Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cruise 2011: Day 4, Falmouth, Jamaica

Day four brought us to Falmouth, Jamaica.  On our last cruise (also a Western one), we were supposed to go to Ocho Rios, but had to divert to Montego Bay.  Falmouth, while a very old harbour, is a very new port destination for Royal Caribbean, located about 45 minutes east of Montego Bay, on Jamaica's north shore.  I decided to go down to the jogging track as we were approaching the harbour, and do a few laps.  I don't recommend doing this.  There was no ocean breeze, and the deck was full of sightseers, including many crew members.  It wasn't the most pleasant jog and I went back up to our room before we docked.

We didn't notice anything when we docked this time.  Rob wanted to be at the gangway right away to make sure we didn't miss our tour, but they won't let you wait near the gangway.  Don't worry though, if the tour is scheduled to meet at 10:15, and they don't open the gangway till 10:20, and you're the only ship in (any) port, the tour operators ARE going to wait for you!  It's a bit of a walk from the pier, through the shopping section, to the tour staging area, but not too far.  It just feels like forever when there's a couple thousand people also trying to figure out where to go.  However, I noticed this last time in Jamaica--they are well organized, very polite, and helpful.  Some of the young girls working looked a little bored, but I love that they are all dressed smartly and at least look professional.  Right down to pantyhose!
We made it to our staging area just as it started to down pour!  We were right at  a permanent roofed pavilion, so were fine, but a lot of others squished in too.  It was interesting watching the buses maneuver around the staging area...and seeing scrapes on the buses....Our last drive through Montego Bay was a little scary, and this time, it was pouring!  I was glad to see there were seatbelts on the bus, and immediately did it up!

We were curious to what this little contraption was for.  My guess was for a pack of cigarettes.
We left the pier area, and started driving through Falmouth.  One of the first things we saw was "Juici Patties"...and note the packing tape holding the SUV together:

Immediately after Juici Patties was "Beaver Tile and Hardware", complete with a beaver picture on the sign.  There was actually a couple shops with this beaver name/picture (click on pictures to make them larger).  I wonder if there's a Canadian connection.

The town of Falmouth was a little depressing.  We hadn't seen this kind of poverty when we drove around Montego Bay on our last trip.  What really got to me was seeing garbage everywhere, open water full of garbage next to homes.
This was a common sight throughout Jamaica--cinder block homes in various stages of completion.  They're very sad looking before they get their finish coat and bright colours.
Outside of Falmouth, you enter the "suburbs" and the vacation villa area.  The homes are beautiful and large.
Another partially finished home.  Someone on the bus mentioned that they had heard that if a house isn't finished, they don't have to pay taxes on it, so there's no incentive to "finish" and homes are often lived in one portion of it, while the rest is being "built".  I wonder how long it takes to build a home here?
Below, click on the photo, and you'll see a sign for a "Royal Bank of Canada".  I suppose this is a popular area for Canadians?  It was on the outskirts of Montego Bay.
Our destination was a sail and snorkel by Dreamer Catamaran.  It sails from Cornwall Beach which is a lovely "private" beach (ie--not attached to a hotel, and not public--free--there is an admission charge).  Our boat was the 65ft Island Dreamer catamaran.
This was our third catamaran snorkel trip, and I really enjoy these.  Like the one in Cozumel, this one stuck close to shore and we didn't really get sailing, but it was still fun.  I took a disposable underwater camera, and haven't got it developed yet, so no underwater photos yet.
This is the view of Cornwall Beach as we were leaving.
You could see a Carnival ship in the port, it was quite a distance away (if you're looking on Google Maps, you'll see three 1/2 circle beaches towards the north shore.  I think Cornwall Beach is the middle one.  Oh, look, it's across the street from the Canadian Consulate!
During the snorkel time, someone found a crab trapped in fishing nets--we were in a marine preserve so there shouldn't have been any fishing.
The snorkeling was great, very scenic.  The crew spent a bit of time with the beginners.  We were offered life vests, which I put on in the traditional way.  Then I noticed that the beginners had them on just around their waists.  I ditched the life jacket, and they found me a pool noodle.  I'm a lousy snorkeler....I keep holding my breath, then when I do take a big breath, it sucks in my mask, and I get freaked out, and I turn my head and get a wave down the snorkel...I can't swim down underwater either.  I finally gave up on the snorkel, and just used the mask, LOL!
After a while, I started to feel nauseous.  I nearly threw up, in the ocean!  I was sea sick while swimming in the sea.  Good grief.  The swim time was almost over by then.
After the swim, we motored around the lagoons, got to fondle a sea cucumber, LOL.  The bar was open and decently stocked.  The snack/lunch however...processed cheese slice on whole wheat raisin bread, with butter.  Strange, but edible if eaten in separate pieces.  The crew was great, they were even doing massages, although no one got to me.  I did get a bad sunburn on my scalp though--I didn't take my sun hat because I was worried about it blowing off :(  I would definitely recommend this company's trip.

