Day 3 – Rainforest Tour


11/6/15 – We went to bed so early last night, that we’re both awake around 5AM.  Well, that gives us plenty of time to get ready and have breakfast.  We went to the hotel restaurant again.  They have a buffet for $20 – a little more than I really want to spend on breakfast, but the a la carte menu is kind of pricey too.  Ok, fruit, eggs, toast and juice.  I’m ready for the tour.

We’re downstairs right at 7:45 for our tour.  We’re told it’s going to rain so we get umbrellas from the front desk.  Never used them – just something extra to carry around.  While we’re waiting, one of the bellmen asked what tour we were doing.  Half day rainforest – he says, they’ll be here at 8:05.  Sure enough, our guide showed up right at 8:05.  We had 4 more hotels to stop at before we really get on our way.  That’s the main reason I don’t like organized tours.

Our guide is Lismal.  She’s very knowledgeable and entertaining.  The last 2 hotels were in Condado and as we were driving through she pointed out a couple of good restaurants.  Then she pointed at Subway and said “No Subway!”.  Then Chili’s – “No Chili’s!  You are in the Caribbean!  Eat local food!”

We continued on through the countryside with Lismal pointing out little towns and the mountains we were headed to (the Sleeping Giant for the formation).  I always love getting to see some of the countryside of the islands I visit.  We arrived at El Yunque National Rainforest, which is maintained by the US National Parks Service. 20151106_092508We drove into the lowest level of the park, then continued on up to the 2nd level where we parked.  We had a chance to take a few photos and Lismal found this snail on a tree.  

She said there are brown and green ones.  We then took a walk up a little into the forest to Bano Grande

which was built as a swimming pool by the CCC in the 1930’s.  It’s very scenic up here.  

After this we walked back down to the road and had to walk in the road for awhile to get to the Caimatillo Trailhead.  Apparently during the last big storm, there was a lot of damage and some areas of the trail washed out.  They are working on repairing it now.  We went up this trail and Lismal pointed out different trees and told as about the flora and fauna in the forest.  We stopped by a stream and she got down and got a couple of rocks which she rubbed together.  Doing this made a mud ink/dye.  She explained that the Tainos used this to paint their faces, and she demonstrated on those of us that would let her.  She mostly did faces, but with me she used my upper arm.  She made 3 different colors using different combinations of rocks.  Very interesting.

From here we got back in the bus and went down to an observation tower which is 75 feet tall.  It has incredible views.  I took the stairs up and there are windows at all the landings.  You really get a great variety of views.

Our last stop was a La Coca waterfall.  It is right on the road so very easy to get to and take pictures.  

Then we headed back into San Juan and, of course, we were the last stop.  We rested up a bit when we got back and then headed out for lunch.  While waiting for the tour I had asked the bellman where to go.  He pointed down the street in front of the hotel entrance and said go a block, then up the stairs and there is a whole block of restaurants serving Puerto Rican food.  Ok, that’s where we’re headed.

We come out of the stairway and sure enough, across the street is a row of restaurants.  We’re kind of looking back and forth when I see Raice’s.  20151106_140719This was one of several restaurants a friend of a friend had recommended, and Lismal and recommended it as well so we decided to go there.  There was a short wait, and finally we got a table – right next to the cash register so we constantly had wait staff standing almost on top of us.  I was a little disappointed when I looked at the menu because it was more of a dinner menu and most of the food looked heavier than I wanted mid-day.  But after getting a beer, I was getting a little more into the mood.  

Finally we each found something that sounded good.  Frankly, I thought the food was so-so.  Their menu on line here looks better than the choices we had, and there were no $6.95 specials.  My feeling about this restaurant is that it has gotten well known and maybe lost some of it’s original charm.  The employees, for the most part, did not look like they were happy to be there.  Not my favorite on this trip.  Oh, well, it filled us up.  

After lunch we took a little walk around Old San Juan then back to the hotel.  Pam hadn’t been feeling real well since the bumpy bus ride back from the rainforest, so she decided to rest in the room.  I took my book and headed up to the pool.  It was failry cloudy, but still nice and warm.  After about an hour, it started to rain so I checked on Pam – still resting- so I headed down to the bar where the bartender made me a Puerto Rico Sunset. 20151106_180828 Yummy!

Pam showed up after a bit and we had some dinner and an early night again.

