Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bahamas cruise

Although we had a lot of fun on the Gulf Coast of Florida, our drive down the coast was really just a precursor for the end-of-October highlight: a cruise to the Bahamas! We would leave on October 27 from Miami for a four-night cruise, visiting three ports in the Bahamas.

But as we left the Everglades, we had two nights left before the beginning of our cruise, so we headed to Homestead, where we had booked a hotel. The hotel turned out to be a dive, a far cry from the inviting photos online – so much so that Sarah wrote a letter to the hotel to complain. But it was only for two nights, and we survived.

We had a quiet stay in Homestead. We went to the movie theater to see Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which was cute. And the next day, we went to Biscayne National Park for a picnic lunch. The park was basically a city park – we were joined by lots of groups of Miami-area locals picnicking and hanging out on a Sunday afternoon. A boombox was blasting Latin music while parents and kids tossed balls and snacked.

Monday finally came – the day of our cruise! We got to the cruise terminal right at noon, which was the earliest time we could board our ship, the Norwegian Sky. When we boarded, we were welcomed with champagne. We ate an enjoyable sit-down lunch in one of the ship’s restaurants while we waited for our room to be ready, and then with great anticipation, we went to our room. Although it was tiny, as expected, it was also bright and clean, with a comfortable bed and a TV showing CNN and Fox News so that we could track the final days of the presidential campaign. Particularly after the disappointing Homestead hotel, this was fantastic!

After relaxing in our room awhile, we went back up on deck. A cruise ship was just leaving from another terminal.

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The harbor was pretty, packed with boats and backed by the Miami cityscape.

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Here’s Sarah, enjoying the sunshine.

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And then within half an hour, we were moving! As we crawled out of the port, we got views of how the rich and famous live. This looked like a sweet boat:

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Another yacht, with oceanfront mansions behind it, with some palm trees to protect them from prying tourists:

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As we left the port, we passed Miami Beach.

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And then, just as we were about to enter the open sea, we passed a newlywed couple taking photos.

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Way out in the ocean, we passed this surfer, standing on his board and paddling.

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It wasn’t long before we were looking back on Miami to the west, and beyond the city was a gorgeous sunset!

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And then the sun was gone.

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We took each other’s photos in front of the sensational sky.

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If anything, the sky just got prettier after the sun had set.

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We spied the other cruise ship that had left Miami ahead of us, also making its way to the Bahamas.

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As the sun dropped further below the horizon, the clouds burned a brighter and brighter orange.

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On the deck of the ship, a few other people were also starting off their cruise by enjoying the sun’s last light.

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That night, we sat down for dinner with two other couples. The guy sitting next to Sarah was born in Italy and lived in Africa, and Sarah had a great time talking to him. After dinner, we went to the opening-night cruise show, which was a sampler of the attractions to come. The Broadway-style singers and dancers performed a couple of songs, and the cruise’s comedian/magician did a short show. The cruise director was a little bit lame, but we enjoyed the other acts.

The next morning, we got up early, ate the breakfast buffet, and watched as our ship pulled into Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, our first stop in the Bahamas!

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Freeport is a very industrial port with not a lot to do right near the port, so we decided to book a shore excursion for this day. A bus took us to Port Lucaya, where we boarded a catamaran for snorkeling! The seas were a bit choppy, but it was another bright sunny day!

After a short ride out to sea, the crew dropped anchor and told us we could jump in. The seas were so choppy that they made us all wear life vests. Almost immediately, we were looking at coral and brightly colored tropical fish below us. We got so caught up in admiring the fish and following them around that we got too far away, and one of the crew had to swim out and tell us to come back closer to the boat. There was lots of fish action close to the boat, too, in part because the crew threw food into the water to attract the fish.

After a long while of snorkeling, Sarah was cold and finally got out. She shivered violently for a while in the breeze before finally warming up a bit. Brian stayed in for the full 1.5 hours and wound up being the last person out of the water. It was a wonderful excursion!

