2012-13 CARIBBEAN GEMS RUM AND RAIN

Voyages of Discovery aka Cheapskates Cruises

Barbados, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, St Nevis & St Kitts, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago,
Venezuela
, Curacao, Bonaire, Dominican Republic, Jamaica

NOTE: We have to have a document to show we have had a Yellow Fever vaccination in the last 10 years and leave it and our passport with the ship staff when we arrive.

The first few days of this, and the visit to Curacao are repeats from either the Windward Islands cruise, or my first Caribbean cruise in early 2012.

Day 1, Wednesday, Dec. 19 Fly to Miami
I had planned to fly out tomorrow but the arrival time in Barbados was awful, so I changed to departing today and spending tonight in the Miami Airport hotel. This also gives a late afternoon departure which will be nice and avoids an (only) 1-hour layover in Miami which isn't safe. It's better than the previously scheduled midnight arrival. I'll take a 2:25PM StuporShuttle pickup time. The driver must have been a stupor since the shuttle doesn't arrive until 3:05. There were a couple of light showers but we got off ok - just the usual American Awful-lines delays.

American AA 1294Houston - Miami5:35P - 9:00P2:2513:05

It's a fairly late arrival in Miami, but still gives me about 9-10 hours in the hotel - once I finally got my luggage and walked what seemed about a half-mile to the hotel (arriving there a bit after 10). The weather forecast for Miami is good for both Wednesday and Thursday but NOT TRUE for Bridgetown, Barbados - fortunately, mostly false.


Day 2/1, Thursday, Dec. 20 Bridgeport, Barbados, British West Indies
(REPEAT) It's a nice air schedule otherwise with the longest flight being 3:25. The 10AM departure (delayed as usual) from Miami means an easy morning schedule. We, of course, get no food service on either flight, and even a simple sandwich is $10.

American AA 1089Miami - Bridgetown10:05A - 2:30P3:2518:55

I've been here before on the Windward Islands cruise and this is a much better air schedule despite the long night in Miami. The arrival time is a reasonable mid-afternoon time. On my earlier trip to Barbados, it took "forever" to get through Immigration and Customs but I got through in only one hour. It would have been quicker but American Awful-lines didn't bring any Barbados Immigration/Customs forms so we had to find some, then find a place to stand to fill them out (long wait with 300 passengers). After Immigration was an extremely long wait for luggage. The crummy company is too cheap to have a "meet and greet" service so we have to hassle a local taxi ($23) and be sure to negotiate the price and currency in advance to get to the port - but which berth?

Good luck for once: I had made friends with another cruise passenger who, along with several others had successfully booked a transfer to the ship. Voyages of Discovery aka CheapSkates Cruises apparently plays favorites and had definitely LIED to my travel agent about transfers. Anyway, I got onto the shuttle by a bit of finagling (though I have to pay later). That takes care of getting to the right place at the port - even though it "takes forever" and we don't get there until after 5. We have to drop off our luggage, passport, and vaccination form at the shed where we check in - ithe luggage will be (eventually) delivered directly to my room - after 8PM. At least it's daylight and no drastic rush to get to the ship. Finally embark on the Voyager, along with about 440 other head of cattle (mostly from the UK), for overnight here in the Barbados. Meals onboard (dinner) is available tonight.

The cabin, while small, turns out to be nicer than I had expected, but not as nice as I had hoped. The "facilities" are very cramped, but there IS a desk to work at, and the bed is at least decent. I did have to have one of the ship maintenance personnel to come and fix the a/c. The only bad thing is the ventilation system noise (equipment and air flow) but at least I'm NOT in one of the aft cabins as I was scheduled for on the (cancelled out) Oriental Odyssey.

Dinner - I chose to eat in the Veranda Restaurant (buffet rather than formal dining) and that worked well. I'll eat there for all meals (that I can get there in time to eat.) I'll try to do my usual: breakfast and lunch, then skip dinner. Note: It's five (5) flights of steps up to deck 7 for meals.

Weather forecast: Wednesday: 78-86, 80-90% chance of rain; Thursday: 74-88, 85% chance of rain; Friday: 75-86, 80% chance of rain; Saturday: 73-86, 80% chance of rain probable for St. Lucia. The usual forecast (given onboard) turns out to be cloudy to partly cloudy with showers, temperature 84-90+ F.

Day 3/2, Friday, Dec 21 Bridgetown, Barbados (-- 6PM)
Now if only the Mayan's prediction that the world will end today isn't true… … but with the weather forecast, who cares! Well, the world didn't end and even through we did have a heavy rain overnight, we only get a couple of light showers during our trip today - just overcast and too hazy for any long distance photos. We have a fairly nice buffet breakfast today up on deck 7 (the breakfast menu is ALWAYS the same, including as an extra, a dead fly or three, and a few live ones, to add to our enjoyment of breakfast).

(REPEAT) Old and new, elegance and simplicity, people, style and structure blend harmoniously to weave the richly textured fabric of everyday life on an island where the simple 'chattel house' sits boldly in the splendour of wealthy estates, and where the movie star lives alongside the cane cutter. Barbados is truly charismatic, and yet has a unique charm. Step ashore in Bridgetown and discover the island - one of few in the Caribbean that went undiscovered by Christopher Columbus!

Note on excursions - not all are listed here; with my usual reasons for not considering some. Due to the fact that some excursions have very limited capacity, I went ahead and pre-booked all my selections. Excursions marked * are pre-booked well before the trip. Unlike the excellent Voyages to Antiquity, there are NO included shore activities. EVERYTHING is at an extra cost. Cheapskates Cruises" doesn't even provide shuttles into town. Cheapskates!!!

EXCURSIONS:
*Coast to Coast (½ day AM) $43
Best of Barbados (½ day AM) $61
4x4 Island Safari (½ day AM L) $64
Harrison's Cave (½ day AM) $72

In order to take our excursion today, we have to walk about ½ - ¾ mile from the ship to the port terminal building, and in it, another ¼ mile past an endless line of souvenir trash shops. This takes almost a half-hour due to the crowds (there are 5 other ships, all much larger than ours, dumping their herds of cattle at the same time). Of course we have the reverse walk when we get back from the tour - and, as I write below - making us too late for lunch.

Both on the way out, and back, we walked past one of the NCL ships (Norwegian Sun) - with festivities, refreshments, entertainment, etc right on the dock - both early and at mid-day. What did the crummy "Cheapskates Cruises" have? NOTHING! This is common throughout the voyage. As we walk past other ship gangways, some kind of activity is happening; with CheapSkates Cruises, NEVER.

