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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day 7: At Sea, Galveston tomorrow

Day 7:  At Sea, Galveston tomorrow
Our final day at sea was spent relaxing and packing.  We began with a walk around the promenade deck before breakfast and the rest of the morning at the adult pool area.  I met a retired cop from NYPD and we talked shop for a while.  Did you know that there are over 50,000 cops in New York City while Houston only has about 5,000?  We don’t have near the population as NYC but that’s a lot of cops in the Big Apple.  MA and checked out the hot tub until I began to melt so we decided lunch was a logical next step. There we me a great couple from Rochester, NY, Howard and Lynn Smith.  They were on their 18th cruise.  We learned that they are traveling Christians like ourselves so we had a lot in common. Howard is a Physicians Assistant and Lynn is in education. 
After lunch we packed our bags and tagged them and placed them outside our cabin.  The crew picks them up and hopefully they’ll be waiting on shore when we disembark tomorrow morning.  We’ve been told we might we delayed because of fog in Galveston.  No problem. We love life on ships.
This has been a great cruise.  We met a lot of wonderful people, seen some great sights and MA has relaxed enough to read four mystery novels.  We hope you have enjoyed reading about our travels.  If so, please leave a comment at the bottom.  We look forward to your thoughts and opinions.  Au voir and so long until next time! May the God of heaven and earth continue to bless you and keep you. And, remember Easter is not about a bunny rabbit.  It is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.  He is risen.  He is risen indeed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 6: Cozumel

Day 6:  Cozumel, Mexico
After I sent yesterday’s blog MA and I went to dinner at our restaurant on the ship called the Magic Flute around 7:30.  I mention this because we met a couple from Washington, D.C., Royce and Ginny Walters.  Both work for the Dept. of Homeland Security.  They were celebrating Royce’s return after spending eighteen months in Bagdad as the liaison for HS.  Royce is a former Navy rescue swimmer and served in both Gulf wars.  Ginny is a recruiter for Homeland Security.  They were a delightful and interesting couple.
We arrived early this morning at Cozumel, an island off the Yucatan peninsula.  If there ever was a destination in the world that was designed for cruise ships, this is the place.  The Voyager of the Seas pulled up to the dock and began discharging passengers.  Another Royal Caribbean ship was right behind us and it also docked and discharged its passengers.  There were 3 other cruise ships docked at Cozumel at various other locations. I’m guessing about 15,000 tourists in all descended on this busy place today.

MA and I disembarked about 9am with no real plan to do anything specific.  I decided to just take my small Canon G9 camera and see what was out there. 
As we walked through the cruise terminal huskers, sales people, shop owners greeted us and urged us to check out their stores. This is constant no matter which way you turn. We just smiled, said good morning and continued our way out.  We got a cab which took us about three miles down the beach to what I thought was the old town.  We never found it.   We did find the souvenir shops, jewelry stores, cigar stores, and everything else stores.  Each store there also had sales people urging us inside to see their merchandise with “big discounts for cruise passengers”.  I did not marry a shopper, thank God, so we just walked around.
Fidel and I are good buddies

One small hiccup was being stopped by a young man, who looked like a local, asking us if we spoke Spanish.  Mindful of our experiences in Spain where this is way pickpockets get close enough to pick your pockets, MA turned to him and said, “No! Francés!”  He was definitely not prepared to hear that and we went on our way unscathed. 
After a nice walk we caught a cab back to the terminal and boarded the ship.  We thought it would be a great idea to get our bathing suits on and spend the rest of the day by the pool. 
Cozumel and the other destinations on this trip are great if you snorkel or dive.  Most of the shore tours are geared around water activities.  We just didn’t want to do the water thing this time.
Well, it’s about time to get ready for dinner so I’ll say so long for now. MA’s asking me to go to the pre-dinner show, a tribute to Elvis!  Oh well. Like I said, she’s not a shopper!  We have tomorrow at sea and we arrive in Galveston Sunday morning.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 5: Belize

