Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Philipsburg, St. Maarten - January 10

We arrived about 10 a.m. in the morning of January 10 in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. This is the Dutch side of the island, the other side is known as St. Martin.  I didn't bother getting off the ship for a bit to allow the first rush to get through.

If you've been with through previous cruises, you may remember on my last visit, I spent my time at Maho Beach, photographing the aircraft landing at Princess Juliana airport across the street.  I had a great day that day, and thought I might go there again.

But recalling that I have approximately 250 photos from that excursion, and decided I'd spend the day in Philipsburg that day. After walking off the ship, I paid for a ticket on the water taxi to cross to the town.  I could have walked, but it was a hot day...and I'm lazy!

We had just a little company that day, with the Regal Princess in port with us.  If memory serves, this was the ship I sailed into St. Maarten on the last time I was there!

As an aside, on the lower right of the photo are people standing above the bridge.  I finally found the door out to that area a few days before I left the ship.  It was a great viewing platform.

After landing off the water taxi, I walked down the street towards the shopping area.  There were two piers where the water taxis were dropping off passengers; I got dropped off at the furthest one.  So I still had a bit of walking to do.  I found a t-shirt shop and picked up a cute little t-shirt for Eli, but I really wasn't there to shop.

As I walked, I passed by this lovely church.  I've since learned it is the Methodist Church, is open to the public and charges no admission.  I should have stopped in.

A little further along the street is the Courthouse. Such pretty buildings!!

It was nearly noon, it was hot, I'd finished my bottle of water so I was ready for something to eat and a cold drink.  I turned back towards the beach and the first restaurant I came across was a Hardrock Cafe.  I figured they would have free wifi (and they did, if you consider having to buy something to get access free).  

No surprise, I chose to sit outside to eat my meal.  It was quiet when I arrived, but by the time I left the deck was full.  After checking my e-mail and Facebook, and chatting via Messenger with my daughter it was time to walk off some of that lunch.

The beach wasn't full, there were lots of loungers and umbrellas available.  I had worn my suit under my clothing, I might have rented a chair, but it was 29C (84F), with no real breeze.  

I did stop a minute to dip my feet in the water, that felt good!  Then it was time to head back to the ship and the air conditioning and ice cold water. 

I walked down the beach to the closest pier, and waited about 5 minutes (in the shade) for the next water taxi.  

So many people enjoying the beach and the water

That water! I don't think I'll ever get over how amazingly blue the water is in the Caribbean.

Back on the ship, I spent some time on my balcony, enjoying the view and reading.  Even though I didn't do much in St. Maarten, it was a wonderful day.

Next post - Antigua.  I'm not sure when I'll get it posted as D and Eli are coming to visit tomorrow and not leaving until the weekend. Hopefully I'll get it done before they arrive as I suspect I'll be busy after that!  A good kind of busy. 

Monday, 21 January 2019

San Juan, Puerto Rico - January 9

We had a late arrival in our first port, San Juan, Puerto Rico, arriving around 3:30 in the afternoon with a scheduled departure at 11:30 that evening.  

I was up on Deck 15 to take photos as we sailed into the port.  Though I caught several photos of the birds, I wasn't quick enough to catch a shot of the porpoises who swam aside the ship.  Another passenger told me this is sign of good luck.

As the ship approached to entrance to the port, the Fortress El Morro (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) came into view.

The fortress was constructed in 1539, and as one would expect, it was built to protect San Juan from invaders.  For many years, the Spaniards maintained their occupation, but in 1898 the United States Army bombarded the fortress during the Spanish-American war.  

As we came around the point, it became evident we weren't the only ship in harbour.  In fact, there were five others.  Pictured here are a Viking ship (the first and smallest), a Holland American (two stacks) and two Carnival ships (fish tails).  Across the way was another Royal Caribbean ship.  Accordingly the docks and the nearby restaurants and stores were busy!

I had booked a walking tour of Old San Juan through the ship, and I was not disappointed.  First, however, we met our guide, Steve at the dock, and were transferred by bus to the grounds of El Morro.  Is there not something ironic in that?