The catamaran had a water slide that dropped straight into the water, but we were so busy watching the fish that we never used it. The boat also had a climbing wall, though, and on the trip back to shore, Sarah tackled it.

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The other passengers, many older, were amazed at her climbing prowess. Here she is, basking in her newfound climbing celebrity, and just a bit wind-blown.

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When we got back to our ship, we admired its cheerful paint job.

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We took one more photo of the industrial port area before heading back to our stateroom.

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In our room, Miss Potter, with Renee Zellweger, was playing, and we had to watch, since it brought back good memories of Beatrix Potter’s children’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, for Sarah. After that, we had another nice sit-down dinner before heading to the theater for a Broadway-style show. We were lucky to get seats just a couple rows from the stage for what turned out to be a great show. The Broadway group was really talented – great singing and dancing, lots of enthusiasm, and mostly in sync. They performed songs from a variety of different musicals, including a few from Mama Mia.

On our second full day of the cruise, we were in port at Nassau. The morning started out a bit cloudy, but it was good weather for walking around. Unlike Freeport, the Nassau port is close to town and there is a lot to see within walking distance.

We got off the ship and walked down the pier, dodging the myriad ship photographers who wanted to take our picture with a person in a parrot costume, under a Bahamas sign, in front of the ship, etc. They sure are persistent.

Looking back, here’s our ship, docked in its home port.

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We strolled down Bay Street, a major shopping center, and admired the brightly colored buildings and alleys. It was still early, not even 9 am, so the streets were nearly deserted.

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We were looking for the straw market, where locals sell their wares, but nearly missed it because it was further down Bay Street than our guidebook indicated. The market burned down several years ago and is now located under a huge tent. There were dozens of vendors with tiny stalls and tons of goods packed under the roof. Some of the vendors weren’t at work yet and their stalls remained covered in tarps. Bags and purses were popular items for sale, as well as lots of touristy trinkets.

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We were practically the only tourists in the market. It was hard to imagine maneuvering through the aisles when the place would be filled up with people later in the day.

Right next door was SeƱor Frog’s.

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From there, we continued our walking tour. We found that drivers were quite pedestrian friendly. One actually stopped so that Brian could take this photo of the Government House without having a car in the picture.

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Our next stop was the Central Bank of the Bahamas. The lobby area housed a fairly sizeable collection of paintings by several local artists.

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Next door, was the Balcony House Museum, which is also run by the Central Bank of the Bahamas.

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There, we were given a tour of the house. The house is noteworthy for being the oldest wooden structure in the Bahamas, dating from the 18th century. The house was eclectically decorated from different time periods when it was lived in and included a number of features that were salvaged from wrecked ships, including a beautiful mahogany staircase.

Moving along, we passed the library.

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We aren’t sure what this building was, but the red shutters were eye-catching.

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Finally, we reached the Queen’s Staircase.

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The 65 stairs are carved out of solid limestone and were named in honor of Queen Victoria’s 65-year reign. The staircase originally served as a quicker route to Fort Fincastle, which was located on the highest part of the island and was used as a lookout.

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The views from the top were indeed expansive. Among other things, we could see our ship in the port.

There was another straw market at the base of the fort.

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From here, we resumed our walk, planning to cross the bridge to Paradise Island and see the Atlantis resort.

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Before crossing the bridge, we stopped at Potter’s Cay (pronounced, unintuitively enough, “key”) under the bridge. There we got a look at the third-biggest industry in the area – fishing (the first two are banking and tourism).

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Brightly colored market stalls filled the spaces under the bridge, though many of the stalls sat empty.

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Conch seemed to be the primary catch this time of year.

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The fishermen were very friendly, even though we weren’t interested in buying their fish. This man spent a long time telling us about fishing conchs.

The fishermen dive down to remove the conchs off the bottom of the sea. In the past, some fishermen have dumped the shells overboard where they fished, and that created problems with the conch population because the conchs will not re-inhabit an area strewn with previously used shells.

