Friday, April 18, 2014

Family Cruise 2014: Day 6, San Juan

Rob did not want to go back to San Juan.  I wanted to go again, but I actually want to go to San Juan for the purpose of leaving on a southern Caribbean cruise, LOL.  But I thought the kids would find it interesting that this little island is "American" but tropical, very historic yet modern, quite urban....very different from the other islands that while they are "modern" are still very rustic. 

Lucy wasn't feeling too well, and we didn't know if it was too much sun, the pop at the beach bar, something else...but we headed on shore.  I was intent to find "the Pigeon Park" (Parque de las Palomas ) that we had stumbled on the last time we were there.  I had maps this time, with the locations of a few geocaches that I was hoping we could find, and one was in this park.  The kids also wanted to go to Del Sol, the store that sells items that change colour in the sun.  We headed off towards the park, though there was some disagreement on where it was, which I thought was funny because I have NO recollection on how we got there the first time, and this time, I had a good map--I just needed to get orientated.  And indeed, it was me that found it this time :) 

Before we got to Pigeon Park, we stopped by Plaza de la Dársena & La Casita  to see if we could find a geocache.  This is a quaint little green space, but beware...as you approach it from the cruise ships, it will smell like horse pee.  Sorry.  There are carriage rides available, hence, the horses.  Move westwards into the plaza a bit.  Hopefully when you visit, there'll be water in the fountains.  I don't think the tourist info was open when we were there, but I didn't check--I didn't realize that was what it was. 
(Not my picture.)

Stopping at this green space did not really help in getting my bearings, LOL, since I didn't know which street was which.  But I could see the Paseo De La Princesa and that there was another area above it that looked like it could be it.  We just had to find out how to get up there.  I led the troops on a zig zag, cobblestoned route and despite Rob's disagreement, I found the entrance to the park. 

For more pictures, check out this blog post.  Please use your own discretion about visiting this park.  If you're afraid of birds, don't go.  If you're pushing  a stroller full of Cheerio crumbs, don't go.  If you're easily offended by smells, don't go.  If you're sane and normal, consider not going.  LOL.  It is very overwhelming; the sounds, the smells, the sh!t...

 One thing we noticed this time, that I hadn't noticed last time, were the little shoe sculptures.  That blog post I link to above, mentions them as well, and that she couldn't find any reference to them online.   We noticed were the tiny broken pigeon eggs :(  Lou told us at dinner that at the Vatican, birth control is put in the bird seed to control the population.  Maybe that's what happens here too.  They need to step it up a bit though!
 Once again, we saw lizards!
 I LOVE this picture!  They were so fast, it was hard to get my camera to focus on them before they darted off.  Don't forget to click on a picture to get to the better picture viewer.
 This one even had a racing stripe on his back!
 There's our ship!
I had wanted to recreate the picture below, with the whole family, but people weren't co-operating.
This was on our first cruise (October 2007), when I was really sick and didn't know why (turned out to be giardia).  
 One of the first birds  that caught our eye was this albino pigeon!  Cool.
The trees are really neat, it might be a banyan?  
Random pigeon.
 
We didn't find any of the two or three geocaches that were supposed to be here.  We didn't have a GPS, I just had the maps, comments, and I had decoded the secret hints.  But, they were micro sized, so I wasn't surprised.
Rob was cranky.  It was too humid for him.  The forecasted humidity was only 70%, compared to 81% in St. Kitts, but the actual temperature was also higher, so maybe it ended up being the same to him.
 
I had read that for $1, you could get a bag of corn to feed the birds.  I thought that sounded "fun" so Meg and I approached the man selling.
O.M.G.
I thought I might get a picture or video of MEGAN feeding the birds.  No one told the birds though.  I hadn't even stepped away from the man when the birds swarmed me.  It wouldn't have been too bad if they stayed on the ground, sort of like the picture below...

 But NO.  Pigeons are birds.  And birds fly.

Imagine ALL these birds, focused on just one thing---the bag of corn in MY hand.  I could barely move, I could feel them on my feet and legs, then I could hear them around my head and feel them on my arms.  They clawed at the bag and tried to land on me.  I tried to remain calm, but I totally felt like I was under attack.  I will not do this again.  There was no serene sprinkling of the corn on the ground and birds waddling around.  Sesame Street and Mary Poppins meet Stephan King, instead.
Rob decided he was going back to the ship.  I wasn't ready, despite my pigeon ordeal.  The kids were going  to go with him, until I mentioned Del Sol.  So, he left, and the kids and I wandered out to the street to find the store.  I knew it wasn't far, it was on my map, and we quickly found it.  I hope the kids enjoyed walking along the narrow, cobblestoned streets and sidewalks.  Something really different for them.

