Embarkation day and the first sea day on John Heald’s tenth annual Blogger Cruise were all about the ship (Carnival Glory) and running from one special on-board event to the next. Day 3 signaled a change of pace, as we began our tour of four fantastic eastern Caribbean ports in a row: Amber Cove (Dominican Republic), St. Thomas (USVI), San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Grand Turk (Turks and Caicos).
The first was a new port for me (and relatively new for Carnival). The other three I’d been to before; in fact, they were all on the itinerary for Tom’s and my 20th wedding anniversary cruise in 2014, when we renewed our vows on the Breeze. Kniki had been with us on that one, so we had both seen those islands. Since they’re some of the best ports in the Caribbean, that’s not a bad thing.
Day Three: Doing Dominica
The only excursion that we booked for this cruise was the Ocean World day pass and dolphin encounter in Amber Cove. I’d done the dolphin swim in Cozumel and loved it, and thought Kniki would enjoy playing with the dolphins. That didn’t work out so well, but we ended up having a very nice day anyway.
We pulled into Amber Cove around 8:00 a.m. ship’s time (EST) and I had my first look at the Dominican Republic. The weather was clear and the view from my balcony showed blue water, mountains, and an almost cloudless sky.
We grabbed some coffee on Lido, got dressed, applied sunscreen and insect repellent, and waited for the mad rush to be over before making our way down to the gangway to exit the ship. The area at the port is owned by Carnival and consists of a bunch of shops – similar to other Carnival-owned port areas such as Mahogany Bay in Roatan.
Our ship was docked next to a much smaller one called the Berlin. Looking at them side-by-side makes you appreciate how big the Glory is – although the next day in St. Thomas, roles would be reversed when we were the smallest ship in that port.
We found our tour guide and sat for a while, waiting for everyone on the excursion to show up. Then we all followed him on a brief walk through the enclosed port area to a waiting bus. The ride to Ocean World was short and uneventful, and the guide provided us with some history of the island and a summary of what to expect at the resort.
The entry is beautifully landscaped, and you drive through a waterfall (car wash – LOL) to get inside. We lined up as the tour guides took our tickets and gave us wristbands and such, and then we went to the dolphin pools. That’s when things started to go downhill.
We rented a locker ($5) for our “stuff” but the key didn’t work – turned out there was a trick to using it (that no one bothered to tell us; half a dozen others were also fighting with the keys). That made us late to the dolphin platform so we were at the end of the line.
You have to remove jewelry before going in with the dolphins and that makes perfect sense when it comes to rings, bracelets, etc. I had to convince the guide that I couldn’t take off my small stud earrings because they won’t come off. He was welcome to try to take the backs off for me (in fact, I’d be grateful if someone would) but I couldn’t get them off. He finally relented on that since I wasn’t going to be touching the dolphins with my ears anyway.
Then we got handed off to the dolphin trainer and he insisted that I take off my glasses. That surprised me because in Cozumel, nobody said anything about the glasses and I’d worn them in the pool. I told him I’m blind without them but he didn’t care. So I had to feel my way down to the training area where our assigned group and dolphin were, unable to see much of anything.
As I mentioned, we were at the end of the line. We sat on the floating platform while the first few people from our group entered the pool and started the encounter. Well, sort of. Unlike in Coz, where the dolphins were fantastic and friendly and wanted to play and interact with people, this one was not “into it.” She kept swimming away, or the trainer would try to get her to shake hands or kiss one of the kids and she wouldn’t do it.
The trainer seemed to have no control and no rapport with the dolphin at all. The ones in Cozumel had obvious relationships with their dolphins and you could see the bond between them in the way they interacted. This went on and on and on, with the trainer unable to get the dolphins to perform. Of course there were photographers there trying to take pictures to sell afterward and you could tell they were getting impatient, too.
The trainer finally switched out dolphins, saying this one was “in a bad mood.” Sadly, the male dolphin who replaced her wasn’t much more cooperative. I was getting a bad vibe and feeling sorry for both the dolphins and the family with kids that were in the pool with them. The kids were getting fidgety waiting for the dolphins to do something. Finally, after a long, painful session, they got enough photos and the first group got out.
As the second group went in, I asked Kniki if she wanted to just skip this. I knew she wasn’t feeling well anyway, and I was getting really annoyed with the dolphin trainers (not the dolphins). The encounter itself was far less fun – even if the dolphins had been performing properly – than in Cozumel. In Coz, we were in chest-deep water able to really get close to the animals. Here the water was more shallow and the adults had to bend over to pet the dolphins. This excursion seemed to be geared mainly to children.
Kniki agreed to go and I flagged down our tour guide and told him we wanted to leave, and just use our day pass to explore the resort. He tried to convince me otherwise (no doubt concerned about lost photo revenue) but finally said I’d have to fill out a paper and we could go. I did (it was basically asking why we chose not to participate). We rescued our things from the locker, and left the area to see what the rest of the park had to offer.
If you’re interested in doing a dolphin encounter or swim, I highly recommend that you do it at Dolphinarus in Cozumel. The experience there is orders of magnitude better than at Ocean World, especially if you purchase the VIP experience. (However, they do still try to push you to buy photos).
I wasn’t optimistic, but we were stuck there all day – this was not a “leave when you like” setup with buses every half hour like in Cozumel – so we wanted to make the best of it. And we were glad we did. Once we were away from the sad little dolphin area, things improved.
