Bon Voyage on Allure of the Seas

(Sunday March 2-9, 2014)

Our adventure began Saturday afternoon around 5 p.m. when we headed for San Francisco airport in Kirk and Deanna's car where we boarded a plane around 10 p.m. and flew all night to our destination at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Altogether there were thirteen family members (including baby Elodie) able to go. Tim, Margie, Amanda, Brent, Vicky, Guy, Francis, Ric, Kirk, Deanna, Mel and me (Bonnie). We met at the airport and boarded ship around noon.

The airport is huge and will provide wheelchairs for those who need a ride. Tim found a rental vehicle for all of us and our luggage. We had time to kill before boarding ship, so headed out to a beach.

We made it!

Margie and me and Tim makes three...

...and Ric managed the short hike to the beach. The young bunch beat us there.

It's been fun lookin' around, but now it's time to get on board our ship.

Our temporary home along with 6,000 other guests and 2,000 crew members this week.

We all sigh and smile that we're finally ready to go with the flow.

Capturing our after dinner crew from the back left... Guy, Ric, Brent, Tim. Front...Vicky, Elodie, Francis, Papa Mel, Grammy Bonnie, Margie, Amanda, Deanna and Kirk.

Day Two... Monday March 3

Today were at the port of Nassau, the capital, largest city, and commercial centre of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. The city has a population of 248,948 (2010 census), 70 percent of the entire population of the Bahamas (353,658). Lynden Pindling International Airport, the major airport for the Bahamas, is located about 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) west of Nassau city centre, and has daily flights to major cities in the United States, the Caribbean, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The city is located on the island of New Providence, which functions much like a business district. Nassau is the site of the House of Assembly and various judicial departments and was considered historically to be a stronghold of pirates.

As the population of Nassau grew, so did its populated areas. Today the city dominates the entire island and its satellite, Paradise Island. However, until the post-Second World War era, the outer suburbs scarcely existed. Most of New Providence was uncultivated bush until Loyalists were resettled here following the American Revolutionary War; they established several plantations, such as Clifton and Tusculum. Slaves were imported as labor. After the British abolished the international slave trade in 1807, they resettled thousands of Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy on New Providence (at Adelaide Village and Gambier Village), along with other islands such as Grand Bahama, Exuma, Abaco and Inagua. In addition, slaves freed from American ships, such as the Creole case in 1841, were allowed to settle here. The largest concentration of Africans historically lived in the "Over-the-Hill" suburbs of Grants Town and Bain Town to the south of the city of Nassau, while most of the inhabitants of European descent lived on the island's northern coastal ridges.

Nassau was formerly known as Charles Town; it was burned to the ground by the Spanish in 1684. Rebuilt, it was renamed Nassau in 1695 in honour of the Dutch Stadtholder (stadhouder in Dutch) and later also King of England, Scotland and Ireland, William III from the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau. In 1703 Spanish and French allied forces briefly occupied Nassau.

By 1713, the sparsely settled Bahamas had become a pirate haven for pirate chieftains Thomas Barrow and Benjamin Hornigold. They proclaimed Nassau a pirate republic, establishing themselves as "governors." They were joined by Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, and the infamous Edward Teach, known as "Blackbeard"; along with female pirates such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read. (Just gotta add my favorite Captain Jack Sparrow brought to life by actor Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean at right..hehe). In 1718, the British sought to regain control of the islands and appointed Captain Woodes Rogers as Royal governor. He successfully clamped down on the pirates, reformed the civil administration, and restored commerce. Rogers cleaned up Nassau and rebuilt the fort, using his own wealth to try to overcome problems. In 1720 the Spanish made an unsuccessful attempt to capture Nassau. In 1776 the Battle of Nassau resulted in a brief occupation by the American Marines during the American War of Independence, where the Marines staged their first amphibious raid on Fort Montagu: in 1778 after an overnight invasion, American raiders left with ships, gunpowder and military stores after stopping in Nassau for only two days. In 1782 Spain captured Nassau for the last time when Don Juan de Cagigal, governor-general of Cuba, attacked New Providence with 5000 men. Andrew Deveaux, an American Loyalist who resettled on the island, set forth to recapture Nassau with 220 men and 150 muskets to face a force of 600 trained soldiers. Deveaux forced the Spanish to surrender on April 17, 1783, without a single shot fired. Lord Dunmore governed the colony from 1787 to 1796. He oversaw the construction of Fort Charlotte in Nassau. During the American Civil War, Nassau served as a port for blockade runners making their way to and from ports along the southern Atlantic Coast for continued trade with the Confederacy. Okay, now you know some of the here we go.

