Christmas/Anniversary Cruise 2021: Day 3, Part 2, Christmas Day! Mount Isabela de Torres, Dominican Republic
We had a great time on our walking tour of Puerto Plata. We returned to our minibus to climb the mountain! It was a long steep winding road to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres. We got a good look at the beautiful countryside along the way. The higher we climbed the better the views became. Towards the top, the road was very steep! Our minibus was having a hard time. Rambo told us that we would probably need to get out and push! Luckily the minibus made it to the top without our help. When we arrived at the top we were literally in the clouds. We were there to see the Christ statue on the peak. It was barley visible through the clouds. Puerto Plata below us was totally obscured. The Christ the Redeemer Statue is a smaller replica of the same statue in Rio de Janeiro. The clouds were moving rapidly and we were able to get nice views of the statue and Puerto Plata below. There is a cable car from Puerto Plata to the peak of Isabel de Torres. It was temporarily closed.
The Isabel de Torres National park has a beautiful botanical garden. After we took in the views of the valley below, we took a walk through the garden. The stone pathway wound its way through the beautiful lush garden. We came to a small cave. Rambo said he brought a group of 14 here and only 13 came out! He was kidding, I think….
There was a replica of an early Dominican home complete with its own herb garden. Rambo was very excited to tell us all about how the early Dominicans lived. He plucked herbs from the garden and invited everyone to smell how fresh they were. He was really having fun showing us how they used a device that looked like an old butter churn to grind coffee. He was very funny shaking his booty as he ground the coffee. He was telling us all about the house and how they lived. The roof was made from the base of palm fronds. It was a very interesting place. The path wound its way down the hill and was fairly steep! We were worried that we were going to need to go back up the hill! We were happy to see that Rambo had the driver bring the mini bus down the hill to meet us.
SpaceX Crew 3 launch
The SpaceX Crew 3 launch, transporting 4 astronauts to the International Space Station. Photographed from the Project Gemini Memorial at Space View Park in Titusville Florida. This launch had been postponed several times. I picked this location for the original launch date. Once I pick a location I try to stick with it. I used this location one other time, but there was heavy cloud cover and the rocket disappeared shortly after takeoff. So I wanted to give this location another try. There was light rain falling as I left the house, not a good sign. The rain was supposed to stop by launch time, but what about the clouds? When I arrived, the moon was covered by clouds. It was looking like I may have a repeat of the previous cloud situation. As launch time got closer the moon and a few stars became visible, I was hopeful. The sky was pitch black and it was hard to see if the clouds were going to be an issue or not. As soon as the rocket ignited it lit up a huge cloud bank! Shortly after lifting off the rocket disappeared into the clouds. A collective “awwwww” arose from the crowd. I waited and waited, it peeked out and was gone again, finally the rocked reappeared, although partially covered by clouds. The clouds are not always bad. A good night launch photo looks better with some clouds. You just don’t want too many. If I try this location again and there is another cloud issue, I will begin to think the twins have a cloud curse. The area around the Gemini Monument was recently renovated. They installed some new LED lights. This is a really dark area and needed some light. From a photography standpoint, the lights created a bunch of crazy lens flairs and a shadow from my lens hood. I took the lens hood off for a test photo, this made way more lens flairs. I kept the lens hood on and dealt with the shadow. Over all I was pretty happy with my image and it was a beautiful launch to watch.
Christmas/Anniversary Cruise 2021: Day 3, Part 1, Christmas Day! Amber Cove, Dominican Republic
Christmas Day, December 25, 2021, we sailed into Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. The port is on the north side of the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. The north side of the island is in the Atlantic Ocean and the south side is in the Caribbean Sea. The port at Amber Cove is owned and built by the Carnival Cruise line, Holland America is a Carnival company. The port has two areas, a shopping area and a resort type area. The shopping area has a dozen or so shops with all types of souvenirs. The resort side has a swimming pool with a swim up bar. The pool is free for cruise passengers to use. Pool cabanas are available to rent. There are also some cabanas in the cove for rent. All types of watercraft can be rented to use in the cove. The sky bar is perched on a hilltop with a great view of the cove. If you wanted to, you could just spend the day at Amber Cove. The historical town of Puerto Plata is about 6 miles from Amber Cove. We wanted to see more of the Dominican Republic, so we chose to book a shore excursion. We could have just grabbed a taxi into town, but in this case, the shore excursion was the better option. We booked the Mountain Views and City Sights shore excursion. We met our guide Rambo, AKA Sylvester Stallone, AKA Juan Mendoza, in Amber Cove.