Day 5: Belize
Before we get to today in Belize meet our tablemates from last evening, the Stoeckles from The Woodlands: Scott, wife Sheryl and their charming daughter Kathleen, who I think is twelve years old.  Scott is an air traffic controller who plans to retire in December.  He said that he might as well do that since they won’t let him sleep on the job anymore, just a joke of course. They were a delight to talk to over the evening meal.
The Voyager of the Seas arrived in Belize early this morning (Thursday) and anchored off shore.  We had to meet our tour group at 7am and had ordered room service to be delivered between 6:30am and 7:00am, counting on them to be early like they had been every other morning this week.  It was not to be!  With ten minutes to go and no breakfast, MA took off for the open café and brought back two coffees and blueberry muffins. 
As we were heading out the door, room service finally arrived but we had to leave our trays behind.  This afternoon when we got back from the tour, we had an apology from them along with a platter of chocolate dipped strawberries.  And we hadn’t even complained.  We think our cabin attendant must have told them she found untouched breakfast trays.
Cruise ships to Belize anchor quite a ways offshore because there is a barrier reef that prevents them from docking at a pier. Passengers go ashore using Catamaran tenders.
Our tour for the day was the Belize Wildlife tour consisting of a 25 mile boat ride up the Old Belize River, then lunch and a visit to the Belize zoo.  Our guides were Jerry who was the wildlife expert and Peter who was the Belize lifestyle and history expert.
There were 20 of us and as we zipped toward the river bouncing along at 40 miles per we were told that if we didn’t know how to swim, today would be a good day to learn! This was followed by a warning to hang onto our hats because “we don’t stop for hats unless there’s a body attached.”  Fortunately no one lost any hats or had to learn how to swim!
On the trek up the river we saw manatees, red-headed parrots, numerous fly-catchers, fresh water crocodiles, a raccoon-like animal called a tapacula, also herons and egrets very similar to what we see in Texas.
Boat-billed heron, similar to our Yellow-crowned Night heron
After a couple of hours we arrived at the end of the river portion of our tour at a rest area where we had lunch.  Jerry said we would have their national dish, “rice and beans.” Or, if we didn’t like rice and beans we could opt for their other dish, beans and rice. He also said that they would be served with iguana.  However, the so-called iguana turned out to be chicken.  Cokes were free but diet cokes were $2.00. Still working on that logic. 

After lunch we boarded a bus for a short ride to the Belize Zoo. We were told not to expect elephants, camels, or giraffes, only animals native to Belize. I just really don’t like zoos and left the guided walk and made my way to the entrance where I found a seat in the shade.  We were bused back to the port where we got back on a tender and returned to the ship. MA and I had a light snack and chilled out on our balcony enjoying the view of the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean.
Cozumel tomorrow (Friday). The week sure is going by fast.
Chachalaca at the zoo

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 4: Roatan, Honduras

Day 4: Roatan Island, Honduras
We docked at Roatan Island, Honduras at 7:30 this morning.  We were already up having our morning coffee at 6:30 and enjoyed watching the procedure.  The tie down lines from the ship had to be secured to two small concrete islands in the bay which necessitated workers being taken by motor boat to tie off the ship.
We got ready for the day. Our nature tour to Gumbalima Park didn’t leave until 10am, so after a great breakfast we decided to walk off the ship and see the welcoming native band on the dock.  There were ten performers dressed in native costumes.  The men were dressed like women and we learned later that when the conquistadors arrived in the 16th century they took all the males away as slaves.  To avoid being taken, the males learned to dress as females.
Promptly at 10am we were met on the dock by our guide for the day, Nelson Garnett.  We boarded a small tour bus for a 20 minute ride to the park.  Gumbalima is a private reserve built for the tourist trade on Roatan.  It has a resident flock of brightly colored macaws, which we did not see except for the ones in large enclosures.  We were overly warned about the monkeys, white-faced capachino.  We were told they would take your glasses, earrings, hearing aids, open your bags and pockets looking for food.  Fortunately none of that came to pass. 

Emerald-green hummingbird

The park is beautiful with many orchids, tropical flowers, plants, trees and some wild birds.  I saw a group of 10 Tennessee warblers filling themselves before making the flight across the Gulf of Mexico.  I did find a Red-vented (Yucatan) woodpecker in the dense undergrowth.

