Caribbean Cruise
February - March, 2014

Click on ThumbnailBy Jack Welsch


The core of this trip was a 20-day Caribbean cruise round trip from Ft. Lauderdale.  Actually, it was two-back-to-back cruises with different itineraries.  We had visited many of the ports before but three were new to us and, in any case, it was a way of getting clear of the horrific winter!  The ship was the Emerald Princess.  With over 3,000 passengers, it was the largest we've taken.  While we had a good time, the ship was way too big for us and we'll not make that mistake again.

In order to both extend the vacation and avoid the aggravations of commercial air travel, we decided to drive to Ft. Lauderdale, taking lots of time at it.

Internal links

Given the length of the trip and this journal and the many days at sea, I'm providing these links to some of our stops in case you just want information on specific places.

My Journal

Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 - Home to Fredericksburg, VA

After finishing last minute errands, we got on the road shortly before noon.  The night before, Lin had received her weekly e-mail from Alan Schiller (http:/ a phenomenal deal on a 19-day cruise in July to the Baltic. That's been our bucket list for some time and the price was excellent so we decided to book.  He had said that he had reserved 250 rooms and from previous experience we know how quickly he sells out.  The phones opened at 9:00 AM Seattle time so Linda started calling a few minutes before noon our time.  At 12:01, she got through and was #29  in line.  An hour later she finally talked to an agent and booked the cruise.

In order to avoid the Baltimore/Washington traffic snarl, we took I-81 to Front Royal, then I-66 and US 17 to Fredericksburg where we stayed at the Wingate.  Ten or more years ago, Mike, a fellow member of NSF's Certification Committee, had recommended La Petite Auberge.  I tried to call him to join us but I did not have nor could i find a valid phone number so we went alone.  In any case, it was FANTASTIC.  Linda enjoyed her scrod and my veal cordon bleu was out of this world.

Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 Fredericksburg, MD to Holly Springs, NC

We were up at about 8:00, had an OK breakfast in the hotel and were heading south on I-95 at 10:15.  My car was absolutely filthy from the PA winter but heavy rains had been forecast so I figured that the rain would get rid of the worst of it and I'd get it washed afterwards. The rain did not appear so, totally embarrassed, I finally ran it through a car wash.  Naturally, that brought on the rain!  About 20 miles north of the NC border we could see the black monster blooming in the West and I said maybe we should get off at the next exit to eat.  Unfortunately, it was a long way to the next exit and in the meantime the deluge hit with a vengeance.  Between the rain and the wind, driving was treacherous. Visibility was near zero but I was afraid to pull off lest we get hit from behind.  When we got off at the next exit, it had started to back off a bit and Lin saw on her phone an urgent tornado warning that was 20 minutes old!  Yikes!!

Lunch was at a Shoney's in Emporia, then we continued via I-95 and I-64.  Shortly after they were married, our son Stephen and his wife Krista had lived in Zebulon, NC, just east of Raleigh.  A mile or so west of them was a crossroads called Lizard Lick.  The folks there had fun with the name at the time and now it's famous (or infamous!) for the "reality" show, "Lizard Lick Towing".  Many years ago, I'd bought a tongue-in-cheek  "Lizard Lick University" tee shirt that had now seen better days.  Since we were passing by anyway, we stopped briefly to try to get a new one but struck out.  There is, however, a gift shop dedicated to the reality show and I heard the clerk say he thought they were shooting today as he'd seen a security guard.

The plan was to spend the evening and Saturday with our friends, Allan and Betty who have a summer cottage near ours.  Allan and I have known each other from the time we were infants so he is literally my oldest friend.  We arrived at the Hampton in Holly Springs shortly after 3:00 and Allen and Betty drove up as Linda was checking in.  We followed them to their home where we were joined by their son, Brian, and had a nice afternoon and evening and a wonderful dinner.

Back in the room, I did some internet work for our church choir and got to bed shortly before midnight.

Saturday, Feb. 22 - Holly Springs, NC

I was again up shortly before 8:00 and wrote yesterday's journal. We grabbed a few morsels downstairs to hold us over 'til 10:30 when Allan and Betty picked us up for brunch at the Bass Lake Draft House, a local sports bar.  After a leisurely lunch we visited Allan's mom in her new home.  It was delightful; a progressive facility.  After a drive around the area, they dropped us off at the hotel and we went back out to run some errands, then chilled in the room until 5:45 when they picked us up for dinner.

Dinner was at the Angus Barn, an absolutely HUGE place that was also packed.  Dinner was quite good.  However, Allen and Betty were very apologetic about the sub-par service which they assured us was abnormal.  Since Allen is 8 days older than I am and this dinner fell between our birthdays, it was something of a birthday dinner.   We were back at the hotel a bit after 9:00.  Linda went earlier but I worked a while at the computer and hit the rack at about 11.

