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Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday 3:30pm.....Home

The Ruby Princess pulled into Ft. Lauderdale early Sunday morning.  M.A. and I got up, had some breakfast, and walked off the ship at 7am.  We were in the car by 8am and on I95 headed north.  We stopped in Mobil, Alabama Sunday night.  Monday morning we were up and on the road by 8am and pulled into the driveway at 3:30pm.  The trip was about 1200 miles.  Louisiana has the worst roads of any state we have driven through.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

St. Thomas and Grand Turk: Our last two ports

St. Thomas and Grand Turk:  Our last two ports

The Ruby Princess sailed into the US Virgin Island of St. Thomas on Thursday.  We decided to check out Paradise Point for the spectacular views and Megan’s Bay, described by national Geographic as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  We disembarked from the ship and walked to transportation area outside the port.  We really were not interested in a tour so we got for a taxi thinking he was taking us all the way up to Paradise Point.  Instead he let us off at the bottom where for an additional $21 we were to take a chair lift to the top.  I opted out mainly because I was there last time and then my occasional back pain problem was back so I said a temporary goodbye to MA and our friends and headed towards the shopping area and the ship. 
The three “musketeers”, MA, Michel and Chantal rode up the steep mountainside and because it was a gorgeous day, they enjoyed a beautiful view of St. Thomas and surrounding islands, took pictures as well as advantage of free Wi-Fi, had a cool drink and rode back down.  From there another taxi took them to Megan Bay, but not to the beach itself, instead to a scenic overlook for pictures. 

From there they too went to the shopping areas and I was comfortably lounging on our balcony, watching their return.  One shop did their very best to sell Chantal a $55,000 diamond ring, offering a 50% “discount”, and then following them to the door offering to call someone who could authorize another $3,000 discount.  Imagine spending that kind of money at an Island jewelry shop!  The ship offered a Zirconium “look alike” for $24.99.  Neither ring was purchased! 

We have also noticed that all the Island souvenirs, and I do mean all, w*ell 99%, are “made in China”.  MA and Chantal had a lively conversation in French at dinner but the upshot was “Buy French and American made goods” and support our respective countries.

Thursday night was the second of two formal nights and the ship’s photographers were set up all over the place for formal portraits.  The photography department aboard ship is a money maker for Princess but MA and I usually take our own. This time we let the ship’s photographer do her best but we haven’t seen the results yet.

Friday afternoon we docked at Grand Turk for about six hours.  Grand Turk is famous for the location of the landing Mercury 7 and John Glenn’s suborbital trip into space in 1960’s and they have an exhibit commemorating the event.  We went to the nearby beach and enjoyed the sun, sand and water. 

Today (Saturday) is our last full day on board as we pack our bags, sail north to Ft. Lauderdale and return to reality.  This has been a really fun time for us as we shared the adventures with our friends from Paris.  They fly home directly from Miami on Sunday and we have a two-day drive ahead of us from Ft. Lauderdale to home. And to all of you, thanks for sharing our adventures too!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cruising with the Birds to St Maarten or St Martin

Brown Booby

Masked Booby

Cruising with the Birds to St. Maarten or St. Martin

Our third day of the cruise started out with breakfast after which MA and I went in different directions, me to the Princess Theater to see a lecture on “The CSI Factor in Trials” presented by a former prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and I think MA went to a Zumba class. 
Anyhow the “CSI” presentation was like work except I didn’t have to look for the evidence or solve the case.  The cases presented were the Spector murder case, the OJ Simpson murder case and the Patty Hearst case.  He was right about one thing.  People who sit on juries expect the police to solve the case using test tubes and forensics like on CSI and to do it in under an hour which of course is not reality.  I’m just glad I don’t have to worry about that anymore. 
Our day at sea yesterday was spent around the pool or listening to the ship’s ensemble in the Piazza (central focal point of the ship).  The ensemble (violin, piano, accordion, guitar and base) plays music from movies or songs that really have real words (understandable!). It was fun to sit and try and guess the name of the songs they played.
Last night there was a “captain’s party” and they do this champagne tower where if you want, you can pour champagne from the top and watch it trickle down, and in the process, get your photo taken so you’ll purchase it later!
I can’t really brag about the food on cruise ships because it’s really not as good as advertised nor as good as it used to be in the “good ole days!”  Most menus have an abundance of adjectives to describe the various dishes but in reality they are really just a variation of fish, chicken, pork or beef with some vegetables. 

