2012 Cruise Log - Caribbean

July 5, 2012

It's time for another cruise. Matt has a month off in December/January, so that is the timeframe chosen. This time we have chosen a back-to-back cruise on the Navigator, the ship we were on for the Amazon Cruise.
It is a combination of two 10 day cruises in the Caribbean, both Eastern and Western. The itinerary is posted on the itinerary page. A quick call to Candi Deem at Travel Leaders in South Dakota and all was booked. We will be in cabin 1109, a bit more forward than we were last time. She has also already taken care of the flight details!

July 6, 2012

Booked our excursions today. We are on the wait list for 2 of them, and could not get one that we had hoped for.

Here is the quick overview:

Key West: Discover Key West
George Town: Grand Cayman Snorkeling
Cozumel: Beach Snorkel Experience
Belize City: Cave Tubing and Jungle Walk
Santo Tomas de Castilla: Amatique Bay Resort
Roatan: Gumbalimba Preservation Park
Costa Maya: Kohunlich Mayan Ruins
Nassau: Blue Lagoon Island Sea Lion Encounter (Wait List)
San Juan: Rainforest Nature Walk
Tortola: Escape to Jost Van Dyke
Gustavia: Sailing the Leeward Coast
Charlotte Amalie: "Castaway Girl" Barefoot Sail and Snorkel
Cayo Levantado: Jeep Safari Adventure
Grand Turk: Catamaran Sailaway Beach and Snorkel

September 19, 2012

Reservations made for "Prime 7" Restaurant on December 24th and January 6th. All pre-cruise items are all taken care of.

November 20, 2012

Cruise documents arrived today. Everything is in place. All that is left is packing.

December 5, 2012

A box arrived via UPS. Inside was a Tiffany box. It contained a nice candy dish from Regent. (See photo page).

December 17, 2012

The morning started off VERY early. We got up at 1:30AM, with Eric from Vintage Limousine picking us up at 2:30. We arrived at the San Francisco airport at 4:00 with a fairly quick check-in, although there was a couple in front of us in the first class line who were checking in 3 large plastic bins of books. They spent a lot of time putting on straps and wire ties, so we just had to stand there and wait. Finally another agent took care of us.

Our flight boarded at 5:50 and we were off to Miami at 6:20. There were 2 broken first class seats, and the TV screen would not come down, so we were unable to watch the movie and other entertainment. At least the audio system was working and I could listen to music. American Airlines not at the top of my pick list right now.

Arrived in Miami at 2:45 and took a 15 minute taxi ride to the Biltmore Hotel. It is a beautiful old hotel (built in 1926) on 150 acres. We spent time wandering the grounds taking a few photos (see photo page).

We had an early dinner outdoors at the Hotel's Italian Restaurant before walking the grounds again to see the lights at night.

December 18, 2012
Embarkation day

We awoke at 8:30 and went to the hotel courtyard for the complimentary breakfast buffet.
Up to the room to pack and left the hotel at 11:20 for a taxi ride to the Port of Miami. The Navigator is the only ship in port, so it was an easy ride over. We arrived at the terminal just before 12:00 and were allowed onboard within 10 minutes. The embarkation was very quick and we were welcomed onboard by Santa and the Jean Ann Ryan singers singing Christmas carols in their Dickens outfits.

We went out to the pool deck to have lunch and then walked around the ship for a bit until our room was ready, which was at 2:15. I ran into Willie Aames, our cruise director, and he remembered me from the cruise I had with him 2 years ago. (If you don't know who he is, just Google "Eight Is Enough" or "Charles In Charge"). Our luggage was waiting for us in our cabin, so we unpacked and I ran down to the laundry room to iron my shirts. I am going to have the ship wash and iron all of my shirts on this cruise.

We met our stewardess (Ni Made) and our butler (Zahid). Our request for having 2 barrel chairs in the room removed and requested sodas had not been taken care of, but will be. They now have a coffee machine in each room, and that has been stowed away under the bed.

Our life boat drill was held at 5:15. Nothing spectacular about that, other than if something happened on the ship, by the time the older folks work their way down the staircase, things would be over.

Met with a few passengers in the lounge before dinner and had a nice chat, then it was off for a nice dinner in the Compass Rose (main dining room), then it was off to the casino where we made our first donation. The casino director was one I had on a cruise 3 years ago. There have been several cruise members who we have recognized and have recognized us. That is always nice.

We were back in the cabin and ready to call it a night at 9:45.

December 19, 2012
Key West, Florida

We awoke at 7:30 and had breakfast in the room. The ship docked in Key West at 8:00. It was 72 degrees out with 87% humidity. There were 2 other ships in port, the Oceania Riviera and the Carnival Fascination.

We went on our tour "Discover Key West" at 9:00. The tour started with a one hour tram ride which took us through much of downtown Key West including the Harry Truman White House, Key West Cemetery, Duval Street (the main shopping street), Customs House, Mallory Square and many homes of famous people including Ernest Hemmingway and John Audubon.