*Coast to Coast: Discover Barbados "Coast to Coast" taking in some of the island highlights and traditional scenery. Perched on a cliff 246 meters above sea level, St. John's Parish Church affords spectacular views of both the east and south coasts. The present building was constructed in 1836 after the hurricane of 1831 destroyed the one built in 1660. See the pulpit constructed from six different kinds of wood and an interesting sculpture depicting the Madonna and Child with the infant St. John. The church yard contains the tomb of Ferdinand Paleologas - a descendant of the Byzantine Imperial family, who died in Barbados in 1678. Descend through picturesque landscape and make a short stop in idyllic Bathsheba before leading inland through the central parish of St. Thomas. As the road climbs there are marvelous views towards cane fields. The Highland Adventure Center (which we didn't see) sits at an elevation of more than 300 meters above sea level on one of the highest ridges in the island. It overlooks the rugged Scotland district and has views of the East Coast that are "truly breathtaking." The picturesque landscape sweeps down to the East Coast where you join the East Coast Road with rolling hills on one side and the pounding Atlantic surf on the other. Pass (not stop at) the historic Gun Hill Signal Station and (don't) see the stone lion carved by an officer at the station in 1868. The sightseeing concludes with the highlights of Bridgetown. Pass Parliament buildings - home to the third oldest parliament in the Commonwealth established in 1639 and a statue of Lord Nelson - older than the statue of the same name and fame standing in London's Trafalgar Square.

The tour turns out to be, as expected, almost all "drive-by-shootings" with not much chance of photos due to poor, narrow, winding roads. We did stop at St. John's Church but couldn't go in due to a funeral in progress. There was a brief (shoot pictures out of opened coach windows) view of the East Coast, then a longer stop at Bathsheba. There was also a brief stop for (included) refreshments (rum punch which I don't drink) then it was back to town. We didn't get a real tour of Bridgetown - just saw whatever there was to see on our way out, then back in. I don't think we missed much of anything. The main problem was lunch: onboard, the lunch was scheduled for 12 - 1:30 and we didn't get back on board until after 1:15. By the time I get to my room, dropped of some things, then waited and waited and … for the elevator (remember, its 5 flights of stairs up to the restaurant deck) they were already closing down the buffet. So much for lunch. Evaluation: barely ok.

We have our mandatory safety drill this afternoon at 5:15 - 6, then I'll head for the restaurant to be there when it opens (6:30) to be sure that I get something to eat. There is a "solo travelers" get-together for drinks scheduled at 7, but I'll still be eating so I'll skip it - and besides, I don't drink so it's no loss. We depart at 6 for St Lucia (109 nm) with not-too-rough seas expected, but rain IS forecast for tomorrow. As for the seas, it was quickly evident that either the Captain lied, or he's running without stabilizers; even down in steerage, the rock and roll is VERY evident. I wouldn't be at all surprised if sevaral passengers get sea-sick.

Day 4/3, Saturday, Dec 22 Castries, St. Lucia (7AM - 6PM)
(Today is a REPEAT from the Windward Islands.) After a long night of mostly rolling and swaying, but no rain, we finally arrive in Castries. The weather forecast is about the same as for the Barbados - not good: very warm and with rain! The town seems much more modern and prosperous than Bridgetown. The port is definitely more modern and up to date. Essentially the city is as I remember it from my Windward Islands trip as well.

Morne Fortune - the Hill of Good Luck, Marigot Bay, and La Toc Battery, illustrate for more than one and a half centuries St Lucia was the heart of intense Anglo-French colonial rivalry. Turn back the pages on a fascinating history and along the way discover an island that is a small, lush, tropical gem. Whether Columbus did in fact discover St Lucia on his fourth voyage in 1502, or merely sailed close by, what is undisputed is the island's "simply breathtaking beauty". I have an 8:30 departure on my selected tour; hopefully I'll be back in time for lunch. Everything we see here will be a repeat for me.

EXCURSIONS:
*Island Splendor (½ day AM) $42
Scenes North & Beach (½ day PM) $45.40
Spirit of St Lucia (2.5 hrs AM) $50

*Island Splendor Squander: The rich natural beauty of the tropical St. Lucia, delicacy of its handicrafts, fascinating history and traditions are highlights of this tour. Drive through Castries seeing the vibrant market selling spices, woven baskets and other locally made handicrafts and Derek Walcott Square - named after St. Lucia's Nobel Laureate, who won the prize for Literature in 1991. A 400-year-old samaan tree dominates the square and shades the 19th century French-style Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Wind up into the hills to Bagshaws Art Studio. Learn about the tropical designs on hand silk-screened fabrics and take a few moments to relax on the veranda with lovely vistas of the Caribbean Sea. Next stop is La Toc Battery. This authentic 19th century British fort, built to defend St. Lucia's vital coaling stations against foreign invasion. It offers a fabulous representation of British military in the late 19th century. Historical Morne Fortune - meaning "Hill of Good Luck", overlooks Castries. This key battleground witnessed many famous battles between the English and French in their fight for colonial possession. Continue into gently undulating hills among an abundance of banana trees. Visit Arse-La-Raye with its wooden huts up to 80 years old, Wander around this typical fishing village where fishermen still hang out their nets to dry and dugout canoes are traditionally used for fishing. Marigot Bay was another vital wartime base where a British Admiral once ambushed the French by camouflaging his fleet with palm fronds. The picturesque bay - now a yacht haven and one of St. Lucia's most beautiful spots, is perfect to sit and relax.

For the second day, I/we are stuck with very uncomfortable, too small, too crowded busses. Today was a particularly miserable ride. The scenery along our route was nice and often very interesting, but the tour, "Island Splendor" should be re-named "Island Squander" since at three of our 4 stops, and back at the terminal, there were hoards of vendors trying to fleece the tourists / get them to squander all their money on trinkets, etc.At least the rain held off until we were ready to leave Marigot Bay.

The high-pressure selling started at Bagshaws where we had an interesting demonstration of silk-screen printing, but then were subjected to a very hard sell routine in the shop as we tried to leave. The second stop at the Battery was fine - no vendors. However at the fishing village, we were dumped in the middle of a jammed "flea market" with over a hundred vendors selling all kinds of trinkets and other junk. At our final stop, at Marigot Bay, the sales were primarily banana hot sauce, banana mustard, and banana barbeque sauce - plus of course, more rum punch, etc. Then when we get back to town, instead of being taken right up to the ship, we're dumped at another one of those port buildings/indoor flea market obstacle course situations. Evaluation - minimal so-so due to the high-pressure selling.

The rain continues in intermittent bursts all afternoon - so no going back ashore. And anyway, what is there for us to do there except waste lots of time in that overdone flea-market. This afternoon on the ship, nothing of interest is scheduled; at 5:30PM we're off to Guadeloupe, 137 nm away. The Captain's weather forecast is the same as last night; the swaying starts almost as soon as we clear the harbor entrance and there are dark clouds (overcast?) above. Ho-Hum.

Day 5/4, Sunday, Dec 23 Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe (7AM - 6PM)
(NEW) Although the seas did calm down a bit, we did get more rain overnight. This morning after the usual climb up five flights of stairs (and back down again) to breakfast, I have a free morning since my tour is scheduled for this afternoon. Since the only nearby sights seems to be the usual trinket-sellers obstacle course, I chose to stay on bored.

