The Costa Concordia Cruise Ship Disaster

Ken and I have taken many cruises over the past 20 years on Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America and several others.  The horrible accident that happened to the Costa Concordia has not changed our minds about cruising....the same way that a plane crash has not changed our minds about taking an airplane.  We will, however, be more aware of where we are on the ship, know where our muster station is and how to get to it and I will carry a small flashlight in my purse or whatever bag I carry while on board.
We received this message from Alan Fox, Chairman & CEO,Vacations To Go
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Boicourt,
At approximately 9:30 pm local time on Friday, January 13, the Costa Concordia struck an underwater rock formation off the west coast of Italy, tearing a 160-foot-long hole in the ship's hull. The vessel began taking on water and power outages spread throughout the ship. Almost immediately, the vessel began to list, sending plates, glasses and other objects in the full dining rooms crashing to the floor. Alarms sounded and passengers were informed that there was an electrical problem that crew members were working to fix. It quickly became apparent to passengers and crew members that this was not merely an electrical problem, and those onboard began a frantic evacuation of the ship.

Some lifeboats were launched, but due to the severity of the ship's listing, it soon became impossible to launch more. Some passengers jumped from the ship into the cold water and swam to shore, while others clung to railings or other objects on the ship until the arrival of fishing boats and ferries that responded to the emergency. Some passengers were trapped in more precarious or isolated positions and were eventually hoisted aboard helicopters.

The ship continued to lean until it finally came to rest on its side, about half submerged, approximately 200 feet off the coast of the small island of Giglio, Italy.

There were more than 4200 passengers and crew onboard the Concordia and as of this writing, 11 are known to have lost their lives, dozens are confirmed injured and there is confusion as to the number still missing, with reports ranging from 11 to 24.

Firefighters and scuba divers began search and rescue operations early Saturday morning, and on Sunday morning -- more than 24 hours after the ship first hit the rocks -- two young South Koreans on their honeymoon were rescued from their cabin and a senior member of the ship's staff (see below) was rescued from the third deck.

Earlier today, several holes were blasted in the hull to allow rescue teams to search areas of the ship they had not been able to reach. The treacherous search-and-rescue operation has been suspended at least once due to worsening weather and concern that the ship could slip into much deeper water nearby, trapping rescuers onboard.

The Costa Concordia was built in 2006 at a cost of about 450 million euros (USD $569 million at current exchange rates). With 13 decks, the vessel towered 100 feet above the water and is nearly 1,000 feet long. It carried the very latest navigation and safety equipment, and the obvious question is, "How could this tragedy have happened?"

There are conflicting stories as to exactly what happened and why, but statements from both the cruise line and Italian government officials point to human error. An early Costa Cruises statement reports that "there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship's master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences."

The captain has been arrested and is expected to face charges of manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship.

Fortunately, the ship's black boxes contain the technical data and conversations from the bridge that should allow the facts to come out. It may take months to conduct the investigation but I will cover the findings in this newsletter as soon as they are released.

In the weeks ahead, news media will carry the personal accounts of fear and chaos from passengers and crew as they struggled to abandon ship. We will hear of the kindness of the people of Giglio, who opened their homes and schools and churches in the middle of the night to provide food and clothing and shelter to strangers dropped abruptly on their doorsteps.

There will be stories of heroism, including that of the ship's chief purser, Manrico Gianpetroni, who reportedly aided the escape of dozens of people before breaking his leg in a fall. He was found and rescued from deep inside the vessel nearly 36 hours after the ordeal began.

Cruise lines carried more than 15 million passengers in 2011. The industry is highly regulated and passenger safety is the number one concern of all cruise lines. Hopefully, as the cause of this tragedy becomes clear, new systems and procedures can be put into place to prevent an accident of this kind from ever happening again.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the dead and missing and injured, and to their families.


Alan Fox
Chairman & CEO
Vacations To Go



Wednesday, March 29, 2007 Omaha to Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico

Lisa, John, Jenny, Austin, Ken and I were up bright and early on Wednesday 3/29/2007.

We left Omaha, NE at 6:17 on United Airlines...the plane actually took off on time. The trip to Chicago was very good, no roughness or bad weather. We were really anxious about flying to Puerto Rico.....its a 5 hour flight and none of had been on an airplane for that long a time. I kept drinking tonic water hoping that it would help with leg cramps....seems as I get older, they are more frequent. Stretching helps, but a long flight had me worried.

After landing in Chicago, we wandered through the terminal looking for the American Airlines area….WHERE WAS IT??? ...on the other side of the terminal of course. (hint: try to stay on the same airline if you're changing planes.....different airlines can be very far apart in the terminal)

We finally found the American Airlines gate and got ready to go ...a trip to the restroom, a few new books, cinnabuns, sodas and anything else we thought we’d need. The flight to San Juan was very long but smooth. We were happy when it was finally over and we landed safely in San Juan. Jenny decided that this would be the last time she was going to be cooped up in a plane for nearly 5 hours. She doesn’t know that her dad is already thinking of next year’s cruise.

