Last Days

Our last day at sea started out partly cloudy and calm. Just as well, as we had to get packing and it is no fun to look into a suitcase while the ship is rolling and pitching.

It got a bit rougher as we approached the Bahamas, but still OK for packing.

We caught sight of land as we cruised through the Bahamas.

We encountered a cold front with showers on our way. This was actually a good thing as it would drop the heat and humidity in Florida.

Our final picture at sea. Things were clearing up as the sun went down.

Here we are pulling back into Fort Lauderdale at 5:30 AM. Another Smartphone image.

It had been a great cruise but now it was time to say goodbye to Reflection and her crew.

We had an easy debarcation, took a cab to the hotel and stored our luggage.

It was sunny and cool in Ft.Lauderdale so we went shopping while waiting for our room to be ready. This nice tree was near the Ross store.

It wasn’t long until we were settled into our hotel for another couple of nights. It was a pleasure not to have to rush to the airport.

A pleasant evening was in store in Fort Lauderdale. The locals found it unseasonably cool, but we enjoyed it.

We found it comforting to spend a couple of days in a familiar place. We were up early to enjoy the hotel breakfast. Then we did a bit more shopping and after that we just kicked back at the hotel pool.

There were some lovely flowers in bloom that I had missed photographing last time.

Not to mention these colorful guys.

Maria liked relaxing after a busy week at sea.

After the craziness of a port day Friday, the hotel was quiet on the Tuesday. No cruise ships in port makes things much simpler.

Not too much time left in the tropical climate.

We enjoyed our restful Monday at the hotel and then got up Tuesday and took a shuttle to the airport.

Our flight went smoothly enough and we arrived on time in Montreal. We got through customs, picked up our luggage, went to the car park to get our car and then had the approximately three hour drive home. We were back in Almonte around 8:30 PM after a brief stop on the way for coffee and fuel. A long day but it went well.

That concludes our travel story for now. Hope you enjoyed being with us.

Amber Cove Ramble

Another warm sunny day dawned with calm seas as we made our way to our final port stop in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

The coastline was in sight all the way into Amber Cove Cruise Terminal.

Getting closer now. You can see patches of seaweed in the shallower water.

Might as well relax on the balcony until we are moored at the pier.

We’ve picked up the pilot now and we’ll be entering the harbor.

There’s the cathedral in the city of Puerto Plata.

Looks like we’ll be sharing the pier with another Norwegian heavyweight. This one’s the Getaway, which has sailed down from Cape Liberty.

The captain turned the ship in the outer harbor, and backed us into the pier.

We got a nice view of the Dominican coastline as we made our way in.

Once off the ship we got a view of the Reflection at our last point of call.

We walked down the dock and immediately entered the Amber Cove port facilities. Very nice.

Lots of these colorful fellows were hanging around.

These two were as tame as a pair of domestic felines. About as obedient too. You could get a selfie with them if you wanted to.

It didn’t feel very much like Christmas, but I suppose we could pretend.

In addition to bars and shops and restaurants, the port facility had lots of stuff for a family day.

Here’s a nice swimming area which was free for passengers to use.

We were not very far from the ships at all.

Then there was the lazy river for swimming and tubing.

Here’s another view of the lazy river.

The complex at Amber Cove is called Taino Bay. It’s very family oriented. We just stayed in the complex this time. Maybe if we come back, we’ll take a ship’s tour and see more of Puerto Plata.

Back aboard we saw a bulk carrier departing for Quebec City. I don’t know what she will pick up there, but I suspect grain of some sort.

That concludes our day in Taino Bay, Puerto Plata. We have one last day at sea and then back to Fort Lauderdale,

Road Town Quandary

Our 4th port of call was Road Town in the British Virgin Islands. We had not been there before so we really didn’t know what to expect. The port looked very nice as we sailed in.

We passed through the port facilities and headed up the road towards the downtown. There is a familiar sign. Apparently the BVI is a big offshore banking center. Canadian banks have a presence there.

The skies looked ominous. Were we in for another drenching like yesterday?

The downtown was supposed to be close by the cruise terminal so we pressed on.

Suddenly the skies opened up and rain came down in buckets. Fortunately we found ourselves right in front of the Bamboushay pub so we ducked in.

It was a little early for serious drinking, so we shared a diet Coke and waited for the rain to subside.

The Bamboushay was a pleasant enough spot to wait out the rain. We got directions to downtown from the bartender.

