2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 8

Today’s port of call on the cruise was Curaçao, another one of the Dutch islands. We again took a bus tour to get a feel for the island. It took us through the city of Willemstad, including seeing the pontoon bridge, before stopping at the Curaçao Museum. We spent some time there, looking at the exhibits and talking to our guide before getting back on the bus to head to the original Curaçao liqueur distillery. There are a number of imitators, but this is the real thing. They’re a pretty small operation, which explains why it can be tough to get, even in a city as big as Dallas/Fort Worth. We got to do a tasting, including some other flavors I hadn’t heard of before like coffee and rum raisin. While in the gift shop I picked up a bottle of the blue and orange colors, as well as some miniatures of the other flavors, all at pretty decent prices. We boarded our bus and drove to the Hato Caves. The caves are limestone caves, with the formations that you’d expect from that geology, except that they’re in what was the coral reef millions of years ago. There was a bit of a hike, through more rain, to get to them, and they’re on the small side, but they’re in good shape and it was an enjoyable stop on the tour. That was about the end of the tour, so we drove back to Willemstad and got dropped off in the city so that we could walk around and do some final shopping.

When we got to town, the pontoon bridge was closed, so we walked around the open air market on that side, picked up a few things, and tried to kill some time in the hopes that it’d open. Sadly, that wasn’t to be, so we hid out from another rain shower, waiting to board the free water taxi. Once on the other side, we walked around looking for somewhere to eat and settled on a small cafe. Service was a little slow, mostly because they were short staffed. I enjoyed a couple beers, including a Venezuelan one, and had a great Thai curry dish.

With our bellies full, we walked around a little more, didn’t really find anything that we wanted to buy, so we started back to the ship. This time the pontoon bridge was open, so we got to walk across, getting a great view of both sides of the city, as well as some colonial forts. There were a few vendors set up right in front of the ship and I managed to score a shirt, another Christmas tree ornament, and a few small souvenirs.

After dinner we decided to do a load of laundry because some of my dive gear had gotten pretty smelly. And yes, I did rinse it as soon as possible after getting back. Thankfully the washer took care of it, and the cabin wasn’t funky any more.

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 6

Here it is! Christmas Day in the Caribbean has finally come, and we’re in port in Grenada. We booked a tour of the island, and really enjoyed it. This is an island that we wouldn’t mind coming back to. Unfortunately, it was pouring when we arrived and I had to run back up to the cabin to grab our ponchos. We got off the ship, made our way to the port building, and waited out the rain. Once it cleared, we got on the bus and started the tour. Our guide took us through many of the small villages that make up Grenada before stopping at the Dougaldston Spice Estate, one of the spice plantations on the island. We got to see nutmeg growing on the trees, as well as learning how it is harvested and prepared for sale. In addition we got to try some of the local chocolate, which was delicious. From there we headed in to Gouyave to visit the Gouyave Nutmeg Station, one of the nutmeg processing stations. It was amazing to see fifty pound sacks of nutmeg sitting there waiting to be shipped out. And our noses were definitely overwhelmed by the scents in the air. Before we left, we picked up a bunch of nutmeg, mace, and other spices at incredibly low prices. Next on the tour was the Grand Etang National Park, which was incredibly beautiful. The Grenadans have done a good job preserving the natural beauty of the area while still making it accessible to visitors. We nosed around a little, took some pictures, tried some rum punch, and then got back on the bus to go to the last stop on the tour. The final stop was one of the forts that overlooks the harbor. The view was spectacular, even with another one of the rain showers coming on.

With the tour completed and our backpack full of spices, we headed back to the ship to enjoy the rest of our Christmas day. That included a short nap before getting dressed up for Christmas Dinner in the main dining room. They had a few special items on the menu, but the real treats were dessert. I had the English Christmas Pudding and Heather had the gingerbread soufflé.

