29 February 2012

Tortola and Virgin Gorda

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We visited the islands of Tortola and Virgin Gorda today. We enjoyed the morning exploring the capital, Road Town. In the afternoon we visited an unusual beach scattered with big granite boulders.

The coastline of TortolaWe arrived in the British Virgin Islands and docked at Road Town on the south of Tortola.

We spent the morning in the town, walking along the main road from the harbour and then Waterfront Drive, Main Street and Pickenin Street up to St George's Episcopal Church.

Retracing our steps we stopped at the bakery for a cookie and some water, fed cookie crumbs to a hen and her three chicks, visited the museum, and bought and posted a card for Megan and our Tuesday evening Small Group.

The bakery in Pickinin Road, Road TownWe strolled back to the ship for a light lunch, then on to the harbour and a powerful catamaran for an afternoon trip to Virgin Gorda. Richard Branson's private island of Necker is not far from here. Once on the island we were taken by local bus to 'The Baths' a swimming beach and national park.

The area is littered with granite boulders, small, large and enormous (up to the size of a small house). These were ejected by a volcano long ago, enclosed in lava, and then as the lava eroded they were released. These boulders lie all over this part of the island - on the hilly ground inland, on the beach itself, and partially or totally submerged just offshore.

Beach and boulders on Virgin GordaA jumbled pile of these boulders forms a 'cave' network through which the next beach can be reached. It proved to be quite a scramble and there was little in the way of guidance. We made several false turns and had to retrace our steps to a familiar point and try again. While amongst the boulders Donna swam in the sea before we returned by a different route to catch the bus home.

In the boat we chatted with a Canadian couple who reminded us of of our old friends, Geoff and Dawn. We didn't learn their names, but began to think of him as 'Canadian Geoff'!

Back at the ship we went to the theatre to hear Jeri Sager sing some of her Broadway and other songs before dinner in the Aqua Restaurant and a relaxed evening. Cruising is most enjoyable, I could get used to it!

See also - More photos from our day

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28 February 2012

Dominican Republic

< Day at sea | Index | Tortola and Virgin Gorda >

We were ferried by tender boats to a small island near Samana in the Dominican Republic. We also spent some time relaxing on the ship. Having been ashore today, we're looking forward to some interesting visits to other islands during the rest of the cruise.

Several of the ship's lifeboats were used
Today was our first landfall in the Caribbean, at Samana on the south coast of a long peninsula in the north-east of the island.

After breakfast we decided to visit the town of Samana and then transfer later to Cayo Levantado where there's a tourist beach. But we changed our minds, instead staying aboard the ship and relaxing with a good read, having a light lunch in the Garden Restaurant, and then getting the tender to the Cayo.

By all accounts there wouldn't have been much to see in Samana and the crossing was longer in quite choppy conditions. The tender boats are the ship's lifeboats and it was interesting to travel in one. There is no deep water harbour at Cayo Levantado, and the ship has a deployable landing stage to make it really easy to board small boats.

The stalls on Cayo LevantadoThe lifeboat dropped us at a jetty right by the sandy beach. We found ourselves in an area of public parkland with shady trees, paved walkways, and a range of stalls and open air bars and little restaurants. We stopped for a refreshing drink and checked out the stalls, some selling artwork, others with T-shirts or hats, and some with gifts and local crafts.

A local bandThere was a band playing local Dominican music, they were very willing to pose for a photo in exchange for a small gift in their collecting box. The Dominican Republic is mostly quite poor and I think the band members and the stallholders are much better off than the folk on the mainland, particularly away from resort areas.

After exploring, we found a shady spot on a grassy bank right by the sandy beach and spent some more time reading.

I'm going through Jonathan Aitken's excellent book 'John Newton' on Donna's Kindle, while she's reading Jim Palmer's 'Divine Nobodies' on mine.

Back on board the ship in the late afternoon we headed out of the bay and Donna got a good look at some humpback whales as we passed from bay to open ocean. This is the same population we saw on our trip to Boston a few years ago. All I saw were waterspouts, but Donna might have caught a glimpse of a whale or two as well.

We've decided we really like the freestyle dining experience, and I'm enjoying the informal dress.

< Day at sea | Index | Tortola and Virgin Gorda >

27 February 2012

Day at sea

< Join the cruise and sail | Index | Dominican Republic >

Our first full day at sea took us further south and east. There was plenty to do and see, exploring the ship, an art auction, enjoying a restaurant meal, entertainment in the theatre, chatting with other passengers, and of course reading.

The art auctionThe ship headed east and south all last night and all of today, putting on the miles. The sea was quite choppy today, Atlantic weather rather than Caribbean weather.

We spent the day reading, chatting, learning our way around the ship, and investigating an art auction. I have no idea how much artwork was sold, but the display was busy as you can see in the photo.

We ended the day eating at the Aqua Restaurant this time. The menu is the same as the Venetian but the decor and lighting is more relaxed and pleasant. Like the Venetian it is a large space filling the ship's entire beam.

Our first full day at seaAfter eating we watched a show in the theatre, a tribute to the music of the 1970's and very well done. The theatre is surprisingly large, filling much of the front of the vessel, and it even has a rotating section in the middle.

