Friday, January 23, 2015

Cruise Day 10- Curacao, November 10th

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-Day 7
-Day 8
-Day 9

Cruise day 10, Curacao, Monday November 10th

Today we arrived in Willemstad, Curacao. (ok I always pronounced it kur-AH-coe, apparently it’s pronounced cur-uh-SOUW, who knew!!) This country is known for its very colorful buildings. Hannah did a research project on this country before our trip and the reason for the colorful buildings is because people would get headaches from the white buildings due to the bright sunlight!

We were in port from 8am until 8:30pm so we took our time in the morning getting ready then had a laid back breakfast in the MDR. Today was a chocolate themed breakfast! Some of the options were chocolate waffles with a caramel-banana sauce, chocolate chip pancakes, chocolate milkshake, chocolate cream cheese trifle, chocolate banana bread, etc.

Us by the welcome sign.

When we got off the ship, we caught a taxi to Mambo Beach which was about 10 minutes away. Our first impression as we drove there was how much more sophisticated this island was compared to many Caribbean islands we’ve gone to. It didn’t have the third world country feel that many of the previous islands had.

The view by the shops looking down on Mambo Beach.

We got dropped off at the beach and were quite impressed by the surroundings.  We walked past a lot of nice shops before we walked down steps to the beach. There were 2 levels of shops & restaurants that lined the beach, nicer than the boardwalks at home actually! On the beach were also some small hut-type of buildings that had grilled food & drinks. There was even a nice volleyball court right behind us.

The beach was beautiful! There was a reef out a little distance that broke the waves so the water right by us was perfectly calm which was great for the little ones. The water here was clear & beautifully warm! We could see lots of little fish swimming by our feet. There was also one of those big, floaty trampoline for the kids to jump off of into the water.

We could even see our ship in the distance from where we sat. We saw several pelicans dive bomb into the water right by us for fish. One of them came within a few feet of the kids and made them jump as they truly come out of nowhere! I went for a little walk up the beach and came across a HUGE iguana. The thing was over 2 feet long from head to tail and walked out about 5 feet in front of me. Thankfully I had my phone on me and snapped some pictures.

Olivia playing with the kids snorkel gear.

This beach was one of our favorite due to how clean it was as well as the calm water. We stayed here until almost 4pm then headed back to the ship to get ready for dinner.

The view of our ship from on top of a bridge we crossed.

This was the first time when we docked that we entered & exited on the side of the damaged life boat so we were able to get a closer view of the destruction.

The head waiters weren’t on the floor tonight like they typically are so Olivia was bummed she hadn’t seen her “buddy” yet (that’s what she calls him). So we told our waiter as we finished dinner that Olivia was asking about her buddy. He immediately said “I’ll go get him”. Didn’t our head waiter come out bearing plates of chocolate chip cookies and in his words, it was for her to pack to take to the beach the next day! He spent time talking to her which made her night! Out of all 4 cruises we've done, this by far has been the best wait staff we've ever had!

My appetizer and main course!

Ava cheesing it up on the left and Olivia carrying her napkin rabbit & hat. Hmm I can see why people asked if they were twins!

A view of Curacao from the ship.

Later on in the evening, a few friends & I went to one of the big lounges for a musical dance game. The room was divided into 2 teams. The person in charge would play a song that has known dance moves to it (like the chicken dance, macarena, gangum style, etc). Whoever knew the dance moves had to go out on the dance floor and do them. Whichever team had the most people out doing the song, won that round. It was a lot of fun! While I was participating in this, the older 4 kids were at the teen club and Kevin was watching the Eagles football game (one of the few live programs we get on the ship) while the little ones slept. Everyone had a great evening!

