On our most recent trip to Florida, Kathy & I decided to fly, rather than make the 9-ish hour drive down unpredictable I-95. As a result, we had the very pleasant experience of using the Melbourne Orlando International Airport (MLB). What a nice airport and a refreshing change!
The Melbourne airport is modern and clean with everything you would expect in an airport – except crowds! With the exception of the occasional charter flight from the UK or elsewhere and a few non-daily flights, the airport appears to be largely a private and corporate plane base. There are a number of Northrup Grumman plants nearby as well as a number of space-related companies. Other than that, the commercial activity appears to be Delta flights to and from Atlanta, and American flights to and from Charlotte. It was quite a contrast to the madness of the Charlotte airport!
We arrived to a nearly empty terminal, found our checked bag in “Baggage Claim” (there is only one!) and found a pleasant covered spot to sit while we waited for the free airport shuttle to our hotel. On our return trip, the shuttle drivers at the hotel assured us that there was no need to arrive 2 hours ahead. Skeptical, I took him at his word, and sure enough when we arrived just over an hour before, we walked right up to a check-in counter, staffed by a real person, and turned in our bag. We then proceeded to the TSA checkpoint, where there were more TSA employees than passengers. We breezed through TSA Pre-check and waited in a mostly quiet waiting area. No clueless wandering passengers, no repeated announcements about maintaining possession of your carry-on, none of the drama of Charlotte. And no crush of impatient passengers trying to board. Nice!
Kathy & I decided that we could return to Melbourne any time. We found the hotel to be very nice, staffed with friendly people and in an excellent location on the beach. We’ll also take a look at other small airports we could fly to for a few days’ getaway!
We’re packing up and getting ready to head home, but it’s been a very nice visit to a new (for us) place. We spent time with friends, had some beach time, ate some good seafood and even got to see a rocket launch! I didn’t take any photos of the launch because it happened at 3 am and would have only showed an orange ball against a black background! But it was great to see, since it was the closest we’ve been to one (we’re about 30 miles from Kennedy Space Center).
I’ll have some more photos and stories once I get home and get the files into my computer. Processing photos on my tablet is a bit cumbersome. And takes away from my beach time! 😉
We had dinner at a restaurant with perhaps one of the best restaurant names ever: Squid Lips! It overlooks the Indian River in Melbourne. I loved the way the late afternoon light hit the causeway, and interrupted cocktail time long enough to grab a few photos.
Sunrises without clouds can be boring, even at the beach. So after watching the sun come up into a clear sky, I happened to see this angle on the building and realized that it made for a pretty graphic image. Just another angle on sunrise!
A few weekends ago, Kathy & I visited Staunton, VA to meet up with our friends Jim & Lisa, who drove down from Pennsylvania. We like to find interesting towns to visit for a few days when we have a chance to meet up. Last summer we met in Lewisburg, WV, and we’re planning a trip to Kentucky for later this year.
Staunton (pronounced STON-ton) is a pleasant and vibrant town located along I-81 just north of Roanoke and is about halfway between Jim & Lisa’s home in Pennsylvania and our home in Charlotte. In addition to a nice downtown with good restaurants and interesting shops, Staunton is home to the American Shakespeare Center, the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Mary Baldwin University. Oh, and the Camera Heritage Museum.
We spent a few days walking around the town, saw a play at American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse, had some good meals and visited some interesting shops. We were there on St. Patrick’s Day and enjoyed a dinner at a restaurant with a live Celtic band.
One afternoon we were walking around town, and at some point came across these old railroad trestle supports. I don’t remember the words, but Jim asked me if I thought they would make a good photograph. I had seen them but hadn’t responded to them yet, so Jim’s question woke me up. Yes, they were quite interesting, and as it turned out I was able to make a few photographs that prove the point.
Just like with the photos of Bill’s tree in my last post, sometimes it is someone else’s eyes that discover the photo, and my job is to do something with it. Looks like I may have to make another print! 😉
This is (finally) the final post of photos from our February cruise marathon. Completed galleries can be found on my Adobe Portfolio page for anyone wanting to see more.
Cruise ships have always had vast art displays on board. Even back in the early days of steamship travel, ships were known to have decor consisting of paintings, sculptures and murals. Modern cruise ships seem to be carrying this artistic theme even into their design. More and more we are seeing sweeping atriums, huge glass observation decks, and dramatic architectural features that are much more about form than function.
