CARIBBEAN CRUISE, 2013
Sometimes it’s difficult to even think of going on a vacation. To me, vacations are for sharing with friends or lovers who enjoy doing the things you enjoy doing. I haven’t felt the need to go on a vacation in 17 years – and really wasn’t complaining about it. I love my home, my family and friends, and find plenty to keep me engaged and busy in my wonderful city.
One of the things I enjoy about Toronto is the Corktown Ukulele group (CUJAM) I play with most Wednesday evenings, and when the opportunity arose to go on a cruise with like-minded friends from CUJAM, I felt this was the perfect vacation fit! Not only was this a chance to sail on one of the largest ships in the Caribbean in the middle of February, but I would be with friends, and learning more about my sweet little ukulele from virtuoso – Manitoba Hal Brolund. I put my money down for this adventure in late 2012 to Captain Sandy’s Cruise Holidays – run by Donna and Harry Curtis – fellow uke afficionados from Ottawa, and began to get very excited. Six of us from CUJAM would be going on this cruise, along with around 30 others from Ottawa, Vancouver, Texas and Florida.
I’m going to outline some highlights, points and helpful hints about my experience with this cruise:
My suitcase, a giant of a behemoth, ended up weighing 49 pounds, packed.
Two more pounds would have necessitated paying an extra fee for extra weight. There was no need to pack as much as I did. I learned that it’s quite OK to wear the same Tshirt or tank top more than once. Some clothing, (extra bathing suit, white tights, some tops) I never ended up wearing. Bringing underwear for all seven days is a good idea. It’s good to pack some light dresses or tops that can double as bathing suit cover-ups and dresses to wear to dinner. 2 or three light sweaters or jackets are a good idea – the night air can be cool. Cutoffs, dress pants, a skirt, a beachbag. A fleece hoody I purchased in Miami turned out to be one of my constant companions on the ship (which is air conditioned in many places). I found that the urge to invest in colourful hats, dresses and other clothing at the ports at which we disembarked, was irresistible. You will almost certainly go home with more than you came with. A sunhat, and sunglasses are a must! Also pack some plastic bags, Ziploc and otherwise – they’ll come in handy. Hairdryers are provided by the ship.
Don’t bring too many shoes – sneakers, sandals and some low heeled dress shoes should be fine for everything, including dinners with “elegant” themes.
I brought backdated magazines I’ve been saving to read, in my suitcase, for pool or beach entertainment, and by the time I was ready to come home – they were read, and disposed of.
CARRYON: Make sure to include toothbrush, medications, your bathing suit, PJs, extra underwear, sunglasses, sunhat, sandals, reading material, camera and battery charger – if your luggage gets lost – you want to have enough to get you through to the end of the week. You can easily buy what you’re missing when the ship lands in port.
WHAT TO WEAR IN WINTER: Layers! I wore jeans with lycra cuttoffs underneath, many layers on top, including my fleecy hoodie, sox and sneakers. I had my important ID – passport, boarding pass, luggage tags and Canadian money in a fanny pack that I wore nearly all the time during the cruise.
CURRENCY: U.S. dollars was the currency for purchases onshore. Theoretically, if you stay on the ship, you don’t need any currency – everything you purchase, including photos, extra drinks are charged to your room, and the credit card they have on your records.
CUSTOMS AND AIRPORT; SATURDAY FEB. 2ND
When they say arrive 2.5 hours before your flight – they aren’t kidding!!!
It’s confusing to learn how to use the self-serve machines at the airport, which print your boarding pass at 6 am when you haven’t had a coffee. After someone has helped you get that together – you get in the first LONNNNG SLOWWWWW line to check in.
And FYI – you have to PAY for your checked luggage with Air Canada. $25!!!
After checking your big suitcase, you’re ushered into another LOONNNNNG SLOOWWWWW line to go through customs. There is NO PLACE TO SIT and rest your tush for nearly 2 hours of zig-zagging with hundreds of others. For someone with a bad back like mine – that can be agony. It didn’t used to be that way – those 9/11 terrorists really ruined it all for travelers. I guess I’d have been better to have a carry-on I could sit on, when needed.