Sunday, Feb. 23 - Holly Springs, NC to Yulee, FL

Again, I was up at 8:00 and Linda shortly thereafter.  Breakfast was at the hotel and we were on the road right at 10:00.  Allan said the ride down I-95 through North and South Carolina would be boring and it was!  The land is flat and there are endless pine trees on both sides of the highway so each mile and each hour is exactly like the last one.  Lunch was quite nice at a little place called Yucatan Mexican Restaurant in Manning, SC.  Shortly thereafter traffic came to stop, probably because of work along the road to clear ice-damaged trees.  We'd passed such a situation earlier but it was not so significant.  We eventually escaped the Interstate onto US 15 for 12 miles or so and then all was OK.  In GA it started to rain and we were getting tired so stopped at a best Western Plus in Yulee, FL, just north of Jacksonville. 

Dinner was simple but delightful at the Branding Iron Bar-B-Q and Steak House not far from the hotel.  Earlier, I'd called a former colleague, Bob Rademacher, for a recommendation for a hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. His #1 recommendation was Lago Mar so once back in the room Linda booked that for the next two nights. While she was at it, she activated the SunPass we'd bought at the visitor's center as we entered Florida.

After watching the Olympics closing ceremony we hit the rack.

Monday, Feb. 24 - Yulee to Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Breakfast was served only until 9:00 so we set a wake-up for 7:00 (ugh).  The hotel had advertized an 80-item buffet breakfast and that was one of the factors we considered when booking.  However, they obviously counted salt and pepper as two of the items and even at that they might have come up short!  It was, in fact, the same fare you get in all similar places.  Bummer. 

Weather was cold and rainy as we set off at about 9:00 and it stayed fairly cloudy most of the way south.  We stopped for some shopping at a Belk in Melbourne and while there enjoyed a delightful lunch at Mimi's Café.

By the time we arrived at the Lago Mar and checked in it was about 4:00 and the weather was perfect; clear skies and mid-80's.  The hotel is great and we had a HUGE suite with an oblique view of the ocean.  We sat by the pool and I did a little swimming before having drinks and a fantastic dinner.  It was close to 10 when we gave up for the night.

Tuesday, Feb. 25 - Ft. Lauderdale, FL

The weather called for partly cloudy but the we awoke to clear skies and they stayed fairly clear all day.  I was on the beach at 8:00 to reserve an umbrella and lounges with Lane, the beach attendant.  Lin was still in bed so I read on the beach until she called my cell to say she was ready for breakfast.  The breakfast buffet went for $17 per PERSON but we had it included by paying an extra $10 per ROOM per night.  I must say the omelets were as good as mine and that's difficult for me to admit!  We were on the beach by about 10 and I stayed until almost 5:00, breaking only for a quick hamburger at the nearby grill.  Lin left after lunch to do laundry and hang out in the room.  Before going to dinner, we dragged the big suitcases in from the car to get things squared away for the ship. On the way to dinner we put in the car the things that would stay there until we were back on land.  Dinner was again excellent. The waiter, Illia, was from Macedonia and helped me to expand my vocabulary.

Wednesday, Feb. 26- Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Unfortunately, we had to leave this beautiful place to move inland to the Sheraton, where they would keep my car while we were away.  It's one of the few places we found that will let you park your car for 30 days when you stay a single night.  We were pretty well packed so, after another nice breakfast in the dining room, we headed out.  The Sheraton was OK but the AC in the room wasn't working well so we told the staff as we went out for lunch and they promised to fix it.   The clerk had told Linda where she could have her nails done nearby so cooled my jets in the car while that was accomplished, then we had lunch in Duffy's Pub near the hotel.  Back in our (now cooler) room, I was working and Linda was watching TV when we heard a loud bang, smelled smoke and saw that the AC was out.  The hotel folks initially wanted to move us to a room near an ice machine but after I complained, we got another.  Definitely not a good day. The good news is that the clerk was great!  Dinner was at the hotel.

Thursday, Feb. 27 - Ft. Lauderdale, FL

After breakfast at the hotel we caught an 11:00 shuttle to the pier.  Actually we lucked out.  The clerk had told Linda upon check-in that shuttles were at 11, 12, and 1.  Linda had chosen 12, which I later changed to 11.  I was waiting outside shortly before 11 and the driver asked where I was going.  It turned out the shuttles were REALLY at 9, 10 and 11 and, worse, no one had told him about our reservation so they were not planning a 11:00 run!  We had to detour a bit to drop some folks off for shopping but still had little trouble until we were very close to the ship, where traffic was snarled. We heard later that many people were tied up for a very long time getting onto the pier so we must have timed it just right.

Our Princess Platinum status got us past a lot of the hassle but we still had to get into the long line to board the ship itself.  Even with all that, however, we were aboard by 12:20 and had lunch in the dining room.  We explored a bit and by the time we got back to our room, the bags had arrived.  They were unpacked by the time we went to the %$#&@ emergency drill.

