOSS dive site. BOSS is designed to allow you to breathe normally while you drive underwater and explore the undersea world.
When we arrived at the dive spot we first got a lecture on how the BOSS work.
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We entered the water and dove under the water to get our heads into the BOSS. It was a little unnerving to start with but you soon got used to it. They had taught us some hand signs so we had to pinch our nose and pressurise as the BOSS went lower into the sea. Professionally certified dive masters guided us along the way and pointed out the wonders of the Caribbean Sea.
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There were lots of fish and reef where we dove. It really was a unique underwater experience.
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Each BOSS has a float attached so they can keep an eye on where each vehicle is.
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When instructed, they raised the BOSS and we got out. Here is Nicola just after exiting her BOSS.
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Once we had finished we had a chance to do some snorkeling.
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They then loaded the BOSS back onto the boat. Here you can see the battery. It is an ordinary car battery that runs them.
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We have now been there and done that. Even bought a t-shirt to prove it.

4th March
Lying between Guadeloupe and Martinique is the island of Dominica--an unspoiled Caribbean paradise. The vibrant, rich rainforest is home to rare birds, including Sisserou and Jacquot parrots. Streams tumble down mountain slopes and thread fertile valleys on their short route to the sea. There are 365 rivers due to the high rain fall. Dominica is also home to the last Carib Indians. When Columbus made landfall on his second voyage of discovery, this fierce tribe managed to keep the explorer at bay. And while the island proved a lure for both British and French planters, Dominica somehow managed to escape the trammels of civilization. This former British possession became independent in 1978. The island is 29 miles wide and 16 miles long.
As we sailed to the pier you could see all the green high mountains.
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This is Roseau from the ship.
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This morning we had a scenic rainforest drive to a beautifully located Eco Village. The scenery along the way was beautiful. It was so lush everywhere you looked.
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The Eco Village was our starting point for fun filled tubing. Our river adventure was a serene, yet stunning voyage in the heart of unspoiled nature.
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We saw the lush flora and fauna of Concord Valley, as we thrilled to a mix of fast mini-rapids and lazy slow-flowing pools.
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These dogs followed us the whole way. At one stage the little one jumped on Nicola’s tube and had a ride.
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Here is Nicola heading for a big rock. She just kicked off it and continued her journey.
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Our outing concluded down the boundary line (the river) at the last and only Carib Indian territory in the world.
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We laughed so much during the tubing but we still got time to admire the absolutely beautiful scenery. Dominica would be one of our favourites scenery wise.
Later that afternoon we thought we would see some of the sights of Roseau. We boarded a trolley train and headed down the Bay Front Promenade. The trolley train was a bit touristy but it was a good way to get a quick viewing of the capital before the ship departed.
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The trolley went through lots of back roads and we got to see lots of houses. We saw several old houses.
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Then homes and buildings that had colors rivalling a box of crayons.
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This is a statue of a famous slave.
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We headed to the Botanical Gardens. Once considered the most beautiful in the West Indies, the gardens were established in 1891 by order of the British Crown. Stretching out over 40 acres, its wide lawn makes it a popular place for cricket games, public ceremonies and festivals. It is also the spot where they have a parrot conservation centre for the endangered Sisserou and Jaco parrots.
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In August 1979 Hurricane David hit with 150 mph winds. Due to this, the parrot population has reduced to around 2000.
During the hurricane, this baobab tree came down on the school bus. Luckily no one was in it.
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We then returned to the ship and departed for our next destination.

5th March
Today we arrived in Grenada. It is the Caribbean's "Isle of Spice" -- one of the world's major producers of nutmeg, mace, clove, cinnamon, and cocoa. Indeed, the fragrant aroma of spice seems to envelop the island's emerald hillsides, tropical forests, and sun-drenched beaches. Grenada is truly a feast for the senses. Americans, of course, may remember the island from the 1983 U.S. military intervention. Over two decades later, Grenada is again an ideal vacation spot. No building here may be built higher than a coconut palm. St. George's Harbor is a picture-perfect postcard of an idyllic Caribbean anchorage.
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There is an old fort on the hillside as you come in to port.
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We only had a half day here in Grenada, so we got off early.
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We took a water taxi to Grand Anse Beach.
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We swam, and relaxed on this beautiful crescent of sand amidst the palms.
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We also went snorkeling. There were a few things around.
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After a relaxing morning, we said farewell to Grenada.

