Back in the USA. Miami, FL

April 23, 2018

Well, another adventure comes to an end!. We had a nice time at cocktail hour last night with friends from other cruises and new friends too. Some will be joining us on all or part of our next world cruise in January.

And of course, we went to the final show the night before, always ending with the ship’s crew on stage cheering and doing the YMCA with us. Then they line up at the exits to wish us goodbye and see you again soon.

We reached Miami and found out that there were 7 ships in port. Amazing!

We will stay a couple of days in West Palm Beach then take the auto train home on Thursday.

Terrific trip, can’t wait till the next one. Thanks to all the blog followers who traveled with us!

Posted in April, North America | 6 Comments

Gustavia, St. Barts

April 20, 2018

St. Barts is often considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean – and one of the most exclusive. It is a small French island and is officially named St. Barthelemy.  The population of the island is about 7000. We took the tender into town and walked to explore the area. The island has been a duty free port since the Swedes took over control in the late 1700s.  When it reverted to France in the late 1800s the duty free status was maintained. The street signs are in Swedish and French.


The island is distinctly French, though.  And it is exclusive. We wandered through the shops – prices are in euros here – and for the most part, very expensive.  Norm did buy a shirt and I bought a necklace.

It has more than 300 sunny days a year – and today we had bouts of “liquid sunshine” as showers popped up a few times.  We went to town with the intent of getting a car to drive us around and changed our minds once we talked to some of the shopkeepers who said that it is much like the other islands we have been to. Lots of celebrities either own homes or vacation here, but we didn’t spot any.  We decided to wander through Gustavia and have lunch there at one of the many restaurants.  The scenery is stunning.


We walked to Shell Beach and on our way we saw a lot of police and didn’t know why.  It turned out that a whole group of adorable children were going to their school.  We were strictly warned not to take any photographs.  I never do that without permission anyway but we hope others listened so as not to invade their privacy.

Shell beach is just what the name sounds like – there is no visible sand, just millions of tiny shells.



Here’s their ashtrays – to keep butts off the beach.


Other sights around town:


The hurricane did some damage here too but it is mostly cleaned up.  One of the shopkeepers told us that a lot of shops are still closed, he felt lucky that they only had about 5 inches of water in his shop.


We went into a small church and I lit a candle for my mom – and Alice’s mom too.


We went to a recommended pizza place for lunch.  Yes, pizza!  The best in St. Barts. they say. That is one thing the ship does not do well.  We enjoyed it so much. Alice and Tom have been on the ship for 70 days and they really missed pizza.  A relaxing time with wine and friends.  Oh yes, Italian beer for Tom. Delicious.


Back to the ship as we leave at 4 PM.  Tonight there is a deck party or a movie – I have already seen the movie so it will be dancing for us – under the stars.  Our last port on this trip, we have 2 sea days now and then it is back to Miami on Monday.

Posted in April, Caribbean, Food | 1 Comment

St. John’s Antigua

April 19, 2018

Antigua is the larger of two main islands which make up the Caribbean nation known as Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua has between 90 and 100,000 people and Barbuda is much smaller and 20 miles away. Their location is the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. Barbuda was almost flattened by two hurricanes, Irma and Maria, and almost the whole population had to come to Antigua.  Now many of them are back on Barbuda, but not the school children because the schools have not yet been rebuilt.  There is a real affinity the people have for each other and it is heartwarming.

We visited Antigua many years ago and went to the beaches then.  The island is said to have 365 beaches, one for each day of the year! Beautiful.

This visit we signed up to do something I have wanted to do for a long time and something always happened to prevent it.  Swim with the stingrays! These are Antigua’s Southern Stingrays.

We boarded a small van to go to the Atlantic Ocean side of the island, about a 30 minute drive. Our guide on the van was Daria, and the driver was Romeo. He was careful to tell us that it is name only!  Daria filled us in on lots of facts about Antigua.


Most of the population  is Anglican with Catholic a close second. There are levies that the people pay which cover education, health care and taking care of the retired people.  Once retired, even your medications are free.  And it seems that if you buy a property for $250,000 US, you get citizenship in Antigua! Some people wanted to move immediately!