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 4

The cruise’s port of call for today was Sint Maarten, an island split between The Netherlands and France. We took a bus tour of the island that covered both the Dutch and French sides. The tour was great, thanks to our guides and drivers. They really missed their calling because they’d make a great comedy team. We got to see some of the coast, as well as the major towns on both the French and Dutch sides. I picked up some earrings for Heather and did a little shopping for myself as well.

Once the tour was done, we asked to be dropped off at the main drag on the Dutch side to do a little more shopping and to grab a snack. We found a truly obnoxiously loud Hawaiian shirt for a friend. I mean this thing can cause hearing damage. We really hope he likes it. After assaulting our ears with The Shirt, we swung by Kay’s Fine Jewelry to see if the ship’s shopping host’s recommendations were legit, and were pleasantly surprised. It’s a family owned store, and they really do understand customer service. Heather got a few more sparklies, blue ones this time, and I owe our salesman a Gronk shirt.

After that we went looking for some of the guava berry rum that has been talked about. We found a store selling it and doing tastings. It’s actually pretty good, and might make a good base for home made vanilla. Having secured a bottle, and being a bit peckish, we hit one of the bars, Pirates In Paradise, on the beach to grab a snack, a beer, and use their wifi. The bar’s owner is an American expat and a huge Ohio State fan, which is what drew us in. He even has an inflatable buckeye mascot out front.

We then returned to the ship and did our dinner and walking laps routine.

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 3

This was our first sea day, which meant relaxation was the theme. We didn’t do too much except for exploring. Today was also the first time for the Pub Lunch, something Princess does on at least one sea day of every cruise. The pub serves traditional British pub food, such as fish and chips, bangers and mash, and pudding. I had one of the Seawitch IPAs with my fish and chips. Princess has teamed up with some craft breweries, including Strike Brewing Company to make a variety of craft beers that are exclusively available on their ships. They’ve also got a red ale that I’m going to try before the end of the cruise. I stopped by the jewelry shop and bought a watch I’d been looking at. It’ll go nicely with our formal wear.

Sea days also mean formal nights for dinner. We always bring our formal wear, my kilts and Heather’s dresses, because it’s fun getting dressed up for dinner. Tonight was special because we planned to make up for a mistake we made during our wedding. We spent so much time getting pictures with our families and friends that we got no pictures of just the two of us. And that’s not our photographer’s fault, he really did try, but we just wouldn’t play along. So we packed the formal wear we wore for the wedding and wore it tonight. Heather’s wedding dress is a traditional Indian outfit, and is quite beautiful if I do say so myself. While we were taking pictures, Heather got some help with her dupata thanks to a random Indian lady, which was much appreciated. So hopefully the pictures turn out well.

After dinner, we stopped off at Crooners to listen to Perry sing. Some of our dinner mates insisted on us waiting because Perry loves men in kilts. He was definitely amused, and does put on a good show. Following that, we returned to our cabin and changed back in to normal clothes before heading topside to get to our step goals before turning in for the night.

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 2

The cruise’s first port of call is at Princess Cays, Princess’s private section of Elutheria Island in the Bahamas. There are no port facilities here, so we had to tender in using the ship’s lifeboats. That was interesting, and it was good to see them actually used. This is a beach stop, and not much more, but we still got off the ship, walked around a bit, and did some shopping. I turned the phone back on to do an Untappd check-in at one of the many bars. LTE wasn’t available, but the 3G service was speedy enough to get the job done. We headed back to the ship to relax before dinner. Sorry, note taking has failed already, no report on what was for dinner. It was delicious, but I’m in vacation mode now. After dinner we went topside to get our walking in. We’ve set a goal of at least 10,000 steps per day, as measured by our Fitbits, in order to offset some of the food we’ll be eating.