BUT!!! My uke was my carry-on. My backpack had all my emergency items, including a fresh change of underwear, PJ’s, meds and supplements; makeup; sandals, my purse; a bathing suit. (good idea – one of our seatmates on the plane never did receive her luggage, and lived a whole week on what she had in her carry on, and what she bought onshore).
By the time I was checked through customs, our plane was boarding. Very close!!
If you’re hungry – you must buy food on the plane – quite expensive – but customs will not allow you to bring a lunch with you – unless it’s just bread and cheese (no meat, no fruits). They allow you to bring water on ONLY if you’re diabetic.
Ahhh – once we found our luggage, and got outside, the feel and smell of that humid tropical air was nirvana.
We did end up waiting a LONNNNNNG time for a chartered bus to take us to our hotel in Miami – I was glad to have my big suitcase that I could sit on as we waited.
MIAMI HILTON HOTEL:
Checked into assigned room (after another LOOONNNNNG wait at the counter), and went down to the poolside with the ukulele to meet our fellow ukers. We had a fun little jam and some food and drink, while enjoying the beautiful sunny late-afternoon breezes.
Four of us decided to walk to a “nearby” plaza to pick up groceries for our morning breakfast. “Just a 10 minute walk” turned into a 45 minute walk. Much further than we were led to believe. We noticed on our walk, there were VERY FEW WALKERS! It seems most everyone drives in Florida.
We got to the plaza, and found a nice little Chinese restaurant where we enjoyed our dinner. We then proceeded to do some shopping – groceries, and some clothing items. I bought the most wonderful little sunhat for $8 – and that hat turned out to be my identifying label a few times on the cruise.
By the time we were ready to go back to the hotel, we were all very tired, loaded down with bags and groceries, and decided to take a cab. THERE ARE VERY FEW CABS IN MIAMI! “This isn’t New York” we were told by a helpful security guard. Marya, who had a cellphone, called to order a cab, and we waited for over ½ hour outside Starbucks. After 3 separate calls, a cab finally arrived, and we thanked the driver for coming. Turns out he was NOT the one we ordered – he was just coming to the plaza to pick up some cleaning!
Next morning after checking out of our hotel, our cruise directors, Donna and Harry, organized a dropoff to the plaza we’d visited the evening before – so we could all buy the allowed ONE bottle of wine for our personal use in our rooms on the ship.
EMBARKATION, Sunday Feb. 3rd:
Once out of the buses, it was time for more LONNNNNG LINEUPS, zig-zagging our way with 3000 others to have our luggage and passports checked. After over an hour – we finally embarked to the Carnival Valor.
We entered a large lounge with comfy seating surrounding a bar, dancefloor and stage, where a decent guitarist was playing live to pre-recorded tracks for our enjoyment. It was a bit early to be allowed into our rooms, so we enjoyed the music, and craned our necks to look ‘way up to a 10 storey atrium lined with see-through elevators.
Finally in my room – I checked out my new home for the coming week. My room was about the size of a hotel room, with a generous window overlooking the pier. Lots of drawers and storage, and comfortable seating. A functional loo with a small shower. Just as I was about to leave the room to explore further, my large suitcase arrived, and I spent another 15 minutes unpacking its contents into drawers and cupboards.
I was the only one of the group without a balcony. I didn’t figure it was worth it to pay $700 extra for one, but when I saw my friends’ balconies on the 6th level, I quickly changed my mind about the wisdom of my decision. My window was rainspattered, and unopenable. One of our people actually slept out on their balcony one night, listening to the waves and enjoying the sea air. (That was the one night it rained – and she had to hastily re-enter her room at 4 a.m. to avoid being soaked). I spent more time in my cabin, than originally planned – and next time, I will definitely pay extra for the balcony, if only for that fresh sea air!
One of the first things we had to do was participate in a lifeboat drill, and again – we had to stand for a LOONNNNNGGG time awaiting our instructions. It was hard for me to believe that all of us in our section could fit into the lifeboat at hand, but thankfully we didn’t need it.
