After the year we have had, we decided to reward ourselves with a celebration of life. There's nothing like a cruise in the Caribbean to make you feel special.
We left our rig in
Nov. 18 and drove the car to Tennessee
to spend Thanksgiving with Darin and Diane.
We stopped the first night in Van Horn, TX and spent the next night at Chris and Dayna’s in . The next night was spent in Allen, TX Jackson,
MS and we arrived in
on the 21st. We had a nice
visit with Darin and Diane, and a very nice Thanksgiving. They are doing well and the house is working
out great for them. It’s a lovely wooded
area only a mile or so out of town, but it almost feels like a vacation home. Cleveland, TN
The afternoon before we were set to leave for our cruise, the car began running rough and missing. I took it to Autozone where they read the diagnostic codes for free. It said the most likely cause was a bad coil on one cylinder. I took it back to Darin’s where we verified that was the cause by swapping two coils, then I returned to Autozone and purchased and installed a new one. Problem fixed! Nothing like car problems when you need to drive 800 miles to catch a cruise in the next two days.
We left Darin and Diane’s home in
on Sunday morning, the 29th of November 2015, and drove south on
I-75 as far as where we spent the night. The following morning we drove into Gainesville,
FL Tampa and parked at the
cruise ship parking facility directly across from where our Royal Caribbean
Cruise Lines ship, The Vision of the Seas, was docked. After a relatively short and painless
boarding process we were on board.
For this cruise we chose an inside room at the lowest possible price. This is our fifth cruise and we have learned that you spend very little time in your cabin except to sleep and shower. The time we had a balcony was nice, but we didn’t’ spend as much time out there as we thought we would, and by choosing the least expensive room we could take two cruises for what one would cost us with a balcony. Outside the room there is no difference in what you can do, where you eat, and what activities are available to you. In fact, there is no way for anyone to know what deck or type of room you are in. Our room was admittedly small, but adequate. The two beds were arranged into one king size bed and there was plenty of room for all our clothes. The shower was quite small but worked great with plenty of hot water. When we wanted to know what it looked like outside we just turned on the flat screen TV on the wall and tuned to the channel with the bow mounted camera.
We sailed out of
about 4PM and it was dark before we left . We had the late dinner seating at 8PM and
found the two other couples were delightful company. We ate in the dining room every evening, and
could have had breakfast and lunch there as well, but chose to use one of the
other venues available for those meals.
The options for food was varied and usually well prepared. On night 9 I chose the lobster, but it was
rather small so I ordered another. The
amount of food available was limitless. Tampa Bay
The ship was completely booked but we noticed that the majority of the people were even older than we are. There were a large number of walkers, wheel chairs and mobility scooters. It turns out that the cruise line had made a special effort to fill the ship by going to some of the many retirement communities near
Tampa and offering special deep
discounts. I guess it is tough to fill a
ship between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Anyway, we felt like youngsters.
There were probably fewer than 100 people out of the 2300 passengers who
were under 50. While we are way past that age, we were still younger than most on the cruise.
Our first stop on our 10 night cruise was the next day in
We have been there several times so it was
nothing really new. The ship docked on
the Navy base because the cruise ship docks were full, so the cruise line
arranged for a tram system to take us directly to the center of downtown. That provided a free guided tour which was
nice. I had a bit of an upset stomach,
probably from eating a rich meal the night before, so we didn’t spend too much
time in town. We did tour the oldest
house in Key West, FL. Key West, but other than that we just
strolled down Duval Street
and observed all the tourists buying the usual souvenirs that are made in China and embossed with the words “ Key West” on them.
The next two days we were at sea as we steamed (just an expression – the ship has diesel engines) around the east end of
Cuba, south between Cuba
and Haiti, then into the Caribbean
Sea and south toward our real destinations, the . That is how Aruba, Bonaire and ABC Islands Curacao are often referred to. These small islands just off the coast of Venezuela were previously
known as the Dutch Antilles, and are located only about 30-40 miles from each
other. At their closest point the island of Aruba
is only 14 miles from Venezuela. They have been Dutch colonies since the
1600’s. Without going into too much
detail that you can learn by Googling, they still maintain a very close
relationship with Holland. Bonaire is still a ,
and the other two have a bit more independence, but still have Dutch
governors. The official language is
Dutch but most people speak not only Dutch but also English, Spanish and a
local dialect called Papiamento which is a mixture of all three plus some West African
languages and Portuguese thrown in. province of Holland
All three islands are very dry with average rainfalls of only around 10 inches. They were formed by undersea volcanoes millions of years ago that were forced up by the movement of tectonic plates. As they neared the surface, colonies of coral grew and when they continued to rise out of the ocean, erosion began to shape them to their current form. In many places you can see some of the eroded top layer of coral, but the primary rocks are volcanic or in some cases granite. Cactus and small brushy trees are the primary vegetation. The predominate cactus is a variety of Organ Pipe, very similar to the Organ Pipes in
Although they are very dry, their size and the sea make them feel much different than a desert area on a continent. Homes are colorful and built mostly on the leeward side of the islands where the ever present trade winds are less, and where the beaches are protected from the crashing waves on the Atlantic side. None of the islands have much in the way of hills, but they are not flat. The highest point on each of the islands is around 500 feet. The islands have been inhabited by Europeans for over 500 years but were originally inhabited by a people known as Arawaks who moved there from the mainland of what is now
Venezuela. There were never large numbers of them on the
islands as the only food source was from the sea, and water is very hard to
come by. Until the advent of
desalination plants in recent years, the only source of water was by capturing
the scarce rainfall.