Finally somewhere new for me! After lunch (no rush this time except to eat quickly before the coach leaves) we head out on the afternoon tour. From its outline on a map, it's clear to see why this French outpost is known as the 'Butterfly Island'. While there's plenty of life going on in towns such as Basse-Terre and the capital Pointe-à-Pitre, most of Guadeloupe's finest sights are to be found along its shores. There are white sands on Grande-Terre, golden on the leeward shore, or black on the western fringes of Basse-Terre where La Soufrière still smolders. But we never see it.

EXCURSIONS:
*Discover Guadeloupe Rain (½ day PM) $61
Great Grand Terre (full day) $120

*Discover Guadeloupe Rain (½ day PM) $61
The discovery of Guadeloupe takes us along picturesque roads bordered by sugar cane fields and through picture perfect landscapes. One of the most beautiful floral parks on the island, "Le Domaine de Valombreuse" is a jewel case of greenery. Surrounded by the prettiest tropical plants from all over the world, soak up the tranquilityof the atmosphere where flowers and girds compete in a never-ending beauty pageant. After enjoying a complimentary drink, we continue to Guadeloupe National Park which unveils the many charms to nature lovers. After a short walk among the exuberant plants, trees and ferns found in the rainforest, we are treated to the sight of the small but very beautiful emerald-green "Crayfish Waterfall." A visit will be made to the Longueteau Distillery to learn about the workings of the estate before sampling their rums and punches.


The weather is so bad that the Captain cancelled two of the other tours that were scheduled for today - they would have been far too dangerous due to high wind and heavy rain. Some of the other coaches on our tour itinerary gave up and turned back. This excursion was the worst one yet. Not only did we have the worst coach, but the worst weather, and the poorest tour guide. She spoke English, somewhat, and much of that was not understandable. She was nice enough, but was very poor as a tour guide.

Our first stop was at the distillery - which was closed since no one there had a key, and no one else had showed up to open it. That local area sightseeing was aborted due to a very heavy, drenching, rain shower (and we had more heavy rain throughout the tour). At the distillery, since I had no interest in it, I stayed on the coach so was the only one NOT drenched. Somehow our tour director couldn't even get us off on time, and we were about 15 minutes late departing our first stop.

Our second stop was the gardens, with more rain making for an unpleasant stop, and another 10-15 minutes lost. Our last stop, the waterfall, was almost invisible. Since we were running so late and it was getting dark so that we couldn't see much, this part should have just been omitted. The scenery, what little we saw of it due to rain, was nice, but that was the only decent part of the tour. There was no chance anywhere for pictures due to the weather. Supposedly we will get a 50% refund on the excursion since the trip "didn't meet standards.". Tour evaluation: BAD.

We were so late getting back to the ship that a) it was totally dark, and b) the ship departure was delayed about 20 minutes waiting on us. We finally depart at 6:30PM for the 88 nm cruise to Montserrat. The weather and wave forecast is not good. We are cautioned to "be careful" moving around the ship tonight and tomorrow morning and that turns out to be a very appropriate warning.

Day 6/5, Monday, Dec 24 Little Bay, Montserrat (7AM - 8AM)
(NEW) After a long night of very noticeable rock and roll it's rainy and very windy; there are even whitecap breakers (ture, not exaggeration) on the deck 7 pool. We make it to port about 6AM but for some reason, breakfast is scheduled later than usual, probably due to the weather. Bummer! For our excursions, we have to tendered ashore. It's raining, as it has for most of the night, but what else could we expect. Montserrat - I heard someone onboard call it something that sounded more like "Monster Rat". Hopefully that's not an omen - but it is. "Monster Rat" turns out to be very inhospitable. Due to the fact that we would have to use tenders to get to and from shore, in this weather, it's not practical. So all shore excursions are cancelled. We up-anchor fairly soon and head off to do something else today! Supposedly we will get a 100% refund since this excursion was cancelled - not just poor.

For 400 years Soufriere Hills volcano lay dormant, then in 1995 it stirred. The volcano erupted spectacularly and Plymouth, Montserrat's capital became a modern day Pompeii. Once it was a refuge for persecuted Irish Catholics and Irish political prisoners sent by Cromwell, now Montserrat is the Caribbean's 'Emerald Isle'. Too bad that we couldn't get ashore to see much of it - just cruise along the shore.

EXCURSIONS:
*Discover Montserrat" (2 hours AM L) $72
Montserrat & Volcano Discovery (½ day AM L) $82

*Discover Montserrat: Venture off the beaten track through picturesque areas and tiny villages of the Emerald Isle. Drive past the ntserrat Cultural Center built with funds raised by Sir George Martin at a benefit concert in England. See tiny John A. Osborne Airport, Montserrat's hospital and Look Out Village which was built with British and Caricom funds for the purpose of housing families forced to relocate because of their close proximity to Soufriere Hills volcano. See the lush tropical vegetation of the island where the villages have quaint names like Judy Piece and Peaceful Cottage. See the Methodist Cavalla Hill Church where education was first offered to the children of slaves. Cudjoe Head is a place of historical significance for the locals and from here we continue up Fogarthy Hill to the Montserrat National Trust with its tiny botanical garden and small souvenir shop. Drive past Belham Valley laid waste by volcanic material before a final stop at the exclusive Royal Palm Club. High in the hills it gives wonderful views of the ocean.

Day 6, Revised Cruising / Charlestown, St Nevis & St Kitts) (12 noon - 6PM)
The first thing we do as we start our cruise north, is to just cruise slowly around Montserrat to see the scenery. We can't get close enough to the Volcano area to see much. The Captain is contacting various other islands nearby to see if they have any dock space for us. Most are "full" with other ships but he finds some space at St Nevis, St Nevis & St Kitts. They don't have docks; just as at Monster Rat, we will have to be tendered in.

Trinidad & Tobago, St Nevis & St Kitts, etc - in each case they are two separate islands under one government. I've been to St Kitts on the Windward Islands trip; this will be my first visit to St. Nevis. We arrive there about noon and as soon as the formalities are concluded, we can go ashore.

Oops, well at least that was the plan. The crew launched the tender, and as it moved around from launch position to boarding location, the engines failed. They then had to figure out how to get the tender back close enough to the ship to get engineers aboard to do repairs. Further, as we can see, and as the Captain is warning, although we don't have the huge swells as at Monster Rat, it is very choppy here also (we still have whitecaps and breaking waves in the deck 7 pool) and any tender ride is going to be quite rough. We are cautioned to think twice as to whether we want to go ashore.

There are NO scheduled / planned activities. If we go ashore, it is as an independent excursion. Even if nothing special is planned, at least I'll get to see somewhere (else) new. I do go ashore, but since there are no planned activities, I just stay long enough to say that I had been there, then come right back to the ship. The tender could break down again or the weather could get worse, and did, quickly. So although the sky is (very briefly) clear, it gets gloomy and drizzly very soon. The wind, waves, and drizzle of St Nevis are not being all that friendly. They never did get the 1st tender working safely so we had only limited transportation with tender #2.

Tonight we have a kind of song-and-dance Christmas Eve show. Ho-Hum. Our next scheduled stop is Grenada, 289 or so nm away.