All photos can be clicked on to enlarge. The photos I am sharing are a combination of ones I took as well as my kids and husband on a variety of cameras and iPhones, hence the varying quality.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cruise Day 9- Sea Day November 9th

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Cruise day 9- Sea Day, Sunday November 9th

 Today was a much needed break from port hopping. We had a lazy morning and decided just to grab a quick breakfast in the windjammer (buffet style) around 8:45. At 9, Kevin headed up to the sports deck to sign up for the ping pong competition. The girls and I took the little ones to the play area they have set up for my girls on Deck 14 as the gal in charge does organized activities with them for an hour. Today was music themed. She had a bunch of instruments for them to play and she did some guided activities. She also had some music she played that they did motions to as well as played their instruments. When she was done, the girls just free played for a bit while I worked on writing up our trip reports.

The girls & I playing. These are the ONLY 2 children on this ship that qualify for this program (they are the youngest on board) yet they still set up all these toys & did the activities with them. Talk about great service!!

Ava being pushed by Luna

Later in the morning, Kevin came back from the ping pong competition with 3rd place and a little medal. He said he ran into some people from the town near us back home. They said they know of a lot of people from our County that are also on board. After he came back, we decided to take Ava & Olivia to the kiddie pool & waterslide.

Olivia is too short to go down by herself so one of us always had to take her down. This day I think we went down about 30 times in a row since no one was around to use it!

I love the smile on her face here, she loved the waterslide!

 Ava technically can’t go in it since she isn't potty trained so I brought along a small blow up pool for her to play in. I love that the kiddie pool & slide are in the shade so I didn't have to worry about putting sunblock on them.

Yes, the child had a chocolate ice cream cone before sitting in here! ha

Once they were done playing, we headed back to the room so I could get them changed while Kevin went for some food for himself & the girls. We find they eat better back in the room where it isn’t as distracting as eating in the windjammer. I was going to attempt lunch in the MDR as I know they have this awesome salad buffet but I just missed it before they closed.

When the girls were done eating, Kevin took Ava for a walk in the stroller so she would fall asleep and Olivia went to hang out with the older kids. I went for lunch ALONE in the Windjammer. I was about to sit at a table when 2 ladies also came up to the same table and said I could sit with them. They looked at me and said, wow you are alone! HA they aren't even from our roll call but said they have seen me around the ship with the kids so they recognized me. I originally thought I was going to eat alone & read a book but I had a good time chatting with them. Turns out they are retired teachers from Virginia. They really enjoyed asking me questions about homeschooling and surprisingly they were fully supportive and thought it was great that we do it.

As I was finishing up lunch, the kids found me in there (gee, I can’t hide huh?) They all came in to show me what Olivia had made. The other night in the teen club, Susan won a certificate for a “Pet at Sea” which is basically like build-a-bear so they took Olivia to make her own stuffed animal. She got a “birth certificate” for the animal and on it, she gave her husky puppy the name Ava, HAHA!
Olivia made her "Pet-at-Sea"

I was able to sneak about half an hours’ time sitting out by the pool deck in my swimming suit, reading a book and soaking up some sun. Ahhh, I could live on a cruise ship! Nothing better than blue skies, warm temps, reading while listening to a live Caribbean band playing familiar music.

Nothing beats the view of endless sea while feeling the gentle rocking of the ocean under the warm sun!

Sarah & some of the teens playing soccer with the teen leader giving instructions.

All too soon it was time to get ready for dinner. Tonight was our 2nd formal night. One formal night each cruise, I try to color coordinate our outfits for a family photo. They have photographers on board that do portraits on formal night. Everyone looked adorable and they got many comments on being dressed up. Ava & Olivia wore matching dresses that Sarah had made for them.

Ava eating her fries & mac'n'cheese

Dario Pirsa
Olivia and Dario our head waiter whom she nicknamed as "her buddy". 

Dario Pirsa
He totally spoiled her this entire trip! By far the best head waiter we've ever had on a cruise!

Ava was SO not into taking this photo! ha

Take 2. This time Ava wasn't crying! We also have one of the professional photos of the kids & family but I'll share that in the music video I am creating. ;)

We have now established a routine of meeting up with friends for a bit after dinner while the kids all hang out together so that’s what we did after dinner tonight. Because we go to Curacao tomorrow, everyone went to bed at a decent time. We definitely enjoyed the quieter pace today being at sea!

