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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 4: Swimming in (the) Trunk (of the) Bay, Part 1

Just starting to read this?  The previous day starts HERE.


They say that a picture is worth a thousand words…this is one of those days where my initial intent was to let the pictures speak for themselves and not provide much narration.  Then I remembered that I'm long-winded and boring and that I had to drone on about stuff that nobody cares about to keep my reputation intact.

With that, let's begin our first port day in beautiful St. Thomas!

I was wide awake early on (5:30), mainly because I wanted to get a time lapse of the sunrise and our arrival into St. Thomas.  I got the GoPro set up and started, and I then started going over the itinerary for the day…again…and again…and again…

The game plan for the day was to do our own thing and head to Trunk Bay.  This would involve a little bit of logistics and a bit of luck on the timing.  We were going to try to get off the ship early and then grab a taxi to Red Hook.  From there, we hoped to catch the 9:00 ferry over to Cruz Bay and then grab another taxi to Trunk Bay.   To get back, we had to reverse it.

The first order of business, though was sustenance!  We headed up to Garden CafĂ©, and it was markedly busier than we anticipated.  We decided to forego anything that would take a while (omelets were out), so Sheri and I opted for Eggs Benedict while the boys went with the quick pancake and/or cereal fare.  I’ll admit, I had my doubts with the eggs, but this morning’s offering was remarkably good!

There weren’t any 4-tops available (even singing Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch didn’t help), (wow…that was bad, even by my relatively low standards), so we split up and grabbed a couple of 2-tops.  I ended up sitting next to a Korean War veteran from the Chicago area who was dining with his granddaughter.  We enjoyed a brief conversation as we ate.  We couldn’t stay too long, however, because we were on a mission to get off the ship early.  We bid them adieu and headed back to the stateroom for final preparation.

Swimming attire and rash guards…Check!
Lots of cash (many places do not accept credit/debit cards…taxis, ferry, etc)…Check!
Day Bag…Check!
Phones in recently-purchased waterproof cases…Check!  (the money fit in there well…FYI)

I wanted to test things out a bit, so I did bring our passports with us, but I also had photos of the passports on our phone.  I know – there is often a little controversy with taking passports with you vs keeping them on the ship.  This was a fact-finding mission for me as a travel planner to see what all would fly.

We had a little time, so I did a quick download of the time-lapse shots from earlier.  As I did that, the other three questioned why I didn’t shoot the arrival into port.  I wanted to do it, but logistics wouldn’t really let me – I had enough storage space, but the battery would have been the potential issue.  The Hero Session 4 has a rechargeable battery that can’t be swapped out.  While the camera recharged and downloaded, the others started shooting pictures on the verandah.

Around 7:45-7:50, we started to make our way down to the lower decks, and we were rewarded with being off the ship at around 8:01!  We made it to the taxis by 8:10 and were on our way soon afterward.  All of us were heading to either Red Hook (us) or Sapphire Beach or Coki Beach (everyone else).  When the driver turned into Secret Harbour resort, we all kind of looked around, wondering what was going on.  The driver hopped out and seemed a bit perturbed that nobody got out.  He hopped back in and headed towards Red Hook – he pulled into a strip mall by Ocean Surfari Charters and said that this was the stop for Red Hook.  We hopped out, lost and not sure which way to go.  We figured it out after about five minutes and, as two other taxis flew by us, made it to the terminal.

Though we had the stop at Secret Harbour and then got dropped off around twelve miles from the terminal, we still had about 20 minutes to spare before the 9:00 ferry.  I hopped in line and got four round-trip tickets.  I then put my phone into working mode and started working on emails (stupidly, I (and Sheri) might add).  We boarded and raced an auto ferry over to Cruz Bay (we won).  This wasn’t a rough ride at all, luckily.  We deboarded and found a taxi to get on in about three minutes.

Coming Into Cruz Bay

The taxi ride to Trunk Bay was beautiful, and I was really looking forward to seeing Sheri’s face when we got to the overlook.  I did what I could to keep her from seeing it early online; it was going to be perfect!

Of course, we flew by the overlook, and we only had about a 2-second glimpse of one of the most-photographed spots in all of the Caribbean.

Taken at about 25-30 mph

I was having bad luck with taxis today.

We pulled into Trunk Bay, and it looked like things were quiet.  We paid our admission fee (yes, they take credit card) and then rented some snorkeling gear before making our way to the beauty of the beach.

From here, I’ll let the video take over until we get back to Charlotte Amalie.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. MORE Chilling at Sea (Part 3)

The previous installment can be viewed HERE.

On the agenda for dinner tonight was Food Republic.  Aaron, who is a big sushi fan, was REALLY looking forward to this one.  We started to make our way down around 5:15, and, at 5:30, when it opened for service, we were the second ones to be seated.

Food Republic is another one of those hidden gems onboard.  Once word gets out, the place tends to get busy; however, if you go there on the first 2-3 days of the cruise, it tends to be quiet.  The menu is crafted by the geniuses from the Pubbelly Restaurant group, including chefs Jose Mendin (a 5-time semifinalist of the James Beard award), Sergio Navarro, and Andreas Schreiner, who are very well-known in the Miami area.  It is an Asian fusion restaurant with a little bit New England sprinkled in.  Guests order from iPads located at each table, and, as a plate is made, it comes out to the table; there is no order of entrees, per se.