After walking through the park we arrived back where we started and returned to our ship around 1:30pm just in time for lunch.  After a nap, some reading of our mystery novels and watching a little TV, we went out on the balcony to watch the ship get ready to pull away from the dock at 5:00 pm. 
All the passengers were warned to be on board no later than 4pm but there must have been at least forty folks who “didn’t get the memo”.  MA watched one officer “scold” a late arrival pointing to his watch.  They were not interested in what he had to say and kept on walking up the gangway.  Some folks just have a different steel drum to beat I guess.  Belize is next!

Day 3: At Sea, again.

Day 3:  At Sea, again.
Day 3 started just like day 2, coffee in the cabin at 6:30, a walk around the promenade deck and breakfast in the buffet.  We spent the rest of the morning on deck 11 at the adult pool reading and people watching.  Lunch was a sit down with a waiter instead of the buffet and we met some folks from Texas and California.  One couple we had actually met before on an Alaskan cruise.  It is a small world after all! 
I took MA to a movie at 4pm called “The Switch” with Jennifer Anniston.  It’s about a single woman who wants to be a mom. Her BFF (best friend forever) is secretly in love with her but she doesn’t see that. She ends up having a very cute little boy she named Sebastian, the BFF turns out to be the father after-all and so they get married and live happily ever after!
At 6:30 pm we went to a cruise comedy show and once again we walked out within ten minutes.  The comedian was a big woman, 50-ish, from North Carolina but her brand of humor was rather crude and we were disappointed and, truth be told, surprised because there were a lot of children in that early evening audience.
We went to supper at eight and met two other couples from Ft. Worth.  There was no mistake about them being Texan from the accent. We finished the night with dessert in one of the cafes along the Grand Promenade.   
As you can tell the first part of this trip has been rather laid back and that’s a good thing for MA after an intense income tax “season”. On day 4 we go ashore in Honduras. Looking forward to that.

We arrived in Roatan, Honduras this morning.  It was foggy and a balmy 80 degrees.  Here is a photo of the dock, more to follow on day 4 (hopefully).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 2: At Sea

Day 2:  At Sea
The word for Day 2 was relaxation.  We watched the sunrise, had coffee in the room and headed out to the Promenade deck for a walk around the ship. It seemed like we were the only ones up that early and we pretended the ship was ours alone.
Next on the agenda was breakfast at the buffet and then on to the adults only swimming pool. Given that there are about 1000 or more kids on board, we were glad they had all the other pools to play in.  One thing about the pools though.  The water is freezing which is a disappointment. We took books to read, I started my Tom Clancy novel and promptly fell asleep! 
Later on, I saw that MA was enjoying conversations with the folks next to her so I decided to go get the computer and go online to send out yesterday’s travel blog. I quickly learned that Royal Caribbean thinks their passengers are more computer savvy than I am because getting the internet on this ship is a very complicated procedure.  Then at 65 cents a minute, one tends to “type fast” and log off.  Unfortunately for me, the log off didn’t work and I was charged for 48 minutes when my online time was really 3 minutes. Fortunately for me the passenger services clerk was very helpful and credited my account for the 48 minutes. 
While I was fussing with all that, MA went to an ice skating show.  The rink was about the size of an Olympic pool and she was amazed at what those skaters were able to do. Monday evening was formal night. We set up the tripod, put the Nikon on timer and took our own formal pictures. Then it was on to dinner where we met some nice folks from Dallas, Oregon and Nevada.  
Sunrise 3rd Day

