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Archive for January, 2012

Just Another Sea Day :-)

Woke up once again to the predictable sunny and warm weather ūüôā ¬†Unlike Blighty where the weather is just about the most unpredictable thing there is.

We had another glorious day of lazing about to look forward to; after breakfast we brought our sunbathing stuff up to the pool deck and spent some time lying around, swimming, reading our books and drinking cocktails. ¬†Later on we sat out on our balcony doing pretty much the same thing (apart from the swimming, lol) ¬†ūüėÄ

Tonight was another dressy-up night and, because I’d booked and paid to have my hair done on each of the formal nights, I was entitled to some free mini-treatments, including a foot and ankle massage, mini-facial and eye mask. ¬†So I went along to the salon for a bit of pampering.

I love anyone playing with my feet, so I really enjoyed the foot massage; it was bliss. ¬†The eye mask and facial too were very relaxing and my eyes looked brighter afterwards. ¬†Of course, I knew it was going to be a way for them to try to sell me the products used (you don’t get owt for nowt, as we say in the North) and, sure enough, the therapist came along with the Elemis eye products she’d used, saying if I bought the set I could get them at the ‘bargain’ price of ¬£78.00 instead of the usual ¬£85.00. ¬†Seventy-eight quid for some eye creams!! ¬†No, thank you.

So the day went by in its usual lazy way, and soon I was back at the salon to have my hair put up. ¬†Then it was into my glad-rags in time for dinner in the Bay Tree restaurant. ¬†Once again it was just the three of us; no sign of Peter and Kate; in fact we’d only seen them once, on New Year’s Eve.

Tonight in the Arena theatre the entertainment featured a couple of young ladies playing the violin; it was called ‘String Idols’. ¬†The music started, accompanied by the ship’s orchestra, and only a few minutes into the show it had to be halted due to some sound problems. ¬†We waited about 10 minutes then they came back on again to continue their show.

Just then a horrid stench assailed my nostrils and I looked around, wondering what on earth it was and where it had come from. ¬†I was in time to see an old gent a couple of rows behind me wiping vomit off his beard. ¬†Eurgh, disgusting. ¬†What made it worse was that he didn’t make any attempt to get up and leave; consequently the show was disrupted by people around this guy getting up and moving as far away as possible. ¬†I had to watch the rest of the show with my hand over my nose to try to reduce the stink. ¬†Yuk. ¬†A good show but that spoilt it a bit and I couldn’t wait to leave the theatre.

Afterwards we went along to ‘Wetherspoon’s’ where they had a karaoke on. ¬†I put my name down to do my usual numbers; I sang Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain¬†as well as Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2U. ¬†Some of the singers who got up were pretty good; for karaoke the standard was quite high for a change.

Then we had a couple of night caps and went back to B238 and turned in for the night.

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Grand Turk

Today the Ventura was docked in Grand Turk, the largest of the Turks and Caicos Islands.  Last time we had been here was in 2009, on the Artemis so it was a familiar view that met us when we looked out from our balcony.  The whole island is only six miles long and has a long pier at which only one ship can dock.

The beach at Grand Turk has powder soft, white sandy beaches is dotted with small palm trees, which afforded the sun loungers a welcome shade. ¬†We gathered together our swimming things and went ashore. ¬†There are quite a lot of duty-free shops near the port and we spent some time looking round them, buying some more postcards. ¬†One of the shops was selling small (50ml) bottles of various spirits, so we bought a selection to take back to our cabin to drink out on the balcony. ¬†ūüôā

We did all the usual things that people do in the Caribbean; sunbathed, swam in the sea and watched the world go by.  We decided to have an ice cold beer and Trevor went to a nearby bar on the beach to get them.  They were $7.00 each (nearly £5.00!) which was extortionate, especially as the locals probably only pay about $2.00 US for them.

