Caribbean Collection
Caribbean Collection Cruise
                                                       by Mike Bailey
 
Paradise Point, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
It seems like that it is becoming a tradition for Deanna & I to take a cruise right after Christmas
every year now. We realized that with cruise, we really do like that idea -- especially since we are
already booked for the 2009/2010 New Years Eve cruise at the end of this year on the brand new
gigantic Royal Caribbean ship called "Oasis of the Sea," the absolute largest cruise ship in
the world.

But for now, we will savor all the memories we gathered up on this our latest cruise, a "Caribbean
Collection Cruise," January 2 – January 16, 2009 on Princess Cruise Line's "Grand Princess."

Check out all the pictures for
"Caribbean Collection Cruise" over on Mike's Picture Library.
Menu of events to help you read about our voyage
Well, being back at home is great and a let down all at the same time.

First, the great part -- our 14-Day “Caribbean Collection Cruise” itself was great. It was truly
wonderful overall and coming back to our home, our space, was also great. Staterooms onboard
cruise ships are good -- ours was excellent and oversized. However, nothing beats sleeping in your
own bed, lounging around in your own favorite chair, and having access to your own bathroom.  

The
Grand Princess (Princess Cruise Line) was a beautiful ship – very large (almost a 1,000 feet
long and 18 decks high), and had lots of great features such as; four pools, a 9-hole putting course,
an outdoor large
movie screen (day or night viewable), onboard shopping stores, a large casino,
several specialty dining rooms, several movie and live show theaters, 11 bars and lounges, a well
stocked library, a large Internet Café, and a great workout gym (used 4 times and then gave that
stupid idea up).

She also had dozens of other great cruise ship amenities like hot tubs, video arcade rooms, beauty
spas, teen and youth centers, and a fantastic nightclub built like a
spoiler wing on a race car that
was perched up 120 feet above the water and stretched across the entire stern of the ship and was
only accessible by a very long, moving walkway ramp from the deck below.

We loved our time onboard ship and had only a few problems – all dealing with wheelchair
accessibility.  Some areas onboard were not wheelchair accessible at all, like all the way forward
and up above the Sun deck, was an area called the “
Sanctuary.”  This was a great, beautiful sun/
shade place to lie around on VERY comfortable lounge chairs, had lots of privacy, and a small
adults only pool. Even though it cost $20 per day/person to use, it was NOT accessible by any
elevator, and since the steps (20) up to it were so steep, we never used it (nor did many others).  

I told one of the attendants one day (while out roaming the ship while D took her daily early
afternoon nap), that probably the reason hardly ANYONE ever used the area was that NO one
could get there by elevators. I told her (attendant), “Look at your passengers – the majority is
OLD -- 60+ years and up and walking was bad enough, let alone climbing up those steep steps.”
She just smiled and pretended like she understood. Not!   

Other places onboard were difficult to maneuver through the doors because they were not auto
opening, and were BIG and HEAVY (usually were like that to ALL the outside deck areas). Yeah
we managed (after you push/use a wheelchair long enough, you learn lots of tricks to survive), but
it just griped me that there were no auto doors like on Royal Caribbean ships.   

We had great dinner companions onboard our ship and the food was great and the entertainment
was OK (not as good as on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, in our opinion). We started out with
two other couples at our first seating, assigned dinning table, but after three nights, one couple
decided that they wanted to do the freestyle dinning and opted out from our defined time at
our table.  

We suspected they had other reasons -- they had already mentioned that they did not like or seem
to get along with our waiter and assistant waiter. The waiter was from the Philippines and the
assistant was from Russia. The other couple that stayed at our table and us could have cared less
that they had left us -- we had a great time and enjoyed each other’s company for the rest of the
cruise. They were 10 years older than us and from Texarkana, Arkansas (retired there from
California) – had moved there after visiting a friend and found out the house across the street
from them was for sale.

We had a total of four wonderful sea days and thoroughly enjoyed them by hanging out on the Lido
Deck near one of the several pool areas, in the shade (overhead open-in-the-middle Sun Deck
provided the shade) – napping, reading, and/or getting rid of “
Buckets of Dos Equis” (5 to a bucket)
or small bottles of wines, or the exotic drink of the day.

We fell in love with one of these exotic drinks called a “Dirty Banana.” I finally talked one of the
bartenders into giving me his secret recipe and can not wait to try to make one myself. In 14 days
aboard ship, we only sat out in the sun in a lounge chair one time. We quickly realize that cooking in
the sun was just not on our list of things to do on this cruise. As with all our past cruises, we soon
had a favorite roving bar waiter who we became good friends with. She was from Romania and
always greeted us with a big
smile never once asked to see our cruise card after the first time --
she had memorized both of our names and cabin number.

All the nine ports we visited, even those that we had visited before, were great and exciting except
maybe for St. Vincent and La Romana, Dominican Republic which we found to be less than desirable.
Our great 2009 winter journey started with a quick flight from Atlanta down to Fort Lauderdale on
AirTran. I used some of my frequent flyer rewards to bump us up to business class – sat on front
row (there is no 1st class on AirTran) – and enjoyed the ride. The extra large seats and leg room
made it so much easier on Deanna.  

We did have to pay extra for all our suitcases – almost a $100 for the first, second, third, and an
overweight charge for the larger one.  We had two fully packed carry-on pieces of luggage and
thankfully, were not charged for those. Even though fuel prices have been down for a month, we
were still caught up in the airline’s effort to help defray some of their high operating costs.
Thankfully, Princes Cruise Lines had suspended their fuel surcharge and we received about a $400
dollar shipboard credit which was soon depleted by our new found fondness for “Dirty Bananas.”  

After a short bus transfer ride from the airport to the cruise terminal, we were checked in
through the terminal and within minutes, were onboard the ship had gone to see our
stateroom
extra large because we had requested a wheelchair accessible room. We could not get over how
wide the room was – half again as wide as a normal stateroom. Oh yeah, we thought, we can get used
to this.  

After dropping off our carry-on luggage, we made a bee-line up to the Lido Deck to see what the
“Sail Away” exotic drink of the day was.  