After the tram ride, we visited the Shipwreck Maritime Museum
. This nautical museum serves as a backdrop for artifacts from the Issac Allerton, which sank in 1856. We climbed the attached lanteen tower, which is 65 feet tall. Then it was off the Aquarium for a quick visit. It was built in 1934 as an open-air aquarium. There are not that many exhibits there, but it was interesting.

Matt and I walked around the city for awhile before heading back to the ship and lunch. After lunch, I headed out to the pool for a few hours of tanning while Matt wrote a few postcards and watched a movie in the cabin.

I went down to Cruise Destinations and booked our next cruise (August - October of next year). It will go from Vancouver, up to Alaska, back down and through the Panama Canal and end up in Montreal. This will be a 43 day cruise.

The Captain's Reception was held at 6:00, where the captain introduces the main staff members. From there it was off to dinner (I had Prime Rib, Matt had Peking Duck with Plumb Sauce). Casino time followed, then back to the room to watch "A Christmas Story".

December 20, 2012
At Sea

Up at 8:30 to start our sea day. It is 78 degrees (supposed to go to about 83) with 82% humidity. There is a 20 knot wind, so the ship is rocking just a bit...just enough to know you are at sea. Well, this ship has the shutters all the time, so you know you are at sea by that.

As far as I can tell, we only have one baby onboard. She is here with parents and grandparents. There are only one or two younger children. Most of the young people are late teens to college age. There are probably 20 or so of those...so we are skewing younger on this cruise, due to the holidays. According to the Cruise Consultant, we have just over 50% return cruisers.

Our cabin (1109) is on deck 11, the highest that has cabins. This time, we are under the aerobics part of the spa/gym. We have noticed some noise from that, but not bad. We do hear the late afternoon class being held up there. Last time we were in 1119, which is under the spa reception area, so there was little to no noise. On our next cruise (August), we will be in 1123, near the elevators, but above us will be the spa entry, which should also be very quiet.

I spent time by the pool before we had lunch, which today was Pizza and Pasta by the pool deck.

After lunch we went through all of the excursions available to us on the next cruise. Hopefully, we will be set when we have to book them on the 24th.

Both Matt and I went back out to the pool until 5:00. I met Jo, who is traveling by herself. We had a nice conversation about Regent and travels. At 6:00, it was time for the "Block Party" where you meet and greet with all of your neighbors. Appetizers and wine are served. It lasts about a half hour.

Dinner again in the Compass Rose, a bit of gambling, then off to see "On Broadway", the production show with the Jean Ann Ryan singers and dancers. Same show that I have seen several times. Still quite good.

December 21, 2012
Georgetown, Grand Cayman

As our excursion is not until afternoon, we did not get the day started until 8:30 with a nice breakfast in La Veranda before leaving the ship at 11:00 to go ashore.

The ship is anchored today along with the Carnival Valor, Carnival Legend and a Holland America ship. We have come 697 nautical miles and have 1,632 to go in this leg of the cruise. It is79 degrees out with 61% humidity.

We walked around the shoreline, visiting several stores as Matt was looking for a pair of flip-flops, which he was able to find. We then had lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken. There were two little tables outside, so we ate at one of those. There was a rooster running around outside the store. Very funny. (See photo page).

We shopped a bit more before our 1:30 excursion, which was a reef snorkel and a snorkel over the wreck of the ship "the Cali". I had done this excursion several years ago, but knew that Matt would enjoy it. It was a 2 hour trip and very enjoyable.

The "Seven Seas Society" party was held for those who have been on Regent ships before. Of the 450 passengers on the ship, over 300 are return customers. After the party, it was off to dinner and the casino.

We started having high winds (the upper outside decks were closed), and the ship really began to rock.

Our clocks move one hour back tonight as we begin heading westerly to Cozumel, which is almost in line with the western end of Florida.

December 22, 2012
Cozumel, Mexico

The sea got REAL rough during the night. At about 2:30, things in the gym above us began falling. The ship was rocking, rolling and creaking. Hard to sleep through.

We got up at 8:30 and went to La Veranda for breakfast, then out to the pool to tan for a bit. Ate lunch at 11:30 and got ready for our snorkeling excursion. Once we got to the theater (where all excursion groups meet), we found out that due to the conditions of the ocean, ours was cancelled. As several of the others were already full and that the ones open were 5 to 5 1/2 hours long, we decided to pass and just go for a walk in the city.

Cozumel has a lot of shopping near the pier with long streets full of shops. Each has one or more people outside hawking their goods and inviting you in. Most of the stores are either jewelry or trinket shops. Each shop has about the same thing in them. If you really become interested in an item, the price starts dropping.

I found a man who paints the inside of plates with his hands. I ended up getting one of those, and Matt picked up 2 small sombreros for the dogs to wear.

We came back to the ship at about 3. Matt did some laundry and I went out to the pool and ended up talking with Jo again.

