Monday, June 30, 2014

Aruba, Curacao, Grand Turk June 2014

Took a girls' getaway cruise with my mom and sister to Aruba, Curacao, and Grand Turk.

This was the first time since getting married Chris and I had been apart.  And even though I did cry in his arms saying "I never want to do this again" as he dropped me at the was indeed a special time.

Our plan was to drive from Tampa to Port Canaveral to stay the night and have a restful and early start to our cruise!  We researched hotels in the port area and decided on the Radisson, whose price included room, breakfast, parking, and shuttle.

But as is often the case plans "change."  Or just get started much much later than initially expected.  In our case, because we were celebrating a belated Father's Day and rarely get to hang out as a family the night ran later and later and even though we had each agreed and insisted we leave "no later than 8pm b/c I dont want to be rolling into the hotel at midnight," we rolled into the hotel at midnight.

The drive (ride) was uneventful-or at least it was for me b/c even though I fought it like mad I slept the entire time.  We pull up to the hotel and see the parking lot is full.  My mom goes to check in and right about the time I thought one of us should go make sure she hadnt been dismembered she came out with a key. And a map.  Now, if you know anything about my mom and me you are already laughing (one word: Epcotball).  So of course Jill commandeers the map as mom reenters the car and we begin to search for a spot near our room.

There are no spots near our room.

We take the single space left in the entire complex which according to the map is several inches away from where we need to be.  After successfully removing 2 fashionablly-full and 1 out-of-control-full (no comment, but it wasnt me. or jill) suitcases from the trunk we gather our random handheld items (bottles of this, bags of that) and start what we hope is a straightforward wheeling of luggage to our room to turn in and salvage whats left of a night's sleep.

Mom shows how on the map reception circled all the elevators on the property-which is very helpful as the complex is a sprawling one.  Jill leads the way as we set off from the "you are here" x at reception towards the lone asterisk at the other edge of the paper indicating our room.  Mere moments into our journey, already giggling from that great combination of excitement and fatigue like the days of slumber parties, hilarity ensues when Jill abruptly stops, turns towards us, and points to the ground.  We have a casualty.  Remember the "bottles of this" that were grabbed from the car?  It is down to a bottle of that-she has dropped and destroyed wine bottle #1 which we find endlessly amusing.

Pressing on, Jill leading, mom in the middle, me bringing up the rear.  The set-up is one where each room's entry opens to the outside so we are trying to be vewy vewy quiet as we navigate our way down the narrow walkways and through the vegetation.  So it is no surprise they didn't hear my hissing calls for them to stop; the back wheel of my suitcase was apparently broken during flight because the plastic covering was now laying on the sidewalk next to me like those tractor trailer treads you see peppering the shoulders of major highways.

Eventually after a few turns one of them apparently decided to throw a glance back and I hear, whispered, "Where's Carrie?"  Once they collected me we decided there was but one option: one of those brass luggage carts my mom had seen upon check-in. So baaaaack to the front I go to retrieve one.

The next hour was spent wandering the grounds of the hotel looking for one of the many, many, many elevators that had been circled for us on the map.  An hour of manipulating a giant luggage cart that only steers in one direction, down narrow walkways, constantly reminding each other to "watch your knuckles!" Mom, suddenly: "Oh! They said those were staircases that are circled not the elevators!"  Which makes sense since we did seem to encounter plenty of those...

Eventually we found our room and after sufficiently booby-trapping the door, with the cart we smuggled, settled into our first official night of girls' getaway!

The next morning we rose and headed to breakfast which I thought was fine.  Then back to the room to take showers and head to the shuttle!  We had left just enough time to make our way back to the lobby to check out and be fashionably early for the shuttle.  Which would have been fine except our old friend the luggage cart was not cooperating.  Freshly showered and looking cute we load him up and head towards the elevator which apparently decreased in size overnight because though it fit a few hours ago the cart is not fitting now.  Cockeyed with its brass-colored poles bending in agony to conform to the tight quarters we could not for the life of us square him to get the doors closed.

Jill, who apparently grew a penis overnight (said in slow motion man voice for effect), "Give me those bags!" and, in a roid rage, hoists them off the cart, which she abandons in the hall, and single-handedly loads them in the elevator.  The door closes and my mom and I stand in silence, exchanging glances, as Jill wipes the sweat from her brow and catches her breath.  By the time the doors open the podpeople have left and my sister is back.  Thankfully, a young burly fellow offered to carry my bum suitcase from the elevator to the shuttle.

While the Caribbean can be gorgeous the hot weather just doesn't appeal to me. But this time things were different. This time the weather was perfect; our first stop of Aruba and then Curacao both welcomed us with the most refreshing breeze! By the time we hit our third and final stop of Grand Turk the breeze was gone but no matter as I was snorkeling.

