Monday, December 19, 2011

2011 Nov. Eurodam cruise do-over Eastern Caribbean: Grand Turk; San Juan, St. Thomas, Half Moon Cay

The "suite life"!  Originally I booked the same category room that we had last year (a VD veranda), but when the lowest suite came available for about $60/person more, I jumped on it and booked a SZ guarantee.  We had never had a suite before, so I was really looking forward to that. 

It just so happened that our daughter, Angie, and her husband, Josh, were going to be in Puerto Rico on vacation with some friends and scheduled to fly home the day we were in port there. After joking around with her about continuing on the cruise with us instead of flying home, I managed to get approval for her to board in San Juan for the last 4 nights of our cruise.  She was even elgible for a special 3rd person add on fare of $49 + about $90 in taxes and fees.  It took some doing, but persistence paid off.  I had to call 5 or 6 times and work out everything from: does the Jone's Act apply here; to writing a letter to get approval for "late embarkation"; to getting a room assigned (went from the SZ guarantee to a complimentary upgrade to an SS cabin) before she was approved.   So instead of flying home, Angie was able to join us for the remainder of the cruise.
About 2 weeks before our cruise, I even got an email from HAL offering us an upsell to an SA suite (next category down from the penthouse) for another $398 total. I immediately called them and jumped on the offer. Not only did we have a suite, but the SA, SB, and SC suites had a lot of added benefits over the SS, SY, and SZ suites, like breakfast in the Pinnacle restaurant, a private lounge and concierge, larger pull out bed for Angie; much larger room and balcony, flowers for formal night, free laundry service, and a few other things. We very much enjoyed the SA cabin. It may be hard to go back to any other cabin now!   Our room, 7069, was a short distance down the hallway from the Deluxe Suites' private Neptune lounge.





Our suite had a king-size bed, bathroom with dual sink vanity, full-size whirlpool bath, shower and additional shower stall, large sitting area, dressing/vanity room, large private verandah, sofa bed for 2, floor-to-ceiling windows. Approximately 506-590 sq. ft. including  the verandah.
Ken's shower.

Queen sized fold out couch which Angie said was comfortable.
The private Neptune Lounge was for Penthouse - SC suite guests only.  I was surprised how much we used it---from a quick drink or snack, to booking dinner reservations through the concierge stationed there, and even for checking Angie in when we arrived in San Juan.

Even though we had been on the Eurodam before, we spent the first day familiarizing ourselves with the ship again.  Here's the main stage.
 The culinary arts room
 the main pool area
                                              the adult pool (aft pool) area
the casino
They even have a screening room.  Although we thought the daily movies all looked good, we only made it to "Source Code" and "Limitless".  We even got free popcorn there.
Sunday night was the first formal night.  We dressed up and had a great meal in the Rembrandt Restaurant.

The Canaletto was another of the free restaurants that we really enjoyed.  It is in the corner of the Lido Restaurant, but still has a private feel to it. The waiters even took on Italian names.  We tried to eat there again after Angie joined the cruise, but couldn't get reservations for the night we wanted to go.

In all my cruises, this was the first time I made it to the galley tour.  It was an interesting, but fast moving, tour. 
                              


HAL is known for it's Culinary Arts Kitchen where they put on many different cooking demonstrations and even cooking classes.  We managed to make it to a couple of the demos and weren't disappointed.  They even served tasty samples.
Here one of the Canaletto Restaurant chefs is making Penne Alla Vodka.
 Here is a Tamarind Restaurant chef making Penang Red Curry Coconut Chicken.
We also attended a champagne art auction for a little while
And the travel presentation on the ports we were going to.  I was impressed with the travel guide.  I asked a question she didn't know the answer to, so she researched it and sent the answer to our room.
Most afternoons they also had a special tea.  This one was their Dutch Tea which was held in the Rembrandt Restaurant.
We did go to a couple of the nightly performances in the main theatre, but Ken didn't care for the HAL singers.  He did really enjoy the illusionist, though.  There were no other special performances, not even a comedien, so we only went to 2 main stage performances.




On the 3rd day of our cruise we were in Grand Turk.  It is known for the "wall", a 7,000' drop off of the ocean floor, as close as 1/2 mile from the beach.   The diving and snorkeling here is suppose to be first class.  I've been wanting to snorkel here for years!  We weren't able to port here last year due to Hurricane Tomas.  That was one of the reasons why we took the same cruise this year.  Unfortunately, our plans were foiled again due to an ocean storm surge from the north.  We took a $27 rt taxi ride to Pillory beach where the snorkeling was suppose to be the best, but the waves were too rough.  We ended up back at the port and hung out at the beach there.
Surprisingly enough, the snorkeling by the ship wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. There was even a mini drop off at the edge of the roped off swimming area.

