Tag Archives: Cruise

Thoughts on Three Cruises In Four Weeks

Brilliance of the Seas docked next to Liberty of the Seas in Cozumel

We didn’t set out to book three cruises, honest!  It just sorta…happened. 🙂

Carnival Breeze in San Juan, Puerto Rico

We had previously booked two weeks on Royal Caribbean’s (RCCL) Freedom of the Seas out of San Juan in January.  The ship was scheduled to go to drydock for extended renovations the week after we were due to get off.  But due to lots of reasons irrelevant to my post, Royal Caribbean needed to move the drydock back one week and cancelled the second of the two weeks.  We didn’t want to travel all the way to Puerto Rico for just a week (our preference – lots of people do it), so we decided to cancel the first week, too.  We re-used the plane tickets to go to San Juan this past November instead.

Norwegian Dawn in Roatan, Honduras

Because of the cancellation of the first week, we ended up with a credit that needed to be used by February, so we found a 5-night cruise on Brilliance of the Seas, another RCCL ship sailing out of Tampa.  We had never sailed out of Tampa before, and figured with our credit that this would be an inexpensive way to take a short cruise and check out Tampa.

Sunrise aboard Brilliance of the Seas

Meanwhile, friends of ours had booked a Carnival cruise out of Port Canaveral for the following week and “suggested” that we might want to go along.  It doesn’t take much “suggestion” to get us interested in a cruise!  So, we booked a cruise on that ship for the next week.

Aboard Brilliance of the Seas

Our son Kevin likes to cruise also, and he has been sailing with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).  He mentioned that he wanted to take a cruise in February and suggested (there’s that word again!) that it might be fun if we went together.  So we checked around and found a cruise on Norwegian Dawn out of Tampa.  But the catch was that there was a week’s gap between the two cruises, so we would need to find something to do for a week.  In Florida, in February?  Not hard to do.

Schooner Bar aboard Brilliance of the Seas

We have been working on visiting different National Parks, and had never been to The Everglades.  So we decided to find a place to stay in South Florida for a week, where we visited Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and drove through some of the Florida Keys.  More on those later.  Then we drove back to Tampa to meet our son and take the third cruise.  When it was all done we had logged about 3,000 car miles, who knows how many cruise miles, and about 4,000 photos!

Grand Atrium aboard Norwegian Dawn

A few thoughts:

– People ask us about the different cruise lines, and although it sounds like a cop-out, they are all good.  Different lines tend to cater to slightly different demographics, but things like ship size, home port and cruise length tend to make a bigger difference than the name of the cruise line.

– We tend to prefer smaller ships and this was borne out on these cruises.  The RCCL and NCL ships were each about the same size – approximately 2,000 passengers, while the Carnival ship was about 4,000 passengers.

– We’ve always assumed that shorter cruises would attract more of a party crowd, but the 5-night RCCL cruise was one of the most laid-back we’ve done, and seemed to have a very high number of repeat cruisers.  The Diamond Club, a lounge for passengers with a certain level of cruises with the line, had so many people that it overflowed into an adjacent lounge.  The Carnival and Norwegian cruises each had a high number of first-timers – a very interesting contrast.

– Cruise line food is very good regardless of the line.  Dining choices are either fixed, with the same table and waiter at the same time each night, or flexible, where you eat where ever you want each night, but with a different waiter and different table each time.  We have always preferred fixed seating, as we like to establish a relationship with our waiter.  But one of the disadvantages of fixed seating is that a lot of the food has to be prepared at once and can sometimes be overdone.  Flexible seating tends to be more cook-to-order, so the food is often fresher, hotter and usually properly done.  This is especially important with fish!

– We really liked cruising out of Tampa and did it twice.  The city is nice – much like Charlotte in terms of age and size, but on the water.  The port is very easy to get in and out of, and parking is a snap.

Sunrise aboard Brilliance of the Seas enroute to Tampa, Florida

I’m sure that’s more than anyone wants to read about my vacation, so I’ll leave it at that for now!

