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Allure 9/29 - 7 Night Eastern Caribbean

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So, a miracle occurred.  Our food tour was supposed to start at 10AM.  By 9:50, everyone was accounted for and we started early instead of standing around baking in the sun waiting for stragglers.  Good job, shipmates!  Off to an excellent start.

Our driver would be Serge (funny and informative guy), and our tour guide would be Ankie — a self-professed 55 year old hippie who sold her bar in the Netherlands 11 years ago and moved to Dutch St. Maarten.  Even more funny and informative than Serge.  Both were great.

Our first stop this morning was the Amsterdam Cheese Store.  Cool.  I do cheese.  We turned left out of the port, drove like 100 yards, and pulled into the parking lot of the Amsterdam Cheese & Liquor Store after an arduous 30 second trek.  Hrm.  Eyebrow goes up.  I’m game though.

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Inside, the 15 of us were ushered to a corner of the store with a display table made from a Dutch merchant’s bike, where TJ (with the assistance of a volunteer passenger) would be taking us on a little Dutch Gouda tour.

We started off with with introductions, a glass of champagne, and passed around some toothpick cheeses as TJ described them to us.  First was a young cow’s milk Gouda (~6mo) followed by young sheep’s milk Gouda, a pesto Gouda, and finished with a ~2 year aged Gouda).  All were tasty.  The pesto Gouda also got an eyebrow raise from me, but it was a nice surprise with a balanced amount of basil to it.  It was dark green, which 6 year old me loved.

The 2nd half of this 30 minute stop would be the passenger-assisted preparation of a pasta dish using 3 of the cheeses we’d tried.  TJ brought out a couple of casserole dishes with cooked bow tie pasta in them.  That was seasoned with a little Italian seasoning, black pepper, and then each of the cheeses was laid out in a stripe across the top so we could taste the pasta with each individually.

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Into the oven the casseroles went.  While they were getting all melty, TJ gave us a little more background on the cheeses we had tasted.  The casseroles came back 10 minutes later (someone has a combi oven back there), had fresh cherry tomatoes added on top, and we each got about a 1/2 cup serving of each.  Not gonna lie.  It was good.  After that we got a few minutes to look around the shop (oddly enough, great selection of Dutch cheeses, treats, and booze).  Then back to air-conditioned bus bliss.

Our next stop, Zafiro Beach Bar & Restaurant, was also on the Dutch side of the island, about 20 minutes distant and maybe 200’ off of the south side of the runway at Princess Julianna Airport.  To get to and from it, we’d cross the famous stretch of Maho “Beach” that people adore getting a sandblast facial from jets on.  Having been tempted to visit this spot myself, I can now tell you I am thrilled to have seen it from a bus on the way/from a good meal.  It was packed.  The “beach” portion is a tiny slip of a thing, while the rest of the shoreline is made up of the artificial locking blocks folks use to protect harbors from pounding waves and invading Germans.  The rest is just less-invasion-proofing boulders.

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This would be our main meal on the tour.  Creole chicken with plantains and a rum punch.  The pic doesn’t make it look very pretty, but it was excellent.

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Nice view of the beach from the restaurant.

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And, for those who may regret not getting the direct jet BJ along the Maho Beach fence, the restaurant has an observation deck nearby where you can watch airplanes approach and land without mussing up your hair or being blown out to sea.

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Next stop: The aptly named Carousel for a gelato making demonstration (by the owner), a tasting of said made gelato, then two scoops of whatever you wanted from the regular counter outside of the “lab.”  Then, well, get on the damn carousel at Carousel, you cad.

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Escorted off the property by an iguana.

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10 minute ride back to the port with a little more narrated history.  Tour ran like clockwork.  Out of the coach at exactly 2PM.

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I can see why this tour is 5-starred to death on TripAdvisor.  Fun & tasty with a nice side dish of history.

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Day 5: Just docked in San Juan at 6:45AM.  Weather is great.  79F and a teensy bit hazy.  Predicted high today of 90F with 0% precip.  Not much to photograph yet.  View looking northwest from the dock.