We researched each location to determine which if any excursions we were interested in. The handful of Caribbean cruises Chris and I have been on we chose to self-explore which I suspected wasn't going to fly with this crowd-though I was pleasantly surprised my mom showed interest in the 4x4 off road tour! Maybe shes the root of my adventurous spirit after all!

I'd never been to Aruba before and knew little of it other than Natalee Holloway and the Beach Boys. We chose the Kukoo Kunuku b/c it offered a good combo of sight-seeing and beach and the feedback was decent, both in the cruise ship and the yelp/trip advisor reviews.

It is a day tour but I saw reviews for a night tour which involves alcohol so is prob even more ooc.

Cruise excursion described as follows:

Hop aboard the famous Kukoo Kunuku bus for a fun-filled island tour to see some of Aruba’s most famous landmarks followed by more fun at Moomba Beach.

Carlos was our guide and he was awesome. I cant imagine they'd hire any lame-os to drive these busses but I'm pretty sure they can make or break the experience, as can the crowd. Which, our crowd was eh. They seemed content to sit and watch the scenery and I'm pretty sure some never even removed the maracas from their holders. No matter-my mom and sister and I were ready to be silly and have a good time so luckily we were the last ones to board and had seats right next to Carlos. We shook our maracas at every man woman and child we saw on the road and the funny thing is, as Carlos promised, most all of them laughed and waved back. Couldn't stop laughing as Carlos made continuous loops in the roundabout-simple easy fun.

Peppered into our maraca shakes and fits of laughter were facts about the island and the areas we were going to see-all interesting and little of which I remember.

After our sights we headed to Moomba Beach, which beforehand I had briefly researched and learned was named one of the best beach bars by CNN Travel. Which, in retrospect, should've been a clue, somehow I only saw "Best Beach" and not the bar part. Luckily, despite it being World Cup, our couple of hours there were pretty quiet and uneventful. The water, I hate this, is roped off and shallow. And it wasn't clear and beautiful at all, which I get might've been due to wind/weather/something. No exaggeration, we could not see our hands right under the surface of the water it was all murky. And really even if the water had been pretty the rest of the beach and area just was not-just too much going on. Others talked about having the quintessential beach experience elsewhere on the island so if you are looking for that, this is not the place for you.  Notwithstanding, I was thankful for the respite there with my family.

What came next was prob the highlight of the entire trip for me. It was my first time ever being in port at night so i was hoping to catch an island sunset. I looked for a special way to experience this and found Pinchos, a restaurant at the end of a pier resting on the soft lapping waters of the Aruban shoreline.

Jonathan and Felix took excellent care of us!

Maybe it was the Aruba Aribas getting to me but suddenly, sitting there in the warm breeze watching the blazing sun slowly disappear behind the horizon with my mom and sister, I loved Aruba.

Likewise, I knew little of Curacao. None of the excursions appealed to us so we decided to have a day at leisure and explore on our own and find a cute place for lunch. We came prepared with a self-guided walking tour of area craft markets-Jill of course taking lead, coming to an intersection, looks right, looks left, looks at map, begins to walk, my mom and I following like ducklings. This turned out to be sort of a bust as some of the markets were not there and others....even in this setting, I think we would all admit, were a stretch to be considered "crafts." That said, we meandered through the narrow streets, popping into shops here and there when something caught our eye (more bamboo sheets for mom) and just having a chill day. I particularly liked the vendors that sail daily from Venezuela and set up to sell their produce.  Note that shortly after you exit the cruise area there is a Starbucks, where we got a drink and sat checking in with friends and family via comp wifi both coming and going.

Grand Turk
I'd been to Grand Turk once before (see disappoint experience in earlier review) so I was just "whatever" about going here. I'm happy to report my experience this time was
completely different. We took the excursion to Governor's Beach which is described as:

Escape to Grand Turk’s famous Governor’s Beach for a relaxing day of sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling!

I knew one could easily get to/from the beach on one's own, and for less money, but my mom raised a point that the excursion guaranteed a seat (we had read reviews that it can get quite crowded) and she didn't want to get to the beach and not "have a damn chair." It wasn't expensive so it made sense to cover our bases just in case. You got transport to and from the ship, snorkel gear, and a damn chair.

My mom and sister sat in the sun near the water while I set up camp further back in the shade of the trees. Most of my time, however, was spent snorkeling. Anyone who dives understands that the world down there is amazing and that snorkeling just barely scratches the surface. That said, while it wasn't exceptional, it definitely wasn't bad.