After a few hours soaking it all in on the Lido deck, we went back down to our room around 3:30 PM
and were blown away -- our luggage was already stacked by our cabin door. Usually, you do not get
these until around 8 or 10 that night. Anyway, we quickly set about unpacking and storing the empty
suitcases under the two beds. This room, because it was oversized, had plenty of storage places –
shelves, hanging closets, and drawers.  

The
bathroom was also huge and unlike other rooms, our shower was wide open -- can roll a
wheelchair into it – and had a curtain that enclosed it like those privacy curtains in hospital room,
etc. It felt strange not having to shower in a regular room’s shower – tiny, almost round capsule
that once the door is closed, you feel like you are getting ready to be shot out of a huge
water cannon.  

Just as we finished unpacking, it was time for the mandatory all-hands muster drill, complete with
taking your life jackets with you. Unlike all the other cruises we have been on, this drill was not
outside on the Promenade Deck (boat deck where you can access the life boats) but was held
instead in various lounge/public areas on the inside on the Promenade deck. It seemed strange to
not be all lined up in individual tight groups by the life boats, everyone all bundled up in their
bright orange life jackets, and hearing the ship’s crew members call out cabin numbers for each
occupant to holler back, “Here.”  

I guess Princess thinks the informal inside talk is just as good. We just stood around and listened
to a voice on the loud speaker tell us what to do and then we attempted to put the life jackets on
with instructions from someone who had taken only three English speaking classes. It was fun, but
not the same as out on the outside deck.

Our first day was starting off great as always and soon we had meet our dinner companions at our
first dinner meal (6 PM, each night) and we ended the night with watching a great live Broadway-
type production show in the Princess Theater followed by our very through inspection – complete
with hands on trials – of all the penny slot machines in the very large “Atlantic Casino.”  

Some laugh at the idea of playing a penny slot machine but they do not know what great fun, and
potential winnings, they are missing. For just 20 or 30 dollars, you can play for hours – enjoying
watching the spilling wheels and feeling great when you win on all the multiple pay lines (up to 15 or
20 on most slots and you can bet anywhere from 1 penny per line to maybe 20 cents per line), and
laugh at all the crazy video stuff that pops up these types of five-wheel video slots during bonus
rounds.  Deanna and I won anywhere from 10 to a 100 dollars every night. Sure in the end, they get
most back, but….  

When we got back to our room, it seemed like old home week. The room was all straighten up, the
lights turned low, and the beds all made up and turned back with a chocolate mint placed on the
pillows.  We had a great stateroom attendant, Renaldo from Mexico, and he took excellent care of
us and our room. Yes, this was going to be a great cruise!

Our next two cruising days were going to be sea days and we used them to get acquainted with the
ship and how to get around, etc. Our mornings always started off by us going up to the Lido Deck,
Deck 14, just two decks above us and to the Horizon Court at the aft end of the ship. This was a
huge buffet style eating area with loads of great food set out and tables set about all along both
sides of the ship, including across the stern in an outdoor type eating place.

I always parked Deanna at a table we would pick out and then I would go back and fix her plate. I
enjoyed doing this for her and looked for different things each day to surprise her with. They
fixed eggs about 10 different ways, always had at least four types of sausages out, four or five
ways to fix potatoes, various breads, fruits -- it was wonderful. After fixing her plate and giving
it to her, I’d go back and pick stuff for me.

While I was gone, attendants would have come to the table and take our coffee order and request
for juices. We always requested tomato juice because this was not out where passengers could just
help themselves to it. For some reason, they kept it out of sight and you had to ask for it. We
noticed the same thing happened last year on Royal Caribbean – so the hiding the juice was not just
a Princess thing.

As I mentioned above, our first two days of this cruise were sea day. These generally have fun
type events up on the Lido Deck around the main pool area. One the first day, the Cruise Director
had a bunch of people up around the pool, divided into two teams. Each team was given a tennis ball
and the object was to
pass the ball from one person to the using no hands. What a hoot -- using just
their chins to capture the ball from one person and pass on to the next. I laughed so hard a times.
They all looked so silly, especially when the ball was on a lady's chest and had to be capture my a
man and moved on to the next person .

During the second day at seam we hung out just about all day in the "
Conservatory" section of the
Lido Deck. This entire pool area is actually enclosed by a huge retractable glass roof. The lounge
chairs in this area are a lot better (thicker, more padding) than those out in the sunny areas around
the main Lido Deck pool area in the center of the ship.

We liked it in here -- shady, had its own pool and two
hot tubs and it was quieter -- no wind noise,
no live
pool side bands, etc. The seas were running with swells about 5-8 feet in height and when we
changed course and was running straight into them, the ship was rising and falling with a very
noticeable change. Oh it was gradual -- not make you sick, but it played havoc with the water in
the pools.

As the ship got to rising and falling pretty good, the folks over in the pool in front of us started to
have a great time. The water was rushing back and forth the length of the pool and
creating waves.
All of the swimmers were waving their hands and yelling in unison as the waves rose up and down all
around them.

Deanna and I just sat there and watched and listened to a bunch of happy campers. With each
giggly yell from the pool, we smiled and a good time was had by all.
After slipping out of Fort Lauderdale late Friday afternoon on January 2, we had cruised almost
1,500 miles non-stop for over two great sea days southeastwards past Cuba, and then
southwestwards down between Cuba and Haiti, and then finally southeastwards again towards
Curacao and Aruba just off the coast of Venezuela, South America.

With each mile that we cruised, it seems like it got warmer and warmer and then I noticed
something else was happening to both of us – our worries, stress points, aches and pains seemed to
be just fading away. And people ask me why we love cruising so much – best medicine ever invented
for chilling out.  

We arrived in Willemstad, Curacao on Monday morning at 8 AM. This was our first port of call and
we were glad to be visiting this beautiful Southern Caribbean city again – we loved it the first time
we visited her last January on our Panama Canal cruise.  

Willemstad looked so beautiful in the early morning light -- all the brightly colored buildings that
this great Dutch city is famous for, the huge blue, very high steel arched roadway
bridge about a
mile inland that crossed over St. Anna bay –- all of it was just breathtaking.  