The Lido Deck on the 9th level was the place where we could eat wonderful food for most hours of the day. On that deck were 2 saltwater pools and hot tubs – one near the bow in the noisy party section, and one near the stern in the quieter section. Had a snack to tide me over ’til dinner, and was very excited as we left Miami behind. We took photos from the stern, of beautiful Miami and the sunset, not long afterwards.
We had “free seating” in the dining room – meaning that we could eat dinner whenever we wanted. My friends Jacquie and Bob and Sue ate together that first night. I ordered gazpacho as an appetizer, and I was shocked when our waiter delivered a bowl with a little ball in the middle of it. I took a photo of it before I ate it, and was very relieved when he came with a little jug of the red soup, to pour around the ball. It was MOST delicious, as were all of the meals on the ship.
One nice thing about our dining room, was that the wait staff, in the middle of serving dinner, donned Spanish colourful tops, and hopped up on the tray tables to do a performance for us every night. They’d sing, they’d dance to a loud track – and after the initial shock, I grew to look forward to these performances. My favourite one was the “Gangnam Style” routine.
At first I was imagining the thought-process of someone applying for a waiter job on our ship. Answering questions like “Do you sing? Do You dance? Can you memorize clever lyrics to long songs” would likely get some applicants rolling their eyes. But! It worked! And every night – their full participation in this exercise seems to have united them in a spirit of accord.
By the way – the wait staff were all very charming and affable. Because they had 3000 people to feed between 6 – 9:30 – receiving the food was a slow process – dinner took nearly 2 hours each night. But who was in a hurry????
Also – I was told if you like something you’ve been served, and want to make sure you can order it for your next evening’s meal – they will accommodate you if you order the day before! Warning! Dinner menus change every night.
SPECIAL FOOD SERVICES:
My friend Jacquie is lactose intolerant. When dining room staff overheard this, they sent a dietary specialist to help Jacquie order the food that was fit for her condition. Jacquie got to order her dinner from the next day’s menu, and it would be specially adapted to her needs. Turns out that a lot of what she was served was bland and boring. Jacquie told the lovely woman, Petra, that she wasn’t “THAT” lactose intolerant, and could tolerate the odd sauce or butter-enhanced additive. They are very accommodating to people with special needs on the Valor.
In the large Ivanhoe Theatre (one level above my cabin) there was a big show every night
There were singers, dancers, comedians, jugglers, magicians. We received a taste of each act during the 10:30 show the first night, along with a welcome speech and introduction to the ship by the cruise director.
The house band was VERY good, and my intentions to hear more of them during the cruise, were dashed as I awoke earlier and earlier every morning, and went to bed earlier and earlier every night.
On the Casino deck, there was smoking allowed, and it seems that all the good bars and the available entertainment were on that deck. Needless to say, I didn’t visit that deck often.
There were many “fun events” entertainment wise that were outlined on a flyer left on our beds at night, for the next day. Along with the flyer, there was “towel art” – the room steward would fashion the towels into various animals, for our amusement and enjoyment, along with the flyer, 2 chocolates and a downturned bed.
BREAKFAST AND LUNCH:
I knew this cruise would definitely undo my ardent efforts to take off weight during the past few months. So, I told myself I’d go to the gym (large and fully equipped) and WALK up 120 stairs to the 9th level every morning. The gym? Never did I go there after the initial look-see. The stairs? Yes – I did them 5 of the 7 mornings, and believe me – I never got to the point where I could do it without taking a few pauses for breath. I also began every day with my regular stretch routine, based on the Yoga Sun Salute, with a few extra moves thrown in (about a 5 minute routine to keep supple). I did the outdoor track on the 11th level twice – fast walking.
The Lido Deck had a very large screen with very LOUD speakers, broadcasting whatever was on the screen at the time. Could be newscasts; could be movies – I never stopped to watch – but proceeded to the buffet section, where there were numerous cafes and buffet stations containing every kind of food you can imagine. My breakfasts consisted of oatmeal with raisins, raisin bran, nuts and a grapefruit. I ignored the custom made omelets, bacon, sausages, potatoes, fresh fruits and pastries that were copiously available. I took a grande latte (an expense added to my final bill), which I brought back to my room, where I eased into my day. This is where a balcony would have been really nice.
