A Week in the ABC Islands

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Earlier this year the Queen and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary. So after the hustle and bustle during the majority of 2016, we decided to treat ourselves to an 8 day cruise in a spacious mini-suite aboard the Caribbean Princess.

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The itinerary took us to the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. We had already been to the A of the ABCs (Aruba) before and were looking forward to saying “Bon Bini” to the B and C portion for the first time. They did not disappoint.

Our first stop took us to Curacao (and you can get all the island details HERE) after two days of sailing. As with all Southern Caribbean islands, it was of course, beautiful.

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I don’t remember the name of the excursion (snorkeling, of course) we undertook. To be truthful, it was forgettable. The water was spectacular  – a comfy 83 degrees – but the double decker on-boat logistics and aloof crew left us frustrated. From the time we anchored, we waited nearly 15 minutes to get into the water because the crew wanted to let the ground floor snorkelers out first – about 50 of them. Couple that with another on-site double decker boat with around 70 snorkelers in the water, and it was 30 minutes of being kicked and run into the whole time.  So by the time we finally got into the water, it wasn’t pleasant.

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The city center was better, as well as lunch. We hit up the Burger Bar and had a couple of stacked burgers. Pretty expensive, but tasty.

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Back to the ship…

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and onto the next stop:

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Bonaire.

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Bonaire….is beautiful. It’s that simple. It has the clearest water we’ve ever seen. We thought Grand Cayman and Cozumel were the clearest – that is until we got to Bonaire.

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The water was like swimming in an aquarium. Spectacular. The fish were not afraid of humans and you could swim right up to nearly touch them.

We went out on the Mushi Mushi and the folks there were beyond charming. Very informative, friendly and kind. Their rum punch was pretty good too. Strong. So they get another thumbs up for that one.

Once we got back to shore, there was a delicious wafting in the air. Smelled really good. Picture a cartoon Shell King smelling food and floating in mid-air towards it. That was me.

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I floated towards a little Indonesian food booth where Mama-san was cookin’ up some real island goodies.

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All locally made – grilled asian chicken with rice, noodles, pickled cucumbers and chicken livers and hot hot hot sauce….and it was only $8.50

We knew it was gonna be good because we were told that the island locals swarm her booth when she opens. Good lord. It was amazing. Yet another reason why we’d like to go back to Bonaire tomorrow and set up a Shell King satellite office. All kidding aside – Bonaire is now my favorite place in the Caribbean.

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Our last stop took us to Aruba, where in the morning, we traipsed around the city doing a little shopping.

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Later that afternoon, we snorkeled and boated with the world famous Jolly Pirates.

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Those guys and their ship were flat out awesome.

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We spent three and a half hours snorkeling, swimming and drinking rum punch. What a ball.

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The Jolly Pirates are also known for their rope swing. You stand on the platform (to the top right of the Queen in the pic above), swing out and let go into the water. You know I couldn’t resist.

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We had a ton of fun in all three of the ABCs.

Eight days was simply not enough. Not enough good food. Not enough good rest. Not enough good times.

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….So we’re going to need to do all of this again real soon.

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Happy 10th Anniversary to My Queen.

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Until next time, friends….

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So you wanna go on a cruise?

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The Queen and I love going on cruises. They’re fun, full of great food and entertainment and it gives us a chance to relax for 7-10 days. No worrying about cleaning your house or cooking food, because someone does that for you….multiple times a day, in fact. I could write ten blogs on cruising, as there is so much information to be shared. But I’ll just nutshell it here and if anyone has any questions, drop me an email or comment below and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

As with every vacation or adventure, there are pluses and minuses. In our opinion, there are many more pluses than minuses when it comes to taking a cruise. Truthfully, we have never had a bad cruise. There are mostly great things about cruising and sometimes, some not so great things.

We have cruised with Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Princess, and have done several on each cruise line. We have not done Norwegian or Carnival and there are reasons for that (which I won’t get into right now).