6th March
Another shore day today in Bonaire. It is without a doubt a "diver's paradise." Its license plates even state the same.
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Bonaire forms part of the ABC islands. A for Aruba, B for Bonaire and C for Curacao. The island is 24 miles long and between 3 and 7 miles wide.
But there is much more to this small Dutch country of 17,500 residents. "Bon Bini," as you will hear the friendly locals say, means "welcome to the island of Bonaire." Bonaire is located about 60 miles off the coast of Venezuela and has for years been known as a world-class diving and snorkeling destination. Because of the hot and arid weather, Bonaire has been a major producer of sea salt. You couldn’t miss the "white mountains" waiting to be shipped out. The salt flats happen to be home to another icon of Bonaire-the pink flamingo.
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We sailed past Klein Bonaire. The protected waters are a marine park and there are no permanent residents or structures on the island. It is a good place for snorkeling.
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As we arrived in Kralendijk the colourful town was hard to miss. This is the capital and main port of Bonaire in the Caribbean Netherlands.
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The language spoken in town is Papiamentu, but Dutch and English are widely spoken. In Dutch Kralendijk means coral reef or coral dike.
As we arrived at the pier we had the boat named the Patricia helping with the heavy ropes.
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We set foot on Bonaire and had some fun with the signs.
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Having done a few water activities lately we decided to set off for a scenic drive along the serene northern coastline. En route, we passed through the capital, Kralendijk, and witnessed Bonaire's legendary blue water. The landscape had tableaus of cacti, mesquite, acacia, and divi-divi trees. They even use the cacti for fences to keep the wild goats and donkeys out.
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When the spanish left, they left donkeys behind and at one stage there were more donkeys than people. They have signs warning you once you left town.
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We went to Goto Lake. The scenery was so different to the last few stops we went from lush green rainforest to dry desert conditions.
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It is a natural salt water lake and a feeding ground for the island's shy pink flamingos and possibly the most beautiful, serene spot on Bonaire!
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On the way we stopped to see some iguanas.
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Bonairians have a passion for their island, its natural resources and have a long history of marine preservation, beginning with turtle protection in 1961, prohibition of spear fishing in 1971 and preservation of coral, dead or alive, in 1975. The island proudly boasts 5 RAMSAR sites dedicated to the preservation of wetlands and waterfowl. Goto Lake is one of these sites. We travelled through Rincon Village and heard ancient tales of this village built by Spanish explorers in the 14th century, before arriving at the King's Warehouse & Cultural Park. We did a walking tour and caught a glimpse of bygone days while visiting authentic replicas of the stick, stone and wood houses of early Bonaire.
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Nicola found this spotted lizard.
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There was fresh made lemonade, tamarind juice, and a popular snack called, 'pastechi'. This delightfully stuffed pastry is filled with cheese, chicken or beef and is the local favorite.
We past through a Caiquetios Indian village. They occupied the island in 1000 AD. There are no longer any full blood indians remaining but they are still proud and hang this symbol on their houses.
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They use a lot of solar and wind power.
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The trip was capped off by a stop at Seru Largo for a spectacular panorama mountaintop view of the island and the surrounding waters.
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There was also a good view of Klein Bonaire.
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Later in the day we decided to take an auto rickshaw to see the sights. These vehicles were originally used as mini taxis in Thailand, where the name tuk tuk is meant to imitate the sound of the small diesel or gasoline engines. The Bonaire models are customized with an electric, emission-free and environmentally friendly motors. We saw that a flamingo pink color, probably inspired by the island's large flamingo population, is quite popular for homes, while a Dutch influenced yellow hue can be seen on most of the local monuments and government buildings.
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We drove down the main street.
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One of the points of interest is Fort Orange. Built in 1639 as a defense against attacks from the sea, this stately structure, with four impressive English cannons, never actually saw any action. Until 1837, the fort was used as the residence of the commander of Bonaire and occasionally doubled as a police station and home to the fire brigade. In 1868, a wooden lighthouse was built, and the new stone lighthouse that was erected to replace it in 1932 is still used today.
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We had a picturesque drive along the ocean boulevard which is called the Avenue of the European Union. There were both old and new homes in candy-colored hues, spectacular ocean views and quaint fishing boats.
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7th March
We docked in the island's capital, Oranjestad.
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Dutch influence still lingers on this balmy Caribbean island, part of the former Netherlands Antilles until its independence in 1986. Aruba is a contrast: the island's arid interior is dotted with cactus and windswept divi-divi trees while secluded coves and sandy beaches make up its coast. Aruba's long and colorful heritage is reflected in its dialect. They too speak Papiamento like in Bonaire.
This is their flag.
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We took a drive through the island's capital, Oranjestad.
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We stopped at the Casibari Rock formations, a shrub covered landscape shaped by boulders, some the size of small houses and weighing several tons. Arawak Indians would visit here in order to hear incoming thunderstorms.
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Views from the top.
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See the polar bear.
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See the grouper.
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There were several types of cactus.
The flower cactus.
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The Christmas cactus.
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The organ-pipe cactus.
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We drove past the main cemetery. They have their graves above ground as the ground is made up of rocks and coral and is too hard to dig.
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We headed to the north coast to see the sea-worn Natural Bridge that collapsed in 2005.
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The Baby Natural Bridge is still intact but these day they do not want you to walk out on it, in case it collapses.
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The scenery along this part of the coast was stunning.
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We drove back along the coast and stopped at Eagle Beach. Apparently is listed as the third best beach in the world.
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In the afternoon, we headed off on another adventure.
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Revving along, our UTV ventured through the Andicuri trail and past the rugged coastline of the island's northwest corner. You may think that Aruba's only charms lie in its snow white beaches and glistening turquoise waters but the island's outback is also chock full of jagged cliffs and house sized boulders
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We stopped at the charming Chapel of Alto Vista. Originally constructed in 1750 by the Caiquetio Indians and Spanish settlers, the chapel fell into ruin over the centuries. The sacred structure you see today was built 60 years ago on the chapel's original site. Outside, the charming yellow building is a welcoming landmark situated atop a hill overlooking the ocean. Inside rests an award-winning solid oak, hand carved altar.
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Our next stop was the Gold Mine Ruins. Believed by the Spanish in 1499 to hold great hordes of gold, the land was soon abandoned when very little of this precious metal was found. They should have waited about 300 years. In 1824, gold was discovered near a pirate hideaway called Bushiribana. A large smelting plant was built in 1872 and for the next 10 years, it was used to extract gold until it was depleted. Today, the crumbling plant looks almost medieval in its dilapidated appearance.
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Continuing on we headed to the island's northwestern tip for a look at Aruba's desert. Acres of windswept, white sand dunes studded with large boulders roll up and around the 100-year-old California Lighthouse, named for the USS California, a wooden sailing ship that sank in 1908. The lighthouse is 98-foot-tall and made of stone, the windows in it were really unusual.
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From there we had good views of the town.
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We were sad to say goodbye knowing that this was our last shore day on this cruise.
We had another yummy chocolate journey desert
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Posted by shaneandnicola 04:28 Comments (0)

