I have been putting this post off for a while. I have known since we got home from our Pacific Coastal cruise in mid-May that I needed to finish my Pacific Coastal story. Here’s a quick synopsis for those who have forgotten where we are. We took Celebrity Millenium from San Diego to Santa Barbara, Catalina, and San Francisco (where Kathleen broke her elbow), and that’s where we left off.
Our next stop was Astoria, Oregon. This was the only stop we had booked a ship’s tour—Shot in Astoria. We (Kathleen and I) had just been in Astoria last summer with the kids and grandkids, so this tour sounded interesting. It was a tour of all the spots in Astoria where they had shot popular films.
You may not know this, but in the mid-eighties, Astoria was a primary filming site for Hollywood movies. The biggest to be filmed there were Kindergarten Cop, The Goonies, parts of Twilight, Point Break and one of the Free Willy movies. So we drove around in a big old bus and saw the sights of the films (the only one I could remember anything from was the hotel in Kindergarten Cop. I will take a lot of abuse for this, but I have never seen The Goonies. Not my kind of movie.
Suffice it to say that the tour was pretty good, the bus was comfortable, and we got to stop at the Astoria Column, where you have great views. Afterward, we hit the Fort George Brewery for lunch, which was outstanding. Then back to the ship, and I was off on a photo walk. My best stuff from Astoria is below. Don’t forget, these pics look much better if you click on one and watch them as a slide show, either on a computer or a tablet.
Early in the morning on our way into Astoria.
Had a great sunrise
In every direction
Framed by the supports for the deck above our verandah.
This is the Columbia Bar…
…where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.
It is very difficult to cross and the site of many shipwrecks.
The view from the base of the Astoria Tower.
The school from Kindergaren Cop.
Outside the ship. I liked the pattern
The Astoria–Megler Bridge…
…it connects Oregon and Washington.
An interesting, off-shore sculpture.
The Fort George Brewery
I promise (really, I mean it because we are finally settled in) to finish this trip soon. Really.
It’s not a tumor!” —Arnold Schwarzenegger as Kimble in Kindergarten Cop
As I write this, I am sitting in the waiting area for Proliance Surgeons as Kathleen is getting her elbow repaired. We are now fully moved into our new home (except for about 20 boxes we still need to empty), have sold our old one (escrow closes on the 16th), and things are indeed…”interesting.”
When Kathleen asked me what I was going to do while she was getting cut (surgery takes 90 minutes, but she is in pre-op for 2 hours and then post-op for two hours), I said it was about time I finished up the Pacific Coastal cruise report, so here we go.
San Francisco—I used to like this town.
Ok, I still do like this town, but I am also kind of ticked at the city. This is the city where Kathleen found a nice lip on a sidewalk and took the fall that led to the surgery she is having now. But you already knew that, so here’s what we did that day.
Our ship was in port for two days. I had hoped to get up early and be on deck when we sailed under the Golden Gate, but we were already docked when I woke up and looked outside at 4:30 am. I guess I could have taken pics of us coming in but they all would have been black scenics.
The ship was docked at Pier 27, about halfway between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf, right on the Embarcadero. After breakfast, the four of us set off on a walk towards Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 and Boudin’s Sourdough Bakery. Lots of photos on the way you can see in the gallery below. We stopped for coffee at Boudin’s, and then Kathleen and I headed back to the ship via Uber while Jamie and Steve went exploring.
That afternoon we had scheduled another food tour with Local Tastes of the City Tours. We had chosen to do their North Beach/Little Italy tour. They also do a Chinatown tour, but we went that way since I love Italian food more than Asian. We took an Uber up from the ship to meet our guide smack dab in the middle of Little Italy. We four were part of a group of 14 who would take the tour, which started with us eating a cannoli on the street corner where we met up. They were delicious, but I sure would have liked to see the places where they came from. Our guide just brought them along with her from Stella Pastry about half a block away.
Then it was off to cross the street to Cavalli Cafe, where we tried Italian sodas (definitely the weakest link on this tour), but they did have a nice restroom. This was also one of the few stops where we got to go into someplace and sit down. The rest of the tour involved our guide (who was very good) going into the store/restaurant and bringing the food out to us to eat on the street. While all the food we had was excellent, this got a little annoying after a while—eating on a sidewalk with people walking by. But as I said before, life is certainly interesting.
After Italian sodas, we went on to a fun little Sicilian delicatessen about a block away to try arancini (rice balls full of meat and cheese). The food was fine, but the real attraction here was the owner, who came out on the street and pretty much put on a comedy show. As you can see from the photo, he is a pretty animated Sicilian who truly loves his store. A few days later, I have to say that we had arancini in Victoria, BC, which was a lot better.
I should also note that none of these places were more than about two blocks from another, so this was not a long tour by any stretch. As we walked, our guide Isabella told us all about the history of the neighborhoods we were walking through. She was genuinely well-versed in her San Francisco lore.
