Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Home Again

Mr.T and I arrived home last night after spending ten days cruising from New York to the Eastern Caribbean. We stopped off in San Juan, St.Thomas, St.Maarten and finally Tortolla before heading back to New York. 

The trip began a little choppy as our flight from Billy Bishop Airport to Newark on Porter was cancelled leaving us a little stressed. We weren't sure we would have enough time to get from Newark airport to the cruise terminal, but thank goodness Porter was able to move us onto the next flight allowing us to arrive in Newark with enough time to get to Penn Station via the train. From the station we walked north through the streets to the Cruise Terminal and checked in with plenty of time before the ship left New York at 4:00. Walking Manhattan always leaves me with a wonderful feeling as the energy of the city. That day we were also racing a winter storm that was bearing down on the east coast of the United States. 

The cruise down the Hudson was truly beautiful and is something everyone should do at least once in their lives. As you float down the Hudson the skyline of Manhattan is visible in a manner that is truly magical. Once at sea our first night and day were rough because of the storm, leaving us and everyone on board with queasy stomachs. We were surprised that it was possible to feel seasick on a ship the size of the Gem. The ship we sailed on was larger than the previous ship and we found ourselves a little overwhelmed by some of the behaviour of our fellow passengers. At times they were  really rude, loud and overbearing, but these behaviours disappeared into the background once we met a few really nice couples. 

Seating for lunch one day we opted to sit with two other couples and discovered one couple, Joanne and Ken from West Point New York who were really sweet and pleasant. Later while tendering from the boat to the harbour of St.Thomas we met another couple, Tony and Marty from New Jersey who became our constant lunch companions for the remainder of the cruise. They were really fun, providing endless hours of amusing conversation and company. 
Some of the colourful architecture in San Juan

In each of the ports we did not use any of the cruise excursions opting instead to walk around the cities ourselves exploring what each island had to offer. San Juan in Puerto Rico was the most developed of all the islands and the old city was really beautiful. Because it is perched on a strategic point leading to the inner harbour it meant lots of climbing but the views were stunning. Leaving the boat early in the morning we explored the two castillos and then found a secluded rocky beach just behind the Presidential Palace. The beach was at the bottom of a set of stairs located behind a statue looking out to the sea and the rocky beach had a steep drop and intense waves. After becoming soaked we made our way back up to the street and walked to Escondido Beach in search of a calmer more sandy beach. Looking out to the Atlantic Escondido was landscaped like a resort and although we found the beaches on the Atlantic again too intense we found a quiet little bay behind these beaches with a thin strip of sand that was more our speed. 

After spending some time at this quiet, hidden beach we made our way back to the old town walking through some of the poorer sections of the city. We then walked around old town admiring the bright colours and diverse architecture of the buildings. There were little bits of Spain, France and New Orleans in the styling and design made magical by the bright colours of the buildings. 
A beautiful alley

Charlotte Amalie from the path to the cruise terminal

The next day we sailed to St.Thomas where we disappointed to learn that the ship was going to tender us into the town. This meant waiting until 9:30 in the morning before we were able to get off the boat. Of course those who booked excursions were the first to leave the boat leaving everyone else feeling like second class citizens. But once on land we were able to explore the small city. We walked from one end to the other discovering a more built up and polished section near the cruise ships. This was a theme throughout the cruise, the cruise terminals tended to have their own selection of shops and services, I guess for those who didn't want to make their way into the city. 

Philips burg from the boat

Of all the ports Sint Maarten was our favourite. We docked again in one of those decked out cruise terminals, but instead of walking through this we caught a water taxi across the harbour to the city and thank goodness we did. On board the water taxi we met Tony and Marty an older gay couple from New Jersey. After chatting we decided to meet later that day and for the rest of the cruise we found ourselves enjoying their company and their wonderful stories. They truly made the cruise special for us. Once in Philipsburg we caught a mini-bus to Maho Beach on the other side of the island so we could finally have some nice sandy beach time. After changing into our swimsuits behind a towel (there were no change areas) we enjoyed a sandy beach watching as small planes flew just over our heads into the airport just across the road behind the beach. It was a fun experience. 

Fort Louis in Marigot

We then caught another bus to Marigot on the French side of the island exploring its small harbour and town. After this we caught another mini bus back to Philipsburg exploring the streets behind the beach. Philips burg reminded us of a European island. A sandy beach looked out to the sea which was laid out with chairs and umbrellas that were rented out. Behind these was a boardwalk and then set back from this a row of restaurants that ran the length of the town. Each restaurant or beach shack offered different food and drinks and the whole atmosphere was relaxed and really magical. In the streets behind these were the more upscale shops offering everything anyone could want. After walking up and down the streets we stopped for some conch fritters before making our way back to the cruise area. 
Cruise Ship Canyon on Sint Maarten

Sunrise on Tortola

Our last day was a short day on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. We again opted to walk around the town but found the island really was just the administrative capital for the Virgin Islands and that the only appeal had to be the beaches on the other side of the island. One of the wonderful things about the trip was how our skin felt while we were away. The sea air, the salt water of the ocean and the sand all came together leaving us with beautifully smooth skin that is hard to gain in Toronto's dry wintery environment. 

The last two days were spent racing back to New York allowing us to arrive early on Monday morning. After saying goodbye to everyone we met on board we spent the day walking around Manhattan heading north to Central Park and Bethesda Fountain, our go to spot for any NYC trip. Then we walked south down 5th Avenue to 21st Street so we could pick up some yummy's at Trader Joe's. We then made our way back to Penn Station we caught the train to Newark airport for our flight home. 

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