Slowly But Surely

Early morning enroute to San Juan, Puerto Rico aboard Carnival Breeze

Kathy & I returned to home base this past Monday, and I’m currently halfway through the nearly 4,000 photos from our month-long adventure.  I’ll be posting galleries to my Adobe Portfolio site (keep checking for updates!) and expect to have some more stories to tell here on the blog in the near future.  Hang in there – I’m working on it! 😉

Been A While

Castillo San Cristobal, part of the San Juan National Historic Site in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Kathy & I recently returned from our most recent adventure, 14 days on the Celebrity Summit cruise ship out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  One of the downsides of cruising close to or during the holidays is that it compresses the holiday “to-do” list just a little.  I added another 3500 photos to my inventory and am working my way through them.  But I see the light at the end of the tunnel! 😉

A Lucky Shot

Ginger Blossom and Hummingbird

During our visit to Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica, we took an aerial tram tour and nature walk through a tropical rain forest.  I had been taking photos of this ginger blossom when I noticed a hummingbird flying nearby.  Just as I fired off a series of shots of the ginger the hummer flew into my frame!  I got off a burst of just a few shots before he flew away.  While this is the best one, it certainly isn’t “perfect” enough to win any nature photo contests but it works for me.

Cruising The Panama Canal

Transit through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess

Kathy & I recently returned from a 15-night cruise through the Panama Canal on the Pacific Princess.  It was a terrific cruise, and at only 600 +/- passengers this ship was a welcome relief from the 6000+ passenger behemoth we sailed on in February.  But like bottles of wine we’ve never had a bad cruise, so there are always great things to experience regardless!

Morning approach to the entrance of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit through the Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit through the Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit of the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess

The highlight of our cruise, which took us from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Los Angeles, CA, was of course a full transit of the Panama Canal.  These photos are just a sample of the ones I took during this event.  I will add more photos and commentary as I get through the 3000+ photos I took!  But we’re leaving soon for another quick trip and I’m planning to leave the computer at home, so they will need to wait until we get back.

Transit through the Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess
Transit through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal during our Panama Canal cruise aboard Pacific Princess

Cruising for Photos

Aboard Symphony of the Seas

One of my many personal projects is to look for and photograph bits and pieces of the architecture on cruise ships.  For that purpose I hardly go anywhere without my little point & shoot camera.  It isn’t as intimidating as a regular camera and doesn’t look a lot different than a phone, which everyone is used to seeing.

There are things to see everywhere on board, just like on land.  Sometimes it is simply a shadow or a reflection, and occasionally it is just a piece of glass or metal that has an interesting shape.  Symphony of the Seas was no exception.

Cocktails at the Rising Tide bar aboard Symphony of the Seas
Aboard Symphony of the Seas
Aboard Symphony of the Seas
Sunrise and arrival in Nassau, Bahamas aboard Symphony of the Seas
Aboard Symphony of the Seas
Aboard Symphony of the Seas
Aboard Symphony of the Seas
Aboard Symphony of the Seas
Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Keepin’ It Real – Roatan Island Art

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

One of the paradoxes of cruising is that while the ships visit beautiful islands, their very presence can detract from what makes the islands beautiful in the first place.  Each day we were in Nassau, for instance, there were 5 ships in port, with total passengers of more than 18,000!  The entire island of Roatan, Honduras has a population of 50,000.  And when there are 3 ships in port, that can add another 8-12,000 people just to the area around the port.  Many of those people buy stuff, which is great for the economy, but it can make it hard to enjoy being there.

It’s getting to the point where if you’ve seen one port you’ve seen them all.  We joke about it here in the states – every strip mall has a Subway, a dry cleaner, a nail salon and either a CVS or Walgreen’s.  Throw in a Chinese restaurant or pizza joint and they are the same everywhere.  On cruises – in the event that you have money left over after all the spending opportunities on the ship – you get a “Port & Shopping Map” for every port, which directs you to the so-called “ship recommended” places to buy diamonds, tanzanite (which I think was invented for the cruise passenger!), fancy watches, color changing t-shirts and tote bags, booze, chocolates and on and on.  But enough – I want to talk about something fun.

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

Kathy & I make a point of seeking out places in each port that are off the beaten path, locally-owned & operated and provide a flavor for the place itself.  Sometimes it is a nice local restaurant, a beach or just a tour.  Where we can, we like to find shops selling things that we are happy to bring home.  We found such a place on Roatan, Honduras.

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

Roatan Island Art is a small craft shop located on the “main drag” of Roatan, about 200 yards from the cruise terminal.  I found it on Google Maps and am glad I did, because it isn’t listed on the “Port and Shopping Map.”  But it should be!  Yeah, you have to walk past all of the “ship recommended” shops and actually leave the port area.  Once you say “no, thank you!” to 300 taxi drivers wanting to take you on an island tour, you get to a part of the street with a number of restaurants and the straw market.  Directly across the street from the straw market in a colorful and whimsically designed shop is Island Art.