Caribbean Cruise - Part One

18th Feb
This morning we had arrived in Fort Lauderdale. We were transferred to our next ship for the next part of our Caribbean adventure. We had to go back through immigration and have our photo and finger prints done to make sure we were who we were. It was then a lengthy process to get us to the Royal. So, we are now on the Royal Princess which was the same ship we were on in the Mediterranean last year.
We had the compulsory emergency drill prior to departure and we refamiliarised ourselves with the ship.
This is the atrium.
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As we eased away from Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) we couldn’t believe the escort we received from the US Coast Guard.
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They were locked and loaded just in case.
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As we sailed away we said farewell to Fort Lauderdale (just for now)
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The pilot boat came and picked up the pilot.
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19th Feb
Our first stop on this cruise was an exclusive port of call called Princess Cays. It is on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. It is one hundred miles long and only two miles wide. This is some of the coastline.
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It offers unspoiled beaches. Their private resort is on more than 40 acres and features over a half a mile of white sandy beach at the southern tip of the island.
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We enjoyed a BBQ on the beach, sipped cool drinks and browsed the local craft market. We booked a private bungalow on shore. It had air conditioning and we thought it would be a romantic hideaway. Each bungalow was brightly coloured and was near the beach. We had our own dedicated staff to look after our needs. We had a lovely relaxing day. It was a bit windy so we didn’t go for a swim. We got lots of reading and drinking in. Here is Shane relaxing at the bungalow.
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20th Feb
Today was a sea day on our way to St Thomas. It was formal night so we got dressed up for dinner. After dinner, we went to the atrium to watch the Captains Champagne Waterfall.
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21st Feb
This morning we arrived at the US Virgin Islands. St. Thomas is the capital of the island group. Just a few miles away lay St. John and Virgin Islands National Park. Stunning mountain scenery, crystalline waters, and white-sand beaches with palms swaying in the breeze means that the US Virgin Islands are truly a slice of paradise. The harbor is easily one of the Caribbean's most scenic. In the 17th century, the islands were divided into two territorial units, one English and the other Danish. In 1917, the United States purchased the Danish half for $25 million in gold.
These were the views we had as we sailed in to St Thomas.
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We stepped foot on the US Virgin Islands.
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We went on an open-air safari bus for a scenic drive.
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We travelled along Skyline Drive and witnessed some of the most breathtaking vistas in the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean. It was an overcast day so the views were not as good as usual, but it was still breathtaking. Photos just don’t do it justice.
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We then went to a place called Mountain Top, home to the famous banana daiquiri. Of course, we had one.
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They sold lots of different rums. Here is the big rum bottle.
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There is a commanding view across Magens Bay with St. John and the British Virgin Islands in the distance.
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We then went on the St. Thomas Skyride to Paradise Point, a modern aerial cable car.
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We boarded the Skyride for an eight-minute ride to the top, located 700 feet above sea level.
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We wandered around and looked at more spectacular views of the island and our cruise ship.
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It is hard to believe that this place made so little an impression upon Columbus when he landed here in 1493. He didn’t even stake a claim. Spain’s loss was the pirate’s gain and the island soon became a haven for notorious buccaneers.
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There is certainly some money around, have a look at the super yacht with the helicopter on board.
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We made our way back to the ship and sat on our balcony admiring more of the views.