She talked about “pocket houses”.  This is the term for the houses that people build in stages once they have the actual money in their “pockets”. They add rooms as they get the means to do so. They don’t have a mortgage obligation to a bank that way.

Here are some of the sights we saw on the way to Stingray City.


The next picture was a holding pond for water before they had the facilities for running water.  The entrepreneurs made it into a car wash! They have many solor paneled light posts!


Cricket is big here and they have a nice stadium built about 10 years ago for the world cup.


When we arrived at “Stingray City”, we got an orientation to these wonderful fish. We learned that their mouths are underneath them and they have a powerful suction “that rivals a Hoover”!  We will get to hold them and we learned how – and that they can detect stress so the calmer you  are the longer they will allow you to hold them.


We boarded small boats that took us out to a reef in the Atlantic, the water was just about chest high, and they provided us with masks and snorkels. This is the natural habitat of the stingrays, they are not in an enclosed pool somewhere.


Once we got into the water, the stingrays were all around us, swimming with us, brushing up against us and we were able to get photos, hold them and feed them squid. I have a video too and will try to add it. It was so amazing, we can’t wait to do it again. They are so soft and friendly. They now have a very special place in our hearts.



After about an hour with the stingrays we took the boat back to shore and had rum punch made with the local rum from Old Antigua Rum Distillery, the only remaining distillery on the island.

They had lots of birds there and we enjoyed relaxing before the ride back to the ship.


We walked around the town a bit and then returned to the ship for dinner with Alice and Tom in Tuscan Steak restaurant.


Posted in April, Caribbean, Excursions | 2 Comments

Bridgetown, Barbados

April 18, 2018

First thing this morning we called our son, Adam, for his 35th birthday!  We reached him just before he had to go into a meeting and before we were heading out for the day.  Happy Birthday, Adam.  He is the one who set up the blog for me and does troubleshooting when I need it.

Tom and Alice and Norm and I went out to get a driver to take us on a tour of the island. We have been here twice before – one quite a number of years ago and all we remembered was touring the Mount Gay rum factory!  And two years ago we chartered a catamaran with 8 other people for sailing and snorkeling. So this time we wanted to see more of Barbados.

We were in a van for 10 with our driver and guide, Rudolph. He was a great guy and told us a lot about his island as we traveled all through it.


Barbados facts –

  • The main industry used to be sugar but now only 20,000 tons are produced here.
  • Bridgetown is the capital and largest city.
  • The present location was established by the British in 1628 and is a major tourist destination. There is still a strong British influence here.
  • There are lots of customer service centers located here.
  • It is the only city outside of North America that George Washington visited!
  • Rihianna was born here and still maintains a condo in a VERY upscale location which we passed in our tour.
  • Education and health care are free here in the public hospitals and schools.  All children in both public and private schools wear uniforms.
  • For university studies, the government pays 75% of the tuition.

We visited the house where Rihianna lived.  The street was recently named for her.


Many of the homes are colorful like this one. And then there are mega mansions that sell for hundreds of millions of dollars.  At some of the resorts it costs $30,000 a night to stay there.


Our next stop was the St. James Parish Church.  This is a charming place made from the coral limestone that is plentiful on this island.  There is a bell that predates the Liberty Bell by more than half a century. The pipe organ was also very interesting. And those candles on the rafters are electric now.



Beautiful beach views from many of the sites we passed or visited.


And gorgeous flowers.


We visited the old windmill that still operates. It is 350 years old!


Here are some of the other sites.  The island is quite beautiful once you get out of Bridgetown.


And of course, there are always signs!


And some of the historic monuments and buildings.


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At Sea

April 17, 2018

Well, what ELSE do you do on sea days?  For me the first thing after breakfast was a steam room visit followed by a seaweed wrap and fabulous massage in the spa!  I almost didn’t want to leave the massage table.  But, at 10:30 one of the fun things they do on these cruises took place.  The country fair.  Each department on the ship sets up a booth on the pool deck and has a different kind of activity for you to play and win raffle tickets. Here are a few of the activities and fun crew members.


One of the activities was to put lipstick on your partner while blindfolded.  I have to say we both did a pretty good job.

I have a video but will load it later if I can!

I didn’t win anything in the raffle but had lots of fun.

