Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 5: Tortola! - Spending our 20th Anniversary in a Bath(s) in Another Country, Part 3

Need to catch up?  The previous installment can be found HERE!

Eventually, we headed back inside.  Sheri felt a nap coming along.  I was still feeling great; besides, Eric was snoring on the bed where I usually lay, so I grabbed the camera and headed out to get some more pictures of the ship.  678 Ocean Place was my destination for pics.  I spent around an hour gathering pictures before heading back to the stateroom.  Sheri had a little nap under her belt and was reading a little bit on the deck.  The boys were still completely zonked.  We talked for a little bit, while I grabbed some more deck pictures as we passed the islands as we started on our way back west towards the U.S.  I know that there are a lot of pictures in here; please allow me this indulgence as I am writing this just a couple of days after Hurricane Irma went through the Caribbean, and much of the scenery will never be the same.  To avoid killing everyone's data, I'll send you to the folder that contains the pictures taken.  Please head to This link to view the pictures from around the ship.  They are, for the most part, chronological, so, once you get past the pictures from the Baths, you'll know you are close.

Around 4:15, we headed back inside from our balcony, to this sight.

Well…they weren’t waking up anytime soon…we decided that it was a good time to check out the Skyline Bar!!!

We bellied up to the bar and asked for a menu.  I honestly am not 100% sure what we ordered for the first round – I want to say I got a Bahama Mama, but I can’t be certain.

While there, we talked a bit with the bartender, but, as Skyline was a little busier, we tried not to distract him much.  Quite a few people came and went, tossing some money into the video poker machines embedded within the bar.  One gentleman sat down next to me, and the three of us struck up a conversation as he played.  He was from Minnesota, and he was on there courtesy of a Casinos at Sea offer.

Round 2!

We were hesitant to order this next round, but we were both looking forward to having a Caipirinha.  We learned about this drink at what Sheri and I consider “our” Skyline Bar…the one on the Disney Dream.  It’s impossible not to compare them.  Since the one on the Dream was the first one we visited, I think we’ll always rank that as our favorite bar on a ship.  The one we on the Escape is good…don’t get me wrong on that.  We’re just bigger fans of the other one.  Regardless, we did order one, and the bartender didn't seem too upset that we asked for a drink that involved muddling.

Sheri finished her drink first and decided to head back to the stateroom to prepare for supper; tonight was our anniversary dinner at Cagney’s.  She headed out, while I stayed back for a few more minutes to finish my drink and talk a bit longer with our new friend playing poker next to me.

The boys had awakened from the dead by the time Sheri had returned to the room, and they were already prepared for dinner.  Sheri and I were ready a few minutes later, and, knowing that we were cutting it just a bit close on dinner and our after-dinner entertainment, For The Record: The Brat Pack, we decided to head down to Cagney’s about 15 minutes before our reservation.  We were seated immediately, though the restaurant looked pretty packed.  Our servers were really enthusiastic as they greeted us, and, as I handed them the voucher for the anniversary cake, our main server asked if we were planning on something immediately afterward, like a show.

I mentioned that we had reservations for The Brat Pack, and she said they’d accommodate us to make sure we’d make it in time.

That, folks, is amazing service!!

One of the great things about cruising and dining is the opportunity to try out new items.  I decided to try Oysters Rockefeller for the first time.  Hey…it’s our anniversary…we have oysters…it’s foolproof!

Yeah, none of us really liked ‘em.

Crab cakes and shrimp cocktail were also ordered for appetizers:

The soup/salad course was up next, and there was a combination of the lobster bisque and blue cheese wedges – we were too busy enjoying the food to be bothered with taking pictures!

Now…the main course.  I had the smaller prime rib, while the others got strips and ribeyes (maybe one was a small porterhouse?).

Meat sweats were starting to appear…but we weren’t done!  Oh no – we also had a mountain of sides!  Baked potatoes, asparagus, au gratin potatoes, mushrooms, and more!

The timing of the service was about perfect!  We still had time for dessert (though we didn’t have room for it!) without having to rush to make it to For The Record.  The boys were struggling to decide on what dessert to have; although Sheri and I were going to share the anniversary cake (we had no idea how big it would be, but we were both stuffed), I helped the boys out by ordering an additional dessert (without telling them that they could order multiple desserts themselves).