The early birds of our bunch were going to go on a glass bottom boat early this morning, but it didn't show, so they headed for the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island around 9am.

Kirk and Deanna pose in front of their yacht...hehe

Meanwhile, after a few more zzzz's and breakfast, Kirk, Deanna, Mel and I decided to go ashore and explore the port of Nassau and visit the John Watling's Distillery.

We discovered that we could take the scooter (Margie and Tim rented for me) off the ship which would make it easier. We also realized we needed two of them, so changed riders occasionally. We walked by little shops and vendors, dodged some traffic and a couple of horse buggies to the end of the pier and up a steep hill to the John Watling's Distillery. It was built on the old Buena Vista Estate, just a short walk from the Harbor, and is well signposted, so even dumb tourists can find it. The beautifully restored colorful old mansion house is the first building you see as you walk through the entrance. Set on more than two acres of lush tropical gardens with centenary black olive trees, The Buena Vista Estate has been part of the history of Nassau, New Providence, and The Bahamas since 1789. Construction started on the house the same year as the United States Constitution was enacted; George Washington was elected President of the United States, and the start of the French Revolution. The legendary Buena Vista Home hosted many famous patrons in the past, including everyone from Robert Mitchum and Bobby Kennedy to Ed Sullivan and Joan Crawford. The Estate made its Hollywood debut when it was featured in the James Bond film Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig.

Inside there are old photographs and paintings depicting the history of the old estate and the Bahamas in general. The plaque says the painting at right is of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India. The unknown artist did it during the 1940s. Outside there is the 200-year-old water well hand dug by slaves out of solid limestone, measuring 7.4 feet in diameter and 65 feet deep. I think it took them about a year to dig it. It's still used as a source of fresh water. Further back are the large aging and production warehouses, with a working model of a waterwheel attached to the outside wall. Inside you can see the rum aging and being hand-bottled one at a time. There is also a retail store where you can purchase the three fine rums they currently produce. Of course no tour of a rum distillery can be complete without a sampling of the rums. Also they make the famous Rum Dum cocktail right in the bar that cannot be missed. We were given a little sip to see how smooth and excellent...Good enough to eventually make you rum de dum.


                  The well.                               The water wheel.                      And the Distillery.


The barrel is charcoaled inside as shown on the right. Here's the story of how it's the rum is made. Area 1 Angels Share: The fresh distillate, known as firewater is fermented and distilled from hand-cut, freshly pressed sugar cane molasses. It is aged in White Oak barrels for up to 6 years. As the firewater mellows and is transformed into rum, it breathes through the pores of the wood barrels and slowly evaporates. These losses to evaporation, which can amount to up to 10 percent of the barrels' contents each year are known as the "Angel's Share." Area 2 Ocean Breezes: The tropical heat of Nassau and its proximity to ocean breezes accelerates the ageing process making it 2.5 times faster than in regions in colder climes. This makes John Watling's Buena Vista Estate rum comparable in age to a 12 year old Scotch. Area 3 Master Blender: Once the firewater has been transformed into an aged rum and has been judged ready by our sixth generation Master Blender, the barrel is emptied. His knowledge, passed on to him by mentors and family members, spans more than 175 years of accumulated experience in the art of rum-making. If the aged rum does not meet his standards it is left to age in the barrel until he decides it is ready. Area 4 Filtration: Before barreling, the firewater undergoes a process known as charcoal filtration to refine it further. Some of the charcoal used is made from locally carbonized coconut husks. After filtration the firewater is aged in American white oak barrels either singly or as a pre-blend. The complete process is a John Watling's secret.  Area 5 Distillation: There are two aged distillates that emerge from the ageing process: a single-barrel rum and a pre-blended rum. Each of these rums, at varying ages, is an ingredient in a formula for the Master Blender, who uses time-honored proprietary techniques to blend and craft all John Watling's rums. Area 6 Blending: After the secret blending process the blended rum is placed in French Limousin Oak barrels for a short repose known as the marrying process. Limousin Oak is usually exclusively reserved for ageing Cognacs but at John Watling's we use them to relax and marry the different rums creating a well-rounded and balanced taste. Area 7 Quality: All products made at John Watling's Distillery are hand-packaged. This ensures a finely crafted, quality product that is made by local hands. At John Watling's we try to use the least amount of mechanization possible while never compromising on quality. Area 8 Pink Sand: Rain water passed through a proprietary pink sand filter, is used to craft all John Watling's Distillery products. The pink sands that we use were transported to Nassau by boat from the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. Area 9 Ingredients: Red Turtle flavored vodkas and John Watling's liqueurs are made seasonally with tropical fruits, herbs and spices. These exotic ingredients are grown locally and organically on small local family farms. Area 10 Botanicals: Gun Cay gin is made using botanicals from the Bahamian island of Andros. Secret blends of up to six botanicals are vapor infused into the spirit using a copper pot still. The alcohol is vaporized in the still to capture the essence of the botanicals before it condenses once again into liquid form. Okay now we know how rum's made and why this one's so special.