22nd Feb
The largest of the British Leeward Islands, Antigua (pronounced an-tee-ga) boasts one of the Caribbean's most spectacular coastlines with secluded coves and sun-drenched beaches. Antigua was named by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the new world. The island's rolling hills are dotted with stone sugar mills, relics from the bygone era when sugar was king. Historic Nelson's Dockyard, where Admiral Horatio Nelson quartered his fleet in 1784, attests to Antigua's long and colorful nautical history during colonial times. Today we saw a lot of the above with both a fun morning and cultured afternoon. We disembarked the ship in St John’s.
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This morning we boarded a 4WD.
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Our first stop was to get a view of St John’s.
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We drove through Buckley Village and followed a series of narrow dirt tracks along Body Pond. There was a variety of houses and all different colours.
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There are lots of ruins of windmills that were used during the sugar heyday.
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We soon found ourselves in a lush tropical setting with abundant flora and fauna. Here is some of the scenery.
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This is the highest point on the island is called Mt Obama.
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Our knowledgeable guide gave us information on the island's natural foliage. We travelled along Fig Tree Drive. Contrary to what you may think we didn’t see any actual figs along this drive because in Antigua, "fig" is the local word for "banana"! In addition to this fruit, we saw mango groves and pineapple fields set against a landscape of tiny fishing villages.
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We skirted the shore and drove past mangrove thickets as our guide explained the ecological role this ever-present Caribbean tree plays in the saltwater environment. We passed some lovely beaches. There are 365 beaches on Antigua. They joke there is one for each day of the year.
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The turquoise waters of Turner's Beach beckoned and we took a dip in the sea.
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Gentle trade winds cool the air and on clear days you can see as far as the island of Montserrat from the shore. The volcano on the island was smoking.
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In the afternoon, we visited the Nelsons Dockyard National Park. We first visited the Dow's Hill Interpretation Centre to view a multimedia exhibition that celebrated the history of the Island. Throughout the presentation, we moved through a timeline of the island and met prominent figures from both the past and present that have influenced Antigua's growth and development. We explored the historic ruins of what was originally a fort constructed by the British government. There were panoramic views from the observation deck.
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The views continued when we reached Block House and Shirley Heights Lookout. From this area, picture-perfect views of Nelson's Dockyard National Park and the English Harbor can be seen. The lookout was once used as a signal station and different flags were flown to warn those in the dockyard of approaching ships.
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This building was used mainly for storing gun powder.
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There were lots of ruins from buildings that did not stand the test of time.
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This is the guard house
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This is Nelsons Dockyard from afar.
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We also got a view of this massive home sitting right on the point. It belongs to Eric Clapton.
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We arrived at Nelson's Dockyard, the only Georgian naval dock in the world and a unique Antiguan landmark. Although this is the Caribbean's premier example of a British naval yard, it was actually constructed by Antiguans. Nestled in the cone of a dormant volcano, the dockyard has been well protected for over 500 years from the hurricanes that frequent the area. Built in 1725, the dockyard served as the base for the English naval squadron patrolling the West Indies. It was named for Captain Horatio Nelson, one of Britain's most famous naval heroes.
This was the only entrance and slaves could not climb the high walls nor get through the gates.
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This is the high walls that surrounded the dockyard.
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We toured the dockyard and its restored buildings.
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We stopped at the Cooper and Lumber Store, once an area for sailors to purchase provisions and string up their hammocks, it is now a hotel. We had a rum punch.
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We even saw some wildlife there.
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It was then time to head back to the ship. It had been a full day and we felt like we had seen a variety of things on Antigua.

23rd Feb
Nestled below the Pitons, twin peaks rising over 2,600 feet above the azure waters of the Caribbean, St. Lucia is an oasis of tropical calm. The island's capital, Castries, is a town of charming, pastel-colored colonial buildings, home to some 60,000. Yet despite its peaceful setting, St. Lucia has a turbulent and colorful history. Fierce Carib warriors overran the peaceful Arawaks in the 9th century. The first European settler, Francois Le Clerc, was a French buccaneer. Le Clerc's countrymen followed in his wake, establishing the town of Soufriere in 1746. Sugar was the lure, sugar was king. Within four decades some 50 plantations flourished on the island. Thus St. Lucia became part of the Caribbean's 18th-century trade triangle of sugar, slavery, and rum. St. Lucia is the reputed birthplace of Napoleon's Empress, Josephine de Beauharnais.
We headed out of the capital city of Castries and drove through the countryside. We passed a couple of fishing villages.
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We continued on to one of Soufriere's most popular sites Sulphur Springs, the world's only drive-in volcano. We toured the bubbling pools which were letting off puffs of odorous steam.
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Our next stop was the 18th century eco-friendly colonial plantation of Morne Coubaril This working plantation is dotted with cocoa, coconuts, citrus, and other tropical trees. We viewed the cocoa fermentation, drying, and coconut processing buildings that are still in use today.
This donkey moved the machinery that extracts the juice from the sugar cane.
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This is where they smoke the coconut.
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This is the plantation house that is still in use today
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A view from the plantation.
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We had a sumptuous Creole buffet lunch. After lunch, we took a short ride to return to Soufriere. This is the view of the town and the Pitons.
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Shane at the Soufriere wharf.
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We saw the majestic Pitons, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each mount was created from hardened lava, towering over 2000 feet in the air.
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We then sailed up the coast. We stopped in a secluded cove, where to enjoy a refreshing swim in the crystal clear waters.
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We then cruised into Marigot Bay This lush, tranquil yachtsman's haven has been used for background shots in many Hollywood films such as "Dr. Doolittle" and "Fire Power."
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We had another full day of sightseeing.