Later in the day, three of our friends from previous cruises, Snezana and Alice and Tom – who have rooms just down the hall and next to each other, invited the other 11 who had been on the cruises with us to a party in their rooms.  Unfortunately it was too windy to remove the balcony separation.  We had a nice time and lots to eat and drink. We had just gotten another complimentary bottle of champagne and brought it but that one didn’t even get opened.  The butler did a nice job with the snacks and even those were hardly touched.



Tom had a very cool camera from Kodak that prints pictures almost like the old Polaroids.

We then had the returning guest cocktail party where we were recognized as the most traveled guests on this cruise!! Here we are with some of our friends at the party. And Snezana got her platinum pin. The last picture is her with the GM, Thierry, and Captain Silvachynsky.


After the party, we were again invited to dinner with Thierry and Peter Morris, the destination manager along with 4 other couples.  A fun night with great food and wine.

We will certainly miss this in just a few short days!

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Sailing and leaving the Amazon River

April 15, 2018

We were walking on the deck this morning when we felt and saw that the ship was turning around. At first we thought that we needed to make a turn so that the pilots could disembark, even though it would have been earlier than they told us it would be. Very soon Nolan, our cruise director, came on the speaker system to announce that there was a medical emergency on board and we turned back to allow the person to get ly the ship at a place that could provide medical treatment. This would take 3 hours back and another 3 hours to where we are now. ‘re on past experience We knew that it wouldn’t allow us to make the port at Devil’s Island, French Guiana. Around 1 PM the captain made that announcement. So that is a disappointment, we were looking forward to it. But as I always say, at least we aren’t the one on the stretcher.

I assume they will still be showing the movie Papillon tonight, and of course, it is all about the popcorn! So now they will prepare activities for a sea day tomorrow.

Yesterday afternoon Norm took this beautiful cloud picture.

We had dinner in Red Ginger last night. As always, it was terrific. I took a video of the magic towel they give us after the edamame. Very cool.

And this morning at breakfast we did spot several moths out at the terrace cafe. None as big as a dinner plate nor do I think they could pick up a rabbit, but interesting anyway. These are the things that amuse us at sea!!

Just one week to go and now we are heading to the Caribbean where we will visit Barbados, Antigua and St. Beats.

Posted in Amazon River, April, South America | 1 Comment

Alter do Chao, Brazil

April 14, 2018

Alter do Chao is one of the administrative districts of the city of Santarem – we visited there on our way into the Amazon River.  It was the site of several religious missions in the 17th and 18th century led by the Jesuits of the Franciscan order. Before that it was inhabited by indigenous communities Boraris. The area suffered great decline after the collapse of the rubber trade but is now the site for many day trips from Santarem and increasingly a location for people to buy vacation property.


It is best known for the Ilha do Amor (Island of Love) which is a small island with a white sand beach directly in front of the town. The island recedes now in the rainy season as you can see.


We went by tender to the floating dock and took a walk through town.  We wanted to visit the local craft store that our enrichment lecturer, Don Klein, told us about.  Luckily he was on our tender- he described the shop as one of the finest in the Amazon for the local products.


We first visited the church. Very simple and charming.


Then on to the shopping.  I have a currency converter on my phone and can see what the price is in US dollars.  In these two shops (Arariba), the number that looked like the price was actually a code that corresponded to the price. We assumed that the sheet that some people were carrying was a conversion sheet and I didn’t know until I went to pay that the price was different from what I was expecting!  I bought two nice pieces of pottery there.  Beautiful goods, Don was right.


One of the shopkeepers had her daughter there with her. Maybe she was the bookkeeper!


The town was very quiet and Don said they sleep till noon on weekends.  At least the wonderful shop was open – I guess when a cruise ship arrives some people do get up early!  There were also craft stands lining the area of the floating port, and here you could bargain.

When we got back to the ship, we saw lots of dolphins as we sat on our balcony after lunch.

After we leave this port at 2 PM we have a stop to let the pilots disembark tomorrow.  But the 25% Brazilian tax is finished when we leave here – so I expect robust sales in the shops!

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Parintins, Brazil

April 13, 2018

Parintins is a city of about 100,000 and is on the right bank of the Amazon River on Tupinambarana Island.  It can only be reached by boat or plane. It is known as the most hospitable cultural city in this region and we certainly found that to be true.  We took a tender to shore and were greeted by their “boy and girl scouts” who smiled with us and helped anyone who needed any kind of assistance. 


