We started our trip with the 1200 mile drive from St. Louis to Fort Lauderdale. Took us 2 days with a stopover in northern Florida. Sure glad we had a Garmin! Can't believe we use to travel anywhere without it!
Our daughter, Angie, and son-in-law, Josh, had recently moved to the Fort Lauderdale area and asked us to bring a few items down to them. So we stuffed the back of our Ford Escape full leaving just a tiny space for our pup, Roxy. We brought her with us so Angie and Josh could watch her while we went off on our cruise.
We made it to Fort Lauderdale safe and sound and spent a couple days there before heading off on our cruise.
Finally cruise day came ( Monday, Nov. 5th).
I chose this cruise , (Holland America's Noordam) mainly because it went to St. Lucia. Not many cruises seem to go there and I've always wanted to see St. Lucia. The cruise also included stops in St. Maarten, Barbados, Dominica, Martinique, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay. It was very port intensive, which I loved---6 port days in a row, another port later. Ken's more of a sea day fan, but he held up pretty well.
The first 3 days (Nov. 5-7) were sea days. We settled into our SS 8060 superior suite. We originally booked an SY category room, but when the SZ's came available a few months later for a couple hundred/person less, I rebooked an SZ guarantee. About 10 days before our cruise, we got our room assignment--upgraded to an SS. I kept checking my email hoping for an upsell offer to a deluxe suite. I did finally get that email, but it was while we were on the road and I didn't find out about it until about 30 minutes after the inventory office opened. By then all the upsells were gone. Would have been a fantastic deal at $149/person! Dang!!! But our room was on the port side and we enjoyed the sunrises and port views the first 6 days, then sunsets the last 5. It wasn't quite as big and didn't have the added benefits of the deluxe suite we had last year, but still pretty nice.
Here's a very roughly put together pan of the room.
Loved that the verandah even had a table and 2 chairs as well as 2 other chairs with ottomans and a side table.
We took advantage of these sea days to check out the ship and some of the programs offered ---such as the digital workshop;
Had dinner one night at the now $10 upcharge italian Canelletto restaurant. Last year it was free. Service was great, although Ken wasn't as impressed with the food this time.
On our 3rd full day, we were in St. Maarten. I had been here once before and had done the island tour then. Although it was an interesting tour, I was ready to hit the water. Ken doesn't really care what we do as long as it doesn't take much money or energy. We're not ones to book many excursions through the ship, so I researched and came upon Dawn beach as the best place to snorkel here. I'd read snorkeling isn't the greatest on St. Maarten, so wasn't expecting much more then a beatiful beach and warm water. I wasn't disappointed! We walked off the ship and to the well organized taxi area of the port to the sign that said Dawn beach. There we paid $7@, but I don't remember if that was rt or each way. Regardless, it was much better then the ship excursion prices. To get back, all we had to do was tell him when to come back. There was also a dispatcher there that called him when we were ready to come back a little earlier then we originally planned. There were people there offering to rent chairs and umbrellas for a few dollars, but we knew we'd be in the water most of the time and declined. One vender came by when we were getting ready to leave, but he was pleasant even though we didn't buy anything. The water was a bit cloudy near the shore, but cleared up quite bit near the reef.
Snorkeling wasn't great but still entertaining. We went to the darker area to the right of the above picture and saw a few interesting critters. Here's one of the few squid we saw.
It had a nice secluded beach here. We had it basically to ourselves for a couple hours before the tours started to arrive (except for the nice lady offering beach chairs for a small fee).
One of the many trumpet fish we saw, but the first one I've seen that was bluish. I know they will turn yellow, but didn't know they also can turn blue.
All too soon it was time to go back to the ship. I would have liked to have taken a land tour, but being in port only 6 or 7 hours just doesn't leave enough time to do more then one thing. Our cruise ship did do a scenic narrated tour of the coastline to Soufriere where the Pitons are. The ship stopped here to pick up passengers who did a couple of the excursions that ended here. I enjoyed watching the sunset and seeing the clouds changing colors over the Pitons. I would love to go back here someday to one of the Sandals resorts.
Here's is the driveway to one of the many plantation houses on the island. Sugar cane was a big producer for them. In recent years, though, sale of sugar has fallen off.
The port of Barbados is nothing to look at, but it leads to an interesting little island.
This port was more difficult to do a self excursion. We had hoped to take a taxi to a beach about 30 minutes away and do some snorkeling. Unfortunately, the taxi drivers here wanted 60 euro/hour and wouldn't just leave and come back. They wanted to be paid for the whole time we snorkeled. We had talked about doing just an hour long taxi ride, then be dropped off at a ferry port to ride over the bay and walk to a beach on the other side since. But the driver then said we had to book him for at least 2 hours. At that point, we took off on foot to the ferry.