All photos can be clicked on to enlarge. The photos I am sharing are a combination of ones I took as well as my kids and husband on a variety of cameras and iPhones, hence the varying quality.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cruise Day 8- Barbados, November 8th

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Cruise Day 8, Barbados, November 8th

Today we docked in Bridgetown, Barbados. This was our 3rd time to this island. Kevin & I honeymooned here back in 1998 and we stopped here on our first cruise in 2008. I knew which beach we wanted to head to, Lobster Alive. It’s only about 5 minutes from the ship and has a small restaurant with bathrooms and a quiet section of beach. We enjoyed our time here during our last cruise.
Barbados-Explorer of the Seas

We took our time getting ready and even went to the MDR for a laid back breakfast. We got off the ship about 9:30 and saw it was overcast. After getting into the taxi and waiting for it to fill up, we saw how dark the sky was and second guessed if we should've gotten off the ship. By the time the driver headed out, it started down pouring. When we got to Lobster Alive, we hung out for a little while on their covered porch hoping the rain would stop. It did so we went & set up our blanket on the beach.

The view of Lobster Alive from the beach

The water was AMAZING!! By far the clearest we have seen this trip yet. It was as warm as bathwater. There were gentle waves (and I say waves but more like gently rolling water) and you could go out up to your shoulders and have no worries about undertow. Plus, you could still see your feet clear as day!
The littles weren't thrilled to have been stopped from playing for pictures lol

3 of the kids playing in the water

Unfortunately we never saw the sun while sitting on the beach. I still got photos that show how beautiful the water was but if the sun had been out, you could’ve seen an even deeper shade of aqua. 

These 2 can be such hams when the camera comes out!

We had told our driver to come back around 2. About 1:30 it was getting dark again so we started gathering our stuff just as it started raining. Our driver showed up shortly after, so we sadly headed back to the ship which was a good thing considering it continued to rain off & on the rest of our time in port. The time we were on the beach was the only time all day it didn't rain so we were fortunate in our timing. In all our stops to the islands over the years, I think this is the first time we've been about rained out. Then again, a warm rainy day in the Caribbean is better than a cold sunny day back home, so I’m not complaining!! ;)

Me! :)

We had a leisure time of getting ready for dinner this late afternoon since we were back on ship so early. It’s hard to believe we are half way through vacation! I am trying not to think where we will be next Saturday. It’s funny, SO many people are asking if Ava & Olivia are twins. I am about ready to just start saying yes instead of explaining that they are just similar size and our twins are much older. I bet I could pay for another cruise if I got a dollar for every person who has asked us that this last week!

After dinner tonight, we met a few friends in the lounge that overlooks the pool deck. The kid’s teen clubs don’t start back up until 8:30pm, so we recently started a routine that the older kids hang out with the littles for a bit after dinner so we can have some down time. As my friend and I left the lounge, I saw the captain was also there so we stopped by to talk to him. He is very funny & quite personable. He relayed to us how he was sleeping when the rogue wave hit and how his staff notified him that a life boat was laying on deck 4. He was quite confused when they woke him he said. I had asked him in all his years as a captain if he had ever experienced a rogue wave before and he said never!! Pretty crazy!!

Tonights towel animal we found on one of the kids beds

Since tomorrow (Sunday) is a sea day, the kids wanted to stay out late with the teen club so we are letting them. We've met several of the kids & their parents and it is a well-run program with a leader who organizes activities. Shoot, I don’t think I've been up later than 9:30 on this cruise yet and am in bed before they all return to their room! I’m glad though they are having a blast! We are looking forward to a laid back day at sea tomorrow. Estimated temps will be around 90 with sun, yay!!!

All photos can be clicked on to enlarge. The photos I am sharing are a combination of ones I took as well as my kids and husband on a variety of cameras and iPhones, hence the varying quality.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cruise Day 7- St Lucia, November 7th

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Cruise Day 8, St. Lucia, November 7th

Today we arrived in St Lucia. This was our first time on this island and the only island we arranged a tour on this cruise. I had emailed Herod, the owner of Herod's Tours * to set up a Land & Sea Tour.

