Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cruise 2011: Day 7, At Sea

If I thought we were cruising slowly to get to Nassau, I don't know what you'd call the speed we went from Nassau back to Ft. Lauderdale!  Barely moving?  Normally, a cruise to the Bahamas is an over-nighter, well, we had about 36 hours to get back to Ft. Lauderdale!

Think we're docked?  LOL.  The sea was THAT smooth.
 Look!  A rainbow!  We saw this and thought "Great, it's not going to be a bright, hot day".  Well...we were right and we were wrong....
(Not sure if the video says it's still uploading, about 10 hours later...)You need to watch only about the first 12 seconds....LOL...I kept forgetting with video you can't rotate it half way through the video; I was trying to show everything....
 We had made an appointment to see the guys in the "advance booking" department to find out what options are available for families of 5.  However, once I got the daily planner the night before, I totally forgot about that and wanted to see the "Meet the Captain" question and answer show.  There's also the chief engineer and the chief of hotel services (or whatever the titles are), and the guy on the right is the Social Director....the Canadian's been so long now I'd have to look up his name, but if you really want to know I'm sure I put it in earlier posts :)  By the time this show started in the AquaTheater, the sky was clear and the sun was blazing hot.  I had forgotten my hat, and was sweating, Rob was barely holding it together too.  There was virtually no shade due to the direction we were heading and the fact it was 10-11am anyway.  Dumb place to have this little gem of a show.

After the show, we headed back to our room to cool off.  Then we came back out to see the short family show based on "Madagascar".  It was just like all the other Royal shows...non-stop action; bungee, trampolines, water action, etc. 
 We've never seen the movies, so we weren't familiar with the characters.
It was very hot out.  We went back to our room to "rest" and get ready to go to the pool (or something).  We had the TV on and got sidetracked by cheesy American shows (re-enacted detective shows).  We noticed that the weather was changing, and could see rain way off on the horizon.  And white caps.  We were still going very slow, so that was interesting.
The next hour made having a balcony the BEST thing ever.  Even better than breakfast on the balcony while in the port.  Even better than the late, dark nights on the balcony.  Okay, maybe not better than that ;) but experiencing a thunderstorm while at sea in the Caribbean, on your own balcony?  Awesome!  We stood out there and watched the rain come closer and closer until it was raining on us.  And the thunder!  Oh my!  It was so much fun!  LOL. On one of our earlier cruises we had watched cloud lightening from the pool deck at night, which was really neat too, but something about being IN the storm, in the middle of the ocean (so it feels) just makes you feel like a pirate or something!

In this video, right at the start there is a flash of lightening and it happened so quickly we almost missed it, but the biggest crack of thunder!  Startled the crap out of us!  There's more thunder around the 35 sec mark.  It had been pouring rain for about 5 minutes at this time.  We finally went into our room since the visibility wasn't very good and we were getting wet, and lightening is not as impressed in daylight LOL.  About 5 minutes after the video, there was an announcement saying all open decks were closed.  We thought it took a little long for that announcement, it's not like the storm snuck up on the ship LOL.

Now...think about this ship's design.  It's the only ship that is open down the middle!  It's not just a top deck that is open to the sky, there's also deck 6 with the Boardwalk/Aqua Theater at the rear of the ship (the deck we were on), and mid-ship on deck 8 with the Central Park (as well as all of Decks 15 and 16 and the bow of Deck 14.  On the top decks, it's the sports stuff, the pools, some bar areas, etc.  Not a lot.  But on decks 6 and 8, there are restaurants and shops.  And, on deck 6 the only way in is from the middle of the ship, and on deck 8, you enter from either end (so, not at the sides).  We were wondering what would happen if you were in the restaurants when they closed the decks.  We popped out to see the Boardwalk, and they had big, solid doors that closed it off (there were also glass doors that were kept closed the rest of the time).  We found out when we went to dinner at a restaurant in Central Park later that there are back doors that go into the corridors the cabins are on.  The doors aren't labelled, but are the rear emergency and staff exits.  When the decks got closed, the patrons were led out those doors.  Cool.