There was a reception for Platinum- and Elite-status passengers in the Skywalker lounge at 5:00 but we arrived there early to read as the ship left Ft. Lauderdale.

We had fixed seating for dinner with 6 very nice people; Marilyn and Paul from San Jose, CA; Tom and Doris from Chaddsford, PA; and Johnny and Carol from Reno, NV.  Conversation was great and it was almost 10:30 when we left the table.  After a quick stop at the Wheelhouse Bar, we headed for the room.  I worked a bit and got to bed at 12:30 after setting the clocks ahead to Atlantic time.

Friday, Feb. 28 - At Sea - Noon pos'n 20° 39'N, 76°43'W

I woke at 7:40 but rolled over, knowing that Linda would want to sleep.  Allan, our steward, knocked on the door to see if we were alive at 9:40!  We'd hoped to eat in the dining room but it closes at 9:00 so we were stuck with the mobs in the Horizon Court.  I think all the food had been sitting out since they opened.  It was absolutely terrible and the last time we would eat there!

The pool area was, of course, a zoo and, since so many ignorant people had left belongings on seats to reserve them while they went elsewhere, there was nowhere to sit.  Fortunately we have a huge balcony so I sat here until lunch in the DaVinci dining room.  Nice table group again.  One of the guys was from India and he recommended we check out "Palace On Wheels" for a luxury train trip.  Also recommended the book, "Shadow of the Moon."  I got onto the Internet for some e-mail, wrote my journal and worked a bit.

Danced a bit to a not-so-hot DJ in the Explorer Lounge, retreated to the Skywalker for the nightly Platinum/Elite party, and then to the Wheelhouse to dance.  After dinner it was a short stay in the Wheelhouse and then bed.

Saturday, March 1 -At Sea - Noon pos'n 16° 22'N, 73°12'W

We had set the alarm for 7:30 so we could have breakfast in the DaVinci. Among the folks at our table were Graham and Maureen from Cambridge, UK.  We immediately hit it off and ended up talking in the hallway afterwards and, as they are devoted Anglicans and we Episcopalians, we agreed to try to find a church in Aruba.  Accordingly, Graham and I stopped at passenger services and, as luck would have it, the agent was from Wales.  It took a long time but eventually we got the info and agreed to meet for drinks at 6:00 in the Skywalker and again at 9:30 AM at the desk for the 10:00 church service.  Hung out in the room for the short time until the pub lunch in the Wheelhouse and again for the afternoon.

At 3:00 we attended the "Maitre 'd Wine Tasting" but it was a disaster.  At $25 per person, I cannot understand why so many people come and then talk through the whole thing so no one can hear the program.  If all you want is the wine, there are cheaper ways of getting it.  Maybe these idiots want to go home and brag to their friends that they went to a wine tasting but it's obvious they are simply ignorant.

Dress code was black tie for dinner.  Had a nice visit with Graham and Maureen in the Skywalker until they went off to dinner and we went to the Wheelhouse where we sat with Johnny and Carol.  After a very nice dinner we spent only a short time in the Wheelhouse.

Sunday, March 2 - Oranjestad, Aruba

Breakfast was delivered promptly at 8:00 and we enjoyed it on the balcony before meeting Graham & Maureen.  It was a bit of a walk to the church but, believe it or not, it was CLOSED.  We learned that the Catholic church had had only one mass because of the Mardi Gras celebration but this one looked like no one had been there for a while.  Disappointed, we walked around more than we should have and by the time we got back on the ship, Linda had a huge blister.  Since so many were ashore, I was able to find a spot in the shade by the pool. Linda joined me there for lunch from the grill and I spent the afternoon there.  I considered going back into town for the Mardi Gras parade but I detest crowds ao contented myself with watching from the ship.

Sat with Johnny and Carol in the Skywalker before dinner.  After dinner, we headed straight for the room.

Monday, March 3 - Kralendijk, Bonaire

Breakfast was delivered promptly at 7:30 and shortly thereafter we were on the pier.  I had hoped to do some snorkeling so had my mask and fins with me.  We stopped at a canopy with "Taxi" on it to inquire.  There were some other folks there as well and "Spice Beach" was recommended so we started off together.  However, as Linda was climbing into the van, she gripped the door post just as the guy in the front seat slammed his door on her hand.  She insisted she was OK but as we started off the driver said something about Spice Beach not being great for snorkeling so we got out and walked back to the ship.  By this time Linda realized that her ring had been crushed and her finger was swelling. She had a hell of a time getting the ring off.  She was really stressed so we returned to the ship to relax a bit. After a while, we set off again and walked around the small town, eventually stopping at a hut on the pier for a drink.  Walked some more, returned to the ship and I again found a spot in the shade by the pool.  About noon Lin joined me for lunch and we spend a few hours there but came down to the room when the crowds returned.