Our first stop was the town of Puerto Plata (Silver Port). Our guide Rambo, said that when Christopher Columbus stopped here on his first voyage, the water in the port looked like silver. It has also been said that the mountain was covered in clouds and Columbus said it looked like silver. I think that would have made it Silver Mountain though. The day we were there both were true, so it could be either or both.
Our group of 14, stepped out of the minibus at Parque Central Independencia, a cute little park in the center of town. It was all decked out for Christmas! Rambo gave us small stickers to wear, he said they identified us as “The Rambo Family.” Adjacent to the park was St. Philip the Apostle Cathedral. We were there during a Christmas Mass. After telling us all about the cathedral, Rambo said it was OK to go inside and take some photos. It seemed a little awkward to me, but we all slipped into the back of the cathedral and took a few photos.
We walked across the street to the Island Treasures Gift shop. There, Rambo was telling us about Dominican amber. Amber is fossilized tree sap that can trap all kinds of things inside of it like insects and small animals. Along with the amber color there is also red, green, and the rare blue. Dominican amber is also the inspiration for the movie Jurassic Park. Another Dominican item he told us about was Mama Juana, a spiced rum/red wine drink, flavored with tree bark. There is actually tree bark in the bottle. It was tasty but very sweet! It’s supposed to be a strong aphrodisiac. There was a very light and brief rain shower as we finished up in the gift shop.
We walked to our next location as another cruise ship was sliding into the dock at the Puerto Plata Cruise Port. Passing another HAL tour group, we came to Paseo de Dona Blanca. An alleyway painted bright pink! It was very interesting to see and photograph.
Just down the street we came to Umbrella Street. A cobblestone pedestrian street decorated with colorful umbrellas. There are several small shops along the street. Rambo took us into a chocolate shop for a sample of some yummy hot chocolate. I was having fun photographing the umbrellas reflecting in the water puddles on the street. Back to the minibus to climb the mountain!
Christmas/Anniversary Caribbean Cruise: Day 2, Day at sea.
The first full day of our cruise, Christmas Eve, December 24, 2021. We spent the full day at sea enjoying the ship. We started the day with a nice breakfast in bed! Well not really in bed but we could’ve if we had wanted to. The night before we filled out our breakfast menu and hung it on our stateroom door. In the morning, right at the time we specified, our hot breakfast was delivered to our stateroom. It was very nice watching the world pass by through our veranda window as we ate our breakfast. It was very yummy too! We were far from camera ready so, sorry, no photos.
We wanted to work off that wonderful breakfast and also minimize the weight gain that always happens on a cruise. We took a brisk walk on the windy Promenade deck. We did 6 laps which equals two miles. We had to stop from time to time to watch the Brown Boobies chasing the Flying Fish that were jumping out of the water as the ship cut through the waves. As we were walking, I was seeing lots of photographs. So I took an extra lap to take some photos.
We were on our way to the Dominican Republic. This is the port that was switched at the last minute right before we left. The cruise port at Amber Cove is a fair distance from the places that we wanted to visit, so we booked a shore excursion. A shore excursion can be expensive, but in a port like this, it’s probably the best option. They were giving a talk about the shore excursions in the main showroom. We went to the talk to help us decide which excursion to do. We booked the Mountain Views and city sights shore excursion for the Dominican Republic.
Time to eat again! The reason the we always gain weight on a cruise is all of the wonderful food available pretty much anytime you want. We can’t let it go to waste! We popped up to the Lido deck and ordered a pizza for lunch.
There was another talk in the main showroom about the Caribbean. It turned out to be a sales pitch for rum. So we went back to our stateroom watched the flying fish and relaxed until it was time to get ready to eat again! This evening was gala night, so everyone dressed up for dinner. We had a very nice Christmas Eve dinner in the main dining room. After dinner we went to see the dance show in the main showroom. The Step One Dance Company put on a nice show.