Our next stop was our favorite on the tour, San Francisco’s oldest Italian market, Molinari’s. Inside this place was AMAZING! If we had a place like this near home, I might ask for a job or spend a lot of money there regularly. I have some great photos of the inside of these places in the gallery below. BTW: This place had the best sandwiches I may ever have eaten. Don’t ask me why, but I think it’s because everything was just perfect, from the bread to the cold cuts and veggies inside. It was so good it would almost be worth a trip back to the city to eat there.
After we left Molinari’s, we walked a bit, and I climbed a high set of stairs to take pics with a few others from the tour (see the gallery), and we were headed to Z Cioccolato to get some of their amazing fudge. But sadly, we never got there. About 25 feet to the right of this photo is where Kathleen fell and broke her elbow. From there, we hailed an Uber and drove quickly back to the ship. We had hoped that she wasn’t hurt too badly, but by the time we got down to the ship, it was evident that we needed to get to a doctor or an ER.
At this point, I need to point out that we did have a little bit of good luck because the ship was in San Francisco overnight. If that had not been the case, and seeing that it was already after 3:00 pm, we would have been in real trouble as the ship would have sailed at 4:30 pm, leaving us behind to fly home on our own. That’s what happens with ships. That would have given us some real problems for so many reasons.
After we got back to the ship and dropped Steve and Jamie off, we grabbed another Uber and had them take us to the nearest Kaiser hospital (our HMO). It wasn’t too far away, but when you are driving bumpy streets with a broken elbow, it seems like 100 miles. We had high hopes that we would be out of there within a couple of hours and make it back for dinner. Unfortunately, that was not to be. We were in the ER for more than six hours from start to finish. And they were so crowded they wouldn’t let me in the building (not even a waiting room) due to COVID restrictions for the first three hours. I got so stand outside in the cold wind. This was not one of my most fun experiences.
Kathleen left with a fully wrapped arm in a splint (that had to be kept DRY), and we got back to the ship about 9:30. My brother had arranged for a wheelchair to get her back on board, and by that time, she needed it. So we got a very late room service dinner and went to bed.
One other thing I want to mention before I drop in the photos. The folks at Local Tastes Tours were awesome when this all happened. Our guide (after making sure we were doing OK) ran to the chocolate store and grabbed fudge for all of us to enjoy later. Then that evening, I got an e-mail from the tour company owner asking how Kathleen was and sending us a certificate for a free tour for four the next time we are in San Francisco. Of course, he did not need to do that, but this is the sign of a great company, and then our guide Isabella sent me a separate e-mail asking how she was doing. They were just wonderful. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Don’t forget, these pics look much better if you click on one and watch them as a slide show, either on a computer or a tablet.
The view off our verandah early in the morning.
The California sea lions at Pier 39.
Fun to watch…
But a lot less of them than on previous visits.
Just a fun shot.
Just off Pier 39. Really liked this shot.
The smells were amazing.
St. Francis Cathedral
Across the street a band was playing in front of a just-opening Italian restaurant.
You know I love shooting pics of performers.
Inside the Cavelli Cafe
Our intrepid guide Isabella
The stairs I was the only one to climb.
To get this view.
And this one combining the new with the old.
Laundry on the edge of Chinatown.
Looking into Chinatown from Little Italy.
That was about it for day one in the city by the bay. As if that wasn’t enough. As I am finishing this, we are back home after Kathleen’s surgery, and she is OK and doing well. Her elbow just needed some repairs but not a complete replacement. Thank heaven (or whoever) for that.
Nothing important has ever come out of San Francisco, Rice-a-Roni aside.
I hate that I haven’t finished the story of our cruise. I just wanted you to know that I will finish it as soon as possible. We are still in the midst of our move, Kathleen’s broken arm needs surgery and by the end of the day, when I usually write, I am beyond tired. Saturday morning is my no-workout, so I have a few minutes to leave this note.
I still have a lot to say about the cruise…A LOT. I promise to come back and say it. I have been writing notes; I just need to put them all together.
I kept a diary right after I was born. Day 1: Tired from the move. Day 2: Everyone thinks I’m an idiot. —Steven Wright
First, Kathleen is doing better. The arm doesn’t hurt as much as it is a giant plaster albatross attached to her arm. We are in Seattle as I write this with two more days to go on the cruise. On Friday we disembark in Vancouver and drive home. Our plan for today is to take a Lyft to Bellevue to sign our escrow papers.
As promised, here’s our report on Catalina. We had booked a tour with Catalina Tours called Bison Expeditions. There are approximately 150 wild bison on Catalina Island if you didn’t know. They were brought over years ago when Hollywood used the island to film many Westerns. They were left behind, and the herd grew. They thinned the pack a few years back and now have 150. But, like a whale watching tour, you aren’t given a 100% guarantee that you will see any bison…and we didn’t. But that was OK because our original intent was just to see the island’s interior and that we got to do in spades.