There are 3 Carnival ships in port along with the AIDA Aura cruise ship.

We met "Captain John". He is an older gentleman who spent 35 years with the navy and has been living on this ship now for 11 years. He has dinner by himself and walks a few miles a day around the ship. He does not get off the ship very often....but just LOVES the staff and the ship.

We had another nice dinner in Compass Rose, then went back to the casino, where Matt got a straight flush on "3 card poker", so we were able to come away even tonight.

December 23, 2012
Belize City, Belize

We awoke at 8:30 and had room service breakfast. We met for our tour at 10:00. To get to Belize City, we had to take a tender and it takes about 15 minutes to get to the pier. We are anchored a LONG way from shore. The rest of our destinations on this part of our cruise will be docked.

Here is a description of our excursion:

Depart the pier with your guide for the 1-hour drive on the Western Highway en route to the Caves Branch River. This river winds through the Maya Mountains and numerous ancient caves once inhabited by the Maya. Upon arrival at Jaguar Paw, your headquarters for the day, you will begin a 45-minute hike down a jungle trail. Along the way, your guide will point out various plants, roots and herbs once used by the ancient Maya for medicinal purposes.

The entrance tunnel that leads into the underground cave system will be the start of your adventure. After your guide hands out headlamps, you will float in an inflated inner tube as the gentle current takes you on a 2-hour journey through the cave system. Intricate crystalline formations line the cave, and you will see plenty of stalagmites and stalactites. On several occasions, you will emerge into the sunlight, only to enter another cave system. At the end of your inner tube tour, a lunch consisting of freshly-prepared chicken with rice and beans will be served.

When we arrived at the Caves Branch site, which was just around noon, we had lunch. This, instead of at the end of the tour, which was fine with us. After lunch, we broke up into groups of 8, were given a tube, headlamp and safety vest. We walked 2 minutes to the river, crossed it by foot, then went on a 35 minute walk up the hill to the tubing stating point. Our guide pointed out trees, insects, etc on the way.

Once at the tubing site, we got into the water and lined up into 2 rows with the feet of one tuber under the arms of the tuber in front of them. Matt and I were in the rear, so we had our arms free to take photos easily.

We began going into the caves, which were great! There were also a few small waterfalls in there. About half way through, we unhooked from each other and we had a new guide who split us off into 4's. He stayed with us the rest of the way.

After the tubing, it was back on the bus for the ride back to the pier, then the tender back to the ship. We arrived back at about 4:45.

As usual, a nice dinner in Compass Rose, then a visit to the casino, where we finally came out a few dollars ahead.

December 24, 2012
Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala

Another early morning (according to Matt) as we awoke at 8:00, and had breakfast in the suite. The ship was already docked. We face the port, which has a lot of rail boxcar containers. Not the nicest view. The other side of the ship sees more of the forest and water. We are still trying to train our butler. We ask him not to set up the full table for breakfast, just to set things on the table and we can take it from there. He always sets it up, so we gave up asking him. He is trying hard to be polite, but it is his first cruise, so he is not sure of things, and can't seem to remember how you want things.

My standing order of Mountain Dew in the room as yet to be. This order was placed months before the cruise and they can't seem to find it. We talked to our butler. He does not even know what Mountain Dew is. We went to the front desk. They just say that they are trying to find some. As they passed out a "how are we doing so far" card, I filled it out with my Mountain Dew complaint. Hopefully it will show up by the next leg of the cruise.

Anyway....Our excursion group met at 9:20 and we were loaded onto panga boats and off we went for a 15 minute ride to the Amatique Bay Resort. We were shown around a bit, then we went off on our own to explore the resort. It has a few pools, a beach area (although water access was blocked by a sandbags), a waterslide, handmade lighthouse tower, and an iguana and turtle enclosure.

We layed out by the pool until 12:00, when lunch was served. They had a BBQ with chicken and steak.

Return boats were scheduled at 1:00, 1:30, 2:00 and 2:30. We wanted back on the ship, so we lined up with about half of the passengers for the 1:00 return. Staying there longer was not much of an option. It was nice enough and I am sure it is a great getaway for the locals, but not for us.

We went shopping at the port terminal, came back to the ship and spent time by the pool. Jo was also there, so we had a nice conversation.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on the computer booking the excursions for our August cruise. Today is the first day to be able to book them, so we got all of the excursions that we wanted.

Dinner was at "Prime 7", the specialty restaurant. I had a wonderful steak and Matt had lobster. Then it was off to the casino, where Matt did very well. Me...not so much.

9:30 brought the holiday show. Willie Aames, the Cruise Director, J.R., the assistant Cruise Director, the Jean Ann Ryan singers and dancers and several of the crew put on a very nice show.

We called it a night, knowing another long excursion awaits us tomorrow.

December 25, 2012
Roatan Island, Honduras

We awoke at 8:30 and had breakfast in La Veranda before heading off the ship to check out the shopping area of Mahogany Bay, our port. It is a small area with several shops. We also walked the nature trail to the beach.