Some of the photographers from the ship were dressed (top half only) in dinner jackets and bow ties (they had shorts on the bottom half) and had trays with bottles of ‘champagne’ on them. ¬†They were coming round trying to get us to pose in the sea with a glass of ‘champagne’. ¬†As if I’m going to allow anyone to photograph me in my cossie! ¬†:-p

At lunchtime we went back to the Ventura¬†and I enjoyed an al fresco meal of cold meats and fresh salad as well as some more beer. ¬†Then we went to the purser’s desk to post our postcards.

The rest of the day was just spent doing the usual; afternoon nap, sitting by the pool, enjoying a cocktail or two, then getting ready for dinner.

This evening we went to the Waterside for the dinner buffet, which was Asian.  We enjoyed a delicious selection of Chinese and Thai food, washed down with Tiger Beer.

The show tonight was called “Hot Ticket” and consisted of songs and excerpts from current West End shows, including The Phantom, Dirty Dancing and The Lion King. ¬†I enjoyed a couple of glasses of prosecco during the show.

Later on, in ‘Wetherspoon’s’, they were having a 70’s themed quiz which was actually a lot harder than we’d imagined. ¬†Some of the questions were pretty obscure. ¬†Mind you, a lot of people say there’s no such thing as a ‘hard’ question; you either know the answer or you don’t.

So we didn’t do all that much today, apart from laze about and enjoy being on holiday. ¬†ūüôā

 

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Cruising the Caribbean

Another day spent at sea today. ¬†I quite enjoy the sea days; time is of no consequence, we can just do what we like, when we like. ¬†When we crossed the Pacific on the Volendam¬†in 2009, we had a full nine days at sea between the USA and Japan, so it is just as well we enjoy them. ¬†A lot of people, however, prefer to wake up in a different port every day and don’t see the point of lots of days spent on the ship. ¬†Chac’un a son go√Ľt, however.

As it was a sea day, it was another formal night, so after breakfast I went along to the salon to get some nail extensions done, as my own nails are in an atrocious state. ¬†I got acrylic nails done against my better judgement as they usually leave your own nails thin and weak once they are removed. ¬†But I couldn’t stand to look at them as they were, so I got some nice glittery nails put on, giving me proper talons. ¬†ūüôā

Today we just enjoyed pottering around; sitting out on the balcony reading our books and watching the flying fish, or looking our for other ships or distant land. ¬†We also got our sun things and went up on deck to laze by the pool and enjoy some cold beer or cocktails. ¬†Ah, this is the life! ¬†ūüôā

At tea-time I went along to the salon again to get my hair put up. ¬†I put on my purple dress with the matching bolero jacket and my sparkly Unze shoes and a gorgeous necklace I’d made with Swarovski rivolis and crystals.

In the Bay Tree restaurant it was inevitably just the three of us again; either the other couple, Peter and Kate, had changed tables or they dined elsewhere.  The meal was delicious and we enjoyed a bottle of Mateus Rosé with it.

Then we hot-footed it along to the Arena, where the entertainment tonight was in the shape of Mark Porter, a bloke who did a bit of swing, big band and easy listening music, √† la Frank Sinatra. ¬†I actually thought he was quite good and enjoyed his show, but Trevor didn’t reckon much to him.

After the show we then went along to the Exchange and had a couple of drinks, before going to the Havana, where they were showing the Chapman Brothers. ¬†Apparently they’d been on X-Factor a few years ago, but I didn’t remember seeing them. ¬†We actually (for a change!) managed to get a good seat in the Havana for once. ¬†The guys were twins and they looked a bit like Jason Grimshaw out of Coronation Street. ¬†They did a spot of soul and Motown and they were very good. ¬†Trevor preferred them to the main event.

After a night cap we returned to B238 and turned in for the night.

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Today we awoke to find the Ventura docked in Oranjestad, Aruba.  We had been here once before; on the Arcadia in 2007 and we enjoyed it a lot, so we were pleased to be back.