We got lucky when our jeep (see photo at right) pulled up, and our guide Halvorsen introduced himself. He turned out to be the highlight of the trip. And the tour turned into much more than we had expected. It became a combination of a wild ride (that would match anything at any Disney park), a historical lesson about Catalina, a nature talk about the flora and fauna and a floor show full of impressions of presidents. All that for a very low price; we would recommend this company very highly.
I did take some photos I liked, so they are in the gallery below. Remember, if you click on the first one, it becomes a slide show that you can scroll through.
I just loved these rental boats all lined up in the harbor.
Our fearless guide, Halvorsen. He rocked!
The cacti were blooming on the island.
This dance troop was practicing for Cinco de Mayo on the boardwalk.
Our ship at anchor just off the harbor.
The Avalon Casino (that is not really a casino but does have a HUGE dance floor.
26 miles across the sea…Santa Catalina is the place to be. —1960’s Los Angeles television advertising jingle used to attract folks to Catalina Island.
I bet you thought I died…or worse. But we are still here. And tomorrow, we leave on a two-week vacation that will find me posting a whole bunch. First, we are headed to Southern California to spend the night with my brother and his family in San Juan Capistrano. Then Tuesday, we head further south to San Diego, where we board Celebrity Cruise Line’s Millennium for a cruise back up the coast to Vancouver, BC.
On the way, we have stops in Santa Barbara, on Catalina Island, two days in San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon, Seattle, Victoria and finally Vancouver. And of course, I will be writing all about it and posting photos, so watch for my daily posts. I am happy this cruise has a couple of sea days, so I will do some posting and photo processing on those days. Hope you enjoy coming along.
But the real reason I haven’t posted in more than a month is that we are moving. And so we have been doing all the things you do to get your house ready to sell and dealing with all the fun of buying a new one. So I hope you will excuse my absence, but now it’s time to travel again. See you soon.
This post will be the second to the last of my posts from our Nieuw Statendam (NS) cruise to the Southern Caribbean from January 23 to February 2. Today I promise to give you some photos of some really great art around the ship. So let’s get started.
Before I retired last June I was a graphic designer for 40+ years. I like to think I understand color and design. Some cruise ships drive me bats. Pretty much it’s the brash, gaudy colors that look like they were furnished by the same people (as my bride says) who designed downtown Las Vegas. Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam (and I am told it’s Pinnacle Class sisters) is one of the classiest ships we have been on.
Another thing I love on a ship is art. Themed art is even better. Somehow along the way of building NS they decided that the theme should be music. It does go along with their Music Walk venues and to be honest, I loved it. Most of this art was located in the stairwells so many cruisers who take elevators never see it. I never take elevators on a ship unless I have luggage with me so I got to see a lot more. Even though I hardly ever take pictures of other people’s art, I wanted to showcase some of the ones I loved. Here’s a quick gallery with some comments of the pieces I really liked. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
These three portraits done in a historic style were the first three pieces of art I saw.
I love the idea of Keith Richards, Dave Grohl and Frank Zappa being immortalized…
…as historical sea captains. I probably passed them 50 times on the cruise and loved them.
In another stairwell, the Fab Four blowing bubbles.
Or this guitar and blue notes
These were mix tapes. Remember those? All with handwritten titles
From Italy. Incredible photography
Ruebens meets surfboard
A sewing machine display
Just cool art
Not sure what these are supposed to signify…
…but they gave me a lot to look at…
…on our sea days.
This awesome glass sculpture
Oprah is the godmother of this ship…meaning she launched it.
They carried the music theme to the hallways. This was at the end of a corridor leading to our stateroom.
Here’s the carpet you find in the hallways. Muted but cool.
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. —Aristotle
One of the biggest questions I get when it comes to cruising is…how was the food? And yes, I will fully admit to having consumed three times the number of calories I should have consumed over the last 10 days and probably gaining a good 10lbs but I promise that within two weeks I will have walked it off…because even though I worked out…the food was off the charts and I just could not resist it.
Before I start, just let me state up front that after 30+ cruises, we have had room service a grand total of once (maybe twice 😜). So if you are looking for reviews of room service, this is not the place.
On most of our cruises, breakfast would have been in the buffet but because we were in a Neptune Suite we got our own restaurant we could eat in for breakfast and dinner—Club Orange (Holland America’s colors are blue and ORANGE). We went there every day for breakfast except one. We went to the buffet to just get some granola and yogurt after having way too much dinner at a specialty restaurant the night before. The experience in the buffet was a good one but more about that later. (I should note that you don’t have to be in a Neptune or Pinnacle Suite to be able to eat in Club Orange, you can buy just a membership for—as of this cruise in February 2022—$50 per person, per day.)
Club Orange has some of the best breakfast food I have ever eaten. They have a HUGE variety. Three kinds of Eggs Benedict, as many omelets as you can think of, fruit, pastry, donuts, muffins, toast, skillets…you name it…I think they either had it or would make it for you. I fully admit to having any and all of the above mentioned breakfast food during this cruise. The team in Club Orange is the absolute best dining team we have ever been served by. From the second time we came into the restaurant they knew our names, they knew what we wanted to drink (for me it was coffee, a single espresso shot, a mimosa and maybe some extra orange juice to add to it) and how you liked your eggs. My coffee cup was never empty and the food…was spectacular.
Here’s some breakfast pics for you. I wish I had more to show you but darned if we didn’t eat all the food too quickly. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and feel free to look at these on your phone. That’s what I used to take them.
Eggs Benedict with Dungeness crab
While we ate all but one breakfast in Club Orange, we kind of moved around for lunch. There are so many great places to eat on board that it is hard to choose. Which made it a good thing that Club Orange did not serve lunch. Here’s where you can eat lunch on Nieuw Statendam and her sister ships:
The Lido Market Buffet. Located midships on Deck 9 (the Lido Deck) the Nieuw Statendam is a superb buffet with stations for just about everything. We went to the buffet when we made our one or two attempts to eat healthy. Grabbed a salad and a roll for lunch…and of course a couple of cookies or gelato/gelato pop. All the buffet was NOT self-service. You walked up to a station and either told them what you wanted to eat or just pointed. They did have some standard items (like Caesar or chopped salad, etc.). All the food we had for lunch in the buffet was fresh and excellent. The service was superb as well.
The Dive-In. A great place for a burger, a hot dog and fries. They have a variety of types. Ate there twice and truly enjoyed it. Have the Cannonball, skip the Gainer. Their fries are the second best on the ship and they have good Dive-In fry sauce. You will find the Dive-In on Deck 9, just forward of the buffet on the starboard side of the ship. Right next to it is the Gelato spot where you can get the best value on the ship. You have to pay for gelato (ice cream from the buffet is free), but it is only $2.50 for a cup that is probably half a pound of gelato. We only had it once but man it was good. I had a biscotti gelato with huge pieces of biscotti in it. Delicious. They also have gelato pops for $2 (although we heard these may be discontinued) which are just like ice cream bars on a stick with a coating and gelato inside. Tried one of those and they were awesome. Seth promised us another but we never got around to it.
New York Deli and Pizza. Just upstairs from the Dive-In on the port side of the ship is this deli/pizza place. We did not try the pizza but my brother and his bride did and they said it was quite good. We went up and Kathleen had a salad and I had a Rueben. I love Ruebens so this may the only place where the food I got onboard was not as good as a Rueben I could have gotten off the ship. And no fries there. Just chips. But still go try it. Great place to grab a quick bite.
The Grand Dutch Cafe. Down on deck three (the Promenade Deck) right at midships is an undiscovered gem of a place for lunch. I say undiscovered because we didn’t discover it until more than halfway through our cruise. Lots of other people did and now we know why. We had heard about it and wanted to go and since we were late getting back from Grand Turk we headed there as soon as we were on board. They serve lots of Dutch delicacies. For instance, I had a veal croquette sandwich. Kathleen had a wonderful melted ham and cheese sandwich. But the real star of the show were the French fries. They were amazing. How good were they? On subsequent visits, we always had them for dessert too. One other big plus is their selection of European beers. If you are a beer aficionado, this is the place for you.
When we bought the cruise we were part of a special HAL deal called Have It All. With that deal we got the cruise and some other perks. Two of those perks were dinners on two nights in two of their four Specialty restaurants. Since they had included two we decided to go ahead and purchase dinner in the other two just so we could tell you about them. See what kind of sacrifices I go through for my readers 😜.
I need to let you know that we never had dinner in the buffet nor the MDR (main dining room). If we weren’t having dinner in one of the specialty restaurants (five out of ten nights) we had dinner in Club Orange. But, I should also mention that the only difference between the menu in the Main Dining Room and Club Orange are two menu items (one appetizer and one entrée) that are available in Orange that are not in the dining room. And we only ate one of those during the entire cruise (it was Peruvian Chicken—one of my favorite meals of the entire cruise) so we really had much of the same food as the MDR.
Trying to figure how to handle telling you about the dinners. I think I will rate the restaurants we ate in from great to “just fine.” Also below each restaurant are the photos with captions from that restaurant when I can remember where and what they are. You know how that works—you can either be a photographer or a diner…choose one. I guess I could never be a food critic—too busy eating the food. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and since I took these with my iPhone, feel free to view them on yours.
Rudi’s Sel de Mer. This is HAL’s seafood restaurant created for them by Master Chef Rudi Sodamin. It is the most expensive extra charge on the ship. The voyage we sailed it was $50 per person. I have to say, it was worth just about every single penny. Photos are below but suffice it to say it was a dining experience I would not want to miss. Be aware that it is only available every night on HAL’s three Pinnacle Class ships but is available as a pop-up restaurant for one night on others…sometimes. They also have the coolest plates and you can buy them. WOW! More in the photos (loved them so much we brought one home). Oh and my brother would want me to mention the best side dish on the ship—Rudi’s ratatouille. I agree. Loved it so much we begged for the recipe and they printed it up for us. There is a Rudi’s cookbook that you can buy (but everyone in Sail with Seth got one as a gift from Seth) but the ratatouille recipe isn’t in it. If you want it, you either ask them or e-mail me.