Since we had been to Willemstad before, we took no shore excursions and just walked from the
cruise terminal, located in the Otrabanda section of Willemstad, over to the Queen Emma Bridge
(one of the largest pontoon bridges in the world) that crosses St. Anna Bay (like a river between
the two sections of the city) and then over it into the Punda section of the city.   

It felt weird walking along over the long (and wide -- about 35 feet) pontoon bridge while pushing
the wheelchair and seeing, hearing, and feeling the old bridge (but recently totally restored)
heave, groan, creak, and move about under foot. The sensation was cool and weird at the same time
but after a while (the bridge is about 550 feet long) you get used to it and pay no attention to the
gentle movements.  

This bridge is designed to be swung out of the way when ship traffic in the bay warrants it. One
end is hinged to the walled lined side of the bay on the Otrabanda side, and the other end (Punda
side) has a motorized device attached to it that when started up, propels the bridge open and the
entire length of the bridge swings back all the way across the bay and locks against the same wall
the other end is hinged to. During these times, there is a free passenger ferry that shuttles people
back and forth across the bay. I had hoped to see the bridge open while we were here, but alas, it
never moved while we were over in town. Just as we started to leave port, it opened wide to allow
two smaller cruise chips who were tied up in St. Anna Bay to slip out to sea.

Successfully traversing the bridge, we were once again rewarded with all the magical pastel colors
of all the buildings -- Dutch architectural style. We wandered along the St. Anna Bay side of Punda
and then around to the
floating market area – a slip of water off St. Anna Bay -- where vendors
were selling fish and produce off boats from all over the Southern Caribbean and Venezuela.  

The whole area -- boats and
street side -- was alive with people excitedly buying and haggling over
prices. The scene was awash in strange sounds and brilliant colors and smells -- especially when we
passed boats that were selling fish and they were cutting them up right as we passed by.  

We then made our way through the maze of side streets and went by the art gallery we visited last
year on our Panama Canal cruise to see if the artist was there that painted a picture we purchased
then but alas, she was gone on another trip to the States. Maybe one day, we will get to meet her.

Also, just as last year, I was wearing my black hat with the initials DEA also embroidered in black
and sure enough, the same thing happened again this time as we walked along. Someone would see
me, the hat and then let out an odd whistle (unusual series of notes) and then you could hear it
repeated all along ahead of us as we walked. There are a lot of drug problems here and Willemstad
(Dutch government) is really trying to crack down on its use, especially the use of marijuana.  

I might not wear that hat any more -- might get me bonked in the head somewhere. I have always
been amazed, not only on this and other cruises to foreign ports, but even back here at home at
how so many people see that hat and immediately look away as if to hide from sight, etc., or just
turn and immediately go the other way.

Anyway, we made our way back over to the street along St. Anna Bay and ate lunch at a bay side
street café by the Queen Emma Bridge.  After drinking a couple of great local beers, and only
barely tasting our ordered hamburgers (didn’t look, taste, or smell right), we headed back to the
ship to chill out on our room’s balcony with a great view of the town and marina.  

Before settling in out on the balcony, I went to the Horizon Court up on the Lido deck and picked
up a plate full of various cheeses, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies and with a bucket full of
wine bottles (187 ML size -- about one GOOD wine glass full), we watched all the activities over in
town and let the afternoon just float by.  It was amazing we were able to get dressed and go to
dinner at 6…  

We set sail around 5:30 PM and headed for Oranjestad, Aruba.
We arrived in Oranjestad, Aruba early the next morning around 8 AM.  Just as we had done in
Willemstad, we walked into Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba, because we had been here before and
had taken a shore excursion to see the entire island and it highlights. We walked all around the
marina over by the center of town -- 10 minute walk away -- and then walked out to the sea wall
facing the ocean out in front of the Renaissance Hotel complex next to the end of the marina.  

We could see lots of people all along the sea wall just staring and pointing down at the rocks. Then
we saw what the attraction was. The rocks on the sea wall were crawling with dozens of different
colored
iguanas sunning themselves on the warm rocks. Most of the iguanas were about 2-foot in
length or smaller. They all looked well fed – I could see pieces of bread laying around on the ground
and rocks so I am sure the tourist keeps them supplied with a daily ration of stuff to munch on.

Back on the main street (same one that runs in front of Iguana Joes where stopped later for lunch)
at the edge of the marina, there is an arched shaped fixed bridge on the street over a 10-foot
wide, rock-lined
canal that runs from the marina into the Renaissance Hotel itself. We went inside
the hotel to see where the canal went. We were shocked and amazed to see that it actually ran into
the lobby area of the hotel where it opened out into a large circle where a boat could turn around
and pull up to a dock.  

This was the coolest things you’ve ever seen -- water taxies (20-foot white, ocean going type speed
boats) for hotel guest to go zooming out from the hotel, across the marina, and then on to nearby
beaches or other water sports activities somewhere out in the ocean.  

After checking out the casino there in the hotel, we finally made our way back over to the huge mall
complex near where we docked and had lunch at
Iguana Joes Café -- upstairs on the outside porch
overlooking the main beach side street in the center of Oranjestad.   

Just as before (ate here last year), sitting out on the porch and looking down at all the hustle and
bustle down below along the main drag was exciting. Of course, to properly observer all this, one
has to try several of the local beers and enjoy a great cheeseburger.  After lunch, we headed back
to our ship docked about a quarter of a mile away. We could see the Grand Princess from our seats
out on the porch. When you see her placed up next to or behind other structures, you really can
appreciate just how big these new cruise ships are.

It was so hot in Aruba -- 90+ degrees -- and I was soaked by the time I pushed Deanna back to
the ship. Last year, I was soaked returning to the ship by rain -- this year by sweat.  Just as we
had done in Willemstad after returning to the ship, we spent the rest of the afternoon out on our
balcony munching on goodies and drinking wine. We soon realized that this could become habit
forming -- we used and thoroughly enjoyed our balcony on this cruise more than we have ever
done before.   