Lunch was also on the Lido deck, and I chose to create salads for myself with so many add-ons, I’m sure they were VERY high in calories.
I discovered that mixing iced tea with lemonade from the drink dispensers was a very satisfying beverage. There was also a “sweet station” where you could get various pies, cakes, wonderful cookies made onboard. I did participate in this fare once a day, and I’m sure my blood sugar levels were suffering because of it.
Ordering drinks and cocktails onboard was not something I did. The beer available was just the regular Coors Light type stuff. Blech.
I ordered a pina colada one evening by the pool. It was very disappointing (and expensive). It was like a slushy – not like the pina coladas I’ve experienced on other trips.
Our welcome aboard was enhanced by a free bottle of champagne and a tray of very high-end pastries in each of our rooms (compliments of Captain Sandy’s Cruises). We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to consume these little gifts. I brought my champagne up to a gathering in Bob and Sue’s cabin, where we CUJAM folks rehearsed a few tunes for possible performance at one of our jams. The pastries? I ate them bit by bit over a period of 3 days. DELICIOUS!!
My personal bottle of wine remained untouched, and in my minibar fridge until the last day, when I brought it up to share with everyone as we jammed for the last time.
SECURITY: Just before boarding the Valor, we had to have our photos taken before we were issued our plastic room key. This key stays with you at all times, both on and off the ship. (I kept it in my trusty fanny pack, which held my passport, ID, cash, and a credit card). The key not only opens your cabin door, but you must present it every time you order something on board – an excursion, a drink, a bottle of wine for the dinner table, a latte. This is the way they keep track of your expenses.
When you leave the ship, you present your room key to the security guard, who sticks it in his little machine; and when you come back on the ship, after being in port, you must not only present your room key AND passport (with photo ID) – but you must submit anything you’re carrying – bags, outer clothing, purses, fanny packs, shoes – to an X ray machine (the same type of machine they use at customs).
I had a blister on my finger that looked a little scary, and I decided to have it looked at. As a Canadian, used to waiting 8 hours in emergency with any problems, I was very pleasantly surprised to have my blister examined by a Dr. within 5 minutes of arrival. They sold me a $3.00 pkg. of anti-biotic salve and bandages, and the Dr. told me if my arm began to hurt – to “skedaddle right back here as fast as you can” and he’d start me on anti-biotics. That was kinda scary. My arm did indeed begin to hurt – and I was fearing the worst – blood poisoning? Amputation? ARGH! I went back 2 days later, and the nurse took my temperature, and told me I had nothing to worry about.
The facility had a lot of beds and equipment – and a pharmacy.
WiFi and INTERNET: A friend went to the computer room on the ship, where they had WiFi – only to send a fast email to a friend, and check her inbox. No more than 5 minutes did she spend before logging off. It cost $15! Wifi was apparently slated at .75 cents per minute – so I wisely steered clear of Facebook, and wordgames, knowing how time can add up surprisingly. One Facebook friend told me a friend of his had to pay $2000 at the end of his trip for WiFi he didn’t think he had to pay for. Yikes!!!
MOTION SICKNESS AND SHIP STABILITY:
The Valor is so huge, it didn’t move very much. There were some whitecaps during the cruise, but I was hardly aware of any motion. Sleep was wonderful (unless noisy hallmates, or crew noises awakened me).
I did notice some people wearing patches behind their ears, and I’m certain that the medical clinic onboard could easily accommodate those who were feeling queasy.
I cruised once before on a smaller cruise ship called the Jupiter. Now THAT ship (which I performed on) was rockin’ and rollin’ throughout the 2 week cruise. The Caribbean was very rough at that time (end of Feb. 1980) and my cabin was towards the stern of the ship. Conditions were so rough – we had to strap ourselves into our bunks to avoid being thrown out of bed during the night. The crew was seasick, and in order to perform our show in our high heels, my fellow singer, Jamie Ray and I had to hold on to poles with one arm, and our mic with the other arm.