 Outside the gates, was this monument to the Dutch invasion of 1625.  While the fortress was not damaged the city of San Juan was destroyed.

We were fortunate, as the fortress was open despite the U.S. government shut down.  The workers there were friendly and helpful throughout our visit.

After entering the gates to the fortress, we climbed up to the upper level.  

The garitas, or sentry boxes are located on the outer walls of the fortress.  We either didn't have the time, or our guide didn't have the inclination to allow us time to visit one or more of these.

According to Steve, the fortress took more than an century to complete, and was originally built from salvage materials...or as he called it, garbage.

El Morro's outer walls, which were originally constructed 6 feet (1.8 m) thick, had been augmented to 18 feet (5.5 m) thickness by the end of the 18th century. - Wikipedia

The original walls were built of limestone by young men who were brought in to complete the work.  Generally these were prisoners of war, or convicts.
They were forced to live there for 20 years, before they might gain their freedom.

The view from the upper level were spectacular.  In the foreground is the cemetery, and beyond that is a shantytown, and beyond that (not in the photo) is the modern city with its high-rise buildings.  I should note, that much of the repairs from Hurricane Maria have been made, however there were many buildings in the shantytown that were still in disrepair.  

 After our history lesson, we left the fortress and walked up and out of the park area to the old city.  The narrow cobblestone streets are built with blue brick.  To achieve the colour, the bricks are covered in slag (ash) and re-fired.  Steve took us down two of the remaining streets that have stairs.  

It was here that we saw numerous cats.  The old city area residents offer a TNR program, but unfortunately as residents of the rest of the city heard about it, they've dropped unwanted cats.  I would have brought them all home with me if I could.

These buildings faced the harbour.  I can only imagine the view they would have from the balconies.  As we turned the corner, we came upon the San Juan Batista Cathedral.

Steve advised us that groups were not welcome (true or not I don't know) but we could climb the stairs to photograph the interior.

Towards the end of our tour, we came to an old chapel. The story Steve told us was that horse racing took place on this street, with the horse and rider racing up the street from the harbour towards the fortress.  However, one young man decided to race the other direction, with disastrous results.  As they reached this point, the horse and rider plunged over the hill; the horse died of his injuries, while the young man survived.  To celebrate the miracle of his survival his parents had the chapel built.  Sadly it has fallen into disrepair.

And so ended the tour.  Most of the group headed off to shop or to visit the restaurants and bars.  I did not, as it was beginning to get dark, and as solo traveller I didn't feel comfortable wandering on my own.  Steve graciously offered to walk me back to the ship.

On board, I had my dinner at the WJ on the aft deck.  Why anyone would want to sit indoors to eat, is beyond me.  Then it was off to my balcony to watch the water traffic.  The well-lit building is the ferry dock, and below, is the Viking ship leaving port.  I was asleep by 10 p.m. - didn't even notice when we sailed out!

Next post - St. Maarten

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Home away from home

For 12 days, my stateroom 6-252 was my home sweet home.  The first number refers to the deck number, and the cabin was located just a short walk from the aft elevators and stairs.  I also had an option of using the second level access to 2-70 by walking further to the rear of the ship.  I used it often, not only because of the ease of access but because the sharing library was also located there.  

Sorry this photo is a bit dark; I should have closed the drapes first.  The room is not large, the bed takes up a fair bit of room, but there is lots of storage built in around the bed.
The view looking back into the room from the balcony doors.  To the right is the bathroom.  There wasn't a huge amount of space around the bed, but sufficient to move around for one person.
The bathroom, was actually quite spacious.  Lots of storage both in the shelves to the left and below (you can see the extra toilet roll) as well as the counter space.  No drawers but the seas were calm and I never worried about things falling during the night.
To the left of the bed was the hanging clothes storage, with an extra bar that dropped down.  More closet space than most studio cabins.  In this storage unit were two shelves above the safe, and another shelf and two drawers below.  The space in the center held the cubby next to the bed, where I could put my glasses, a water glass, book, and other sundries at night.  (Yes, I could have a water glass...no cats to knock it over!).  The cabinet to the right held the min-fridge, and the drawer contained the provided blow dryer and a box of tissues.  My steward, Bloxer, told me the tissues were moved out of the bathroom because these products can clog up the toilet. I'm not certain why, it was pretty much one ply sand paper but regardless it was a reminder to put it in the bin rather than the toilet.