After breakfast we decided to go ashore and spend the morning looking around the town.  We were booked to go out on a catamaran this afternoon, for a bout of swimming and snorkelling, which I love.

The main drag in Oranjestad consists of lots of shops, caf√©s, bars and casinos. ¬†There seemed to be an abundance of discount jewellery and diamond stores. ¬†We walked along the front and bought a couple more postcards; in addition to the cards we bought in Cura√ßao we wanted to find somewhere to write them out and send them, as we’d already spotted a post office.

We found a bar and had an ice cold beer each while I wrote out all the postcards.  Then we looked around a few more shops and I bought myself a gorgeous pewter butterfly necklace, a really blingy one.

There was a queue in the post office, so we took our place at the end and waited… and waited… and waited. ¬†At the front desk there appeared to be only one person serving the customers, while a second fat bloke sweated on the phone. ¬†I don’t know what on earth the person at the head of the queue wanted, but we stood there for over 15 minutes without moving while the line of people behind us got longer and longer.

Eventually we gave up and decided to post the cards on the ship. ¬†We dropped them off at the purser’s desk and went and had something to eat; ¬†not much as we were going swimming after lunch. ¬†We gathered together our swimming things and made our way to the quayside, where we were taken to a nearby waiting catamaran.

Once everyone was on board, we glided away from the quayside and sailed off down the coast. ¬†The sun shone hotly down ¬†but there was a lovely sea breeze. ¬†The guide came round with cold glasses of fruit punch for everyone as well as fresh pineapple and melon on skewers. ¬†There’d be no alcohol served until after we’d finished swimming.

Our first snorkelling stop was to see a ship wreck, the remains of the German warship M/S Antilla, which sank in 1940.  The story was that when Germany invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940, the relationship between the two nations was obviously strained.  As part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, this extended to Aruba.   The Antilla was anchored off the coast of Aruba at the time.   When a contingent of Dutch Marines told the Antilla to surrender, the captain asked for an extension, and the Dutch accepted and gave the ship 24 hours to surrender.

The Antilla was fairly new at the time, and rather than see her turned over to the enemy, the captain decided to scuttle the ship.  After putting the crew ashore, he heated up the boilers, which were amidships, and opened the seacock.   When the cold sea water hit the hot boilers, they exploded, ripping the ship in half. It sank in eight minutes.

Our catamaran dropped anchor and we were all issued with an inflatable life jacket, snorkelling mask and tube and flippers.  The we jumped overboard.  The sea was actually quite choppy for snorkelling; it was just as well we had the extra buoyancy provided by the life jacket otherwise swimming would have been quite difficult.  The wreck was not really that far down, only about 55 feet, so we had a good view of it lying on its port side.  It had that usual ghostly look that you associate with old ships, but at least no-one had died in the sinking.

Back on the catamaran we set off for our next stop. ¬†I really enjoyed drifting along in the azure water and we soon dried off under the hot sun. ¬†I had to put on some factor 10 sun lotion because the breeze led you into a false sense of security, as you wouldn’t realise how hot it actually was.

We dropped anchor over a coral reef, near a little beach. ¬†Jumping overboard I found myself swimming right through a large shoal of brightly coloured fish. ¬†There were loads of them and they came right up to my mask and brushed along my body; I could feel their smooth scaled bodies. ¬†We could see fish, corals and sea urchins. ¬†I didn’t stray too far from the catamaran; the beach looked a bit too rocky and I didn’t want to risk cutting myself on the sharp edges. ¬†In any case, once again the sea was a little too choppy.

Once we returned to the catamaran and started heading back, the guide put on some loud soca music and came round with plastic cups of rum punch for everyone.  Trevor and I had three each; they were delicious.  There was also some ham and cheese sandwiches.  The music wanted to make me dance but it proved to be a little difficult with the rocking motion of the boat.