On our Celebrity Apex cruise, I tried to capture a bit of the flavor of t his art, as well as some of the design elements. Here is a small collection of what I saw.
I’m getting close to the end (you’re welcome) of the photos from our cruise marathon this past February. I’ve posted three galleries on my Adobe Portfolio page for anyone who just has to see more.
I get a lot of comments about the size of cruise ships, especially from people who have never sailed on one, or sometimes have never even seen one. So I thought I would post some photos and make some comments about this particular ship plus show a brief comparison of ship sizes.
Celebrity Apex is the second ship in what is known as the Edge Class that was introduced in 2018. The first ship of course was Edge (2018), followed by Apex (2020), Beyond (2022) and later this year, Ascent. There may be more in the pipeline but I’m not sure. Edge Class is the latest of three classes of ship, with the exception of some smaller specialty ships that sail exclusively in the Galapagos (they are on our long-term list but are quite pricey).
Cruise ships are generally compared in terms of Gross Tonnage (a measure of volume, not weight), length and passenger count. I’m using Celebrity’s ships for comparison, although there are many other ships with different lines, both larger and smaller.
We don’t usually sail on ships when they are fairly new, because in general they are more pricey than ships that have been out a while. But in this case, we were already in Fort Lauderdale for our first two cruises, so by spreading the travel expenses over another cruise we were able to bring the average cost down. And we got a pretty good price for booking fairly late, and it gave us a chance to try out a ship sooner than we might otherwise.
One of the recent trends among some of the cruise lines is to make the ships larger and larger. Royal Caribbean has the largest ships afloat, and will soon be introducing Icon of the Seas, which will carry 7,600 passengers. I’m sorry, but that is stupid big. Not to say we’ll never sail on her, but when our preference is ships 1/3 of the size, we aren’t going to be standing in line!
What always surprises us is that for the most part, the ships don’t feel crowded. Exceptions are sea days by the pool, and “lobster night” in the main dining rooms. Sometimes there is a special event going on in the central atrium (called different things on different ships) and those can get crowded. Other than that, Kathy & I have developed some routines that get us out and about before the crowds arrive (we call them “the nooners” although I’m aware that term has several meanings. 😉 ). There are often out of the way places where it is quiet and uncrowded, although that also means we have to walk a way to the bathrooms and retrieve our own drinks. 🙂
The great thing about newer ships, however, is that the decor and architecture are beautiful. The layout, styling and technology have come a long way since we started cruising in 2000. There are more dining choices, more entertainment options, the theaters have new technologies and even the staterooms have fancy gadgets like temperature and lighting controls. It’s even possible to adjust the shades, lighting and temperature of a stateroom using an app, from anywhere on the ship. Not terribly useful, but there are cases where it might be.
There were things we loved about Apex, and a few things that we didn’t care for. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but overall we liked the ship, but for our money we prefer the smaller and slightly older Solstice Class like Equinox that we sailed on for the first two cruises.
After our visit to Key West, Celebrity Apex sailed to Belize. We had sort of visited Belize in 2020, but only to stop at Harvest Caye, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island. This time we got to see the “real” Belize with a visit to Lamanai Archaeological Reserve.
From travelbelize.org: Lamanai (from the Yucatec Maya for “submerged crocodile”) was a city-state dating to 1500 BCE. Archaeological research has revealed that the site was continually occupied for 3,000 years until European contact. More than 700 Maya structures have been identified, but only a few have been excavated and studied, including a ball court, stelae, and principal structures like the Mask Temple, adorned by two impressive carved limestone masks over 13 ft. (3.9 m) in height.
The vast majority of the site remained unexcavated until the mid-1970s. Archaeological work has concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures, most notably the Mask Temple, Jaguar Temple, and High Temple. The summit of this latter structure affords a view across the surrounding jungle to a nearby lagoon, part of New River.
We were not able to climb the High Temple, as it was closed for restoration work. Instead, we were able to climb the Mask Temple. It doesn’t have the view of the High Temple, but it was interesting and fun to climb.
Getting to Lamanai involved a tender ride from the ship (there is no cruise ship dock in Belize), an hour plus bus ride to a boat, then a boat ride to the reserve. Once there, a lot of walking, then back to the boat and do it in reverse back the ship. Fortunately, between the return boat ride and the bus ride, we got lunch!