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It’s a short day here (all-aboard at 1PM).  I’m doing the Old and New San Juan tour operated by United Tour Guides that meets on the dock at 8:45AM. 

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The Old and New San Juan tour was a bit of a bust.

This started and ran smoothly.  I especially like the way they handle tours out of the port here.  Instead of lining up by station number, you just turn right at the end of the pier and they immediately start putting a van-load of passengers together.  When they hit capacity (15 in this case), off you go and they just start collecting people for the next van.  I was out there a bit early, along with more than 15 others who booked the same tour.  They launched us ahead of the scheduled time.

The tour was a little over 2 hours.  Our first stop was a short distance from the port, and we had 15 minutes to poke our heads into the Capitol building.  Good for a rotunda dome photo, a peek at the PR constitution, and a few historical displays.  Granted, the 10-bizillion-tiled dome is very pretty.

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Next stop (um, drive-by) was the castle/fort Castillo de San Cristobal.  We drove up the mock entrance, and then straight back out.  No stop and absolutely no vantage from the van to photograph anything but a close-up of a limestone wall.  I’ll spare you.  As we were admiring the wall, I thought to myself, “Self — that might have been interesting to go inside and look around.”

Next stop was the Cementerio Santa Maria.  We stopped there for 10 minutes to admire the cemetery and ocean from afar, and to get a distant view of the rump-end of Castillo San Filipe del Moro, that we would also not be visiting.

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Next we were let off at Plaza Colon. Mostly souvenir shops and restaurants.  Some people decided to tour the Marshall’s store.  I had a $16 Margarita and bought a colorful carved stone turtle to keep my towel animals company.

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Having concluded our whirlwind tour of historic Old San Juan, we skedaddled across the bridge to explore New San Juan.  15 minutes later we arrived at a tiny park the size of two basketball courts, within a short walk to the beach behind the Hotel Coronado.  The main attraction here was the Ben & Jerry’s.  We had 25 minutes to admire the grass, the ocean view, and Ben & Jerry’s air conditioning while eating Coconut Seven Layer Bar ice cream.

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Ocean view was pretty.

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And, that was a wrap.  Back to the ship.

The one thing I really did like was our driver/guide Diego.  During our drive time, he did give us a lot of relevant history of all the interesting stuff we wouldn’t be experiencing.  I think I’m just cranky because Mr. & Mrs. Talksloud-Alot in the seats behind me were compelled to babble on continuously, loudly, and over Diego’s narration the entire time.  I wish I’d brought a couple of extra socks. I’m happy to report their good for nothing son will at least be helping install new window screens while they’re gone  

Departure was right on time.  Lucky for the 2 pier runners (had ‘em today!) who did the 100 yard dash at 12:58 to just squeak in under the 1PM all-aboard time.  Not so lucky for the other 3 of 5 people they’d been calling on the PA for since 12:50.  Oops.

Tip: get your spot on the starboard side rail early (like at least 15 minutes before departure) if you want to snap some great pics on the way out to sea.  The railing is really packed for this departure.

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4 minutes ago, mk-ultra said:

Tip: get your spot on the starboard side rail early (like at least 15 minutes before departure) if you want to snap some great pics on the way out to sea.  The railing is really packed for this departure.

I found this to be true for Freedom as well which doesn't even embark until 8:30pm! Packed starboard railings even when the view was just of a dark city; El Morro doesn't photograph well at night. 😜

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About an hour away from our scheduled docking time of 10AM in Labadee.  All-aboard is 5:30PM today.

It’s still too hazy to get a decent pic, but the hills along the coast here are lookers.

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Near as I can tell from topo maps, the tallest peak is “Morne Jean” at around ~2200 feet.