Heather and I on Princess Cays during our Christmas cruise

Heather and I on Princess Cays

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 1

We got up, got moving, and walked down to St. Bart’s Cafe for a solid breakfast before the boarding insanity. Then we headed back, checked out, and tried to catch a cab to the port. After 20 unsuccessful minutes, as we were about to give up, the hotel manager came out and got us one on the first hail. The trip to the port was an adventure, because with eight cruise ships unloading and loading at the same time, the port was significantly overloaded. Check-in was actually more efficient than I recall our previous cruises were, and despite the crowds, we were on the Royal Princess relatively quickly.

We got settled in to our cabin, an interior on the Marina deck, and then set out to get lunch and explore. Lunch was in one of the main dining rooms, where both Heather and I ordered an antipasto consisting of pickled vegetables and hard salami. For our main courses, I had beef tenderloin and Heather had a chicken cacciatore with pasta. Finally, for dessert we both had an apple tart.

After lunch, we found a quiet spot so that I could call one of my credit card companies to notify them that I was going out of the country. I’d forgotten to do it before we left, and it turned out to be a good thing as they’d turned the card off due to a significant number of fraudulent charges that came in overnight. The problem was that the card in question was the one I had set up for the ship’s billing. So after taking care of getting a replacement, it was down to passenger services to put a different card on the account.

Having taken care of that, we went back to our cabin to wait for our luggage and get ready for the safety muster. All of our bags arrived, and everything was intact, so the last major worry was gone. By then it was time for the safety muster, which is mandatory for all passengers, no matter how many cruises they have under their belts. From there, we went back to the cabin, dropped off our life vests, and went topside for sail away. The wind was still rough, but it was worth it to watch us sailing out as the first of the eight ships leaving that day. And hearing both Princess ships’ horns playing the theme from The Love Boat was great.

Royal Princess Sailaway

Sailaway from Port Everglades on the Royal Princess

We then explored some more and went back to the cabin to unpack and get ready for dinner. We chose the any time dining because, for us, a fixed dining time just didn’t work out. Tonight we started out with red snapper ceviche for me and fresh melons for Heather. Our next course was a chowder for me and a caesar salad for Heather. For our main course, I had a flank steak done in a Caribbean style and Heather had pork tenderloin with an apricot sauce. For dessert, I ordered a mango cheesecake and Heather had a flourless chocolate cake.

With full bellies, we retired to our cabin to relax and get ready for tomorrow.

2015 Christmas Cruise – Day 0

We got up, had some breakfast, and headed to the airport for our flight to Fort Lauderdale. The flight was uneventful, with an on time departure and landing, which is just the way we like it. We got to our hotel, the Harbor Breeze Inn, checked in, and then hopped on the Sun Trolley to check out the area. While riding it, we ran in to a guy who works for one of the local restaurants, which he recommended for dinner. When we got back, we walked down to the main drag to check it out and look for dinner. The wind had really kicked up, which made dining outside not very appealing, so we ended up at Coconuts, the place our trolley mate had recommended.

We sat outside, facing the marina, which wasn’t as bad as we thought because the building blocked most of the breeze. The food was amazing, though. I started out with Funky Buddah’s Oyster Saison. I’ve never had a beer brewed with oysters, and was pleasantly surprised at just how good it was. I’d definitely order this again. As for food, we started out with a shared heirloom tomato salad that was fantastic. Since Heather doesn’t like blue cheese, so we had them bring it on the side, and it goes well with the vinaigrette the tomatoes are served in. For our main courses, I ordered an appetizer portion of their signature coconut breaded friend shrimp as well as a bowl of lobster bisque. Heather had the fried chicken biscuit, which was delicious, in an attempt to save some room for dessert. Dessert was a Key Lime pie for me and a chocolate cake with pretzel crust for Heather.

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and turned in.

Frank Turner At The House Of Blues

Heather and I went out to the House of Blues in Dallas to see Frank Turner, along with Skinny Lister and Beans on Toast. I’ve seen both Frank Turner and Skinny Lister before, as opening acts for the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly respectively. Heather hadn’t seen either of them before, so it was going to be a great evening.