All three have areas where they are both superior and inferior than the others. You know, “inferior” is probably not the best word to use since they’re all three top shelf. Let’s go with not as superior. 😉 In our opinion, Princess is the best at food. Royal Caribbean is the best at ship activities and entertainment. Celebrity is the best for all around service.

THE GREAT:

Food 

Holy smokes the food is amazing, especially if you choose the dining room instead of the buffet. We have found that up to this point, Princess is hands down the best in terms of food in the dining room between the three, although RC and Celebrity are fantastic. Where Princess offered better choices when it came to the dining room, Royal Caribbean takes the cake when it comes to their Windjammer buffet area. They always have selections based on countries and cultures and the ease of dining in the buffet is smoother.

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When it comes to food, if you’re hungry, you just go eat something – anytime you want. Each ship has special areas throughout where you can get pizza, cookies, ice cream and other snacks as well as antipasti, quick bite (imagine tapas) meals and burgers. For example, RC’s Allure of the Seas has a hot dog stand and donut shop – both open for quick bites. Dinner is always a spectacle with four courses of fine, five-star dining…and you can eat as much as you want. Want two steaks at dinner? Ask for it.

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The View  

I always recommend spending the extra money and booking a room with a balcony. There’s nothing quite like sitting on your balcony at night, sipping a cup of coffee, listening to the sounds of the water and viewing the stars. You may not know this, but you will see a great deal of shooting stars at night as you sit on your balcony. Sometimes we leave the door open a bit as we sleep at night so we can hear the rushing of the water. So peaceful.

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There’s also the thrill of watching as you pull into port – and I recommend getting a balcony room on the PORT side towards the front of the ship and as high up as you can. The port side (the left) is the side that faces the dock the majority of the time. If you like taking pictures as we do, you’ll get a great opportunity to get some good shots.

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The Ports of Call –

 Gosh, it seems we’ve been everywhere in the Caribbean.

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St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Jamaica, Dominica, Aruba, St. Maarten – too many to list. They’re almost all beautiful. I say almost all, because we really weren’t fans of a couple of spots. I won’t list those here, because you the reader need to find out on your own. Maybe you’ll like the places we don’t? It’s up to you to find that out.

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I will say our favorite spots are St. Thomas, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, with San Juan bringing up the rear. For example, San Juan has a spot on the main drag that has a full pig cooking in the window. Roasted pork with arroz and plantains? Come on, son.

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Those places never get old and are brimming with amazing local food, beautiful clear water and some of the best snorkeling you’ll ever do. And seashells? Come on, now. You know the Shell King and Queen don’t come home empty handed.

The Excursions –

When it comes to excursions at ports of call, they run the gamut. Snorkeling, swimming, bus tours, hiking, mountain driving in a 4×4 jeep. You name it, it’s probably offered.

In Dominica, we hiked a rain forest and got to swim under a waterfall.

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In St. Thomas, we once did a bus tour of the island and then went snorkeling and beaching at Magen’s Bay.

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Where I took this stunning photo of the Queen:

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and just two weeks ago, we snorkeled the Antilla shipwreck in Aruba.

So don’t just sit on the ship when you hit a port of call. I also don’t recommend just going into that port’s town to shop. You can shop at home! GO have some fun! Get on a boat and snorkel. Go hiking. Take a bus tour of the island. But explore, take pictures and make memories.

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THE NOT SO GREAT:

One of my biggest gripes about cruising is the lack of courtesy by other guests. Now what I’m about to touch on may make you laugh, but it’s true.