Day 7/6, Tuesday, Dec 25 BORING DAY AT SEA (#1 of 3)
Christmas Day at sea. No Surprise! We had a fairly rough night with waves breaking as high as, and over, my portholes. Yes, I'm on the lowest cattle deck, but still …. They even drained the deck 7 pool since the large waves kept drenching everything around. It is another late breakfast (7:30) schedule for this morning.

Do we have special activities? Yes, but mostly noisy activities and CheapSkate Cruises propaganda sessions to try to get us to sign up for more travel with them. The only activity of interest for me is a lecture on how to take better photographs photographs but it turned out a total waste: a) I could see only part of the screen; b) they couldn't get the projector to focus properly; and c) the presenter just mumbled his was through the presentation. Otherwise it is just another boring day on bored; all we can do is just watch the water go by.

Lunch wasn't even all that good, and after lunch, we hear an announcement from the Captain that in the direction we are headed, almost the entire horizon is surrounded by stormy weather but that he would try to dodge the worst of it. The crew having just refilled the deck 7 pool, had to start draining it. As I've been doing, I skipped (a supposedly "special") dinner (even though the menu did look good). So much for this being a special Christmas Day.

Day 8/7, Wednesday, Dec 26 St Georges, Grenada (7AM - 6PM)
(NEW) After an occasionally stormy night, we finally make it to Grenada. Breakfast (the same old, same old, menu) is back to its usual time. It is, of course, showing signs that it might rain again. The onboard daily forecast ALWAYS mentions showers.

St George's, on first look, reminds me very much of Curacao. Traces of nutmeg, cinnamon and cocoa linger on the breeze in Grenada - the "Island of Spice." St. George's is a most appealing of capitals, a pastel of rainbow dockside warehouses and red tiles roofs in a backdrop to its horseshoe "Careenage." I wish we could get a better view of it but the way the ship is docked, only our entry time into the port gave a really nice view of the town. "My" tour has the first departure time (8) this morning.

EXCURSIONS:
*Grand Etang etc (½ day AM) $58
Grenada Island Tour (Full Day L) $141
Royal Drive (½ day PM) $51

*Grand Etang, Mountain Rainforest, and Annandale Falls: Leaving the red tiled roofs and spice markets of St. Georges, we enjoy a wealth of island scenery. Pass through villages and admire the coastline before stopping at Dougladston Spice Estate, a historical monument of Grenada's past. From Gouyave, Grenada's fishing village that never sleeps, the narrow winding treacherous Belvedere Road takes us through verdant growth of cocoa, nutmeg, banana and various spices to the Grand Etang Lake. Sitting 580 meters above sea level in the center of the island, the cobalt blue lakes lie at the heart of an extinct volcanic crater. Admire the stunning panorama view from the Park Visitor Center before descending through hanging carpets of green mountain fern through the village of Vendome to Annadale where a short but steep walk brings you to a view of rushing water and hanging ferns. At Annandale some of Grenada's 450 species of flowering and medicinal plants can be seen. We continue through the villages of Snug Corner, Beaulieu and Tempe up Marrast Hill to Fort Frederick from where there is a view of the horseshoe shaped harbor, Fort George, and the picturesque city

The tour starts, not unexpectedly, with a walk through the rain from the ship to another of those awful mini-minicoaches. Since Grenada is very hilly / mountainous, the narrow (far less than 2-lane) winding, twisting, roller-coaster roads can be quite "exciting." Our first stop (spice estate) is the best - where we learn much about how the various spices are harvested and processed to usable form. We then have that "exciting" drive up to Etang Lake Park (nice and cool up here) where we get another one of those included rum punch drinks (can't they ever have something besides rum punch or beer?). The falls at Annandale are nice but not spectacular. There are some locals there who ask for money from us to take pictures of them diving from high above the falls into a pool below the falls. It's their way of making a living. Our last stop, the Fort (very warm and wet), could have been very interesting but more heavy rain caused the visit to be aborted. We finally make it back to the ship barely in time for a late lunch. The promised great views never lived up to expectations, partly due to weather and to being quite a bit over-rated. After all, the cruise companies have to make it sound great in order to sell more tickets. Tour evaluatiion: decent.

No special activities are planned for tonight; we just head off at 6 to Tobago, 95 nm away.

Day 9/8, Thursday, Dec 27 Scarborough, Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago (7AM - 6PM)
(NEW) This is my first visit to the island of Tobago (or Trinidad). Many forts and batteries dot Tobago's landscape hinting at a thrilling past. Attacks by Amerindian on early settlers, battles for control between European powers, fierce slave revolts, and pirates are all part of an exciting history. Today the serene island is perhaps the last of the 'virgin' Caribbean. Home to the oldest protected forest reserve in the western hemisphere, Tobago contrasts rolling hills against wave-beaten shores - the perfect canvas to create your own Lesser Antilles experience.

EXCURSIONS:
*Tobago South & Waterwheel (½ day AM) $61
Buccoo Reef Glass Bottom Boat (½ day PM) $83
Argyle Waterfalls & Trail (½ day AM L) $76
Tobago Island Explorer (Full day) $136

*Tobago South & Waterwheel: Tobago's stunning southern shores, along with the island's colorful history are explored during this leisurely panoramic tour. Claude Noel Highway leads from the port to Government House Road where we pass through several residential areas en route to Plymouth. Stop at the famed 19th century tombstone inscribed with a mysterious riddle. Nearby the barracks and cannons of Fort James stand as guardians of the Great Courland Bay - Tobago's windswept west coast. Arnos Vale Waterwheel is one of Tobago's historical landmarks. A guided walk through the grounds brings to life the sugarcane background of the island. Continue through Plymouth past a chain of hotels stretching along Mt. Irvine Road and enter the grounds of the Mt. Irvine Bay Hotel and Golf Course to enjoy a splendid view of the Caribbean. Nestled on the western side of Tobago's southernmost tip, Store Bay is one of the most popular and frequently photographed beaches on the island. Famous for its sea, sand, sun and fun there is also a craft market where vendors and craftsmen sell everything imaginable. Fort King George built in the 1770s is one of Tobago's best preserved monuments. The fort's prison cells, bell tanks, barracks and officers mess are all located within well-manicured grounds and several cannons remain as they were in the past - guarding the coastline. Visit the barrack guardhouse housing the Tobago Museum with it's collection of military relics and documents from the island's colonial history.

We have another early start, but the micro-bus is better, and there is no rain - but the humidity more than makes up for that. It's awful! In case we get back too late for lunch, there are both a KFC and a Church's across the street from the terminal building. On the trip, I saw many more KFC locations than McDonald's. Our first stop is with the trinket vendors at Store Bay but not too many are open since it is early. Next is the Mt Irvine Golf Club with what would be a great view of the bay except for the phone and electrical lines, and overgrown foliage blocking most of the view. We pause briefly to take a picture of the oldest church in Tobago, then on for a stop at Fort James above the city. We make a long stop (the local guide just kept talking and talking and …) at the Waterwheel, then our last stop was at Fort George. We had a very good local guide there and the museum there is good. We were running very late, but I kept remembering that KFC was there as a backup - but we made it, again barely in time. Tour evaluation: fair.