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Day 2 – Arrival in San Juan


11/5/15 – Our flight landed in Charlotte, NC right on time.  I was able to get a few hours of sleep on the flight – that’s why I like a red-eye – get onboard, sleep a few hours, and wake up in a new place!  Unfortunately, Pam, wasn’t so lucky.  We had about 3 hours before we boarded our next flight, I had hoped we would be able to have a nice, leisurely, sit down breakfast.  Pam was tired so we decided to just find our next gate and relax for a bit.  I was hungry, and getting cranky so I grabbed an egg & cheese bagel to recharge a bit.   After I ate, Pam decided to find some coffee, and I decided to just walk a bit to stretch my legs.  One of the things I like about the Charlotte airport is the way it is laid out it is easily walkable.  It also has rocking chairs throughout which gives a lot of great spots for resting and people watching.  It has a lot of nice shopping and restaurants, just something about it – it doesn’t feel as rushed and crazy as most I’ve been in.

I walked almost the entire airport – got my blood flowing.  By the time I got back to D Concourse to our gate, Pam was sitting in a rocker by the window.  I joined her and before long it was time to board.  San Juan – here we come!  I napped a bit more, and soon we were landing.

Down to baggage claim, out to the taxi line, and soon we were in the taxi on our way to the Sheraton Old San Juan.  Our driver was quiet, I like when I get a driver who points out attractions and tells me a bit about their country.  Oh, well, I just looked out the window and watched the scenery go by with a big grin on my face.  I’m back in the Caribbean!  Oh, it feels so good – it’s been too long.  

We get checked in at the Sheraton and up to our room – ooooh, musty smelling -ick.  And it’s got a tiny, dirty window looking out at a parking garage.  After a few moments pondering, I call down to the desk.  They promptly send a bellman up with new keys one floor above us.  Oh, much better. We still look at the parking garage, the window still looks dirty, but I think it’s from the salt air – we are right across the street from the water.  But now we have a little balcony.  With a little view – see?  20151107_112414

After all this travel, we decide to freshen up, check out the hotel and eat dinner at the restaurant here.  We went up to check out the pool deck.  Kind of a small pool area, with a hot tub, and a great view. View from Sheraton restaurantIt has about a 4 foot wall around it, to keep us from falling off, I guess, so you only see the view if you’re standing up.  But you can see the beautiful, blue sky while relaxing on your lounge chair.  There is also a fitness area – apparently people actually do use these.  Who knew?

We went down to the concierge desk to see what things there were to do for the next day.  We decided to book a Rainforest tour for the morning.  Looking forward to this.  Now, let’s have dinner.

The restaurant is on the 2nd floor, and we were able to sit outside.  Oh, look, it’s Happy Hour until 7PM – 2 for 1 drinks!  20151105_164254We order a couple of Mojitos – we’re soon to be much happier.  The menu tonight has a 2 for 1 special – Sangria for 2, appetizer to share, 2 salads, 2 entrees, and dessert to share for $49.95.  Sounds good – steak for Pam and salmon for me.  Now, where’s that Mojito – ah, here it comes.  How beautiful to look out over the water, in this tropical paradise, with a friend and a 2 for 1 drink!  Mojito at Sheraton

After dinner we head to bed early.  Need to catch up on sleep and be ready to start our tour to El Yunque Rain Forest at 7:45AM.  Yawn!

San Juan and Celebrity Summit – Day 1


Beth at airport

Preparing to Take off on a Jet Plane

11/4/15 – It’s finally here.  The day Pam & I leave for our big vacation.  We have been planning this for over a year, put our deposits down in January and finally, we are heading to SeaTac airport tonight for our 10:15 PM flight.

My neighbor, Mark, is going to care for my cat Mango,  

and drive me to the airport.  He comes downstairs for some Mango instructions and asks me up for a pre-trip glass of wine.  I do some last minute packing, then head upstairs.  His wife, Lisa, is suffering from knee pain and won’t be taking the ride with us so I want to say goodbye and thank her for helping with my cat.

We got out of the house about 5 minutes later than planned, and I’m just buckling my seatbelt when my phone buzzes with a text from Pam “I’m here at the airport at the Sports Page bar by gate D4.  What??  It’s only 7:50.  I tell her I’m just leaving but being TSA pre-checked I should be joining her about 8:30.

It’s an uneventful drive, and Mark get’s me there right about 8:15 as planned.  Check my bag, through security and sitting with my first Bloody Mary in front of me just after 8:30. 
Our flight starts boarding right on time, and by 10:15 we are taxiing down the runway – on our way to sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico for 2 days before boarding Celebrity’s Summit.

(I promise better pictures in my next post.  Most of mine are being held hostage in my digital camera, I can’t find the cord)

Unspoiled Tropical Vacation Paradise – Samana


Most popular tropical vacation destinations that people think of in the Dominican Republic are in Punta Cana or La Romana on the east coast of the island of Hispaniola.  These are beautiful areas with white sandy beaches and big beautiful resorts.

If you are looking for a more unspoiled, natural tropical vacation, you might want to think of the Samana Peninsula, on the north side of the country.  Here’s a short video that shows some of the beauty of this area.