Lunch was at 11:30 and then it was off to Gumbalimba Preservation Park, a 25 minute ride away. On the way, we met Gary and Eduardo and had a very nice chat.

Once at the park, we went on a guided tour. The first stop was a small hummingbird area which had 2 feeders and several hummingbirds visiting. We next visited a Butterfly and insect display. All creatures were from one man's collection. Next, it was across a suspension bridge that said only 5 should cross at any time. Our whole group of 16 was on the bridge at one time. This led to a bird area with several parrots...some in cages, several not. There was one parrot that they put on you for photos. It should be mentioned that all animals in this park are rescue animals. Then it was on to the monkey area. Here was the most fun! There were about 10 monkeys in the area that were free to roam around and play in the trees, and they had one that they passed from person to person for photos. She was quite tame and just loved being on my shoulder. We took many photos, as did the park (for later sale). Back through a man-made cave we went to learn about the history of the area, then back to the bus area. It really was a great excursion.

We took the van ride back to Mahogany Bay, checked out a shop or two before boarding the ship.

We went to a special party for Seven Seas Society members where our Assistant Cruise Director, J.R. sang a few songs. He used to be a Broadway performer, and it showed. The 2 Russian gymnasts performed a number also. Afterward, we joined Gary and Eduardo for dinner and gambled. We skipped the "Cirque Navigator" show, as we will catch it on the next leg.

December 26, 2012
Costa Maya, Mexico

This was a very early morning for Matt. We awoke at 6:55, with room service at 7:00.The Carnival "Glory" and Disney "Magic" were already in port.

Our excursion got underway at 8:15. It is described as follows:

Begin your excursion at the pier and travel with your guide to the Kohunlich ruins. Along the way, you will learn about the site and the history of this fascinating area. Upon arrival, you will embark on a guided exploration through this breathtaking site that is named after the majestic cahoon palm tree that grows fronds up to 40-ft. tall. The park-like setting includes a sunken palace, acropolis, ball court and courtyards but the main attraction is the masks!

Take the opportunity to climb the pyramid-like temple to get a great view of the unique 10-ft. high sculpted masks of the Sun God "Kinich Ahau" that run up each side of the stairways. Built before 500 A.D., these marvelous masks still retain some of their original colored stucco. Kohunlich's broad range of architecture, natural beauty and expansive, uncrowned seclusion set it apart from the more widely toured sites.

After a visit of approximately 2 1/2 hours, you will rejoin your coach and make your way to the Lagoon Club for a tasty lunch of regional favorites before returning to the pier.

It was pretty much as described, except about the part of the drive there taking 2 hours. We learned about that once we got the excursion information on our first day aboard. Because of time constraints, we were only allowed to see the ruins for an hour and a half. It was, however, a very nice excursion. We learned a lot from our guide. On the bus, he showed us small instruments, carved items and so much more. We were wondering where he was storing it all. It even began to get funny.

Our lunch was at the Lagoon Club and was very nice. We had chips with refried beans, fajitas, rice, guacamole and a drink. There was a cute mini yorkie puppy there that Matt and I had to play with. Makes us miss Tess and Lucy.

We got back at 3:15 and had to board the ship quickly before the 3:30 "all aboard". No time to shop in the port area.

We skipped the "Krew Kapers" pre-dinner show, opting to see it next leg. Dinner was in Compass Rose, then off to "Just Swing", the production show. It was not good. We have seen it before, but this one really lacked a spark. We won't be seeing that show again.

We donated a bit to the casino before calling it a night. We have to set our clocks ahead one hour tonight to get us back to East Coast time.

December 27, 2012
At Sea

"At sea" days are always pretty quiet. We awoke at 8:30 and had breakfast in La Veranda. Matt did laundry as I went out to lay in the sun, although it is filtered today. We met up at 11:45 to play Bingo, which we did not win. Then it was lunch on the pool deck. It was Tex/Mex day and the food did not meet the standard set yesterday on the tour. We gambled in the afternoon, then picked up our passports before dinner.

Matt has written a letter to our butler to try to get our afternoon canape deliveries correct. They are delivered between 5 and 5:30 and is selected by the chef. Some days it is a seafood item, other times it is parma ham with melon or vegetables and dip. We have asked him several times that if the selection is seafood, that we would like that AND a non-seafood item for me. If it is a non-seafood item, then that is fine. The other day, he did not bring any, but instead a bowl of potato chips and a bowl of nuts. Not what everyone else was served. Thus the letter. Matt has written out a calendar with instructions for each day to make it work out right. Hopefully he will get it.

We have been told that on the next leg of the cruise we will have some 50 kids aged 7 and above. Does not sound like fun to us. I have a feeling the pool area is going to be a zoo. This ship does not have any kid spaces or events for them to participate in. You take those chances when you book a holiday cruise.