The ruins were very interesting, and our guides did a good job explaining the various pyramids and their uses. The Mayan culture has largely disappeared, although their descendants, including our guides, help keep the heritage alive.
After our two cruises on Celebrity Equinox, we boarded one of Celebrity’s newest ships, Celebrity Apex, for a 7 night cruise to the Western Caribbean. The first stop was Key West, Florida. Not exactly an exotic Caribbean destination, but certainly an interesting place to spend some time.
This was our first time sailing to Key West, but we had visited there previously, flying down for a few chilly days in February 2015. I think we must have experienced record low temperatures on that visit. It was sunny and warm this time, however!
As a cruise port, visited during the day, Key West is pretty much like any other cruise port except the natives speak English and everyone takes dollars. It’s a different world in the evenings, as we experienced previously. No, it’s not all the wild and crazy scene that Key West might be known for, but it is definitely more of a party atmosphere.
One example would be our visit to the Sunset Pier Bar. We arrived in the morning, and at that point the bar was closed. There were a few people taking selfies on the pier, but for the most part it was deserted. It’s a completely different place at sunset, which is what that part of the island is famous for.
Kathy & I spent a few hours walking around town, ending up at Blackfin Bistro, a favorite lunch spot that we remembered from a previous visit. We had a lovely lunch of fresh fish and veggies, along with a nice glass of wine. Afterward we wound our way back to the ship to prepare for departure and sailing to our next stop, Belize.
After our stop on Bonaire, we sailed to the island of Curacao. Like Bonaire, we had visited previously but it was a number of years ago. Things hadn’t changed a lot, but there were a few obvious differences from our prior visit.
The cruise port on Curacao is the capital city of Willemstad. The colorful waterfront and the Queen Emma floating bridge are two of the main symbols of this beautiful island. Downtown Willemstad is an easy walk from the cruise terminal. Although we made the walk three times, and it got a little longer each time!
The Queen Emma Bridge is a floating bridge, hinged on one end with an engine and propulsion unit on the other end that allows the bridge to open, allowing ship traffic to pass in St Anna Bay. We were fortunate to be able to see the bridge open several times throughout the day, and from both sides of the water. When there is a lot of ship traffic and the bridge needs to stay open for more than a few minutes, there is a free ferry that will take pedestrians from one side to the other. We only saw that happen once, as a large cargo ship was escorted out of the bay, and the bridge stayed open long enough for the tugs to return. And yes, it is possible to stay on the bridge when it opens for a long time, and it is possible to get off, but only on one end. So be careful if you have somewhere to be (like the ship?)!
When our ship first arrived in Curacao, Kathy & I walked into town and spent several hours walking around. We walked all over, including through the New Market, a public market offering all kinds of items, from clothing to produce and beyond. The best part for me was all the color there and in the town. It made for some interesting photography, for sure!
After our walkabout we headed back toward the cruise dock, stopping for lunch at the “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar.” Yeah, it was a tourist trap, but it was close to where we needed to meet our tour, which was scheduled for that afternoon.
Our tour took us back into town, where we retraced a number of the steps from earlier in the day. This time we had a guide and narration, however, so we learned a bit more about the town, its history and architecture. After our walk, we boarded a bus for a tour through the city and a stop at the Curacao Liqueur Distillery. Curacao liqueur is a bitter orange liqueur that can be enjoyed on its own, or used as flavoring in numerous cocktails.
After our distillery visit we were taken to a local restaurant, where we were served local cuisine, including baked chicken, plantain and rice & peas. Except for the fact that we weren’t too hungry after a big lunch, it was a yummy experience.
Our tour brought us back to the cruise dock in the late afternoon, and we debated whether or not to return to the ship. I really wanted to head back into town in order to photograph the bridge and the waterfront at dusk. We decided that if we went back to the ship we would likely not leave again, so despite being tired and thirsty we headed back into town. We found some bottled water and a place to chill while we waited the hour or so before twilight.
Our efforts were rewarded, as we not only got to witness another bridge opening, but we were treated to some really gorgeous light on the buildings as the sun set. Soon after, the lights came on on the bridge and I was able to capture the photos I had hoped for. We then walked back to the ship one last time, grabbed a quick shower and headed for drinks and dinner. My Garmin tracker recorded 15,672 steps for the day, so those drinks and dinner were well deserved!