Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2010 Nov.5-12 - Another Dam vacation! 7 nt, Eurodam: Samana, San Juan, St. Thomas, Half Moon Cay

It was going to take a lot more then a rude airport gate attendant and port agent, and a little storm named Hurricane Tomas to ruin my vacation! So on Friday, Nov. 5th, 2010, the fun began.

This was Ken's 2nd cruise and my 8th (I think) cruise. This was my 2nd Holland America cruise. I thought the laid back clientele and more unique activities, such as cooking classes and computer classes, not to mention the food, would be something Ken would enjoy. That it left out of Ft. Lauderdale was also a plus (that was even before our daughter moved there, now it's really a plus!). So on the day before the cruise, we hopped on a non-stop flight and eventually headed off to Ft. Lauderdale.

I say eventually because there was a problem with our plane being overweight. So they grounded us for about 45 minutes while they pleaded for 3 people to delay their trips. 1 couple did finally agree to, but noone else on the plane was budging. I guess we were all heading to a cruise. Finally the gate attendant threatened us in a harsh voice that since noone else would get off the plane, then 4 pieces of luggage were being removed and they wouldn't tell us whose. Soon the flight attendants took over the intercom and apologized profusely and guaranteed us that noones luggage was going to be left behind. Over weight and all, we did make it to Fort Lauderdale safely.

We spent that night overlooking the ocean at one of our Wyndham properties in Pompono Beach. We rented a car for the day and enjoyed our short, but sweet, stay there.

Next morning our adventure continued. We dropped the rental car off at the Budget dealer closest to the port since it offered complimentary shuttle service to the cruise port.

Soon we were waiting in line at the port to board the Eurodam. But only for a short time. The scanners quit working and we were all told to sit down. Passengers just arriving walked up and got in line and before they were made to sit down, the scanners would start working and we would be at the back of the line again. This happened 3 times before we finally were able to board.

Once on board, we headed to the lido buffet and had a very good lunch. The food on HAL has been my favorite so far.

 They even had a late night dessert on the Lido deck one night.
 And other Lido parties with different types of food.
 One night they even decorated the Lido pool during one of the Lido parties.

 Back to our embarkation day---shortly after 1pm, our stateroom was ready so we eagerly went to check it out. This was our 1st balcony cabin and it was really nice. We were near the back of the ship in cabin VD4148, and only 2 cabins away from the elevators.  This area of the ship had slightly deeper balconies then the other balcony cabins and the cabin was a nice size.

We were able to catch a couple really beautiful sunsets and a morning rainbow from our balcony. When we weren't enjoying our room or eatting, we enjoyed other parts of the ship. I attended 3 computer classes.  We spent the first couple days wandering around the ship checking out the different areas.
lido pool
 a lounge
 where the art auctions were held
 crows nest
 walk a round deck---when you follow a hurricane you get lots of rain.
 the cabanas for rent on the Lido deck
 hydrotherapy pool---bought into this on my first HAL cruise with my sister and loved it, but didn't think we'd have enough time to get our money's worth out of it this time.
They even had a weird stalactite hanging from the ceiling.

We attended most of the nightly shows. Turns out the same headline performers that were on my last HAL cruise (on the western coast on the Oosterdam) were now on this ship now. I was actually happy to find that out. They were fantastic! The main entertainer, Joel Mason, played an Elton John tribute.

The comedian was Derrick and had very good clean humor.

 The illusionist, Ceilan (sp), was traveling with his acrobatic wife and their children and dogs (who were part of the show). The HAL singers and dancers were entertaining. The Superstar's show was as hilarious as it was on the Oosterdam. The lounges were really nice. Should have spent more time in the Crow's nest with the wrap around observation deck and free game rentals, but we always seemed to be busy doing something. I also did the scrapbooking meet and we did the CruiseCritic Meet & Greet which turned out really nice. Got to meet the captain, hotel manager and the activities director. All were very personable and we managed to spend a couple hours there visiting with other cruisecritic members and enjoying complimentary mimosas or Bloody Maries. We met a lot of really great people. We had dinner in the restaurant 4 nights (3 with other passengers, all really personable and we'ld talk with throughout the cruise), 1 night at a table for 2. We got a free Pinnacle dinner from Sam's Club (who I booked the cruise through.

They also gave us 2 $50 soda cards which we didn't use and got $50 obc, plus we also got another $75 obc as a booking incentive. So with our base rate being $869@ and another $139 in port taxes and fees, I felt we got a pretty good deal. Dinner at the Pinnacle was fantastic. We probably wouldn't have tried it if we had to pay the supliment ourselves, so I'm glad Sam's threw it in. We also ate at the lido every morning and a couple of evenings and found it to be very good.

We hit the adult pool a couple of times. It was never crowded and they actually kept kids out. We also lounged on the decks a couple of times and even borrowed a cribbage board and played a game in rememberance of Dad whom I had played many games of cribbage against. We enjoyed wandering around the ship. It was very tastefully decorated and I loved seeing all the real floral arrangements. As with every cruise, I (we) usually end up finding at least one crew member to be especially fascinating. This time one of them actually happened to be the pizza man, Arman. Ken even enjoyed the cruise enough that he decided we should do the onboard deposit for a future cruise and get the obc and reduced deposit rate incentive. Can't wait to start planning our next Dam cruise!