Coming back to Cornwall Beach, we got to see the same coastline sights that we had seen last time as we cruised away from port  (for more pictures, and more about Montego Bay, check my previous post).
The Carnival ship from the other side of the port, we were in the lagoons.

Some better pictures of Margarita Ville.

Leaving Montego Bay, you pass all the huge (and not so huge) resorts on the shore.  Then you get back to the poverty.
And people trying to make a life, a business, out of anything.  Little tiny shops were everywhere.

Coming back into the port was really slow.  There is security to go through; someone comes on board, and we all had to hold up our Sea Pass and photo ID.  Not sure how much the guy could see from the front of the bus.  While we were waiting, I spotted this sign:
"The possession and use of Ganja on site is prohibited.  This notice serves as the first and last warning.  Anybody caught in possession of Ganja or apparatus to smoke Ganja will be dismissed".  I found that amusing and reassuring.
While waiting for our tour in the morning, I had seen a man on stilts.  Hugh was wanting to be a stilt man for Hallowe'en, so I was trying to get a picture.  I couldn't get a good one in the morning, in the rain, but he was back in the afternoon.
One of the excursions is a 'real life pirate adventure'.  This is the ship you get to go out on, while the crew does  a live re-enactment of a pirate brawl (or something).
Rob was hungry and didn't want to explore the port.  For the most part, it's all the same shops as at the other ports, with some local vendors thrown in.  Apparently, the port was restored with/by/for Royal Caribbean, said our (Jamaican) waiter, however, the bus driver said it was all new.  I think there was a lot of newly filled land, but I don't know if the buildings are old or not.

I don't know what this end building is, but it was pretty in the lowering sun.
There was a row of unfinished homes on the other side of the port.  Who knows if they are actually being worked on, or if it's on hold...
A few minutes further out, and the sun broke through the clouds.

Later on, we went to another ice show, "How to Train A Dragon".  It's a short (22 minute) show, based on the movie.  Of course, it is very well done.  I expect to see this as a touring production soon--there's a lot of money invested in this show and while there are about 5-10 ice rinks on the various Royal ships, is that enough of a run to make it profitable?

That's all I have for day 4.  I really don't remember what we did that night.  Perhaps we actually went to bed "early"?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cruise 2011: Day 3, Labadee, pt 2

I wanted to be on deck for the sail away, and as per the previous two trips, Rob would lay down on a deck chair and have a siesta.  This time there was no loud band (we were in the Solarium; the large glassed in area at the front of the ship), but there were those dark clouds again!  What really got me was that they blew the ship's horn as we were leaving.  Several times.  Wouldn't it have been better to blow it before departure?  It is VERY loud, so be warned if you're up on deck.  I never heard it at the other ports (that have cities).

A little while after leaving Labadee, the Captain came on the loudspeakers.  Being on the deck, it's really hard to hear.  What we did make out was that there was a hurricane coming, and we would probably not be going to Cozumel.  We weren't too disappointed by that, since we had been there before, but were very curious as to where they'd take this huge ship.  There aren't too many options!

