When I booked John Heald’s 10th annual Blogger Cruise, I was thrilled that one of the ports on its eastern Caribbean itinerary was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is one of my favorites of the islands to which I’ve cruised, and even my husband – who hates hot weather and hence isn’t a big fan of the islands – loved this particular little piece of the Caribbean. We had a great time there in 2014 and so I was especially looking forward to that, the second stop on our cruise.
Day Four: I got bushwhacked
Kniki had been to St. Thomas before and she still wasn’t feeling well, so she decided to stay on the ship and take advantage of the port day spa/salon sale to get her hair cut and colored. First, though, we went down to the main dining room for breakfast. We had once again slept too late to make it to John’s breakfast Q&A.
I enjoy the breakfast meetups with John, but I am not a morning person. I heard many others on the cruise express the sentiment that these events start too early. On a cruise, you’re more likely to stay up late, enjoying the shows and other on board happenings. Getting up at 6:30 to make it down to the lounge by 7:30 a.m. just doesn’t work for a lot of us. An 8:30 start time would have made a lot more sense.
We were getting into St. Thomas late (11:00 a.m.) so at 9:00 we still had plenty of time for breakfast. we were still underway and able to watch the wake from our table at the back of the MDR. That’s a sight I never grow tired of.
After a long and leisurely breakfast followed by numerous refills of coffee, we parted ways and I prepared to exit the ship. I had made plans previously to meet up with Bill – another friend from the Freedom Repo cruise – and his friend Jamie (Jaime? – unsure of the spelling) to take the obligatory ride up to Paradise Point.
After a small bit of confusion over where we were meeting (blue tent, red tent, canopy), we found each other. We waited a while for Elaine and Jimmy to join us but the meeting place confusion extended to them and after fifteen minutes or so, we gave up and started walking.
One thing I like about Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, is that it’s a great walking port. You can walk down the pier and across to the big shopping area, then on past that down the streets lined with shops and restaurants to the skyride that takes you up to the Point. Bill and Jamie had bought tickets through Carnival; I paid for mine there. Either way, you get a wristband and proceed to the platform where you wait for a car.
The Skyride to Paradise Point transports you 700 ft. above the town of Charlotte Amalie. It carries 24 passengers every seven minutes along its 8 tower ascent of Flag Hill. At the top, you’ll find souvenir shops, a bar/restaurant with a decent lunch menu, free wi-fi, and some of the most gorgeous views in the Caribbean (which has more than its share of gorgeous views) – including a great view of the ships in the Harbor.
We were in port that day with the Norwegian Escape, which was parked right in front of us and made the Glory look like a baby ship, and Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas across the harbor, which dwarfs both of its port-mates. It was a far cry from the day before in the D.R., where Glory towered over the only other ship that was sharing the port.
The Carnival Glory is 110,000 Gross Tons. The Norwegian Escape is 165,000 GT and Royal’s Harmony is 225,000 GT. The MS Berlin that was beside us in Dominican Republic is a 9,570 GT ship operated by FTI that holds only 412 passengers and 180 crew members.
We enjoyed the view on the ride up, and then made our way to the restaurant where – lo and behold – we found Elaine and Jimmy.
The skies were clear and beautiful but the weather was hot and we’d just walked a decent distance, so we all ordered drinks to quench our thirst. And that’s when I got bushwhacked.
The Bailey’s Bushwhacker is the Paradise Point bar’s signature drink – they claimed to have sold over a million of them and it’s no wonder; it’s delicious. And dangerous.
Here’s the recipe:
2 oz. coconut rum
6 oz. bailey’s
4 oz. amaretto
4 oz. kahlua
2 oz. vodka
blend with ice, top with whipped cream and nutmeg
(This makes four servings; I only had one. But one was enough).
Looks innocent enough, sitting there in its little plastic cup, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled – it’s lethal, especially if you drink it on an empty stomach. It had been a while since breakfast, and although the restaurant serves tacos, quesadillas, burritos, hummus and pita, pizza, and the like, I wasn’t hungry. I was thirsty, and it didn’t take me long to finish my creamy drink.
Then it tried to finish me. Well, not immediately. This thing is sneaky. I felt fine – until I stood up. During the conversation at the table, it turned out that Bill wanted to go to Meghan’s Beach and Jamie wanted to go shopping downtown. So Elaine and Jimmy decided to accompany him and I would go with her. It was when I got up to leave the table that the effects of all that alcoholic sweetness hit me.