Overall, this has been a nice cruise. We made friends with a few people. I don't think you make as many friends on a shorter cruise like this rather than being with the same people for 20-30 days.

It should also be mentioned that we did not get invited to have dinner with any of the cruise. We shall see if that continues to be the case on the next segment.

We ended our day with dinner in Compass Rose and a bit of gambling. When we got back to our cabin, the information about our next leg was there. The Sea Lion encounter excursion in Nassau that we wanted is still waitlisted. If we don't get that, we will just visit the Paradise Casino. Everything else seems to be in order.

December 28, 2012
Miami, Florida

I awoke at 6:30, Matt at 7:00. We had breakfast in La Veranda at 8:00. It was quiet as most passengers were waiting for their "color" to be called as they disembarked. We had already decided that we would walk into the city and stop at the CVS store. So, through customs we went. Because we are back-to-back cruisers, we were allowed to go ashore at any time.

We knew it was about a 2 mile round trip, but figuring the way to get to the pedestrian side of the bridge over the bay was quite a task. There were places where there were no sidewalks and where we had to cross the freeway. Once we had it figured, it was not a big problem.

We were back on the ship at 11:00 and the few of us that were doing a second leg had the ship to ourselves until noon. Lunch at La Veranda, followed by tanning (although it was overcast) on the upper deck. All was quiet until the kids started arriving. Many were well mannered, but a few were hyper and having their parents getting them ice cream (sugar is ALL they needed) did not help.

We came back to the room at 4:00 and did some computer work until the 5:15 safety drill. Yes, we had to do it all over again. Gather in the theater, listen to the procedure and go out on the deck.

Once that was finished, we got ready for dinner in the Compass Rose. Same selections as the first night of the last leg. Have a feeling they will follow the same 10 day rotation. Still very good food. They did a good thing by turning away people who were walking in to the dining room in shorts. Best to set the standards from then start.

Went up to the casino where we met a couple at the 3 card poker table. He was very quiet. His wife, on the other hand, SCREAMED at any winning hand...even a pair. Can't even tell you how loud it was when she got a 3-of-a-kind hand (second highest hand you can get, with a 30-1 payout). I should mention that I got a 3-of-a -kind on my first hand, and Matt got a straight flush (the highest hand) early on, and again before quiting. Maybe this will be a nice leg after all.

I called it quits shortly after 10. Matt stayed to play a bit longer.

December 29, 2012
Nassau, Bahamas

I forced Matt to get up at 6:45 this morning to have breakfast in the room and get ready for the day. We docked in Nassau at 8:00 and we were off for Paradise Island Resort/Casino, also known as Atlantis Casino.

We gambled a bit, walked the property, had lunch at Johnny Rockets, gambled a bit more before taking a taxi back. We then went through the "straw market", a building with tightly compacted rows of sellers. They sit in chairs in the aisles, making it impossible to walk side-by-side.

We came back to the ship and sat out on our balcony for awhile before late afternoon gambling on the ship. By then, it was time for the Captains Reception and dinner at Cruise Director Willie Aames' table. We had one other couple with us and it was a wonderful evening of conversation. Willie did tell us that Governor Gray Davis is on this cruise. We have not seen him yet.

We skipped the production show as we had seen it last time. At the casino both last night and tonight, we have one lady who yells anytime she gets a good hand or rolls dice well (I mentioned her yesterday). It is so loud that she has been asked to calm down. Last night there were complaints from the passengers that have cabins both above and below the casino. Tonight, the people in the cabin below began banging on their ceiling to let the casino managers know that it was getting noisy again. Hard for the casino to do much about it. We shall see how this plays out over the next few days.

 Tonight, clocks go forward one hour.

December 30, 2012
At Sea

Another quiet sea day. We slept in until 9 and went to the pool deck for a light breakfast. All of the pool lounges were taken and there was almost a breakout of fights over who was saving seats, etc. Some of the passengers had put out books, hats, etc. on the lounges very early and walked away. After a half hour, the pool staff collected their items and put them on a table. When they came back an hour and a half later, they wanted their seats. The ship had to have an officer become a chair monitor. We did get two and stayed there until noon.

I had lunch with Willie Aames. We had a wonderful conversation. We shared stories about celebrities (some that we both know) and he told some great stories about being a cruise director.

Matt had lunch, did laundry and watched a movie. I went to the casino and finally got a straight flush, which paid $400. Let's get a few more of those!

Another nice dinner in Compass Rose followed by a casino donation.

December 31, 2012
San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA

I got up at 9:00 and had breakfast in the room, then went out to the pool deck. All the lounges were already taken, but I did find a chair where I could sit in the sun. Matt got up at 10:00 and did some cleaning before we both went to the casino for a bit of slot play. They closed down at 12:00 as we were ready to get into port in Old San Juan.

We went to lunch in La Veranda and watched all of the other ships follow us into port...Holland America Zuiderdam, Celebrity Reflection and an Oceania ship. Quite a busy port. I guess that this is a port where there are only afternoon arrivals.