Papa Mel's taking five on the scooter while we wait for the taxi to take us back to the port entrance near our ship. The scooter didn't quite fit and Kirk reached back and held onto it in the trunk.

Meanwhile, while we were checking out the rum, the rest of the bunch were exploring the Bahama's Atlantis Paradise Island beach resort. Back on deck we're enjoying the view of it.

This once-popular jet-set playground on Paradise Island had seen better days but from the start Sol Kerzner saw its potential. In 1994, he purchased Resorts International from entertainer/entrepreneur Merv Griffin. Struck by the beauty of the location, on a lush tropical island with a pristine two-mile white sand beach, Kerzner vowed to build the most engaging and astounding resort the world had ever seen, a place where dreams would be made real and all who experienced it would fall under its mystical spell … while having a lot of fun in the process. During the following four years he created the mythical city of Atlantis from the ground up -- or, more accurately, from the seabed to the skies. More than $800 million was spent to bring to life the myth and legend of the lost city of Atlantis. The original scope and scale of the project was mind-boggling: the world’s largest open-air marine environment of 11 million gallons, home to 50,000 sea creatures representing 200 species; new lagoons and countless waterfalls; a spectacular Mayan Temple Waterslide complex; 6 swimming areas and a $15 million Marina – itself an engineering marvel -- that would attract the sleek international mega-yacht set.

In the last few years, Atlantis has made an effort to host concerts and other events to its guests. In early 2010 and June 2011, Jerry Seinfeld performed at the Atlantis resort. Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Sara Bareilles, Paul Potts, Katy Perry, N'SYNC, Sheryl Crow, Kenny Chesney, and Lady Antebellum have all performed concerts either outside, in the Imperial Ballroom, or in the Atlantis Theatre. Michael Jackson and Gloria Estefan participated in performances at the resort, as well

Tim beside the Atlantis marina designed to dock large yachts. He and Margie took a boat ride around the island, while Amanda, Brent, Vicky, Guy and Elodie enjoyed the beach and more....

Brent and Amanda decided to go to the Atlantis Power Tower and take the 200 foot long, 50 foot vertical drop water slide into the Abyss to face their worst fears of height and darkness combined as they cross  arms and legs in preparation for the biggest body drop of their life. The mouth of the slide swallows them into a pit of darkness the second they release their body into the depths. Then they fall down a slick dark hole and Amanda screams, then washes beneath a daylight walkway and dumps out into an underground cavern with a waterfall resembling the ruins of the sunken city of Atlantis. It's surrounded by aquatic windows with a view of swimming fish. Click below to check out the water slide.



  Brent and Amanda checking out the rope bridge and beach.



Guy and Elodie having fun in the sun...and then they're looking at what's under the sea. "The Dig" is a series of aquariums located beneath the lobby of the Royal Towers and is the world's largest open air marine habitat. Hundreds of different aquatic species can be spotted in the Dig's various tanks such as angelfish, sharks, manta rays (one of which is larger than ten feet), and various types of jellyfish. The goal of The Dig is to provide guests with a taste of life in the legendary destroyed city of Atlantis. If one observes the bottom of the floors in the different aquariums, wreckage and debris scattered about represent the "Lost City of Atlantis."