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

Everything in the store is sourced and hand-crafted by Yourgin Levy, his wife and sons.  Yourgin is a native Honduran and is intimately familiar with the indigenous wood, stone, shells and other materials he uses in his work.  He speaks passionately about his island, his crafts and his family, and told us that he got his start selling his jewelry on the beach.  With encouragement from his wife, family and others he worked hard to get a storefront to sell his goods.  The items in the shop and the shop itself reflect the passion he has for his work and his island.

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

I was especially impressed by the different kinds of wood that Yourgin uses in his work.  I don’t remember all the names now, but cedar, mahogany and rosewood were common.  These woods are not easy to work with, even with power tools!  And the results are just beautiful, with Yourgin’s passion for Roatan showing in each piece, and especially in his descriptions when he tells you about them.

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

Kathy and I ended up buying a couple small items, a sea jade necklace and a wood wall hanging, mostly because it was the first stop on our cruise and we didn’t want to chance running out of room in our luggage or breaking something on the way home.  On a future cruise which stops in Roatan I would definitely plan on buying something larger, like one of the beautiful hand-carved sailboats, a cutting board or serving tray.

Whatever you choose to do on Roatan – and you should do something because it is beautiful – have your driver drop you off at Roatan Island Art.  Or just walk there from the ship.  And when you get there, take the time to talk with Yourgin and experience the passion and love he has for the island of Roatan and for Honduras.  I’ve written this because in my own heart I feel strongly that this man and his shop deserve the publicity.  Go there!

“Roatan Island Art” gallery in Roatan, Honduras

All Aboard!

Central Park area aboard Symphony of the Seas
Ice skating show at “Studio B” aboard Symphony of the Seas

Spending a week (or two) aboard a cruise ship with 6000 or so of ones closest friends can be a little challenging, especially for someone who tends to be a little introverted.  Yeah, that’s me.  Kathy too.

Royal Promenade aboard Symphony of the Seas
HiRO show at the Aqua Theater on Symphony of the Seas

We’ve been on enough cruises to know how to find our own space and can usually do so pretty reliably.  During the day there are always a few spots on board that are out of the way and quiet.  That usually involves a lounge or the library, but could also mean a sun deck away from the pool or the Promenade, where there is no food or bar service!  Of course we could always retreat to the balcony of our own stateroom.  We found such places on Symphony of the Seas, but there were also places where it was so noisy that individual voices pretty much disappeared.  Those places were never our first choice, but sometimes finding a comfy seat in a noisy place was preferable!

In Cozumel, Mexico aboard Symphony of the Seas
Symphony of the Seas in Costa Maya, Mexico

We have come to really enjoy cruising.  After this last cruise, which was actually two separate cruises that we sailed back to back, we’ve been on 25 cruises!  And we have two more booked, one for later this year and one more in January next year.  Needless to say it is an important part of our travel plans.

Sunrise and arrival in Nassau, Bahamas aboard Symphony of the Seas
Sunrise and arrival in Nassau, Bahamas aboard Symphony of the Seas

I’ll have more to say and photos to post about some of the specific ports and experiences from this recent cruise soon.  And I still have some posts to write from our trip to Florida.  I’d better hurry up though, because it won’t be long until we embark our our next adventure.  Stay tuned!

Aboard Symphony of the Seas
Aboard Symphony of the Seas

Galley Tour on Celebrity Summit

Galley tour on Celebrity Summit

Another highlight of our recent cruise and part of our chef tour was a tour of the galley.  We have done galley tours before on numerous cruises, but ordinarily they are held in the morning, and the most exciting thing you see is someone making gravy!  For this tour we were taken through the galley during dinner service, and it was quite an experience!

Chef Stephen on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit

It’s been a long time since I worked in any kind of restaurant environment, and I’m not sure I actually qualify to say that I worked in any kind of restaurant!  But the things we found most impressive were how clean and organized things were, and how friendly everyone was, especially while they were busy.  I took a lot of photos on this tour, and these are just a few, to give you a “taste” of the experience!

Escalator from the dining room to the galley
Executive Chef Kuldeep Singh on Celebrity Summit
Dessert station!
Dessert station!
Dessert station!
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit