Saturday, March 12, 2011

Birthday Cruise

Yes, another birthday has found me. It’s OK, it sure beats the alternative!

Most years, my husband’s sister and her husband join us in traveling as his birthday is the day before mine. They had circumstances this year that prevented our getting together. So Julian and I decided to have our own birthday trip.

We decided on a cruise to Curacao and Aruba, two Caribbean islands that we had never been to before. We found just the right itinerary and timing on Holland America, a cruise line we had not sailed on before either. Lots of firsts on this trip.

On Friday, March 4, we dropped the dog off with neighbors and started our drive to Ft. Lauderdale to board the ship. About half way there, we were stopped on the turnpike by an accident on the north-bound lanes. It turned out that someone’s travel trailer caught fire. By the time we were moving again and could see it, there was nothing left of the trailer but a charred frame. It had burned completely. We felt so bad for the owners – they lost everything but the pickup they towed it with.

In the end, we only lost about 20 minutes of travel time. No problem. We still got the car parked and were on board our ship (the Westerdam) in time for a late lunch. Let the eating begin!

Our first night of sailing was a little rocky. Not bad, really, but not as smooth as we’d remembered from other sailings. I never sleep well the first night out, but Julian did sleep well and we were ready for the first stop the next morning.

Half Moon Cay was the first stop on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful island and probably the prettiest “private island” of all the cruise lines we’ve experienced. The weather was awesome – I got a bit of a sunburn just from reflection off the water. We really weren’t in the sun that much.

Here are a couple pictures of the beach, with our ship in the background.



The water was gorgeous. I thought these bougainvillea were awesome.


Yep, that’s Julian in the tie-die shirt on the left. This is the same area where a BBQ lunch was served. (Yet another good meal.) Then we headed back to the ship. After a little R&R we played bingo, but didn’t even come close to a win.

Our next full day was “at sea”. We had buffet breakfast and then went for a walk around the ship – 6 times to be exact. That equated to two miles, so we felt pretty good about getting the exercise.

We went to an “Introduction to Acupuncture” seminar. That was quite interesting. Julian has had trouble with one leg and people had suggested he look into that form of treatment. It helped to hear more about it from a Chinese doctor on board.

We spent some time in the casino, which didn’t pay either. (No, we weren’t terribly surprised.) After another marvelous dinner, we went to the show. The singers and dancers performed and were really great.

We docked in Curacao just after lunch on the next day. Here are some photos taken as we were docking in Willemstad.




The thing in the foreground that looks like a whole lot of boats lined up under a dock is actually a floating bridge. It swings completely back like this when ships enter this part of the bay. We walked across it later to get to the other side of the town.

Unfortunately, the town wasn’t much to see. Many of the shops were closed. We were told that had to do with a Mardi Gras parade that was happening later in the day. We walked around and enjoyed it nonetheless. Here are some pictures of Punda, the downtown section.





This last one is the “floating market”. It’s situated right up against a canal and has all sorts of local produce. (That’s our ship in the background.)

It was hot here… even hotter than in Florida. So we had to stop and have a beer (or two) in a little outdoor cantina. That was so refreshing and it was fun to people-watch.

This is me on that floating bridge I mentioned before. Crossing it on foot or taking a ferry are the only ways to get to Punda.


After we returned to the ship, we spent some R&R time in our stateroom. From the balcony, we could see other ships moving in, causing the bridge to be moved to let them through. Here’s a couple photos showing how that worked.



The next day took us to Aruba. We docked pretty early so watched it from our balcony with coffee in hand. This ship pulled in a little behind us.


If you click the photo, you can see that it is “The World”. This is a ship where you own your suite and live on the ship, going where ever it goes in the world. Not bad if you could afford it! We would have loved to get inside to look around. WOW!

Once we had breakfast and got organized, we headed out into Oranjestad. We hopped on a city bus and rode it out to the hotel district. We got to see quite a bit of the eastern part of the island. We really liked what we saw and wouldn’t mind returning to Aruba as a destination rather than a stopover of a few hours.

All beaches in Aruba are public. You can walk through the hotels to the beach, so that’s what we did. It was beautiful, as you can see.


I dipped a finger into the water, but we didn’t swim. We walked up the beach from hotel to hotel. At one of the hotels, there was an iguana feeding taking place. I’ve never seen so many iguanas of different sizes and colors in my life.


The kids were having a great time feeding the animals by hand.

We eventually found our way to a very nice casino in one of the hotels. We played for quite a while and even had some good luck along the way. It was way more fun than the ship casino, that was for sure.

We headed back on the bus to the ship for a late lunch. After all the food we’d been enjoying, it was nice to have a salad. Any benefits of that were probably negated by the ice cream cone we had afterwards. What do you think?

As we left Aruba, Julian shot a couple photos looking back at the island.



After dinner that evening, we went to the show again. Tony Pace was the performer and he was SO good. He’s a singer in his own right, but then he started doing impersonations that were just awesome. What a talent!

The next two days were spent at sea. We walked, read books, napped, played in the casino some, and tried to stay out of trouble. I did a meditation, which was cool and invigorating for me. Julian learned some tricks and tips on eggs and making omelets. I went to the disembarkation program. I didn’t learn anything different form other cruise lines, but sure enjoyed the humor of the cruise director (he reminded both of us of Johnny Carson). We both went to a Chinese Herbal Medicine talk, but didn’t stay to the end – it was mostly overview with few particulars. I went to a Windows 7 workshop where I learned a bunch of helpful things.

We discovered “Happy Hour” at one of the lounges at 4pm each day. We took cards one day and played a little while. With the price of drinks on board, it was nice to get a 2-for-1 for a change. I would get wine and save one to take to dinner. It worked out great!

And then it was time to get off the ship and head home. Bummer! The week went fast and we sure enjoyed it a lot. Holland America was a very good line and we’d recommend it to anyone. The food was fabulous. The crew were so friendly and happy. We really can’t find anything negative about the experience.

As we were driving out of Ft. Lauderdale, our neighbor called to invite us to dinner. How cool was that! There wasn’t a lot in our fridge, so having someone prepare one more meal was great.

And now it’s back to reality. The laundry is under control. Our emails have been weeded out (mostly deleted). I’m writing this to share our fun week and, in part, so that I won’t forget the details. My desk is actually getting pretty much back to normal (you should have seen it yesterday!). Our voicemails have been returned. Julian went out for some groceries and fresh produce. So now the birthday trip is over and it’s back to our normal lives.

What a week, though. We had a blast!