If you like the large resort, all-inclusive atmosphere, you can find that here too, but you can also find small, intimate properties.

Perfect Paradise Vacations can help you get here or to any tropical vacation paradise you choose.

Ruby Princess – Day 7 – At Sea


Our last day was at sea. I really do enjoy sea days and like to have the last day on the ship be at sea so that I can just relax.  I started out this day by going to a Culinary presentation in the main theater and then a galley tour.  It was really interesting.  Of course, I didn’t take notes, but besides demonstrating how to make a simple pasta dish and a Caesar salad with dressing, they also told us how many eggs, bread rolls and some other staggering statistics from the kitchen.  The galley we toured serves both of the main dining rooms.   

After this I headed out to the pool with my niece, her son and boyfriend.  We had some cocktails and got some sun.  They had a lot of fun stuff going on right next to us including a cocktail making competition and ice sculpting demonstration.  I won a free cocktail – yay!!  At some point we went up and played miniature golf – it’s a pretty lame course, but a way to kill some time.  We also found the “video arcade” with 4 ancient games in it that evidently eat your money.         

This day was pretty much like our other at sea day.  I’m going to finish this post with my overall review of the Ruby Princess.

I hadn’t cruised in about 4 years and this was my first time with Princess, and I have to say I was a little disappointed.  Since I’ve come back I’ve done some research and it seems that I am not alone – the overall cruise experience on the “mass market” cruise lines seems to have gone down in the last few years.  The Ruby Princess is a beautiful ship with a lot of great things.  I loved the International Café; Vines Wine Bar could have been more enclosed to make it feel more special, but the service was good; the Crown Grill was incredible; Princess Cayes was a nice alternative to having a 3rd sea day; the entertainment was good; the internet café had plenty of computer and the speed was much better than in the past; the Trident Grill made good burgers; the adults only Terrace Pool was a plus as well.  On the down side, I found the food in the main dining room to be uninspired – the preparation was good, but the choices were not very interesting; the overall service on the ship was lacking – although my room steward, Henry, was very friendly and did a good job; the Casino had a sign up one morning that it would be smoke free that evening, but when I went in people were smoking; I didn’t like the big screen over the Calypso Pool with movies & concerts playing all day – it was too noisy for me and this was where the comfy lounge chairs were – although I thought Movies Under the Stars at night was a great idea. 

I just did not feel the WOW factor that I’ve had in my previous 5 cruises.  I will definitely not set my expectations so high the next time I go cruising.

That’s it for the cruise.  We were back inFort Lauderdalethe next day.  We stayed over one night at theCrownePlazanear the port/airport.  It was really nice and comfortable and in a very convenient location.  I would recommend this hotel.  We rented a car and drove down to Miami to check out South Beach.  Had a little lunch and walked on the beach.  It was very windy and a little overcast, but still warm.  This was a nice relaxing end to our week.

Ruby Princess – Day 6 – Grand Turk


I was excited to visit Grand Turk because I had not been to the Turks & Caicos before.  I’ve read about it and knew that the water was beautiful.  We rented a golf cart to explore the island on our own.  We just had to walk out of the cruise terminal and there was Nathan’s golf carts (and jeeps).  We got a quick lesson in how to drive it and we were off.  There was a man on a bicycle following us – I thought he was going to overtake us for awhile, but then we started up a slight incline and pulled away.  Whoo, that would have been embarassing.  We passed the airport.  Our hope was that we would find a great beach where we could do some swimming and hopefully see some fun fish.

We came to Landfall Beach and stopped and looked around.       There were some great shells and the view was nice, but we couldn’t swim because it was very rocky (big rocks) and it looked like it got deep pretty quickly.  When we got ready to leave, we had trouble getting the golf cart started.  It seemed to be flooded.  The good thing was, it was so light weight we could just push it into the shade and relax while we waited for it to recover.  Soon we were on the way again. 

We had a lot of fun riding around.  There were a lot of burros grazing around the island. 

We saw a group of about 8 – 10 horses just walking down the street. Lot’s of dogs – most of them looked pretty healthy, but there were a couple that were so thin they just broke my heart.  We went to the lighthouse – what a view from this spot.        

We drove through some neighborhoods and got chased by a couple of dogs – my niece and I were worried about losing a couple of toes.  Floor this cart, get us out of here!  There were some really nice houses on Grand Turk, and some that were not so nice.  The island itself is very flat and dry – I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back. 

After touring the island for a couple of hours, we headed back and dropped off the golf cart.  Then we headed to Jack’s Shack for our free shot of rum and a late lunch. 