In San Juan, we stayed at the Wind Chimes Inn. We had found it on the internet and were a little concerned about what we were getting into. At first glance it looked small and we were not sure we had made a good choice. It was completely enclosed by a white stucco wall—we had to buzz the reception area so they would open the door. The people were very friendly and helpful and we settled in.

Our accommodations were not quite what we expected. Both of the rooms were small and NOT like the photos we had seen on the internet. However, we had a "standard" room with a queen sized bed...costing $99.00 per night at the discounted high season rate. But, they were clean, the beds were good, the shower worked and had hot water plus a working TV set . Obviously this was an old establishment but we were satisfied.

Ken and I had rooms on the patio a few steps from the small swimming pool. The pool had a tinkling little waterfall on one side and just sitting in a lounge chair enjoying the sun beside it was Heaven!

A raised patio with chairs and tables was near the pool. There was a Inn room under the pool.....I don't think we would have been pleased to be renting that one
Lisa, John, Jenny and Austin were in a room around the corner from us….very handy. We could walk out our doors to the patio, swimming pool, lobby and Tiki Bar. The Tiki Bar served food and drinks....the kids loved the pizza and we were satisfied with whatever we ordered.

The Inn was fairly quiet, and the only tourists we met were several older people, a young couple and two girls from New York who were spending their vacation in San Juan. Our kids, Jenny and Austin were the only children staying there. We didn't spend a lot of time at the Inn, preferring to wander around San Juan and take in the "atmosphere". We did see more adults gathered at the Tiki Bar....just talking and enjoying the beauty of the flowers and atmosphere of the Wind Chimes Inn.

As soon as we settled into the Inn, we walked to the beach, about two blocks away. The surf was too rough for swimming---big, big waves. So, we just waded and walked along the beach picking up shells and looking the area over. There were several large hotels and condominiums on the shore. Later we were told that the water wasn’t safe for swimming due to the undertow. The beach itself was nice but if you plan to do any swimming, check it out with the locals. We didn't see anyone who was in chairs or anything. Just a plain ole beach.

That evening, we went to Fuddruckers for dinner. We all had hamburgers – no adventurous eaters in our group. The food was good, the French fries were very, very spicy…but the malted milks were wonderful!

click on for the entire story


Thursday 3/30/07 Our day at the beach!

We decided that, since the surf on our beach was too rough for the kids to be in, we’d go to a another beach that was more "sunbather and swimmer friendly". The desk clerk gave us instructions how to find a nice public beach in Isla Verde. She said that we should save cab fare by taking the city bus…it costs $.75 cents and "you’d better have the exact change because they won’t accept anything else." Although San Juan's currency is the American dollar, we had to find a bank to get change for the bus. We didn't have to go too was right on the bus line!

San Juan has very narrow streets in this area, and cars park just about any direction they want to. It wasn’t uncommon to see two cars parked front to front on the “wrong” side of the street.

San Juan drivers zig and zag through the streets like crazy and we were happy to leave the driving to the San Juan bus company. But, we had a driver who drove like a potential Indianapolis 500 candidate! It was unbelievable; he started like a rabbit, sped through the traffic, and slammed on his brakes when he came to bus stops. Considering that this was a BIG bus, that was no small feat.

Once when we turned a sharp corner, Jenny was positive that we ran over a bicyclist who had been riding alongside of the bus….but, since we didn’t see a body in the street behind us, we figured he knew how to ride in this crazy traffic. Another car cut in front of the bus while we were making a left turn…..the bus driver barely slowed down. There wasn’t ONE car in San Juan that didn’t have at least one good-sized dent in the fender. Seems if you don’t hit someone, someone will probably hit you.

Isle Verda was a nice place but not a tropical paradise beach either. It was surrounded by tall apartment buildings and the usual assortment of Marriott, Holiday Inns and Sheridan Hotels. The surf was milder here but still pretty rough. Austin and Jean were tossed head over heels by a big one that they weren’t prepared for….we didn’t realize how strong those waves were. Another good one caught Ken and knocked his sunglasses off, probably the first of many sunglasses that would be lost this trip.

The day was cloudy and according to the San Juan natives, much cooler than normal. It rained a little but with no thunder or wind, the sky just opened up and the rain poured out. We had some sprinkles of rain at Isle Verda, which was only a 15-20 minute bus ride from Wind Chimes Inn. When we arrived back after the day at the beach, we learned that they had a really hard downpour. Water was everywhere and dripping off the trees and bushes. But, our rooms were nice and dry.