We had no plans until time to see the headlining show, "Chicago".  I was SO excited to see this.  I've played the music in bands, but I've never seen the play or the movie.  I knew Royal Caribbean would do a good job with it, and that the scantily clad women would appeal to Rob, but other than that I really didn't know much about it.  It was awesome.  Fabulous.  But as always, very cold in the theater.
 I'm not sure what Rob had for dinner...I had started out writing it down every night, but then realized pictures are worth a 1000 words....
 I had lamb shank.  I think I prefer lamb chops, but this was very moist (with some fatty bits), and very flavourful--lamb is a strong taste! 
I didn't discover the mint jelly until half way through, and although I wouldn't normally eat it, it did help mellow the taste of the lamb.  Rob ate my potatoes.  Rosemary was the garnish on everything this week.

 After dinner we went up top to play mini golf.  At first glance, you might think this is an easy course--there's no windmills, or sliding gates, or other tricky things.  But it is a very well thought out course and you can't just whack the ball.  One of us started right off with a hole in one....I think it was Rob, but maybe it was me (I did it on the other cruise, so maybe this was his turn, LOL).
 Hey, how'd Skippy get on the mini golf course?!
 There's a little kids section too, which is more like putting practice, but very whimsical and fun.
 We headed over to the flowrider to see what's up.  There were some staff working out.  On one hand it looks like fun, but watching the video on the TV and watching people actually try it for the first time was enough for us, LOL!  There are two Flowriders on this ship, but often just one was open.  Still, I hear the line ups aren't too bad.  We thought about getting a lesson, but it's $60.  We're too cheap!

Tomorrow---Jamaica, man!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cruise 2011: Day 3, Labadee, Haiti

Although we'd been to Labadee twice before (see the Cruise 2008 posts), we were interested in going again, to see how it's changed. 
When we found out we were on deck 6, we thought "great, no docking noises!".  Well, not so, as we found out around 6am as the engines slowed/stopped!  We were surprised to be awaken this way, but this was the only time I ever noticed anything to do with engines or docking.

These four pictures give a panoramic of the harbour (the bottom one goes to the right of the one above it).  The new pier is huge.  I'm not sure how many ships they dock at once.  The smoke in the second picture is not charcoal making fires, but the Columbs Cove bbq.  The big boat in the first picture is one of the old tender boats; now it's a one way ferry to the Columbus Cove area.

We had a relaxed breakfast at Windjammer, I think.  We didn't go ashore until 9:45, and were pleased at how quick and easy it was.  There is even an escalator to get down to the gangway. 

Isn't she pretty?  We noticed when we boarded that the lower hull is a pale baby blue.  We were hoping to find out why, but didn't.

Armed with our map, we set out to explore.  Immediately on land, we saw a path on the left, but weren't sure if it was for the public.  We continued up the main path a bit, then took the next path and headed to the "left" edge of Labadee, behind the "Dragon's Plaza".
 Parasailing is a popular activity here; the experience is about an hour, although the flight is only 5-6 minutes.  You must be over 12, and 12-15 year olds must fly with a parent.  All flights are tandem.  Cost is $79US

 Looking towards where you enter Labadee, we headed off to the left shore, and towards the rocky point sticking out.
 Looking towards the left shore, below, the red roofed buildings just behind the shore (towards the left), are the Dragon's Breath Pub and cafe buildings.
 This is a nice strip if you want to avoid the beach crowds.
Looking towards the Dragon's Breath Cafe, Dragon's Lookout Point, Dragon's Beach, and Adrenaline Beach at the far back.

We headed towards the Dragon's Breath Lookout Point.
On the right side of the picture (click on it to get the enlarged version), you can see a dragon's head.  When the waves crash, it looks like he's spewing water.  Over to the middle of the picture, you can see a round area and a post.  This is the actual overlook.  There is a small rock pool here, and when the waves crash on the shore, this pool "breathes".  It's really neat.  There is a security guard there, who took my camera while I was trying to get video of it, and took some pictures.  Well, it's not something that a picture can express--just ripples on the water.  He also took some pictures of us! 

After leaving the rocky point, we headed across Dragon's Beach.  This is the beach that had the funny sign  (scroll down) last time we were there.  There is no swimming at this beach now, however, it was great for "wildlife" spotting!
 The "Beach Monitor"/lifeguard blew his whistle because you're not allowed  going in the water here.