ATT phones work here, so was able to check text messages. Won't be able to do that again until the end of the cruise.

We had lunch in La Veranda, then it was off on our excursion. It is described here:

Depart from the pier for the transfer to the Caribbean National Forest, a 28,000-acre rainforest and bird sanctuary that comprises 75% of the virgin forests left in Puerto Rico, and is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. The region's substantial annual rainfall helps sustain 50 types of ferns, 20 varieties of wild orchids and 250 species of trees, some over 1,000 years old and 100 feet tall. El Yunque, named for its 3,500-foot anvil-shaped peak, is situated within the forest.

Upon arrival, you and your driver/guide will visit the beautiful El Portal Visitor's Center. This modern and airy 12,000-square-foot facility was constructed to blend into the natural surroundings, and features large, open plazas and patios overlooking the forest and Atlantic Ocean. During your visit, sounds of the nearby stream and jungle play over the audio system, and mood lighting appears on the foliage. Here, you'll learn about the needs, complexities, management and preservation of tropical forests. Inside El Portal, you'll see interactive exhibits and bilingual displays, and view a 12-minute film about the tropical forest. Before you leave, a brief stop will be made at El Portal's gift shop.

Next, you will discover El Yunque's diverse wildlife, including birds, lizards and other small creatures. A photo stop will be made at the beautiful La Coca Falls, and at the 69-foot Yokahu Lookout Tower for expansive views of the lush foliage, mountain peaks and distant ocean. You will then begin a low-impact, 25-minute nature walk on the Baño Grande Hiking Trail. You will begin at the Palo Colorado Information Center, pass the Baño Grande, a large man-made pool built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and enter the Palo Colorado Forest, one of four types of forests in the El Yunque rainforest. Along the way, you will get an up-close look at the various types of flora and fauna, see local birds and cross a picturesque stream.

It was as described, except: we watched the movie on the van and the tower was closed. We did have a nice walk in the forest. It did not rain there, but sure came down while we were coming back to the pier. Our guide, Jose, was wonderful.

When we got back to the pier, we walked over to the Sheraton Hotel/Casino to check it out, then returned to the ship, had a very nice New Years Eve dinner in Compass Rose, watched Rodi Alexander and her husband Mark perform in the theater, followed by the ringing in of the New Year.

January 1, 2013
Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

This port is one that we have been to before. We awoke and had breakfast in the room at 7:00 and were ready for our excursion at 8:00. There was a few minutes delay as the ship still needed to be cleared.

Our excursion is described as follows:

Walk a few steps from the pier to the tender dock, where you'll board a 51-foot, double-decker catamaran. Sit wherever you like, either in the shaded lower deck or on the upper deck if you want to sunbathe on the way. The cruise to neighboring Jost Van Dyke lasts about 45 minutes and is incredibly scenic, as you'll pass several classic Caribbean islands, including St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Upon arriving in White Bay on southern Jost Van Dyke, your adventure in paradise begins in earnest, as there's no dock and you'll have to swim about 30 feet to shore. It's definitely worth the effort and sets a carefree tone for the rest of the day. Here at White Bay, you'll have a full 3 hours ashore to enjoy the sugar-white beach, lounge in a hammock strung between two palm trees, sunbathe or go snorkeling.

There's a reef at the bay's western edge that's usually teeming with blue tangs, rainbow parrotfish and other marine life. You might even see sea turtles and bottlenose dolphin. Later, enjoy a cool drink at the Soggy Dollar Bar, where the famous Painkiller cocktail was invented in the 1970s. This is the Caribbean as it was meant to be: completely stress-free. And the mood will stay with you long after you return to the pier in Tortola.

Close, but not quite. It was not a double deck catamaran, but a speedy yacht. We also tried the reef and it was quite murky, but it was a nice relaxing morning.

We made it back to the ship around 1:00 and had lunch in La Veranda before going for a walk in the city. Most of the businesses were closed due to it being New Year's Day. I did, however, run into Governor Davis and his wife Sharon. We chatted about different cruise lines and travel.

As there was not much to do, we went back onto the ship and I went out on the deck for more sun while Matt watched a movie in the room.

While getting ready for dinner, I received a call from John, the head butler, who wants to meet me in our room to talk about our butler. He knew all of the stories and what has been going on and wanted to make sure that things have changed and are working out much better. I told him that there has been a big change and that everything is running smooth now. He thanked me for training our butler and to let us know that we could call him direct should there be any problems in the future.

Dinner was in Compass Rose, then our nightly gambling.

January 2, 2013
 Gustavia, St. Barts

We awoke at 8:00 and had breakfast in the room in preparation for our 9:00 excursion. This is one of two ports that we have to anchor and tender to. The tender ride is pretty long, close to 20 minutes. The water here is pretty rough and it was pretty tough getting on and off the tender.