St. Maarten or St. Martin (4th day)
During our approach into St. Maarten the Ruby Princess was accompanied by a lot of sea birds.  I recognized one as a Brown Boobie and another as a white and black Boobie (I think). They flew alongside the ship diving into the water catching fish. The ship’s wake makes it easy for them to find food because it breaks up the many schools of fish underwater. 
We arrived in Thursday morning at St. Maarten (9:00am) if you’re Dutch or St. Martin if you’re French.  The island in divided into two parts with the Dutch possessing the southern half and the French the northern half.  Our friends from Paris wanted to go to the French side so we grabbed a taxi at the harbor gate.  The driver took us to “Sunset Beach” where I wanted to see and photograph airplanes on approach for landing, flying directly over the beach where we were.  No, there are no topless sunbathers there unless you want to see some fat old guys!!  The planes come in about a 200 feet above your head before they hit the runway.  It is deafening.  We watched and I photographed one 737 landing right over my head.  See photo.

We then caught a taxi to Marigot, the French city on St. Martin and had lunch.  After walking through the many open air markets, we bought some water to take back to the ship. Thanks to Michel’s eagle eye, we caught a local “jitney” bus back to the Dutch side, for $2.00 each (compared to the $25.00 each we spent going over to Marigot).  The bus driver let us off less than a kilometer from the cruise ship docks and MA and I walked the rest of the way.

Once on board we went down to the 5th floor, got a couple of iced coffees and listened to the ensemble again.  We played guess the song and match it to a movie.  MA’s never been a movie “buff” so she didn’t connect the songs with the movies and so I won!
We had a fun dinner this even with a gentleman from New Jersey, another from Colombia, a lady from San Pedro, California and her niece from Austin, Texas.  St. Thomas tomorrow and tuxedos tomorrow evening, then pack and set sail for Ft. Lauderdale!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Princess Cays, Bahamas

First Stop:  Princess Cays, Bahamas

The Ruby Princess anchored off shore at Princess Cays this morning just as we returned from breakfast.  We met up with Michele and Chantal at the pool and hot tub area on the 15th floor. We practically had the place to ourselves as most folks left early to go ashore.  We however had decided to go later after the rush was over.  There is no dock on the island so about midday we were taken ashore via a tender boat. 
Princess Cays is owned by Princess and is used strictly for the enjoyment of its passengers.  The island has snorkeling, paddle boats, tour boats, beach umbrellas and cabanas for rent, plus a four-station buffet.  We walked around, enjoyed the sights, took some photos and got in a long line to return to the ship, but it moved fairly quickly.
MA found the laundry room empty so we grabbed our stuff and washed and dried everything.  This way I don’t have to shower and do my laundry at the same time!
I’ve included some pictures to make up for the lack of the written word.  Sometimes a good photograph can say hundreds of words.  Tomorrow is a full day at sea with lots of things planned by the ship’s staff, and of course, we plan not to miss any of the meals!

All Aboard the Ruby Princess

Ft Lauderdale Port

We left New Orleans on Friday morning and drove all day to Jacksonville, FL where we stayed in a Country Inns & Suites.  It was a very long day for our friends but they were good sports! Saturday we continued on to Ft. Lauderdale making a quick detour through West Palm Beach.  We spent Saturday night in a La Quinta and drove to the cruise ship on Sunday. 

Our check in and boarding process went smoothly and we soon got settled into our cabin on the 12th deck, Room A522, nice with a terrific view of the ocean from the patio. Michele and Chantal are on the 8th deck in Room E622 but they are hoping to upgrade theirs to a balcony stateroom today. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for them.
We all had lunch and then MA took Michel and Chantal on a grand tour of the ship helping other “lost passengers” to find their way around in the process.  She’s about ready for a new career as a cruise tour conductor.  But we thought it over and she likes being a CPA and Bible Study teacher.  Meanwhile I organized some things in the cabin and oh so “coincidentally” found the Denver/Pittsburgh game on TV.  Being a committed Christian I thought it was important to watch Tebow do his thing!

After the obligatory life vest drill, we sat on the balcony enjoying the view and the Sunday boaters whizzing by.  Ruby Princess sailed away right on time at 4pm, always a highlight of the first day.  Later we went to the welcome stage show and on to dinner.  Our other table companions included a pleasant family - the grandmother, mom, 23 year old son and teen age daughter. 
Nevertheless we decided to change dining rooms and the four of us will no doubt meet new folks each evening.  Sometimes on the same table dining choice we meet other couples that are compatible and fun to eat dinner with each evening.  Other times we decide to move on to a different dining room and meet new folks each evening.  That was the decision this time. So we are now “anytime diners”. Another advantage is that assigned table dining is not flexible, show up at 8:15pm and usually finish around 10:00. Now we’ll choose our own time and finish earlier.
As I write this it now Monday morning and we are anchored off Princess Cay, a private island off the Bahamas.  We plan to go ashore and check out the beach. It is absolutely gorgeous outside, blue sky, puffy white clouds, about 78 degrees!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Orleans in the French Quarter

M.A., Chantal & Michel

New Orleans Wednesday Jan 4, 2012

Our only full day in N.O.LA began with a short walk to raised river levee along the Mississippi and from there, on to Jackson Square. We were reminded everywhere that next Monday night the New Orleans’ Superdome is the site of the BCS National Championship game between LSU and Alabama.  National and local TV networks already have corners staked out doing onsite interviews and promotions for the big game.