The first order of business was the drink selection.  Sheri decided on a “Revolutionary Cure” (Mandarine Napoleon…orange liquor, apple juice, cinnamon syrup, ginger beer, and fresh lemon), while I ordered a Toro Toro (silver tequila, chipotle pineapple syrup, and lime juice…it was interesting!).

We let the boys have a little more free reign on what to order, and it was ALL amazing!

Tiger Roll

Chorizo Dates

Short Rib & Corn

Philly Roll

Pork Belly & Scallions

Chicken Teriyaki w/ Ginger Miso

Dragon Roll (we think)

It was a la carte and not part of the specialty dining package that we had, but we would all agree that it was worth the price!!!!  You pay as you order at Food Republic, so we didn’t have to wait for the final check.  We were out of there around 6:30…less than an hour for our meal!

Both Entourage and Splash had events going on at 7 that the boys expressed interest in.  This was good, because Orly was going to be at District starting at 6:45.  We made our way aft and dropped Aaron off first before heading to the Sports Court to drop off Eric.  Kidless again, we made our way BACK to Deck 8 Forward and headed into the District.  Orly had already about half-way into his set, and he again gave us a “Hi guys!” as we found some chairs.

Before the cruise, I have delusions of grandeur to attempt to taste every beer that the District had; some words of encouragement from a brother-in-law or two made me even more set on trying it.  There was just too much to offer around the ship, however, and the beers I ordered that night were the only ones I had at the District.  I feel like I should turn in my man card.

Orly finished his first set and, during his break, he performed some surgery on his guitar; mind you, we all thought it sounded amazing before he started working on it.  Before he started his next set, I asked him if he was okay with me recording a little bit.  He gave the okay, and I got set up to get some footage of his show.  I then told him that he had an impact on our older son and asked us about starting lessons.  Orly smiled and said that he’d love to talk to Aaron about it and show him a couple of things on the guitar.

Me:  jaw hits the floor

We did tell Aaron that evening; unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out for them to meet up.  Still, his willingness to talk to him spoke volumes.  I doubt that he’ll ever read this, but I wanted to express our thanks for the amazing job he does on the ship!

Sheri and I were content just staying in the District for a few hours.  It wasn’t too loud in there, the motion wasn’t too much for Sheri, and we were really enjoying ourselves!  Howl at the Moon was slated to start at 8:30, though, and we had heard really good things about that show.  We decided to listen to Orly until 8:10 and then head to Headliners for Howl; we both agreed that we could come back here if we weren’t feeling the dueling pianos show.  We finally pulled ourselves out of the District around 8:18 and did the short walk to Headliners.  We figured it would be close to full – we weren’t expecting there to be no chairs available at all when we got there.

Yes, folks, that was me trying to tell you to arrive EARLY for Howl at the Moon.

We stood in the back, and the show started a few minutes later.

There were a couple of occasions where we nearly had tears in our eyes from laughing.  The talent of the pianists is remarkable, and they’re quick on their feet with some of the lyrics.  Eric texted to say that he was signing out, and we directed him to head to Headliners, not knowing if he would like the show or not.  He found us about 15 minutes later.  Aaron texted us not long after Eric did, and all 4 of us ended up really enjoying the show; we stayed until around 10:45…a little before the 11:00 cutoff where they were going to amp the show up to an 18+ audience.

Tyler on the drums

For those who have never seen this, I’m going to compare it to something at Disney World, since the current majority of my followers on my blog are Disney freaks.  If you take Jellyrolls and merge it with the electric audience participation that you see with Yeeha Bob over at Port Orleans Riverside’s River Roost and then make it a bit more PG-rated, you’ll have something along the lines of Howl at the Moon.  The video gives a good feel for what to expect with the show.

If you haven't seen the video yet, it can be viewed here:

Tyler, the Cruise Director, made a cameo appearance and ended up staying for a good 20+ minutes.  He even had a singing part, which I won’t spoil.  One of the funnier parts was during his song:  his crew member phone went off during his song, and, in perfect step, sang “I’ll be there in ten minutes” to whomever it was on the other end of the line.  We left before it went to adults-only, but we could tell from some of the other humor that these guys would probably be just as funny, if not funnier, with the handcuffs taken off (or put on, for that matter).

Tyler's (hilarious) solo

I actually grabbed the slip of paper used to request a song and filled out "20-year Anniversary" for the event, and for the song....

...without Sheri seeing it...

...I wrote down Jimmy Buffett's Why Don't We Get Drunk...

I chickened out, though, and didn't turn it in.  I did show it to her, though, and got a good laugh from it.

We shipped the boys out a few minutes before we left in the hopes that they would start getting ready to turn in for the night.  They were pretty much ready when we arrived at the stateroom.  This day turned out to be another fantastic one, but we were all looking forward to tomorrow, when we arrived at St. Thomas!

Day 4 starts HERE.