Our bunch are back on ship. Vicky, Amanda, Elodie and Margie have a final look at Atlantis. Turns out some didn't return by the time we're supposed to sail. The ship waits for stragglers, but then has to power up for lost time. The crew members (staff) are wonderful, and make you feel like royalty. It's like a floating city. While we're sailing people are everywhere like at home on the Fourth of July, or wherever there are crowds. At port many leave the ship to explore, and it's easy to move about. There's just about anything you want to do or what you would like to eat and drink. Pretty soon we'll be going to dinner in the special dining room with the family. Dining's a special occasion every evening...and then there are the shows and the wonderful music on the decks.

Day Three... Tuesday March 4.

We enjoyed breakfast and are now relaxing with the gentle breeze on deck.

Brent, Francis, Guy, Margie and Elodie checking out the toddlers' mini-golf course
located next to the regular course.

Don't you love this 1936 Mercedes Benz 540K?

Walking to the Merry-go-Round is a display of how the horses are created from wood.

Vicky, lil' Elodie and Amanda love it!

It's show time at the outdoor theater. It didn't take long for the guy with the microphone to finagle Guy and Brent to compete in the Worlds Sexiest Man spoof. Reluctant and embarrassed they were really nice to participate in the fun.

The finalists are.....

And the winner is the big guy wearing the cape and crown. His wife was the judge on the right. (hehehe) Brent and Guy proudly display their trophy towels. It was lotsa fun. Thanks guys.

I'm checking out the jogging - walking deck. The track is split in half, with one half for joggers and the other half for walkers. I just make sure I don't run over anybody. Love the sign designating the finish is just around the bend.  Amanda and Margie have run the course.

From our Windjamer restaurant table window we're able to watch Margie and Amanda run the Zip line. It's 9 decks above the ground, and stretches 82 feet from end to end. Whoopie! Here comes Margie....with Amanda not far behind.

Our lovely Margie out and about with Tim.

Day Four... Wednesday March 5

Today finds us at Charlotte Amalie, located on St. Thomas. It's the capital and largest city of the U.S. Virgin Islands, founded in 1666 as Taphus (meaning "beer houses" or "beer halls"). In 1691, the town was renamed to Amalienborg (in English Charlotte Amalie) after Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel (1650–1714), queen consort to King Christian V of Denmark.

We're looking at the harbor from the ship, and enjoying ourselves. The crowd is off exploring, so it's not as busy on board. There are many enjoying the pools, while others are enjoying the beaches and ocean. Some may be shopping through the shop-lined streets of Charlotte Amalie where they discover why St. Thomas is called the "duty-free shopping capital of the world." Shop for duty-free trinkets and bargains on everything from liquor to imported china and crystal. Visitors can bring home $1,200 in merchandise without paying duty - twice the limit of most of the Caribbean.

On deck nearby are various pools and guests enjoying the sun.

Near the swimming pools the Pool Bar has some comfortable tables with a good view of the harbor below, so we had a couple of beers while watching the interesting boats.

Mel commented that he noticed the American flag on the ship below, but couldn't figure out what the other flag was until it got up close. Aha! The skull and cross bones of the Jolly Roger.

I never paid much attention to the skull and cross bones on a flag until this cruise. Evidently, the Jolly Roger is flown to identify a ship's crew as pirates about to attack. The flag most commonly identified as the Jolly Roger today is the skull and crossbones (although swords are also common) on a black field. This design was used by several pirates, including Captains "Black Sam" Bellamy, Edward England, and John Taylor. The flag was flown to frighten pirate's victims into surrendering without a fight, since it conveyed the message that the attackers were outlaws who might kill those they defeated. Captured pirates were usually hanged.

On his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus encountered numbers of Native Americans living in the present day archipelago of the United States Virgin Islands. Archaeological records indicate that the islands had been home to Indian tribes. Several of them lived in present day Charlotte Amalie in small fishing communities. The native population died relatively quickly from disease when the Europeans settled.