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Did about 3.5 hours at Labadee today.  87F, no breeze.  Basically just did a walkabout of the entire place, then encamped at the suites Barefoot Beach area.  Had a couple of Labadoozies, read my book until lunch and ate some marginal food (hey -- they're anything if not consistent; same as the last time I was here a decade ago).  Followed that with another Labadoozie and more bookworming.

Barefoot Beach area was great.  Not crowded at all, and anyone who wanted a lounger in the shade of a palm tree could get one without going all chog about it.

Water temp was perfect.

3.5 hours was just right for me.  Now I get a nearly empty ship until late this afternoon. 🙂

 

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Noticed they were doing lifeboat training today, so I bopped down to deck 5 to make an inquisitive nuisance of myself.

Putt-putt-putt... I’m a lifeboat!  Putt-putt-putt... 

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Look at how spacious I am!  You and 369 of your closest friends fit in me!  Hope you wore deodorant.

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This is my friend.  We have our ups and downs.

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Not sure who this guy is, but he likes bossing me around.

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The Star Class lifeboats have a wet bar and priority boarding.  Keep that SeaPass handy.

 

 

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Pulled away from the dock at exactly 5:30PM.  At around 5PM, overcast skies moved in and gave us a brief spritz of rain and a very welcome 10 degree temperature drop.  It feels great on deck.  I’d normally stick around for the sunset, but I’ve got a lamb shank to shank and a casino to teach a lesson.

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Day 7: Sea day # 3.

Great weather again. We’ve got some altostratus providing high cloud cover and keeping the temp at a very reasonable 80F with a constant light breeze. Today’s plan: pool deck, suites sun deck, boardwalk stroll to watch divers practicing, finish the book I wish wouldn’t end.  Early dinner at 150 CP and more blackjack.

We pull into Port Everglades tomorrow at 2AM.

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4 hours ago, mk-ultra said:

We pull into Port Everglades tomorrow at 2AM.

Dang, that is really early! is there a storm heading your way that the captain's trying to keep ahead of or something? When I sailed Freedom out of Port Everglades last year, I think we returned to the port closer to 6 AM than 2.

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3 hours ago, JLMoran said:

Dang, that is really early! is there a storm heading your way that the captain's trying to keep ahead of or something? When I sailed Freedom out of Port Everglades last year, I think we returned to the port closer to 6 AM than 2.

Maybe the Captain has a really hot date......kinda of early, not a "nooner" but and "early bird special"?:3_grin:

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5 hours ago, JLMoran said:

Dang, that is really early! is there a storm heading your way that the captain's trying to keep ahead of or something? When I sailed Freedom out of Port Everglades last year, I think we returned to the port closer to 6 AM than 2.

No significant weather anywhere on the way back or at Fort Lauderdale... nothing really going on in the Atlantic at all.  We lazily passed the full length of Cuba at 5 knots this afternoon.  We’re back up to 18 knots now at ~10PM about halfway past the Bahamas after our northern turn.

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Getting off the ship and through customs was a breeze this morning.  I always do the self-hauling departure.  At 7:30AM, I and my luggages lugged ourselves down to deck 5.  It took about 20 minutes to complete the 3/4 lap of the jogging track to card-out and head down the gangway to CBP.  Port Everglades has the fancy biometric face scanners.  I was through Customs in all of 15 seconds.

Grabbed a cab to the W.  About halfway through the ride, I noticed the driver hadn’t started the meter.  Hrm.  I don’t think they flat-rate anything here, do they?  Trip from W to the ship was $13.  Unmetered trip from the ship back to the W was $20.  Whatever.

Weather here is great.  I know, I need to invest in more adjectives.  82F with little broken clouds aspiring to turn into cumulous.  Out by the pool, they give a nice shady break about every 5 minutes.  Maybe some rain starting at 5PM.

Scored an excellent room upgrade.  Ocean facing 12th floor corner room with a wrap-around balcony.  Very much liking it.  Checked rates — the room I got is priced 2x higher than the room I booked.  W00t!  After baking at the pool for 4 hours, I’m watching other people bake while I enjoy the shade and the breeze up here.