There was no Platinum party nor dancing in the normal venues probably because of a captain's reception in the Fusion.  We attended for lack of better alternatives and sat with Marilyn and Paul.  The bar waiter know them well so brought us each THREE drinks.  Dancing was pretty good.

We went to the room after dinner and I read on the balcony for a bit.

Tuesday, March 4 - St. George's, Grenada

We'd set the alarm for 7:30 but I was up and reading before 7:00.  Breakfast was in the DaVinci with a couple from Toronto and another from Oshkosh.  Chilled in the room and on the balcony and actually slept a bit before docking at noon. 

Once off the ship we headed for the Carenage for lunch.  We'd eaten before at "Nutmeg" but this time Linda wasn't thrilled about it so we settled on "Sails" right on the water.  Reportedly, this was formerly the "Ocean Grill" but has been remodeled and renamed.  Location, ambiance, service and food were all excellent.  Lin had tuna that was described only as "fish".  I had excellent conch fritters.  The excellent semillion/sauvignon blanc blend from Santa Carolina was described only as "white wine."  The $126.50 price tag seemed a little high until we divided by the conversion of 2.65.  At that price it was worth every dime.

While we had gotten to the Carenage by walking over a over a steep hill, the waiter directed us through a tunnel, making the trek back to the ship much more manageable. Back on the ship we sat by the pool before dressing for drinks at the Skywalker and dancing to the orchestra in the Explorer.  Straight to the room after dinner; we are getting old!

Wednesday, March 5 - Roseau, Dominica

We were both already up when our room service breakfast was delivered at 8:30.  Lin had not slept well so she took a nap and I chatted over the railing with the guy in the next room.

Dominica was great!  Roseau is a quaint town that has not yet been spoiled.  We hooked up with a taxi driver, Michael, who quoted us $100US for 2 hours.  Michael was fantastic.  Of course, at the stops at the waterfall and the geothermal springs we met with hoards from tours but otherwise it was just the three of us and Michael was informative and very friendly.  He extended the time a bit and in the end I gave him $120, for which he was very thankful.  He suggested we eat at Pearl's and, happily, most of the patrons were locals.  After a very nice lunch we walked around quite a bit before returning to the ship.  The pool deck wasn't terribly crowded so we got some quality time there. 

Evening was the same as previous ones.

Thursday, March 6 - Charlotte Amaile, St. Thomas

Breakfast was in the dining room and service was abysmal.  They claimed it was because of ongoing US Public Health Service inspections.  From my experience in the foodservice industry I know that the USPHS can be terribly demanding so I suspect they were being truthful. 

On all previous visits to St. Thomas, we had docked at Havensight, east of town.  This time we were docked west of town, not far from the airport. Once again, we gave the hoards a bit of a head start but there was still a line to get a shuttle to town.  The line moved quickly, though, and we were soon in town and very soon thereafter at Bobby's Jewelers.  It took quite a while but Lin chose a few small trinkets.  We had to wait while they procured a rose gold chain so said we'd go for lunch.  Mike, the nephew of the late Bobby, recommended Gladys' Café and walked us to it.  Linda had a Mahi Mahi sandwich and I had jerk chicken dinner.  The waitress, Pauline, was a rip; she obviously enjoyed her job.  We talked to some folks who are camping on Water Island.  I think we may go there when we return in 10 days.

Back at Bobby's, I bought a ring that needed to be sized so we had to wait once again.  Fortunately, we caught a shuttle right outside and were soon at the dock and onboard shortly thereafter.  By this time the pool was a zoo so we hung in the room before going to the Skywalker.  Came across and had a drink with Graham and Maureen who had disappeared for several days.  After a little dancing in the Wheelhouse with John and Carol, it was dinner and bed.

Friday, March 7 - At Sea - Noon pos'n 20° 34'N, 71° 9'W

Set the alarm for 7:30 again had had breakfast in the DaVinci, then hung in the room, having room service lunch.  At 12:30 we met our dinner tablemates in the Crown Grill for a card game called "14"; really a version of Gin Rummy.  At 3:00 we went to another wine tasting.  Manuel, our head waiter had promised us a good table where we would not be bothered by people talking but it was hopeless. Jamais encore; never again! Afterwards, returned to the room to work and write.

Hung in room, drinks at Skywalker with Marilyn & Paul, dancing in Fusions with Accent; (not bad) and bed after dinner.

Saturday, March 8 - At Sea - Noon pos'n 24° 55'N, 76° 0'W

I was up at 8:00 and Lin at 8:30 and we rushed down for breakfast in the DaVinci.  We were supposed to have the day at Princess Cay but as we were eating, the captain announced that sea was too rough for tender operations. He said he'd re-evaluate in 30-45 minutes but came back on to say we were weighing anchor and heading for Ft. Lauderdale. 