Across from those cabinets was the mirror (which lit up - small things amuse small minds - I found this very cool!).  Under the little table was a small stool, the only seating other than the bed in the room.  There were a couple of USB slots that allowed me to charge both my phone and Kobo, as well as the outlet.  That is my second camera battery charging in this photo.

But the very best thing about this cabin was the balcony.  Yes it was obstructed but not nearly as much as I had thought it might be.  I was very fortunate in the I had what-ever that smaller boat is in front of me rather than the bigger life boats.  Once I was out on the balcony though, even seated the view was wonderful!

I'm obviously standing at the railing for this photo, and in fact, I don't have any photos taken from the seated position, so you'll have to take my word for it.

I really appreciated having the balcony - generally I can't afford one as a solo so this was a real treat.  The balcony provided a quiet place where I could relax and get away when the ship was busy, or first thing in the morning, when I went out to check on the weather! 

Throughout the entire cruise, I never slept in past 7:30 a.m. and that late was unusual, as most days I was awake between 4:30 and 6:30 every day.  I was okay with that, I'm not a night owl anyway, and best of all I was awake in time for beautiful sunrises like this one on January 8, 2019.  

Speaking of beautiful, the ship was full of art work.  I'll end this post with a few of my favorite pieces.  
 Each of these two pieces were on the landings between the decks.  Each one had a plaque that provided details about the artist and the art work. 

This piece was an image taken from the Empire State building in New York from the artist's perspective.  My favorite, is the dress made by folding a map.  Now that's amazing!

 The installation to the left, was a huge piece that ran several decks high, and could be seen from the glass elevators or from the stairs at the 14th deck, where I took this photo.

Another piece I loved were these 3-D paper flowers.  I'd definitely have this
one in my home if I could.

The most fun one is pictured below...several donuts on a board.  They looked delicious!  These were located on the landing between Deck 10 and 11 on the aft stairwell.  This was about halfway between my stateroom deck and the WJ buffet on 14.  It made a perfect place to catch my breath when I climbed the stairs!

The giraffe was located just off the Sea Plex on Deck 15.  I have no idea why it was there as it didn't seem to have any connection to the area.  But it made an interesting feature on the walk around the deck on the walking/running track.  

The track was a busy place early in the morning, with many passengers getting in their exercise.  There is also a gym on this deck - though I never ventured into it.  

As you can likely tell already, I really enjoyed the ship.  Yes, it was big, but the layout was amazing, the venues were all a decent size, and best of all were the many people I met, not only through the FB and CC groups but also on board.

Best cruise ever!  

Next post - San Juan, Puerto Rico

Saturday, 19 January 2019

And so it starts

Let me preface this post by saying, brrrrr!  I arrived home last night to -20C temperatures with windchills making it feel more like -30C.  Quite the change from my last two weeks, but at least we're fortunate not to be getting a lot of snow as other areas of the country are. 

The morning started early for me on January 5, as the taxi arrived at the house ahead of schedule at 4:10 a.m. More than ample time for my 6 a.m. flight to Calgary.  We were slightly delayed but arrived in plenty of time for my trip through Customs and security...when will I ever remember to take that bottle of water out of my bag?  The flight to Newark was uneventful and we landed about 2:30 p.m. local time.  AND that's when the delays truly began.  We made our way to our carousel to wait for our luggage and we waited and waited and waited some more.  Finally, about 45 minutes in Ms Impatient (that would be me) had had enough of waiting so I tracked down an Air Canada agent and asked where our luggage was.  He checked my tag number and assured me it had been put on board the plane in Calgary.  It took me a little time to explain to him that wasn't my concern but where it might be now.  He didn't believe me when I said there was a whole planeload of passengers waiting, but was quickly assured by others that indeed we'd all come in together.  Off he scurried to find out what had happened to our luggage.