We had an early dinner reserved at Chops, I think it was.  Since we were confined to our room all afternoon (well, we could have gone anywhere INSIDE the ship, but so could 6000 other people), we were ready early and as soon as Central Park opened again, we headed out.  They do have a bin with umbrellas at each end, but since it was lightening, that's why it was closed.  It was pretty neat to explore after the rain, it was still pretty empty.
 It's actually quite warm at the back of this covered area.  It doesn't provide shade and acts like a green house LOL.  But still pretty.
 I forgot to take pictures of our meal :(  As always, it was delicious!  The waiter even persuaded me to have a signature blueberry martini in a souvenir glass....for $15.  Yikes.  The glass is nice but sits on Rob's dresser with change in it.
 The day before, while watching the ship's channel, I heard about the dancing lights.  I think I had seen it mentioned in the daily newsletter, but it doesn't explain what much of the items are.  It just says "A Selection of Fountain Shows, AquaTheater".  And, at 10:45pm we were often in other events.  But when I saw it on the TV, I knew I had to see it.  It's a musical show, where the fountains are lit and choreographed to music. 
 Of course, I didn't remember until near the end that a video might be a better option.  After several attempts, I can't get my own video to load, so here's one on YouTube.  My video was of the CanCan section, look around YouTube and see if there's another one of it.

This is the Solarium (adult only) hot tub.  One of two.  It is HUGE.  I know you can't really see it in that picture, but I'll post more pictures later of around the ship.
This is the Solarium pool.  It is tiny.  We were actually disappointed in this.  Once it's filled with adults, you can barely move.  There is no swimming in this pool.  They should just turn up the heat and call it a hot tub.
This is the Beach pool.  It's a salt water pool (which will take the print off your SeaPass by day 5), and the edge is sloping so the water can come up to the first row of loungers.  However, after the rain, the water was quite a bit higher.

After our last late night tour of the ship, we headed for bed.  Morning comes bright and early on disembarkment day.  Well, it was early, though not very bright!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cruise 2011: Day 6, Nassau, Bahamas

I finally convinced Rob that we should order room service for breakfast and enjoy it on the balcony, and what nicer way than as we sail into Nassau?  We selected the time slot 8-8:30am and picked our food.  It was a little confusing, as you filled in how many of something you wanted, but it also asked how many guests. 
We were a little surprised to be woken up with a knock on the door at 8:02am!  We seriously did not expect it that early!  There was a LOT of food.  I loved the fact we got a carafe for the coffee, although we still ended up with non-dairy creamer even though I had wrote "real cream" on the menu.  The food was alright, the hashbrowns weren't what I was expecting, but were still considered hashbrowns.

It's foggy here because it was hot and humid and my camera immediately fogged up when I turned it on!  We sailed into the slip at about 9:30 and saw three other ships there.  We didn't know it till we got home, but the day before had seen SEVEN cruise ships in the port.  Apparently, it was a bit of a logistics nightmare, but they all got docked.  Never found out what ships they were.
While we sat on our balcony, I could see a lady laying on her balcony, on the Norwegian Pearl, directly across from us.  She appeared to be pantless.  I just had to get a closer look!
Ahh!  A pale pink bathing suit!  I felt a little better knowing she wasn't pantless, but still was a little disturbed.  I do wish there were lounge chairs on the balcony, but I don't think I would have laid on the floor; much too hard!
The gangway was to open around 10:15am, but that came and went.  We went down to the jogging track; Rob sat in a lounger and held my water bottle while I slogged around the track a few times.  It was terribly hot and humid on the track, with no wind, and lots of non-exercisers making it a challenge.  I really don't recommend using the track when in port for these two reasons.

It was taking so long for the gangway to open up that we went up to the Windjammer for the last of the breakfast and first helpings of lunch.  They won't let you in once they close breakfast, but it seems that if you're actually in there, they won't kick you out.
We had a nice view of the other ships.  We had seen the Norwegian Pearl before, when we left on our second cruise.  What was funny this time, was watching the kitchen staff try out the hammocks and take pictures of each other!  LOL!  I think these were on the private sundeck.  It appears on those deck plans that the Pearl also has two storey suites; I thought Oasis was the first?  Or maybe this is an update to the Pearl?
We finally got off the ship around noon.  The Pearl also has a private lounge/coffee area beside the ship on the pier!  Anyway.  At certain angles, the Pearl and the Allure look not too much different in size...but late shots will show otherwise!
Also in port was the Disney Dream.  We have also seen the Disney Magic, but the water slide on this one looks way more fun!  The other ship was the Carnival Sensation, a very old and small looking ship.  In fact, it's passenger total is only 2052 people; the Pearl takes about ...OH!  2466!  The Disney Dream hosts 4000 people.  The Norwegian website calls the "elbow room" on the Pearl, "roomy".  I would think so!  Fascinating to see them lined up!  The Carnival does 3 and 4 night cruises through the Bahamas on this ship, starting at $229/PP.  If you doubled up, that's still only $460 for a week, although I don't know if this ship would keep you busy for a week, but there are a lot of ports on that cruise too. 
It was a bit of a challenge getting through the port building.  Our initial estimate was that there would be about 16 200 guests on the four ships (plus any crew that come off).  Now that I know the actual numbers, it's more like a maximum 14 718.  Still, that's a boatload of people, LOL! 
The building you get fed through is  like a flea market, with many stalls of food and souvenirs.  And hair braiders.  I did read a sign that said to make sure your hair braider is "certified".  I also read a sign that said tour and service providers are to not approach tourists, but that was certainly ignored.  We ended up going right to the end of the building and having to pass the horse and carriage ride zone....try to avoid that.  Even from across the street it stunk!