We had thought we'd have the ship to ourselves and some elbow room at the pool but, of course, it was not to be.  Linda also figured it would be a good day to do the laundry but the laundromat was jammed, too.  Had lunch in DaVinci and met the gang in the Crown Grill at 2:00 for cards. 

Same evening routine.

Sunday, March 9 - Ft. Lauderdale

The end of the cruise for many, this was a just turn-around day for us.  We were up at 7:00 and had breakfast in the Botticelli, as DaVinci was being used as a debarkation lounge.  Though we were not leaving the ship, we still had to get off and go through immigration.  Why this is necessary for people who are not setting foot on land is known only to the folks who wrote the law.  As pre-arranged, I met John and Carol at the purser's desk at 10:00 to walk to Total Wines.  Since it would be quite a walk, Linda opted to do the ICE formalities as part of an escorted group.  We got to Total Wines by 10:30 only to learn that alcohol cannot be sold before noon on Sunday so we did some other shopping and only had to stand in front of the store for about 10 minutes before it opened.  Total Wines is like Disneyland for someone who has to buy wine from a state store.

I got back aboard at 1:00 while Lin had re-boarded at noon.  Since the dining room was closed and we were not about to brave the hoards at the buffet we had some very nice quiche in the International Café. 

There were no fewer than 8 ships in port, one of which was Eurodam, which we will board in July, so we went on deck to have a look at that, then snagged some chairs by the pool.  Fortunately, we did not have to attend the emergency drill but before it was over we returned to the room to dress for the evening.  Went to Skywalker early to be there for the sailing. and were eventually joined by John and Carol and later by Maureen and Graham. 

We'd made 8:00 reservations in the Crown Grill and had a great dinner; veal chops for both of us.  The waiter was great. Straight to the room after dinner but I read on the balcony for a bit before giving up.

Monday, March 10 - At Sea -  - Noon pos'n 24° 30'N, 74° 8'W

Woke at 8:30 and read on the balcony.  Lin ordered room service and we hung out until lunch in DaVinci.  Met the gang, now nicely supplemented by Maureen and Graham, for cards in the Crown Grill, then dressed and met all but Tom & Doris for drinks in the Skywalker.  For the second night in a row we carefully watched the sun set over a clear horizon but this time we DID see the green flash!!!  That's the second time I've seen it; the first was in Papeete.  Went directly from there to dinner and then to the room.  I read on the balcony again.

Tuesday, March 11 - At Sea - Noon pos'n 20° 28'N, 66° 59'W

I was up at 7:45 and Lin shortly thereafter so breakfast was in the DaVinci.  Back in the room, I read for a while, then worked while Lin did some shopping.  Lunch in DaVinci, then read on the balcony for a bit before going to the Crown Grill for cards.  Carol wasn't feeling well, Paul and Marilyn were AWOL and Tom left for the wine tasting after a few hands.  I was the all-time loser.  Graham won and I presented him with one of the medals John had presented us.  Hung in the room, mostly reading before dressing for black tie dinner.  Maureen, Graham, Carol, John, Marilyn and Paul were with us in the Skywalker.  Beautiful sunset again but I didn't see the green flash though Linda thought she did.  Sat for a bit in the Wheelhouse before dinner but didn't dance.  Bed after dinner.

Wednesday, March 12 - St. John's, Antigua

Slept in and had room service breakfast on the balcony.  Having been in Antigua before, we had neither agenda nor urgency. There were virtually no people at the pool so I read there for a while as Lin relaxed in the room.  We walked into town a bit but it was hot and it wasn't yet time for lunch so we retreated to the pool until lunchtime.

John and Carol had described excellent nachos at a restaurant with a balcony but could not remember its name.  I misunderstood the location and thought it might be the Harbor View Café right near the ship but, after waiting ages for the nachos to arrive, they were only tortilla chips with a bowl of salsa and sour cream!  We ate quickly and, after buying a few shirts and looking at other lunch options, ended up at Café Napoleon, where we'd eaten lunch 3 years ago.  Lin had Mahi-Mahi that she enjoyed.  I had an Antiguan sampler platter that was great. We returned to the ship and I was shocked to find empty the same chairs we 'd left earlier so sat there for quite a while before returning to the room.  Only Carol and John showed up in the Skywalker and they had dinner in the crab shack.

Thursday, March 13 - Castries, St. Lucia

I was up shortly after 7 and read until Lin got up.  Breakfast was once again on the balcony.  The mobs of people climbing onto catamarans was amazing; they were like sardines and we were glad not to be among them!

It was relatively cool so we just hung out until about 11:30 when we started our walk to Castries for what we hoped would be lunch in a nice restaurant.  We'd spent a week near Castries many years ago but I'd forgotten how seedy the town is. Walked the marketplaces a bit but gave up on finding a nice restaurant and grabbed a cab back to the ship and had cheeseburgers by the pool.  Lin stayed just a little while but I spend most of the afternoon there. 