As usual, nothing important is scheduled for this afternoon. At 6, we are off again for a longer cruise, 206 nm to Margarita Island, Venezuela. That's where we have to have given a yellow fever vaccination certificate to the ship crew. The Captain says that since we have over 200 nm to go tonight he will have the ship up to full speed ahead … and to expect very heavy swells from astern so even with stabilizers (not that effective when the waves are from astern), it will definitely be a pitch and roll night. Also, since we are headed further west, it's time to turn our watches back *30 minutes*. The temperature tomorrow should be about the same as today - about 90F.

Day 10/9, Friday, Dec 28 El Guamacho, Margarita Island, Venezuela (8AM - 6PM)
(NEW) Last night wasn't as bad as we had expected though we did get the obligatory rain shower. We arrived a bit late passing several oil-spill patches on the way into harbor. Breakfast is a bit later this morning but my departure is one of the last ones for morning tours. The port (this is an arid part of the island) is not inviting. Isla Margarita is called the 'island of pearls'. When Spanish 'conquistadores' stepped ashore Guaiqueri Indians received them with open arms, later becoming slaves to their own wealth. Forts dotting the landscape illustrate a fascinating history of notorious pirates. Porlamar is springboard to a wealth of natural and historical treasures. Cruise the mangroves in La Restinga National Park or visit Asuncion with old cathedrals a legacy of Spanish invaders.

EXCURSIONS:
*Panoramic Margarita (½ day AM) $42
Tropical Gardens (½ day AM) $56
La Restinga Lagoon (½ day PM) $58
Carnaima & Angel Falls (Full Day L) $799

I would have liked to do the Angel Falls excursion, but not for $800.

*Panoramic Margarita: Enjoy a leisurely look at the highlights of Margarita, while our guide tells us about the customs, history, and life style on this island. From the arid port, we drive along the coastline past Tacuantar which has been carefully built and maintained as a traditional Caribbean island village. Delightful coastal scenery leads to the capital La Ascuncion where in shady Bolivar Square we can admire the small cathedral - one of the oldest churches in Venezuela. The town of Pampatar was founded in1580 and named after an Indian word meaning "House of Salt." Here we pass by San Carlos de Borromeo fortress built during colonial times to protect the town. The town, were many old houses have tall doors and windows with decorative grilles merges into Porlamar and the tour finishes in the island's main city with modern buildings and wide avenues.

Its another hot (90+), humid, bright sunny but dry day. We have to make the usual ¼ mile (or more) walk through the terminal past another endless line of vendors - and we will have to run the same gauntlet when we return. At least now that we are off those tiny islands, we have a full-size bus. What a fantastic improvement. We start out with a long drive through arid, virtual desert, land heading north-east to where the island is much greener. The bad thing is the piles of garbage everywhere. It seems that the garbage collectors have been on strike, and will not return to work until Tuesday, maybe. In the meantime, garbage, garbage, and more garbage is piling up. We make one nice photo stop overlooking a beautiful bay (name unknown). The landscape is getting greener and there are several nice beaches. Our tour director (female) points out a couple of the favorites where she says that mostly European (Italian, French, and German) tourists come, primarily to see the pretty girls in their "dental floss" bikinis.

Our stop at a large souvenirs outlet was a waste. All the pearls (relatively inexpensive here) were already made into expensive necklaces, pins, earrings, etc. The pottery was almost all large pieces except for a couple of interesting smaller pieces, but they were part of a set and not sold individually. We were supposed to make a stop to see a fort and an old church in La Ascunsion but the town was extremely overcrowded - the newly elected island Governor is supposed to be installed (inaugurated) today. We have one last brief stop at a hotel in Palomar for the mandatory rum punch drink. By now we are running so late that it's doubtful that we will get back to the ship in time for lunch. There are no KFC locations nearby. But so many of the morning tours are running very late so the ship keeps the restaurant open and we get a chance at limited leftovers. Tour evaluation: just so-so.

Our tour guide tells those of us who will be visiting Caracas tomorrow: don't expect the vibrant, pretty city it once was; now it is run down and filthy. Should I swap tours?? No, the other tours are more expensive all-day tours. Again there is nothing special this afternoon (it's already past 3) and we depart at 6 for the 172 nm voyage to La Guaira, Venezuela.

Day 11/10, Saturday, Dec 29 La Guaira, Venezuela (8AM - 6PM)
(NEW) La Guaira is our gateway to Caracas - a vibrant, modern metropolis (not according to yesterday's tour guide) nestled in the shadow of lush Avila Mountain. Take a cable car to its lofty heights and look down on an eclectic mix of soaring skyscrapers juxtaposed with sprawling shantytowns. Follow in the footsteps of the city's most famous son, South America's revolutionary hero, Simón Bolivar. This is also a naval/coast guard port. There are several small ships docked here.

EXCURSIONS:
*Mt Avila Lift & Caracas (extended ½ day AM) $85
Topotepuy Gardens (Full Day) $131
Grand Tour Caracas (Full day L) $141

*Mt Avila Lift & Caracas: Unquestionably the most spectacular cloudy view in the Caribbean is found from majestic Mount Avila. Incredible Invisible views unfold as the cable car ascends to a height of 2250 meters above sea level. From this lofty height there are incredible almost no chances of views as you look down on a vast spreading metropolis where around 6 million people reside in Venezuela's most populous city. Having enjoyed spectacular views seen almost nothing of Caracas, descend to the city for an orientation tour that includes a drive along Hero's Boulevard which with its parks and statues is the cultural center of the capital. The final stop is at La Alameda viewpoint. (We did this in reverse.)

This was supposedly an "extended" ½ day tour but turned out to be the shortest tour so far; we are back by 12:40. The weather starts off clear and sunny (aka *hot*). La Guaira itself is a cargo port. There are a few lower class houses on the hillsides, but no big buildings or recreational areas to be seen. We have an early start: 8:10. There are about 140 head of cattle being herded south on this excursion - 4 large (but nice new) cattle cars. It takes about 35 minutes to drive (20 miles) to Caracas which is at an altitude of about 3000'. We were told yesterday that Caracas is not as nice as it once was; the wealthy areas are clean, but here is lots of trash in other areas and many of the buildings seem very run-down. The middle- and upper-class areas are, of course, in much better condition. Caracas is a study in contrasts: the very wealthy and the extremely poor.

One of the bad / sad views is of the "Ranchitos" on the sides of the very steep hills. These are tiny rough scrap-built shacks (occasionally better) built illegally on land (the government doesn't care) by the extremely poor homeless. They are built of any materials that can be found. Of course they are often wiped out by rains or mud slides. The people there steal electricity by tying into some of the main transformers (and again the government doesn't care). For them, it is a mixed life: "Free" land and electricity; government provided free schools and medical care (only available occasionally, since the teachers and doctors and nurses are very often on strike to get their pay), but the poor still have to pay for food and clothing.