Jenny has an eagle eye for TACO BELLs and managed to find one near the beach. Our 2nd meal in San Juan….again nothing brave about our eating habits. We had a little problem at this point.....the TACO BELL staff couldn’t speak English, and we couldn’t speak Spanish. But, it's their country so we did the best we could.
I ordered a chicken sandwich by pointing at the photo on the wall which was labeled #2….well, I got my order alright…2 chicken sandwiches!
Rather than try to explain that I only wanted 1 sandwich which happened to be a #2 on the menu, I kept it. Its a good thing Jenny was hungry because she ate her taco and one of my extra chicken sandwiches. She's a growing girl!

We also did some souvenir shopping in a small drugstore/souvenir/miscellaneous store. Austin bought a boogie board figuring that he would be able to use it somewhere during the trip. We stocked up on snacks, sodas and candy to get us through the day and early evening.

We caught the bus back to the Inn…again an adventure in bus riding. But we arrived safely. And, it was time for supper! After being at the beach most of the day, we were hungry! The desk clerk at the hotel suggested a nice Puerto Rican restaurant, but when she started talking about beans and rice and some foods that we had never heard of, we chickened out. John and Austin were willing to go to the Puerto Rican restaurant but was outvoted by the rest of us…..Ken is iffy about eating strange foods, Lisa and I were concerned that we’d come down with “Montezuma’s Revenge” and Jennie’s feeling again was “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t eat it!”

We decided to explore San Juan in the hopes of finding a restaurant that everyone could agree on. A few blocks down the street was an Old Chicago restaurant …. do it yourself pizzas for the kids, good ole American Style pizza for John and Lisa, fish for Ken and chili for Jean.

Friday 3/30/07 The Hunt for a beautiful beach and a visit to the Rain Forest

John and Ken left the Inn at 8:00 am to pick up a mini-van for the day. John couldn’t find a tour or anyone to take us on a tour for less than $90 apiece (WOW!) so decided that since he has had lots of driving experience in different cities, he would be the designated driver. No problem with that….he was willing and worked cheap!

Wednesday and Thursday had been cloudy, but today was sunny and hot. Yesterday we all got a little bit tanned, but today will definitely be a sunburn day.

John rented a new mini-van and we drove to the El Yunque National Forest, formerly known as The Caribbean National Rain Forest. El Yunque is less than an hour's drive from San Juan and John did an excellent job of avoiding collisions with various people who obviously didn’t know how to drive. Once we were out of the city (?) and onto the highway, we just rolled along.

Then, up in the middle of the highway, we saw a big tent with 20 or 30 Puerto Rican policemen and women lining the highway…standing there with their guns and night sticks ready.....great. At first we thought it was an accident, but it couldn’t be an accident since they probably wouldn’t have erected a big tent over the wreck.
Then we realized that it was some type of protest .......on one side of the highway were a group of people waving flags and on the other..... the police who were lined up on the other side glaring at them. I had visions of “Americans go Home” and being hit with tomatos or something, but got we through it without a scratch.

Later we found out that the highway had recently been completed and this was the ceremony to name or take credit for it. The protestors were there because their Puerto Rican political party, which had been voted out of office, had originally drawn up the highway plans and began work on it. Then an election was held, and another party was voted in. They did a little work on the highway and then it was their turn to be voted out. Finally the newest party completed the highway and they were claiming all the glory of the finished highway. The protestors were from party #1 and party #2 who wanted recognization for beginning the whole thing in the first place. Sounds logical to me. We were out of there before we found out who won....the 1st, 2nd or 3rd party...and who the highway was named for.

Several miles on, we were slowed by a group of horsemen following a white hearse. The horses were beautiful Paso Fino horses....the Paso Fino horse reflects its Spanish heritage through its proud carriage, grace and elegance. It has a lively but controlled spirit, natural gait and presence and responsive attitude and when we saw them, we knew right away what breed they were. (we're from Nebraska, we KNOW good horseflesh!) I’ll have to tell Jim Yeck about them, he owns a gorgeous white Paso Fino mare.

We were told that one of the San Juan Paso Fino horse club members had died and these riders were his honor guard. Paso Fino horses were originally bred in Puerto Rico and the people are very proud of them.

(to be continued)



The El Junque Rain Forest was about an hour or so out of the city and the road to it wasn’t very well marked. We took a couple of wrong turns before finding the way to the forest. No one was particularly concerned about getting lost except Lisa, who thought John should have been watching the road signs. (wives have a bad habit of blaming the husbands for getting lost)

However, we were not exactly lost, just off the beaten path and ended up in a little village, which turned out to be in the direction we had to go anyway. Personally, I think Puerto Rico could do a better job of marking their highways and roads, especially if they expect tourists to find anything. Luckily, we were in between rainstorms. They told us that it really pours and thanks to the narrow roads, etc. can be really dangerous. Obviously they don’t call it a “Rain Forest” for nothing.