I didn’t get seasick then either. When we got to our first port on that cruise – Granada – I got the feeling the island was floating, and wondered how it stayed in one spot. While trying to find the answer to that question, I was informed that I had “sea-legs” as a result of the cruise. The island wasn’t floating. My inner ear just wouldn’t stop adjusting to the motion of the ship.
There was not a HINT of that sort of need on the Valor.
NIGHTLY ROOM SERVICE: The cabins are cleaned twice a day – trashcans emptied, bathroom cleaned and towels replaced. In the evening, the stewards have once again tidied, and turned down your kingsized bed, leaving an itinerary about activities that will occur the following day, topped with 2 chocolates, and a different piece of brilliant and fun towel art every night!
MANITOBA HAL BROLUND AND THE UKE EXPERIENCE:
Our first day at sea was Monday Feb. 4th, as we sailed for Grand Turk (arriving on the morning of Tuesday Feb. 5th).
Hal had planned our first morning session based around suggested daily exercises involving keys, strums and rhythms. He was extremely patient with questions, and gave willing one-on-one help to anyone needing it.
Our afternoon session consisted of learning and singing some songs especially chosen by Hal.
Hal gave us a concert on the Tuesday evening – and his ability with, and knowledge of the uke was very very impressive. His singing is also wonderful – a beautiful voice has he!!
People who wished for private lessons were booked throughout the cruise by Hal’s able assistant Nicole, and kept our man very busy.
We had a second day at Sea on Thursday – and on that day Hal taught 2 group sessions based on blues uke playing, and gospel.
By the end of the cruise – one woman who had never before played the uke, was playing with the group – feeling more confident than she did the first day.
As we walked throughout the ship with our ukes, many of the other passengers asked if we’d be giving a concert. We didn’t plan that – but decided that we would assemble on the Lido deck at 5 pm every evening, at the quiet stern section, and sing songs from the Jam book which was ably compiled by Mark and Sue Rodgers from Ottawa. The ship would leave port at 5pm on the days we were at an island – so we’d be uking and singing by the pool as we pulled away from port. We’d watch the ship maneuver its way back to sea, while watching the sun set, pickin’ and grinnin’!
Hal Brolund was a wonderful gift to our cruise experience, and thanks to Harry Curtis for the idea! There will be more cruises arranged in future with the same theme!
My CUJAM friends pre-booked excursions through the travel agency. I didn’t do that, as I wanted to play my days “by ear” – depending how I was feeling, and who wanted to do what.
Jacquie, Linda-Marie and Marya booked a horseback ride the first day, and raved about cantering into the ocean on the horses. They also partook of a “helmet walk” exploring the seabed, while weighed down with helmets of 75 pounds (with air supply). That didn’t much interest me – but they raved about the experiences they paid a LOT of $$$ to partake in.
I had booked to go on a glass boat excursion at Grand Turk, to see the underwater flora and fauna – but it was cancelled, due to unclear water conditions. So the day was spent visiting some shops, and going back to the ship and hanging by the saltwater pool.
ST. MAARTEN, FEB. 7
When we arrived at St. Maarten, I had nothing booked, and all my friends were going here and there on their excursions . I decided I’d best find something to do. I booked one of the only excursions that wasn’t sold out – a trip on the Golden Eagle Catamaran. I didn’t know anyone on the excursion, but quickly became acquainted with two sisters from Utah – Sheena and Emma. There was snorkeling involved with this excursion, and when we got to the site – they handed out flippers, masks and snorkels. I wasn’t too enthused about the snorkeling aspect – but figured I should be daring for a change.