After cruising all night and all the next day at sea we arrived in Trinidad at 8 AM the following day.
In Trinidad, we took a great shore excursion bus (14-passenger large van type) tour that took us
all through the port city of Port of Spain, including walking (a short distance) through a part of
the beautiful
Royal Botanical Gardens in town.  Trinidad still retains a lot of its British heritage,
and we saw many beautiful buildings, parks, stately mansions, etc. The gardens are just north of
Queen’s Park Savannah – Trinidad’s largest open space (park like) surrounded by one of the world’s
largest car roundabouts (2.2 miles around the perimeter).  It is so far around the circle that you
could forget which street you were supposed to take while driving around the circle.  

Maybe that is why traffic here is so bad -- 50,000 people driving around not knowing where the
heck to get off the circle!  

Trinidad and the capitol city Port of Spain specifically, have more cars than people -- gas is so
cheep -- and I thought traffic in Atlanta was bad. Sometimes in Port of Spain, we’d end up in what
I called a Chinese fire-drill grid lock -- all available space (it seemed) was filled with cars and then
SLOWLY, one at a time, we could almost bump our way through.  

Once we left our very short walking tour through the botanical gardens and were out on the road to
Maracas Bay on the north coast, traffic thinned out greatly and we zoomed right along -- until we
met the steep, narrow road that goes up and over the mountains to the coast.  

It is still hard to get used to driving on the WRONG side of the road –- the left side –- as is done
in most of the islands in the Caribbean. It does keep you on your toes when walking in towns –- you
have to remember which port you are in and whether to look to your left or right first before
entering a street. Our driver in Trinidad was, well, let’s just state that he was very adapt at driving
there –- translation –- aggressive, drove fast, blew the horn a lot, and let no one in front of him… .

Trinidad was officially in the dry season but it had been raining very hard for several weeks and
we passed by several places on the narrow mountain road where avalanches of dirt, trees, and rocks
had come crashing down the mountain side and blocked or tore out the roadway. Our tour guide said
they were only just able to drive over the mountain as the road had only been recently cleared
and repaired.

We stopped at one overlook just before we got to the beach we were headed to and were probably
still 1,000 feet up on the side of the mountain. The overlook -- complete with beautiful
Bougainvillea vines and native gift stands, of course -- was a beautiful spot to enjoy the majesty of
the island by looking out at the ocean and the
rugged coast line and the beaches scattered here and
there far below. We could see the waves rolling onto the beach that was our destination.

The beach at Maracas Bay was very popular and was crowed with tour bus visitors and other local
visitors. Placed well back away from the beach were lots of eating places in little buildings (Bake &
Shark huts that served up deep-fried shark stuffed in a bead like batter called “bake”). Deanna and
I decide to forego the shark stuff and settled on a couple of local beers and some candy bars
instead –- sort of like an RC and a Moon Pie -- you just can’t go wrong with that combo.   

The waves we really coming in here as the
beach faced north straight against the Atlantic Ocean.
From the overlook far above us, we could not see how big the waves really were. This beach area is
supposed to be a great place for surfing but we saw no one out on the waves with their boards.
The beach was clean and had palm trees growing almost up to waters edge –- all in all a very
beautiful place.

The trip through the countryside to and from the beach was like so many of these islands -- lush,
beautiful greenery, lots of flowering plants and trees, fruit trees, tall grasses, bamboo thickets
(helps control erosion on steep ravines), poverty stricken homes, businesses, and a few very nice
homes sprinkled throughout all of them. The one thing I love about the flowers in the Caribbean is
the proliferation of the Bougainvillea vines -- vibrantly colored in so many shades of purple and
red and seemingly able to grow to huge heights and widths and just growing wild in some place out
in the middle of nowhere.

The tour overall was absolutely beautiful and a bit scary on the very narrow roads up and over the
mountains. In lots of place, the sides dropped off straight away from the edge of the roads --
LONG WAY down if we went over.

Back onboard our ship, we settled back into our afternoon ritual of lounging out on our balcony with
a few refreshments and cookies.  I must say that we do not spend all afternoon out there each day,
just only after Deanna gets up from her daily afternoon nap, usually between 1 and 2 PM.  

We pulled up anchor around 5 PM and set sail for our next port, Bridgetown, Barbados.
After sailing all night, we arrived around 8 AM in Bridgetown -- another great port of call. Since
we had already done tours here on earlier cruises, we again skipped taking any shore excursions and
I pushed Deanna in the wheelchair into the center of town (Bridgetown) – over a mile from the
cruise terminal. The walk into town was not too bad -- a few tight and/or rough places at times
with the wheelchair but all in all, we enjoyed the journey into town.

We messed around the wharf/marina area and finally had lunch at the "Bump & Wine Café" --
across the bridge over the in-town marina at a place called the
Bridge House (block long building
alongside the marina).

After carrying Deanna’s wheelchair up a short flight of steps, we ate upstairs out on a narrow
outside porch. The view was great -- overlooking the marina and the bridge back into the heart of
town -- and it was very relaxing and enjoyable while we sampled a few of their local beers and
munched on a couple of great cheeseburgers. After we left there and went back over the bridge to
town, it looked like it was going to rain hard so we took a taxi van back to the ship.  Good thing –-
10 minutes after we got back onboard ship it rained hard for about 15 minutes, and then it was all
clear again.

Before boarding the ship, we shopped in the cruise terminal shops after our taxi ride and bought
some neat things. One store had nothing but handmade (local artist) brightly colored pottery wares
-- whole range from platters, dishes, cups, vases, you name it. There was even a brightly colored
Caribbean style Nativity scene that made me stop and think about what it all meant. This Nativity
set had the three central characters of course (appropriately dressed in island costumes) but the
visitors there were snails, crabs, birds, fish, and dolphins.  Same meaning – just from a different
perspective -– l loved it.