We stopped at a collapsed lava tube where the volcanic origins of the island were apparent. We also stopped at some sea caves where petroglyphs left by the Arawaks were still preserved. Their graves are all above ground and painted in the same bright colors as the house the deceased lived in. Makes for a very colorful & festive place.
Overnight we relocated to
Curacao. It is the largest of the three islands and much
more developed. We took a tour here as
well, but this time in an air conditioned bus.
A great deal of the island is developed with a population of about
150,000. We visited a very nice but
small limestone cave, not unlike most of the caves we have visited in the US. We also took a walking tour of downtown Willemstad, the capital
city and where we were docked. We spent
more time on foot in Willemstad
than at any other place we stopped, and enjoyed it very much. The downtown area and the pontoon bridge over
the harbor entrance were pleasant and interesting. We even stopped at McDonalds for a chocolate
shake and a sundae.
Our last stop in the
Islands was in Aruba. Aruba is even more developed than Curacao, and the economy consists almost exclusively of
tourism. The population is about 100,000
and the island is the smallest of the three.
There are few places that are still undeveloped. There are miles of hotels, condos and time
shares all over the island. It was not
our cup of tea because of that.
We did take a tour of
in an air conditioned bus. We saw a good
part of the island and made stops at an old lighthouse on the tip of the
island, the rugged north shore, where we visited a neat natural bridge formed
by waves that undercut an opening, and an aloe factory. The commercial production of aloe used to be
a major agricultural product of Aruba, with
hundreds of acres in production. But
with industrialization and the rise of tourism, there are only the 60 acres
beside the factory still in production.
They make many cosmetic products that are sold all over the world. We also stopped at an interesting rock
formation that reminded me in some ways of Cochise’s Stronghold near Huge boulders were scattered about. We spent very little time in the town of Wilcox, AZ. Oranjestad where we were
We then headed north again and after a full day and a half at sea, we stopped on
Grand Cayman. There are no docks in Georgetown, and we were ferried ashore with
tenders. Apparently the family that owns
the tender company has a lot of political power because every attempt to
develop docks has failed. There were
four ships in port when we were there and the tenders were very busy. We had been there before, but many years
ago. It did not look like we
Cayman is highly developed for tourism. Again there are miles and miles of hotels,
condos and time shares. We took a local
tour that we arranged on shore that took us to Hell, were we saw very unique
rock formations, and to a dolphin show.
As we drove around the islands we saw many iguanas, as we had on all the
islands, and chickens running wild. Both
are problems and their populations are not well controlled, although iguana and
chicken are both eaten by the local population.
After another full day at sea we arrived back in
Tampa early on the 10th. Previous debarking experiences had left us
apprehensive about getting ashore, but this time it was a breeze. Since we had parked just across the street in
the parking structure, we were on our way in no time. After stops near Tallahassee,
FL and Vicksburg,
MS we arrived in Texas once again to spend the next two weeks
of the Christmas season with Dayna’s family.
This was our 5th cruise and we have noted some changes since our first. We certainly enjoyed it, and spent time on the ship engaging in some of the activities and watching the entertainment. We availed ourselves of the hot tubs, took walks on the deck, Dianna used the fitness center, and we had all we wanted to eat. However, it did feel as though the level of quality has dropped over the years. Some of the food was not as good as in prior years, and it appears that it is getting harder for them to keep trained staff. Almost all waiters and cabin attendants are from Eastern Europe, the
or Indonesia. These areas don’t have a lot of jobs and an
opportunity to sign a six month contract for working on a ship gives them an
income. What many don’t realize is that
they will be working seven days a week and for 12 or more hours a day most
days. They become disillusioned and
burned out quickly. Some don’t make it
through their contract, and a large number do not stay past the first one.
The other thing we find disappointing about cruises is the way we always feel that we are being nickeled and dimed. All cocktails are exorbitantly priced, and even sodas and bottled water cost $2.50 on the ship. On top of that, they automatically add an 18 percent tip. Tipping is expected and we understand that. It is how the waiters and cabin attendants are paid. We prepaid the gratuities before the cruise, however if you elect not to prepay, the cruise line automatically adds $12.50 per day per person to your shipboard account. This is over and above the 18 percent added automatically for drinks. You can have the charge removed or changed if you go to the customer service desk, but the point is that they are just constantly sticking it to you. You used to get envelopes that you put cash into and gave to the people you wanted to tip, but I guess enough people stiffed the help that they decided to make it practically automatic. If that’s the case, why not just include the tip in the cost of the cruise, and let you add an additional tip if you feel you had extra special service. The staff certainly needs to get paid, but I wish it felt more like a tip for extra service than just an additional cost that they are going to make you pay regardless.
All that said, cruising is still a great experience and something we enjoy doing. It has allowed us to go places we would otherwise never visit, spend quality time together, eat much better food than we normally would, and be pampered and waited on. (When we got off the ship, I was so used to that pampering that I almost forgot to take care of my tray at a fast food place where we stopped for lunch!) We’re already looking forward to our next.
To see photos of our trip, follow this link: ABC Islands Cruise Photos
To see photos of our trip, follow this link: ABC Islands Cruise Photos