Meanwhile there were a few passengers from a Toronto flight also waiting.  One of the passengers and I struck up a conversation, and discovered she too was sailing on the Anthem the following day.  L is from Nova Scotia and this was her very first cruise!  Eventually her luggage arrived and 15 minutes or so later, so did ours.  I called my hotel and discovered I needed to take an air tram over to the terminal where the shuttles are allowed to meet passengers.  When I boarded the train, there was L again and we had a chat while we waited for our shuttles to arrive. 

I stayed at the Embassy Suite Hotel in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  The hotel was highly recommended by other cruisers.  They were right!

The room was truly a suite with a separate living area and bedroom.  To the rear of the desk is the kitchenette with a fridge, sink and coffee maker.  

The bedroom was large, held the two double beds and dresser with a television mounted above it.  The bed was very comfortable and I had lots of pillows...which I much appreciated.
The bathroom was massive, as was the shower - it extended behind the wall by the sink.  I could have had a party!  But I didn't.  There were two doors leading into it, one from the living area and the other from the bathroom.
The hotel is located across from the Jersey Gardens mall within walking distance, though there is a bit of a busy street to cross.  Thankfully there are lights.  Also nearby is Ruby Tuesday's and this is where several of our Facebook group met for dinner that evening.  It was great to get to know a few people before getting on board the ship, and the food was terrific too!  Ruby Tuesday has a lovely salad bar which I enjoyed immensely.  By 8:30 p.m. I was tucked up in bed at the hotel, as travel days are always draining.

Of course I was up early on embarkation day!  I had breakfast at the hotel (complimentary) at 7:30 a.m., relaxed in my room for a bit, reading and watching television before checking out shortly after 9:15.  There were many of us waiting for the shuttle to the port, we were delivered there by 10:30 and on board by 10:45.  That is the fasted boarding I can recall!

Time to explore the ship!  This photo is actually the aft of the ship, and was taken when we were in Barbados.  There is a method to my madness though for sharing it instead of the bow.  Too, when we were in port in Bayonne, there was no place to take a decent photo of the ship.  It's huge, so one needs a fair distance!  For perspective, there were 4950 passengers and somewhere between 1200 and 1500 crew members.  It's pretty much a village on the ocean.  

The room that looks out the massive windows is called 2-70.  They suggest the windows provide a 270 degree view...but I think that's a little generous.  None-the-less room was spectacular.  During the day it was a quiet area, with a cafe opposite for small meals and refreshments.  The room included a bar and lots of seating.

In the afternoon (sometimes and evenings (often) the room was used for various activities, including music and acrobatic productions.

The televisions that you see in the photo above, six in total, are 100 inches across.  They are attached to arms that can be used to move the televisions around.  I'm sure it is hard to picture but amazing to watch as they are moved about.

There is lots of seating, including the balcony above.  There are openings in the floor, in the boxes (one is just beyond the railing at the left of the first photo), and the ceiling that allow for the movement of musicians, actors, and others to be brought into the productions.  The cruise director Dennis explained that RCI spent $37 million on this room alone.  I'll believe it, with all the technology!  What I liked best was the view from the windows as I sat in one of the large chairs looking out.

So the view while we in port in Bayonne wasn't that great.  It got better.

Decks 4 and 5 in the center of the ship are open.  Along the walkways are various restaurants, cafes and shops.  In the center is the area where the "sales" took place on an almost daily basis.  I don't have a photo but consumerism was rampant in this area during any of the sales.  I must admit I took advantage a couple of times, purchasing a new watch (just checked the price on Amazon and I didn't pay too much), and a couple of t-shirts in the 2 for $20 sale.

One of the restaurant is a version of an English pub.  I know they served food, though I don't recall seeing anyone actually eat there.  Lots of refreshments were served though, especially during NFL games.  A large number of the passengers were from the north eastern U.S. states so the New England Patriots were a big draw!