Yes, we did our balcony ritual thing again after coming back aboard ship. Tied up across from us on
the far pier, was Norwegian Cruise Line’s ”
Norwegian Gem” -- a beautiful ship with brightly colored
gemstones painted on her side. While looking it over with my binoculars, I spotted a very unusual
spectacle out on one of her balcony rooms. I couldn’t wait for Deanna to get up from her nap so that
she could see it. Ten minutes later, she popped out on the balcony and I handed her the binoculars
and told her to look at the ship across the way.

“What am I looking for,” she asked as she panned the ship.

“Look between the 3rd and 4th lifeboats from the left, then look up three balcony levels.”   

After a short pause, she exclaimed, “Oh ... my ... God! … that
man is standing out on his balcony
TOTALLY naked!”

And some people claim that sitting out on your balcony in port was just boring -– yeah, sure…

Around 5 PM, we left port and headed for St. Vincent. After another great night of dinner, show,
and playing the slots, we left the casino and went topside to the Lido deck were a ship’s deck party
was scheduled to take place.

They were hundreds of folks there and the band was playing and lots of folks dancing with the
ship’s Cruise Director on the loudspeaker edging everyone on, including getting a Conga line going
that went on forever. It was a lot of fun and very festive. Around 11:30 or so, everyone who had
been given a party streamer to throw let loose when the Cruise Director gave the word.

Before the party had started, the Cruise Director’s staff had strung yards and yards of string all
over our heads -- actually tied the string to the underside of the Sun Deck above us.  When done, it
made like a giant net about us -- the lines crisscrossing each other all over the place. The Sun deck
which is above the Lido deck is sort of like a wide picture frame –- thick all around on four sides
but wide open in the middle to the deck below – that way, those on the Lido deck and in the pool can
get full access to the sun above, or sit under the frame part to have shade.

When everyone let loose with the party steamers, especially those up on the deck above us, all their
streamers fell across the strings and now there were thousands of multi-colored streamers just
dangling all around us. The string trick was brilliant as it made the effect of people throwing the
streamers to linger on and on until they were all finally cut or pulled down.

We had so many streamers attached to us and to the
wheelchair that it clogged up the wheels so
bad that I could not push it -- had to stop and clear a lot a way so we could make it back to our
room when the party was over.

It was a hoot –- we had a ball and it looked like (seeing our chair moving through the ship back to
our room) that we must have had one hell of a good time topside…
8 AM the next morning found us tied up in St. Vincent which on the surface (make that a great
distance away) is beautiful like all the other islands in the Lesser Antilles.

We docked in Kingstown (capital) and even though we had never visited this port before, we elected
to not take any of the shore excursions and opted to just walk into town and look around on our own
(based on the exciting write-ups in the literature onboard the ship about the port).  

The first 200 yards of our journey into town (still inside the cruise terminal secure area) was
beautiful and colorful – complete with brightly colored
roosters strutting around the well kept
grounds and crowing like it was dawn. The sidewalks were level, well paved, and we thought this was
going to be great.  

Once outside the gates -- all the port description write-ups turned out to be just outright
marketing lies. The streets were filthy, trash everywhere, rats eating stuff right there in the
streets alongside you, and sidewalks virtually impossible to traverse with a wheelchair (finally
gave up and pushed Deanna along in the street). We were on the famous
Bay Street where on the
weekend only we were told, a thrilling and exciting spectacle of dozens of open air food, fish, and
vegetable
markets would be set up for all to enjoy. Whoever wrote that must have been watching
a 2 AM infomercial on TV in Reno, Nevada!

The whole scene – spectacle – was totally scary. Trashy conditions were everywhere, more rats
nibbling on things right by people, real scary looking people hanging all around everywhere,
sometimes in quarreling groups with each group screaming at the other, fist shaking, taunts,
pushing, shoving -- very frightening.

At one point when one of the angry quarrelers jumped down off a loading dock and aggressively
charged towards us to get to another group, I thought for sure that we were going to end up in the
middle of a huge gang fight. We turned around right after this incident and made a bee line
straight back to the ship.  

Every single person we talked to who decided to walk into town to experience what the postings in
the daily newsletter passed out onboard ship about each port and the day’s activities, etc. said (it
would be a thrilling experience) made the same decision as we did -- turned around and came
straight back to the ship. By 10:30 AM, the pool deck areas were as crowded as if we were a
1,000 miles at sea.   

Safely back onboard ship, we lounged around the main pool up until it was time for Deanna to take
her nap. Located at one end of this pool area on the Lido Deck are a pizza grill place on one side
and a hamburger and hot dog grill place on the other side. Each day that we were topside around
lunch time, we ate hamburgers or pizza for lunch.

While Deanna napped, I sat out on the balcony and examined the shoreline of Kingstown in great
detail with my binoculars. I was struck by all the competing scenes and images that I saw as
compared to my questioning, observing mind. I finally zeroed in on a far away section of
beach --
dark, dirty looking sand that stretched from the ocean up to a long row of run down, shanty town
looking shacks. My first thought was  how strange -- back in the States, beach front almost in the
center of seaside towns would be covered with million dollar condos, etc.

Here, there was just raw poverty -- front row and beach front center. Just as I was starting to
think badly about all this, how poor they were, what all they were missing, etc., I spotted a group
of children playing on the last section of houses and beach before it became cliffs alongside the
mountains. These kids were free -- happy, playing all over the beach, running down to the water,
splashing around, then go tearing off after each other all over the beach in front old ramshackle
houses not 30 feet away from the waters edge.

I thought, my God, these kids probably thought they lived in paradise -- who was I to judge them
and their lives. About this time, here came a kid from behind one of the houses carrying a HUGE
(5x8 foot at least) hunk of white Styrofoam. Lord, you would have thought they had found a million
dollars. He raced down to the water with it and within seconds, 15 kids were trying to "sail away"
on their new found boat.

I sat there with my binoculars resting on the balcony railing and watched them -- mesmerized by
their joy and adventurous fun -- for almost 30 minutes. I cried as I watched them -- almost 3 miles
away from me but in reality, another world (that I really knew nothing about) away from me.  Soon,
the Styrofoam block was broken into a thousand little pieces and was washing up on the beach.  The
children's moments of high adventure was suddenly gone and they were scurrying off on the beach
to find more treasures.