The first few blocks around the port and pretty much just like any other of the ports that haven't been "remodelled" by the cruise lines.  Old buildings, crowded streets with poor/no sidewalks, and American stores taking over.  Please don't judge a port just by the areas shown on the port guide handed out by your ship.  Walk a few blocks in any direction, use your instincts, and enjoy yourself!  My son is currently doing a project on the Bahamas, and I've read that the recession put city improvements on hold, but they are getting back to investing in the city.  According to Fodor's, there are plans to make some streets connecting Bay Street, Shirley Street and the wharf, pedestrian-only.  I'm not sure if this has happened.  You can see Bay St. in the picture above, and the street that goes down to the pier....and there's vehicles on it.  Making it car-free would be great.  There's not much room for pedestrians, and we watched some in wheelchairs/scooters have a really hard time.  Once past Bay Street, the crowd disperses significantly, but sidewalks are still rough and small.

I was hoping to see a police officer in this little booth, which was in the middle of a busy intersection.  All intersections were busy though, LOL!
Rob insisted on a picture of this Suzuki Jimmy.  Not available in North America, I think due to the high rollover rate he said.  It replaces the Samurai in other countries.
I love seeing my bank on various Caribbean islands.  I would have checked my balance if I had known they were there--my wallet was in our cabin.
If we had the kids with us, I think the pirate museum would have been interesting.  It's $12 per person, and slightly scary, but the souvenir shop is worth checking out (I wish I had this Fodor's book when we were there, although we didn't even know we were going there!).

One thing I've read in Fodor's is that there is a Straw Market that burnt down in 2001. It's apparently a big deal, and the book said a committee was formed in 2009 to create a permanent home for it. No where in the book can I find where the market currently is. However, I just googled it, and sadly, the temporary building (of plastic tarps) was destroyed in late August 2011 by Hurricane Irene. Apparently they were supposed to move into a new building on Bay Street, "in the fall". Judging by Google Maps, I think we walked past what open lot with vendors. I have no idea if the images on Google are of the "new" building (which doesn't look too permanent) or of the one that was destroyed in August 2011.
EDIT----while looking at the photos on our big TV with family, I noticed this one, just to the east of the Hilton.  It matches what I saw on Google and Google Maps:

When we were having our brunch, we could see beaches.  We didn't know if these were public or not, but we were walking in that general direction so we quickly found it.  Called Junkanoo Beach, it's actually man made, and public.  It looked so inviting!  The first thing we did was find a Diet Coke at one of the vendors.  So cold, and much more tasty than the ones on the ship that were more than twice the price!

I would highly recommend spending time at this beach.  There is a shady area at the very east end (the end closest to the ships).  We kept walking down the beach, picking up shells and a couple Bahamian pennies.

A nice view showing the back of the Allure.  You can see the rock climbing wall on the left side.  There are two pillars, which is where the high divers were diving from during the Aquatheater show.  Diving--head first!  Right above the "Allure of the Seas" is the jogging track.  When the curtains were open, you could see the stage and look up at all the seats.  The deck right above the lifeboat was our deck, but we were 1/2 way down the ship.
Here's a nice shot of the four ships.  I'm surprised at how small the Pearl looks; like I said, I thought it was similar in size to the Freedom/Liberty ships we had been on before, which are about the same size as the Disney ship.
These are some of the buildings across the street from the main part of the beach.  There appeared to be some hurricane damage, like broken windows and missing shingles.  The two storey building in the middle is the "El Greco Hotel" which is an economical, old style hotel that offers free phone calls to the United States on the lobby phone (not sure if you could just walk in though, LOL, apparently due to the small size the owner gets to know the guests...).  However, there is no on site restaurant and the pool is small. 