Our first stop is for the statues and monuments at the end of Heroes Boulevard (obviously kept very neat). Other than the statuary, there's not much there though we did see what might have been part of a bicycle race passing by. The next stop is the La Alameda viewpoint where we do get a fairly good view of the city and the surrounding hills. Then we fight traffic to get to the lift to Mt Avila Cloudy. The top is at almost 7000' and it is nice and cool there; very pleasant. When we get there, we are in a fairly thick cloud that only occasionally clears enough for even a partial view. This is a wasted stop. After that, head back to the port for an early arrival back at the ship. Tour evaluation: very POOR!

Prices: Venezuela, being a major oil/gasoline producing country, has extremely cheap gasoline. Their currency, the Bolivar, is a floating currency so the equivalent in "hard currencies" fluctuates. Yesterday, gasoline was selling at the equivalent of 15¢ a US gallon. Today it was down nearer 10¢. Beer is also cheap; a six-pack of tall cans sells for about US$1 - cheaper than water.

Interesting note: The Venezuelan National Police vehicles have a) a phone number; b) an email address, and c) a "Twitter" account name.

We depart at the usual 6PM. Time change: set our watches *forward* by 30 minutes - this is back to where they were before we went into Venezuelan ports. It's 145 nm to Willemstad which will probably remain my favorite stop in the Caribbean.

Day 12/11, Sunday, Dec 30 Willemstad, Curacao (7AM - 6PM)
(REPEAT) Hooray, after an unexpectedly strong rock-n-roll night, I get to come back to my favorite stop from the earlier Caribbean cruise and get to see more of the town and the island. African culture beats like a proud and joyous heart throughout the island. This time my chosen excursion will concentrate on the town rather than the full island such as the Hato Caves - a surreal underground world with a mystical lake and ancient Indian petroglyphs. At least I don't have to visit Horruba again this time. This is also a refueling stop for the ship and also do some repaire on the port-side anchor..

EXCURSIONS: Since I've been here before, I'll just the basic trolley option
*Willemstad Trolley (2 ½ hours A/P) $38
Discover Curacao (½ day AM) $51

*Willemstad Trolley: Discover the delights of historic Willemstad starting at Fort Amsterdam. See the Floating Market on the Sha Carpilleskade where Venezuelan merchants sell fish and vegetables from their boats. Continue to Scharloo, a former residential neighborhood lined with picturesque homes from the 1880s. Stop for photos of Bolodi Bruit known as the "Wedding Cake House." The trolley train takes us past Pietermaai Cathedral, the largest and most impressive on the island and Kikve Israel Emmanuel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere. Also see Queen Wilhelmina Park.

For the third day in a row, we escape having any rain but it gets *very* hot in the afternoon. We dock away (20 minute walk) from the more interesting part of town. This tour concentrates on the town rather than the whole island. We start out with a mad dash by taxi (NASCAR driver wanna-bees) around from our ship, across the high bridge, through more of the town, finally to the opposite shore where our trolley ride starts. It's an pen-sided one which is good, but still almost impossible to see and photograph anything on the opposite side of the trolley from where I'm sitting.

Willemstad (and Curacao as a whole) is far and away the nicest, cleanest, neatest, best kept of the places we have seen. It's really nice. We get to see several sites that I hadn't seen on my earlier visit here including the Scharloo area. On our ride through various neighborhoods, we see lots of those really nice homes, and passing by the Cathedral, the Synagogue, and the Park are also new. Of course with a trolley ride, it's easy (grumble) to miss (grumble) a bunch of pictures that we would have liked to get. There were only a few stops for photos. The trolley ride isn't long. I wish there had been more chances for photos of some of the really neat houses rather than so much "drive-by-shooting." Tour evaluation: the best of the trip despite some disappointments.

Yesterday, today, and as it turns out, tomorrow, almost all the decent souvenir shops are closed for the holidays - didn't expect the ship on that particular day; just a few trinket sellers are open. Since I'm doing lots of walking on my own this afternoon, I had hoped to get some nice Curacao souvenirs. It's very disappointing.

We finish a bit ahead of the scheduled 2 hours so there is plenty of time do a little more walking around, cross the floating foot-bridge, and still get back for an early (for once) lunch. Then after a short break after lunch, I'm back ashore just wandering around on my own, even doing some shopping but its Sunday and most of the shops/vendors are closed (somehow they had expected us here yesterday). This turns out to be the better part of the day - seeing things on my own. If only it hade been a bit cooler …. I'm even somewhat sad when the day comes to an end. At least, I'm told that Bonaire is another nice place to visit. FALSE!!

The floating footbridge is the only way across the waterway other than to go around the long way over the high bridge, and pedestrians aren't allowed on it due to danger from high winds. In order for large ships such as ours or the big freighters to get into port, the bridge has to be moved out of the way. But rather than a "drawbridge" or "liftbridge", it's a pontoon bridge that swivels and swings out of the way. When it is "open", there is a free ferry across to the other side - which runs only when the bridge is open.

In order to depart, the ship has to go ahead until it reaches a large bay where it does a 1800 turn, then cruise back out the channel and past the open pontoon bridge. It is only 65 nm to Bonaire (the shortest "leg" of the cruise) so we can "putt-putt" along on only one engine (by choice) at less than 6 knots. There are only 2 excursions left to do.

Day 13/12, Monday, Dec 31 Kralendijk, Bonaire (7AM - 2AM)
(NEW) After a relatively calm cruise night with some rain, we reach Bonaire on schedule. This is a new stop for me to visit and the last of the three ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao), which made up the Netherlands Antilles, but now all free. First impressions: although having some of the same Dutch influences as Curacao with a few of the more brightly colored houses along the waterfront. However Bonaire is smaller, less modern, scruffy, arid, and much flatter other than a few hills on the north end of the island. It is definitely nowhere near as picturesque (understatement).

An arid, cactus-rich landscape akin to its South American neighbor (remember Margarita Island, Venezuela), sparkling snow-white salt mountains (we didn't see any of that) against a deep blue Caribbean sky and flocks of startling pink flamingos - on the face of it, Bonaire is definitely not your quintessential Caribbean idyll. Below the waterline, Bonaire is a pristine paradise. Above the waterline, Bonaire promises something unique (what??). Step ashore in Kralendijk - a cluster of streets near the harbor where wooden fishing boats mingle with the fancy (?) yachts.

