Monday, September 18, 2017

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 5: Tortola! - Spending our 20th Anniversary in a Bath(s) in Another Country, Part 2

You can read the first part of the day HERE!

We made to the exit/entrance around 9:40 and, after a quick bathroom break, we celebrated our success the best way we could that early in the morning…RUM PUNCH AT THE POOR MAN’S BAR!

We sat around, talked, and people-watched for about 15-20 minutes before heading down to the Baths beach.

While there, I pointed out to Sheri how far out the moorings were for this beach, and we both agreed that we all would have been able to swim in from there.  Around 10:30, we made our way back up to the Top of the Baths in the hopes that we would be ahead of most of the others on the excursion.  There were several taxis available, and, as we started walking towards the guides, they asked if we got our free rum punch yet?

More rum punch?  FREE??


The guide pointed us towards the location, and it was surprisingly quiet for being free alcohol.  Aaron was first to the table, and I could see the guy sizing him up to guess if he was 21 or not.  While I didn’t think he’d actually try to get one, I made sure the guy handing out the punch knew he was only 14 so he and his brother would get the nonalcoholic version.

We downed the drinks quickly and hopped in a taxi for the ride back to Spanish Town.  On the way back, we talked with a couple of girls from central California; inevitably, the discussion turned to Wine Country, as we were interested in what they knew about (Central Coast), and they were interested in our favorite wine area (Napa/Sonoma).  They were great; in fact, the entire taxi was awesome.  There were a number of times where the entire taxi ended up in the same conversation or a joke.

We made it back to the ferry a little after 11:00; we had a little bit of time to just marvel at the color of the water and reflect where we were.

We again opted for the lower level inside.  Though it was still before noon, the boys were wiped out, and they were snoring before we even cast off.

The ride back to Tortola seemed quite a bit smoother than the ride to Virgin Gorda, and we were walking back towards the Escape around noon.  The ride back apparently made the boys starving, so we made a beeline for O’Sheehan’s as soon as we made it back on the ship.

Put...the camera...down...and EAT!

While there, Michell came in and sat a couple of tables away.  We talked with her for a few minutes to catch up on how things were going.  I had a question or two regarding my being a travel agent and being able to post cruise reports over on Cruise Critic, and she gave some great advice.

Sheri was getting a bit tired, so she headed out to our room before dessert – the boys and I (of course) had to try out dessert (in the name of research, of course).  After dessert, we made our way back up to our room, where Sheri was finishing up putting some stuff away.  The boys, after eating nearly half their body weight just a few minutes earlier, decided that a siesta was in order for them.  They turned the television on with low volume and found a place to crash.  Sheri and I headed out to the balcony to just sit, watch, and talk for a little bit.  As much as we loved St. Thomas and St. John, I think we both agreed that Tortola was even more beautiful.  We spent around 20-30 minutes out there, watching the watercraft arriving/leaving the area. We also watched the crowds returning to the ship.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 5: Tortola! - Spending our 20th Anniversary in a Bath(s) in Another Country, Part 1

I'm going to preface this post by mentioning that I am writing this only a few days after Hurricane Irma devastated many of the islands that we visited on this cruise; in particular, the British Virgin Islands, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands, received extensive damage.  While I write this day's events with the same style that I have thus far done so with the rest of the report, you may notice that there is a significant increase in the pictures included.  This is intentional: while these islands begin the rebuilding process, I want people to remember the way it was prior to the damage rather than remembering the impact that Irma had.  That being said, please keep in mind that it will take time and money for the residents of these islands to attain some semblance of normalcy.  I do not want to include any one particular organization; if you feel so inclined, I'm sure that any donation will help the people of the islands that so many love.

With that...let's get going!

Need to see the previous day?  Please click HERE.

