Caribbean Vacation, Day Six – St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Another day, another Caribbean shopping mecca!

We arrived in St. Thomas mid-morning, docking in a nice little port a few miles away from the downtown shopping areas. We headed straight to a little tour bus for our scheduled excursion, the “Best of St. Thomas” tour. We headed straight up into the hills of the island, giving us some breathtaking views of the ocean through the palm trees. We stopped at a couple scenic lookouts, one that let us look back out over the port area and another that looked down over Magen’s Bay on the north side on the island. Then we drove down to the bay for a couple hours of beach time.

Magen’s Bay is absolutely beautiful. The waters were extremely calm, and the sand was gorgeous. The water temperature was perfect for just standing out in the bay, watching the birds dive-bomb for fish. This part of the tour was hard to beat.

Then we were done at the beach, it was back to the bus for a trip to Blackbeard’s Castle. This area is a national monument, and has a huge collection of bronze pirate statues in addition to houses that preserve a lot of the artifacts from the island’s history. We wandered through the museums and shops, taking a ton of pictures, and then headed into the downtown shopping area of St. Thomas.

It didn’t take long for us to realize why St. Thomas is known for it’s shopping — jewelry and watch stores as far as the eye can see. Not to mention people wandering the streets, inviting the tourists to visit their store for 50, 60, 70, or even 80% off suggested retail prices. There are probably some very good deals to be had, but we didn’t have a lot of time to shop before we had to be back on the ship.

Of course, some people are a bit more concerned about being back on board the ship in time for departure than others. As a result, we were back in our cabin and getting refreshed when calls came over the intercom for two passengers to identify themselves if they were onboard. That went on for about an hour, and then we pulled away from the dock. Just as we were pulling away, two people started making their way down the pier and a whole bunch of passengers along the promenade deck railing started making noise. Yes, we had found the two missing passengers. Lucky for them, the ship’s captain is apparently somewhat lenient, and he reversed to go back to the pier (we were about 30 yards away when he reserved) to pick them up. Total delay — about two hours.

Note to self — don’t be late to the ship, because it will leave you.

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Caribbean Vacation, Day Five – San Juan, Puerto Rico

The first thing you notice about San Juan — especially in contrast with Bermuda — is that the port is actually close to the city. Of course, there are some drawbacks to that approach, including much more pressure from various tour hawkers and street vendors. We ran that gauntlet to find ourselves right on the outskirts of Old San Juan in the middle of the hottest morning we’ve encountered yet on this trip.

We had a few hours to kill before our scheduled shore excursion, so we wandered through some of Old San Juan to do some exploring and souvenir shopping. The area certainly gives you a taste of the “old style” Spanish town with the architectural features and narrow stone streets. Some of the buildings were in really good condition, while some were really run down. Nonetheless, we found a few nice trinkets to bring home and managed to avoid the high-pressure jewelry stores and the like. We found a nice restaurant for lunch, and then headed back to the ship to meet up with our tour group for the excursion.

We had elected to go on the “San Juan Canopy Adventure” excursion, so we boarded a bus to head to one of the Puerto Rican rainforests. We had to switch from a large bus to a smaller bus in order to head up into the hills, where we were dropped off at the starting point for Canopy Tours. After signing the typical “any injury is not our fault, it’s yours” liability waiver, we were suited up with some rappelling gear and took a short hike up into the hills. From there, started back down to the base camp in stages — but instead of walking, we slid down various rope traverses between platforms that had been built up between the trees. Each person had two pulley mechanisms on the harnesses that were attached to the ropes with carabineers; we would then sit down in the harness and kick away from the platform, sliding a down the ropes for a few hundred feet to the next platform. We had a great time, doing our best jungle yells as we slid from tree to tree through the forest — about 10 traverses in all.

After that, we headed back to the ship to get cleaned up and then headed back to Old San Juan for dinner. Sadly, between it being Sunday and the ship departing port at 11 PM, we didn’t have time to find a place to put our pre-cruise Latin dancing lessons to the test. We did get to do some party dancing, though, at the tropical-themed “sail away” party on the ship that night — followed by a wonderful tropical fruit buffet and conga line.

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Caribbean Vacation, Day Four – At Sea

The lovely thing about “at sea” days is that there’s not much pressure to do anything. So we didn’t, apart from Geitra getting a facial and then each of us getting a nice massage. That’s definitely a great way to spend vacation. Beyond that, we didn’t do much besides hop in the swimming pools on the upper decks and eat.