24th Feb
Barbados is one of the few Caribbean islands solely colonized by one nation. It's no wonder Bajans describe their country as being "more English than England", surnames like Worthing and Hastings abound. But it was clear we were not in England: rich and fertile tropical fields meet a glistening, azure sea. The soft pastels of old chattel houses blend with the vibrant reds, oranges, and greens of roadside fruit stands. In short, Barbados exudes a charm all its own. Perhaps it is due to Bajan culture, that celebrated blend of English tradition and the African heritage brought to the island by slaves imported to work the sugar plantations. The potent brew which results flavors every aspect of island life, from music, dance and art, to religion, language and food. Our ship docked in Bridgetown which is the capital.
We had a full day here so this morning we got off our floating home.
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We embarked on a cruise through the sparkling waters of Barbados on our intrepid Barefoot Breezer.
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We dropped anchor at one of the island's sheltered bays for a guided snorkel encounter with the wild sea turtles that nest on the white sand beaches. After a briefing on how to interact with these amazing sea creatures, we donned our snorkel gear.
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We frolicked and swam with these stunning marine animals as they moved gracefully with the ocean currents through the shafts of sunlight that penetrated the ocean's surface. The water was quite clear.
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Sometimes they swam so close you couldn’t get the whole turtle in the shot.
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We then journeyed to one of the island's magnificent beaches for some fun in the sun. We swam in the warm, tropical waters.
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We drank lots of rum punch while on board and when we went for a swim they even had a floating bar to provide us with more run punch.
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They were so friendly and were a lot of fun.
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In the afternoon, we went on a safari adventure on a 4 x 4 vehicle. We took a scenic drive off the beaten path to some of the island's more remote and unique locations.
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We encountered Blackman's Gully, located on the island's east coast. Created when the roofs of caves collapsed hundreds of years ago, Blackman's is part of an island-wide series of gullies that are home to a range of exotic plants and animals, including the inquisitive green monkey. We did see a monkey but he didn’t hang around for a photo.
We crossed over the gully via the Molasses Bridge. Constructed 250 years ago with limestone boulders held together by the mortar of molasses and egg whites, it is one of the strongest spans in Barbados.
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We the travelled through Joe's River Forest featuring 85 acres of lush, towering trees, including the famed bearded figs which gave Barbados its name. We drove through sugar cane plantations and stopped to look at the cotton bushes.
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They explained the cotton bush and the different stages of the plant. Shane is holding all 4 stages. It starts off with a reddish flower, then turns yellow, then turns into a green bud and then finally opens with the cotton inside.
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We stopped at a view point to see the rainforest and picturesque Atlantic Ocean. It was here that once again they fed us with rum punch.
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We wound down to sea level.
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We saw a lovely old plantation house.
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They showed us a plantain crop. It is longer than a banana and needs to be cooked.
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Our next stop was to get a distant view of Bathsheba.
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We passed Bathsheba Beach where waves, wind and time have conspired to sculpt giant mushroom shaped rock formations that jut majestically out of the pounding surf; the largest of which, the Bathsheba Rock, sitting slightly off shore.
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We stopped at Barclay's Park, a 50 acre hillside park on the east coast of the island. We went for a walk on the beach. You are not allowed to swim on the Atlantic side due to the currents.
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Our journey also took us through Rock Hall Village, the first free village founded by ex-slaves in 1841, just five years after Emancipation.
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We drove through the port city of Holetown, the first settlement in Barbados when Captain John Powell arrived in 1626 on his journey from South America to England. As our journey to came to an end we passed the elegant Platinum Coast (known for its stunning luxury hotels) en route to our ship.

25th Feb
We arrived in the country of St Kitts and Nevis. This is a two-island nation and is the smallest in the Western hemisphere, both in area and population. It has only been its own country since 1983. St Kitts is known for its jagged volcanoes soaring above turquoise seas. It has dense rainforests in myriad shades of green and rolling fields of sugarcane.
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Nevis is a separate island all together. A two-mile channel called “The Narrows” separates Nevis from St Kitts.
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St. Kitts presents an exotic landscape more common to Polynesia than the Caribbean. The islands' terrain, rich soil, and climate made them ideal locations for raising sugarcane. In fact, St. Kitts and Nevis were once the crown jewels of the Caribbean. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Spain, France and England vied for control of the islands, with the English finally winning out in 1787. Today, British and French heritage is evident on both islands. We docked at Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts.
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We walked down the pier to start our tour for the day. This was the entrance to Basseterre.
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We stepped aboard the "Last Railway in the West Indies" for the opportunity to experience the scenery and culture of this unspoiled country. The "Island Series" railcars of the St. Kitts Scenic Railway are unlike any other railcars anywhere in the world. They are double-decked, with an upper open-air observation platform that puts you high above the top of the sugar cane and island vegetation for unobstructed 360 degree viewing.
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As you can see from the map we pretty much circled the island. We travelled 18 miles on the narrow-gauge train and 12 miles by bus.
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The 18-mile railway segment hugs the Northeastern coastline. In 1912, believing that profitability could be increased with economies of scale, a group of investors built a modern central sugar factory near Basseterre and began construction of a narrow-gauge railway to bring the cane from outlying estates. This was completed in 1926 and ran seasonally from February to June for the annual sugar harvest. After many decades, the government decided to close the industry and the last sugar train rattled into the yards on 31st July 2005 and factory machinery was shut down, bringing an end to over 350 years of sugar production on the island. However, the sugar train survived and has been running as a tourist attraction ever since.
Leaving Needsmust Station, the train was soon surrounded by fields of sugar cane. Sugar cane was introduced in St Kitts in 1643, and it became as valuable as oil is today.
The railway skirted the volcanic slopes of Mt. Liamuiga.
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Crossed numerous tall steel girder bridges,
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Provided glimpses of black sand beaches
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By 1775 there were 200 estates producing sugar, and there are several crumbling plantations along the railway.
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Images of village life offered local color.
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All along the route laborers and farmers stopped work, and children ran out to greet us with smiles and waves as the train went by. They even open the gates manually.
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At La Valle Station we disembarked the train and transferred to a bus to circle the Island Main Road. The route passed under the silent guns of Brimstone Hill Fortress. This Fortress, called the "Gibraltar of the West Indies," is one of the most impressive fortresses in the Caribbean. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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We drove through a dozen small villages and towns that dot the Caribbean Sea side of St. Kitts.
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This trip had been a great way of seeing a lot of the island and seeing what it had to offer.