Evening was groundhog day.

Friday, March 14 - Bridgetown, Barbados

Woke around 8 and had breakfast at 9:00.  Hung around for a bit, then headed into Bridgetown.  We were docked in a distant pier and chose to take the shuttle to the terminal and then another to town.  Bridgetown was a LOT bigger than either of us remembered from our 1990 trip, though the age of most of the buildings indicated that they must have been here at that time.  Very strange!  Walked around a bit before having lunch on the balcony of Ryanne's on Bond Street.  I had flying fish and Linda Mahi-Mahi.  Back on the ship, I found my typical spot by the pool and Lin stayed in the room.  A strange thing happened as we were leaving port; rather than rely only on thrusters, a large tug pushed our stern around.  At the time, we could not understand why but we were soon to learn.

The evening was a little different, thank God.  There was no Skywalker reception because of a captain's reception in Café Fusion so we attended that and sat with Carol, John, Marilyn and Paul.  Afterwards, Lin and I had dinner in the Crown Grill.  I had strip steak and Lin had filet. Both were excellent.  Bed afterwards.

Saturday, March 15 - Basseterre, St. Kitts

We'd agreed to meet Carol and John at the pursers desk at 10:00 to share a cab for a private tour.  We set the alarm for 8:30 and ordered breakfast for 9:00.  I was up about 7:00 and read on the balcony.  Before we even got to St. Kitts the captain announced that "technical issues" would prevent our docking at St. Kitts and we'd have to use tenders.  That certainly explained the use of the tug in Bridgetown.  Ugh, I hate tenders!  In any case, Carol and John have Princess Elite status that allows them priority on the tender and they were able to drag us along so we experienced no delay. 

On shore we hired a driver, "Bobby", to give us a tour.  As we were closing the deal, Graham and Maureen happened along and we invited them to join us but they declined.  Bobby drove is clockwise around the large part of the island and it was about 1:00 when we returned.  The island is unspoiled and we enjoyed the trip. Bobby stopped once at a batik factory in a beautiful setting and I bought 2 ties.  He also stopped at a tiny marketplace near a beach where one guy was trying really hard to push a monkey on us so he could charge us for photos.  Carol somehow got the monkey and it bit her.  Fortunately it did not break skin or the day would have been a disaster.  Bobby's quoted price for the tour was $100US total but we cheerfully gave $120.

Carol and John wanted to return to the ship for lunch but, based on Bobby's recommendation, Lin and I departed the dock area and ate on the balcony at the Circus Grill.  Lin had flying fish burger and I conch roti, which was essentially a curried conch wrap.  There was a nice cool breeze on the balcony but by the time we walked around a little we were hot and tired so were back on the ship and taking a nap by about 3:00.

I worked a bit and then tried without success to log onto the Internet to check times for church services in St. Thomas but the connection was down.  At 6:00 we met Graham & Maureen in the Skywalker to discuss plans for church.  Carol and John joined us as well.  The captain came on the PA to say their attempts to repair the thrusters had failed so we'd be using tenders again in St. Thomas.  Ugh! When the others left the lounge, Lin and I remained behind for a while to break the groundhog day cycle, then stuck our heads in to see a bit of the show before dinner.  To bed after dinner.  I was successful in connecting and learned that services at the Episcopal cathedral in Charlotte Amalie would be at 11:00.

Sunday, March 16 - Charlotte Amaile, St. Thomas

The alarm went off at 7:00 and breakfast was delivered at 7:30.  I'd called Maureen to say we'd meet them at 9 rather than 8:30.  I again worked for a while before meeting them as planned.  We went down the mid-ship elevators but were then told we should be at the forward ones.  Some people said that's just been sent FROM the forward station so, after a call, the attendant led us through a crew-only area to the forward station where we boarded an absolutely huge local tender.  It took forever to fill and longer still to unload but at least we were in Charlotte Amalie, not at one of the ship piers.

On shore, we got directions to All Saints cathedral, which was a short walk away. The Internet said services were at 11:00 so, arriving at about 9:55, we figured we'd have a long wait.  Fortunately for us, the Internet was wrong; church started at 10:00 and we were just in time.  Between a baptism, a rather long sermon and announcements that went on forever, it was noon when we got out!  We were, however, warmly welcomed and even passed a microphone to introduce ourselves.  There was a large crowd (maybe 150) and we were 4 of only 8 white people there.  As we were walking down the street, a woman stopped her car to thank us for coming and, though he'd welcomed us during the peace and again as we left the church, as we were sheltering from the sudden rain in his open garage, he stopped to thank us yet again.