Our amuse bouche. Smoked salmon pate.
Rudi’s signature dish, whole dover sole, filleted at the table
Kathleen’s salmon appetizer—HUGE! And delicious.
The seafood tower that Steve and I spilt.
It is an upcharge of $25.
Our bread and toppings at Rudi’s
Rudi’s has the coolest chargers.
There are 8 in all but he has a book with more than 100.
All with food faces. Guess which one I bought to bring home?
Tamarind and Nami Sushi. Choosing between this Asian specialty restaurant and Club Orange as the next best option was really tough but this one wins by a lobster roll. We got to eat in Tamarind twice. Once because it was part of our Have It All package and once because my brother Steve won a drawing to have dinner with Seth from our Sail with Seth cruise. We went the first time with Seth himself and since he had eaten in Tamarind many times on previous trips we followed his recommendations. One thing about Tamarind is that it sits in the same room as Nami Sushi and you can order off either menu. The difference is that you pay one price for your entire meal in Tamarind but Nami Sushi charges à la carte. But you can order from both menus. My brother and I love sushi (as does Seth) but our brides not so much so this worked perfect. The sushi was amazing (my brother and I will agree that the lobster roll from Nami was the best bite on the ship), the dinner divine and the service incredible. Cocktails were not too shabby either. Here’s a great dessert tip: get the sorbet trio but tell them to skip the lychee and give you two scoops of the lemon-basil sorbet—you won’t be sorry. One last thing—this Asian restaurant, sitting above the wake of the ship may be the most visually beautiful restaurants we have seen on the high seas.
Kathleen’s Tom Khakai sweet and sour soup, coconut chicken, bean sprouts, chili oil.
Nami Sushi has some signature dishes. On Seth’s recommendation I tried Hamachi Usuzukuri and it was AWESOME!
The best bites of the trip—Lobster Tempura from Nami Sushi
Kathleen’s entrée, Panang Red Curry Coconut Chicken
Another awesome dish at Tamarind. I wish I could name it but just can’t remember the name of it. It’s shrimp and dynamite.
My Mongolian Barbecue Lamb Chops
This was an eggplant side dish I loved! Perfectly spiced.
Club Orange Dining Room. This one was close. Really close. But Tamarind one by a hair (or a lobster roll). Otherwise the 5 nights we ate in Club Orange were AMAZING! Every night superb food, superb service and a pretty unforgettable dining experience. The team in Club Orange led by the amazing Wayan Suadnyana took care of our every need and made us love being in the restaurant. Imagine going to your favorite place to eat every night and they treated you like a local, like a regular. When this happens, it’s one of my favorite parts of cruising.
These were some great entrées from Club Orange. Not sure what this fish dish is.
This was a Caribbean lamb dish that knocked my socks off.
My brother’s beef Wellington
Not sure what this is.
Or this one. Just know they were all good.
Pinnacle Grille. This is HAL’s signature steakhouse. It is on all their ships. Our dinner there was one of our two included dinners with our Have It All promotion. We (Kathleen and I) have eaten in the Pinnacle Grille on two other HAL cruises but I should state up front that we are not big steak people. We like ethnic food better than steaks but we have always enjoyed the food at Pinnacle. And it is in fourth place not because we didn’t love it this time, just that the other options were so much better. Pinnacle gives you some great steaks (my ribeye was a little fatty) and lots of super sides (don’t forget to order the clothesline of bacon when you first order or you will be adding it as you see others get theirs). One reason this fell to fourth in my rating was the service was really sporadic. We would have five servers all over us for five minutes and then they would disappear and we wouldn’t see anyone for another 10 minutes. A couple of times after they brought an entrée, we didn’t have something we needed that went with it (like a glass of wine or a steak knife) and there was no one to help. The manager of the restaurant was five feet away from us much of the time but with eyes glued to his phone and NEVER even glanced at anyone in the entire place. Lastly, leave room for the key lime pie. Delicious. Sorry only one photo from Pinnacle. My ribeye with onion rings.
Canaletto. This Italian restaurant is carved out of the buffet every night. This means they use a part of the buffet table area, put table cloths on those tables and do Italian food that is served to you (not a buffet). Kathleen and I had eaten in Canaletto on another HAL cruise in 2018 and loved it but the food was just not up to par this time. Now, by up to par, I don’t mean it was bad…it was just not as good as every place else we had to choose from onboard. Service was fine. The food was fine. Everything was just “fine,” if you know what I mean.
And my braised ribs with gnocchi. I won!
One of the entrées.
Kathleen’s beet salad
These were served with some outstanding bread.