After looking around the Welcome Station, and finding nice, clean restrooms, we drove to the top of the mountain to visit La Mina Falls. We wanted to see the falls, and also wade in the pool at the base of the waterfall. After parking the van, we, and several hundred other tourists, made the 30-minute walk down to the falls. The path was narrow and had steps made of concrete and stone. Down we went, one step at a time. These were not little dainty steps, they were made by men FOR men....big steps! I'm getting way too old for this kind of sight-seeing!

It took us 30 to 40 minutes to climb down to the falls…the pool was not very big and there were probably 50 others who were there. On the way down, Jennie had slipped off the path and turned her ankle on one of the rocks. We were worried that she might have sprained it but after soaking it in the cool water of the pool, it was still a little grouchy but not badly hurt. Austin and Jen had a great time in the pool, but the rest of us just watched.

On the way down we had seen little gazebos along side of the path and thought that it was very nice of the park rangers to provide a place for people to rest on the way up and down the path. Later we learned that they were shelters in case it started to they say "when it rains it pours" and water rushing down those steep paths would have swept you right along with it. When we left the parking area and headed for the path to the falls, we were told to remember the way we went down so that we would be sure to take the same path back up.

There were some paths branching off from the main one, so it was good it was brought to our attention. I imagine they all eventually lead back up to the top of the mountain, but somewhere in the jungle may be a little band of tourists who took the wrong path....and are will wandering around.

Going back up the path did not seem as bad as going down. Going down gave you the feeling that if you stumbled, you’d roll clear down to the bottom of the trail. Going up was just a matter of climbing and climbing and climbing. Remember those BIG steps! We (the adults) are expecting to have stiff and sore leg muscles tomorrow. Of course, Jenny and Austin just hopped up with no trouble.

We got back into the van and started down the road towards civilization. On the way down, we stopped at the Yokahu Tower, a 69 ft observation tower. The tower was made of stone, and the stairs wound around the inside. From the top we had a wide view of the north side of Puerto Rico from coast to peaks. We thought it was built to watch for pirates, but it was too far inland…later we were told that it was a weather observation tower but there were no instruments up there, so it must have been a visual observation tower.

Our next stop was to be the beach at Luquillo, but couldn’t find it. John was given instructions to “the prettiest beach in San Juan” but after an hour of driving through low rent and very poor districts, we gave up. Everyone was getting anxious about the area we were in. The only nice beaches were those affiliated with hotels, and were fenced in.

That evening we had dinner at a Chinese fast food restaurant…at least John, Ken and I did. Lisa and the kids opted for Subways.....the place was right next-door. The Chinese manager gave us the "evil eye" when they walked in with Subways but since the three of us had ordered food, and all of us ordered drinks, he didn’t say anything.

Our orders turned out to be biggest plates of Chinese food I’ve ever seen…Ken and I would have been stuffed with food had we ordered one dinner and shared it. But, we had our two-legged garbage disposal with us! Austin made a good dent in all of our dinners….a little rice here, some chicken there, a couple of hunks of broccoli….but, even he couldn’t eat it all!

When we got back to Wind Chimes, we began to pack our luggage and check our room to be sure we didn’t leave anything behind. Later on we played UNO for a few hours on the back deck of the Inn. It was a really neat place and close to food and the Tiki Bar. We played and relaxed, and then it started to rain....really rain. There was no thunder or lightening just buckets and buckets of rain. Gradually the deck started to take on water from the awnings and Lisa said, “My feet are getting wet!”

Yep, water was accumulating on the floor....time to head for home. We all got soaked running through the rain to get to our wasn’t far, but we couldn’t avoid the raindrops. (we sang the B. J. Thomas song "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" as we zigged and zagged across the courtyard.)

Tomorrow we board the Golden Princess.

(to be continued)


Saturday, April 1, 2007

We had to vacate our room at the Wind Chimes Inn by 11 am so we packed everything and took the bags in the lobby of the Inn. We wanted one last look at the beach and to take some photos. So we played beachcomber for a little while and said goodbye to several of the people who were sunbathing.

At 12:00 we called a taxi to take us to Pier #4 where the Golden Princess was waiting. The taxi ride was the usual hair-raising ride through the small, crowded streets, weaving back and forth as we swerved around the cars, taxis and trucks.

Since we were platinum Princess members, we all were allowed to go to the “fast lane” of the checking in process. However, it didn’t do any good in the check-in line to the ship. It was long and slow. Since we were early, Ken wandered around the ship taking photos before the majority of the cruisers arrived….it is 3 football fields long, and there was a lot to see.
Everyone was pleased with their rooms and felt that they were bigger than those on the Royal Caribbean ships.