The desserts came, and I noticed a handful of servers surrounding our table.

Uh oh…Sheri’s not big on being the center of attention – that’s why I take the lead…to deflect the attention away from her (at least that’s what I keep telling myself).  Our server led the staff in an acapella version of Let Me Call You Sweetheart.  Of course, the entire section was watching, and Sheri squirmed a little.  As they approached the last stanza, the server told me to finish it…

…of course, I messed up the lyrics a bit, though, like a true professional, I covered it so that nobody would notice.  It was supposed to be “I’m in love with you”, and I changed it to “ ‘Cause I love you.”
The servers got a round of applause for their rendition of the song (Shh…don’t tell Sheri that a couple of them applauded for us), and several tables asked how many years we had been married.

We split the anniversary cake 50/50…well…it was intended to be 50/50, but Sheri was so full from the meal that she had a total of 3-4 bites and pushed the rest of it to me.  I took a deep breath, unbuckled my belt, and mumbled that “sacrifices must be made” as I worked on finishing the rest of her cake.

Past reviews of Cagney’s have indicated that sometimes the staff seems to have too many tables going or that they try to rush you through the meal.  Granted, we were on a time crunch, but we felt like the staff was absolutely awesome, and we showed our appreciation with the gratuity.  Oysters aside, the food was great and the service was excellent!

View from our table at Cagney's

We were all falling in love with this ship, and I mentioned that I was going to sing Let Me Call You Sweetheart to the ship…Sheri didn’t think it was nearly as funny as I thought.

We asked the boys to head to the Theater to snag a few seats for us for the show.  They headed off, and we talked for a couple of minutes before making our way to the forward area of the ship.  She peeled off to freshen up while I searched for the boys.  They were a bit farther back than I was hoping for, but, since I didn’t ask them to shoot for a closer view, I couldn’t be upset.  A few minutes later, Sheri texted us from the NCL app trying to find us, and we all started waving when she looked our way.

We had about 15 minutes or so before the show started, so I tried to explain to the boys a bit about what the Brat Pack was and who John Hughes was.  I had previewed a number of videos from the show, since they suggested that the show was appropriate for ages 14 and up.  Considering Aaron was already 14 and that Eric was already cracking “that’s what she said” jokes, we thought that the boys would be fine.

I won’t spoil anything…all I will say about the show is that it was AMAZING!!!!!!    The plot isn’t the greatest, but the acting…the singing…the music…the raw emotion that sent all of the adults in the audience back to our teenage angst years…wow…just…WOW!  There were some absolutely hilarious moments, and there were moments where you found yourself fighting back tears.  The reprise for In Your Eyes from one of my favorite movies of my teenage years (Say Anything) saw a bit of dust appear in my eyes.  Mind-blowingly good – that’s all I’ll say.  I had reservations for the show for the next night in case we couldn’t make it to the show this night, and I seriously considered going back to watch it again.  It’s not for everyone, but, for those who were teens in the ‘80s, it will cause a flood of nostalgia to hit you like a ton of bricks.

After the show, we walked through the atrium to see what was going on.  Groove Addiction was in full swing, but we were starting to all feel a little wiped out from all that we did today.  We packed a lot into our little celebration.  Orly Penate wasn’t playing until 11, and I knew that Sheri wasn’t going to make it that long.  We went back to our stateroom and changed clothes.  The other three were ready to hit the hay, but I had a little more research to do in Spice H2O.  The 70’s and 80’s Dance Parties were scheduled that evening.  I grabbed the GoPro and headed out around 10:15 to catch the end of the 70’s party.  I had about 20 minutes of footage, but I wasn’t sure about the copyright issues of the videos that appear in the recording; because of that, I decided not to post anything from the dance parties.  The 70’s party was good – lots of music, and a decent amount of participation.  The 80’s party got the dance floor nearly 100% full, though!  Oh, and there is a bit of audience participation and/or special appearances by some of the biggest stars of one of the greatest decades of music!  I videoed a little from the floor, and after I put the GoPro away, I may or may not have swayed a couple of times to a song or two.

Zoomed in - there were a LOT more people on the dance floor!

I headed back to the room around 11, where I saw Sheri out for the count and the boys flipping through channels to find something to watch.  I got ready for bed and was out in a heartbeat.


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 CafĂ© 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.