JULY 2006

06/18/06 - Cruise Day 1: Puerto Rico – In parallel with most of our vacations, the first day started very early at 6AM.  We had done all of our packing over the previous week so most of the morning was just a matter of waking up, grabbing a snack, and getting ready for our flight.  Before the morning had completely slipped away we embarked on our flight to San Juan. 

Upon arrival in San Juan we caught a quick cab to the pier (only a few miles away) and walked through our pre-cruise registration (the dreaded line, part 1).  Once we had checked our bags, obtained our room key, and dropped off a few items in our room we departed the ship for a tour of old San Juan. 

View of Old San Juan from El Morro Outside the Walls of Old San Juan

San Juan proper is located more inland on Puerto Rico; however, old San Juan is located on the same peninsula as the cruise piers.  It offers an assortment of historical sites and cultural experiences.  While walking through the streets we listened to several musical bands, stopped and grabbed a snack from a street vendor, and even picked up a geocache along the way.  Old San Juan is surround by tall walls (it was a fort at one time) and is bordered by two entrances; El Morro and San Cristóbal.  El Morro is at the Northern point of the peninsula and offered a beautiful view of the pastel buildings located in old San Juan, a perfect vista to admire the ocean, and a grand courtyard for relaxing and flying kites (of which many residents were doing at the time).  On just the outside of the walls near El Morro was a feral cat colony on the beach.  Susan was extremely excited to see kitties lying in the sand just inches away from the ocean. 

Kitty on the Beach Fort Walls
El Morro - In The Distance El Morro - Trapped Inside

It was dark by the time we returned to the ship.  Since all of the dinners on our cruise were either formal or dressy-casual, we needed to change clothes before tracking down the dining room.  The dinners were one of the most elaborate parts of the cruise itself.  Each meal was in a fine atmosphere and the fare was unique and exquisite.  Over the course of the cruise we dined on the following items (at least some of the items I wrote down): 

Cream of asparagus soup Indian curry Smoked Salmon
Baked ziti with meatballs Seafood fricassée Tomato soup
Baked chicken Duck Boiled lobster
Shrimp and scallop pasta Cheesecake Cornish hen with stuffed herbs
Lobster bisque soup Vegetarian lasagna Key lime pie
Cold asparagus soup Baby green salad Chocolate soufflé
Salmon with étouffée Broccoli cheese soup Filet mignon
Cold cucumber and dill soup Heart of palm and artichokes Pork tenderloin in jerk Caribbean sauce

After dinner was a lifeboat drill (required, bummer – kind of how they make you listen to the “your seat cushion may be used as a floatation device” on every airplane trip).  We toured the ship a little after the drill, opened the bottle of wine left for us by the company we booked our tour through, and delighted in some ice cream on the top deck of the ship as it set sail.

06/19/06 - Cruise Day 2: St. Thomas – I woke up bright and early today at 5:30 in order to catch a sunrise over the ocean; however, it was cloudy.  As such, it brightened to where I could see the nearby Virgin Islands, but I never was able to see the sun.  After this first attempt, I never had the desire to get up that early again for the rest of the trip (or this year if things go well).

Susan and I shared breakfast with another young couple from Atlanta.  One interesting tidbit about this meal was that I ordered French toast.  No, that in itself isn’t terribly unusual, but the fact it came without syrup was a little odd.  Just as I was about to question the waiter another gentleman stopped by with a container of syrup and poured it over my toast.  So how do they list that on a resume?  Is that “syrup custodian” or “pouring manager”?  Chatting with the couple was fun and we actually ended up seeing them several times over the following week.  We heard many times that it was a “small ship” even though the crew compliment and passengers was about four thousand.