The rain let up but as we walked back to town it started raining in earnest so we ducked first into Gold Mine and then into Bobby's.  I was shocked that Mike remembered us and the jewelry we'd bought 10 days earlier.  He, of course, tried to sell me another ring. These folks are sales professionals in the extreme. In the meantime, Maureen, who had remarked in Gold Mine that the shop owners must like the rain because it drives people into the shops, thereby spurring impulse sales, found herself standing in front of watches and buying one!

Once again we ate at Gladys' Café, this time the four of us.  At the harbor, we delayed until the big blue boat departed and took a ship's tender.  When we boarded the ship, people were still departing from the blue boat!

Met the gang in the Skywalker, then wandered around before dinner.

Monday, March 17 - At Sea - Noon pos'n 20° 32'N, 71° 8'W

We slept in and, for a bit of a change, had breakfast in the International Café.  The croissants were excellent and the only requirement is that you pay for coffee or tea.  By prior arrangement, Graham and Maureen came to the room at 10:00 to see my Kindle.  In the end, Graham said he'll be buying one when they get home.  We stayed on the balcony chatting until lunchtime.  I suggested we go to the dining room but Graham said the room-service chili was excellent so he wanted to retire to their balcony to have it one more time.  After they left, we decided to do the same thing and he was right; it was superb; chunks of meat, not ground.

At 2:00 the gang met for another game of 14 with Maureen the winner.  With great ceremony, I presented her with the remaining medal.

All but Tom and Doris met at the Skywalker, Graham and Maureen wearing their medals and big smiles.

Accent was playing in Club Fusion and this was one of their bad nights so we retreated to the room to check e-mail before dinner.

Tuesday, March 18 - At Sea - Noon pos'n 25° 11'N, 76° 2'W

We awoke to the announcement that once again we would be prevented from visiting Princess Cays by weather conditions.  The captain said swells in the channel were 2.5-3 meters and, of course tender operations would not be possible.  Once Linda had things going in the Laundromat, we had breakfast on the balcony, then started the sad job of packing.  

After lunch in DaVinci, we played the last game of 14 with Maureen winning yet again.  Graham and I tied for high (i.e. worst) score.  Back in the room we did the paperwork for departure and I caught up my journal.

After doing a bit more packing we dressed for dinner, put out the bags and met the gang in the Skywalker.  Tom and Doris were again AWOL.  Our favorite bar waiter, Francis, (from India) asked for a photo with all of us for his Facebook page and promised to e-mail me a copy.  I've yet to receive it, though.  It was especially painful to say good bye to Graham and Maureen, truly kindred spirits with us.  After dancing a bit in the Wheelhouse, we had our final dinner together.  It's always hard to say good bye and especially so with these nice folks.  Got back to the room about 10:30.

Wednesday, March 19 - Ft. Lauderdale - Port Charlotte, FL

Awoke to the alarm at 6:00 and had breakfast in Botticelli.  We were scheduled to leave the ship at 8:00 so just before 8 we went to the Platinum departure lounge in the Michelangelo.   We were off the ship by 8:35, called the driver and were at our car by 9:30 for $39.00.  Unfortunately, as I attempted to pick up our largest suitcase my back snapped and I was frozen in place with excruciating pain.  Just as I sent Lin to get a bellman to put the bags in the car a nice young couple stopped to see if I needed help.  They cheerfully handled the bags and we were on our way with me still in great pain. To make things a little worse, I had a tire at 24 psi so pumped it up, crossed my fingers and headed across Alligator Alley, all the while watching the pressure readout on my panel. 

Called a client about scheduling a training program but had to leave message. Talked to another client who is on a tight schedule for a lawsuit and wants me as a tech expert.  I quoted a price and he accepted. The good news is that I can make some money as we drive home; the bad is that it'll add a level of stress.

Got a call from our oldest son, Don, and talked for a long time.  Also called my friend Bob Hawk to see if he wanted to have lunch and found he was in Dunmore, PA, not Coral Gables. 

Tried many places for a hotel on the beach but struck out due to spring break.  Stopped for lunch at Hurricane Grill north of Bonita Springs and for the night at a Holiday Express at Port Charlotte. I started on my work for the lawsuit.  Exhausted, we just grabbed dinner at Applebee's across the street.  I spend the rest of the evening working.

Thursday, March 20 - Port Charlotte - Port Richie, FL

Did some work before setting off at about 10 with Lin driving so I could work.  After a conference call I took over driving. Drove to St. Petersburg and up along the beach but struck out everywhere. 

Got to Oldsmar to visit my former college, Martin, took him to lunch and set out again, hoping for a room in Tarpon Springs.  Struck out even at that and ended at Holiday Express in Port Richie.

We decided to brave the traffic and head south to Tarpon Springs.  Made reservations at Hellas and discovered the traffic was much lighter than it had been when we were northbound. Hellas was jammed and very loud but the food and service were great.

I worked for almost 2 hours before turning in.