Jackson Square jazz band
At Jackson Square we were entertained by a local jazz band in front of the Catholic Cathedral, the Basilica of St. Louis IX, King of France.  There was a little irony there with a jazz band playing in front of the church and a small sign nearby depicting the area as a “Quiet Zone”.  Not to be missed were the numerous fortune tellers and “Tarot” card readers set up and open for business. We passed on all that that and continued our self-guided walking tour around the French Quarter.

St Louis, King of France Cathedral

I wanted to go to the WW2 Museum, so MA and I did that while Michel and Chantal continued their photographic exploration of the shops and the local architecture.  Chantal is an avid photographer well known for posting many, many beautiful pictures on Face Book!

WW2 Museum
The WWII museum is housed in a new three story building and the exhibits are a wonderfully detailed history of World War II with newspapers, newsreels and personal historical testimonials.   Several veterans and elderly spouses were there volunteering their services for the visitors.
After the museum M.A. and I walked toward the Riverfront, a mixture of shops and eateries and then we hopped on a trolley car heading back to meet our friends for lunch followed by beignets at the famous Café Monde. From there we wandered down Esplanade Avenue to see some of the more prestigious homes there and back to the hotel to rest up for the evening.

Inside the Cathedral

Ready for dinner later, we all headed back toward Bourbon Street where we settled on the Embers Restaurant.  We got a table on the balcony, talked “over” some very loud music and watched all the “interesting” activities on the street!
Afterward, we walked back to the hotel and called it a night.  This is the first time MA and I have traveled with another couple and I must say Michel and Chantal are charming traveling companions, open to adventure and generous in sharing expenses, a perfect combination of travelers from each side of the Atlantic Ocean!
Yesterday (Friday) was our big road trip from New Orleans to Jacksonville Florida, 800 miles.  It went well with Michel doing half the driving. Dinner last night at Red Lobster where our young waitress practiced her high school French with our friends.  Today (Saturday) we head for Ft. Lauderdale and tomorrow (Sunday) we board the Ruby Princess where for seven days no more unpacking and lugging suitcases, just enjoy the views and not missing out on the meals!
Cafe Du Monde

Thursday, January 5, 2012

On the Road Again: Houston to New Orleans

When we were in Paris last September with our friends Michel and Chantal, we talked about how fun it would be to do a cruise together.  MA likes to take a vacation before tax season descends, so the decision was made: the Caribbean on Princess Cruises in January.  We picked up our friends at Bush Intercontinental on January 1 and spent two days in Houston so they could adjust to Texas time and rest up for our travels.  Yesterday, Wednesday, we took off heading for Ft. Lauderdale with stops planned in New Orleans and Jacksonville Florida along the way.
Our first stop was at the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, LA.  Oak Alley is one of the premier “River Plantations” on the Mississippi River and it is protected as a National Historic Landmark. Oak Alley is named after its distinguishing feature, an alley or canopied path created by a double row of live oaks about 800 feet (240 meters) long, which were planted in the early 18th century, long before the present house was built in 1837. The alley leads from the front door to the Mississippi River. The first owner there was a French farmer named Jacques Telesphore Roman and the main crop was sugar cane.  The mansion and plantation was maintained by a large population of Creole and African slaves.  The mansion has a square floor plan, organized around a central hall that runs from the front to the rear on both floors. The outside features a free-standing colonnade of 28 columns on all four sides, a common feature among the mansions in the Mississippi Valley at the time.   

We had a Cajun lunch in the Plantation restaurant and everyone ordered “gumbo” and then we did the guided tour of the mansion.  Afterward we checked out the gift shop and then continued east into New Orleans.  Thanks to our GPS we arrived right in front door of our hotel, the Provincial in the French Quarter. The Provincial is definitely not a “cookie cutter” roadside hotel.  The room has high ceilings, a ceiling fan and plantation shutters, along with a lovely courtyard and, of course, breakfast included!  We spent the evening walking around the French Quarter and having dinner at the Grapevine Bistro. We are in New Orleans all day today (Thursday) and head towards Florida tomorrow early.

Hotel Provincial in the French Quarter

Bourbon Street