Our Ship in the Distance Pirates of the Caribbean

The first thing we did after disembarking was find a couple of nearby geocaches.  This helped pass the time until our safari tour of the island was ready to depart.  I call it a safari because the bus was open on the sides where you could really enjoy the climate of the island.  During the tour we spotted bougainvillea, hibiscus, oleander, plumeria, blue plumbago, ginger, banana plants, coconut trees, palm trees, purple hearts, croton, and flamboyant (pretty orange flowers that cover almost the entire island).  The tour’s first main stop was at one of the highest points on the island.  Not only was it a great photo opportunity, but there was also a bar nearby with wonderful banana daiquiris!   

Meagan's Bay Sapphire Beach

We continued on to see Meagan’s Bay (one of the top 10 beaches in the world), Coki Bay, and finally stopped at Sapphire Beach for two hours of snorkeling.  In retrospect this beach had some of the clearest water out of all the islands we snorkeled out – it was beautiful!  We spotted an underwater snake and tons of fish.  There was one blue fish that seemed to think my blue water socks were of the same species.  It chased my feet around for quite a while – very cute!  Back on land Susan found some hungry ducks and several iguanas that were more than happy to accept some goodies (granola for the iguanas and dog food for the ducks). 

Under the Sea Clear Water
Paradise All Around Us Iggy's Cousins

We did a little bit of window shopping at port and finally returned to the ship and had a late lunch.  We relaxed on the deck while listening to seagulls laughing and watching various yachts sail by.  This turned out to be our favorite spot on the cruise ship and we frequently returned here.  It was a middle deck so there was very little direct sunlight and we were also close enough to the water to hear it crashing against the boat.  It was a great spot to sit and read or just watch the islands fade into the sunset with each departure. 

Feeding the Ducks Relaxing on the Deck

At supper we met our “dinner buddies”, Sam and Denise.  Sam was a large man (think 250 lb, muscle-bound, football player; not heavy) and was frequently commenting on how the bite-size appetizers were not fit for a man of his appetite.  In the end they only attended two dinners – I think the buffet ended up being more their style.  Towards the end of dinner all the waiters and waitresses danced to a Mexican song – in fact, dancing and singing always occurred towards the end of each meal, but we usually didn’t hang around long enough to see the mini-show.  Right after dinner we dropped by the theatre and watched a live comedy show.

06/20/06 - Cruise Day 3: Dominica – When asked about the islands of our cruise, we often commented about how different some of them were.  While many of the islands in the Caribbean are similar to the “typical island” (white sand beaches, palm trees, clones of Hawaii, etc.), Dominica is not one of them.  This island was formed by a volcanic erupted and actually doesn’t have any sandy beaches.  In fact, all of the beaches we saw were extremely rocky.  Instead of beaches the island supports a beautiful tropical rainforest.   

We quickly found a tour guide who drove us around the island.  The first spot was a nice lookout point overlooking the city.  After there we passed through a botanic garden and then drove up a steep one-lane highway (with cars going both ways) to the top of the mountains where the Trafalgar waterfalls are located. 

Trafalgar Falls Just a Little Soaked

It began to pour almost as soon as we stepped off the shuttle at Trafalgar park (it rains about 364 days a year here).  Undeterred by the rain we made the short hike and saw a total of three waterfalls (2 were really tall).  On the way back to the shuttle we spotted a bright yellow crab scurrying along the path.  Before leaving I made sure to stop by a food stand and try some of the local fare.  I can’t remember what it was called but it resembled a salmon patty and was made from cod – it was quite tasty, although very fishy. 

Countryside Tropical Flowers Abound

Once the tour was over we took a walk on the streets of Dominica where you could easily see the cultural mixture of French Creole and Jamaica.  We sampled some grilled plantain (awful) and purchased some fresh bananas (yummy).  After perusing a few shops we stopped at a café and enjoyed a couple of cold milk shakes.   We walked around a bit more and eventually returned to the boat to grab some snacks and get ready for our first formal night. 