View of our ship from one of the many vantage points. You can see the damaged life boat hanging from here. 

We had to be up and ready earlier this morning as we were to meet Herod at 8:45 right outside the ship. There were about 10 other people from our cruise joining us on the tour, a few of them I knew from our roll call. My family got our own vehicle which was nice, in case the little ones got antsy, I didn't have to worry about them fussing around the others on the tour. Our van was nice, spacious and clean! We altered between having windows open when it wasn't raining to having the a/c on when it was. Also provided throughout this tour was water, soda, beer & homemade rum punch.

St Lucia isn’t like many of the Caribbean islands which are mostly flat and known for their beaches. St Lucia is mountainous with lots of rain forests as well as a volcano. This island's main attraction is the Pitons around the volcano in addition to the banana plantations, waterfalls, natural beauty, etc.

View out the window of the van during a brief rain shower.

We loaded into our van and shortly after we did, it started raining. He said this wasn't unusual and that it would clear up after a while. There are literally no straight roads in St Lucia! We were lucky if we saw one quarter of a mile of straight road. Because the island is so mountainous, the roads are full of twists and s-turns. One popular sign we saw all over the roads were “caution, hairpin turn ahead”!! In fact, as they go around these tight turns, they honk their horn to warn oncoming traffic. The roads would barely be wide enough for 1 vehicle in the US, but they get 2 vehicles on them somehow. Many times I thought for sure we'd clip a passing vehicle! They also drive on the opposite side of the road compared to us. I won't even mention that there really isn't much of a shoulder on these roads and you could easily see down the side of a mountain from the vehicle! We had a wonderful driver though who told us a lot about the island and also engaged us in conversation.

Our first stop was a banana plantation. Herod explained how bananas grow and the care that goes into them. It was quite interesting and educational! It takes almost 9 months for one of those bunches you see in the photo below to grow! They cover them with the plastic bag to protect them from insects & diseases. They are then harvested by hand with a machete!

Banana Plantation

 Then we were each given a freshly picked banana to eat. I gotta tell ya, they taste way better than the bananas we get shipped back home.

Marigot Bay St Lucia
Marigot Bay

From there, we were on the road again to an overlook point over Marigot Bay. This is a small inlet surrounded by mountains. Boats are brought here for shelter when a hurricane hits. While here, our driver bought the kids some coconut candy from a stand at this stop. Pieces of coconut were dipped in a nutmeg, ginger & brown sugar concoction. We loved it!

Throughout our time on the road, we’d occasionally pull over to take photos from many breathtaking vantage points on different places of the island.

A view of the Pitons in the distance

We were eventually making our way to Soufriere (pronounced So-Free) where the Pitons and volcano are located. On one of our photo stops, there were people selling their handmade wares as well as a lady cooking up fresh fried, salt fish. Our guide bought us a few pieces she had just cooked and we devoured it! He was insistent that we try out as many local foods as possible. There are many small fishing villages on St Lucia so fresh fish abounds!

We eventually reached the volcano and headed into the center of it. The last eruption was in 1776 so there was little chance we had to worry about seeing any lava today! Our guide stated that we would smell sulphur from the hot springs that leaked steam. Not long after he stated this, Olivia says loudly, “who farted?!” Yes the sulphur smells a bit like rotten eggs. HA!

Notice the steam coming up from the ground and how nothing grows here in the center of the volcano

We walked to the area that allowed us to see big piles of steam coming up from the ground. You could tell we were in the center of the volcano as nothing was growing there. One of the options we had on this stop of the tour was to take a mud bath. I decided to do it with just a few others from our group.

It consisted of us walking down to this area where hot, ash water pooled up in section that was 4 feet deep. This water comes from the hot springs that bubble up from underground. Granted we were quite a distance away from where it originated so by the time it hit the area we were at, it was “only” about 100 degrees. The water is black from the ash so we were instructed to get wet in here then we climbed out to where they gathered buckets of grey mud that comes from the volcano. You rub it all over your exposed skin & face. It has a gritty feel and a bit of a sulphurous smell. Then you were to let it dry and then go back into the hot, black ash water and rinse it off. It really exfoliated your skin and we were told the mud has many health benefits to it. My skin felt amazingly soft when I got out! That was a really fun experience!