26th and 27th Feb
We had two days at sea as we returned to Fort Lauderdale. It was nice and relaxing. We had another balloon drop one of the evenings. We didn't wait to see it though as we had other things we wanted to do.
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The other evening we attended “The Voice of the Ocean”. Princess have been lucky enough to get the rights to do this on the ship.
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28th Feb
This morning we arrived in Fort Lauderdale where we dropped off and picked up other passengers, we are staying onboard the Royal Princess as we are doing a further 10 days. While everyone was embarking, and disembarking we went on an excursion to the Everglades Holiday Park. If you have ever seen “The Gator Boys” TV show, this is where we went. We didn’t get to see them though.
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First of all, we climbed aboard an airboat to have a ride around the wetlands and journeyed into the everglades. We zipped across the “River of Grass” at top speeds. It was a thrilling ride.
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We were able to lock eyes on some of the American alligators.
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We also saw an iguana sunning itself on a tree branch.
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Upon our return, we went to see the Alligator Show where we learned lots about the alligators that have been rescued. There was a brave woman who pulled an alligator out of the pond.
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She demonstrated how docile they are.
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Even after she hopped off it, it just sat there. They are a lot more docile that the salt water crocs at home.
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We then returned to the ship ready for our late afternoon departure.
Here is Fort Lauderdale city.
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On our last exit from Fort Lauderdale I showed you photos of the narrow passage to exit to the sea. This is the channel from another angle. Our big ship reversed out of the dock and headed up there.
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Once again we were escorted by the sheriff
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And the US Coast Guard, once again locked and loaded.
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Across from the ship were lots of beautiful houses
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Fort Lauderdale beach as we left.
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Our next adventure now begins.

Posted by shaneandnicola 16:23 Comments (1)