Calypso Music Disco Lounge

After sitting on the deck and watching the boat depart we got dressed for the Captain’s cocktail party.  Hors d'oeuvres and cocktails were generously and abundantly provided at the ship’s Disco lounge (retro bar with purple lighting, a dance floor, and television screens surrounding the entire room).  We were able to meet the Captain (who was driving the boat?) and eventually adjourned to dinner and a “Las Vegas” style dance show at the theatre.  The show included wild costumes, elaborate sets, and lots of tricky dancing (especially on a rocking ship).

06/21/06 - Cruise Day 4: Barbados – I finally discovered room service on the 4th day of our cruise.  I had hot cocoa and muffins delivered to our room for breakfast (it more or less served as our wake-up call). 

Barbados is another beautiful tropical island.  It is much less commercialized than the Virgin Islands, but it is more developed than Dominica.  The beaches were beautiful here and the snorkeling was wonderful.  In fact, our first stop was our swimming with the turtles tour!  This tour ended up being much more than we bargained for since we were the only couple to pre-register.  As such, it ended up becoming a private sea cruise on a glass bottom boat. 

Ya Mon! Feeding Frenzy

The turtles were simply awesome!  We swam beside and were even able to touch both large and small sea turtles.  The small ones were just a few feet in diameter and the big ones were about three feet.  Our guide supplied lots of fish we could use to attract the turtles and they would actually eat straight out of our hands.  They were extremely adorable!  In addition to turtles we spotted jellyfish and bat fish (pretty blue fins when extended). 

Cowabunga! Yummy!

After the turtles we dropped anchor near a shipwreck close to the coast of the island.  It was a barge of sorts (sunk on purpose in order to provide a habitat for marine life) and had been underwater for several years.  There were thousands of fish swarming around us as we swam through this area.  Finally, while on our way back to the beach, we enjoyed some homemade rum punch (Ya Mon!) with our guide.  It was a wonderful snorkeling tour. 

Jellyfish Malibu Beach

Our second stop in Barbados was the Malibu Rum factory.  We took a stroll on their private beach where various rum drinks were delivered upon request.  Susan relished a cool banana colada and also picked up a list of recipes she could try out at home.  After soaking up a bit of sun we caught a taxi ride to Harrison Caves (similar to most any other cave – dark, wet, and underground).  At the caves we actually spotted a kitten hanging out with wild chickens?!?  We ended up taking the same taxi back to the port (our driver was nice enough to wait for us while we visited the caves); however, we picked up a local hitchhiker (apparently hitchhiking is normal on many of these islands) on the way back who seemed a little insane.  Fortunately nothing bad happened – we just ended up listening to him ramble and babble most of the trip. 

Harrison's Caves Departing Barbados

We did some shopping at port and eventually returned to the ship in order to attend the couple’s happy hour at one of the bars.  Susan sampled several fufu drinks (a Miami Vice and a Goombay Smash) until we wandered off to the karaoke bar and listened to some auditions for “Destiny Idol” (Friday’s theatre show – I’ll talk about it later).  We danced for a bit at the disco bar (surprisingly no disco music was played) and after dinner we watched a juggling show and comedian at the ship theatre.   

Susan eventually tuckered out and went to bed but I made a quick stop to visit the midnight Mexican buffet and bathrobe party.  There weren’t too many people in bathrobes, but the buffet was very comprehensive and tasty.

06/22/06 - Cruise Day 5: At Sea – This was our first full day at sea and our first real opportunity to sleep in ;).  We woke up pretty much just in time to snag a Greek lunch (there was usually one buffet area that had a different region of the world each day).   We spent a good portion of the day relaxing at our favorite port-side deck.  Reading – napping – eating – consuming – you know, the good life?   

Susan's Favorite Pose One of our Daily Towel Animals

I stopped by an art auction but didn’t bid on anything.  Frankly, I was quite surprised by how much some of the artwork (considering they were all just reproductions) sold for.  The good news is they were serving complimentary champagne.  As such, I could mock the buyers in style. 

It was our first formal night and we had the opportunity to snap quite a few posed pictures.  There were stations in which you could get pictures in front of fake backgrounds and photographers also stopped by our dinner table.  All of the pictures were placed on display in one area of the ship where you could decide if any were worth purchasing. 