There wasn’t a lot of commercial activity in Road Town that we could see though. It appears a bit undeveloped as a cruise port. There were business and government offices but not a lot for serious shoppers.

The rain showers were over so we spent a bit of time walking around Road Town.

Looks like you wouldn’t be thirsty if you lived here. Plenty of pubs to choose from.

We figured our best bet for souvenirs would be in the port complex, so after our tour of downtown we headed back. The giant Norwegian Encore was berthed beside us.

A nice lady was kind enough to take a photo for us.

Here’s the Encore – 170,000 tons, 5000 passengers. She sails from Miami.

We were about 40,000 tons smaller and 1000 less guests aboard.

Here are a few pictures taken from our deck 15. You can see the NCL ship is much larger.

They have all the bells and whistles to keep the kids happy.

Norwegian Encore must have 18 decks at least, She really towered over us.

This shows the port area with downtown in the background. The weather was much nicer in the afternoon but we were leaving early to sail to the Dominican.

We kicked back on our balcony and enjoyed the view. We were not obstructed by the big ship beside us.

Lots of ferries passed by. They had been taking folks to the beaches or other close by islands.

Road town has a commercial container port so there are lots of these local tramp frieghters around.

Heading out now from Road Town. We passed an oil or natural gas tanker as we sailed away.

The pilot boat was ready to pick up our pilot as we reached the open sea.

Lots of steep hills on land. I don’t think anyone would be driving fast on Tortola.

The pilot on his way back to Road Town harbor.

We had now reached the west end of Tortola island, on our way to Amber Cove, DR.

So long Tortola! We’ll pick up our narrative in the Dominican tomorrow.

Sint Maarten Rainbow

The sunny weather we had been experiencing so far changed a bit as we made our way into Philipsburg, Sint Maarten.

We could see a few clouds coming over the hills as we approached the pier.

It was shaping up to be a busy port day in Sint Maarten. 4 ships were scheduled to make a call. P&O Britannia had already docked as we came in.

We anticipated a few showers, but as our stateroom attendant wisely said: “They have showers and sun in the Tropics, so you can have rainbows.”

As we headed into the pier, an old friend was following us into Philipsburg. We would recognize her anywhere.

Marella Voyager is the former Celebrity Mercury. We have cruised aboard Mercury to Alaska and the Bahamas and made many friends aboard her. Sarah and Dave cruised from Australia to New Zealand aboard Mercury. It was good to see her again.

We left the Reflection and headed downtown. It began to rain lightly – just enough to dampen you, not soak you completely.

Eventually we stopped on the porch of a restaurant until the rain stopped.

Near the restaurant. Not much rain coming down, but there were pudddles everywhere.

It’s easier to walk along the waterfront now as the town has installed a stone walkway. Before you were walking on sand.

Eventually we made our way to Main Street and up one of the side alleys to Back Street.

Nice old hot rod. I did not sit on it as requested.

Back Street was in pretty poor shape when we were here in 2018. It’s still not 100% but it’s a lot better than it was.

The Courthouse is looking pretty good now.

The souvenir shops are a bit cheaper on Back Street and the shopkeepers were friendly.

Shopping right next door to Ray’s Jewelry.

I didn’t go in though. I have enough watches at home to last a lifetime .

Back on Main Street we passed the little chapel we remembered from a previous visit.

The rain was picking up again so we hung out in the foyer of yet another souvenir shop until it slackened.

On our way back now. A good view of the cruise ships in port – Carnival. P&O, Marella, Celebrity.

Back aboard, this was the view from our balcony. Lots of maritime action.

Looks like the folks on the former Mercury are enjoying themselves.

Things brightened up in the afternoon, but we were happy to be back aboard. At least we did get to see a rainbow. Off to Tortola tomorrow.

St. Thomas Small World

Our 4th day on the cruise dawned warm and sunny with the calm seas we had become so used to. We were already on our way into Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

This might be the place to mention a couple of crazy coincidences we experienced on the cruise.

I mentioned earlier that we were stuck with Celebrity Select Dining. Instead of changing to early Traditional Dining the first day, we decided to give it a try. On the second night we had to wait with a pager, then the wait staff took us down to the Traditional dining area anyway.

We were seated next to Tom and Debra. Weasked where they were from: “Ontario,Canada.”

So we told them we lived in Almonte. They knew where that was. Deb had lived in Ottawa for a while.

They told us they lived in a small town between Belleville and Kingston called Deseronto. I told them I grew up there. We knew a whole bunch of people in common. I went to high school with one of her best friends.