It was raining pretty hard when we got to shore, but we were intrepid walkers in spite of the many pedicabs that are here and really wanted to take us around town! Everyone we encountered had a smile and friendly greeting for us. We visited a very open modern church and walked through many markets where people were eager to show us their wares, especially the teeth of the piranha!


They have some unique planters – these are tires that have a variety of plants in them.  Very pretty.



As we walked around, the rain stopped and we went to a craft market area where we bought a couple of things.  I like to support the local people!


One of the unique features of this city is the Boi Bumba festival held in June – the biggest annual festival in Amazonas.  It enacts the kidnapping, death and resurrection of an ox (boi), a metaphor for agricultural cycles. The event is turned into a competition between two Boi teams, each with several thousand members – Caprichoso in blue and Garantido in red.  The rivalry apparently grew out of a “friendly” feud between two families over 90 years ago. Tens of thousands of people come here for the festival and virtually every citizen supports either red or blue. Even when it is not festival time, it is common to see the colors of red and blue and bull symbolism everywhere.  One of the pictures below is of bull phone booths!  It is even said that the Coke advertises  the typical red can and also one in blue, the only place that Coke does this!  We didn’t spot any blue signs or cans. But we did see the blue headquarters and some of the replica bulls on the street.


This costume on the back of the scooter is a typical Boi Bumba costume.


Very little graffiti was seen here – different from many of the other cities we visited.  The sidewalks are often made of tile (slippery in the rain!) and there are some beautiful murals and buildings.


There are many fishing boats and transportation boats, in fact our tender docked next to a boat that we had to walk through to get to the dock.  The docks and many houses are floating to accomodate the changes in height of the river in the rainy season.  Yesterday, Francisco said that it is a good thing if you don’t like your neighbor.  You can just attach your boat and pull your house to somewhere else!

IMG_9880IMG_9881IMG_9882IMG_9883IMG_9906 IMG_9910

Tomorrow is our last port in the Amazon.  After that we head to Devil’s Island, French Guiana which is the site of the famous Papillion.  Rumor has it that they will show the movie in Horizons on Sunday evening before we arrive on Monday.

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Manaus, Brazil

April 12, 2018

Beautiful sunset last night!


We arrived in Manaus at about 7 AM and our tour was scheduled to leave at 8:15.  After breakfast, we left the ship to board the Amazon Explorer, a large riverboat in which we would spend most of the tour.

We were greeted at the pier by some energetic dancers!  We heard and saw them from our balcony first.


Our leaders on the riverboat were Francisco, Gabriel and Julio. All were very good English speakers and very informative.  The tour was called the Meeting of the Waters.


First we heard something about Manaus.  It is a city of almost 3 million people, and like much of Brazil, they have a lot of people coming in from Venezuela and also from Haiti.  Manaus is on the left bank of the Rio Negro. There are many industries here, almost 800, and a lot of them are electronics companies.  Interestingly, Francisco says that if you want to buy a phone or a laptop, go to Sao Paolo – just because they are manufactured here it doesn’t make them less expensive – they are often twice as costly!

The wealth in Manaus originally came from the rubber trade in the late 1800s and at that time it was one of the richest cities on earth. It had streetcars, electricity and flush toilets before much of Europe.  The citizens were so wealthy that they would give vintage wine to their horses and send their shirts to be laundered in Lisbon and Paris!  By 1910 rubber seeds smuggled out by an Englishman called Henry Wickham and then planted in Malaysia destroyed Brazil’s monopoly.  Manaus was literally plunged into darkness with no money to import coal for generators.

On the way to our first exploration of Lake January, we saw many homes on stilts and others that are floating houses, both allow the residents to stay in their homes during some of the rainy season.


We left the riverboat at a riverside restaurant and boarded 10 passenger motorized canoes that took us into narrow channels in the tropical forest to Lake January. We saw the giant water liles, Vicgtoria Regia, named after Queen Victoria.  These plants have huge leaves measuring as much as 6 feet across – and there are spikes on the bottoms.