Sunset at Sea Ice Dragon

The evening’s theatre entertainment consisted of another dancing show.  This one was abuot an American tourist in Paris and showed many of the amazing signs he or she would see.  These include both a “Moulin Rouge” and “Cirque Du Soleil” scene.  Everything was much more elaborate than the first musical earlier in the week. 

Gala Buffet Deviled Eggs

At midnight the chefs put on a demonstration of their culinary decorating abilities.  In addition to some spectacular food there were also a couple of beautiful ice sculptures.  There were more desserts than you could shake a fork at.

06/23/06 - Cruise Day 6: Aruba – It was a big day in Aruba!  We toured the island in a Jeep 4x4 in one large loop.  About 75% of the trip was off-road, and parts of it were extremely rugged.  The island itself has a few sandy beaches, but the remainder of the island is mostly desert.  The entire Eastern coast is extremely rocky and the land itself is covered in several varieties of cactus.  It isn’t necessarily paradise, but it does have its own unique beauty that I found to be quite striking.  On the other hand, Susan said we should just plan our next vacation to Arizona ;).

Our first stop on the loop was the California lighthouse on the Northern tip of the island.  We saw several goats along the road and also a few vividly colored green parrots who didn’t want their pictures taken.  The second stop was a small chapel on the Northeast shore.  I took a short hike through the cactus to track down a quick geocache (and we happened to get two virtuals while on this tour as well).  We also spotted several vibrantly blue lizards darting through the desert; however, they were much too quick for our camera. 

Aruba Landscape Pirate Cove

We followed the coastline South and took a break at the remains of a small pirate hideout where gold was stored in preparation to be shipped overseas.  We didn’t find any gold, but we did find tons of rock piles neatly stacked nearby.  The guide claimed it was the “monkey see monkey do” exhibit.  In other words, someone started it and the thousands of tourists following that day have copied it.  Yes, I stacked a pile of rocks too. 

Natural Bridge Coastline & Our "Highway"

We passed by a few natural bridges as we continued along the rocky coast.  It was beautiful to watch the ocean crash against the shore and splash 10 to 20 feet in the air.  One of the natural bridges we visited was the famous one that collapsed due to erosion last year.  It was quite a bit larger than the other bridges we visited.  While walking down to this bridge I found a tiny natural pool filled with crabs.  They would scatter in every direction whenever I would take a step near them. 

Natural Pool

After the natural bridges we stopped at an ostrich and emu farm where we had a chance to get up close and personal with a few of the birds.  Afterwards we cooled off at a large natural swimming pool at the end of an extremely rugged drive (I wasn’t entirely sure the Jeep was going to remain upright).  At this pool the water would come crashing over the edge of a natural rock barrier and fill the area with crystal clear ocean water.  We didn’t even need snorkel gear to see the fish at the bottom of this pool.  For those who were daring, a quick climb to the top of the wall offered a great point to dive into the pool.  There were plenty of crabs here as well littering the sharp rocks of the barrier. 

Two Heads are Better than One The Crash of the Ocean

We visited a cave near the Southern tip of the island.  It wasn’t a deep cave, but it did have several pictograms drawn by natives hundreds of years ago.  There was also a small snake exhibit and we were surprised to find a rattlesnake among them (apparently they are also native to this area).  We had BBQ lunch at a local restaurant and finally finished up with some snorkeling at Baby Beach.  Baby Beach was highly unusual in that it had an exceptionally gentle slope leading into the ocean.  We were able to walk about a 1/8th of a mile from shore and were still able to touch bottom.  The snorkeling here was varied in terms of species, but the water itself was very cloudy.  This mean we were able to see lots of pretty fish, but we weren’t able to take very good underwater photographs. 

The tour guide dropped us off back at port once we completed the circle of the island where tons of shopping opportunities awaited.  We wandered around for a few hours and found Susan a sun/lounge outfit she had been wanting and I picked up two Hawaiian (or would that be Caribbean?) shirts.   