Panama Canal Cruise - Week Two

11th Feb
This morning we had another clock change. We moved the clocks forward another hour. That is 3 hours we have lost in the last week but we haven’t noticed any difference. We had a day at sea while we headed for Panama. The number of ships around this area due to the canal was amazing. The sea was moderate but you can see these ships look like they are going to collide.
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12th Feb
This morning we awoke to being docked at Fuerte Amador in Panama. It is situated at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, it is a man-made peninsula extending out into the Pacific Ocean. The one-mile causeway was created by connecting four small islands with rocks excavated from the Panama Canal.
As we walked out onto our balcony this morning the seas were flat and we had a lovely view of Panama City. I had no idea it was so big and modern.
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We had to tender to shore for our excursion. The tenders were launched.
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Here we are on arrival on Panama land.
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This cruise has a 2-day transit so we have a whole day to explore the locks before cruising through then tomorrow. We took a scenic ride through the lush rainforest and stunning scenery to the Gatun Locks to see them in action and learn its history.
We arrived at the Gatun Locks.
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Once there we went up to the viewing platform to watch the ship Wolverine move through the locks. We were amazed at how close we were to the ships.
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This is the Wolverine once up at the top of the locks. She looks really big yet this is only a Panamax size ship.
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We learnt how ships navigating from the Pacific Ocean will first pass through two locks – the Miraflores and the Pedro Miguel. These two sets of locks place the vessel in the Gatun Lake, which was once the largest man-made lake in the world. Then, the vessel crosses the lake to the Gatun Locks. Next, there are two parallel sets of locks that consist of another three locks that measure 984 feet long and 118 feet wide. This set of locks lifts ships a total of 85 feet into Bahía Limón and the Atlantic Ocean. The canal was finished on August 15 1914 and the US managed the waterway until 1999. At noon on December 31 1999, Panama took full operation, administration and maintenance of the canal.
At these locks they used mules to help steady the ship on the lock. (They are electric locomotives, but still called mules as it was actual mules that used to do this job).
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You can see what the drop in level is like from this angle.
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Here is Shane in one of the old mules.
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Then he thought he would try out what he thought might be a dream job.
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After observing this amazing feat, we travelled to the Expansion Observatory Platform where we saw the recently constructed new traffic lane called Agua Clara.
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The extension program began in September 2007. Its objective is to double the waterways capacity to satisfy the increasing demand.
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This new lane has created two new sets of locks, one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic, which has doubled the canal's capacity and allows longer and wider vessels to transit. We were amazed at the size of the ships that used it. We stayed to watch a container ship move through the locks. With the larger ships they use tugs instead of the mules. Here is the MSC Branka getting ready to come through.
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Moving into the first lock.
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Now the big gates shut. These ones do not swing shut like the old locks. They have one gate that pushes across the lock.
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She has now been lowered and is moving into the next lock.
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The gates shut behind her.
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We loved watching this occur. It is a lot slower at the new locks due to the size of the ships. An average transit for a Panamax ship is 8 to 10 hours. For the new post Panamax ships it takes 10 to 12 hours. We would love to have stayed longer but it was time to get back to the ship.
We once again got a tender back to the ship after an enjoyable day. As we had to wait until morning before transiting the canal we had a distant view of Panama City by night. It was hard to get a photo but you will get the idea.
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13th Feb
After the conquest of the Inca Empire in the 16th century, the Spanish tried to find a direct route for gold shipments to the Old World. The long and painstaking trek began on the Pacific coast, where gold was loaded onto mules and carried overland. Upon reaching Portobelo on the Atlantic Ocean the gold would be loaded onto ships bound for Spain. Centuries later, American schooners carrying trade around the world would make the 8,000-mile journey around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. Not until the 20th century would there be an easier way to traverse Panama.
Today was the day that we were looking forward to. We get to transit the Panama Canal on the Island Princess from the Pacific Ocean to Caribbean. Considered the 8th wonder of the world, the Panama Canal consists of a series of locks. Built between 1904 and 1914, the 80 kilometre international waterway extends across the Isthmus of Panama from Colon on the Atlantic Ocean side, to Balboa and the Pacific Ocean. Since its opening more than one million ships from all over the world have transited the canal.
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We woke up early as the pilot was coming on board around 5.30am and we wanted to make sure we had a good view. So, we set our alarms for 5am. After getting up we headed up to deck 10 to get a spot on a part of the ship that not many people know about. When we arrived, there were only 2 other people so I quickly headed up and got us a coffee and danish to keep up going while we waited for the transit to commence. There were lots of ships waiting around.
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By the time, we arrived at the Bridge of Americas we were almost an hour later than scheduled, this was good as the sun had come out well and truly. We knew our journey had begun as we saw the bridge.
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These channel markers show up the way, but as you can see they have more than one use.
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We cruised past the container area and soon arrived at the entrance to the new larger locks. There were a couple of ships transiting.
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We would continue up the old part of the canal to Miraflores Locks.
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You can see the difference in height in the locks with these 2 ships.
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As we came alongside we knew which side to go due to the arrow on the dock. There were also lots of mules lined up ready to go. You will also see 2 men in a rowing boat, it looks dangerous. They get ropes from the ship.
There was only half a metre to spare on each side of the ship.
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We slowly made our way into the locks.
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During the transit there were vultures flying around and landing.
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The ship uses its power to move into the lock, the mules just help guide us. Here is the mule guiding us up to the lock gates.
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Here are the gates opening into the next lock.
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We then moved up to the front of the gate again. This one has double gates incase a ship hits it and damages it.
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Once the water level rose we were free to go.
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It took around 1 hour and 5 minutes to get through these locks. We then cruised another 25 minutes and arrived at the Pedro Miguel Locks.
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This transit through the locks took about 50 minutes. At this stage we had been raised 26 metres above sea level.
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We also saw one of the post panamax ships on the new part of the canal.
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No sooner had we got through the Pedro Miguel Locks we came across the Centennial Bridge.
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The canal then narrows considerably.
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At this stage, all ships were heading towards the Caribbean. By the time we arrived at Gamboa ships had started leaving Gatun Lake for the locks we had just visited. This is the first ship that passed us.
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To get through the Gatun Lakes the ships have to do lots of twists and turns. They have these boards up with lights on top and when the light goes green the ship knows it is in position.
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The lake then got quite busy.
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It took around 3 hours to get from Centennial Bridge to the Gatun locks. During this time we saw lots of rainforest. We arrived in the big part of Gatun Lake.
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This is Gatun Dam which helped create this man-made lake for the canal.
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We then arrived at Gatun Locks. As we had been there yesterday and experienced it from beside the lock we decided to find a spot at the back of the ship to maneuver these locks. We made our way into the lock once again using the mules. Then the gates were shut. While the gates are shut the workers use the top of the gate to get across to the other side.
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We were then lowered in the first of 3 locks. Once we had been lowered in the first lock we went through to the second lock and once again the gates were shut.
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We were then lowered again. As you can see in this photo we went down quite a long way and could only see the gate.
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Then into the third lock. You can see another ship coming behind us.
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The photographers were there to take some photos.
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As we made our way to the Caribbean Sea we came across a ferry service that was waiting for us to pass.
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The ferry won’t be in service for ever as they are now building a third bridge across the canal.
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We have now completed our transit and had a wonderful day.
The cost was $431,060 US for this trip for the Island Princess to transit the canal.
It got hot in the afternoon and I ended up with a bright red sunburn face. Oh well. We can now tick that off our bucket list. We had had a long day so had an early dinner then went and had a couple of cocktails before retiring for the night.
We got a certificate for transiting the canal.
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14th Feb
Today is Valentine’s Day. The ship was decked out with Valentine’s Day decorations.
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We had arrived in Cartagena in Colombia.
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This was the transit port for all the wealth Spain derived from South America. The famous "Old City" is comprised of 12 square blocks filled with attractions, boutiques and restaurants. houses are all vivid reminders of Spain's hold on Cartagena and throughout the Caribbean and South America. This is the land of El Dorado and flamboyant adventurers in search of the ever-elusive gold. Cartagena's well-constructed fortifications defended its borders against seafaring pirates whose attacks lasted for more than 200 years. Today this modern and bustling city, seaport, and commercial center still boasts much of its original colonial architecture.
This is the view we had from our balcony as we came into port. We couldn’t believe how developed it was.
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This is the old town from the ship.
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When we got off the ship we had to walk through a tourist area they had set up.
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It had different birds for you to see. Some were in the open and others were in an avery.
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A parrot took a liking to Shane.
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There was some type of vulture. His head was amazing.
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As you walked through to the bus area there were monkeys up in the trees. We saw 2 different types.
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We went on a city tour today to see as much as we could.
Our first stop was the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. This fortress majestically stands guard on a hillside overlooking the city and harbour. It was built by the Spanish for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe. It was built between 1536 and 1657, it stands as the largest Spanish fort ever built in the New World.
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While we were there Shane had his photo taken with a couple of ladies who have an African Colombian heritage. They have a village outside of Cartagena. They were really colourful.
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Our next stop was La Popa Monastery. It is built upon a hill. This is the monastery from the ship.
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It is a 17th century monastery featuring a chapel and museum. It is still inhabited by monks today. It had a beautiful courtyard.
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This is the chapel.
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You could see all over Cartagena from the top.
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You can just see our ship on the left-hand side.
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This is the old walled town from the monastery.
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This is the other side of the city. They are only single story houses. The new style of homes is the high-rise condominiums.
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We then went into the Old Town. Acclaimed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the birthplace of Cartagena is famous for its cobbled lanes, leafy plazas, and well-tended Spanish Colonial buildings draped with bougainvillea. We visited Bolivars Plaza where they have a statue of Simon Bolivar who liberated Colombia. He also liberated other South American countries.
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We walked past Sir Francis Drakes home.
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Then continued on, among colourful buildings and streets.
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We then walked along to San Peter Claver Plaza. It was so colourful.
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We saw the San Pedro Claver Church. Built in the 17th century, the church displays exquisite statues and Old-World furnishings in honor of missionary St. Peter Claver, the patron saint of slaves and the first saint canonized in the Western Hemisphere.
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This was the courtyard between the church and convent.
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Located between the forts of Santa Clara and Santa Catalina, Las Bovedas, or "The Valuts," were attached to the walls by the Spaniards between 1792 and 1796. Originally built for use as storerooms for munitions and provisions, the vaults were transformed into prison cells during the civil wars of the 19th century. Today, they're home to tourist shops and trendy boutiques.
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We took a walk onto the wall of the old town. All I could think about was the movie Romancing the Stone.
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Once back on the ship we had a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner and had some photos taken.
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We had a laugh tonight at dinner. One of the waiters said Shane looked like Liam Neeson. I don't see the resemblance?
Shane also said he was cultured at dinner. He had escargot (snails) and Pheasant. Firsts for him.

