21 November 2008

Home Again

Crown Princess @ Grand Turk
Originally uploaded by MarciNYC

After 7 days at sea aboard the Crown Princess with stops in Princess Cays (Bahamas), St Maarten, St Thomas, and Grand Turk, we landed in Newark about 12:15 PM on Sunday. Perfect timing - my Mom picked us up at EWR and we made it down to Kelly's for lunch and football before the 1st Quarter of the Bengals-Eagles game was over.

All in all it was a wonderful trip -- for the first time ever, I think both Mark and I were able to relax fully and not think about anything back in the 'real world'.

The Crown Princess is a stunning ship. Our stateroom was on the Aloha Deck (12) and was perfect for the days when we were in port. We sat on our balcony as we entered and as we left port. I took a bajillion photos - some great, some not so great, but that's the beauty of digital photography.

Our first stop was at Princess Cays - the cruise line's private island on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. It's pretty much a beach with not a lot of other stuff to do - although I did discover there was some souvenir shops on the island as we were getting ready to head back to the ship.

Mark and I rented snorkel equipment and he gave it a whirl. I started to, but decided the beach was just a bit too rocky, so I set off on a walk along the beach, looking for shells. In his snorkeling attempts, Mark found a small but gorgeous conch shell which we tossed in our bag to bring home with.

Our first day at sea was also formal night. Earlier in the year, when Mom and I went on a cruise, we didn't bring dressy clothes, so we bypassed formal night. Mark was really into it and we rented a tuxedo for him which was waiting for us in our stateroom. There were a few issues with the fit of the tux, but we managed to get it resolved prior to the first formal dinner. Since I've lost weight, none of my dresses fit, so I had a shopping spree at Lord & Taylor - getting several dresses for less than $35. I took four of them with me, figuring I'd return the ones I didn't wear - and that's what I did. For some reason, I didn't bother asking anyone to take a photo of Mark and I together on formal night, but you can see how we looked all dressed up here (me) and here (Mark).

If it's Wednesday, it must be St Maarten -- or so that's what I thought when I woke up. Our original plans were to go to Orient Beach (St Martin - the French side of the island) but once we were on the ship, we had a peek at the excursions and swapped out a day at the beach for a kayaking adventure. With our French-speaking guides, we kayaked in a lagoon on the Dutch side (although we did paddle to the border), toured the mangroves, and then went out into the ocean and swam for just under an hour at Simpson Bay.

I was really surprised at how hilly/mountainous St Maarten was -- guess I thought the islands were flat and boring. We had to travel a bit around the island to get to our kayaking site - so we saw a bit of Phillipsburg, the Dutch (side) capital. If you've seen on Caribbean city, you have a basic idea of what Phillipsburg looks like. We didn't stop to shop -- even though St Maarten is supposed to be a place for bargains on jewelry and watches, we weren't in the market.

Before boarding the ship, we had a drink at one of the bars in the cruise terminal. Mark decided to try the local beer, Carib. He drank one, then a second one before pronouncing it 'awful'. He said the Heineken served post-kayaking was much better.

Our next port of call was St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. For some reason all passengers had to go through an Immigration Drill before they could disembark. Mark and I had to take a letter to one of the lounges, turn it in, show our passports and were issued a landing card. I think it took the ship's crew longer to print out and deliver the letters than it did to get everyone through the immigration process.

Like St Maarten, St Thomas is a mountainous island as well. Although our ship docked in St Thomas, we didn't spend much time there. We were ferried over to St John for an eco-hike adventure. Over the course of the trip to St John, our guide pointed out the homes of celebrities on the island: Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan (lives just down the hill from MJ; wonder if they ever have pick up games?); Wacko Jacko, and Madonna to name a few. Yes, I took pics.

We hiked the Lind Point trail from Cruz Bay and ended up on Honeymoon Beach. I think this was one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been on. The water was so clear and warm -- I didn't want to come out of the water to catch the transport back to the ship. The hike was a lot of fun and I took several pics along the way.

Before we hopped back on the ship, we stopped for a drink. I had a Diet Coke while Mark tried the 'local' brew - Virgin Islands Summer Ale. He proclaimed it to be quite tasty, but was disappointed to see it was brewed in Maine. We both agreed that we liked what we saw of the USVI and thought we'd like to come back and stay at a resort for a week or so.

