22.03.2017 - 30.03.2017
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.
Today we arrived at Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic which is on the north coast.
There is a resort at the port where you can just relax. We had a wander around.
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.
This is City Hall.
This is the San Felipe Cathedral.
The Victorian homes around the square were really colourful.
We then went down to the beachfront.
Just off shore there is a small island with a statue of Neptune.
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.
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.
Along the way, our guide provided insight into St. John's rich history and there was beautiful scenery everywhere.
We went to the scenic lookout at Trunk Bay( one of the most photographed beaches in the world).
We also saw panoramic views of the British Virgin Islands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The white house on the hill belongs to Janet Jackson.
And of course President Donald Trump owns one of the biggest here on the beach.
We had time for a swim and enjoyed refreshments as we soaked up our last swim in the Caribbean.
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.
This link to You Tube shows you the beach perspective. Its amazing.
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.
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.
As we entered the French side there was a simple sign.
We were then on the French side.
We passed an old French fort.
At one of our stops there were a number of different iguanas.
We visited the French capital of Marigot. Colonial houses, sidewalk cafés, bistros, pastry shops and quaint stores are reminiscent of a French market town.
On our return to the Dutch side we passed the border monument.
We had a great last day on shore and St Maarten was a nice way to finish off the Caribbean.
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).
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.
This is just inside the gate.
There was a lovely fountain there. JFK was the one with the vision for space travel.
This is the original countdown clock that has been moved to the Space Centre.
We even found an astronaut walking around.
Our first stop was the Heroes and Legends Hall featuring the US Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Nicola with a projection of John Glenn.
We watched a mission unfold in the Mercury Mission Control Centre.
We then visited the Rocket Garden. We walked amongst the towering rockets that tell the story of human kinds quest for the stars.
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.
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.
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.
Here is Shane with Orion spacecraft.
This is one of NASA’s supersonic jets. They were used for astronaut training and proficiency flights.
Our next stop had us really excited. After 126 million miles of space travel, an American icon landed at KSC. The Space Shuttle Atlantis
We stood nose to nose with the real Space Shuttle Atlantis.
All the tiles under the shuttle
Shane at the control panel.
Nicola at the control panel.
A 1/15 scale replica
Actual tyres used on one of the missions.
This is the astronaut van that takes them to the launch pad for the shuttle missions.
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.
We went on the Kennedy Space Centre Bus Tour.
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.
This is a tower being built for the new rockets being built.
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.
This is one of the tractors that brings the rockets to the launch pads. They use lots of rocks to stop any sparks.
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.
On the bus tour, they dropped us at the Apollo/Saturn V Centre.
This is part of the original Apollo mission launch control.
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.
The top of the fuel tank.
We got to touch a moon rock and watch a re-enactment of Apollo 11’s moon landing.
This was the Apollo astronauts van that took them to the launch pad.
This is the moon rover.
This is the Apollo 11 command module that returned to earth.
We visited the Astronaut Memorial.
There was a Hubble Space Telescope display.
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.
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.
Of course, they had the Universal Globe.
Entrance to Island of Adventure.
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.
We walked around the town.
Here is the Hogwarts Express.
Our first ride was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We arrived at Hogwarts.
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.
Shane then went on the Flight of the Hippogriff but I still wasn’t up to it. It took me a while to recover.
To get to the ride he walked past Hagrid’s House.
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.
Shane met Captain America.
We then went to Toon Lagoon. Another really colourful part of the experience.
We went on the Popeye and Blutos Bilge-Rat Barges.
We got totally wet. Drenched right though.
This is Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls and this too gets you wet as you can see.
We adventured to Skull Island – Reign of Kong. We really enjoyed this attraction.
Next stop was Jurassic Park.
We went on the Jurassic Park River Adventure.
At the end you do this big steep drop and get really wet.
We visited The Lost Continent.
We went through Poseidon’s Fury.
And saw the stunt show called The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad.
We then went back to childhood visiting Seuss Landing. It was really colourful.
We went on the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train. This was more my style.
Then on the Cat in the Hat ride.
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.
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.