Christmas / Anniversary Caribbean Cruise 2021: Day 1, Sail Away
My wife Robbie and I enjoy taking a cruise for Christmas and our anniversary. Unfortunately the past couple of years the cruise industry has been shut down. We have been unable to take our Christmas cruise. So we were really ready to cruise. Things have been getting better, the covid cases have been dropping. Everyone on the ship needed to be fully vaccinated and have a negative covid test to board the ship. Masks were also required everywhere inside of the ship, except your cabin and while eating or drinking. So this year we thought that we would take our Christmas cruise. We booked a 7 day Caribbean cruise with Holland American Cruise Line. Enter the Omicron variant! Covid cases were rising, ugh! We had committed to going, so we made the decision to continue with the cruise.
Our cruise departed from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 23rd. We were going to Grand Turk, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and Half Moon Cay Bahamas. A few days before the cruise we were told that the Grand Turk port would be replaced with a stop at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Apparently both ports are owned by Carnival Cruise line, Holland America is a Carnival company. The Grand Turk port only had enough personnel to accommodate one ship. Carnival and Holland America were taking turns at the port. It was Carnivals turn, so we got bumped to Puerto Plata. We had been to Grand Turk before on another cruise, so we were good with the switch.
We drove our car to Fort Lauderdale to start our cruise. The great thing about living in Florida is that we are a few hours drive from any Florida cruise port! We parked at the Park N Go parking lot. We took a 5 minute shuttle ride to our ship the Nieuw Amsterdam. Our last cruise in 2019 from Venice, Italy took hours to board the ship. The European ship was delayed by fog but still, after boarding started it took hours! This time in Ft Lauderdale, we boarded the ship in record time! In fairness, the latest ship was about 500 people short of being full. All of the passengers had staggered boarding times, we were in the 1:40pm boarding group. We arrived at the parking lot about 1:30pm. The shuttle dropped us off right at the ship. The cruise line baggage guys grabbed our bags from the curb. We walked into the cruise terminal. We had to wait for one couple in front of us to show our boarding passes, passports, negative Covid tests and Vaccine cards. They scanned our boarding pass and we went right to security. We put our carry on bags through the machine. From there we stopped at a kiosk and had our photos taken for our ship/room key cards. After the photos we walked right onto the ship. I think they scanned our boarding passes one more time, as we boarded the ship. We were in our cabin literally 15 minuets after we got off the parking lot shuttle! Our key cards were waiting for us in our mail slot.
Once on the ship everyone is required to do a mandatory muster drill. This is a practice run for everyone to gather at their assigned lifeboat in case of emergency. Normally the whole entire ship gathers on the promenade deck under their lifeboats. You are all massed together until everyone is there and listen to the safety instructions. It’s a very tedious and long process. Not to mention huge crowds of people and Covid. They changed their process for this cruise. This time we just needed to go visit our lifeboat, so we knew where it was. A crew member scanned our key cards, so they knew we had been there. Then we just needed to watch a safety video in our cabin. A much better process, thank you Holland America! We took in the view of the port on our way to the lifeboat.
When we sail out of a port, I like to go up on deck and watch the sail away. Robbie stayed in the cabin and I went to take some photos of the sail away. I like to watch the people, watching the people, as we sail through the port. People on shore are waving and yelling at the people on the ship and people on the ship are waving and yelling at the people on shore. Everyone is happy, taking photos, and having fun!
click on an image to se larger.
As we were sailing out to sea, we were treated to a nice sunset over the fantail. One of the best things about cruising is watching the sunset from the deck.
After enjoying the beautiful sunset, I took walk around the Lido deck. There is the rear pool and hot tubs with a pool bar. There is also a pizza shop where you can get a made to order pizza. Moving inside we have the Lido Market buffet restaurant. This is where you can go just about anytime and grab a bite to eat, get something sweet, or something to drink, ice tea, water or coffee. Everything is usually pretty good! Moving through the Lido Market there is the second pool and hot tubs with the Lido pool bar. Get a tropical drink and sit by the pool or have a soak in the hot tub. There is also the Dive In restaurant, a walk up diner where you can get a hot dog, burger and fries. Robbie really liked the portabella mushroom sandwich! In case of inclement weather they roll the roof closed. We had great weather and the roof was open every day. They did close it at least one night. I think we passed through some spotty showers.
Back in our cabin, from our veranda, we got to enjoy the last of the setting sun as Fort Lauderdale faded into the distance. Our cruise was off to a great start!