Daily Planner for Day 5

I set my Garmin Watch to start vibrating around 5:45, and I quietly got out of bed soon after.  Following the same protocol as the previous day, I grabbed the GoPro and mounted it outside on the left balcony divider.  I started the time lapse just in time, because the pilot’s boat was heading towards us.  The other three were stirring, so I got ready first while they worked on waking up.  I think it was around this time that both Sheri and I realized that today was our 20-year Anniversary.  We exchanged cards and read them for a couple of moments…quick kiss, and then back to the grindstone, as we had a tight schedule in the morning.

Don’t worry…that wasn’t the extent of our anniversary celebration.  More to come later on that.

We flew up to Garden Café around 6:30 and found it to be eerily quiet.  We felt like we could have run around the entire buffet area naked without anyone seeing us.  Still, we opted for a quick grab-and-go with some fruit and headed back to our stateroom for final prep for our excursion to Virgin Gorda and the Baths.  Sheri was bust getting a day bag prepped, while I worked on getting everyone’s waterproof phone cases set up for the day.

Coming into Tortola:

At 7:00, we were at our meeting point for the excursion…the Escape Theater.  We received a few quick instructions and were soon following an escort off the ship.  It was a short 5- to 7-minute walk from the gangway to the area where our ferry was waiting for us.  I contemplated sitting up on the open-air top of the ferry, but I had previously read about how rough this passage could be; 30-40 minutes of constant slamming into the swells might have done Sheri and Aaron in, so I suggested we headed to the lower level indoors.

Yeah…that was a good decision.

Once we were full, we left the dock and floated slowly by the Escape, which made for a good photo opportunity.  Once we cleared the primary waters of Road Town, they opened up the throttle, and the sea started throwing her swells at us.  Immediately, Sheri looked for the nearest life saver and contemplated putting it on.  Aaron did his best to not turn green.

Eric and I put our hands in the air and treated it like a roller coaster ride (complete with an occasional, “WHEEEEEE….GO FASTER!!!  LET’S GO UPSIDE DOWN!!!”).

One of the employees handed out wrist bands for all of those on the excursion as well as liability waivers.  We received some more guidance on what to expect once we got to Spanish Town, which was where the ferry was to dock on Virgin Gorda.

After about 25-30 minutes (to Sheri and Aaron, it probably seemed more like 2-3 hours), we felt the engines slowing down, and we started catching glimpses of the Union Jack flying over the island we were approaching.  We all thought that was pretty cool – though none of us thought about looking for it at Tortola LOL.  We docked, and the two motion-sickness-prone members of the Mushfam kissed the ground soon after we hopped off.

There were members of the excursion team guiding us to open-air taxis.  As one filled up, it headed out.  We were fortunate enough to be the second or third taxi out, and, about ten minutes later, we entered The Baths National Park and hopped off the taxi a few steps away from the Top of the Baths Restaurant.  There, we sought out our “contact” for what to expect next.  We were to first head down to Devil’s Bay and enjoy the beach there for a little while; then, guides would gather us together, and we would all head into the maze.  The guy giving us the instructions also pointed out the flags flying nearby: Yellow and Bluish-Purple.  Yellow meant that the waters were a little choppy and that boats mooring should not leave their boats unattended.  Blue/Purple?  Well, that meant that jellyfish were present in the water.

Grreeeaaaattttt!!!!!!  Oh, and, yes, there was at least one Spongebob Squarepants joke mentioned when the guide told us the reason for the flags.

Sheri and Aaron, having been jostled around for the better part of an hour, made their ways to the restrooms.  I grabbed Eric, and we headed into the restaurant and got 4 waters (yes, they took U.S. Dollars).  Sheri met us as we were heading out, and we started our way down the path to Devil’s Bay.

Inside Top of the Baths

Slightly backed up here

It was a longer walk than I had anticipated, but there were excursion guides along the way to help make sure we were headed into the right direction.  When we arrived to Devil’s Bay, I think all of us took a look at others’ wrists to make sure that we didn’t miss the entrance into the rock maze.

Despite it being the longest day of the year in the middle of summer, the water was surprisingly cool!  We walked around and people-watched for about 15 minutes before starting to get a little nervous about the tour.

The color of that water...WOW!

Luckily, we overheard another couple talking about it, too, and they were heading to the maze.  We quickly decided to follow them.