EXCURSIONS:
*Bonaire Folklore & Scenic (½ day AM) $61
Flamingo Salt Tour (½ day A/PM) $51
Bonaire Bay Cruise (2 hours A/PM L) $51

*Bonaire Folklore & Scenic : Discover Bonaire's folkloric cultural and history against a backdrop of beautiful nature. As we drive along the island's north coast, Bonaire's legendary blue waters are simply breathtaking. Fossils embedded in limestone and the still ongoing effects of erosion are evidence of how the island rose from the sea. The rustic landscape is packed full of huge candelabra cacti and traditional cactus fences. The famous "divi divi" trees, mesquite and acacia trees can also be seen here. The natural, salt water Goto Lake is NO LONGER a feeding ground for flamingos and NOT one of the most beautiful places on the island. Narrow tree lined country lanes bring us to a drinking well for animals (???) and later, an overview of the countryside of Rincon. As we drive through Rincon Village, listen to ancient tales about the village built by Spanish explorers in the 14th century. At King's Warehouse and Cultural Park, guides in traditional folkloric dress meet us and take us through authentic replicas of the stick, stone, and wood houses built by Bonaire's early inhabitants. Join an interactive musical presentation and play an ancient local instrument. Relax on the large covered terrace where we might try freshly made lemonade. (WOW! NOT rum!) HOWEVER, IT'S ALL CLOSED! The souvenir shop (they use US$$) offers salt products, one of a kind jewelry pieces, and arts and crafts. The drive continues with stunning views of crashing waves and the green lush hillside. A final photo stop at Seru Largo gives a view of the island. On a (seldom) clear day, Klein Curacao may occasionally be seen.

We have a 1 ¼ hour later than usual departure for our excursions. If we get back in time for lunch, it will have been a short tour. It looks like another clear (very hot) day. Maybe we left the rain behind in the Windward Islands - we have drier and much hotter weather here to the south on or near the South American coast. We start our tour by passing through the usual obstacle course to get to our coaches. What we have done so far turns out to be the best part of the tour. The coach I'm condemned to is one of the worst (the worst?) ones on the trip. It's supposed to be air conditioned, but that means that instead of blisteringly hot, its merely swelteringly hot inside - and doesn't improve.

We start out through very flat, arid, almost scrub desert areas heading to where maybe there is something to see - but that turns out to be not much more than cactus, goats, and some sheep. After all that description of the Folkloric part of the tour (the only interesting part of the tour to me) - the place is closed and folklore is not even mentioned at any time on the tour. The only restrooms available on the whole tour are also closed. It's also the place where we were supposed to see flamingos - but being closed, no chance. Of course we also miss out on that home-made lemonade that I had been looking forward to - finally something besides rum and more rum!! The description makes specific notice of shopping for interesting crafts (and in easy to use $US) but as in Curacao yesterday, virtually all the shops are closed for the holidays. We drive on past more and more cactus and goats until our driver/guide gets instructions to try another spot (a lagoon) to see flamingos, and finally something goes right on the tour - even if it is the least interesting part.

We do manage to get back to the ship at a fairly reasonable time, and are VERY glad to get somewhere cool. This has definitely been the worst tour on the trip. I'm glad it wasn't longer that it was. The excursions on this whole trip have been mostly very disappointing - and the excursions are why I came on the cruise. Grumble, grumble, etc.! The tour guide/driver did the best she could, but what can you do with nothing? Tour evaluation: very BAD!

Since its New Year's Eve tonight, the traditional time for riotous parties, that's what we have tonight. Fortunately since my cabin is way down on deck 2, I'm fairly well "insulated" from all the noise and commotion on decks 5 & 7. The Captain asked for, and received permission to stay in port past the usual 6PM departure time so that we might go back ashore to enjoy the festivities, and to see the "big" fireworks show at midnight but I'm not a "night person;" I'll have long since been in my bunk and maybe sound asleep, in fact, I never hear anything.

Everybody has to be back on the ship by 1AM (if they are not in jail - or too inebriated to find the ship) then we're off by 2AM for the long day-and-a-half 396 nm cruise to the Dominican Republic.

Day 14/13, Tuesday, Jan 1, **2013** ANOTHER BORING DAY AT SEA (#2 of 3)
New Year's Day Although I never knew it when we left Bonaire, when I woke up briefly about 3AM, the ship was rolling heavily and is still rolling at breakfast; it will probably continue throughout most of the day. There is no land in sight which is unusual but before we were always near or in an island chain. Figuring, probably correctly, that very few people would have recovered enough to want a normal early breakfast, I'm condemned to wait a long time for something to eat.By noon the winds are up to 40 knots, the waves are regularly breaking as high, or higher, than my portholes, and the ship is now creaking, groaning, rattling, and even screeching. Lunch is an "adventure".

Do they have anything special planned - not much, just recovery from last night for most of the cattle. Since it's an "At Sea" day, there is plenty of time to recover, at least somewhat (or be very bored) - unless you are seasick-prone; then, oops! Otherwise, it's just a long rolling run from Bonaire to the Dominican Republic. Ho-Hum.

By mid-afternoon (tea time) the waves have whitecaps, the roll is even more pronounced, spray from the waves reaches deck 7, and there are frequent light rain showers. There is NO ONE on the normally popular Sun(less) top deck, and only about 10 on the semi-open deck 7. I don't do dinners onboard, but I would imagine that dinner tonight will be a really "interesting occasion." I hope we don't have the same mess two days from now. I'm definitely glad I'm down on the "steerage" deck where the effects are less noticable. It has gotten really awkward trying to move around the ship, and even dangerous taking a shower in the tiny 28x24" shower area due to projecting handles, etc. The heavy rolling is still continuing into the night.

We have to sign up today for transfers to the airport. The 2:15 transfer might be too late so I had to settle for a 1PM transfer - despite a possible conflict with some Montego Bay excursion - if one is even offered. Later: bad news, Jamaica is a bust! There is a time conflict between excursion return and transfer departure. Dxxx Cheapskates Cruises!

Day 15/14, Wednesday, Jan 2 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (7AM - 6PM)
(NEW) After about 27 hours of rolling (and a bunch of overnight rain) we finally make it to Santo Domingo. Our breakfast this morning doesn't have "orange juice", it provides only somewhat orange colored water. CheapSkates! The oldest city in the New World where settlement of the Americas began, Santo Domingo is a mix of Old World charm and modern Latin flair; its present day splendour is nurtured by a rich colonial past. Follow in the footsteps of Diego Columbus down narrow, cobblestone streets that seem lost in oblivion. The colonial area showcases a cathedral, fortress, hospital, monastery, palace and university and all justifiably claim to be America's first. I have my last excursion of the trip today.

EXCURSIONS:
*Santo Domingo Panorama (½ day PM) $42
Santo Domingo Discovery (½ day AM) $90
Colonial Culture (½ day AM) $51

*Santo Domingo Panorama: Immerse ourself in five centuries of history as we visit Santo Domingo, the oldest city of the New World and birthplace of civilization in America. Visit America's first cathedral built on the orders of Real Migues de Pasamonte. Diego Columbus set the first stone in 1514 but the real construction didn't get underway until 1520. Inside admire a gothic vault, renaissance façade and Romanesque arches. Admire 16th century homes such as Casa Diego Caballero and Casa Sacramento. Walk down Calle de las Damas built in1502 and the oldest street in the hemisphere. Opposite the Panteon Nacional see Casa de Gargoyles and finally the palace where Christopher Columbus' son "Diego" once lived. A panoramic tour around modern Santo Domingo reveals a cosmopolitan and vibrant city.