Along the way, we passed this fort that we saw from our verandah earlier-Fort St. Louis. It is a fortress on a peninsula at Fort-de-France. Today the fort is both an active naval base and a listed historic site of France.
We waited about 30 minutes for the ferry which was suppose to run every hour. While waiting, I thought it would be nice to grab a drink from McDonald's across the street. I was surprised to find it closed, along with everything else in the area because it was Sunday.
Finally reach the beach (I believe we ended up at Anse Mitan). It was pretty. Lots of little restaurants/bars along the beautiful beach.
Next day we were in the port of Dominica. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing that day. I had heard of Champagne Reef, but thought it was mainly an area where bubbles were in the water and wasn't sure it would live up to all the hype. After all, I could stay in the jacuzzi and see a bunch of bubbles! The port wasn't much to look at.
The info I had said it was the nature island so I figured we'd head off the ship and see if we could find a tour. We headed to the info booth and asked about tours. As an afterthought, I asked about Champagne Reef. She said it was a quick taxi ride and accessible from the beach and was an excellent place to snorkel. So back to the ship we went to change into swimsuits and grab our snorkel gear then head to the taxis. Fortunately there was another couple there waiting, too, so we got to share the taxi cost---which was then $30@ rt. At the destination, we paid a $2@ admittance fee and were led down a boardwalk to the "beach"--made up of rounded rocks.
Yellow tail snapper---
and another--- (Rock Beauty?)
The next day we were in port at St. Thomas. Having been here before, we knew the snorkeling was great and had an idea where we wanted to go. We also had rented a car here before and did so again. Pick up was easy----just made our way to the windmill on the port and called Budget for our courtesy pick up. Rental for the day was $45, plus we paid $10 for supplemental insurance. They do drive on the wrong side of the street there, but my driver didn't do too badly!
We had planned to go to Coki beach first before the ship tours got there, but with the poor road signage, we ended up at Saphire first. I had read Saphire was the place to go for snorkeling, but because of weather had never made it anywhere but to a beach in Cowpet Bay before. Although Saphire was beautiful, we found the snorkeling to be only so-so.
After less than an hour at Sapphire, we headed to the place our daughter told us about last year---- Cowpet Bay at the Elysian Resort---
(On a later trip, we found really good snorkeling at Sapphire, but it was way out at the point to the right of the bay)
After 6 port days in a row, the next day was a welcomed sea day! Even though I'm not a big fan of sea days, the day of rest was nice. Althought my plans for sleeping in didn't go so well. Somewhere in the Caribbean waters I encountered what I assume was sea lice---invisible to the eye, larvae or jellyfish or other stinging swimmers that attacked me---and I ended up with an extremely itchy rash. I had this happen before on a couple of our trips to Hawaii (out of about 20 trips to Hawaii), so I wasn't surprised. Apparently they don't bother everyone---like Ken---but they sure like me. Took about 5 days for the extreme itching to subside. At least it happened near the end of our cruise.
After our sea day, we had one last port---the HAL private island, Halfmoon cay. We have been here twice before, too, so were looking forward to a restful day at the beach there. We were not disappointed. This was the only port we had to tender to, but that didn't take too much time. We threw our towels and bag on a couple chairs and donned our snorkel gear and headed into the water. There's a little snorkel area by the kids area which we'ld snorkeled before and knew it didn't have much, but we didn't care. We knew the water would feel great.
Getting in the x-mas spirit.
Here is a picture of part of the artificial reef out by the kids play area.
and more by the rock wall.
It was another beautiful day on Halfmoon Cay! Even the free bar b q lunch on the beach was good. There were a bunch of birds cleaning up after us, including these cute little yellow bellied ones.
When we weren't eating or swimming in the water, we wandered around the beach a bit.
While we were there, the tide really went out. The chairs to the right were almost in the water when we got there. With the low tide we had even calmer water.
This was Ken's 4th cruise, my 10th. Other than my first cruise (when my Dad almost drowned), I haven't had a bad one yet (not counting weather). I really enjoyed seeing the new places and revisiting the ones we've been to. We enjoyed it so much we even did the onboard booking for the ship board credit for the next one. The $200 ship board credit for booking onboard last year and the $100 OBC for having CCL stock came in really handy this year. After gratuities of $12/day@ , the Canelleto dinner, and a couple other items we bought onboard, we only owed $56 when we debarked. Now to start dreaming about where to go next!