We had to leave the boat, anchored about 100 feet offshore, either by jumping off the side, or using the “chicken ladder”. Well – you can well guess which choice I made. With my mask covering my nose, and my HUGE flippers trying to find the rungs – I slowly eased myself into the not-so-warm Caribbean. I had to do this faster than my usual slow pace – as there were people behind me on the ladder, rarin’ to snorkel. When I got into the water, and put the snorkel in my mouth, I immediately got a mouthful of salty water. Because we had life jackets on, there was no danger of sinking, and I finally adjusted it so I could breathe through it, and see a few rocks and little fish on the bottom. I wasn’t that comfortable with the snorkeling – so went directly to the beach, and was helped out of the water by someone from the boat. “You gots ta take your flippers off first, ma’am” I was told. Took a while to get my balance after coming ashore. (Sealegs again).
It was hot, sunny, and there was no place to escape the sun – my towel, sunglasses and camera were on the boat – and sitting, wet, on the golden sand didn’t feel like a comfortable option. They gave the beach people a beer to drink, while standing, waiting for the snorkelers to finish their adventure. I was very happy when the dingy picked us up and took us back to the boat. It was a fun, rough ride back to the ship, with great scenery, and rum punch.
I was glad to tell my friends about MY adventure – and they had great stories about their excitement of the day.
ST. KITTS, FEB 8TH:
Good place to shop for beach wear, and souvenirs for the grandkids. Went back to the ship for lunch, then back to the stores for more purchases in the afternoon.
One thing to watch out for in St. Kitts is the guys walking around with little pet monkeys – they bring them to you and put them on your shoulder or head, and take a photo with your camera. Warning! It ain’t free! “Tree pictures for $12….” Nope.
ST. THOMAS – FEB. 9
CUJAM friends Bob and Sue Cutler invited me to join them for this excursion off the ship, as Bob was familiar with St. Thomas. As the three of us entered the town, after showing our passports and ship information, we began walking towards the Cable Ride, which would take us up the mountain that Bob felt we’d enjoy. All along the way, we were shooing off taxi drivers wanting to take us somewhere.
On our way up the hill, past “Hooters” – just when we felt we were now clear of the taxi menagerie – we were approached by a friendly man, who asked if he could help us. We began brushing him off, telling him in our friendliest way, that we were off to ride the cable car up the mountain, and then we would be getting a cab to Magens Beach.
Franco was very polite and helpful – pointing out that the cable car alone would cost us $21 each (U.S.D.) then we’d pay $8 on top of that for a one-way cab ride to Magan’s Beach. He could offer us a much better deal – a guided historical tour of the town; a trip up to the HIGHEST mountain (which was NOT the same mountain as the cable cars) AND he’d take us to Magan’s Beach, leave us there, and come and pick us back up for $24 USD each. He seemed like a likeable, intelligent man, so we agreed that would be the best thing to do. And we were very happy we did so.
He warned us, with a glint in his eye, that we should listen to his historical “lecture” because he’d be testing us with some questions later on. I told him that I had a question for him to answer first, and began to sing the melody of the jazz standard “St Thomas” as we drove. He had no clue about the song – had never heard it before. So, I guess it isn’t the theme song of the Island – likely just written by some jazz artist who was smitten by the place.
He took us past the landmarks in town, and halfway up the steep road leading up the mountain, he delivered us to Blackbeard’s Castle for a short look. We weren’t charged entry to this historic site, as he was friends with the people who ran it. We took photos of our ship, ‘way off in the distance, and the tour guide gave us the tale of Blackbeard, his reign of terror, and eventual demise.
Back in the cab, I was concerned that my prescription sunglasses had disappeared. We looked all around the cab. Nada. I was a bit upset, thinking of the cost to replace them. So when Franco dropped us off at the mountaintop Bazaar with incredible views of the turquoise Caribbean, my first stop was to find a new pair of sunglasses. When I found a nice pair, I removed my hat to try them on, and VOILA!! There were my sunglasses sitting on my head beneath my hat. Was I ever happy!
There were signs all over the Bazaar that it was famous for its banana daquiris – and even though it was before noon, Bob bought Sue and me one of those drinks. Ohhhh my MY!! Was it GOOOOD! I wanted another one, but managed to discipline myself. Meanwhile, Sue and I went looking for jewellery and clothing, while Bob searched out a Hawaiian shirt. He put his daquiri down, in order to try on a shirt, and 3 minutes later – he found his drink was gone! Someone just came and stole it. The bartender was kind enough to give Bob another one at no charge.