The first thing Lisa did was to take photos of their room while it was in “perfect” condition. Both of the rooms had nice balconies. We spent most of the afternoon exploring the ship, finding the food courts, bathrooms and common areas. The Golden Princess is a very pretty ship, but I felt the Royal Caribbean ships had more spectular dining areas and lobby.

At 4:30 we went to the Wheelhouse Bar where we met many of the people John had corresponded with on the Meet and Mingle site. It was nice to meet them and know that every once in a while we’d see someone we knew…..there were about 18 of us.

If you plan to take a cruise go to your cruise line website and look for the Cruise Critic or a forum. Type in the name of your ship and sailing date. Leave a message "Hi, we'll be sailing on this ship....I'm _____, who are you and where do you come from?"

After that, we went to the dining room and had our first meal aboard the Golden Princess. When people say that the food is great, the waiters are friendly and you don't have to clean the dishes, they are RIGHT!!! Most of the staff on all of the cruise ships are from 3rd world countries...India, Philipines, Yugoslovia, etc. and speak fairly good English. They are very attentive and do their best to make your dining experience the best in the world.

Back in the stateroom, Jenny fell asleep after a couple of minutes. I think Austin was nodding off too. Austin had a top bunk bed and thought it was really cool. Jen had a fold out bed and she was happy with it too.

John, Lisa, Ken and I stayed up until 11:15 to attend the Bon Voyage party. This ship’s main pool is completely enclosed with a glass roof. It opens like the roofs do at some football stadiums….if the weather is bad, the roof is closed, when it’s good, it’s open. Ken thinks the ship probably goes to Alaska sometime during the year….so, if it’s cold in Alaska, its nice and cozy inside.

It has been raining pretty steadily and the water is rough…not enough to make a person seasick, but almost. (It didn’t bother Lisa, so if the ship had been rockin’ and rollin’ she would have been the first one to notice it)

The Bon Voyage party was great....more food, a live band and ships' crew dancing around with their trays of drinks. After a while, the whole ship was rockin' and rollin' to the calipso beat.
If you've never been on a cruise vacation, there are many things you can expect....every morning under your door or in your mail box you will find a list and times of activities for that day. They are fun things that will introduce you to some of the other cruisers...."Name that Tune", "The NewlyWed (and not so newly wed) Game" (be prepared to answer the question "where was the oddest place you made Woopie?" -- you'll be surprised how many fellow passengers will remind you of your answer!), basketball throw, (won a neat visor doing that one), or how to salsa dance, fold napkins, plus shoot pool, climb a rock wall, play miniature golf, the ever popular gaming tables and BINGO!

At 6:00 am the exercise room opens and classes begin. Not for you??? Ok, the breakfast buffet is open and you have a multitude of choices from hot or cold cereal to omelets, scrambled, fried, or hard cooked eggs, a variety of meats, fruits, breads, juices, yogurt, coffee, tea....just about anything you would want. Eat it in the buffet room or go outside and sit on deck....salt sea air gives you a great appetite.

But, if a buffet isn't your choice...the dining rooms are open for breakfast and you can order off the brave, order something you've never had. If you don't care for it, the waiter will remove it and you can order something else. One morning I ordered an "English breakfast" was a real mistake. It started with lamb kidneys and went downhill from there.

(to be continued)

OUR CRUISE VACATION 2007 St Thomas and St. Kitts Page 5

Sunday, April 2, 2007 We docked at the St. Thomas pier at 7:30 am. It’s a beautiful serene bay and the water was a beautiful sea green. The bay is full of sailboats … obviously we’re the first cruise ship in port. The island itself is hilly and has many homes dotting the hills. It is green, but doesn’t look very tropical, at least from the ship. I had expected palm trees, vines, and rain forest trees.

We are going snorkeling at Turtle Cove at 12:30…guaranteed to give us all our first sunburns of the trip. We’re prepared though…lots of sun block.

We boarded the Dancing Dolphin and sailed
to Turtle Bay. John, Jenny and Austin were looking forward to snorkeling…..Ken, Lisa and I weren’t as enthusiastic.

We were given our snorkel equipment and basic instructions on how to put on the face mask and use the snorkel. The water was colder than I had expected. Ken and I snorkeled for a while, but found it to be very tiring, so didn’t stay out long.

We saw lots of turtles feeding on the grass on the ocean bottom. One of the crewmembers pointed out a huge turtle and said that it probably weighed 300 lbs….it certainly looked like it. John, Jenny and Austin snorkeled for a long time but Ken, Lisa and I were not that comfortable snorkeling….I tired out
very quickly and began to have leg cramps so made my way back to the Dancing Dolphin. Ken didn’t do well at all and was only in the water for a little while.