Remember that beautiful conch shell Mark found for me in the Bahamas? On Friday morning, he noticed something trying to crawl out of it. Eek! I asked him if it was empty when he found it and he thought it was -- but there was a crab living in the shell. We decided to take it ashore in Grand Turk and return it to the sea.

We docked in Grand Turk shortly after lunchtime on Friday - unlike St Thomas and St Maarten, Grand Turk is f-l-a-t.

I knew that Grand Turk had been hit hard by Hurricane Ike in September, so I wasn't expecting too much. Other than the beach, diving or snorkeling - or getting drunk at Margaritaville - there ain't much to do on Grand Turk, even without Ike's help. Our original kayak excursion had been canceled, so we opted to do a catamaran/snorkeling excursion instead.

We joined several others and hopped on the cat and after a brief sail and snorkeling tutorial, we found ourselves at the Grand Turk Wall. Before our visit, I'd never heard of the wall - but I saw it when I went snorkeling. My words won't do it justice -- but imagine swimming in the ocean water about 25 deep and then all of a sudden it drops off; to 6000-7000 feet. Yes, that's 6 to 7 thousand feet deep. To see this while snorkeling, along with many fish of all different colors, made me wish I almost was certified to dive. Almost. I'm still kind of freaked out about diving after reading Shadow Divers.

After the snorkel, we boarded the cat again and she put in closer to shore so we all could swim for a bit. I jumped right in (lovely warm water) and Mark grabbed some snorkel equipment for a second go around. The cat's crew mixed up pitchers of rum & coke/rum punch and swam out to serve the other swimmers. Once I was back aboard the cat, I looked to see Mark snorkeling with his rum punch held up out of the water. I tried to take a photo, but never quite successfully caught him face down/cup up.

We had one last day at sea while we traveled from Grand Turk back to Port Everglades. Because of this, we slept late and decided we'd hang out by the pool. At breakfast we ran into one of the couples from our dinner table who invited us to hang with them.

I went to claim lounges poolside while Mark went to the room to get his book. When he came back, I was in the hot tub, strawberry daiquiri in hand. When he tells me it's too early to be drinking, I insist it's 10:45 - at least that's what my watch says. When our dinner mates arrive, I ask them to confirm the time - 9:50 AM. At this point, I'm horrified to realize I've been drinking since 9:15 AM -- but as you know, it's always 5 o'clock somewhere.

We both woke up early Sunday morning before the ship was docked, so we sat on our balcony as the ship pulled into Port Everglades. The debarkation process was quite smooth and quick -- we were at the airport by 8:45 AM and managed to get on an earlier flight. We were back in Newark before our scheduled flight left Ft Lauderdale.

Would we cruise again? Definitely!

On Princess? Oh, hell yea!

We purchased future cruise credits and are looking at a 10 or 11-day Caribbean cruise in 2010. I just need to figure out which itinerary interests us most and keep an eye on pricing. We'll definitely do another balcony -- sitting out there as we entered/left ports was delightful. In the meantime, we're looking to go to Ireland together in 2009 and I'm booked on an Alaskan cruise (with my Mom) for May 2009.

It's hard to believe a week ago, I was on the Crown Princess, enjoying temps in the low 80s. Here in Jersey it's in the 30s and they're saying we could have snow early next week. While I'm glad to be home, part of me wishes I were back on the islands.


P.S. For the record, I gained 3 lbs on the cruise - which I didn't think was bad. I did step on the scale in the ship's gym and it told me I had gained 9 lbs. Of course, all scales are not equal, so not knowing what I started out as on the gym scale, I was quite pleased with only a 3 lb gain on the WW scales. I've tried to eat well this week so I'm hoping that those 3 lbs will be 'alcohol weight' and disappear quickly.


lorem ipsum said...

We really loved this post, and the two of you look so marvelous! (Maybe you can use Photoshop to put the two of you together in one frame?) Thanks for the effort in writing it all down and letting others join in the fun!

Stacey said...

I feel like I just took a mini-vacation, reading your post! So happy to hear you had a good time. hope you get to escape again soon!