Saturday, January 30, 2016

Florida and Caribbean

January: time for our winter escape.  We had enjoyed the Alaska cruise so much we decided to do another cruise, this time we headed to the Caribbean.  We flew to Fort Lauderdale on New Year’s Eve and spent New Year’s Day there.  We took a harbor cruise to see all the nice homes and boats along the New River and the Intercoastal Waterway.  Temperatures in the low 80s were a nice change from being in the 20s.  The next day we boarded the Holland America Westerdam for an Eastern Caribbean itinerary.  Our first port was Half Mon Cay in the Bahamas.  Half Moon Cay is a small private island owned by the cruise ship line.  It was a beautiful beach day with barbeque lunch under the cabanas. 
Then we sailed to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.  We took a shore excursion called “Peaks, Panoramas, Pirates and Plunder”.  It sounded better than it actually was, but first it got us to the top of the island to see some beautiful vistas.  The day was not quite as clear as I would have liked; I need a haze filter for my camera.  But it was beautiful nonetheless.  St. Thomas was a Danish colony until the U.S. bought it in 1917.  As a result, they follow the Danish custom of driving on the left side of the street even though the cars come from the US and are left side drive.  We were glad to not be driving up the narrow, winding road to the top of the mountain.  Then they took us to Blackbeard’s Castle on the hillside above the town.  A “pirate” there told us about Blackbeard’s history on the island and we got to climb up the tower on the property.  Then we walked down the “famous” 99 steps back to town where we spent the afternoon shopping in Charlotte Amalie.  We went inside a sandwich shop while we waited for the tour taxi back to the ship.  It was good timing, because it poured rain during the half hour we were there, then it stopped.  The ship had a nice barbeque buffet on the topside deck for our sail away that evening. 
The next day we docked at San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We spent the morning walking around Old Town, and walked all the way across the island to the old Spanish fort on the other side.  It is a really fascinating place; a World Heritage Site that was built in the late1500s and is now run by the National Park Service.  The walls extend from there making old San Juan a walled city.  As we walked back along the cobblestone streets through the town we passed the Governor’s Mansion and the Cathedral.  Another cool thing about San Juan are the iguana that were at the fort and in the parks we walked through.  We didn’t have enough time to see all we would have liked to, so now Puerto Rico is on our list of places we would like to visit again. 
We set sail in the early afternoon in order to arrive in the morning at Grand Turk.  We had booked a snorkeling excursion there.  It took us to two areas on the reefs that were full of fish and coral.  I think the fish were more abundant in areas we’ve snorkeled in Hawaii, but the coral and plant life were much more beautiful in Grand Turk.  It was a fun morning, followed by a pleasant afternoon at the beach.  It was the Columbus Landfall Beach, where Columbus arrived on his second voyage in 1493.  The ocean nearby is also where John Glenn splashed down after his first space flight, and there is a replica of his space capsule there.  We were certainly enjoying the warmth and sunshine of the beautiful beach.
The last day of the cruise was spent at sea and enjoying the ship life.  I went to a cooking class, a Windows 10 class, a steelpan class, and enjoyed the pool, walking the promenade, and the buffet.  Our favorite thing on the Westerdam was the BB King Blues Club, which we went to every night.  We went to some of the other shows (comedian, magician, etc), but the band at the blues club was amazing.
When we returned to Fort Lauderdale, we picked up a rental car and headed south to Miami Beach.  It’s a pretty area, but very crowded.  We drove through Coral Gables and stopped for lunch, drove out to Biscayne Bay National Park, and spent the night in Florida City.  The next day we drove down to the keys and made the 100 mile trek to Key West.  Parts of the drive are nice with views of the ocean and the gulf, but lots of it is just lined with bushes and trees.  At Key West we parked the car, had lunch and key lime pie, and then spent the day on foot.  We walked down the full length of Duvall Street, filled with shops, bars and restaurants, and ended up at the southernmost tip of the US where you’re just 90 miles from Cuba.  On the way back we went by Ernest Hemingway’s house and the Truman Winter White House.  There are a lot of neat buildings in Key West and we also saw several roosters wandering loose, a common thing there.  We stayed that night at a place on the beach at Key Largo.  The next morning we took a glass bottom boat out to the reef that is part of Pennekamp State Park, where we got good views of more fish and coral.  After a nice seafood lunch, we walked the trails in the state park.  The keys are a nice place for diving and snorkeling, but not so good for beaches.  We ended the day sitting on the small beach listening to the waves of the gulf.  It was cooler that day, but the next day was rainy as we headed to the Fort Lauderdale airport.  We got a laugh from the weather girl on the radio who said it was a freezing 64 degrees outside.  We arrived back in Salt Lake to our beautiful snow covered mountains and home where we do have freezing temps.  But its always nice to get home.
Fort Lauderdale harbor party

Half Moon Cay

Sunset over the Caribbean

St. Thomas, USVI

Blackbeard the pirate

Charlotte Amalie harbor, St. Thomas

Blackbeard's 99 steps

iguana in Puerto Rico

at La Fortelezza

Governor's mansion, Puerto Rico

Old Town, Puerto Rico

La Forteleza, Puerto Rico
beach at Grand Turk

snorkeling at Grand Turk

busy Miami Beach

driving through the Florida Keys

Truman Annex at Key West

Key West rooster

Key Largo

1 comment:

  1. Oh Renee, you describe everything in such beautiful detail and now I want to visit all of these places. I also want to go on a cruise ship! As a kid living in Ohio, we would make excursions to places like Florida and yes, we did visit Miami beach and the Florida Keys all the way to the end. The water was so blue! Saint Augustine was also on our list. I want to go there now! Thank you so much for posting these beautiful pictures and stories to match. You should put all of this in a book and give it as a gift to your kids. This was a treat, thank you so much! πŸ˜ŠπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