If and when we sail a Pinnacle Class ship again, we would go back to Rudi’s and Tamarind in a minute, skip Pinnacle and Canaletto and put the cost of those into another night at Rudi’s. And we would hope to win another night with Seth Wayne in Tamarind for sushi.
And I want to make one final food comment that really set the Nieuw Statendam food apart from 90% of other meals we have had on ships—spice. The cooks on NS were not afraid to use it. Most cruise fare is geared to middle American tastes. Steaks, chops, bland sides, etc. As I mentioned we love different and adventurous food. We do get that sometimes when we sail.
One of our all-time favorite onboard restaurants was the old Qsine on Celebrity ships before they corrupted it with that damn “Le Petite Chef” or whatever they call it. Turned if from a culinary experience to a tiny little piece of tripe (sorry for the rant–I truly loved Qsine).
HAL chef’s put spice in their food. My eggplant side in Tamarind was ordered “spicy” (could have ordered mild or medium as well) and it was spicy. Not “burn your mouth” spicy but delicious. They tried new things. They gave us incredible meals with incredible service. For years in the cruising world of so-called “big ships” (over 2500 guests) Celebrity has been the standard for food. Not anymore. You want great food—HAL gets the nod, at least on this ship.
There is no sincerer love than the love of food
—George Bernard Shaw
See—I love those alliterations. Can’t resist them in headlines. Never have been able to 😜.
Let’s talk Aruba. We have been here before…a very long time ago (2004) on our first Panama Canal cruise. It was the stop the day before we went through the canal. I totally get that things are going to change in 18 years but I guess I wasn’t expecting it to go this far south (pun not intended).
When we were here in 2004, we had heard it was really easy to get off the ship and immediately rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle and drive all the way around the island so that is what we did. It was (to that point and until this cruise) our favorite Caribbean experience. We had a lot of fun, saw a lot of stuff and generally enjoyed ourselves. The island reminded me of what we found in Curacao on this trip, not overly developed, not overly touristy.
Well that changed. If you saw my post two days ago about the commercialism in cruise ports you know what I am talking about. I have friends who follow this blog and know that I have never been a big fan of the Caribbean in general. Now they are reading the last few posts and I am being asked if I now have either softened my stance on the Caribbean or changed it all together. I think I figured it out last night when I started writing the post. It’s not that I have changed my mind about the Caribbean, it’s that I have seen a different Caribbean on this cruise than we have seen before.
I figured this out when I was explaining to my brother and sister-in-law about the Caribbean islands we had seen as opposed to the ones we had seen before. In our past experiences down here we have stopped in…
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Casa del Campo, Dominican Republic
Costa Maya, Mexico
Puerto Rico, USA
St. Kitts & Nevis
If you know the Caribbean and you see this list you realize that these are all the commercialized ports that ships sail to. These and the cruise line’s private islands are about it. On this trip we stopped in one of those places—Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic. When we were touring there it reminded me of all the things I really don’t like about the Caribbean. Tours of rum distilleries, tobacco/cigar factories, chocolate stores…anyplace they could sell us something.
In the new Caribbean I found on this trip they took us to Grand Turk, Bonaire and to some extent Curacao. Places where it is probably much like the Caribbean used to be. No chain stores, beautiful beaches, tours that featured the natural beauty of that island. Sadly, those places are few and far between. But they reminded me of being in Galapagos. The guides in both places were proud of being from those places and they wanted to preserve the things that were important to life on their island.
Which brings us back to Aruba. Since we were here in 2004 I have always said that of all the islands in the Caribbean we had visited, I liked Aruba the best. And now I know why. Back when we visited it was like Bonaire. Oranjestad was a sleepy little town. It’s not anymore. Check out my photos below to see what I mean. There is a pink building that you can see in the center of my Oranjestad photos. When we were here in 2004, you could walk to that building from the port and not really pass any other buildings. And right outside the ship you could rent that Jeep to drive around the island. There were at least six places at the pier you could rent a car. Not so anymore. When I went walking in town, I asked where you could rent a car and was told that Enterprise was about three blocks away. That’s sad.
So what did Kathleen and I do in Aruba? Pretty much nothing. Kathleen stayed aboard and I took about a 45 minute walk to shoot some pics, get some postcards (yes, we still send those) and a magnet (yes, we collect those for the door of our garage freezer), ran into our buddy Seth and that was about it. Came back to the ship and had lunch with him. So the pics below are either from that short walk (not much to take pictures of) and stuff I shot from the ship. Please note the ENORMOUS hotel in the distance. Not here when we were here before but we are told it is incredibly expensive and they are building more.
I do want to add that my brother Steve and and his bride Jamie took an overall bus tour of the island and loved it. They saw a lot of the stuff we saw on our Jeep ride in 2004 and told us they had a great guide who truly loved his island. So maybe some of that spirit is still out there. All I know is that it kind of made me sick to walk through what downtown Oranjestad had become because now it looks a lot like the other ten places we had been before. I hope Bonaire and Grand Turk don’t succumb to this but I don’t have high hopes for Curacao.