When we got back on the Ventura¬†I showered and changed, but didn’t feel like going up to dinner because I wasn’t really hungry after the rum punch and sandwich. ¬†So I went along to the Bay Tree restaurant to join Trevor just in time for the coffee stage. ¬†Once again there was only Don at the table; no sign of the other couple.

Later on we went along to the Arena theatre where the Headliners were putting on a show called ‘Stage Door’. ¬†It consisted of excerpts of singing and dancing from famous stage musicals, including Rodgers and Hammerstein. ¬†I felt really tired and I could hardly keep my eyes open, despite it being a really good show.

We had a couple of drinks in ‘Wetherspoon’s’ afterwards and then I decided to go back to the cabin, read my book and go to bed. ¬†I am reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo¬†by Steig Larsson. ¬†After a slow start the story is actually starting to hot up a bit.

Trevor went along to the Havana show lounge to see a John Denver tribute act at 10.30pm, which he said he enjoyed more than the ‘main’ show.

We had another day at sea to look forward to tomorrow.

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Willemstad, Curaçao

Woke up this morning to find ourselves docked in Willemstad, capital of Cura√ßao, Dutch Antilles. ¬†Cura√ßao is the largest of the ABC islands, which also include Aruba and Bonaire. ¬†We hadn’t been here before so we were looking forward to exploring.

After breakfast we had to assemble on the quayside for our excursion this morning.  Although it was only 08:20 it was already hot and sunny.  We boarded the bus and off we went; first stop was to Hato Caves.

Along the route we enjoyed looking at the 18th century Dutch and Colonial architecture of the pretty little pastel-hued buildings and shops.  The atmosphere seemed very laid-back.

We arrived at the caves and had to climb a series of very steep steps to get to the entrance.  Inside it was blessedly dark and cool and had a characteristic damp, musty atmosphere.  As it is a limestone cave, there were quite a lot of really impressive stalactites and stalagmites.  The guide explained to us that the stalactites grow at the rate of only 0.13mm a year, so these ones were thousands of years old.  Amazing.

The Hato Caves had a utilitarian purpose during the early days of the slave trade in Curaçao; escaped slaves used them as hiding places, and lived in them for months at a time. Even before the arrival of Europeans and slaves, the Amerindian Arawaks used them for shelter, and left behind cave drawings, or petroglyphs, estimated at 1,500 years old.

Today, they are classed as ‘show caves’ and are dimly lit as well as having guard rails and dedicated paths, for safety reasons as well as to preserve the rock formations. ¬†We also saw a fabulous underground lake and we could hear the eerie echoing drip of water.

We were also fascinated to see large bat colonies flying around and hanging upside down from the roof of the caves.  Some of the females had tiny babies with them.  The grottoes in the caves went back quite a long way; they were bigger than imagined.

Back out in the sunshine and down the steep steps, we boarded the bus once again for our next stop; this time to the Curaçao Museum.  This was really interesting; it contained a collection of antique furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as old maps and paintings of the Caribbean.  There was also the cockpit of a very old KLM aeroplane.

The museum was set in landscaped gardens which included a tamarind tree. ¬†The guide told us all about the local superstition regarding the tamarind; ¬†if anyone cut the tree down, then death would befall the head of that person’s family, most usually (in Cura√ßao anyway) the father. ¬†Therefore no-one ever cut down a tamarind tree; indeed we even saw one growing in the middle of a road, with the traffic going round it. ¬†The tamarind tree produces edible fruit which is used extensively in Caribbean and African cuisine and is used to makes sweets and jams.

After our visit to the museum we headed on the bus to our next stop: the liqueur distillery.  The Blue Curaçao liqueur is famous worldwide (usually as Blue Bols) and is used to make cocktails such as Blue Lagoon (which makes you look as if you are drinking anti-freeze).  It has an orange flavour.  In fact, there are five different colours of this liqueur produced and they all taste exactly the same; they are just different colours, including blue, orange, red and yellow.