15th Feb
We had a day at sea to recover from the hot humid weather of Cartagena. It really knocked us around. Tonight, was formal night so we got dressed up for one last formal shindig. Here is another photo of us, plus information about how far we have travelled.
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16th Feb
Well our last shore day has arrived for this cruise. This morning we looked out on Georgetown on Grand Cayman which is part of the Cayman Islands.
When Columbus made his landfall in the Caymans in 1503, he found tortoises and sea turtles in such profusion that he promptly named the islands Las Tortugas. But the name that stuck for the islands was the Carib word "Caimanas." Fitting, since the caiman is a New World crocodilian and the islands were long the lair of pirates, buccaneers, and assorted freebooters. Despite their past, the Caymans are a Caribbean demi-paradise of white-sand beaches, coral gardens, and offshore waters harboring spectacular shipwrecks. Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman also boast the highest standard of living in the entire Caribbean.
This was our last tender ride for this cruise. We had an early morning trip so headed off at 7.30am.
We set foot on Grand Cayman.
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There were even pirates to meet us.
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Today we drove to Dolphin Cove, a six-acre natural marine park. This ocean-front setting boasts Sanctuary Bay, a 25-foot deep lagoon, home to bottlenose dolphins.
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After orientation from a trained handler, we entered the water, where we were introduced to friendly dolphins for the experience of a lifetime.
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This included "riding" the dolphin belly to belly as the ocean rushed by.
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Giving a kiss
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Getting a kiss
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and playing with the dolphins, they pushed us along on boogie boards.
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Shane had a dance.
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At the end they said goodbye with a big performance.
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We then continued our journey out to the Stingray City Sandbar. Here we interacted with dozens of friendly Southern Stingrays in the wild. That was absolutely amazing. They were everywhere. You can see all their shadows.
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We had to sign a waiver and they gave us a lecture on how to act around the stingrays but they were so gentle.
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We got to feed them and get really close.
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We then headed back to the ship.
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We ate in the dining room and once again had a lovely meal. This is the type of desserts we have been having.
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Tonight they also did the balloon drop in the atrium. So we had a party and then counted down to the drop.
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17th Feb
Our final day at sea before we hit Fort Lauderdale. We had a relaxing day. We went to see the ship talent show, read some of our books, drank coffee and in the evening we went and saw a fabulous violinist named Chris Watkins. (See we are getting lots of culture). Our final activity for the cruise was attending the International Crew Talent Show which we really enjoyed. We packed our bags and put them out for collection, ready to transfer to the Royal Princess.

Posted by shaneandnicola 16:34 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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