Monday, April 18, 2011

Galveston in the Sunset

Day 1:  Galveston in the Sunset
Mary Alice (MA) and I finished packing Sunday morning, got and loaded up the car.  We also made sure to bring 8 bottles of water. Its 4 bucks a liter on the ship!
We had pre-paid our parking, so I entered their address into the GPS and we were off to Galveston about 11:00 am.  As we got closer to the dock area the GPS showed we still had a ways to go. I realized that I had entered the incorrect address of the parking lot.  We quickly made a u-turn and found the “Cruise Parking” lot and the end of Harborside Drive.  I ducked into a convenience store and while MA pulled into the adjacent parking lot. “Jose” quickly showed up to load our stuff into the shuttle. I got my camera case and the bag with all the water and we were off. 
Our van driver introduced himself as Jack Morgan and I thought he said “Jack Kevorkian”.  I said, “This is a round trip cruise isn’t it? Because I thought you said Kevorkian.”  He thought that was funny and asked if he could use it.  Jack never met a traffic law he like and this included the turning lane, red lights, and the speed limit, but we arrived at the cruise terminal in one piece.
As we were loading out luggage on the cart with the ship’s porter we realized that we were missing one suitcase. Panic was my first reaction and then I did a mental inventory distinctly remembering loading all our bags into the car. (I missed one once and let’s just say MA had a lot of fun going shopping!)
But what I hadn’t done was to make sure “Jose” got all the bags out of the car.  I left MA at the dock and quickly headed back to the parking lot.  I opened the truck of the car and there it was: one very lonesome suitcase. Whew! I hate to go shopping!
Back at the terminal we started the check-in process. The security line wasn’t too bad and we got through only to be escorted to the bottled water table where they confiscated all our water until we return to Galveston.  Princess doesn’t have this problem.  First comparative observation!
We rounded the corner from there and to our dismay we encountered a sea of at least 500-700 people slowly moving in very long winding lines to the ship check-in counter. This is where they check your passport again, take your credit card information for onboard charges and give you your cruise card.
Our spot in the line waited, at the very end! Honestly, it was unlike anything you’ve ever seen, even in Disneyland. We also noticed almost everybody was speaking Spanish. MA eavesdropped long enough to recognize the folks as families from Mexico, big families, and she told me they love to travel and usually pick Easter week for one of their vacations.
This part of the process started at 2pm and we finally walked aboard over two hours later. MA was busy working out a better check in system in her mind and she plans to write NCL!
  I was not in the mood to let anyone take my picture but there they were, the cheery ship’s photographers, wanting to take our “happy boarding experience photo”.  We were polite, smiled as best we could and then walked up the gangway.  While waiting to step aboard I asked the gentleman behind us to take a photo of us.  I handed him my little Canon G9 and to my surprise we both really did look happy in the photo. 
We are on Deck 6 in room 6634.  It is aft and on the port side (left).  At about 6PM the ship pulled away from the dock, made a u-turn and traversed the Galveston ship channel and into the Gulf. My last sight of Galveston was the sun going down behind it. 
We are at sea for two days.  Our first port of call is Roatan, Honduras.

Friday, April 8, 2011

NOT Packing Light: We're driving to the ship.

MA and I leave tomorrow, April 17th, for a seven-day cruise from Galveston, about 70 miles from our home, aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship to Honduras, Belize and Cozumel. This is the first time we will be sailing on a ship other than Princess.  Comparisons await!

Because we can practically drive to the gangway, we won't have the hassle of airport security, TSA, baggage weight and extra fees, narrow seats  and all the other challenges that go with traveling by air.  We will still carry our basic "cruise clothes", but I'm not going to be washing socks in the shower this trip.

I'll take some additional camera gear with me like another DSLR, Nikon D200 and 300mm f/4 lens with a 1.4X tele-converter.  I hope to find some beautifully colored tropical birds in Honduras and Belize and I want to be able to photograph them.

This was MA's 30th tax season and she's anxious for it to be over. Our cruise is a way for her to unwind and relax after a very "taxing" season.

We'll be sending a daily update on the cruise so just log into to read them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Next Cruise: Western Caribbean from Galveston

  Royal Caribbean (RCL) - RCL Voyager of the Seas  
  7 Night Western Caribbean Cruise  
  Day 1  Galveston    5:00 PM  
  Day 2  Cruising      
  Day 3  Cruising      
  Day 4  Roatan  8:00 AM  5:00 PM  
  Day 5  Belize City  8:00 AM  5:00 PM  
  Day 6  Cozumel  8:00 AM  5:00 PM  
  Day 7  Cruising      
  Day 8  Galveston  7:00 AM  

We leave on the 17th, two days after tax season for MA.  It will be good for her to get away for a week after a very busy tax season.