This is the beginning of the rainy season and the waters are high, but look at the dark part of these trees, by June, the height of this season, the water will rise 15-20 feet higher up to the top of the dark area! The animals here all live high in the trees for this reason.


There are manatees in these waters that eat the vegetation – but we didn’t see any.  We did see some beautiful birds, flowers, etc.

We returned to the riverboat and had some time to wander through the local craft markets.  One vendor gave me a paracau scale which she showed me how to use as a nail file!

We took the riverboat to the meeting of the waters of the Rio Negro and the Solimoes River where it forms the Amazon River.  The Rio Negro is very acidic so no mosquitoes or birds live here.  The water looks black because of the trees and the organic material.  It is very clean even though it looks black and brown. The piranha here are only in groups of 3 or 4 so are not so dangerous as compared to the Amazon where they travel in groups of hundreds and could eat us in a matter of minutes!


The meeting of the waters is really dramatic to see!


Julio got water from each river to let us touch it to see the temperature difference – this is part of the reason the waters don’t mix, the other is the current.  The Amazon is colder!


We again saw some dolphins but they are too quick for pictures and also don’t surface the way our Atlantic dolphins do.  The reason for the pink color of the pink dolphins is that the blood vessels that run beneath their skin, which is thinner than that of ocean dolphins, are close to the surface.  When they become happy or nervous, their color can change similar to when a human blushes.  These dolphins are highly intelligent with brain capacities said to be larger than that of humans.

We saw some of the boats that take people from here to other cities – sometimes taking 4 – 6 days.  There are few roads here so transport is by boat or plane.  There are hammocks hanging all over in these boats for the people to sleep in during the journey. Talk about roughing it!


After our return to the pier, we had lunch and then went out to explore the city.  Gabriel warned us that it would rain, which it does every day here in this season, so I don’t know if he is much of a weatherman!  We did make it to the Opera House before it rained and we are so glad we did.  We had a guided tour and it is spectacular.  It is called Teatro Amazonas and has 670 seats.  It was constructed beginning in 1882 at the height of the rubber boom.  No expense was spared to make it the grandest opera house in the new world. Everything was brought from Europe. The wood is Brazilian but was sent to Europe to be polished and carved.  There are 22 marble columns in the auditorium, each topped by Greek masks fo comedy and tragedy and inscribed with the grandest names of music and literature such as Shakespeare, Beethoven, Mozart and Goethe.



The wood floor alternates colors to depict the meeting of the waters. After the rubber barons left Manaus, the theater sat wasting in the tropical heat until a restoration was completed in 1990.  Now all kinds of performances are held here.

This is a lego model of the opera house!


We also saw the customs house, the palace of justice and the cathedral. And, there are places where the facades of buildings are intact but the rest has been destroyed – trees and vines are growing inside!


After our visit to the Opera House, the rain came down like crazy and we took a cab back to the port where we boarded the shuttle through the pier area as you are not allowed to walk there.  All in all a fun day in Manaus!


Posted in Amazon River, April, Excursions, South America | 2 Comments

Boca De Valeria, Brazil

April 11, 2018

Boca da means “mouth of” and is an entrance to the Valeria River and overlooking the Amazon.

We boarded a tender to go to shore.  And here is Tom with the most unusual visor I have seen!


There were no planned excursions here as the town is the equivalent of about a city block and a half long.  It contains a few wooden houses on stilts, a small one room school and a small church. There is a lot of wildlife.  The people are called Caboclos, decendents of the Portuguese settlers who intermarried with the local Indians.  They live off the land by fishing, keeping pigs and chickens and by planting vegetables in raised beds. The population is about 75-100 people.  When ships stop here, people from nearby villages also come to participate in the tourist trade. 

You can also observe the distinct line where the waters of the  Valeria River meet the Amazon.


We brought lots of American dollars and gave them out to everyone we took a picture of. Here are some of the local people and their homes and school.



Here’s Alice in a local house.


And more shots of the house and the raised gardens.  And, the puppies!


We did have a lot of interactions with the animals too!


Here’s a shot of the school where some of the children were having lessons. We were going to bring wrapped chocolates from the ship for them but were told that they do not have dental care, so we didn’t bring the candy.


Another hot Amazon day with a nice up close glimpse of Amazonian life.

Posted in Amazon River, April, South America | 1 Comment