As the early Spanish focused their energy on Puerto Rico and other Caribbean Islands, St. Thomas remained unprotected for a long time, so Charlotte Amalie’s sheltered coves were frequented by pirates, like Bluebeard and Blackbeard, as well as mariners and European settlers. At the right is Blackbeard's castle. It's one of five National Historic Landmarks in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was built in 1679 by the Danes as a watchtower to protect the harbor and Fort Christian. The castle was originally called Skytsborg Tower (meaning sky tower), located at the highest point on Government Hill. It  served as an effective vantage point for Danish soldiers to spot enemy ships. Fort Christian is at sea level, which made it ideal for thwarting attackers with cannon fire. However, the fort itself did not provide an ideal view of incoming ships entering the harbor. It's not known what year Skytsborg Tower took on the name of Blackbeard's Castle, but the infamous Edward Teach (or Thatch) known as Blackbeard, did sail the Caribbean waters in the early 18th century.

The tower became part of the lore of the island that he used it as a lookout for his own purposes of piracy. He's probably the most notorious of the sea robbers who plagued shipping lanes off North America and throughout the Caribbean in the early-eighteenth century--an era referred to as the Golden Age of Piracy. Despite his legendary reputation, little is known about the early life of Blackbeard. He was probably born before 1690. Even his true name is uncertain. He is reported to have served as a privateer during Queen Anne's War (1701 - 1714) to raid enemy ships, and (after basic training) he then turned to piracy sometime after the war's conclusion. It was a reign of fear that lasted two long years. Blackbeard and his crew of pirates terrorized sailors on the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea from 1716 through 1718. They ambushed ships carrying passengers and cargo in the dim light of dawn and dusk when the pirates' ship was hard to see.

The pirates often determined a ship's nationality first. Then they raised that country's flag on the pirate ship so they appeared to be friendly. Now able to draw close to the unsuspecting ship, the pirates hoisted Blackbeard's flag only at the last moment. Merchant crews often surrendered without a fight the moment they saw Blackbeard's flag. If the ship didn't surrender after warnings, the pirates moved in. Usually their first target was the sailor at the ship's wheel. Then, as the pilotless ship drifted aimlessly, the pirates snared it with grappling hooks, pulled it closer, and leaped aboard. When the attack ended, the pirates took the passengers and crew hostage and ransacked cabins looking for coins, gold, silver, and jewelry. Blackbeard repeated this scene over and over again. Most merchant ships carried little actual treasure. They usually hauled cargo like grain, molasses, and kegs of rum. They also carried supplies of rope, tools, and ammunition. After taking over a merchant ship, the pirates divided the booty, or stolen goods, among themselves according to strict rules—the captain and certain officers received larger portions. Sometimes the pirates stole the ship as well as the cargo. As Teach's power and reputation as the most frightening pirate grew, so did his beard and hair. Now calling himself Blackbeard, he braided his beard and tied the braids with black ribbons. He stuffed burning rope under his hat to make himself look more ferocious and menacing. He scared everyone.

In the fall of 1718 Blackbeard returned from sea to his favorite hideaway off Ocracoke Island. He hosted a huge, wild pirate get-together with dancing, drinking, and bonfires. Other famous pirates sailed in for the days-long event. News of the pirate bash reached Alexander Spotswood, the governor of Virginia. He decided that the time had come to stop Blackbeard once and for all. He spent the next several weeks planning Blackbeard's capture. The Governor sent two small swift ships, commanded by Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy to Ocracoke. Seeing the navy's sails, Blackbeard and his pirates knew they were trapped. Only sandbars lay between them and the navy. By morning, the tide would rise, the sloops would glide over the submerged sandbars, and the attack on the pirate ship would begin. All through the night Maynard's men prepared for the next day's fighting. Muffled laughter and swearing from the pirate ship echoed across the water. Blackbeard didn't seem worried about the upcoming battle, though his men were nervous as they stockpiled ammunition on deck and soaked blankets in water in preparation for putting out fires. They spread sand on the decks to soak up blood once the fighting started. Because they might all die, one pirate asked Blackbeard if his wife knew where he'd buried his treasure. Blackbeard bellowed that nobody but he “...and the devil knew where it was, and the longest liver shall take it.”