If you’re American, you drive on the right side of the road, yes? Normally as an American, if you’re walking in a mall or down the grocery aisle, which side do you walk on? Yep, the right. Well, not all guests on cruises are American. Which means they DON’T drive on the right side of the road, but the left….and that’s precisely where they walk. So there are ALWAYS people walking directly towards you. Many of those people don’t move out of the way. They expect you to. It gets old but it’s par for the course. When stuff like this happens, I tend to look like this:

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Different countries have different cultures. There are cultures where personal space doesn’t exist. Get used to that on a cruise, especially in an elevator where you’ll often find a hand or something else near or even on your butt. You’ll also find yourself in the theater for example with an entire row to yourself. Instead of skipping a seat like we do here in the United States, someone will inevitably sit right next to you….and take the arm rest!

Some cultures believe that wearing deodorant is a no-no or against their religion. It’s not against my religion, I can tell you that. Be prepared to smell B.O., especially after an excursion.

TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS:

Get your passport. If you don’t have one, get one. You may not need it depending on where you’re going, but there ARE places that require it upon entering the country. It costs $140, lasts 10 years and it’s worth it.

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Book your excursions in advance. Excursions fill up quickly. As soon as you see them available for booking on the website, book them. If not, you’ll be standing in line at the Excursion Desk on the ship and we’ve seen LONG lines with folks who didn’t prepare ahead of time. You’ll have to pay for them at the time of booking, but it’s worth the peace of mind.

Go through the cruise line and not a travel agent. This is the biggest and best tip we can give you. A travel agent is going to charge you 15-20% on top of the cruise cost and that includes your excursions too. So book through the cruise line online or call them directly. Always ask for any specials, upgrades or additional on board credits. You may be surprised at what they have to offer you that they won’t offer to a travel agent. Some may disagree with that, but in our experience, we’ve gotten better deals by calling the lines directly. Online, you can even choose the room you want. Stay away from the cruises that send you a postcard that say “Call now for your $199 cruise!” You’ll regret it.

Set money aside for parking. Don’t forget that you have to park at the port! Normally it costs $15 a day, so make sure you set that aside or you’ll be in trouble when it’s time to leave the lot or parking garage.

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Pre-pay your gratuities in advance. Cruise workers get tipped. It’s part of the deal. Pre-paying those removes the headache of sitting in your stateroom the night before disembarkation, sorting envelopes, trying to do the math in your head as to what to pay your stateroom attendant, waiter, assistant waiter and anyone else. Let them do the math ahead of time and pre-pay it. Trust me on this one. Princess automatically charges your account daily for gratuities, so no worries if you cruise with them.

Pack medicine. This one’s a no-brainer. Excedrine, DayQuil and Visine are three that everyone should have in their toiletry bag.

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Pre-boarding and Boarding – Print your boarding pass ahead of time and have your paperwork (driver’s license, passport and boarding pass) out and in your hand before you get in line to board. This will help you get on board quickly. The last two cruises we’ve gone on? Less than fifteen minutes from parking the car to when we arrived in our stateroom. Porters should be tipped an average of $3 a bag to take your luggage. Go explore the ship as soon as you board. Familiarize yourself with the layout (where is the pool, your dining room, fun hangouts, etc), because you can get lost on board these big ships.

Pack an 8 pack of soda in the mini plastic bottle.

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Don’t pay $35 for the Coke pass on any cruise. At home do you drink $35 worth of Coke in a week? haha maybe you do, so forgive me. We don’t. So we pack some sodas (and snacks) in our bag (wrap them in a plastic bag, tie it and put it in your toiletry luggage) and put them in our room’s fridge. Then we drink juice, water and iced tea that are free on board the ship and have a Coke at night or after a day at the pool.

At a port of call, carry small denominations of cash.

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We carry a five in each front pocket and ones in our back pockets. Haggling is normal at ports of call. Be prepared to do it. They want $15 for that Tanzanite bracelet? “Sorry bro,” (as you pull a fiver from your pocket) “I only have five.”

DEAL.

Finally, HAVE FUN.

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 There are many many more little tips when cruising and perhaps I’ll write about those another time. But the big thing I want to emphasize is if you’re going to cruise, have fun and RELAX.

That’s the whole point.