After snorkeling for about an hour, the Dancing Dolphin headed back to the cruise ship…. it was a beautiful day, and there was a good breeze, so the captain turned off the engine, raised the sails and we FLEW over the waves.

I didn’t realize how fast a boat would travel using just the sails. It was cool! On the way back we were served orange juice and Bacardi Rum drinks, about half Bacardi and half orange juice.

John scarffed it down but Ken, Lisa and I had a few sips and decided it was yucky and not for us. Jen and Austin had soft drinks…they wouldn’t have like the rum and OJ drink…actually, I think they had a sip and made that decision themselves.

The captain of the Dancing Dolphin was a very nice man and he asked Austin if he'd like to be the boat captain for a while..he said he was tired would would like to take a break. Of course!!!! wish he would have asked me!!!

Austin really had control of the wheel and stood there watching for icebergs like the captain of the Titanic.

John, Jenny and Austin decided that this vacation wouldn’t be complete without a TATTOO! Jenny’s was a heart, John had a barbed wire around his bicep and Austin had a sea creature. The tattoos were not real…they were put on by an “airbrushed tattoo artist”, were FDA approved, and best of all, they are temporary!

Monday – April 3, 2007 -- St. Kitts

Ken and I stayed on the ship since we were not interested in shopping in St. Kitts. Our morning paper gives tips on what to look for each island....where the best buys are. But, if you aren't going ashore, there are still lots of things to do on the ship.....and its nice to have the pools and deck chairs to yourself. The ship does not close down when it is, fun and parties still go on.

John, Lisa, Jenny and Austin walked into the town via the LONG dock. One of the natives came
up to them with a baby monkey (wearing a diaper) and the kids had their photos taken with it. It was on their heads, climbing up their arms, and both of them just loved it.

Its a good thing they enjoyed it because the owner then asked $10.00 for taking photos, etc. Gotta watch those tricky natives. I guess John could have refused to play him but what the heck, they were on vacation.

When they got back to the ship, one of the other passengers was horrified that they would even touch a wild monkey…”it probably had fleas and
lice”…”what if it had bitten one of the kids?”

Well, it didn’t .

This was the first formal night on the cruise. We were dressed in our best, tux for Ken, long dresses for Jennifer and me, suits for John and Austin and a cocktail dress for Lisa.

The photographers are situated in several areas of the ship, I think there were about 6 different ones, and each had a different backdrop....a beach scene, the grand stairway of the Titanic (spooky thought), an old time western theme...had to dress in costumes which are provided...and we had our photos taken. Lots of photos taken. You can walk from one photographer to another and they smile and snap your photo....that evening they will be displayed, along with a thousand or more others, in the photo gallery. If you like the it. If not, put it in the "discard" box....there's no pressure from anyone.

I hope they turn out well…we all had been in the sun all day and have nice cherry red complexions. Oh well, if we don’t like these, there will be another formal day this week.

(to be continued)

OUR CRUISE VACATION 2007 Grenada Page 6

Tuesday April 4, 2007 – Grenada

We docked at the Grenada terminal and did the "tourist thing".....wandered around looking the the booths full of colorful clothing and native wares. They were probably all made in Japan since they were identical to the ones at the last port....except they
said Grenada instead of St. Kitts or St. Thomas.

Grenada is a very pretty place…green and lush just like a tropical isle should be. We didn’t have a tour booked so decided to see about arranging one from a tour company in the terminal. The natives are constantly grabbing at you wanting you to go with them on tours, sell you something or in general find a way to get you buy something.

It’s hard to keep saying “no thank you” every few minutes, but I’m sure they are used to being rejected. But, sometimes they get too pushy and you have to be somewhat rude and ignore them.

John, (our wheeler-dealer) was approached by a tour company employee who wanted $20.00 per person to take us on a tour of the area….but John bargained him down to $80.00 for the 6 of us. Joseph, our guide, had an 8 passenger vehicle so two other folks joined us. They were from St. Lucia, an island not too far from Grenada, and were both schoolteachers.

Joseph spoke English pretty well, and gave us some interesting facts about his country. He wore a big stripped knit hat and reminded me of Bob Marley, the reggae singer.
As we passed different trees, he told us what they were, cocoa, coffee, banana, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. and then stopped at a roadside "spice" stand - had a great demonstration of the spices and how they are prepared and showed us how coffee, nutmeg and other spices looked in their raw state.

He grated a cocoa bean and a nutmeg nut and gave us a chance to taste it. The cocoa was bitter, like dry Hershey cocoa, and the nutmeg tasted like…nutmeg. He tore some bark off a tree branch and gave that to us….it was cinnamon. Now I know where cinnamon sticks come from, they are pieces of bark that rolls up when cut off a branch from the cinnamon tree. We shopped in the little hut and bought spices and other items to take home. Every place we stopped, there were people selling spice-related things.