In the morning, instead of trying to outrun the navy sloops, Blackbeard waited at his ship's wheel. When Maynard's sloops started moving toward the pirate's, Blackbeard ordered his crew to set sail, and he steered the ship toward the beach, then eased the pirate ship through a narrow channel between the beach and a barely visible sandbar. Following the pirates, the navy sloops crashed into the sandbar and the pirates blasted the stranded sloops with cannons. Then the pirate ship lurched backward—and became stuck on a sandbar. One navy ship lay destroyed. Maynard's sloop was battered. Maynard ordered his men to throw food and water barrels over the side to lighten the ship. It worked. Floating free of the sandbar, Maynard's damaged sloop edged toward the pirate ship. Maynard ordered his men to hide below decks with pistols and swords ready. Blackbeard's men hurled grenades onto the seemingly deserted navy sloop and boarded the ship. Suddenly, Maynard's men rushed the deck with their weapons, surprising the pirates who had been tricked into thinking the navy crew was dead. A battle began. With his pistol in one hand, cutlass in the other, Blackbeard faced Maynard. They both fired pistols. Blackbeard missed, but Maynard hit his mark.

The wounded Blackbeard managed to swing his cutlass and snap off Maynard's sword blade. Maynard drew back. Blackbeard raised his arm for a finishing blow, but a navy seaman came up from behind Blackbeard and slashed his throat. As a warning to pirates, Blackbeard's head was allegedly cut off and suspended from the bow of Maynard's sloop. Later, Maynard searched for Blackbeard's treasure but like the pirate said, "only the devil knows where it was." You might enjoy watching the trailer of Blackbeard's Ghost. In this spoof, Peter Ustinov is the famous pirate's ghost that returns to our time. Blackbeard has been cursed by his last wife who was a notorious witch, so that he will never die. The only way to "break" the curse is to do (for once in his life) a good act. Is the pirate able to do good?

We're winding up the day the beautiful Adagio dining room by the ocean view windows. This time of the day is so special because we're all here sharing the joy of being together.

It's hard to believe that this dining room is so large it's spread over three decks with seating up to 2,900 people. Dining is from 6-9pm at reserved tables for up to ten guests. I guess we pushed it a little. Our special waiter is Bonni. I don't remember how he spelled his name, but remember it was pronounced the same as mine. He was very special and did the utmost to make our dinner wonderful. All those we encountered taking care of our room, or needs were absolutely the best.

Following dinner are the musicals like you would experience on Broadway. As usual Tim's the one that gets everyone motivated by either making reservations, or insisting we hurry so we can get a good seat. I'm still laughing at one event. Papa Mel was kind of lagging behind everyone at dinner and we were going to see the Broadway musical Chicago in the Amber theater. Tim picks up Papa's plate and Papa's reaching for his plate chasing him, while Tim's chanting "Hurry, Hurry! You can eat it when we get there." He urged Mel to get on my scooter with me on his lap driving. One person we passed exclaimed, "Is that legal?" but most laughed at the sight. We made it in time and then Tim handed Papa the rest of his dinner making him the first person to enjoy the show while eating dinner.

The musical Chicago's all that jazz amidst the razzle-dazzle decadence of the 1920's. It's the story of Roxie Hart, a housewife and nightclub dancer who murders her lover after he threatens to walk out on her. Desperate to avoid conviction, she dupes the public, the media, and her rival cellmate, Velma Kelly, by hiring Chicago's slickest criminal lawyer to transform her malicious crime into a barrage of sensational headlines, just like today's tabloids. We experienced the singing, dancing, spectacular costumes and dazzling sets of one of this generation's most recognizable hits. It was very entertaining...including our funny scooter ride to the show.

After this evenings dinner, lil' Elodie wanted on GG's lap to check out the scooter. It didn't take her long to find and beep-beep-beep the button horn. Next she noticed me using the lever to drive, and wanted to drive, but she'll have to wait on that.

Day Five Thursday March 6

It's Thursday morning and I'm looking down on the ship's Central Park from our cabin on the left side. Our bunch are all close together on the same floor, but some are on the other side of the hallway with a different view. If we open the door to the deck we can hear music and children playing during the day. One night we were watching an older Clint Eastwood western movie. The background music was simple (mostly sounds like the Good, Bad and Ugly) because their budget was small. Kirk phoned us that a group was playing beautiful music we could hear if we opened the door to the balcony. I did and it was wonderful background music for the movie.