Paul Scally, the Cruise Director, reminds us so much of Clive Urquhart from Kingdom Faith - his Luton accent and style of speaking are just the same! He doesn't look like Clive, but hearing him make announcements on the ship's public address system was uncanny!

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26 February 2012

Join the cruise and sail

< Fly to Miami | Index | Day at sea >

Today we boarded our ship, the 'Norwegian Dawn' and sailed out of Miami towards the south and east. The rest of the day we were busy exploring the ship and eating our first two meals on board.

The Norwegian DawnI managed to adjust to the time difference without a problem, going to bed a little early and waking up around 07:00 local time. We relaxed in our room, reading and writing. We had to vacate the room at 11:00 but the shuttle to the ship left at 11:30 so that was very acceptable timing.

In the hotel lobby we met several others aiming for cruises. We chatted with Doug and Diane who were sailing on the Norwegian Pearl and he gave me his email address, hoping to keep in touch with us. We boarded our cruise ship, the Norwegian Dawn, after one of the longest queuing experiences ever, about two hours. Our ship was on its first outing after a refit and the computerised boarding systems were new. Much of the delay may have been due to lack of familiarity with  the new system.

Following the Norwegian Pearl out of MiamiA welcome buffet was available in the Garden Restaurant. What a spread! Leaving port a little late at about 16:15 (we had to wait for some passengers who phoned from the airport to say they were just heading for the port), we sailed out into the Atlantic and some choppy water in a strong wind. There was a bit of rolling, but nothing too bad and I didn't suffer any ill effects.

We explored the ship systematically, it's a very nice vessel with lots of facilities and some excellent restaurants. We ate in the Venetian this evening, a large and ornate space filling the full width of the ship. The food on board is very good with something available 24/7 and an option for room service at no extra charge. Buffet in the Garden RestaurantThe restaurants range from an enormous buffet with an extraordinary range of hot and cold options, through pleasant restaurants like the Venetian, to some unusual alternatives attracting a surcharge.

We went to the theatre to see the day excursion presentation and left with a pretty good idea of the available options for each of the islands we are going to visit.

And finally, back to our bijoux cabin, officially known as our 'state room'. That's a rather grand term for a space just about large enough for a bed and an en suite shower and loo.

I wrote up the day's events and we turned in for the night.

< Fly to Miami | Index | Day at sea >

25 February 2012

Fly to Miami

< St Neots to Heathrow | Index | Join the cruise and sail >

We arrive at our hotel in Miami, tired but looking forward to exploring the cruise ship tomorrow. The eleven hour flight felt longer and the hotel was disappointing - but we're on our way!

The view from our hotel windowWe slept well but were up early as our flight with Delta was mid morning. The shuttle bus took us to Heathrow Terminal 4 and so to check in and an 11 hour flight to Miami. Somehow they'd given us seats that were not together, but the cabin crew sorted that out for us.

There's not a lot to say about an 11 hour flight (except it seems longer). I watched Dr Zhivago for the second time (the first time was when it was originally released back in the late 1960s)

I read some more of Ross Rhode's book 'Viral Jesus' and enjoyed it immensely. Dozed a bit, read a bit, listened to Igor Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, read a bit, dozed a bit.

By mid afternoon Florida time we were in Miami Airport trying to find the hotel shuttle - and failing. In the end we took a taxi (I almost lost Donna in the process) and made our way to the Miami Ramada Airport North. This place is actually quite some way from the airport and a bit run down, very different from our Holiday Inn experience at Heathrow yesterday.

We had slight hopes of relaxing by the poolside, although the hotel details online had mentioned that the area was being renovated. When we went to look we found that the pool area is currently a wasteland of gravel. 'Renovated' is a misnomer, it has been ripped out and a new pool is going to be developed. Back to the Kindle books!

We finished the day with a strange hotel restaurant meal, I had a pizza that looked and tasted like a frozen 'value' pizza from the local supermarket. Not great but it filled a gap. We headed for bed looking forward to joining our cruise ship in the morning.

< St Neots to Heathrow | Index | Join the cruise and sail >

24 February 2012

St Neots to Heathrow

< No earlier items | Index | Fly to Miami >

This was the beginning of the holiday - drive to the airport. All that will be needed in the morning is a ten minute transfer to departures, check in our luggage, and clear security. Our hotel was amazing, far better than we'd expected.

This might not seem much like a holiday, but Donna was home from work and won't need to go back until next month - so it is a holiday!

We ate a quick meal, completed packing the bags, said goodbye to Truffles (our elderly black cat), and headed off.

We decided to use the A1(M) instead of the M1 as there are extensive roadworks on the M1. It soon turned out that the M25 also had roadworks that we'd have missed if we'd used the M1. This is Britain, there are roadworks everywhere!

Donna had booked a night at the Heathrow Holiday Inn, a special deal that included parking while we are away. Airport parking is expensive and our cheap deal meant we got the overnight stay at very little cost. As you can see from the photo of the lobby on their website, this is a very plush hotel indeed. We were astonished to find rooms on offer at £130 per night at the full rate. We paid considerably less with a couple of weeks parking thrown in. It was a great deal!

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