Friday, March 21 - Port Richie, FL - Hilton Head, SC

Breakfast at the hotel was a bust; so crowded that we had to take our plates back to the room.  As we headed northeast, we took a lot of back roads but also I-75 and I-95.  Traffic was heavier than I'd expected.  On I-75, Lin drove while I made another conference call.  Our youngest son, Eric, called and we talked for over 90 minutes! 

Given that I still had a lot of work to do and damned little time to do it, it seemed prudent to hole up for the weekend. Lin called ahead and we were surprised to get reservations for 2 nights at the Marriott on Hilton Head Island.  Arrived about 5:30 and had dinner in the hotel restaurant since we were too whipped to go out.  I, of course, worked all evening.

Saturday, March 22 - Hilton Head, SC

I was up at about 8:00 and worked some more before breakfast in the Café.  It was expensive but the first good omelet I'd had in a month! Worked for a while and about noon set out to explore a bit.  Ate lunch at the Quarterdeck at Harbor Point.  It started to rain a bit and was cool enough to require a jacket.  I, of course, worked some more, then took a nap before dinner at Alexander's where we had eaten with Mom and Dad when we were here for Abby's wedding.  I had shrimp and andouille with grits.  Except for the grits, it was outstanding.  For a change, I didn't work after dinner and went to bed around 10.

Sunday, March 23 - Hilton Head, SC

Woke around 8 and had breakfast in the Café.  Worked long enough to exhaust the backlog, sent a message to request a delay in the telecon and headed for the pool.  Loafed there through alternating clouds and sun until lunch, then had lunch by the pool as well.  I had asked that we postpone the 2:30 telecon so returned to the room to prepare for the call at 3:30. The call was a quick one but I then received more files to review so did that before retiring to the balcony to read.

Dinner was at Ela's in Shelter Cove.  Very good  but a bit loud for my taste.
Decided not to work again tonight and got to bed a bit after 10.

Monday, March 24 - Hilton Head, SC - Wilmington, NC

I was up at 7:00 and exhausted my backlog of files to review before Lin got up. Got out of the hotel around 9:00 grabbed breakfast at IHop, then headed north on I-95.  We'd planned on seeing the USS North Carolina the following morning but got to Wilmington at 3:30 so did it then.  Lin wisely waited while I took the tour.  The ship is huge and the self-guided tour absolutely fantastic.  It took me the full 90 minutes available to me to take the tour and, in fact, I was hustling for the last 15 minutes.  It was hard going, though, and Lin would have been in trouble.

We took a room in the Hampton Inn just outside of Wilmington and had a nice dinner at Hiro Japanese Steak House across the way, having a nice conversation with our table-mates.

Did more work, watched a little TV, then hit the rack.

Tuesday, March 25 - Wilmington, NC - Warrenton, VA

I slept poorly and was up at 7:00 to do work for two clients.  We set out at about 10 as usual after breakfast at the hotel.  As predicted, it was a rainy day and it rained pretty hard for a while.  After an hour or so we ran out of it but then in and out for most of the day.  We eventually decided to go for Warrenton but called before we got to Fredericksburg so we could use that as an alternate if Warrenton was booked.  While we were on US17 the snow began and it was snowing hard for the last 5-10 miles before the Hampton in Warrenton so I was glad we'd decided to stop.  Had a teleconference that was quite short as we wrap up this part of the project.

We had a nice dinner at Claire's at the Depot where we say by a window looking at the ground covered by a strange white substance that we had not seen in over a month. Reality returns! We were in bed early; about 9:30!

Wednesday, March 26 - Warrenton, VA - Home

Woke at 7:00 to a sunny sky. For a change we got away a tad early; shortly after 9:30.  As planned, we joined I-81 at Front Royal and all went well until got to Martinsburg, WV and saw a sign that warned of an accident ahead.  Things look clear and we actually passed a couple of exits until we came to the mess.  Fortunately, we were right at an exit and were able to bail out.  Also fortunately, the ramp took me Northwest and away from US 11, which I know would have been jammed.  Eventually wound our way back to I-81 and it was STILL jammed so I did a quick u-turn and headed back for the boondocks.  We ended up on tiny roads but at least were moving.  By checking out Google maps on the smart phone I saw that the problem was apparently near Falling Waters so rejoined I-81 after passing into MD.  We probably lost an hour or so on that little adventure.  

It was mid-afternoon when we got back to town and went directly to St. Mary's to see my Dad.  It turned out that he was putting on a little program about the RC sailboat he had just finished and sailing in general.  He was just finishing up, though, so the detour cost us an opportunity to sit in.

Went to the Blue Shutters for dinner and that was the end of the trip.

The bottom line

While the itinerary wasn't terribly new for us, we really enjoyed this trip. By taking our time and driving to and from Florida, we were much more relaxed. The people we met, however, made the trip a special one.