Again, that’s what I call a vacation.

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Caribbean Vacation, Day Three – Bermuda

Friday morning — the sun is out, and we’ve docked in Bermuda. The seas were a little rough, and we apparently almost passed Bermuda by until the last minute, when the captain made the decision that things were calm enough to dock. We arrived at the West End of Bermuda in the Royal Naval Dockyard around 8:30 in the morning, and docked alongside the farthest pier away from the main body of the islands. After departing the ship, we were off to explore.

Originally, we had scheduled two excursions in the Bahamas — a horse and carriage tour through the dockyards and then a trip on a glass-bottomed boat. The horse and carriage tour ended up being cancelled, however, so we decided to act on a tip we got during afternoon tea the day before and rented a two-person motor scooter. Yes, that’s right — Neil, driving a motor scooter in a country that drives on the left, while Geitra hangs on for dear life behind him. No problem!

After a short training run, we were off to take a 45-minute or so ride to Hamilton, the main town on the island. Yep, 45 minutes of 40- to 60-kilometer per hour speeds on curvy, hilly roads while being passed on the right by impatient Bermudans. And here we thought island life was supposed to be peaceful and tranquil and laid-back! But Neil managed to avoid killing us and we arrived in Hamilton to do a little bit of shopping.

Afterwards, we headed back to the dockyard using a different route in order to see some of the beautiful beaches on the south side of the island. We even found a nice secluded area called Warwick Long Bay in South Shore Park where we spent time walking the beach barefoot and got some of the famous pink Bermudan sand.

With that, we headed back to the dockyard to return the scooter and get ready for our next excursion — a trip on a glass-bottomed boat. We took the boat out into the waters outside the dockyard, where an old British warship had been sunk to create a sanctuary for coral (simultaneously creating a sanctuary for the Bermudan glass-bottomed boat industry). We oohed and aahed over that for while before heading to a small cove in a public park for some time on the beach and for snorkeling. All told, it was a lovely way to spend a few hours before heading back to the ship to depart for San Juan, Puerto Rico.

After we got underway and eating dinner, we decided to see the comedy show. The performer was a gentleman who goes by the moniker “Sarge,” and he was absolutely hilarious. We were in tears from laughing at least three different times during the show. At to top it off, the guy also sings — doing quite passable impressions of Lionel Richie and Harry Connick, Jr. A thoroughly enjoyable way to end our day.

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Caribbean Vacation, Day Two – At Sea

Our first full day on the ship was spent completely at sea — and with the morning spent getting caught up on events at home. After getting breakfast served in the cabin, we made a beeline for the Internet Café on board in order to check email and see what was happening in D.C. We had two emails from Neil’s dad, one describing the situation with power and the car, and then the second (sent just after midnight) letting us know that power had come back on. Amelia and her grandmothers would be staying put in D.C., which came as a great relief.

With that out of the way, we could turn our attention to enjoying our vacation. While the weather continued to be a little “iffy,” we focused on the interior activities onboard. Geitra hit the spa for a manicure and pedicure, and Neil went to the “how to shop in the Caribbean” presentation on her behalf. Apparently, St. Thomas and San Juan are two of the biggest shopping areas in the world — with a heavy emphasis on jewelry. That wasn’t our focus for the trip, but it was nice to get some hints and coupons for free or cheap stuff!

That night was the first formal night on the ship, so we spent the afternoon getting our nice clothes unpacked and prepared for the evening. We made it to the Captain’s Reception cocktail party for that rarest of items — a free drink on a cruise ship — and then headed to one of the formal dining rooms for dinner. We had decided to do the “Anytime Dining” plan, which meant that we didn’t have an assigned group or table for our meals. The group at our table tonight was nice, and the conversation flowed well throughout the meal. After dessert, we ended up getting dessert number two in recognition of our recent 10th anniversary — a nice little extra.

We closed out the evening by heading to the shipboard theater for a performance of “Piano Man,” a song and dance tribute to piano artists like Billy Joel, Neil Sedaka, Liberace, and Elton John. The show was well done, although the Liberace segment was fittingly over the top. After all this activity, we collapsed into bed at the end of the night.

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Caribbean Vacation, Day One – Boarding the Caribbean Princess

Let’s just clear one thing up — Manhattan hotels are able to charge way too much for breakfast. Enough said.

After breakfast, we repacked our luggage down into the two big and two small bags we had originally planed, and took a hotel sedan back to the airport to meet our bus from the cruise line. They drove us from LaGuardia Airport to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, where we got our first view of the Caribbean Princess. This thing is HUGE!