While we were waiting our turn to leave the port, we even got to see the huge new 5,400 passenger, Oasis of the Seas Royal Caribbean ship. Made our 2, 200 passenger ship look small!

For months before our cruise, I had researched our ports and really looked forward to the Turks and Caicos. It's suppose to be a great place to snorkel and dive. There's even a 7000' wall a short distance off shore which I had mixed emotions about seeing. As it turned out, my plans for that island were foiled. Tomas decided to head straight there the day we left Ft. Lauderdale, so HAL decided we should head elsewhere. We ended up at Samana, Dominican Republic.

We were warned over and over again not to venture off on our own like we could on the other ports, so we booked a $79@ snorkel and beach excursion. I did enjoy it, although I'm surprised no body drowned at the snorkel spot we were taken to!

It was a small rock in the middle of the bay and had quite a current running between it and the nearby resort island which did look like a great place to hang out at.

I was hoping we were heading to that island, but after our turbulent snorkeling, we were taken to a different beach not far from the town of Samana.  It was also a lot calmer then where we snorkeled or even the island I had hoped we were going to.
I actually enjoyed snorkeling there much better then in the middle of the channel.

Unfortunately we only had an hour there. After about 5 hours out and about, we were back on the ship awaiting departure to our next port.

One advantage to our new itinerary was that we arrived at our next port several hours earlier then originally planned. As we sailed into the harbor, Ken and I stood on our balcony and marvelled at the huge fort at the entrance of the bay.

As soon as we were able to disembark, we headed out in search of a cheap city tour. We quickly found a bus tour for $20@, and were off---first we saw the new city and it's contemporary structures.  
 Then we were off to the old San Juan.  San Juan is the second oldest European-established city in the Americas and is the 42nd largest city under the jurisdiction of the United States. We felt perfectly safe there among all the Starbucks, McDonald's, KFC's, ... . After a tour of the new city, we were dropped off at the Federal Courthouse. It was quite impressive with it's marble construction and domed center.

After completing the bus tour, we headed off to catch the free trolley and headed up to Fort San Felipe del Morro, or Morro Castle, which was built back in the 16th century.

In 1893, Puerto Rico became US territory by terms of the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-Amirican War. In 1942, concrete artillery observation posts and underground bunker were added to El Morro to defend against possible German attacks. In 1949 it became San Juan National Historic Site. In 1961 the US Army moved out of the fort and it became the jurisdiction of the US National Park Service. In 1983, the fort was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. We easliy spent over 2 hours there.

Didn't make it to the other fort, this time. But we did do a little shopping in the old city. When early evening rolled around, so did torrential rains. San Juan is definately a place we wouldn't mind returning to.
 By the time we left San Juan, it was dark.  

Next stop on our cruise was St. Thomas.

 I had also looked forward to spending the day at one of it's sun drenched clear watered beaches. Unfortunately Tomas sent a lot of rain it's way, too, so the famous beaches were all closed due to mud slides. Determined to spend time in the water, we found out a beach not far from the port was open, so we took a taxi there---Lindbergh Beach. Even though it was raining and totally overcast the whole day, we still enjoyed playing in the surf there.
Walking through the Best WEstern property to get to the beach.

When we had enough, we headed back to the where I did a little shopping at the port shops. When I got back to the ship and told Ken about some diamond stud earrings I saw there, he said we should go back and get them. So---Merry Christmas to me!  They say St. Thomas is the place to shop. I guess they're right. I definately believe we'll be returning to St. Thomas again, too. With 2 Wyndhams there,  we may even base a land trip there some time.  (We did in Nov. 2013 for 10 wonderful days---mostly wonderful!)  The rain even stopped as we sailed away and gave us a pretty amazing sunset.

After a sea day---which was actually nice after 3 straight days of running around on shore (or in the ocean) all day---we hit our last port, Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. This is their private island and is beautiful. We were even greeting by a rainbow as we sailed into the bay.

It was even a beautiful sunny warm day there.

I had heard there was some shore snorkeling there, so we tried it out.

The snorkeling area was really small and rough, so I decided to check out there snorkel excursion for $49. Ken didn't want to go, so he lounged on the beach. Before my excursion, we dined on shore at the bar b q. It was really nice. I was even able to get grilled mahi mahi.
Then I was off to my snorkel excursion. We didn't go too far away before we came upon an area of 3 reefs. The snorkeling there was quite impressive to me. The water was crystal clear and the fish were very colorful, plus there were lots of different kinds of coral. It wasn't far off shore, so I'm wondering if we could actually walk to the beach there on a future trip?

When the excursion was over, we enjoyed the beautiful beach some more.

 High tide must have come in while we were there.  
 Too soon it was time to head back to the ship. 
Back on the ship, we got to watch another sunset from our balcony.
       What started out as a challenging vacation turned out to be another fantastic one.                 

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