We were able to taste the liqueurs; in addition to the orange flavoured one there was also a coffee flavour, chocolate and rum and raisin. ¬†The coffee one was lovely; we ended up buying a bottle of the blue and a bottle of the coffee to take back. Here’s the recipe for Blue Lagoon:

1 x 25ml shot of vodka
1  x 25ml shot of Blue Curaçao
Lemonade
Crushed ice
Slices of orange to garnish

Half-fill a highball glass with crushed ice; pour over equal measures of vodka and Blue Curaçao.  Top up the glass with lemonade and add a slice of orange. Yum!

After our visit to the liqueur distillery we went back to the ship in time for lunch, which was excellent as usual.  We also enjoyed a freezing cold beer.  Then we left the Ventura once again to look around the nearby shops and buy some postcards to send.  We bought eight cards and searched high and low for a post office to no avail.

Back on the Ventura¬†we stopped by the purser’s desk to ask if they sold stamps, but they’d ran out because of the New Year bank holiday. ¬†So we wouldn’t be able to post our cards from this island then. ¬†ūüė¶

We had an afternoon nap then got showered and ready for dinner. ¬†Tonight the dress code was smart-casual; in fact, we usually find on Caribbean cruises that there are only formal or casual nights; they drop the informal (i.e. collar and tie but not DJ) dress code. ¬†The Dinner Buffet in the Waterside was Indian tonight, so we decided we’d go there instead of to the Bay Tree restaurant, as we love Indian food.

The meal was great; there was an array of different curry and tandoori dishes as well as rice, naan bread, poppadoms and various Indian pickles (I love lime pickle and can eat it straight of the spoon!).  We had a bit of everything, washed down with ice-cold Kingfisher beer.

Later on, in the Arena theatre, the comedian we’d seen on New Year’s Eve was back on – Mike Doyle. ¬†Once again we thought he was hilarious and enjoyed his show. ¬†Afterwards we went along to ‘Wetherspoon’s’ to see what was on; they were having a race night. ¬†We also wandered along to the Havana Lounge but as usual it was packed.

One of the things we’d notice about being on the Ventura¬†was that we hadn’t, so far, found a favourite place yet. ¬†On any other cruise we usually find ourselves heading towards our ‘usual’ seat in our ‘usual’ bar, but it hadn’t happened on this ship yet. ¬†For example, on the Braemar¬†we always ended the evening in the Skylark Lounge for the quiz; on any of Cunard’s Queens we go to the Golden Lion and on the Arcadia¬†we used to go to the same table in the Rising Sun. ¬†But on the Ventura ¬†we were like lost souls, with no particular place to go. ¬†ūüė¶

Back in cabin B238 we opened the balcony door wide as usual, then turned in for the night.

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A Flash of Flying Fish

We woke up early this morning once again, looking forward to a whole day at sea.  After a good breakfast in the Waterside buffet we went out on deck, where the sun was already bright and the day promised to be another scorcher.

We decided to spend a couple of hours or so up on the pool deck, swimming and soaking up the sun.  At 8.00am quite a few of the sun loungers were occupied already; with over 3,000 passengers you had to be early to be sure of getting a sun bed in an ideal spot.

We changed into our swimming things, got our sun tan lotion, towels and books and got a decent sun lounger next to the pool. ¬†After about an hour’s sunbathing we took to the cool waters of the pool and enjoyed a leisurely swim.

We allowed ourselves to dry off (which didn’t take long in the tropical heat) then went back to our cabin to change and sit out on the balcony for a while. ¬†The ship’s pub The Exchange¬†was showing the Sunderland v Man City game at 11.00am local time (3.00pm back home) so we wanted to go along to see that.

Sitting out on the balcony we caught a flash of movement on the water – flying fish! ¬†We often see them in the Caribbean; it’s a common sight and the first clue as to their presence comes in the great number of sea birds who swoop and soar above the waves, before going into a steep dive into the water to catch the fish. ¬†The flying fish are fascinating; they skim over the surface of the water using their large lateral fins as rudimentary wings. ¬†Some of them can go for a¬†surprising¬†distance.