 I saw many, many works of art that is otherwise known as black women's hairdo's.  They truly were fascinating, but I really liked the elegance of the one above.  It looks like she set it for the night previous (formal night), and kept it up for today.  A little over-elegant for strolling on the beach, but still very nice!
I saw several different interpretations of this look.  Not sure if you can tell, but she has sunglasses, a big hat, and a scarf wrapped over her face (including nose) and neck.  The day prior, I saw a lady sunbathing in a tiny bikini, while covering her face with her big sunhat, and her hands with white gloves.

 We found an empty hammock and Rob set out to give it a try.  He did make it in, and then I joined him for some lounging.  I was surprised that you don't feel the ropes on your back!

After the hammock, we wandered over to Adrenaline Beach.  This area is new since our last visit.  The swim area is sheltered, and some people were snorkeling, however, I did hear a few complaints about the ickiness of the bottom, and the fellow next to use got bite/cut by something.  If you plan to actually swim here, bring swim shoes.
Adrenaline Beach.  It's a very sunny beach area, with only a few of these shelters.
That's the start of the zip line, poking above the trees.
 You can see the top of the Allure in the background.
 A view of the zipline (more photos about the zipline later in the post).

We went in the water, but it wasn't really swimming.  Afterwards, we walked up to the very north end, to the Shipwreck Pub (didn't go in, but there's nice seating).  This is the area with basketball and volleyball courts.  No one was playing.  It was just too hot and sunny. 
While resting here, I finally spotted some real wildlife, a tiny hermit crab.
 This fella was tiny!  About 2cm long (less than one inch).

We walked back into the "town square" and into the Artisan's Showcase/Market.  So much nice artwork here!  Some of it is too big for people who are flying, but there's a lot of other stuff.

We hopped on the tram and took a tour of the Artisan's Village:

When I tell people that the cruise goes to Haiti, I often get asked if it's safe.  It's quite a ways from the big cities, and where they had the earthquake (Jan 2010?).
Labadee is at the very top of Haiti, near the border of Dominican Republic.  It's interesting to look at the satellite image on Google.  The pier is so long it's the first thing you can locate as you zoom in.
The people that work in Royal Caribbean's Labadee "resort"  live either in the nearby village (called Labadee), or in the area right beside "Labadee", separated by a fence.  We could see a motel like building at one point.  You can see this area on the satellite images, it's a cluster of buildings and tanks, etc, on the very right edge of the resort.  There is actually no real road to the village of Labadee (I'll show some pictures later on).
And besides, how can you NOT feel safe when you look up from your lunch and see this:
From left to right:  Royal Caribbean security, local police force, and National police/military.

We got off the tram at the Columbus Cove area, so we could have lunch.  All food is supplied by the ship, and most of the food staff is from the ship too.  The variety at the buffet is a little limited if you're picky, but I'm sure you can still find something. 
All around the resort (people kept calling it an island, which it is not, in the geoghrapher's term.  It is "island like" in the sense that it's removed from the rest of Haiti by fences and security), there are groups of local musicians performing.  They're quite good and deserve a listen and a bill or two.  They have CDs for sale, but I don't know about the quality of them--much of Labadee Village doesn't have electricity still.

After lunch, we went over to Columbus beach.  This side of Labadee is quite different, more matured.  You can easily get a lounge chair in the shade, and the swimming is lovely (there are some rocks, and it is a little squishy when you get out a ways, but at that point you can float, LOL).

 See the row of life boats?  Right in the middle of the ship there are two, and then a gap, then four.  Above that gap are three stateroom balconies.  Ours was one of those three rooms.
The deck with the lifeboats is deck 5, where the jogging track is (and inside is the Royal Promenade).  The two story loft suites are on the top left.

Next to Columbus Cove is the Arawak Aqua Park, and then the old dock that the tenders used before the pier was built.
 View of Arawak Aqua Park, below:

 Below is a better view of the old pier supports, and the aqua park.
The aqua park looks like fun.  You get about 50 minutes in the park, for $15.  If you're under 48" tall, you must have a parent in the water (and I assume, also paying!), and if you're under 16, you need a parent on the beach.