I should have known better. I don’t drink much or often, so when I do have a strong drink, it tends to hit me like a steamroller. I wasn’t falling down drunk or anything, but I definitely wasn’t in a state of peak mental alertness, either. I saw people at tables around us ordering their third or fourth. I can only imagine what that would do to me. Surely did taste good, though.
I know we flagged down an open-air taxi somewhere along the way and got down to the market area. We went to a lot of shops and many of them had some really beautiful Caribbean artwork. I remember chickens. And flags. And many, many maps of the islands.
Honestly, though, that shopping trip is a bit of a blur. I know we found another taxi and made it back to the port area and back onto the ship with plenty of time to spare. And I know that next time I go to Paradise Point and order a Bushwhacker (and there will be a next time), I’ll have something to eat along with it, whether I’m hungry or not.
Back on board, Kniki was waiting in the cabin and I loved her new haircut – short and sassy and dark like she used to wear it before she went into the Navy. There was some time before dinner so I walked around the ship a bit, and enjoyed the live music in the atrium. I’m always a sucker for a saxophone.
That evening, we were all together again back at David’s table, and had another delicious dinner that provided me with plenty of food porn to post on Facebook for Tom and the friends back home who were vicariously absorbing the calories from all the tasty goodies I was eating (at least I hoped they were; I certainly didn’t need them all). Where was all this food when I did need it – to shield from the effects of that Bushwhacker?
Yep, that was quite the dinner.
As you can imagine, we were all pretty full after all of that. The others went off to do whatever they do after dinner, and I went back to the cabin to change and get in a little computer time before meeting up with them again to go to the special Bloggers Exclusive Magic Show at 10:45.
Well, some things go well and other things don’t. This was really the only Blogger activity I attended that I would have to say was a failure. I’m not a big fan of stage magic anyway – and it annoys the heck out of me when magicians interrupt my dinner conversation to barge in and start doing tricks, especially when they’re the type who try to embarrass or insult the people they pick to be their “helpers” – but that’s just me. So I figured it was my own biases and lack of interest that were the reason I found myself falling asleep during the show.
Apparently not. I heard from numerous people afterward that “the magician was terrible.” To be fair, he was trying to do a trick that involved smart phones, and was suffering from “technical difficulties.” As much of a techie as I am, I think I prefer my magic (if I have to have magic) done the old fashioned way.
At any rate, I was glad we’d sat in the back; it made it easy to leave in the middle of the show. I did my usual walk around the ship to up my step and stairs count, and enjoyed the beauty of the ship all lit up at night, and then went to bed in preparation for another great port day on Wednesday, this time in San Juan.
Day Five: Savoring San Juan
We pulled into the Port of San Juan, where the cruise ship piers run along the San Antonio Canal, around 7:30 Wednesday morning. Kniki was staying on board again, so I met up with Bob & Gail and Elaine & Jimmy. Our mission: to explore the downtown area, find the restaurant/bar called Little New York that another friend had recommended, and Elaine and Jimmy, who had never been to Castillo de San Cristobal (the famous fort that’s a San Juan National Historic Site), wanted to check it out.
The Calle Marina (Hwy 1) runs right in front of the cruise terminal and leads down to Darsenas Square at the west end. We walked the length of it, passing many great sights and photo opps along the way.
From the square, it’s an easy (albeit uphill) walk to the northern side of the island, which is open to the Atlantic. This map, zoomed out, better shows the relationship of the Bay and inlet/canal where our ship was “parked” and the ocean side of the island where the restaurant and fort are. As you can see, we literally walked all the way across the island.
Along the way, we grabbed the opportunity to take some pictures to prove that we were, indeed, in Puerto Rico.
We had some fun with traffic cones, which we documented for the Carnival Cone Blowers group.
And we passed through all sorts of neighborhoods, from historic to what some might call quaint.
The boys got a little silly as we waited around for a hop-on bus (I finally convinced the rest to give up on it and just walk with me).
And our photographer (Jimmy) almost got run over by an impatient SUV when we couldn’t resist the opportunity to re-enact the Abbey Road album cover.