This is another of the ports we stopped at last year and we decided to do the same excursion as it includes snorkeling. It is described here:

Explore St. Bart's pristine natural beauty from a unique perspective during this scenic catamaran cruise along the leeward coast of the island.

Depart the pier aboard your catamaran for the cruise to the Bay of Colombier. Upon arrival, you can swim in the crystal-clear waters and explore the beach. Your captain and hostess will also inform you about the local marine life.

While anchored, the Captain and attentive crew will be serving refreshments. Following close to an hour at anchor, the boat will then begin the return trip to Gustavia.

We had time to snorkel, although the current was a bit rough and we both got a few cuts. Nothing serious. It just pushed you into the rocks a bit. Not a lot of fish here, but there were a few.

When we got back to St. Barts, we decided not to walk the town again, but rather go back to the ship and have lunch. We followed that with a bit of time in the sun and then watched a movie before getting ready for dinner. The captain made the decision that since everyone was onboard, we would leave at 6:00 rather than the scheduled 11:00 departure time.

We did have one "Code Mike" during a late tendering. Because of the rougher seas, a lady getting out of the tender, got her leg caught between the tender and the ship. Our understanding is that bones were showing, so she was tended to and is still traveling with us.

A round at the casino (where Matt got another 3-of-a-kind) ended the evening. We have been warned to expect rough seas tonight.

January 3, 2013
 St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Another 8:00 wake time with a 9:00 excursion. This time it is a "Barefoot Castaway Girl Catamaran" tour.

Depart the pier aboard the fabulous 65-foot catamaran, Castaway Girl. The catamaran is very fast and stable, and features spacious sunbathing decks and a large comfortable cockpit for those who prefer a bit of shade. You will feel the warm breezes and gaze out at the crystal-clear Caribbean waters as you set sail for Shipwreck Cove, located on Buck Island.

Upon arrival, you will spend 1.5 hours snorkeling and exploring beautiful coral reefs filled with tropical fish, sea animals and turtles. The wartime shipwreck of the Cartanza C lies 25 feet below the surface, and is home to a wide variety of sea-life. Your crew and instructors will provide assistance in the water, and point out wondrous undersea marine life.

You will be served complimentary tropical fruit drinks and rum punch, along with snacks accompanied by lively music during the relaxing ride back to the pier and ship.

Although the first part of the snorkeling was ok, it was the "swimming with the turtles" part that was great. It was in a second small cove and there were several turtles eating at the bottom and then coming up for air. We were asked not to swim towards them, but they were close enough to get good photos.

After our tour, we walked around for a few minutes, then came back to the ship for lunch. I then went out to the pool while Matt did the final round of laundry.

There was another special get-together for the gold and above society members at 4:00 with appetizers, drinks and then a tour of the theater (dressing rooms and light/sound booth).

Mountain Dew finally showed up in the room!

Dinner was in Compass Rose, then off to see "Cirque Navigator", the production show. This was followed by a bit of gambling before bed. Surprised?

January 4, 2013
 Cayo Levantado, Dominican Republic

We awoke at 8:00 with a 9:15 excursion. We have been to this port before and chose a different tour. This time is was the "4X4 Safari Adventure". Here is the description:

A day of fun, excitement and discovery awaits you on this highly enjoyable tour that is considered to be Samaná's premier 4X4 Safari. Your open-air safari vehicle awaits you at the pier where your adventure begins. Starting off down the main road, you'll soon venture off to an unpaved track that will take you through small, colorful villages, crystal clear rivers and lush green tropical vegetation.

Your first stop is a typical Dominican farm that grows native fruits, coconut, coffee and cacao and your guide will explain how these items are grown, harvested and prepared for market. As an added treat, you'll be able to sample many of the locally-grown fruits and coffee.

Leaving the farm behind, your next stop will be the lovely and unspoiled El Valle Beach. Exiting your vehicle, you'll have time to rest on the sandy, sun-drenched beach or swim in the refreshing waters of the ocean before continuing on to El Valle Waterfalls. The ride to the Falls provides for some amazing photo opportunities and the Falls themselves are nestled in an idyllic tropical setting. While you are here, immerse yourself in the soothing waters or merely relax and enjoy this truly serene setting. Then, you'll journey back to the pier via the Loma de la Piña Trail, a winding route which brings you through a verdant landscape of tropical flora and fauna.

We took a 20 minute tender ride to shore. This was provided by the island. We then boarded our 4X4's for the excursion.

The ride was fine until you ran out of  road, then it was a true adventure. We pretty much bounced all over the place on the rocky road. The stop at the farm was WAY too long. All the guide did was explain all of the fruits found in the area and gave everyone a taste of each (if you wanted). There were 2 tables set up with items for sale, which I am sure the whole stop was about.

We then walked to the waterfall. It is a fairly easy walk and we had "facilitators" who helped you down steeper areas and then across stepping stones over a river. The waterfall was nice. Then it was the same 15 minute walk back to the 4X4's and a ride to the ocean. We could not go in the water, so we just sat around for a half hour before taking the bumpy ride back. Not an excursion I would do again.