Today we're docked at Philipsburg, the main town and capital of the country of Sint Maarten. The town is situated on a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay and the Great Salt Pond. It functions as the commercial center of Saint Martin island, whereas Sint Maarten encompasses the southern half. The island was first sighted by Christopher Columbus on 11 November 1493, but there was already an Arawak settlement there before his discovery. Philipsburg was founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy; the settlement soon became a bustling centre of international trade. Two historic forts bear witness to Philipsburg's strategic importance in St. Maarten's history: Fort Amsterdam and Fort Willem.

Our family adventurers are off to explore and enjoy an Orient Bay beach. It's a coastal community and beach on the French side of the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean. It lies on the east coast of the island. Until 1985 the area was undeveloped. Damage caused by Hurricane Luis in 1995 was quickly repaired. Now the beach has become the most popular beach on the island.

Guy presses sand into the little bucket, removes the bucket and walla! Elodie doesn't like the sculpture. Who would-a-thought..... looks like your having fun!

Say cheese....From left it's Brent, Tim, Margie, Amanda, Vicky, Guy, Deanna and Kirk.

While the bunch is on the beach, we enjoy ourselves looking around the ship.

Our neighbors.

The Central Park's wildlife includes Carmel Mooney's flying birds made of blue Murano glass. You can hear many birds as though you were actually in a park. It's a quiet retreat during the day, but evening takes on a magical look when the lights come on.

The Royal Promenade is a street-like area running down the centerline for most of the length of the ship. Like a city street, it has shops, bars, places to eat and entertainment areas. It also has a replica of the classic 1936 Mercedes Benz 540 K pictured in Day 3. A special feature is a globe that opens out to make a cantilevered bridge across the promenade for performers to appear on during events such as street parties. The Rising Tide Bar levitates between the Royal Promenade and Central Park. When it is in the up position, the area it occupies on the Royal Promenade becomes a fountain.

Below some divers are practicing for a show.

Day Six... Friday March 7.

We're having breakfast in the Windjammer Marketplace by a window. It has a buffet easy to serve yourself with just about anything you want.

Back on the sports deck watching a flowrider surfer. While I watched, this kid was the only one who really knew how to manuver. Most of the others were up and then out. The self-contained surfing area pumps 34,000 gallons per minute and allows passengers to try stand-up surfing as well as boogie boarding.

This was one of our favorite places to hang out and relax. They even picked some basketball teams to compete. Behind us is a cafe where we could get snacks like hamburgers or a frosty cone. Before we knew it, Brent and Kirk showed up to play ping pong. It's pretty popular, and sometimes its tough to get a table.

Papa Mel enjoys a cold chocolate frosty cone watching them.

Day Seven...Saturday March 8.

We're by the outdoor theater watching the Dreamworks kid show.

DreamWorks "Madagascar" characters mingle with high divers, swimmers, acrobats.


Guy's doing some rock climbing....and falling.

Tonight's our last very special dinner on the ship.

After dinner we went to the theater to watch the musical "Blue Planet."

The show's about to begin....and then the cast of Blue Planet takes us from the peaks of mountain tops to the depths of the ocean with powerful music, soaring vocals, energetic dance, and aerial acrobatics that's pretty amazing.

What a surprise when this tree comprised of 20 human beings unraveled.  From rain forests to deserts, mountain sides to oceans, this was truly a global celebration. What a delightful way to wind up our voyage. Tomorrow we'll be at Ft. Lauderdale and flying home.

Day Eight...Sunday March 9.

We're in the sky over Ft. Lauderdale beginning our five hour flight to San Francisco, and then drive home. It's pretty hard on us, but mostly Ric, Francis, Elodie and her mom and dad.

When we landed I wasn't sure if we could walk the distance from the plane to the luggage depot. What a joy it was to discover two wheel chair persons waiting to take us. Kirk and Deanna were wonderful and took good care of us again on the return home. We treated them to an In-and-out burger dinner on the way home. The entire adventure was wonderful. Thank you and bless your hearts for talking us into it and making it so much fun.