It was hot and we were thirsty so our first stop was the restaurant that’s situated up high enough so there are lovely views of the open ocean. The bar menu is limited and the piña colada was small, but strong. A funny thing that we noticed here and on some of the other islands was that whenever you order a piña colada, they ask, “with rum?” I always thought that was a key ingredient in the recipe. LOL. I guess they get a lot of orders for virgin PCs.
There is also a buffet, but we decided to pass on that and just bought an empanada from the little store across from the gift shop. Speaking of the gift shop, it was large and well stocked for souvenir hunters, and I got my obligatory magnet and shot glass – something I collect from every new place I visit.
We also made friends with a couple of the security guards when Kniki tried to go into the gift shop without her wristband (She had taken it off and thrown it away after leaving the dolphin area, thinking it was only required for the encounter). We had to go to the ticket office and get them to make her a new one – but it was no problem; all the staff members were friendly and helpful.
We visited the shark area, where they have a shark show, and watched the fish and rays in the snorkel tank and in some of the other pools around the resort. There was a nice breeze so it was comfortable despite the intense sun.
My favorite part of the place was the bird sanctuary, though. The staff in that area was super friendly and took our photos (with our own cameras, not to sell to us) and gave us food for the birds and were enthusiastic about their little avian charges. I felt a whole lot more love there between the humans and the creatures there than in the dolphin pool.
By the time we had finished with the birds, it was almost time to catch the bus back to the port area. We spent the interim in the restaurant, sitting and enjoying that view, and then went back to the entry to wait. Soon we were back at Carnival’s area, and we walked around a bit and got the obligatory shot of the Amber Cove sign with the ship in the background, checked out a few shops and then returned to the ship.
An evening of elegance
Tonight was our belated elegant night, and VIB status also included an optional formal photo with John, so a long shower was in order after the hot day in port. I put on my nicest outfit and went down and stood in line to get my picture taken with John – as did at least a couple hundred other folks. Luckily I got there early and was one of the first; the line behind me was long.
John was his usual funny self and entertained us even as he posed for all those pics. Mine didn’t turn out very well (John made me laugh – not attractively – just as Mr. Radu took the shot) so I didn’t buy it, even at the discounted price, but I did make some new friends while waiting in line and got to have a brief private talk with John, so it wasn’t wasted time.
We met up with “our gang” a little later than usual for dinner, but had no problem getting a good table (by this time, the MDR hostess was quite familiar with us, and with Bob’s and Gail’s Diamond status).
We had been seated in different areas of the MDR each night, and this was the first night that we were seated in the section of headwaiter David, at a round table for six in the front center of the room. We stayed in David’s section for the rest of the cruise, and he and his team did a wonderful job with service above and beyond the norm.
I ordered one of my new favorites: root veggie in pie crust. It tastes much better than it sounds (and looks). I am not a big fan of most of the changes to Carnival’s dinner menus that came with the American Table/American Feast (although as mentioned before, unlike many cruisers, I’m not at all bothered by the lack of tablecloths on non-elegant nights that came with that new menu). The one change/addition that I absolutely love is this veggie pie. I’d have it every night if I could.
After dinner, since we were all dressed in our finery, we traipsed down “photographer’s row” where all the photo backgrounds were set up, to have a nice group picture made to commemorate this cruise and the friendships that deepened as we spent time together this week.
This picture turned out a lot better than mine with John, even though the former was taken by the famous Mr. Radu and this was done by a random ship’s photographer (who, however, was really good about taking his time and posing us all. I know Mr. Radu was under pressure to get all those pictures with John done so people could get to dinner on time).
On our Vista cruise, we had spent a lot of time (including dinners) with another couple I’d met on Freedom Repo, Anna and Jeff. I had thought they were coming on this cruise and told Kniki, and she was a little disappointed when we found out they weren’t on it. But I think she really enjoyed meeting and getting to know Bob, Gail, Elaine and Jimmy – although that wasn’t enough to get her to join us in posing for a formal photo (something both of my kids avoid like the plague).
By that time, the production show Motor City was starting. It was one of the few that I hadn’t seen before, so I joined Bob and Elaine in the theater. The performers did a great job and although the music isn’t my favorite genre, they made it come alive.
Immediately following the show, there was an “after party” in the atrium, where there was more music and passengers could dance with the performers. I was merely an observer – but I have to say folks seemed to be having a pretty good time.
After capturing evidentiary video of this event, I retired to the cabin to change clothes and get comfortable. I intended to get some Facebooking and emailing done, but the Internet was slower than usual – no doubt because a few thousand passengers were sharing pictures of their lobster dinners.
So I gave up after posting a few and went out on a light night cone-hunting expedition. It’s an inside joke that started more than a year ago and has grown into a 158 member (and growing) “Cone Blowers” group.The mission is to get as many photos as possible with traffic/caution cones of all sorts. Yes, I know it sounds silly. It’s one of those “you had to be there” things.
That night on the ship, I hit the jackpot; there were cones everywhere. When I got back to the cabin, the congestion had settled down and I was able to post documentation of my success.
Other than the 7:30 a.m. Breakfast with John that morning, which we had missed, the formal photo, and a Bloggers slot tournament that took place at 10:30 a.m. (and which I wouldn’t have attended even if I’d been on board), there were no other BC events that day. That was a good thing, since our day was packed full and there was really no room on our dance card for anything else.
Another day was over, but the best was yet to come. The next day we were scheduled to port on one of my favorite islands, St. Thomas. Read all about it in Part Three.