At around 10.50am we went along to the Exchange, which we were soon to nickname “Wetherspoon’s” due to its¬†similarity, in style and layout, to establishments belonging to that well-known pub chain. ¬†We managed to get a table with a good view of one of the large plasma screens in readiness to watch the game. ¬†We noticed that, along the top of the bar, a little model steam train was running along, passing the names of stations on the East Coast Main Line.

There were quite a few other Sunderland supporters there as well as one or two Manchester City fans and a lot of impartial fans who’d just come to watch a Premiership game. ¬†As Man City are top of the league, we thought we’d do well to get a point out of them.

A couple of pints later, and a fairly good game, the match reached the 90th minute of play with the score at 0-0. ¬†We would be happy with a draw. ¬†The board went up to show that three minutes of stoppage time was to be added, and Sunderland decided to bring on the substitute in the shape of Ji Don-Wong. ¬†Within seconds of coming on the pitch he scored! ¬†Sunderland 1 Man City 0. ¬†Unbelievable, but the Sunderland fans went off to lunch very happy with that final score. ¬†ūüôā

We spent the rest of the day pottering around the ship, watching the birds and flying fish, and enjoying some cold beer and cocktails. ¬†Tonight was the Captain’s Gala Party and was a formal evening, so we had to be ready at 5.30pm which is a bit on the early side to be attired in formal wear, but that’s the way it goes.

I went along to the hairdressing salon to get my hair put up, then spent some time getting ready. ¬†I wore my long black and lime green dress and bolero and Trevor had on his black dinner suit and dark blue bow tie and cummerbund. ¬†Off we went to the Captain’s party.

Well! ¬†What a farce. ¬†It had to be the most inappropriate venue ever. ¬†Unlike Cunard ships, P & O vessels don’t have a dedicated ballroom, so they don’t really have a proper venue large enough to cater for the numbers of passengers on these big ships. ¬†So they tend to have the Captain’s cocktail party wherever they can fit the most people. ¬†On the Arcadia¬†that was up on the deck next to the pool which was bad enough; but here on the Ventura¬†the party was held in the atrium area, in and around reception and the staircase, over three levels! ¬†How ridiculous. ¬†As it was an open area in the centre of the ship and included the Purser’s desk and the shops, in tended to be a ‘through’ area for access from one end of the ship to the other. ¬†That meant, while we were in our formal glad-rags, passengers on the later sitting were walking through in shorts, flip-flops, and even swimsuits and sarongs. ¬†Were they taking the Mick or what?!

When the Captain arrived to give his little speech and introduce his senior officers, he had to do it on the stairs. ¬†How daft. ¬†However, Trevor and I did, as ever, manage to position ourselves near the table of free drinks, from which we replenished our glasses more than once before dinner. ¬†ūüėČ

In the Bay Tree restaurant later on, we found we only had Don, the 85-year old solo traveller, for company – there was no sign of Peter and Kate, so maybe they’d gone to one of the other restaurants or decided to give dinner a miss.

The show in the theatre tonight was called ‘Destination Dance’ and featured the Headliners Theatre Company showing off their choreography of different dances from different eras and nations. ¬†The costumes were very good and it was an excellent show.

Then it was off to ‘Wetherspoons’ where we were just in time to make the last 15 minutes or so of the karaoke. ¬†I got up and did a rendition of These Boots Were Made For Walking¬†by Nancy Sinatra, but I only had time to do the one. ¬†Perhaps later on in the cruise.

Afterwards we went into the Havana Lounge to see Paul Eastwood, a comedian. ¬†The place was packed and we could only sit on bar stools near the back. ¬†I couldn’t hear very well because of the noise of the barmen taking customer orders and mixing drinks, but what I did hear was very funny.

Then it was off to bed in B238 Рtomorrow we were due to reach our first port of call, Curaçao in the Dutch Antilles.

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