At the appointed 20 minute deadline, we met Franco in the parking lot, and he took us back downhill (Wow! Those ziggy roads are STEEP!! Lucky they don’t have snow).
He dropped us off at Magan’s Beach, and we walked quite a way before finding a shady piece of beach to lay down our towels, backpacks and ukes.
I waded into the calm Caribbean a few times. I was surprised the water wasn’t even as warm as the Y pool I’m so used to – but it was refreshing once we got used to it. It was very enjoyable watching the pelicans swooping in for a dive, to catch their lunch. They seemed to have no fear of the swimmers, and would land very close to some of them.
After a slice of pizza, more swimming, and singing a few songs with our ukes, our 2 hours were up, and we went in search of Franco. We found his wife, who is also a cab driver, waiting for us, and she and Franco got us back to the ship in time to have a lunch, and a rest by the aft-pool.
I decided to finalize and pay for my bill (which contained my grande lattes, my pina colada, and my excursion on the Golden Eagle). I lined up for over an hour to do this, only to find that it wasn’t really necessary (unless one had doubts about any charges). After dinner that night, there was a printed itemized account of the expenses in everyone’s little mailbox outside our rooms, and these charges were automatically charged to the credit cards of each passenger.
Later that afternoon, the ukers grouped at our regular spot on the aft Lido deck, and many of us brought up our bottles of wine, or champagne from our rooms, to share with our fellow strummers.
We had our final dinner together, then went back to our cabins to pack up our suitcases, so they could be picked up, outside our rooms before midnite. Cleared out shelves, closets and drawers, and packed them in the suitcase I had kept under my bed for the week.
Had to make sure I kept my gloves, hat, sneakers etc. for my carryon, so I could change into them at the airport, in preparation for the cold weather at home.
FINAL DAY – SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO:
I was wide awake at 6:30 am, and looked out my window to see we were now docked in San Juan. The sun wasn’t quite up yet.
I got dressed in my layers, and went up to the Lido deck for the last time, to get some breakfast, and to scoff a croissant, some ham, cheese, pastries and a pear for my lunch.
Ate my breakfast, and made my lunch, and put it into the Ziploc baggies I had brought in my luggage.
Our itinerary told us we’d be disembarking around 8 a.m., and we had pre-booked an excursion for that morning in San Juan, beginning at 9 am, as we had a few hours to kill before our plane left the airport. This excursion was supposed to take us on a tour of the Baccardi rum factory, and a tour of historic San Juan.
We gathered in the lounge with our carryons and ukes, and waited. And waited. And waited. It wasn’t until 10:15 that our group was finally called to disembark – there had been delays with other groups disembarking before us.
Then the lineups began. We had to find our luggage, sitting under our group number sign in the terminal. Thank God for the bright red bow on my suitcase handle. That made mine easily identifiable.
Then another LONG lineup through US Customs. By the time I got to the front, they examined my little customs form, on which I admitted freely to bringing food in – “Just my lunch” I said naively. They put a big “A” on my form, and directed me to a separate interrogation room, where the customs lady examined my lunch and told me I would not be allowed to bring it into the country. The pastries – they were OK. But the ham, and the pear were definitely taboo! So I stood there at around 11 a.m. and ate my lunch under the surveillance of the customs person. Handed her my pear core to throw away, and I was cleared through to join my buddies, carrying my lunch conveniently in my gastrointestinal tract.
There was a bus awaiting us for our excursion, and since we were 2 hours late – we voted on a historic tour, rather than a trip to the rum factory.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and San Juan is a beautiful, clean city – with many historic forts and buildings. We visited the Capitol Building – all marble everywhere. Most beautiful. We stopped in the center of town for lunch, and we were told to be back at the bus in one hour. We wandered the narrow cobbled streets of the old part of town, and visited some mouldy little stores. Some of us found a lovely little taverna on a side street, and I joined this group. Since I’d eaten my “lunch” in customs, I opted instead for a Mojito. (“When in Rome”…, said I). I am a beer and wine-drinker, and don’t go too much for rum cocktails – but I have to say – this drink was NIRVANA!! Loved the fresh mint and lime in the cocktail, and I’m so glad I finally could say “I know what’s in a Mojito” MMMMM!