About 50 feet into the path back towards the Top of the Baths, a sign pointed us to The Baths.  We jogged left past one of the guides stationed on the path, who didn’t object to the direction we were going, and we soon found ourselves at the exit of the maze.  Yeah, yeah…we were going to do the Maze backwards, even though hours of research assumed we were entering from the North side.

This ended up being an amazing decision – we honestly were not sure when (or even if) the tour group was going to start going through, but we knew that we wanted to catch an earlier ferry back to Tortola and also knew that the Baths crowds increased as the morning progressed.    We had minimal waits for pretty much the entire walk through, and, other than the Cathedral (which was expected), there weren’t too many people at all in there!

Obligatory Picture in the Cathedral

I made sure to include several clips in the video from this day.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 4: Swimming in (the) Trunk (of the) Bay, Part 3

The previous part of this day can be seen HERE.

On tap for dinner tonight was the Supper Club.  I had heard that the food was only so-so here, but we didn’t select this venue for the food – we were looking forward to seeing Company Men singing!  We arrived around 5:40 and were seated with a column blocking some of the stage.

Oh well…

The food was pretty much as previously-described to us…”meh” .  The singers definitely were talented, and I actually felt a little bad that they weren’t getting as much applause as I thought they should have received.  Granted, that goes along with a dinner/show combination.  They have shorter-term contracts, so seeing them on the ship might be hit-or-miss.

We were out of there by just after 7:00.  It would have been about 10 minutes earlier, but the servers misplaced my room key, and we were the next-to-last-table out.  No worries, though…we were planning on heading right back in for the 8:30 “Escape the Big Top” escape room.  Still, we had about 75 minutes to kill, so we headed back to our stateroom so I could turn off the GoPro, which had taken about 7,000 pictures of us leaving St. Thomas (please see video).  On our way to the room, though, we noticed a photographer with no wait, so we hopped in and got a couple of photos.

This little montage, taken just after we left our rooms, gives you a little peek into how we typically are.

We started making our way back to the atrium.  As we went past the Cellars, we heard the distinct riff of Orly’s guitar.  We waved, and he waved back.  We then pointed to the boys and shrugged our shoulders jokingly.  He laughed as he kept on playing.   A couple of minutes later, we found ourselves back at the atrium and sniffed out the onboard Starbucks.  We chose to be bad parents and decided to feed our kids’ addiction of caffeine.  I’m more of a purist…just give me a venti nonfat cappuccino, and I’m happy; the other three basically had them melt a candy bar in a cup and added a shot or two of espresso (they all got mochas or frappuccinos).  Since we didn’t think their pancreases were under enough duress with the candy-bars-in-a-cup, we also ordered some macaroons to share.

We sat down nearby (rather, we tried to sit down, but our legs were starting to tremor a little from the buzz) and listened to Groove Addiction finish up their set.  Around 8:10, we went back to the Supper Club and got assigned to a table with just us.  We were expecting to be paired up with another family or two, but it was just us until right before the start.  We had a family from Florida at our table – the husband was an on-air personality for a local station, but I couldn’t remember what he said he did.

The game started, and we all paid close attention to Ringmaster JoJo (it would have been really funny if it were ringmaster Jackie Tang…all the way from Hong Kong) as he gave the instructions for the game.  Now, remember…the Mushfam is competitive…this family is, too.  I liked our chances!  We had to solve six puzzles, which all fed into a seventh puzzle.

By the time the game ended, we had figured out two of them.

I felt like I should have put a bag over my head for the rest of the cruise, like Sylvestor the cat’s ashamed son

After leaving the Supper Club, we headed back to the Atrium.  The Celebrity Dance-Off was scheduled for tonight, and research told me that this was not to be missed.  We looked for some chairs and found nothing, so we headed upstairs.  While we were doing this, “Sing It If You Know It” was going on.  I expected this to be a lower-key event.