We then tendered back to the ship, but had to wait on the ocean in the tender. The reason for this was that the ocean was getting rough and the tender platform was going underwater. We had to wait for things to settle a bit.

We were back on the ship shortly after 3 and had lunch at the pool grill (the only facility open after 2:00) and then I found a deck lounge while Matt watched a movie in the room.

We had dinner in Compass Rose, but were so full that we did not eat that much.

Attended the show put on by Rodi Alexander and Mark Friedman. They really do a nice job!

A bit of casino play, then off to bed.

January 5, 2013
 Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

We were told last night that over 2% of the people on our ship have come down with norovirus, so we are now under new sanitary procedures. They even put hand sanitizer in each room for our use.

Our final port, and one we had been to before and liked very much. We were the only ship in port, so we had the whole island to ourselves. Our excursion began at 8:30 and is described here:

Depart the pier aboard the spacious, 78-foot Oasis Sea Passion catamaran, and cruise through the crystal clear turquoise waters from Grand Turk to Cotton Bay. Upon arrival at Cotton Bay, you will receive your safety instructions and snorkeling equipment, and commence your snorkeling session. The crew will be on hand to provide you with assistance in the water, and throughout the cruise.

After exploring an underwater coral reef paradise teeming with tropical fish, you will embark the catamaran and sail along Grand Turk's idyllic north coast to a private beach. En route, you can sit back, sip a refreshing Oasis Breeze drink and listen to island music playing in the background. Upon arrival at the private beach, time will be made available to sink your toes into the soft white sand, relax on a float or explore the island.

Following your visit, you will re-board the catamaran and sail back to the pier.

It was just as described and the guides once again fed the fish, allowing us to get great photos.

At the finish, we walked the port grounds and ate at Margaritaville. They had bad service. It took a half an hour to just get the drinks (soda) that we wanted. They did not even have iced tea, although it is on the menu. No refills. It took another 10 minutes to get any food and then a long time to get the check.

We got some sun by the huge pool and as we were leaving, noticed that a Holland America ship came into port, although nobody got off the ship and it pulled away shortly after. We found out that they had a medical emergency and were dropping off a passenger.

We were to leave the port at 4:30, but the captain came on the speaker system and said that this was a first for him. There was a 28 mph wind pushing on the side of the ship and he could not get the ship to pull out of port. The wind was keeping the ship pushed against the pier. It took about an hour before we were able to leave.

Matt went to iron his shirt but the laundry room was locked. He called the front desk and they said it was because of the sanitation problem. He was also told that he should have sent it out for pressing. He told them that he would have if he had known that they were going to lock the laundry room. He was a bit agitated, so they sent our butler down to let him in the laundry room just to do the ironing, then they locked the room again.

We went to the "Krew Kapers" show which is always nice, then had a wonderful dinner with Rodi Alexander, her husband Mark Freidman and their son Daryn.

Then it was up to the casino for another beating.

January 6, 2013
 At Sea

I awoke at 8:00 and went to La Veranda for breakfast, then out to the pool to find a lounge chair, which I did around 10:00. Talked with a few of the passengers (Larry and Millie, Dee and Alan). There was a space in the sun that opened up at 11:00, so I took it.

Matt awoke at 11:30 and found me at noon. He went to the library until 1:00 when we had lunch and then went to the casino.

About 3:00, I decided to pack and Matt stayed at the casino. We traded places at 3:30.

Dinner tonight was in Prime 7, where we had a wonderful meal. We did a bit of gambling until 10:00, then called it a night as the bags had to be out in the hallway at 11:00.

January 7, 2013

We had to get up at 6:45, get ready and left the room at 7:30. 8:00 is the latest they let you stay in the cabin. We went to La Veranda for a quick breakfast, then down to the Stars lounge to wait for out bag color and number to be called. We met up with Larry and Millie there, so had another nice conversation.

We were called at about 8:40 and went through immigration and out to the "Big Red Bus" (think trolley) that was waiting for us. (This was a package deal that the ship offered. Bag collection, trolley ride of the city, then a bus ride to the airport. Better than sitting at the airport for 7 hours). They collected our bags and took them to the main trolley station while we went on a tour of the Miami Beach area on the double decker. We were allowed hop on / hop off privileges, so we took advantage of that and walked the art deco district of South Beach. Our tour ended at 12:30, so we had an hour to kill before our bus to the airport would be ready.

The main trolley station is at the Marketplace, as was a Hard Rock Cafe, so we decided to have lunch there. We went to claim our bags at 1:30 and they told us because of the traffic in town (Norte Dame/Alabama football game) that the bus would not arrive until 2:00. We walked the marketplace for awhile and then went back to claim our bags and get on the bus.

We got to the airport at 2:45 and checked in and went through security. By then it was 3:10. Boarding of the plane was at 4:00.

We got back to San Francisco shortly before 8:00, with Vintage Limo waiting for us.