After a bit more of a wander inside the ship, I needed some fresh air so headed up to the highest deck 15.  There I ran into a fellow from our Facebook group who is well known for his photography.  I'll admit, I felt a bit intimidated!  But the view took care of any concerns.

 Up on the deck 15 above the pool is the Sky bar (a smoking area I believe so I didn't frequent it), and above that the sphere is the North Star.   This works like a crane in that the sphere is raised above the ship either at sea or where permitted in certain points.  The North Star holds a dozen people including the operator and provides an incredible view of the ship and beyond.  No, I didn't try it...to afraid of heights to even consider it!

On this level was also the Sea Plex, an area with bumper cars, a basketball court, a flow rider (for surfing at sea...seriously), and other activities.  Again, I did not partake.

But I did partake of lunch at the Windjammer (which I'll refer to from now on as the WJ).  The buffet is large and in addition to the interior tables, there is an aft outdoor seating area.  You'll note in the first photo with the flag which I've captured below.  This would become one of my favorite places to enjoy a meal and the view. 
I'll end the post at this point, and take up again tomorrow with photos and description of my stateroom and the rest of the first day on the Anthem.  It was a busy one!

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Getting ready

And here I go again!  Actually this was the first cruise I booked, as my gift to myself as I transitioned into retirement.  The price was right as a solo and for the first time, I'll have a balcony.

Size: 119 sq. ft.; 
Balcony: 55 sq. ft.

This is a photo from a website, but a photo from a passenger suggests that the balcony is just above the tenders and I should expect an obstructed view, as pictured below.  I expect the photo on the website was taken when the tenders were in use. 

Either way, I'll be able to relax on the balcony in the morning with a cup of coffee.  Perhaps even get a photo or two of the sunrise or sunset!

I will find out for certain when I board the ship on Sunday!  It amuses me to think the balcony is half as large as the entire stateroom.  Again, I'll be able to confirm or deny that fact when I get onboard.

I fly out on Saturday morning at o'dark early and arrive in Newark mid-afternoon.  The hotel I'm staying at for the night has a shuttle and is close to the airport, and best of all, provides a shuttle for a small cost to the port the following day.

I'd joined both the cruise critic roll call and the Facebook group for the cruise.  There are several of the FB group staying at the Embassy and we've arranged to meet at Ruby Tuesday's that evening for a pre-cruise dinner.  It will be nice to get to know some people before we even leave!  The entire FB group has been invited to meet shortly after the sailaway as we pass under the Verraszano bridge (at least I think that's the name). The group administrator has created a large FB like sign so we'll be able to find one another.

I believe our meet and mingle is scheduled for the first sea day - there will be an invitation in my cabin - for the Cruise Critic group. I'm especially interested in meeting some of the other solos as RCL doesn't do nearly as good a job as NCL in assisting us, as well as Phyllis and Joe.  The latter are a couple I met through CC and who are also part of the FB group.  They have arranged, and I am joining, a catamaran cruise in Barbados.  So looking forward to that excursion.

I've been to all the ports previously, with the exception of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I've scheduled a walking tour excursion for this port, and it will be interesting to see if the damage from the hurricane is still visible.  I'm sure all of those paper towels were a great help...or maybe not.

St. Maarten was also damaged by the hurricane and I'm aware that Maho Beach will not look the same as it did a couple of years ago. I'm still planning to take a cab to watch the planes land over the beach...though how much beach is left, I'm not certain.  

I was in Antigua last year and probably won't disembark.  The only thing I've not seen there are the flamingos, but I've seen flamingos before.  St. Lucia will be a beach day; I've already seen there are others interested in spending the day at my favorite beach, Reduit.  St. Kitts is still an unknown, while I've been there previously, it has been awhile and none of the ship's excursions truly interest me.  There are black sand beaches on St. Kitt's so perhaps I'll get a chance to visit one of those.

I'll be flying back on the 18th, arriving late at night...probably early the next morning if history repeats itself.  As with NCL, I won't have access to internet so will catch up when I return.  See you all then!