Yeah…it was popular.  I only have about 20 seconds of usable footage, so I can't really show you how much participation there was.  I'd estimate about 40-50 people on the stage, singing their hearts out, with dozens of others sitting down but still singing.  One of the guys on the microphone was from Bloomington, IL, and we contemplated heading down to talk to him afterwards.   The boys wanted to play pool and/or darts, so they headed out while Sheri and I looked for chairs.  We found one, and when the Dance-Off started, the woman in the chair next to us left (apparently, she wasn’t a fan of Tyler).

SCORE!!!  Two chairs together!

The boys came back after what I could only assume involved a game of whipping darts at each other, and the show started in earnest (after selecting the audience participation and pairing them up with the celebrity dancers).  I won’t spoil it, but they had a last-minute celebrity dancer who had to ad-lib.  I wish I had the camera going, because it was absolutely hilarious.

The premise behind this is that everyone dances, and, after a critique by judges (one of the judges was from Company Men), they eliminate a couple.  The dancing itself is hilarious, but the interviews with the eliminated couples seriously had me crying a few times from laughing.

We had an early morning the next day, so Sheri headed back to the room fairly early.  The rest of us followed about 30 minutes later, even though there were only a couple of dance teams left.  We all collapsed and were snoring within a few minutes.

Day 5 starts...HERE!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 4: Swimming in (the) Trunk (of the) Bay, Part 2

The first part of the day can be read HERE.

Okay…I lied.  I’m taking over when we got back to Cruz Bay.  We decided to hit Woody’s Seafood Saloon for lunch, since we had over an hour before we planned on taking the ferry back to Red Hook.  This place has a small capacity, but it has a big reputation…especially later in the afternoon with its Happy Hour.  Before then, however, it was completely fine for the entire family.  I took a “When in Rome” mantra for this meal: I started with a painkiller to drink (2 oz Pusser’s dark rum, 1 oz cream of coconut, 4 oz pineapple juice, and 1 oz of OJ).  We ordered conch fritters for the first time (when in Rome, right?).  They were okay, but I consider them more of a “right of passage” for the islands than anything else.  The Drunken Shellfish…THAT was good!  I also drank a Virgin Islands “Island-Hoppin’ IPA (When in Ro…okay, it’s getting old), which was pretty decent.

I love their menu!

Conch Fritters

Drunken Shellfish and a good IPA...Life is Good!

While we were there, we struck up a conversation with a couple from Texas who were also enjoying their vacation in the islands.  We talked for quite a while about getting down to St. John, the national park, and Trunk Bay.

Eventually, we did have to leave, though I could have stayed there and people watched (and drank) for another hour or so.  We wanted to make it back to St. Thomas with plenty of time, though, so we headed to the ferry terminal and hopped on the 2:00 ride back to Red Hook.  After we got off the ferry, we were directed to a van with air conditioning for the ride over to Charlotte Amalie.  For the same price as an open-air taxi, you know we took hold of the opportunity and got in!  We shared the ride with another couple that we saw at Trunk Bay as well as on the taxi ride to Trunk.  The driver stopped for us to get a really good shot of the Havensight Docks where the Escape and Carnival Magic where tied up.  He dropped us off near the shops (Garden and Main…or Dronningens Gade, if you are a local).  As soon as we crossed the street, we found ourselves in the middle of a number of jewelry stores.

Now is probably the right time to tell you that I had an ulterior motive for going this way.  Our 20-year anniversary was the next day.  Again, with huge THANK YOU to my friend Karen (see pre-trip report), I was on the lookout for a popular Crucian Hook bracelet to see if Sheri thought they were neat or not.

Sheri immediately smelled something, because I didn’t do my typical routine of whining, sitting down in the middle of the store, and asking if she was done yet when it comes to shopping.  I poked my head into one store and quickly inquired (out of earshot from Sheri) about hooks (they didn’t have any), and she looked at me quizzingly.  She then popped her head into a linen store, and we all entered to look around.  Aaron and Eric immediately started whining, sitting down in the middle of the store, and asking if we were done shopping.