Del Sol is a small store, in a hot town.  We were in there for a couple minutes and Lucy said her tummy hurt and she didn't feel good.  I remembered a back part of the store, where I had nearly passed out on our first visit.  But there wasn't anything up the stairs.  I told Lucy to go outside while we tried to speed things up.  
A few minutes later (and really, it was under 5 minutes), we were in line, and a woman comes up to the cash and I hear "Can we get a bucket of water?  Someone {garbled garbled} on the sidewalk".  Oh no!  

As I was being rung up, a woman asks if I had a blonde daughter outside....cause she was sick....we pay and get out, and indeed, she made a big puddle of vomit on the sidewalk.  On one hand, I was SOOOO glad it wasn't in the store; on the other hand, I was a little disappointed at the lack of help.  A bucket of water came and some was splashed on the ground, but no one offered any water for Lucy, and most of the puddle was left.  Another woman recommended a Walgreen's around the corner for some lemonade.  

We headed back towards the ship, where I had seen a CVS pharmacy.  It was actually a little further than I thought.  It was nice to be in an American store, where we recognized the foods, and spoke the language and knew the currency.  What wasn't nice was that there was NO Diet Coke in cans.   Again.  Third island in a row.  We had told the kids before we left that we wouldn't buy pop on the ship because it was over $2 a can ($2.25 or $2.50) but that we would stop at stores on the islands and get a nice, cold can.  Also, I thought some popsicles would be nice, since they didn't have those on the ship.  However, the upright freezer cabinets were not working, but all the product was still in them...dripping...ewwww.  We picked out some pops/Gatorade, paid and headed outside, back to the Plaza de la Dársena & La Casita, where I thought the shade would be nice.  

It was, even though it still smelled like horse pee.  Had I been alone, I would have walked down the Paseo De La Princesa, a pedestrian street that runs on the lower level, beneath the pigeon park (which is on the upper level of the old city wall).  But instead, we sat around, looked at a few craft vendors, and I bought a pretty sea glass necklace.  We drank most of our pops and emptied the rest into our water bottles, putting the coloured drink in the stainless steel bottle so that we wouldn't get questioned.  

It felt surprisingly far to the pier.  I think mainly because we had already walked most of it twice, and it was quite sunny there! Once you get to the pier, it's in a triangle shape, so you're still not "there" for quite a ways LOL.  Before we got onto the pier, we noticed this submarine!

Cool shot!  Rob said it's a "little submarine" LOL.  How does he know?  Seeing them on TV is one thing, but how many has he seen in real life?!

This picture was actually taken from the ship.  It seemed a little surprising that it was there, for everyone to see.  Not so secret, LOL.  
Another shot from the ship.  I would have liked to see it up close.  And I would have liked to go to the Bacardi's factory LOL.  Next time...
Approaching the ship, we could see the bikers had their toys out again!

This is a shot from 2007, basically the same ship, LOL.
Before going on to the pier, I hoped to see the Parrots again.  We didn't see them right away, but they were there.  I had warned the kids I wasn't paying for them to pose with these guys LOL.
The picture below is from 2007.  I don't know if these are the same birds/owner.  But it was our first stop on our first cruise, and I was surprised to see that you could stand there and have a bird on your arm.  Then I saw the mom hand the man some money.  I was still a little surprised, but it soon became clear that these people try to make money however they can.
We headed towards the pier security, and had to wait in line.  The kids got to see panhandlers too.  Sigh.  Then, through security, we noticed a bit of a commotion behind us on the pier, a ship's officer was jogging towards security with a passenger, and pointing in the water.  Then he ran back to the ship and came past again, with one of those wire "hooks" on a pole.  We couldn't see what was going on, and didn't think it would be proper to head backwards to gawk :)  We headed back to the room, where Lucy promptly went to bed for 24 hours.
Hugh had finally asked Valent, our room steward, to leave his bunk down, since Lucy was tired of him laying in her bed all day LOL.  There was only one chair in the room, and it wasn't comfortable for long term lounging, even if it wasn't being used as a dirty clothes hamper.  In this photo, you can see through the connecting door to our room, and Meg on our bed.  Where that door is, is where a couch would normally be.  If Rob and I ever go alone again, we'll make sure to not get a connecting room...unless they have couches in storage that they can bring in, LOL.  You can also see Lucy in her bed :(
 I think Meg headed off to the pool with Rob, and I took Hugh to see the helipad.  Day 6 and none of them had been on it yet, which really surprised me.  Lucy says she never did go see it!  Above, you can see the city wall, and the Pigeon park above, and the pedestrian street below.
 Years ago, there was a Canadian TV series, called "Tall Ship Chronicles" about a tall ship that people paid (large amounts) for the purpose helping restore it and sailing it around the world.  A working cruise.  I thought it seemed awesome, though at times, very hard work and even scary.  There are also school at sea programs, one which had a capsize a few years ago.  This ship was in San Juan, and I wanted to check out the website.  So, to remember, I took a picture.  Of course, it's now mid-April, and I haven't googled it yet.
 Our departure was delayed because the Norwegian Gem was coming into to the harbour, and it's a one ship at a time kind of place.
 Hugh wasn't all that impressed.  We then met a man who was also using a walkie talkie.  On the same friggin channel we were.  22 channels and we've picked the same one?  He could reach his partner, but despite knowing we now couldn't, he didn't offer to change channels.  He said he was from Seattle.  We said Toronto.  He asked if that was on the east coast of Canada.  Sigh.  I told Rob, and he said "Well, aren't we?".  Double sigh.
 Some day I hope to check out a yacht like these above.
 But not like this one.
 Or these.
 Here's some more shots of the city wall, and pigeon park.