After our swim at Columbus beach we moved over to Nellie's Beach (not really labelled on the map, but it's in the blurb about swimming).  It's another lovely spot to swim and relax, unless you're listening to a Jewish trio complain about the food!  We think they were complaining about either the "alternative selections" (plainer, common, dishes on the menu) or "Giovanni's Table", the non-complimentary Italian restaurant on board.  The woman was saying that she could have linguine or salmon at home.  Whatever.  To me, any meal I don't have to cook is a good meal!

 There are some cabanas being built along the edge of Nellie's Beach.  There's no info on cost.  Next to Nellie's Beach is Barefoot Beach, for Crown and Anchor members of a certain level.  There's more cabana's there.
 Nellie's Bell Tower....looks the same as last time we were there!

Next to Nellie's Beach is the exclusive area, "Barefoot Beach Club" and spa.  You need have reached a certain level in the Crown and Anchor society, which we hadn't yet :( 

On the very right, you can see the side of the bell tower.  Why didn't those buccaneers build it so you could see it from the cruise ship?  LOL!

We got back on the ship around 2pm, and just like before, the clouds rolled in!

 These pictures are of the actual village of Labadee, to the south of the resort area.

 As we were sailing away, I heard a woman comment that it's a small place, all there was was the long beach running up the north side (Dragon's Beach).  I wonder how she thought that?

Now for a little bit about some of the attractions at Labadee.  First up is the very popular zip line (proper name is Dragons Breath Flight Line). 
 First you get the safety lecture, and then get to try out the baby zip line (not shown).  Then you get trucked up the hill--500ft above Adrenaline Beach.
 This attraction trucks you up to the top of the hill way behind Adrenaline Beach, and lets you fly through the air, landing near the Dragon's Breath. You start off with the information talk, then get to test out the baby zip line. Then you ride up the hill, 500ft above the beach, and soar over 2600 ft in length over the beach and water, at speeds of up to 50mph.

 You must be 60inches tall (153cm). Wow, I'm only 61" tall! Max. weight is 250lb, an not recommended for the usual suspects: back neck, heart problems, or pregnant women. Footwear required. If you book the 7:30am ride, you also get a free coaster ride. The zip line is $85.

I was interested in doing the new Dragon's Tail Alpine Coaster.  I'm not a big coaster rider though, so was unsure.
You can see parts of the coaster in other pictures of Adrenaline Beach and the zip line.  I'm not sure what the vertical track is--I think maybe they send the empty 'cars' there after the rider unloads.  It's an unpowered ride, going up to 30mph.  Minimum age to ride alone is 12; kids 5-11 must ride in same cart as parent.  Max combined weight is 360lb, which meant that Rob and I together would have been just over the limit!  We asked at the info desk how much it was, and they said $19.  We gasped and walked away.  The actual ride is only 3-5 minutes!  However, if you purchase a ticket, you can take a person along in your cart for free (if you're under the weight limit).  There are also combo packs; Aqua Park and coaster, $29; and a free coaster ride if you get the 7:30am zip line.

Floating mats--I didn't see very many this time; they're now $12 for the day.  Unless you plan to spend the entire day laying on a lounge chair, you've got to drag the floating mat around with you (like, to lunch).  At the end of the day last time we found many discarded ones, but this time we didn't see any.  I really think they should be cheaper!

Haitian Cultural Tour at Paradise Cove & Beach Break--we didn't go on this, but if you've still got Google satellite map open, stroll down the coast, to the south.  The first village in Labadee.  Keep going, and there's something like  a resort on a point.  Go past that and follow the coastline southwards to the first inlet.  That's where this takes place.  It's a 3 hour escape on a narrated water taxi.  You visit Le Village which is like a museum.  Then you get floating mats, beach chairs and a welcome drink.  There's also a cash bar.  For $65, it sounds like a nice getaway.  There's several other nice getaway type trips, by various types of watercraft.

If you look around the satellite images of Haiti, you can see all sorts of neat things.  There's the deforestation caused by the charcoal trade, seaside resort/homes...some with no roofs.

Something to look for, mostly from the ship decks, are the fishermen.  Their small boats look mighty tiny in the open sea!

For some of these, I had to zoom right in!  They were quite difficult to see with the naked eye.

I am going to end this post here, and write about our evening in a separate post.