I noticed that the back of the linen store had a small jewelry area, so I followed Sheri into there.  She started browsing around, while I told her that I was going to sit down and rest for a while…

…and talk to the guy about the hook bracelets he had on display.

She was definitely on to me, and she did like one of the bracelets she tried on.  I told her that Karen had already helped me out with this and that it was an anniversary present a day early.  The price was good, and she didn’t put up much of an argument.

We found out after the picture that the hook faces toward the heart if it's taken and away from the heart if searching.

After we bought the bracelet, we grabbed a couple of waters and picked up boys, who were still wailing on the floor of the linen shop.  We walked through an arcade down to the waterfront and shooed away the dozens of taxi drivers offering us a lift to the ship (“it’s three miles over there…you don’t want to have your lady walk all that way, do you?”…hint…it’s about a mile, and she wanted to walk).

As we approached Havensight, we grabbed a picture or two in the Shoppes at Yacht Haven Grande:

....and, finally, we're on the dock.

Yep...definitely a tech nerd on vacation...

When we got to Havensight, we first had to go through a mild security stop.  We showed our passports and were cleared.  I asked if pictures of the passports worked, and the guard we had said, “Yep!”

We then got to experience our first boarding event that Norwegian puts on.  We were offered water/lemonade, had lavender-infused washcloths being handed out…it was a nice touch!  A few minutes later (with the typical metal detectors upon getting back on the ship), we were clear and walking on the Escape.  It was around 3:30, and the ship was really quiet, since there were still a couple of hours left before we were scheduled to leave St. Thomas.  We were all a little thirsty, so I suggested we head up to another bar that we had not yet tried…5 o’Clock Somewhere!

Now, having researched the heck out this trip, I knew that everyone’s favorite bartender, Clarense, was usually seen there.  As we walked up, we saw the man…the myth…the legend.  It was the Chocolate Cowboy!

There was only one other couple there, and, after making sure the boys were okay sitting at (near) the bar, we sat down nearby and introduced ourselves.  I mentioned to Clarense that he had a huge following and was widely regarded as the best bartender on the ship.  The couple next to us played it up and considered him royalty.

We perused the drink menu, and the boys asked for their go-to drinks (Pepsi and Cherry Pepsi).  Cowboy got the glasses and opened up the ice tray…only to realize he forgot to fill the ice!

“And here you are calling me the best bartender on the ship…”

We all had a good time with that one for a while.

I honestly can’t remember what it was that I ordered…maybe you can figure it out from the pic below:

Sheri asked for a frozen margarita, but the machine wasn’t quite ready yet – he said he’d make sure she had a frozen one in front of her in 15 minutes and then made her one on the rocks.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and just talk with Clarense, DO IT!  This guy tells it like he sees it with nothing held back, and his stories are epic!  Speaking of epic stories, the couple next to us asked if we got off the ship, and we regaled them with our journey to Trunk Bay.  We then returned the favor and asked them what they did.

“Well…we were SUPPOSED to go to Trunk Bay, too…”

Everyone stopped to listen to this one.

They were newlyweds and were enjoying themselves a lot the night before (drinking…not what you typically expect on a honeymoon).  They were so hung over that morning that they just stayed in their stateroom to try sleeping it off!

Right at 15 minutes, without Sheri even realizing it, a frozen margarita was placed in front of her.

Chocolate Cowboy = Awesomeness

The thing that really got me, though, with Cowboy, is that, as people walked by, he’d call them by name and start making their drink.  He probably had several hundred patrons at the bar so far during the cruise, yet he was able to remember the majority of their names and what they liked to drink.  Being from Honduras, he is happy that the Escape is doing the western itineraries so he can occasionally see his family.  There is a rumor that he might be headed to the Bliss when it starts its sailings; while it would be a loss for the Escape, you definitely want some of your best employees on the newest ship.

We stayed there talking with him and the other cruisers bellying up for about 45 minutes before sending the boys up to start getting ready for supper.  We stuck around for another 10-15 minutes before bidding him adieu and heading back up to our stateroom to get ready too.

We finish up our day HERE.