At least the weather was beautiful so we thoroughly enjoyed our time near the port---snorkeling, sunbathing, walking the beach,  


And hanging out at the Margaritaville pool right by the Grand Turk port.
On the 4th morning, we took in a floral arranging demonstration.  HAL is also known for all it's live floral arrangements.   Turns out it's all done by these 2 young men. 
I even participated in the "classic volleyball match".   It wasn't the best volleyball by any means, but the team I was on won the match. 
The sports director took the room numbers of everyone on our team and when I got back to the room I was pleasantly surprised to find this as my winnings.
We sailed into San Juan on Tues., Nov. 8th at about 1pm. As we were coming into the bay, Ken and I went to the observation deck and listened to a commentary by the travel guide. She gave a 20 minute or so history of the city. Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico ("port of the riches" because of the abundant gold ore in the riverbed) in 1493. One of his lieutenants (Ponce de Leon) returned in 1508 and claimed the island---declared himself governor and established the city. Reminders of him are prominent throughout old town. It wasn't until the 19th century that the island was granted independence from Spain, at which time American troops landed on the island. Residents of the island were granted US citizenship in 1917 and in 1993 they voted to remain a US territory.
Here is El Morro Fort, 1 of 2 forts in Old Town. Construction on it started in 1539 and continued for 200 years. The City WAll dates from the 1630s and follows the shore. The old city is a masterpiece of antique architecture.

We were anxiously waiting for Angie to join us here. We weren't sure how her embarkation was going to go. Our first priority was to get her registered on the ship and then see what she wanted to do.
 
Turned out the procedure for her embarking here was pretty simple.  She had to wait at the security gate, noodles in tow,  until a ship manifest was brought out showing she was boarding here.  Then she waited at the bottom of the gangway until we got there.  We then fought our way against traffic to get back onto the ship.  They checked her name, sent us to the Neptune Lounge to get her room card and that was it.  We went and got lunch at the Lido, then headed off to explore San Juan.
 
Last year when Ken and I were here we discovered a free bus that traveled through Old Town.  So we jumped on the bus and headed up towards the fort.  We were going to just ride the bus all around Old Town, but up by the fort it met up with another bus coming the other direction and neither would back up for the other.  After about a 20 minute stand off, we decided to get off and walk back through Old Town.  At least it had quit raining by then and it was a nice easy walk.
 
 First we went down one of the adoquine stone paved streets to an old cemetary.  There's always interesting architecture in and around cemeteries.
As we walked back down to the ship, we passed an old church, quaint little shops, and even stopped in at a Don Q rum visitor's center to sample the goods---coconut run in pineapple juice and passion fruit rum in Sprite---yummm!


Wed., Nov. 9th, was St. Thomas day.  I had rented a car so we could hit several beaches.  Again our snorkeling plans were foiled, but we did get to snorkel a couple hours at Cowpet Bay between lightening storms.  Angie had stayed at the Wyndham Elysian resort at Cowpet Bay not long before and told us the snorkeling there was great.  She was right!  I never would have picked this beach if she hadn't told us about it.  The sun never did really come out so I was disappointed I didn't get to see the gorgeous beaches as seen in pictures, but we still had a great time.
                                         note the lobsters under the rock
                                                 here is a school of squid

During the lightening storm, we drove over to Sapphire Beach to check it out. Unfortunately lightening and water don't mix, so I just got to look at it longingly.
To wait out the storm awhile longer, we went to Duffy's Love Shack in Red Hook and had lunch. My teriyaki burger was phenomenal, as were the fru fru drinks Angie and I got that come in take home ceramic containers.

The lightening stopped while we were eating lunch, so we hurried up and ate and were then headed back to Cowpet Bay by the Elysian for another hour of snorkeling before having to head back to the ship.



Thurs. the 11th was another sea day.  So we headed to the acclaimed Tamerind Pan-Asian restaurant for lunch.  Ordinarily Ken and I aren't big fans of Asian food, but we tried it and actually liked most of it.

We also took advantage of the opportunity to have "high tea" on our balcony.  We even had a rainbow accompany us for the whole time.

We didn't feel like dressing up for the 2nd formal night, so we elected to have our fillets, lobsters, and other special dinner items delivered to our room.  It was a nice change of pace.  We also downed our complimentary bottle of wine then (for being in a SA suite).


With an almost full moon, we enjoyed lounging on our balcony until the wee hours of the morning.
We spent the 7th day at HAL's private island, Halfmoon Cay.   It's a beautiful island with lots of white sandy beach and turquoise water.  We did a little snorkeling right by the main beach and were surprised to find a huge barracuda out there.  Actually I was surprised to find as many fish as we did.  Last year there were hardly any.  It was a gorgeous day and ended too soon.


Holland America served a very nice free bar b q buffet lunch on the island.

After lunch, we walked around the island a bit.  There's a lagoon on the island where they have a stingray encounter---for a fee.  It didn't look nearly as impressive as the one Angie and I did on Grand Cayman.
All too soon it was time to catch the tender back to the ship.  Was a perfect day until the evening when Angie spent a couple hours throwing up.  We had planned to take her to the Pinnacle Restaurant for a special dinner ($25/person extra), but we ended up staying with her and having room service in the room again.  Fortunately she was feeling better in a few hours.

Too quickly it was time to disembark the ship.  We hopped in a taxi and took the $14 ride to the airport.  Angie lucked out and was able to fly standby on an earlier flight and made it home to Atlanta before our flight even took off from Fort Lauderdale. 
 
It was another fantastic vacation.  Made even more special by Angie joining us.  It definitely won't be our last cruise!

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