We then drove to Annadale Falls and walked another 5,000 steps down to the base of the falls to a nice little pool..
Several young men, probably employees of the park, would climb to the top of the waterfall, and do a “cannon-ball” down into the pool. They couldn’t dive because the pool was too shallow. We watched them for a while and then climbed back to the top. On the way, there were folks selling items….more spice necklaces, various hot sauces, handmade things, etc.

John decided to buy a CD of steel drum music, which was very nice. However, Lisa said that it needed a jungle setting with birds chirping and running water to make it sound really great. Soooo John is probably going to turn their family room into a tropical paradise.

The rain forest in Grenada is located at the top of a mountain, reached by a narrow, two lane winding road. It was a wild drive on the mountainous roads on the "wrong side" and we were glad to have a local driver - lots of shouting and horn blowing when someone blocked the road! If you are from the USA, my advice is to find a local driver.

The drivers in Grenada must be related to the San Juan drivers because they drive the same way, fast and furious. And since Grenada was once a British colony, they drive on the left side of the road, just opposite of what is done in the United States. Its really scary since you tend to forget that, and get the wits scared out of you when you meet a truck or car coming at you in “your lane.

On to Fort Frederick, the remains of an old fort where you could see two bodies of water from the top. It was interesting and you wonder who got the job of moving those huge blocks of stone up the hill and putting them in place. Fort Frederick was accidentally bombed by the United States …..they were supposed to bomb another fort a short distance away, but goofed.

Our last stop was a beach and recreation area with a good view of……our ship!
We didn’t know about the beach but obviously many of our fellow passengers did because there were lots of blue striped towels on chairs and chaise lounges. There were some little open-air shops, which were selling the usual tee shirts, dresses and other souvenirs.

About this time, Jenny REALLY had to go to the restroom and we were told the "facilities" were next to the various seller's area. What the “information booth” lady didn’t say was that they wanted $1.00 to use the restroom. Poor Jen didn't have a dollar so had to find us and hope that we were carrying cash.

First time we’ve ever run into that situation….but I guess they have to buy toilet paper and paper towels so feel that getting money from the tourists was logical.....they have a captive audience...nowhere else to go!
Speaking of restrooms, be prepared for the toilets aboard ship. They are flush toilets, but flush like no toilet you've ever had at home. When finished using it, you put the lid down and pull the little knob on top and Swooooosh, it sounds like a big vaccum cleaner just exploded in the room with you. They have a standing (ha) joke about not sitting the john when it is can plan on hearing those jokes from at least one of the comedians at the dinner show.
Every evening there is a dinner show...sometimes its a musical number, singers and dancers, other times it could be a comedian, a magic show, singer or any number of theatrical people. Some are very good, others are just so-so. Since there are many preteen kids on cruises, the jokes are generally not naughty or blue....there are two evening shows, and the one that starts at 10:00 may be a little more risque.
Most ships have special areas just for adults allowed...disco dances, scavenger hunts and fun get-togethers. Plus take a bunch of coins, they have game rooms that are full of arcade games.

(to be continued)

OUR CRUISE VACATION 2007 Isla Margarita Page 7

Wednesday, April 5, 2007

Isla Margarita is called the “Island of Pearls” because of the large oyster beds in the area. It is REALLY flat looks like a good-sized wave could wipe the island perfectly clean.

There wasn't a lot to do on the isle, so we decided to make it a "beach day" and also visited the little group of booths lined up on the "higher" ground. The booths all had pearl necklaces, earrings and anything you could think of made of pearls plus the usual assortment of tee shirts. I needed a pearl necklace and found a nice set for $15.00….after wading through all the other sales people who "has the best deal, lady".

Jenny bought an ankle bracelet and Austin found a really nice miniature domino set with pearl inlays. Both were pleased with their purchases, mainly because both Jenny and Austin were able to haggle with the shop keeper and get the price down to about half of what she was asking.

Jenny and John were really in their element….bargaining!! They would haggle with the store owners and end up paying a lot less than the asking price….which I’m sure was set high enough to make a profit either way. I think the salespeople enjoyed the experience....Jenny and Austin are really nice kids and were very polite in dealing with them. I, on the other hand, have never learned the art of bargaining or haggling. I just hand them the money and take my purchase. Yep, I'm the gullible tourist that they love to see coming.

We didn’t have a tour booked in Isla Margarita, so stayed on the beach, a short walk from where the ship was docked. Actually, it was one of the nicest days we spent on the cruise….there was ample shopping, food and drink, lounge chairs with palm shade and nice gentle waves.