 I believe the blue house is the Governor's House.
I thought the kids would think it neat to see the fort (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) and the wall.  Nah, Meg wanted to swim with her new friends and Lucy was out cold in her bed.

It's a pretty formidable entry to the harbour!
On our first cruise, I was in bed, sick, all morning, but Rob brought me on deck to watch the entry to the harbour, which was around noon.  I don't recall seeing the airport on our way out this time...guess we were watching the fortress.
This rainstorm also said "welcome to San Juan" on our first time, though it stayed away from where we were (or maybe I went to bed for a bit longer until we went ashore LOL).

An interesting thing, when you round the corner of Bajo Santa Elena, on the north shore, is a large cemetery.  Right up to the shore.  In the picture above, I'm not sure what you can see, but I did notice the large red Coke can towards the right, LOL.  There is also another fort, Castillo San Cristobal.  They really wanted to protect this town (which is actually quite narrow at that section)!  Castillo San Cristobal is actually bigger; it's the biggest fortification built by the Spanish in America.  It was started in 1634 and took about 150 years. 
Not sure what they were doing with that construction, but at over 400 years old, it's look pretty good.

This was the second formal night, the night with lobster tails, and Lucy missed it.  Our lovely waiter (Paratosh) gave us a plate with two to take up to Lucy because she wanted to try them.  Which was surprising, since she won't even try fish.  But, Rob ended up eating them for breakfast LOL.
We had a peacock on our bed, but the kids didn't get any animals, since Lucy didn't want to be disturbed.  This really upset Meg, so we went and found Valent, and he made her a bunny!
(Yes, Meg, despite having all those conversations about having enough of the "right" types of clothes, and me making sure to pack them even though Meg didn't want them...she re-wore the dress she wore on the first formal night).

After dinner, Meg and Nya went to play sports on the Sports Court with the youth program, but it got rained out shortly after they finally made it there.
The Headliner Showcase was "A Salute to the Temptations", a tribute band.  It was loud.  Loud.  And, just like many of the musical shows, mixed poorly--the vocals were hard to distinguish over the music.  They were definitely a talented group, but I was ready to leave after the second song, due to the loudness.

We picked the girls up at 10, and there was discussion about watching the Mad Hatters Parade, and/or going to Nya's room to play...but it was pretty obvious the girls were worn out and needed bed instead.  Vacationing is exhausting!  And we still had two more days!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Family Cruise 2014: Day 5, St. Kitts

I think we ate breakfast this day in the Windjammer, so we could see what the island looked like.  But,  I could be wrong :)  Before leaving Canada, I had been making arrangements with a tour company for a tour, with plans to drop a travel bug off at a geocache at the veterinary college.  Rob suddenly decided he didn't want to do this and we didn't make any concrete plans on where/when/how to meet up.  So when we got off ship, we were a little unsure what we were doing.  Rob's parents didn't want to come with us, they'd been here before.  
The night before, in the evening show, the cruise director said that when we get to St. Kitts, we should avoid the monkeys.  Dirty filthy monkeys, he called them.  Well, of course, you can't tell these kids there are monkeys at port and we should avoid them!  LOL.  It wasn't quite what we pictured though.  We thought there were wild monkeys running around.  We weren't surprised though, to discover it was another monkey-making ventures by the natives.  Walking through the port, it didn't take long to find them, and for one child to get "monkied".

Rob immediately left us and went into the closest store.  I had no cash.  The girls were enjoying this.  Yeah.