Here’s the pics, such as they are. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
You know the ship photographers who take your pic when you get off? I told him to “DRAW!” He won but we ended up talking cameras for 15 minutes, so that was fun.
Parked right in front of us was Celebrity’s Silhouette. We had one of our best cruises on that ship to the British Isles.
Is this a good job to have or not?
Parked kind of behind us was the Freewinds, one of two very OLD cruise ships in use by the Church of Scientology. Didn’t see Tom Cruise but we did see them running all over the place doing drills.
To get to this sign, I had to walk through three blocks of the most putrid sewage smell ever.
This is the pink building I was talking about in the text.
I kind of liked this church.
Here is the big hotel that I mentioned. Reminds me of Nassau.
A panoramic shot of the island.
And the sunset was beautiful.
That’s it for our ports of call. The last two days of the cruise are sea days as we make our way back to Fort Lauderdale. Yesterday was a lot of fun as we spent much of the day doing Sail with Seth stuff including a group photo, a cooking demo and a mixology class. Took up most of the afternoon.
My plan is to do three more posts about this cruise. One on the food, one on the ship and finally an overall review. Watch for those in the next couple of days. I will do them today (our last day onboard 😔) and tomorrow on the flight home and then post when we are home.
I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in, and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this. —Anthony Carmona
Usually my headlines are written just for the alliteration but this one really is true. We thought things were pretty colorful the day before in Bonaire, but Curacao really takes the colorful cake. It appears that this town loves color. We took a short tour on the town’s trolley and our guide told us the real reason that Curacao’s capital Willemstad has so many colorful buildings is that about 100 years ago, the governor of the island decreed that houses could no longer be white. That they had to be painted one of a set number of colors. After he left office it was found that not only was he the governor but he was also part owner of the only paint supplier on the island 😂.
But it has served Curacao well as you will see from my photos. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Besides all the colorful buildings my photos benefited from one of the bluest skies I have ever seen.
But before I show you the photos I want to tell you what we did to tour. First, when the ship arrived there was quite a bit of discussion between the ship and the port. It went on for a while. So long that many people were waiting for the Captain to announce we were going to have to skip the port. But finally, almost an hour later, the port allowed us to disembark. There was one big change though. We were originally scheduled not to leave the port until 11;00 pm but because Willemstad had a 9:00 pm curfew for everyone in the town they moved up our all-aboard time to match up with the curfew and let us off.
Our included (in our Have It All promotion) shore excursion for this port was the aforementioned Old Town Trolley Tour. We were actually picked up by taxis (vans) and driven across the Queen Juliana Bridge to meet up with the trolley and our guide in downtown. Our tour was in a three car trolley pulled by a gas-powered engine that looked like a train engine (bell included). We saw lots of colorful architecture on our about 90 minute tour which started and ended at the old town fort. Our guide was good, the driver a great guy but I can’t recommend this tour. The fumes from the engine were horrible. By about halfway through we were either nauseous or getting there or we had a horrible headache. This trolley engine needs a tune up or a replacement before anyone should try and take that tour again. But it was interesting (when you could breathe). What we saw is in the photo captions. Funny but it was one of the few times we were thrilled to be wearing masks. Can’t imagine how bad it would have been without them.
After we were done they gave us the option of either walking back to the ship or taking the taxi back. Kathleen had a bad headache from the fumes so she headed back. I wanted to take more pics of downtown so I elected to stay and walk back across the fabulous floating bridge.
So here’s the pics that explain everything else. Remember, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
Took this as we crossed the Queen Juliana bridge
This one of downtown as well.
Also taken from the cab on the way downtown
A walking drawbridge
This used to be a floating market but now it is held on land.
Another view of that drawbridge
I love what this says. A great piece of street art.
Some houses are in total disrepair
But most are gorgeous…
…and in glorious color
With all kinds of decoration
And color everyplace
We were told many of the founders of the city were Sephardic Jews
This house is very famous as a restoration.
We stopped at the Catholic cathedral. Nothing like Europe.
From the outside is is beautiful
When we got downtown, Nieuw Statendam is peeking out
The swinging/floating bridge opens to let a Coast Guard vessel out
The inside of the old fort. See the dot between the two vertical strips on the left. Cannonball from Captain Bly’s ship.
More downtown Willemstad
Loved this sunflower mural.
Loved this statue
It seems like every tourist town has not copied the IAmsterdam sign
More downtown Willemstad
More downtown Willemstad
This seemed to be the trademark of the old town. They were everywhere.
Love this sign
Saw a band playing Caribbean music. Tipped them well and then shot their photos.
The guitar player was the most animated
See what I mean
Now I am cross the floating/swinging bridge
Looking from one bridge at another that we had driven over on the way to the trolley.
Looking back at downtown.
This is the signature view of More downtown Willemstad
And here’s a panoramic shot from the middle of the floating bridge.