I saw some decent stuff and would pop above the surface occasionally to see if anyone was around to share a neat find with. For the first time I saw a hermit crab in the sea!  Before Id only seen them scooting along on a beach (or in a cage at the boardwalk) so this was exciting!  The first coolest thing though I saw that caused me to run out of the water like a kid over to tell my mom was this big sand-colored flat guy that so blended with the sand I almost didn't see him! What was so freaking funny about the fish is he had eyes on the top and a mouth on the side! She said I should ask one of the hosts overseeing our stay at the beach (who were *awesome* by the way-just friendly, informative, professional, and kept any riff raff out). Out of breath and still giddy with excitement for this alien creature I had seen I barely had the words out and he gave a knowing nod and said, "Oh yes that's the plate fish!" Which if you google you will get fish on a plate but turns out is a type of flounder, which I was surprised b/c yes the only flounder I know is from The Little Mermaid.

And for the first time I saw an octopus! He was wittle so maybe a baby? In a trance-like state I floated and watched him for a very long time stretching out his tentacles and doing all his octopus-like moves such as thrusting his heads towards another rock and torpedoing himself towards it, slinking behind and lunging a bit in a fake warning sort of way at the little fishies that seemed to harass him. Perhaps they were just as fascinated as I?

Something else* had caught my eye-I was floating for a decent amount of time observing it and committing it to memory when I noticed another snorkeler very close. He kept bumping me and brushing against my arms and legs. Which, I didn't think anything of it-sure it can be hard to control your movements out there. He grabbed my arm and pointed at something. Sensing his excitement I, too, wanted to share the cool stuff Id seen! We surfaced and, mask on/mouth piece out, I begin a quick and excited recap of all Id discovered that day! I fervently relayed my details of all the fishhhhhhh Id seen, the octopusssssss, the plate fishhhhh....And it's funny b/c even then, as I tread water sharing my nautical descriptions of the last few hours, I could see his facial vacancy. As I concluded my summation, took a big breath, goofy smile of excitement glued to my face anxiously awaiting his response he said only: You're not Barbara?

*I have yet to identify what I saw floating by a shipwreck that day. It was black and white and looked like spindly spider legs shooting out the top and bottom, in total about the size of a basketball.

Carnival Liberty: I liked the ship's decor-the scrollwork and chandeliers

Balcony room 1060: Perfect location and quiet even though we were afraid it wouldnt be.

Serenity Deck: Days at sea were spent here.  We didn't have trouble finding seats together if we arrived early.  Only one "clam" with a lid which was occupied by the same elderly couple for the length of the cruise because the husband slept there to "save it."  My only complaint with the area were the workers staffing the bar.  Though friendly, their laughter and conversations were held on an ongoing basis and at a decibel that took the serene out of serenity.

Dining: Past cruises we've been either with a group large enough group to necessitate our own table or Chris and I have had a 2-top or we have chosen not to eat in the main dining room at all. So you can imagine my surprise as the host led us to a table and motioned to three empty seats at a table with six already occupied. It hadn't even crossed my mind we might have to (said with disgust) eat with strangers. I was so annoyed. I sat down and immediately picked up the menu, which I knew was irrelevant b/c Id placed my vegan "chef's choice" order for the  length of the cruise earlier that day.* The first thing the family to our right (mother, father, undetermined aged daughter) says is, "We really wanted 'any time' dining so just so you know we might not be back-but it's not because we don't like you."  And I believed them?  So the next night the remaining six of us were unsure to make of the mother, father, and undetermined aged daughter seated at the table as we all arrived.  It was like a weird drug flashback-they were sort of the same but sort of different? They were smiling like they knew us? But all of us were like...are those the same people as last night? Something was a little off.  Then with great haste the father stands and states, "Oh excuse us, we have sat at the wrong table!"

It's funny how things happen....and I laugh as I write this thinking how we have all become friends. In particular, the family next to me (the original trio, who DID return to dine with us) turns out lives nearby. And are now literally a wonderful addition to my everyday life.  I'm thankful for these new friendships; I wouldn't have thought it possible but I love that I am still learning lessons in life such as I hope I remember to leave my bad attitude and preconceived notions at home on our upcoming travels (:

*The staff did a really really really bad job with my vegan meals. Like, really bad. No lie, there were nights I hadn't been served a single thing and the next group of diners were already coming in. Just, unacceptable. My mom and sister started asking for their food to be held until mine was ready so we could actually dine together, which was a united front that I appreciated (dont make mama mad)!  And frankly, it couldn't have been any easier for them: "Anything but artichokes. Thanks!" They had promised would be "nooo problemmm" when talked to hostess first afternoon. Cha. Serving me the same Mongolian Wok food each night actually *is* a problem. Finally, 5 nights in they got it right. Ridic.

We were the only ship in port most times so, in addition to the weather (that I loved and the other passengers couldn't stop bitching about), the lack of crowds I think really presented a particularly favorable experience for us.

Had a very, very nice time and will cherish the memories we made <3

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