See the wad of cash in his hand?  LOL.  I did not feel obligated to encourage the girls being "monkied", or obligated to pay for this unique opportunity, but I did respect that this was his "business venture" and these animals need care and upkeep.  It takes a certain personality to stand in a hot sunny port with a bunch of monkeys, encouraging tourists to put them on their shoulders and hopefully pay him.  So I paid him.  Just $5.
After a couple minutes (lost some good time while finding Rob to get the money), the man abruptly said, "That's it" and took them away.

We had been approached by a taxi operator with a binder, showing us the best beaches.  He recommended  (North) Friar's Bay as an alternative to Cockleshell Beach, which he said was really developed.  I thought he said there were food stands at Friar's Bay but Google satellite doesn't show anything, not really even a road.  The North Friar's Bay is a much larger beach than South Friar's Bay, which does have a road and a beach bar shown.  However, he explained about the winds and currents, and it made sense; I think he must have bee talking about South Friar's Bay.  He also offered several different island tours, including an open trolley that looked fun.  Rob still wasn't convinced.  I wanted to see a pink or black beach, the veterinaries college, and whatever else.

We hemmed and hawed, and came across another taxi driver who pointed out another beach, Frigate Bay.  It would only be $4 per person, one way!  The kids were getting antsy, so we decided to go ahead.  The drive out was pleasant, not as nail-biting as St. Maartin, LOL!  We heard about how wonderful the cruise industry has been to St. Kitts, which really has no other industry besides tourism (the last sugar plantation closed in 2005).  In 2009, there were 587,479 arrivals to Saint Kitts compared to 379,473 in 2007, which represents an increase of just under 40% growth in a two-year period.   The amount of people that visit the island a day, in the high season...The population of the large island is about 35 000.  If five large ships come in, that's about  17 500 people, plus crew (I'm not sure they can take five large ships, but even a combo of medium and one large ship would be a lot of people).  Of course, not all go ashore.  However, the ships still have to pay to dock, and I'm not sure if they pay a tax based on how many actually do go ashore, or based on their total capacity.  I think the taxi driver said $10/person is the tax.  That's a lot of money directly to the government.  On top of that, whatever people spend on shore.  There aren't a lot of big resorts on the island, with the exception of St Kitts Marriott Resort.  There are quite a few smaller resorts though, and St Kitts has a unique program where you can acquire citizenship if you pass the government's strict background checks and make an investment into an approved real estate development. Purchasers who make a minimum investment of US$400,000 are entitled to apply for citizenship of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.  Not sure what the benefit of citizenship is, but it sounds cool :)

Taxi man let us off at a little Mexican food beach stand, and we arranged a 3:00pm pick up.  We headed out to the beach, which seemed well used.  Well, the beach was popular, but there weren't many people in the sea-weedy, rocky, water :(  We decided to head up the beach, beyond the people, to at least "check it out".  
As we walked down, we could see one person swimming off by themselves.  Knowing this must mean they're a local, we were optimistic.  It was quite a ways down, and even though we asked if there was shade, there wasn't a whole lot.  There had been umbrellas up at the popular end, but we prefer quieter areas, and didn't want to spend money on an umbrella.  

We stopped at the first tree we found, you can see it on the right, above.  It was a ways from the water, but we felt secure.  We didn't want to alarm the woman swimming alone, so we stayed closer to the tree.  But then she left, and we started drifting down the beach.  There were food shacks along the beach, but none were open.  I think they might be on the weekends though.



It was wavey at times, but nothing like St. Maarten.

It was very scenic, though not exactly a black beach, it was enough of a difference from the previous day that the kids found it interesting.  For about 10 seconds.
I could see this tall ship off in the distance.
The underwater camera was fun in this calmer water!
Meg found this awesome orange shell!
Lucy, once again, covered herself in sand.  I wonder how many pictures I have of her covered in sand.

At one point, this young couple in matching bathing suits wondered down the beach.  Cute.  According to Google satellite map, there is a saltwater pond on the other side of this beach, which is a narrow strip.  We never noticed it.  We did notice the open air tour trolley, and many other tourist vans coming down at the far end of the beach (where we were).  
We decided to head back up to the Mexican restaurant and get a drink.  The food looked really good, but Rob said no :(  I recognized several other people from the ship, including someone wearing a New Liskeard t-shirt, which I had noticed on ship, the day before.  We all had a drink, Rob and I opting for a Corona.  The kids got pop/soda, which worried Rob because it was fountain, instead of bottled, and came with ice cubes. 



We had the taxi driver's card and had the bartender call him for an earlier pick up.  It worked out perfect for him, and he was there shortly.  The drive back was nice, hearing more about the country.