We started out with dinner at FM Smokehouse, which was a disappointment. They’ve cut back their menu pretty severely, to the point where it’s just not worth going anymore. I don’t know if they’re running in to some financial difficulties, but every time we go in, the menu gets smaller and more generic.

After that, we got ourselves parked and headed in for the show. The first act up was Beans on Toast, a solo singer. He was ok, but I probably wouldn’t base a ticket purchase on whether or not he was on the lineup.

Next up was Skinny Lister, an English roots/punk band that’s a real blast to see. They did a relatively full set, playing some new stuff as well as some things from their first album. The audience was definitely involved, singing along as well as helping the band members crowd surf.

After a short intermission, Frank Turner took the stage for his set. He’s gotten airplay on SiriusXM for years, which is how Heather found out about him. And when I saw him as an opening act he did a great job. But he’s definitely improved since then, with a much stronger stage presence and a cleaner production. He was truly enjoyable to listen, and sing along, to.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and we made our way home to crash out.

MITM 2015 – Day 4

The party’s over, time to go, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. MITM 2015 has come to an end. Last night was really freakin cold, with lows in the 30s. This Texas boy isn’t used to camping in weather like that any more. I grabbed some coffee, warmed up a little, and started breaking camp. With the bike packed up, I said my goodbyes and got on the road.

The first stop was Benld, a small coal mining community not far from the farm, to attend Liturgy at Holy Dormition Orthodox Church. The church has been there for over a hundred years, but sadly, there was no Liturgy this morning, so I made my way over to I-55 and headed south. Since I kept the Liturgical fast, I stopped for a brunch before crossing in to Missouri, and then continued on my way to Fayetteville, Arkansas.

After I arrived and got settled in to the hotel, I called a cab and got a lift over to Apple Blossom Brewery for dinner and a flight of beers. I’ve heard about this place a number of times on the Basic Brewing Radio podcast and had to try it out. It wasn’t terribly crowded, and I was seated immediately.

My tasting flight was as follows:

  • Upper Wharton Creek Fresh Hop Ale
  • Sturdy Hippy Sour Saison
  • Everly Pale Ale
  • Helles
  • Unwind Wheat
  • Grumpy Maverick Imperial Rye IPA
  • Hazy Morning Coffee Stout

All of the beers were very good, definitely showing the skill of the brewers there. And the food was excellent as well. I had the fish and chips, because, well, it’s comfort food. And for dessert I had a pecan pie that was to die for. This place is a hidden gem, and if you’re in Fayetteville, please stop in, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

MITM 2015 – Day 2

I got up, grabbed some breakfast, and packed the bike up. I’m definitely missing the Tour-Pak, and will be adding one as soon as funds permit. But the removable saddlebag liners really did help out. I topped off the tank and got back on I-44, heading north and east towards Illinois. The ride was pretty uneventful, and still warm, though I don’t think that’s going to last.

I stopped for lunch at Missouri Hick BBQ in Cuba, MO, a place we’ve eaten at before. If you’re in the area, you really should stop by. Their sloped, gravel parking lot was the first real challenge of the trip. I was really worried that I’d drop the bike while backing it down in to a parking spot. Thankfully it stayed upright, and I enjoyed some great brisket while my adrenaline level returned to normal. Another splash of fuel and I’m back on the highway, heading for the party.

Not much to report for the rest of the ride. The bike ran well, and I’m even getting used to having real cruise control, which is a wonderful thing.

I pulled in to the farm in the late afternoon, got caught up with some really good friends, got my tent pitched, and unloaded the bike. After that it was time for some beer and dinner and then time around the camp fire. The weather’s definitely gotten cooler, and they’ve forecast lows in the 40s. I’ll be fine sleeping, but I’m heading to Peoria to see Reese tomorrow. I’m thinking that’s going to be a cold ride. But it’ll be worth every bit of it.