That was about it for downtown Willemstad. From the bridge it was about a ten minute walk back to the ship, back aboard and after a nice evening (more about entertainment and food coming soon) we went to bed and woke up sailing into Oranjestad, Aruba. More about that tomorrow.
What makes things memorable is that they are meaningful, significant, colorful. —Joshua Foer
Yesterday (Friday January 28th) we were in beautiful Bonaire. One of the three ABC islands, the island is predominately known for its diving—both scuba and snorkeling. I could go on and on about their politics, their industry and the rest of it but if you really want to know—click here—for a link to the Wikipedia page for Bonaire.
What I will tell you about is the two (yes 2) excursions we took and how impressed I am with the island. First let me say that we are NOT divers of any kind. We leave that to our friends Mike and Cathy. They do the snorkel thing and the scuba thing. They live in Florida so they have warm water. We live in Washington where if you go in the water, you freeze to death in less time than you can say, “GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”
So we started off the morning with a ship’s excursion called “The Best of Bonaire.” There were three groups of about 12 people in three different vans. We had settled into one of the vans when the head of shore excursions asked for volunteers to move to another van because they had miscalculated the numbers on ours. We were in the front so we said we would switch. Best decision of the day. I have nothing against the guide and driver on the original van but the new van had a guide that made our day—Gladys. Now we really doubt Gladys is her real name because she acted like it was a joke all day long but if you are in Bonaire doing this tour, get Gladys. The woman is a HOOT! Not to mention an excellent guide and you could tell how much she loves her adopted island—Bonaire. She is originally from Wisconsin but has been on Bonaire off and on since 1963 so she knows her stuff. Her driver was a guy she called Cheech because of his past life as a cop confiscating marijuana and being in charge of burning it after the perpetrators were caught.
These two took us all over the island and while Gladys regaled us with stories, history, geography, science, nature and local customs, Cheech kept a VERY sharp eye out for the best flora and fauna he could find. And find it he did, time and time again. Check out my pics to see what I mean. He found parrots, parrot fish (he was good at parrot stuff 😜), lizards and all kinds of other stuff. Then he would slow down or stop so that us photographers could get the pics we were after. (BTW: I am so sorry I did not get a photo of Gladys or Cheech—my bad.)
We were out touring with Gladys and Cheech for 3.5 hours and other than my knees giving me problems from sitting for so long we had a great time and saw a bunch of great stuff as you will see in the photos. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…
Caribbean sunrises can be awesome.
Some of them just keep getting better.
So many of the islands in the Caribbean were big producers of salt. Bonaire still exports a bunch of it.
They also bill themselves as a “Diver’s Paradise” on their license plates.
Their beaches are predominately coral. Lots and lots of coral.
These are former slave quarters. Drove me nuts that people kept taking selfies with them. Kind of like taking selfies in a concentration camp.
Back to the salt
The pink in the foreground is a salt pond before the water is removed. The mountains in the back are salt.
Cheech was driving around 20 mph when he spotted this six inch lizard.
Driving along the coast we saw this perfectly framed boat.
This rock formation is called Satan’s Eyes. Can you see them?
This iguana is REALLY spiky unlike the ones we encountered in the Galapagos.
The blue you see in the upper right of this photo is a parrot fish. Another amazing spotting by Cheech.
The same for this wild parrot.
After we left the coastal area we found this lake, Bonaire’s largest.
It deserved a couple of panoramic shots.
Our last stop was Bonaire’s National Park where I also did a panoramic shot to catch the windmills that provide much of Bonaire’s power.
Our second excursion a little later in the day was a short but very nice trip on a glass-bottom boat. Having never been on a glass-bottom boat before I thought maybe I could get some great underwater photos without going underwater. And our guide and skipper Kim took us out to the coral reef around a large island called Little Bonaire that is just off the main port. While we were able to see some very pretty fish, the only photo I could even slightly make work is the one of the turtle you see below. The other pics are from the boat ride but just not the underwater parts.
A “pirate ship” excursion boat coming back as we were going out.
Kim, the captain of our glass-bottom boat.
Looking back at Nieuw Statendam
The reef from up above.
Lots of great things to see but none that I could get a decent photo of. Like this turtle that is just way too murky.
We were passed by many other boats going back and forth to the harbor.
After the boat ride I headed into downtown Kralendijk.
Since the ship did not leave port until 11:00 pm I got one night shot.
To sum all this up, I would say the one thing that most impressed me about Bonaire is that they have not succumbed to the usual cruise-type shops. No Diamonds International, etc. Also, both guides we had were so in love with their island and the things their government (which is funded and supervised by Amsterdam—Bonaire being a Dutch protectorate) is doing for their people, their environment and the flora and fauna of the island. It I also impressive that 70% of the island’s power (even powering their desalinization plants) is from wind. And they hope to be 100% renewable within 5 years. Not only that but everyone there has health care, an education, a guaranteed retirement…all things that every human should have a right to.
I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in, and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this. —Anthony Carmona