VERY unfortunately this tour is offered only in the very hot (about 95F) afternoon. Other than the heat, increasing clouds, narrow streets and heavy traffic blocking pictures, etc. it was a nice excursion. The old part of the city is MUCH more interesting and scenic / photogenic than the new part. Luckily that's where the ship is docked: right by the main gate, Diego Columbus' house, a cannon battery, etc. We had our best tour guide of the trip. I also purchased some small pieces of Larimar at a large souvenir shop. Tour evaluation: 2nd best tour.

We depart the Dominican Republic shortly after 6 and start on a 490 nm on to Jamaica - at least that was the plan. It seems that a local fruit supplier can't deliver when he was supposed to, so we have to wait for the delivery, get it unloaded, unpacked, and stowed before we can leave - about 8:15. The rain wasn't helping any. We have to cruise at a higher speed to make up that 2 ¼ hours lost. The seas will be about as they were yesterday so it won't be pleasant. There is nothing for me to look forward to when we get there.

Day 16/15, Thursday, Jan 3 AND YET ANOTHER BORING DAY AT SEA (#3 of 3)
It's not a holiday, but my Mother was born 103 years ago today. That will have to serve as today's "highlight." After another "rolling night," since there are no shore excursions to prepare for, the galley crew gets to sleep late and breakfast is an hour later than usual. Breakfast is "going downhill." Yesterday they had orange water instead of orange juice; today they don't even have water, just coffee and tea, but do provide an extra large "helping" of flies now and at lunch. As before on "at sea" days, there is nothing special - or even of any - interest planned. The weather and seas are about as expected - lots of rolling and a bit of pitching.

We see Haiti as a slightly visible line on the horizon. There is nothing to do today except packing for tomorrow's departure. I skip dinner as usual. We do have to remember to turn our watches BACK one hour tonight since Jamaica is on Eastern Time - the same as Miami. Ho-Hum, Bah-Humbug, and Boring.

Day 17/16, Friday, Jan 4 Montego Bay, Jamaica (7AM)
(NEW) Montego Bay - since the 1950's one of the favorite playgrounds of the world's jet set! Nature has been generous to Jamaica - a place Columbus is said to have called "the fairest isle mine eyes ever beheld'. From the island's premier resort explore the truly breathtaking Dunn's River Falls, or visit the historic Belfield Greathouse. Thanks to CheapSkates Cruises, after coming 2200 nm, I don't get to see any of this..

We had to have our luggage out before midnight last night. Breakfast is at 6:30 then back to finish last minute carry-on packing. We have to be out of our cabins by 8:30 then sit around bored in the lounges until lunch as 12 and depart for the airport at 1. At least I do get lunch onboard before we leave. The 4:45 flight departure gave me enough time for a half-day excursion here, but there was a time conflict so I get to see virtually nothing of Jamaica except the port and airport. So much for Jamaica! At least the 1PM transfer gives plenty of time to get to the airport, check in (extremely long time here), and get through the usual formalities.

EXCURSIONS:
*Belfield Greathouse Historical Tour (½ day) $ TIME CONFLICT

I'll have about 2 hours in Miami to go through all the re-entry formalities - and it took almost the whole time..

American AA1822 Montego Bay - Miami 4:40P - 6:30P1:452:50
American AA1817 Miami - Houston 9:20P - 11:15P2:557:30

Day 18/17, Saturday, Jan 5 Home finally
With that late arrival time on Friday midnight, having to wait 55 minutes for luggage, another 35 minutes to get on the Shuttle, and 45 minutes to get home, it's LATE and the house is COLD (46), I got home about 2:15 AM this morning making this an 18 day trip. At least I went It has taken a bit over 2 ¼ hours for the time the plane arrived at the gate until I walked in the back door. It would have been worse if I hadn't gone through the Customs, etc. hassle in Miami on that 2-hour layover and there is no further delay here … except long waits ... and it's raining here and barely 40F.

Short summary: the ship was nice, the cabin decent despite a 24x28" shower area, and the food was good. However I came for the excursions and those were, generally, very poor. Not getting to see Jamaica was a MAJOR disappointment. The whole cruise was quite disappointing due to the excursions (fair to poor to bad to awful). I had already cancelled out of two other Cheapskates Cruises trips: Amazon to Caribbean (not enough new for the $$), and the Oriental Odyssey (decided against yet another Trans-Pacific flight). After the mostly miserable excursions on this trip, I'm very glad I cancelled out of those trips.

CRUISE COMPARISONS (RANK AND RATING)
River cruises (6) and Small-Boat cruises (8) are not included
CompanyCruiseRankRating
HurtigrutenAntarctica11
Voyages to AntiquityBlack Sea11
Cruise WestPanama / Costa Rica43
Cruise WestSouth Pacific410
GlobusGalapagos515
Clipper LinesTrail of the Vikings 617
Holland AmericaCaribbean 1625
Voyages of DiscoveryCaribbean 28100
Star CrapperWindward Islands9 250

Cruise distances:
Barbados to St Lucia = 109 nm; St Lucia to Guadeloupe = 137 nm; Guadeloupe to Montserrat = 88 nm; Montserrat to St Nevis = 39nm; St Nevis to Grenada = 289 nm; Grenada to Tobago = 95 nm; Tobago to Margarita Island, 206 nm; Margarita Island to La Guaira, 172 nm; La Guaira to Willemstad, 145 nm; Curacao to Bonaire, 65 nm; Bonaire to Santo Domingo, 396nm; Santo Domingo to Montego Bay: 490 nm.
Total = about 2200 nm

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

BarbadosSt Lucia
St NevisGrenada
TobagoMargarita
CaracasCuracao
BonaireSanto Domingo
Montego Baysee <--- points to my cabin


M/V VOYAGER



Passengers: 556
Decks: 7
Length: 500'
Speed: 20

Carrying just 550 passengers, mv Voyager offers a choice of 278 cabins, 30 of which have balconies, open seating dining in two restaurants plus a range of large cruise ship facilities with small ship convenience. Like mv Discovery, the small size of mv Voyager means that the ship is able to access remote, out of the way ports - essential for the Voyages of Discovery destination-led cruise offerings.

Two restaurants with options for open dining; Al-fresco dining (Veranda) and the regular Discovery Restaurant.There are various lounges, bars, a Medical Centre, and an expen$ive Internet Centre. The deck plans online are wrong - possibly for the MS Discovery, but not the Voyager. It's 3 decks up from my cabin to the meeting lounges, and 5 decks up to the buffet restaurant

SHIP COMPARISON
ShipVoyagePassengersPax DecksLengthCrewSpeed
Aegean Odyssey2011 Black Sea
2013 S E Asia
2013 Greek Islands
2013 Grand Mediterranean
378
7
461'18018k
Zuiderdam2012 Caribbean
1916
9
936'81720k
River Queen2012 Rhine & Moselle
132
4
361'??
Wilderness Adventurer2012 Inside Passage
60
3
156'2010k
AMACerto2012 Blue Danube
156
4
443'4914k
Voyager2012-3 Caribbean Gems
550
7
500'21520k