I realized then that they were happy, that they did live in paradise and I was just a fleeting visitor.

After Deanna’s nap, she joined me out on our balcony we watched people still leaving the ship,
walking out the terminal gate area and then bet how long it would be before we saw the same people
coming back into view. As the day wore on and the wine consumption level increased, the worst our
bets and observations became. We made up all sorts of stories that we imagined that each group
that we saw returning to the ship might be saying to each other about all their thrilling experiences
they had witnessed on Bay Street. We were so bad…

While others who took tours of the island or did things like snorkeling or something like that and
thought St. Vincent was just beautiful and wonderful, we saw a dark side they just drove past and
were totally oblivious too. You can have Kingstown.

Just like clock work, all lines were let go at 5 PM and we backed out of our dock space and headed
for St. Kitts –- 300 miles north of us.
At 8 AM the next morning, we were securely tied up in Basseterre, St. Kitts. After our experiences
yesterday, we were anxiously looking forwards to seeing a new port of call. We took a great shore
excursion tour of a part of the island (all along the Southwest coast) with the turnaround point, and
main attraction of the tour, being
Brimstone Hill Fortress -- an old British Fortress from the 1800s
and up on top of an 800-foot high hill over looking the Caribbean Sea.

On the way there, we drove off the main road and up the side of a mountain and wound our way
through what looked like a
rain forest and arrived at the beautiful Romney Manor (an historical
old plantation). We stopped here for about 20 minutes to allow us to visit some of the beautiful
gardens there and to go inside one of the older building -- like an old plantation home -- now a sort
of a museum with a Batik dying demonstration, and of course, a gift shop to sell examples of the
beautiful designed and styled Batik patterns.

Deanna and I both bought two beautiful “Batik” shirts there in the gift shop. I was absolutely
blown away by how beautiful the designs were -- all created by a wax-resist dyeing technique
(Batik) used on textile.

Back on the road, we headed for Brimstone Hill Fortress. Even from miles away, it
loomed over the
landscape. I could see why the British picked this place to build a fort. It looked like the singular
purpose of the mountainous hill it occupied was to support just the fort. I would have hated to have
had to attack it.

Deanna did great on this tour – she actually walked up the long
ramp (with 55 built-in steps -– one
about every 5-8 feet or so of ramp) leading up from the main level of the fortress to the Citadel
part of the complex located at the very top of Brimstone Hill Fortress. The views from the top
were awesome –- you could see for miles in all directions on land at out many miles at sea. We could
see the rocky cliffs on the island of
St. Eustatius clear as a bell 10 miles away to the northwest.
Awesome views -– totally awesome!

Of course, that long walk up and down those steps demanded that we sample some of their local
beers (convenient café/gift shop at the fortress) after we got back down. At the canteen type
stand down below, we sampled our beers and chips under a tent type covering and played with
several local cats that Deanna immediately wanted to adopt.

I was so happy for Deanna this day considering that just three days before our cruise, she had
broken two toes on her left foot and we had actually arrived onboard the ship with her left foot in
a rigid space type boot with her toes taped together. The security folks at the airport had fun
trying to check that puppy out. Anyway, the boot came off the next day after we were onboard but
she kept her toes taped for the next nine days.

The tour was long and we enjoyed all that we saw along the way (very similar to all the other
islands). The area all around where we docked, Port Zante in Basseterre, the capitol, was basically
flat. I say flat but it was a very gentle slope of land going a long way back from the coast and then
finally gaining height as the land became very mountainous.

Getting back onboard ship felt good and Deanna headed straight for bed to take her nap. Even
though she did great on the walk up to the top of Brimstone Hill Fortress, I suspected she was
hurting a lot more than she was letting on. After her nap, we enjoyed our balcony ritual until it
was time to sail away at 5 PM.

After dinner we skipped the shows and just headed straight for the casino. The penny slots had
gotten very popular on our cruise and it was getting to the point that we would have to stand/sit
there near them (behind a machine you wanted to play) some times for an hour or more to be able
to pounce on one if the current occupant quit playing. It was kind like a dollar sale at Macy’s at a
white linen sale -- it could get ugly at times with different folks claiming they WERE next in-line
to play the slot machine in question.

After successfully working our way into the throngs and staking out our favorite machines, we
finally got to play then for an hour or so and finally gave them up to anxious players standing
behind us and we were off back to our room. We both were very excited about our next port of
call, St. Thomas.
Bright and early the next morning, 7 AM, we were securely docked in St. Thomas, United States
Virgin Islands.

Having visited here many times in the past, we skipped all the shore excursion tours and after a
leisurely paced breakfast, walked off the ship and looked for a taxi. We took one from the new
cruise terminal where we were docked over to the other side of the harbor there at Charlotte
Amalie to the cable car that goes up to Paradise Point -- our most favorite place in the Caribbean.

Soon, we were on the cable car and working our way slowly up the side of the mountain there at
the edge of the bay. We drifted by several very large displays of Bougainvillea vines – they were
so beautiful seen from above and up so close.

From up there at the top (700 feet in elevation above the bay/harbor area), complete with
restaurant, bar, and gift shops -- the
views from Paradise Point are absolutely breathtaking --
almost surreal as they are so overwhelming beautiful. The scene down below you looks like
something out of an old Cary Grant movie filmed in some exotic location. Maybe, just maybe, we
were but for a brief moment in time, in that fantasy movie with him and he had just darted inside
to surprise us with a special drink on his way back to us.

Of course, we just HAD to try several of the bar’s world famous drinks called “
Baileys Bushwacker.”
These, by the way, will definitely set you on your butt if you’re not careful.  We ordered a couple
of cheeseburgers to help balance out our meal and just continued to enjoy the views.

After an hour or so up there, including looking in the gift shops and buying a few items, we hopped
back on the cable car and slowly went back down to the cruise terminal area one block away from
the base of the cable car. We walked through the dock area and caught a
water taxi (run by guys
dressed in Pirate garb and were funny as all get out) back over to the new dock area where we
were tied up.