Another fisherman invited us onto his boat to see the fish stored in the hold below the boat. The entire bottom of the boat was used to store fish and had holes to allow water to circulate.

We took some more pictures of the harbor and then continued along.

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We backtracked to one of the bridges and crossed over to Paradise Island, home of the Atlantis resort. From the middle of the bridge, it was easy to get a sense of the enormity of Atlantis.

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This is the original Atlantis building. The brightly colored buildings in the foreground are also accommodations associated with the Atlantis resort.

Up closer, here’s the main Atlantis building, the Royal Towers.

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Inside, we passed through a huge casino to get to the Great Hall of Waters, where we could see the Ruins Lagoon. We opted to view just the free portion of the aquarium instead of paying $36 each to see the whole thing. The lagoon was fascinating. The best part was the two manta rays.

There were a number of other fish as well.

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After spending about a half hour watching the fish, we skipped the upscale shopping and exited the building, hoping to walk around the outdoor lagoons. As it turns out, most of the outside area was off-limits unless you are staying at the hotel or willing to pay $65 to use the pools and beach or $150 to use the water park. We decided to pass.

Right next to the resort was a public beach, Cabbage Beach. It took some walking to get there since the resort itself is so large, but we weren’t disappointed. The sand was bright and clean, there were enormous waves crashing, and it wasn’t too crowded.

Sarah enjoys lounging on the sand.

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Here’s Brian nearly being swallowed by a wave even though he’s only about 10 feet from the edge of the water.

For as few people as there were on the beach, there was no shortage of people trying to sell us drinks in coconuts or offering to braid Sarah’s hair.

We hung out and enjoyed the beach for a couple of hours before heading back to the ship.

We’d done a lot of walking in the morning, so instead of walking back, we took the water taxi from Paradise Island back to the main island and the cruise ship terminal.

We spent the rest of the day just hanging out on the ship – using the exercise room, enjoying another sit-down dinner, and watching the comedy show of the evening. We were surprised to see that we were still in port in the evening but later discovered that the ship had stayed late in port for maintenance. We could have gotten back off the ship to take advantage of the local nightlife, but we decided to pass.

We spent the final full day of our cruise at Great Stirrup Cay. Great Stirrup Cay is a private island owned by Norwegian.

The cruise ship anchored off the island, and we were taken over to the island on a tender boat.

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The island had a large beach on a lagoon that was set up with beach chairs and umbrellas. There were also numerous picnic tables and hammocks, volleyball, ping pong, and a small straw market.

We took the first tender boat of the morning, so the beach was pleasantly quiet when we arrived and stayed that way for a couple of hours. We lounged in the chairs reading for a while, played some ping pong, and enjoyed the hammocks. Eventually, the beach started to fill up. About this time, a band started playing and they fed us a barbecue on the beach.

After lunch, we took a stroll to the other side of the island where there is a lighthouse and a small, hard-to-find beach. There were only a couple other people on the beach. We finally started back to the main beach area, planning to go for a swim.

By the time we got back, they were loading people onto tender boats to evacuate the island early because the water had gotten so choppy. We were a little disappointed, but since we’d come over early we did get quite a bit of time on the island. Apparently a couple of years ago, a number of cruise ship passengers got stranded overnight on a nearby island when the seas became too rough to get them back to the cruise ship. That sounded like not much fun.

Back on the boat, we enjoyed dinner looking back on the island. As we sailed away, we could see lightning in the distance.

That evening, we watched the final Broadway-style dance show before calling it a night.

Friday morning, we were back in Miami. We took our time eating breakfast and getting off the ship. When we did finally get off, we noticed some oddly dressed port employees. It took us a few minutes to realize it was Halloween. We’d completely forgotten.

Next, we’d start our journey up the east coast.

1 comment:

Semen Rendi said...
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