We walked along the shoreline picking up shells and coral. Austin found a big blue crab in the water while he was swimming and he and I “herded” it back to land where he could pick it up to show to Ken and the other people on the beach. It was not happy about being picked up and grabbed Austin’s snorkel mask with its big claw…that made it easier for him to carry it to the beach and show off his prize. He then took it back to the water and released it.

John also found a sea creature to chase ….a manta or sting ray, we aren’t sure exactly what it was. It was about 18” across the top with a long tail. It swam next to the bottom in the shallow water and John and a couple of other guys were determined to catch it…no luck.
First it went one way, then the other, scooting out of reach….John did grab the tail but it slithered out of his grasp and got away.
We all got nice and tan at Isla Margarita and left quite a bit of money in the little booths. When the cruise ship left the dock, the trades people stood on the dock holding flags and waving good-bye. Not many cruise ships visit this particular port, and we probably increased their monthly income by a bunch!
One of the favorite things that we liked to do in the evening was to visit the piano bars.....great pianists and fun people. Liquor and soft drinks are not included in the "all inclusive" cruise .... for drinks, you use your identification card (which you are issued when you charge everything and pay the bill at the end of the cruise) and can buy a soft drink card for the kids. Or not.
There are lots of shops aboard ship and if you wait until the last day or so of the cruise, you can get some real deals.....they have only a limited amount of space and are happy to sell the tee-shirts, jewelry, watches, hats, etc. at a reduced price knowing that they will receive a whole batch of new stuff once they get back to home port. Some of the ships may not be going to the same places they went on this one, and who would want to buy a Grenada tee shirt if the ship was going to Alaska!

(to be continued


Thursday, April 6, 2007

In our estimation, Aruba is a desert island, not as green as expected. And, lots of cactus! When you see a cactus FENCE and what looks like a Nebraska prairie, you begin to rethink "tropical paradise.

People we’ve talked to said it was the most beautiful island on the cruise….obviously we were not on the right side of the island. Either that or the cruise ship docked at the wrong one!

We were booked on the Aruba Jeep Tour .. guaranteed to shake up your insides. We were shown to an 8-passenger jeep and climbed in. One of the staff came over and asked which one of
us was planning to drive!!!

Whoa, this is not what we signed up for. After being in the land of left side of the road drivers, we wanted no part of that idea. John firmly explained that we were assured that we’d have a “professional driver” and by gosh, that’s what we were determined to have.

The other jeeps were driven by cruise passengers which would have scared me to death once we saw the paths that we were going to be driving on.
Our driver, Wendell, said he had 17 years experience working for the tour company …so we had fun laughing as we bounced and jostled along.. At first we were on city streets and some country roads…..for this we paid good money!!!

Then, we went “off road”….right up a rut-filled, boulder strewn nothing of a road. We were jostled around and tossed back and forth on the seats….which, thank heaven, were thickly padded.

Wendell, our driver, did a great job in managing to hit every boulder, rock, hole and rut that he could….and lead the other 7 jeeps right to them.

About half way through the tour, Wendell stopped at a little museum that had a restroom….a one person, coed restroom where the shower was the biggest thing in the room.
Evidentially they had some sort of a touchy septic system because the sign on the wall said, “please do not put paper into the toilet” ….well, that’s special! They had a garbage can next to the toilet and that’s where the toilet paper was supposed to go. I don’t even WANT to think about what happens if somebody needed to really GO….and needed to wipe. There were no windows in the restroom.
There were several other tours using the same facility, and the restroom line was LONG. (I think a few of the men used the emergency facility…....a handy tree)

We finally made it to the top of the mountain and had a beautiful view of the ocean about a half block down the cliff. Wendell said that the beautiful natural pool was ….down there.
Again, we had to climb down a hand hewn path to the ocean….sooo where’s this pool? We had short walk along the beach and then had to climb and crawl over some really big boulders to the “natural pool”. It was a pool that was separated from the ocean by more big rocks…the surf would crash against the rocks, providing fresh seawater to the fish living in the pool.

Lisa was the only one who didn’t go into the pool….she was the photographer. I’m surprised that someone didn’t get hurt climbing over the rocks to the pool or climbing into the pool itself. The rocks were slippery and had algae on them. Once we got into the pool we could see tropical fish swimming around our feet…Angel fish, clown fish and whatever kind of fish “Nemo” was. We had a great time!

We stayed there for about a half hour and back up the hill we went….another sore muscle day tomorrow. Wendell had nice cold sodas waiting for us….since we hadn’t had any food since breakfast, we would have loved to have a sandwich.

The next stop was a “natural bridge” and a chance to buy a hotdog or sandwich….The natural bridge was interesting but not enough to keep our interest very long.
Oh yes, John ended up paying $.25 to use the restroom in the restaurant.....ha, he thought it was really funny when Jenny had to pay $1.00 the other day…..well, guess he got a bargain after all.
(to be continued)