On all of our previous cruises to St. Thomas, we have always tied up right there at the foot of
Paradise Point and it was strange to have to dock way over at the new (2nd) terminal area. The
other terminal is new, nice, and all that but our first choice is the older one right by Paradise Point.

Guess what? After returning to the ship, we did our usual thing out on our balcony again just as we
had done in all the other ports. We certainly were enjoying the new tradition that we had started.
There is a saying in our family that any time anybody does something special just ONCE, the event
automatically becomes a family tradition and the tradition can NOT be broken –- NO exceptions….

Tonight, we slipped out of port at 6 PM and set sail for in La Romana, Dominican Republic. We were
already seated in the dinning room when we got underway. Our two waiters (one an assistant as
noted earlier) were great and we enjoyed them. The assistant waiter, Andre, was so good with
Deanna. He was so attentive in helping her in and out of her wheelchair.  Chris, the lead waiter was
also very helpful with Deanna in getting her seated at the table, etc. They both were a joy to be
around at dinner time. We had so much fun kidding around with Chris and he had a wonderful,
infectious laugh that just made you feel good inside.
We arrived at 8 AM the next morning in La Romana -– another place we did not feel too safe in. We
took no shore excursion here either and after some deliberations with each other, finally decided
to take the shuttle bus from the port terminal into heart of city. We had no idea where it would
drop us off. To our surprise and relief after seeing all the neighborhoods we drove past, we ended
up at a huge square (park with trees) that was set up like a huge flea market – dozens of vendors,
dancers etc.

Oh, it all looked beautiful, festive, etc., but it didn’t take long for us to sense, feel there was a
slight air/edge of apprehension all about -- hard to put your finger on it.

Anyway, we watched the dancers perform in the center of the
park in a large gazebo type structure
and then set about looking at what all was being sold by the multitude of vendors. Deanna finally
saw some great jewelry that caught her eye and bargained a great deal out of a very pushy and
aggressive vendor, who by the way could not speak English. They used his calculator to duel -- show
each other’s price and to communicate with each other.  

He started out at by punching in $135 on his calculator. Deanna closed the deal with a FIRM $30
bid on his calculator.

It was funny as hell standing there watching them go at it and her beating him at his own game. She
keyed in 30 the first time she had the calculator. He followed that with 125. Then her 30 again,
then his 110 -- back and forth it went. He finally got down to $35 and Deanna would not budge. I
knew that it was only a matter of time before he gave up.

The calculator was swapped back and forth, back and forth between them like some sort of ritual
dance or secret handshake -- her entry of 30, his 35 -- 30, 35 -- 30, 35 -- back and forth. I just
stood there and smiled. Finally, he just shrugged his shoulders and he keyed in 30 -- done deal! This
is why I ALWAYS let Deanna deal with car dealers -- they do NOT stand a chance!  

Even while were in the square, you had to be watchful (pickpockets, people aggressive, bumping,
etc.) and we were also warned to not listen to the shuttle bus guides (drivers) that said we HAD to
walk back towards the ship for about eight blocks to another location to catch the returning
shuttles to the cruise terminal. We were not happy to hear that (walk back eight blocks through
what we had already seen coming here) and for the moment, placed that out of our minds and
continued walking about the park and looking at all the stuff the vendors were selling.

After a while, we went across the street from the park to a beautiful old
church. There was no
ramp access to the church so while Deanna walked up the steps, I carried the wheelchair up and
then she rode in it while we toured the church. The inside of the church was simple but very
beautiful. High above the alter on the back wall was a very large arched shaped stain glass window
-– brilliant sea blue with a single white dove in flight in the center.

After we put money in a donation box by the front door, we went back outside, and Deanna walked
back down the steps while I again carried the chair. After she got back in, we went back over to
park to look at more of the vendors.

The journey across the street both times was difficult. There were no curb cuts and the street
level was at least ten inches or move below sidewalk level. While a lady policeman stopped traffic
for us, I edged Deanna off the sidewalk and down to the street and then repeated that process on
the other side, except that I had to pull the chair up. There was so much going on (traffic wise)
that I didn’t want her to have to try and get out of the chair etc. Anyway, I was used to it and
within seconds we were on our way.   

Finally, tiring of all this, we headed back to where we had originally gotten off the bus that brought
us here. We were determined to NOT walk back to the other shuttle place. At that point, I
realized that the beach-type bag that normally hangs from the back of the wheelchair was gone.
At first, I thought maybe someone had some how picked it off when I was not looking and then I
remembered the ordeal to get into and out of the church across the street.  

Leaving Deanna with a shuttle bus dispatcher who could speak English, I raced over to the church
and as I bounded up the stairs, a lady came out of the church smiling and gave me our
shopping/beach bag. I was thrilled and amazed at the same time. Not only was everything in it,
including the jewelry that Deanna has just bought 30 minutes ago, but the lady adamantly refused
my offer of a cash reward.  She made our day.

I rushed back over to the square where Deanna was standing by a bus that had just pulled up. We
were finally ready to board an arriving shuttle bus from the cruise terminal.

The arriving shuttle driver (arrogant and rude) at first tried to say no -– we HAD to walk the eight
blocks to get the return shuttle.  He was adamant about it –- would not give an inch. After I
motioned him aside from the others and he and I had a quiet “Come to Jesus meeting,” he was most
happy to allow us to get on his bus.

After seeing us getting on the bus, it was filled up in about three minutes by others who also
refused to walk to the other shuttle place. What the drivers were trying to do was to get us to go
(walk) from one shopping/gift area to another one they supported and one that they could NOT
stop at on the way back to the cruise ship to let people off who might want to shop there. Only
problem was, we already knew that the eight blocks between the two shuttle points were
seedy,
rough, and scary looking.

Just as with Trinidad, the same could be said for our experience in La Romana -- we saw what
others on snorkeling, out of town tours, etc. never saw. Maybe the rest of the country is OK but
not this place.

We heard one lady talking about our time in town at the square who was just bubbling over about
how wonderful it was -- it was what the Dominican Republic was all about, etc. Only problem with
her was that she was one of those types of dumb tourist that is/was totally ignorant of their
surroundings, wanders off and gets hurt, mugged, or whatever. Thankfully for her on this trip, she
made it back OK. But for us -- you can have La Romana.