Me (center, all black) covered in mud

Once we left the volcano, we drove nearby to the tour guides mothers house for lunch. They have a huge open air porch with a gorgeous view of the Pitons.

Our view during lunch. You can see one of the Pitons in the background.

 She had a buffet style of all sorts of creole food. I can't remember what each dish was but my favorite was the creole marlin fish. She also served us fresh passion fruit juice.  Because bananas are a huge food there, they make tons of things from bananas. Banana hot sauce, banana ketchup and banana bbq sauce are a few that come to mind. I dipped some of the fried plantain in banana ketchup and it was actually really good!

A view of our delicious buffet!

My plate! YUM!

After lunch, we headed to some waterfalls where you could get in the water to swim under them. The water was a bit cooler so only Kevin went in but we snapped some neat photos. It was surrounded by rainforest.
The waterfall

The next part of our tour consisted of us boarding a speed boat for our sea portion of the tour. Our guide took us to a bat cave that was a huge crevice in the side of a mountain where the bats stayed during the day. We could hear them as we approached the cave and see thousands just looking inside it. It was raining at this point so none of us dug out our cameras, so no pictures of the bat cave.

Our next stop was to Sugar beach where we were given 45 minutes to swim or snorkel. It started raining so we pretty much just hung out under a big umbrella hut.

While there, I heard another gal talking and she mentioned she was from Schaefferstown! (a town not far from us at home) So I introduced myself and said we where we are from. She said she has found many on our ship that live local to us. The kids wandered around the beach for a little while the littles & I chilled out under the hut.

Our view of Sugar Beach

We finally boarded the boat for our ride back to the ship. It wasn't until after being back, that Kevin mentioned how the boats gages & dials weren't working, yikes! Once or twice he hit a wake that sent us clinging while he slowed down.  It rained off and on on the ride back but we managed to snap a few photos along the way.

A gorgeous view of the Pitons from the boat ride. Finally one of the moments the clouds & rain let up.

Along the way, he pointed out different sites on the island. We saw where an episode of The Bachelor was filmed as well as the rock tunnel that was in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

The rock tunnel from Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There were a bunch of guys jumping from above the tunnel into the water.

A view of the tunnel after the boat drove through it.

Our guide also pulled into Marigot Bay and pointed out homes situated on the top of the mountain of the bay, owned by Oprah, George Foreman, Sophia Lorenza & Mick Jagger, all within a stones throw of each other. It was neat being able to see the bay from down below after we had viewed it from up on the mountain earlier in the day.

The house with the pointed roof belongs to Oprah.

 Also, the original Dr Doolittle was filmed here and the one restaurant was renamed Doolittle restaurant.
The Doolittle restaurant on the water. The resort behind it can only be accessed via a boat ride across the inlet as there are no roads to get to it. Talk about secluded!

 Our sea tour went around a good part of the island and we finally arrived back near the ship around 3:45 (the last leg of the boat ride was about an hour long). Unfortunately it rained off & on during our boat ride which meant we didn't get to take as many photos as I had hoped for. I was admittedly thankful to feel land under my feet after that boat ride. I think I was a bit paranoid not having a life jacket and seeing them locked in the cabinet in front of us, a lot of good THAT would do if something happened!

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed Herod's Tours and would highly recommend him!

The view of our ship as we came back to port from our sea tour.

We got back to the ship and cleaned up for dinner. It was a pretty quiet evening since we were all tired from our long day of touring. Tomorrow is a beach day in Barbados!

Here's another view of our dinner table. You can see how we are surrounded by windows which gave us amazing views during dinner time!

My 2 clowns being silly after dinner!
All photos can be clicked on to enlarge. The photos I am sharing are a combination of ones I took as well as my kids and husband on a variety of cameras and iPhones, hence the varying quality.

*I was given a discount on Herod's Tour in exchange for sharing our experience. All honest opinions are my own.

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