Check-in was well-orchestrated, with our luggage going straight from the tour bus into a huge bin, which was then fork-lifted into a screening area and eventually delivered to our cabin on the ship. Since we had arrived relatively early, our own check-in was very quick, with only a short wait in the security line. After a few formalities, we were off to board the ship—with the obligatory stop for pictures (available for purchase on board, for what we’re certain will be a nominal fee—and a recurring theme!).

This ship is absolutely beautiful inside — it’s relatively new, having been built in 2004, and it looks it. We ended up in cabin D201, which is fairly far forward on the starboard side, just above the lifeboats. The view out the balcony is incredible — the balconies on our deck are the farthest out from the ship. We wandered around the ship for a while to get our bearings and explore the decks — there must be something like 10 swimming pools on this ship! We ended up watching the departure from New York from a deck built on top of the ship’s bridge, where we could watch the Statue of Liberty slip away to starboard. Then we attended the mandatory safety briefing, where we learned how to put on the life jackets and about the emergency procedures. When that was done, we headed up to the top decks for the “underway party,” where Neil won a raffle for a spa gift certificate — which was promptly turned over to Geitra. Then we headed to the buffet area for a seafood dinner as the weather got a bit nasty and the swells started to pick up a little bit.

Unfortunately, things weren’t going quite as well back in D.C. — a huge storm came through and knocked out power to the house around 3PM. Nana Snider and Amelia overcame it, though — Nana cooked up Amelia’s dinner out on the grill, and they played together in the dark while waiting for Farmor (Swedish for “grandmother”) Mickelson to come home from visiting friends. The car overheated and Farmor ended up getting home late courtesy of AAA. We learned about all of this as the ship was leaving port and heading out to sea — we had cell phone contact until nearly 8PM, but that wasn’t long enough to hear the resolution of the story. Between the swelling seas and our worries about home, we had a bit of a restless first night on the ship while we waited to hear about everyone’s safety and whether the house had power.

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Caribbean Vacation, Day Zero – New York City

The first day of our Caribbean Vacation started, somewhat oddly, by heading north. Since our ship was sailing from the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal, we decided to fly up the day before our ship sailed in order to make absolutely sure we were there in time. So, we were out of the house at 6:15 AM in order to make the most of our day in the Big Apple. Amelia stayed in D.C. under the loving care of her two grandmothers; Geitra’s mom would head back to Ohio after the first week to be backfilled by Neil’s dad for week two.

Of course, a plane trip wouldn’t be complete without a luggage hassle, and this one was no different. In an effort to wring every last penny out of their customers, United has decided to start gouging charging their passengers that have more than one checked bag an extra $25. They have also gotten really strict on weight limits, charging $100 for any bag over 50 pounds. And both of our bags were over the weight limit, by a combined total of 30 pounds. So after a quick trip to a nearby newsstand to buy yet another duffel bag, and a bunch of packing and unpacking in the middle of the airport, our two three bags were checked and we were off through security and on to the plane.

The flight was nice and uneventful, all our luggage showed up on time, the cab ride to our Manhattan hotel wasn’t in rush hour, and we were able to check in to our room about five hours early. This was a nice way to start vacation. We got settled in a bit, then Geitra was off to get a massage appointment booked because her back was killing her from packing and lugging stuff around. In the meantime, Neil walked about 15 blocks to Times Square hoping to score some cheap theater tickets—but alas, the booth was closed, so he hoofed it back to meet Geitra at the spa. We had a very trendy French-inspired lunch at Brassiere, then headed back to the hotel for a nap. Afterwards, we walked down to Times Square again for a bit of shopping, and then had a lovely dinner at Mr. K’s, a five-star Chinese restaurant across from our hotel. With that, we retired for the evening, excited about our cruise departure the following day.

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Our (Very Late) 2007 Christmas Letter

Dear Family and Friends—-

Our 2007 Christmas CardMerry (Much-Belated) Christmas! Somehow, we imagine that you’re not surprised that our holiday photo card arrived late…you should be used to our cards and letters being late by now—although this year sets a new record! Maybe next later this year we’ll get everything done on time. Continue reading

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Wanna Watch Your Pumpkin Fly?

Then go to the World Championship PunkinChunkin contest in Delaware!!

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My Nephew Derek’s Blog

Apparently, our little newborn nephew Derek already has a blog. Kids these days.

Of course, he’s funnier than his father. Go figure.

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