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🙂

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Random thoughts and loose-ends as I wrap this trip up:

- In Phillipsburg, bring cash if you are visiting the Amsterdam Cheese Shop on your own or as part of a tour.  I saw quite a few people disappointed that they couldn’t make a CC purchase and didn’t have cash to cover it.

- Go to Maho beach if you hate beaches and love crowds.

- In Coastal Kitchen, you absolutely want to try the cured salmon appetizer, and the seared branzino and braised lamb shank entrees.  The cured salmon was 3/4” cubes (belly meat instead of filet?) with the usual cast of creme fraiche, dill, chives and a splash of lemon, served on squares of dense and nutty pumpernickel bread.  It was amazing.  The branzino was the the #1 stand-out dish for the entire cruise.  Perfectly cooked, skin on, seared until skin was crispy — served over a bed of sautéed large-dice squash and zucchini, also perfectly cooked and seasoned.  Good enough, in fact, that I asked if I could thank the person working the fish station.  That’s tough to get perfect in a regular kitchen, much less on a ship.  The lamb shank was done just right as well.  Braised within an inch of its life, perfectly tender, and served over garlic-y orzo and spinach dotted with pearl onions.  Drool.

- If you need to resolve something at Guest Services and are an early-bird, go down there at 6AM on day two.  Two people working the counter, zero people in line.

- If you want to see San Juan, absolutely skip any of the cruise itineraries that give you a short (1PM out) day.  Last time I, caught a cruise originating from there and arrived 2 days early to explore.  Personally, I won’t be doing a cruise with a short San Juan visit again.  This is a place you definitely want to linger a bit... go out to Arecibo, see more than just the capitol.  Totally worth planning more time in PR.

- After a bit of Googling, it looks like the unmetered taxi ride from Port Everglades is a common scam.  Make them start the meter.  And taxi drivers are wondering why Uber and Lyft are eating their lunch?  Taxis in my home city were a similar shit-show until competition finally forced them to clean up their act.

 

 

 

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See that little band of grey extending just below the horizon hiding the two ships?  That's a curtain of approaching rain.  Winds have really kicked up.  Folks still on the beach and at the pool.  This should be fun to watch.

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And voilà, suddenly no problem getting a chair.

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Fluffy clouds on the horizon are starting to do their towering-q strut.

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On 9/29/2019 at 5:40 PM, mk-ultra said:

This sounds stupid as hell, but I left my wide-brimmed hat in my hotel room.

Called the W.  They sent someone up to my room, found it on the couch where I’d left it, and security will hold it for me (staying with them again next Sunday at the end of this cruise).

 

Thanks for the review. I really enjoyed your writing style. However, I am concerned... you made no mention of your hat on your return... Did you get it back? :8_laughing:

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Stray thoughts - 

1) We stopped in the Amsterdam Cheese Shop on our walk back from town and it was kind of neat! Bought some cheese to snack on an a couple local craft bears - one of them ironically named after Irma. The butterflies everywhere were really cool to watch! 

2) The first sea day was SO WINDY!!!!! 

3) There were A LOT of kids on this cruise for early October - and quite a few poorly watched with lots of kids running the hallways. We learned in Labadee that "throw the sand in the air" is now a valid game to play at the beach, evidently.

Another family decided to jam themselves in to the back high top we were sitting in during Mama Mia and talk loudly enough that we left after ten minutes. Not really something I can complain about, but holy crap we got annoyed with people. 

Edit - The last point aside, we had a wonderful time and can't wait for our next adventure with Royal. Allure holds a special place in our hearts, and we will book her again at some point after her next dry dock. She needs a little TLC. 

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7 hours ago, FionaMG said:

Thanks for the review. I really enjoyed your writing style. However, I am concerned... you made no mention of your hat on your return... Did you get it back? :8_laughing:

I'm thrilled to report the hotel did indeed hang onto my hat for the week and we were reunited on Sunday!  Hugged the hat.  😛

 

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