We tried to get the table next to Tom and Deb for the rest of the cruise but the Maitre d’ told us it was booked. However he was able to reserve another table for us in Traditional Early Dining.

When we eventually got to this table we met Catherine and Judd from York, SC. However Catherine was also born in Canada. Turns out she went to Queen’s University (so did we.) She even lived on Earl Street in Kingston – where Maria grew up. Crazy coincidences to be sure.

Back to St. Thomas. We were soon on our way into the town of Charlotte Amalie.

We docked at the Crown Bay Pier and since we were a 30 minute walk from Downtown and not in a particularly scenic area, we took a truck taxi downtown with 12 or so other cruisers.

Where we got off the taxi we soon met some of the local residents. No feral cats to be seen but St. Thomas does have feral chickens.

Lots of nice flowers around as well.

St. Thomas is a former Danish territory now owned by the USA. Dronningens Gade means Queen St. in Danish but nowadays it also goes by Main Street. St. Thomas is a shopping Mecca for the Americans because they get quite a nice duty free allowance if they buy stuff here. The main drag is crowded with watch and jewelry shops.

Another view of Dronningens Gade. That is about as much Danish as we saw here.

We remembered these cool alleyways off the Main Street which contained a variety of shops and restaurants. You won’t miss any souvenirs in St. Thomas. Won’t go hungry either.

This is one of the nicer side streets.

Nice little fountain at the other end of the Riise Mall.

Another pretty side street. I think we picked up our souvenirs near here.

It was getting hot and humid and we had our souvenirs, so we grabbed another taxi back to Crown Bay. The driver kindly took just the two of us – he didn’t try to get other passengers to share. On the way back he regaled us with stories of how expensive it was to live in St. Thomas. I guess tourism can be a mixed blessing for these folks.

Another coincidence – we were in port with an old friend. Adventure of the Seas was the ship we cruised on in 2022 when we visited the East Coast of the US and Canada. Nice to see her again.

Adventure of the Seas is about 20 years old now but she is looking great. Another classic cruise ship.

We were glad to be back on board as it was pretty warm and the port load in St. Thomas was about to increase by a fair amount.

Although the ship was docked in a rather industrial area the view from our side was pretty nice. So ended our port day in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. See you tomorrow in Sint Maarten!

Two Celebrities in San Juan

The first indication we were getting close to old San Juan harbor was the appearance of the pilot boat.

Soon the skyline of the old city was in sight. The sea was a bit choppy as we moved into shallower water near the port.

Soon we were passing Morro Castle, which has guarded the entrance to San Juan Harbor since the 1600s.

Here’s a close-up view of the fortifications as we sailed by.

We were going to share the pier with Celebrity Apex which had left Fort Lauderdale just before us on Saturday.

The Coast Guard has taken over from Morro Castle these days – just as the US has taken over from the Spanish Empire.

We had a couple of hours to tour Old San Juan before it got dark. After our tour we were scheduled to have dinner in the Tuscan Grill, so we didn’t waste any time. We got off the ship and headed straight for the Christopher Columbus statue in Plaza Colon.

Just down the road from Chris, we saw another road leading up to Fort San Cristobal, which guarded San Juan from a land invasion back in the day. It’s even bigger than Morro Castle.

Here’s another view of the Fortress San Cristobal. One good thing about a late afternoon tour is that the light was really great for photography.

The light was good for people and flower photography too. Maria had her sunglasses on so she wasn’t squinting into the late afternoon sunlight.

We headed back through Plaza Colon past Chris’s statue and went over to Calle Fortaleza to do a little souvenit shopping.

With two ships in port Calle Fortaleza was getting busy but we were only looking for a souvenir magnet or two, so we were OK.

There were plenty of places to choose from.

We finished our shopping and headed back past the Post Office to the Waterfront.

Here we see the two Celebrities side by side in San Juan. This might be a good time to have a rant and contrast the old classic Celebrity vibe with the new glitzy one. The older Reflection has the wonderful Solstice class lines while the Apex is – dare I say – butt ugly.

Many other “features’ on the Apex guarantee I’ll never likely sail on her and her sisters.

First of all most of the “Infinite Balconies” on Apex are not balconies at all. You get a little extra room inside your cabin with a window that you can lower down – if the Captain hasn’t locked it in place. When you do lower your window, the A/C or heat cuts off in your cabin so you get hot and humid in the tropics or freeze in Alaska. Our stateroom attendant told us they were having glitches with the A/C system restarting after you closed your window. Gross.