Everyone in our group was pretty tired and not into the party atmosphere here, so after lunch we headed back towards the ship.  As we were heading back the sun was starting to go down – I was a little disappointed because there had been a couple of souvenir stalls on the beach that had closed up. 

I stopped and did a little shopping at the pier – I still needed a couple of things to bring home, like rum cake and cooking sauces (that reminds me, I still have a rum cake – need to take a quick break).  By the time I finished it had started pouring rain.  Oh, well, it’s warm rain.

A lot of people just stay on the beach near the cruise ships – there is a big Margaritaville with lots of beach chairs.  If I was on a cruise that stopped in Grand Turk again, I would probably just spend the day at the beach – probably Jack’s.

I’ve posted more pictures on my Facebook page if you’d like to see more scenery.

Ruby Princess – Day 5 – St. Thomas


I’ve been to St. Thomas several times before, but I do love it so was excited to go back again.  This time the plan was pretty much the same as in the past – a little shopping, then head to the beach.  I woke up not feeling great – a little too much rich food, I think – so I decided to skip the shopping and just meet up at Lindbergh Beach.  It was nice to sleep in a little, have a light and leisurely breakfast, and get off the ship after most people had already gone.  It was a little strange when I was walking out of the port area (which always has some shops and such for those who don’t want to venture too far) to see all the Christmas trees and decorations.  It just didn’t feel like Christmas was approaching with the sunshine and 80 degree weather. 

I had a little trouble getting a taxi because I was alone and the trip to the beach was only $4 per person.  In the islands it often costs so much a person and the drivers weren’t going to make anything off of me.  Finally one driver said he would take me – and he had a full size van.  It’s a quick trip and most people were already off the ship so he was good with it.  By the time I got there the family was already there.  Dennis (or Jacques as I’d started calling him) was out swimming with his goggles on looking for fish.  Danielle was at the bar ordering Red Stripes – thank goodness she saw me in time to add one to her order.  I pulled a chair up next to theirs, paid my $6 to the gentleman who was in charge, drank a little beer, then headed into the water. 

When we found this beach 5 years ago, it was pretty unknown and deserted.  More people have found it, but it’s still much less crowded than some of the more popular beaches on the island.  Last time there were 2 vendors, this time none.  The area we sit on is in front of the Island Beachcomber hotel.  There is a great little bar there for drinks and lunch.         

Right behind the beach is the airport, but there are not a lot of flights so the noise is not a problem. 

This hotel is adjacent to the Best Western Emerald Bayand the beach on that side is a little more crowded.  I would definitely consider staying at the Emerald Bay in the future.  I have had clients stay here and after seeing the beach the first time I understood why they enjoyed it so much.    

One of the great things is that this is a nice little cove which is great for swimming.  You can go quite a ways out and still touch bottom – it’s all nice and sandy with no drop offs.  We spent several nice hours here drinking beer, swimming, sunning and having a little lunch.  The only fish we really saw were close to shore – there were a bunch of silver fish about 4 – 6 inches long, when one would come up to you suddenly there would be a bunch of them.  Kind of freaky.  There were a couple of sailboats moored in the cove – I seriously considered swimming out and stowing away on one so I wouldn’t have to come home.              

The taxi drivers on these islands are great.  They know when the ships leave and they start coming around to the beaches an hour or so before you really have to leave to make sure that everyone gets back.  I guess they know that we are going to lose track of time.  We rode back in one of the open air jitneys – this is my nephew wearing the cool sunglasses he bought in town that morning.     

Although we had a fabulous day at the beach, we were looking forward to that night because we had reservations at the Crown Grill.  I’ve always been one of those people who couldn’t understand why, when there is so much fabulous food included with the price of the cruise, anyone would want to spend $20 – $30 to eat in the specialty restaurants.  I decided that as a travel consultant I should try it so that I could advise my clients as to whether it was really worth it. 

We started with the appetizer – most of us had scallops and foie gras.  I’d never had foie gras before, and frankly didn’t like it so passed it off to Dennis.  The scallops were fabulous though!  I had the goat cheese salad which was really tasty.  For the main course my nephew ordered a 22 ounce Porterhouse, my niece and I ordered the Maine Lobster Tails (we didn’t notice the plural and thought we were getting one 4 ounce tail).  This is what we got! 

Amazing.  And we still had dessert to come.

We were at the restaurant for 2 ½ hours.  The service was wonderful – we really enjoyed this experience.  I am a believer now!  This was a fabulous dining experience.  For $25 per person ($12.50 for my 12 year old nephew), you can’t beat it.  I will always recommend that my clients try the specialty restaurant at least one night during their cruises from now on.

I think I’m going to need to spend a week on St. Thomas so that I can see some other beaches, take the ferry over to St.  John and see what else it has to offer.