Finally, we reached our destination, Little New York de Viejo San Juan, where we ascended up the very narrow Stairway to Heaven where there awaited those things of which Heaven is made: a cool breeze, a beautiful view, and an ice-cold piña colada.
We spent some time resting from our climb up the hill and relaxing on the rooftop patio, before moving on down the street to our next stop, Fort San Cristobal. There we took more pictures (including one of Jimmy and Bob showing more leg, for reasons known only to them).
At that point, we split up; Jimmy and Elaine wanted to go inside and tour the fort, I needed to find a store where I could buy some picture frames for a presentation I was making to give to John and Mischelle at the farewell party, and I’m not sure where Bob and Gail went.
I thought, with so many shops all around me, it would be easy to find a couple of 8.5 x 11 photo/document frames. Turns out it was a more difficult task than I expected. I went into dozens of tourist and art shops and found many, many picture frames – but they were all either small (around the 4 x 6 inch size) or huge and expensive, for framing the original paintings that decorated the walls of so many of the little stores.
Okay, I knew there were both a Walgreen’s and a CVS on Calle Marina, the main street in front of the port. Surely they would have standard document frames. I made my way back to the other side of the island and visited both with high hopes but nope – there were small souvenir frames but nothing like I was looking for, which I could have found in any drug store back home.
So I headed back up the hill and away from the touristy area, to where there were more shops that looked like they were for locals. I saw cigar stores that Tom would have loved, restaurants from which wafted the most tempting aromas, electronics stores, banks, optical centers and finally – a “dollar store.” This latter got my hopes up again, and sure enough – it took a bit of hunting but I finally found what I was looking for: two nice wooden document frames that would work fine for my purposes. And they were under $10 each.
I grabbed them, paid for them, and began my long trek back down to the ship.
By the time I got there, my feet were hurting and I was sweating, but I was happy. I had my frames and I also had almost 20,000 steps on my fitness band – and it was only 3:00 p.m.
Back to the cabin for a quick shower, and then to put that aft balcony to good use, watching sailaway from San Juan. As usual in U.S. ports, we were escorted out of the bay by U.S. coast guard boats, mounted machine guns on prominent display, protecting us from pirates and other dangers. It’s always a little sad when they break away and head back as we sail out to sea.
With San Juan receding in the distance, I got busy putting together the plaques for John and “Wonder Woman” Mischelle. I’d printed up the appreciation “certificates” at home prior to the cruise, and bought trinkets to decorate them. Then when we got on board, I’d gotten a number of the Bloggers group to sign them.
It took a little while to get them just right, but I was pleased with the way they turned out.
I had intended to attend the Bloggers’ Karaoke – it was hilarious on BC9 – but by the time I finished putting together the plaques it was already after 5:00 p.m. and we were meeting at 6:00 for dinner, so I skipped it and took my time getting ready.
It was another great dinner, with Bob acting as self-appointed sommelier. Although he wasn’t exactly dressed for the part, he did an exemplary job.
There were some very good dishes on the menu. I had a crusted chicken dish that was excellent, and the bread basket contained both my favorite wheat rolls and Gail’s cranberry rolls. We each appropriated a few to take back to the cabins for later.
The highlight of the evening, outshining even the great table dancing performance by the waiters, was Bob’s decision to try the escargot. Hard to believe, as much as he’s cruised, that he hasn’t done this before. It was funny to watch, but he got a couple of them down and even declared them “not bad,” and Kniki and I helped him finish them.
We lingered over dinner for quite some time, then parted ways. Despite the great exercise I’d gotten in San Juan, I was feeling stuffed after so much good food so I went back to the cabin to change clothes and then walked the ship for half an hour or so.
A little before 10:30, I headed up to the Serenity area on deck 12, where John was holding his Cigars under the Stars event. This was something he did on the Alaska cruises, and Tom had enjoyed it, so I made up a little sign that said “Hi, Tom! WYWH” (Wish You Were Here) and asked John to hold it up for me to take a photo to send back to Tom. As always, he was happy to oblige.
There was live music, appetizers (free) and drinks (for sale), and a long line of people wanting their bit of John’s time. I certainly wasn’t hungry, and had had wine at dinner, so I hung around for a short time and then headed back to the cabin to unwind, try my luck at getting a good Internet connection, and get some sleep in preparation for our last port of call the next day – Grand Turk – which I’ll tell you all about in Part Four.