Second, unless you are in a suite you cannot go up to the bow of the ship at all. There is much more of a segregation of passengers on the Apex class. The stern of the ship has a beautiful area called Eden, but I still don’t like the restrictions that confine the lower class guests to that area.

Combine those negatives with the tugboat like appearance and I’ll pass on the Edge class ships thank you.

When push comes to shove, I prefer the old school classic looks of the Solstice class ships. Hopefully they’ll be around for a long time to come.

Probably a little bit touristic but how could we resist?

It was getting dark and we needed to get back onboard for dinner, but we had one final opportunity for Maria to photobomb a flowerbed.

After dining at the Tuscan Grill and watching the sunset we went up to deck 15 to get a final shot of the Apex before she sailed away. We would not see her again on this cruise.

I’ll conclude this post with a couple of images taken with my Pixel 7 Smartphone camera. Normally I hate Smartphone photography. There’s no real telephoto capability, it’s like taking photos with a bar of soap, and my fat fingers get in the way of the lens.

However, there are times when the computational photography of a Smartphone will enable you to get a picture when a conventional camera will fail due to low light. I may have been able to take this shot with my Lumix but it might have been shaky. The Pixel 7 handled it well.

I know for sure this San Juan night photo could not have been recorded at all without a tripod for a conventional camera. The Pixel 7 did a pretty good job though. It’s not the equipment you use; it’s the pictures you get.

So ended our trip to San Juan as we slipped our moorings and sailed away into the night. Our next stop will be St. Thomas – tomorrow.

Sea Change?

The second sea day on the cruise dawned with calm seas and warm temperatures.

As the day brightened up, things got warmer but the seas continued to be calm.

Lots of sun worshippers were enjoying themselves by the pool. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

This seemed like a good time to reflect on our cruise experience so far. Did we see any changes in the Celebrity vibe we were so familiar with? Well, yes…and no.

What hasn’t changed? Well, the level of service is still great. Jisrael our stateroom attendant was one of the best we have ever had on Celebrity – friendly, helpful, efficient. He kept our room immaculate.

The food was also excellent. Looking at the cruise as a whole, we got fine dining experiences everywhere – in the buffet, the Main Dining Room, the Captains’s Club breakfast room and the specialty restaurants.

The ship itself was as we remembered the Solstice Class – easy to find our way around and in very good condition. Having a balcony was a huge bonus. All our favorite haunts were still there – the library, the Hideaway, Cafe al Bacio.

The deck 5 entrance to the Ensemble Lounge and Specialty restaurants has that funky art which is characteristic of every Solstice Class ship.

I mean – that is real wood – isn’t it?

The main change we noticed was that the cruise line seemed to concentrate more on those passengers who were paying top dollar for suites and enhanced balcony rooms, while de-emphasizing the long time loyal cruise guests. There was no formal Captain’s Club Happy Hour locale every evening – they held it a couple of times in the Sky Lounge but they didn’t make a big deal of it. Also the Captain’s Club host seems to have disappeared. That job was lumped in with the person who looked after Concierge Class guests.

I’m happy we got a good deal and were able to sail in Concierge Class. Otherwise I think we would have felt underappreciated, even though we have pretty high status in the loyalty program.

Celebrity seems to be pushing its guests away from Traditional dining times and making them take Celebrity Select Dining as the primary option. Either that or they want you to start eating at a late hour. I suppose this is great for the Company as they manage their table service more efficiently. However if you are in Select Dining and you show up even 20 minutes after the dining room opens you are guaranteed another 20-30 minute wait. You’ll be loitering in the foyer with a pager till your table is available. This got old for us fast so we pulled rank with the Maitre d’ and got a Traditional dinner table part way through the cruise. Being Elite Plus does get their attention I guess.

Speaking of changes, we passed one of the newest Celebrity ships – the Beyond – as she made her way back to Fort Lauderdale. More about these new ships later on.

By our third day at day at sea the weather continued to be great,

As we got closer to San Juan the marine traffic picked up. We saw some fancy sea-going yachts.

We even saw some small Container ships that served mostly Caribbean ports.

Our stay in San Juan would be short and most of it would be after dark, but we were hopeful we’d see a bit of the old city. More on that coming up in the next post.

The Reflection

Celebrity Reflection is the 5th and final ship built for Celebrity as part of the Solstice Class. It was the only ship of this class we had not sailed on. So we were interested to see what differences or similarities we could spot when aboard.