Around 5 PM, we let go all lines and slowly backed out of the very narrow river port where we had
been tied up and then started sail for our last port of call, Grand Turk & Caicos Islands.

At the end of a cruise, or very close to it, I should say, you start to get sort of mixed up with your
feelings. In some ways, you are almost anxious to get back home and then you are saddened by the
fact that you know that the end is very near.

Anyway, to help ease the anguish of glad and sad, we dressed for dinner and then after another
great meal with our dinner companions, we once again enjoyed another great night of watching a
show in the Princess Theater and then on to the casino to try and break the bank, complete with
enjoying a few adult beverages before retiring for the night.
Our last port of call -- Grand Turk -- was grand as usual. We arrived at 10 AM the next morning and
again, we took no tours (already done that on earlier cruises). We opted instead to just walk off the
ship and stroll over to the end of the pier and shop in the great cruise terminal area they have built
there on Grand Turk a few miles south of town (Cockburn Town, the capitol). Lots of people elected
to just go over to the beach area right there by the pier and cruise terminal and just lay around all
day on the beautiful
beach and do some swimming and snorkeling

Deanna wanted to go into one of the
jewelry stores there, so while she walked inside, I sat out on
the walkway in her wheelchair and watched all the folks walking about. I knew, just knew it would
only be a matter of time before I head those dreaded words – “Mike…, can you come inside for just
a minute?” That phrase means she needs my credit card!

Ten minutes later, we walked out with her beaming after buying a beautiful ring with a “Caribbean
Topaz” gemstone -- cut so that it constantly reflected a multitude of colors depending on where you
are (inside, outside, etc.). She was happy and that was all that mattered  

Next, we wandered over to the largest Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in the world which is located
right there in the cruise terminal complex. We made our way in through the crowds (amazing
how people move out of the way when I am pushing Deanna in a wheelchair). We got seated upstairs
overlooking all the activities
below – swim-up bar with a disk jockey at pool side conducting some
sort of crazy beauty contest. And, most importantly, we sampled a few of their 22 oz Margaritas
and enjoyed them immensely while we each sampled a “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” :-).

When we finally got back to the ship, and yes, were out on our balcony, we watched in amazement as
the afternoon wore on at how many
people stayed glued to the beach chairs over on the beach right
were we were tied up. When the ship is scheduled to LEAVE at 5 PM, it is unwise to THEN (at 5)
get your butts up off the chairs and try to lazily make it back to the ship. And yes, we were late
leaving because of these stragglers. Me – I would have blown the ship’s horn and waved at them as
we backed away from the pier.

Tonight was our second formal night onboard ship. Starting with our last cruise, I gave up the
ordeal of renting a tux, keeping it pressed, etc, and feeling like a stuffed penguin onboard. Oh, I
like wearing a tux, but when it is hot (in the tropics, etc.) they can be uncomfortable.

So, I have just opted for a pair of nice dress black slacks, a matching colored jacket and some killer
looking shirt with a bold tie. Works for me and it looks good and is very comfortable.

Deanna dresses in light-weight gorgeous long gowns, usually black with lacey stuff and shinny things
on them that she got just for cruising – love them.
Our next day after departing Grand Turk was a full day at sea again – complete with hanging out
around the pool, listening to the music (live bands), sipping a few cools ones, and then on to our last
dinner with our dinner companions.

After dinner, as with most nights before, we hit the shows and then headed straight for the penny
slots in the casino. All in all, we did well with the slots -- we had a ball playing them and usually took
back to the room, a bit (winnings) of what we had allocated for that night’s playing. This win each
night gave us a few extra dollars to have fun with the next night. In the end, they got most of our
money, but what the heck -- we had a great time and had lots of fun.

After a wonderful 3,900 miles of cruising, Fort Lauderdale was soon greeting us at 7 AM the next
and final day of our long and wonderful cruise. We were scheduled to leave the ship in the first
wave and after successfully getting through U.S. Customs and Immigrations we made it to the
airport in time to catch a plane at 10:45 AM versus our schedule flight at 3 PM.

I had picked out a lady Sky Cap at curbside out of the crowd of Sky Caps waiting on our bus as soon
as we had arrived at the airport. She took us and our luggage into the ticket area there for AirTran
and went straight past a long line of people in the regular ticket lines and on to the Elite/Business
class line.

When we got there, she told me she knew the lady and to let her do all the talking. Within minutes,
we were checked in to the earlier flight, upgraded to Business Class again (same two front row
seats).  I tipped her $20 for helping us but she said she was not through yet and then she took a
hold of Deanna’s wheelchair and spirited us away towards the very long security lines.

We went way over to the side, bypassed everyone, showed our boarding passes and passports to
some TSA guy and bing, bang, boom -- we went thought the metal detectors and X-ray stations in
short order. From the ticket counter to ready now to go to the gates was maybe 10 minutes. She
stood with us the whole way and after we got our shoes back on, etc., and started to leave for the
gate, I tipped her another $10.

At first she refused but I told her she had earned every dime of it. She finally took it and said it
goes into her daughter’s college fund (was just starting Veterinary School).  She MADE our day --
believe me.  Thirty minutes later we were onboard our plane and settled in for our flight home.

It was great coming home to see our girls – Trixie and Alice. They about ate us up Friday night --
one or both of them walked all over both of us all night long -- making sure we really were home and
that all was finally back to normal. The lady that cleans our house came by two times a day to look
after them and the girls know her well and that really helped them out a lot.  

What else can I say? The cruise was long, hot, exciting, relaxing, tense a few times, but all in all, it
was a wonderful cruise.

The let down -- reality is a lot different from a pampered existence on a great cruise ship for 14
days. In just four hours, we left a great cruise ship, 86 degree weather and landed in Atlanta where
it was -5 degrees with wind chill factor and they couldn't find my car in the Park'n Fly Lot --
welcome home!

But, life goes on and we both are richer for all that we witnessed and enjoyed.
The End ...
Caribbean Collection Cruise:
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