More interesting vehicle options!
A mailbox!  How cute is that?!

We headed back to the ship, after trying to cool off at the beach.  I wasn't wearing anything suitable for swimming, but if it wasn't such a hassle to get back on the ship, I would have gone back to change.  We entered the pier building and found a LONG line of people waiting to get through security.  It was hot in there.  Be prepared.

Rob wanted to go in the Solarium pool, so I wandered around getting pictures of the city and waterfront.  This catamaran is a ferry (that's what I overheard).  Don't know where it was going, but I did hear that you can take a ferry to/from Miami.  

Below, the yellow building with the green roof next to the tower, is the pier building/flea market that you go through to get to Nassau.

This open area in the bow of the Disney Magic is a kids only area, apparently.
This is the water slide on the Carnival ship.  It looked like fun.  I think these are a great option for kids in the 6-10 age range who might not be quite big enough to feel comfortable in the pools, which tend to not be shallow enough.
Below, is the British Colonial Hilton Nassau.  It was builtin 1899, and burnt down in 1921.  An exact replica was opened a year later.  It's a gorgeous building, right downtown, although Fodor's says it can also be a little busy.
Looking to the right (to the west) as we stood on deck, is this lovely green building.  According to Google, it's the Manx Coporate Centre.  Appears to be something financial.

This is the beach, going further west.
Coming to the end of the beach, at Awarak Cay.  This is as far as we walked, as we could see it was all industrial on the little island.  Fodor's says there's great, authentic restaurants "on" Awarak Cay, however, the restaurants aren't actually ON the cay (which is to the right of the bit of water at the right edge).

This is looking straight down the harbour towards Awarak Cay on the left, and Crystal Cay on the right.  There is a marine park at the far end of Crystal Cay, where you can just make out a lighthouse type building behind the bridge.

Above is the passage way the ships use to enter/leave the habour.  It's not a very big harbour, and has had a lot of dredging to deepen/widen it.  Still, it's a tight fit for the Allure!  The long breakwall is Crystal Cay.

Below is a view of Atlantis.  THere is a lot more than just Atlantis on Paradise Island.  I did take a lot of pictures of Atlantis (it's HUGE), but you can easily Google for more.  You're supposed to pay to wander the grounds, but apparently you can also just wander around for free, as my inlaws found out, LOL.
Here we are leaving the harbour, through that opening.  You can see a little boat that's going to ride the resulting current down into the harbour.  It was fascinating watching the Allure pull out and do a 180degree turn.  We were running from side to side of the ship seeing just how close it gets to the markers.  It would be neat to see an overhead video!

We weren't too impressed with our room steward this time.  I don't know if he was new at it, or what, but he/the crew were not too helpful when we had questions or concerns.  We didn't even get all the departure info that we were supposed to get.  I don't think we had a towel creature every night, like on the other cruises, either.  This was one of the few, and I think, the only one we took pictures of.
The show that night was "Blue Earth".  I knew it would involve acrobatics/trapeeze type stuff, so we sat in the balconey.  I find the theater on the ships to be VERY cold.  Each ship has been this way.  I don't remember if the balcony was warmer though.  While waiting for the show, you see this suspended fabric globe that has the earth projected on it.

Of course, this show is spectacular, if not a little abstract...there's no dialogue or real story.  Just go with the flow.  It's about the earth,and the various elements.  The "underwater" scenes were stunning.  There was a sheer curtain at the front, with video projected on it (the Nemos above), and the acrobats hanging behind it.
Here, there are jellyfish projected on the curtain.  Google for some video.  I didn't want to break copyright too much :)  And please, people, do NOT use flash photography at shows.  I'm a musician, and it is extremely annoying/distracting, and potentially dangerous to the performers.
One part of the show involved these two inclined trampolines.  The dude in the orange/red on the right is the lead male/singer.  He was also in Chicago, as the slimey lawyer.

This was a long day again, and quite hot and sunny walking around Nassau.  I really recommend getting some books from the library before going on a cruise.  I'm not sure why I haven't done that, except that Rob likes to stick with offical exercusions, or walking around close to the docks.  But he also hates shopping, and the ports are usually either 1)new and designed for the cruise ships or 2)old and a mix of the same stores as in 1, as well as seedy looking shops he won't go in and American shops/fast food that we can get at home.  A few blocks further though and it's nice to have a guidebook.