We got the hotel shuttle over to Port Everglades and arrived at our appointed time of 11:30AM. The boarding process is much different from when we first started cruising. A Smartphone is essential these days; we checked in and did our health declarations on the Celebrity app. We used our boarding passes to get on the ship – either paper or the digital app version would work. Once aboard we picked up our SeaPass cards at our stateroom where we could drop off our carry on luggage. The heavier stuff would arrive later on.

The first stop was at the library where Maria grabbed a few novels to read on the cruise. The library has always been a nice feature on the S-class ships and this one did not disappoint.

Here’s how the library looks from our deck (12.) You can just see the top of the ficus tree which is always something you’ll find in the central foyer of Solstice class ships.

Next we headed up to deck 15 to see the Lawn Club Grill. We planned to have dinner there later on in the cruise.

Then we went down to have a Concierge Class welcome lunch in the Main Dining Room. This was great, as we managed to avoid the crunch of embarcation day humanity in the Oceanview Cafe.

After this luncheon we finished up our Muster Drill activities by going down and registering at our Muster Station. It is so dumbed down from when we began. Most of it you do on your Smartphone.

Time to depart! We were the third ship out of Port Everglades – preceded by Caribbean Princess, and the shiny new Celebrity Apex. Here we go up the channel, passing by Nieuw Amsterdam. We saw everything from our 12th deck balcony – no need to go up to deck 15.

The biggest ship in port that day was Odyssey of the Seas.

And here is Viking Mars – a bit smaller one.

Finally we passed Silver Dawn – one of the Silversea luxury cruisers. Of the 6 ships in PEV that day Royal Caribbean owns 4 of them.

Here we go out the exit channel from the port to the sea.

Passed by some land dwelling folks who waved enthusiastically. We waved back.

Here is land’s end and the Hollywood Beach. A few more wavers on the shore.

We dropped off the Port Everglades pilot and started our two day journey to San Juan. Lots more cruising was ahead of us!

Culture Shock

We left Almonte to drive to Montreal around noon on Thursday the 15th. It was cold and cloudy with some snow in the forecast later on, so we wanted to keep ahead of the bad weather.

We arrived at our hotel near the airport and settled in for the night. The snow arrived not long after.

We were up at 5AM to drive to the valet parking and leave our car. It was cold and windy and I had to brush a bunch of snow off the car before we went. We left our winter clothing and boots in the car and hopped the shuttle to the airport with all our luggage.

Trudeau airport was operating normally, although it was a bit of a winter wonderland out there. Temperature was around -7C (20F.) They were plowing the runways, and we had to go through de-icing before we could take off.

Once we were away, it was a pretty routine flight to Fort Lauderdale. When we got there, we took a taxi to our hotel and immediately went into culture shock.

Fort Lauderdale was hazy and humid and about 28C (85F.) A three hour flight took us from the Tundra to the Tropics.

It was a shock to the system but I have to admit it was a nice shock.

Our Hotel – the Embassy Suites – had an old school 1980s vibe to it but it was spacious and comfortable.

There is an atrium surrounded by the rooms. That is where you can have breakfast in tropical surroundings.

Outside the hotel is a sort of lazy river with plenty of goldfish. These guys are well fed and like a herd of cats. They come swimming up to the surface whenever they spot someone walking by.

After a bit of shopping at Ross discount store, and a pleasant meal we settled in for the night. The hotel was packed. There were 6 cruise ships scheduled to be in Port Everglades tomorrow.

On the Cs

C stands for Caribbean. C also stands for Cruise. And recently – for the first time since 2018 – C stood for Celebrity.

In December 2023 we booked a February 2024 Eastern Caribbean cruise on Celebrity. It was partially to get away from winter and partially to cheer me up after the loss of our beloved cat Mr. Oates. We did not have any cat responsibilities so it was easier to get away for 10 days or so.

Our travel agent Crucon had a special sale where the upgraded Concierge Class stateroom was actually cheaper than a plain old balcony cabin. We had to book a sight unseen “Guarantee” room which was a little concerning. However Celebrity Captain’s Club loyalty program came to our rescue. We got a prime location on Deck 12 near the stern of the ship.

The ship we chose? It was the Celebrity Reflection – the last of the Solstice class ships and the only one we had not sailed on.

I’ll start documenting our cruise experiences soon – after we get back home and have decent photo storage and high speed bandwidth. Keep watching this space.

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