On the way to the beach I had seen this house, above.  It's hard to see, but there is a Canadian flag painted near the roof (click on it to see it larger).  He dropped us off in the taxi zone and we wondered back through the cruise port, now much quieter, I think even the monkeys were gone.  I believe there were only two ships in on this day, ours in on the right, and you can nicely see the cantilevered hot tubs in the Solarium, and also Lou and Nya's suite, second row of round windows, from the top, on the left.

Meg was looking a little sun and sand kissed!
Oh, how I wanted to get in that hot tub!!  Instead, since we had missed lunch, we opted to use our "Crown and Anchor Society" coupon for Johnny Rockets.  It's not much of a deal; lunch still cost us $35.
We didn't get to see the staff do their singing/dancing show.  Perhaps they needed more than 2 booths of customers to do it (the kids did get to see it on Undercover Boss though).  Or perhaps the sudden rainstorm deterred them.
In our sheltered little booth, we thought it'd be over quickly.  Mum found us and said Nya was going to do the FlowRider, so we headed up.
Well, the rain was not just a little afternoon shower.  It was a good soaking, and a good reminder that St. Kitts is a tropical rainforest island!


Of course, being back on ship, I had traded the waterproof camera for the "good" camera, LOL, so I was a little hesitant on getting too wet.  But I did end up very wet.  There was no where around the FlowRider to stay dry.
Nya did awesome on the FlowRider!
Very focused!  The instructor encouraged her to get up to a kneel though, and she wiped out.  It was a pretty rough landing up at the top and that overshadowed the fun part of the surfing.

Meg had to try too.
She did well, but didn't try to kneel!  Lucy had gone off with Nya to the rockclimbing wall, but they closed it when it started raining.  I have probably my biggest complaint of the trip.  There was NO towel exchange on this deck, you have to go two decks down to where the pools are, and both the towel exchanges are at the other end!!  Why not have one at each end of the pool deck, especially considering this end has the FlowRider up above?   It was a long way!  I missed Nya's wipeout, and worried I'd miss Meg's try if she had a short run.  I left the camera with Rob, who accidentally started video recording, but didn't know it, before I got back.  Then, Meg went to get her flip flops, and they were gone!  We searched all around, asked at the sports desk, nothing.  Then, we just happened to go back to the FlowRider benches, just as someone was walking away with orange flip flops and Meg's were back on the bench.  Turns out they had grabbed the wrong pair.  I'm wondering now if this was the girl (and her sister) who Nya made friends with, looking back, we saw them in our photos at the Flowrider, before "officially" meeting them.
The rain was impressive, but left us soaking wet and cold!
These three pictures show the port area, all new and fresh for cruise ships, built out into the ocean on filled land.  One nice thing is that they are planned, and closed off to vehicles.  Much of this is new since Google Satellite took their shots.  The downside is, of course, you have to walk a ways just to get into the town.  Not a major hike, LOL, but a few minutes.  Wish we had walked around too.

 There is a road that runs around the island, but the interior is too steep for much occupancy.  You can drive around the island in about 4 hours.
 Look, a rainbow!  It might have been a double, or there might have been two...
 This was after we set sail, going up the west side.
 In the distance, you can see Frigate Bay
 This was the ship I could see from the beach.

 We started to turn away from shore gradually
Just for laughs, I took a selfie after the day in the sun, sand, saltwater, and rainwater LOL.  My hair gets quite curly when humid!  The forecasted humidity was 81%, though they didn't forecast the rain.

At 9pm we went to the Production Showtime, "Once Upon a Time".  Rob didn't go, it was just me and the kids.  The four of us had a hard time getting seats, and ended up way on the left side, behind a pillar.  In the row in front of us were four seats (and then the pillar).  A couple had sat in the centre two seats, leaving an odd seat on either side of them.  Ugh.  Meg got really upset she couldn't see, so Lucy climbed over the seat and sat in the row below and Meg moved to Lucy's seat.  No good.  The couple to my right saw the commotion and moved down a seat so Meg could get out from behind the pillar. They really shouldn't have put a seat there.  It was a good show, and the neat thing was when we went on our cruise in 2008 we saw this show as it did a "pre-production test".  At least, I think we saw it.  I don't remember the show really, but I know we saw an extra show, and when we had a backstage tour, the sets were there (I have a picture of the set from the Pinocchio part).  On the last day of this cruise, we had a meet and greet, and they said that the shows don't change ships, they're built for the ship, they'll change the ship's itinerary instead.

After that, I think we went to bed; we're pretty tired after two shore days, and Lucy wasn't feeling all that well.....