The bus took us to the airport for 1:30. Our flight was to leave at 3:20. CUTTING IT CLOSE!!!
Our line moved at a snail’s pace! My big suitcase was weighed, and despite the fact that I had disposed of 3 years worth of Musicians, SOCAN, CAA and other magazines while on the cruise – it still weighed 49 pounds. Yikes!
Once my bag was checked, I was directed “just around the corner” about a kilometer away, and proceeded to zig zag along with HUNDREDS of people needing to go through the security checks. Around 3pm, I finally got to the head of the line – I could hear my plane was boarding, and I knew that a lot of my friends from our flight were ‘way back in the lineup behind me.
I was made to remove my sandals. ???? Took off my hat, my fanny pack, my jacket, my backpack, my uke and put them on the tray for examination. As I waited for my belongings to be spewed out of the Xray machine, it stopped. Oh NOOOOOOOwuh!!!
The customs guy asked me if I was carrying knives. KNIVES??? No – I have NO idea what they saw in my backpack, but they removed it from the machine and began going through it, all the while, I’m hearing my flight was boarding, over the PA.
The lady found 2 bottles of water in my backpack, and told me I was not allowed to carry water “unless you’re diabetic”. I told her I was. So she went and tested the water, before giving it back to me, and letting me move onward.
I raced to the gate – another 2 kilometers away – and found it just as they were boarding my seat and row number. My seatmate was ‘way back in line, and I still had to try and breathe deeply to calm myself, and put on my sox and sneakers, and a few layer things that would be difficult to put on once I was seated in the plane. Do you know how hard it is to tie a pair of shoes when you’re under pressure, and people are waiting for you???
Boarded the plane, and was preassigned the BACK window seat. My friend Jacquie followed in a few minutes – apparently a new line was opened to shuttle our flightmates through so they wouldn’t miss the flight. Whew!
I decided to order my dinner on the plane, and knew exactly what I wanted. HOWEVER, when you’re in the very back seat, and they start serving from the front of the plane – you take what’s left by the time they get to you. I had a cold chicken wrap. A large step down from the exquisite dinners we’d enjoyed during our week on the Valor. Also, being at the back of the plane delayed us another half hour, as everyone deplaned.
We arrived right on time at Pearson airport, noting the snow that was covering the ground in Toronto. We donned our layers, gloves and scarfs from our carryons in order to await the taxi that would take us home.
Walking with Jacquie towards another customs lineup, J said her foot wasn’t feeling too good, and she was having trouble walking. I told her I’d run ahead and get us a spot in the zig zag lineup, and she could join me at her leisure. I kept checking behind me – no Jacquie. How WEIRD!! Finally, just as I was getting to the front of the line – Jacquie appears in a wheelchair, accompanied by a medic and a porter, who was taking care of her bags. I was lucky enough to be called her “Companion” and we were zipped through the lineups, and waited to retrieve our checked luggage, all under the watchful eye of the porter and the medic.
We hailed a cab back to our neighbourhood – first stop was my house. We had only HEARD of the worst snowstorm in 5 years when we were lazing on the ship. We felt grateful not to have to deal with all that, as we basked in the tropical sun. Well – reality must set in, and it bites sometimes!
In front of my house and driveway was a 3 foot windrow of a plowmound, and there was no easy access to my front door. I was dressed in layers, but had my sneakers on. I was so lucky the cab driver lifted my behemoth of a suitcase over the plowmound to my front door. Waved goodbye to Jacquie, still in the cab.
Home at 10:30 pm. First thing I had to do? Don my gloves, hat, coat and boots and go out and shovel.
There will be another ukulele cruise next year – plans are taking place now. For further information, contact Donna or Harry Curtis at http://ottawawest.cruiseholidays.com/