After dinner we attended “Destiny Idol” at the ship theatre.  It was the cruise’s version of American Idol in which participants had auditioned during the previous week.  There was a panel of judges (imitating the same three judges from the regular Idol show) and the final product was both entertaining and humorous. A young girl from Puerto Rico ended up claiming the final prize.

06/24/06 - Cruise Day 7: At Sea – Today was our second day at sea.  After sleeping in we stopped by the buffet and had breakfast.  Unfortunately we had to attend a briefing on how to finally disembark the ship on our final day (the dreaded line, part 2); however, at least the briefing was humorous.  We relaxed on the deck again and I finished up my second book and wrote in my vacation diary (that way I could remember everything later for this blog). 

During the afternoon we learned how to dance like Austin Powers.  The steps are a lot of fun and it has actually given me a pretty good idea of what I might do for the company Halloween party this year…muahahaha.  After the dancing we watched a Newlywed game competition between several guests and then took a tour of the humongous galley (kitchen).   

Dinner Setting Galley Tour

After lunch we attended a Chips & Salsa party.  The salsa was a little runny, but nice and spicy!  The theatre show for the evening featured a magician. 

Overall the trip was definitely relaxing and adventurous - we would definitely go on a cruise again (after all, there are many more islands to explore)!

07/02/06 - Something's Afoot – I spotted an article in the Fort Worth newspaper about a live show getting good reviews at Theatre Arlington.  Susan and I hadn’t been to a play in a while so I obtained some tickets and we partook of a murder mystery more convoluted than the game of Clue.  It was a fairly humorous musical comedy taking place on a private island in England.  The cast consisted of 10 actors, but the bodies piled up quickly and nobody was left by the end of the final act.  So who was the murderer?  Well, you’ll have to watch the show (or ask us) to find out! 

07/04/06 - Fireworks @ Work – I had heard that several firework locations could be seen from the rooftop of my building.  As such, Susan and I grabbed a bottle of wine, a few chairs, and deposited ourselves on the balcony.   We were able to see fireworks from Lake Worth, downtown, and TCU, but they were all fairly far away.  It was a nice change from dealing with the traffic of attending a specific display, but I don’t think we’ll watch from the rooftops again.

07/08/06 - Like, Murder, Ya Know?  Tubular! – It’s been a while since we hosted our last murder mystery.  The scene of this weekend’s gruesome deed was played out at a hotel during the 1980’s.  Everyone dressed up for the event and we dined on homemade lasagna before diving into the mystery.

Lolita X. Posure & Corey Pratt Bonds Portia F. Olio & Rob Ublynd
Wirth Les Bonds & Stock Ann Bonds Arby Trage & Cassy Antell

This was probably our best detective work yet in terms of actually arriving at the correct solution.  We pretty much had all of the details worked out except for a few mistakes here and there.  Joining us this weekend were Carey & Matt, Glenda & Ben, and John & Sue.

07/19/06 - San Antonio Wine Trip – My boss wanted to attend a specific insurance conference in San Antonio on Thursday and Friday so he booked a few hotel rooms and told me and another co-worker to invite our spouses for a road trip.  We departed early on Wednesday in order to stop at a few wineries on the way down.  There weren’t many open, but we did stop at two along the way.  We also drove through the East side of hill country and enjoyed lots of beautiful scenery. 

Thursday was shopping for the girls and classes for the guys.  I also found some time to snag a few geocaches while the guys hit a few rounds of golf.  Dinner was provided by the hotel, Westin La Cantera.  The conference wrapped up on Friday and we all checked into the Drury located next to the Riverwalk.  The rest of Friday was spent dining on Mexican food and shopping at the Mexican market.  On Saturday, Susan and I took a stroll along the river and visited a few shops before departing on the rest of our wine trip. 

On the route back we stopped at five wineries, hung out in Fredericksburg for a few hours, and snacked on lots of food along the way.