Day five of our Christmas/Anniversary cruise, December 27, 2021. Today is the anniversary portion of our cruise, Robbie and my 15th wedding anniversary! We were sailing into St. Thomas U.S.V.I at sunrise. I went up to the upper promenade deck to watch the sunrise as we sailed into the islands. The islands were bathed in the warm golden hour glow as our ship glided past. The pilot boat slipped alongside and our St. Thomas pilot jumped onboard to guide our ship into the port.
The town of Charlotte Amalie was about two miles from the cruise port. We could have just walked into town from the port. We thought that it would be nice to get a birds eye view of the island. We booked a shore excursion that took us to Mountain Top, the highest point on St. Thomas. From Mountain Top there is a great view of the blue water of Magens Bay, the best beach on St Thomas. We met our tour group on the dock by the ship.
The gift shop at Mountain Top claims to be the home of the banana daiquiri. So naturally Robbie and I had to have an anniversary banana daiquiri! Of course the scenic overlook is through the gift shop.
We made a quick photo stop at Drake’s Seat, a scenic overlook where we got a nice view of the port and Charlotte Amalie on our way into town.
We arrived in Charlotte Amalie near Fort Christian, a fort built by Denmark and Norway in the 1600’s. We were on our own to explore the town. Our guide and safari bus driver would be back in 1 hour to take anyone who was ready back to the ship. Then again in another hour for a ride back to the ship, so we had two hours to explore. The historic town of Charlotte Amalie has cobblestone streets, lined by colorful colonial buildings with big wooden doors and iron hardware. It’s not hard to imagine the streets filled with pirates drinking grog and singing Yo-ho-ho! Unfortunately, a lot of these beautiful old buildings are filled with high end, high pressure jewelry stores. I think there were over a dozen jewelry stores in a three block area. That’s great if you are looking for jewelry but we did not need any jewelry today.
We needed to get off of the main street. There are several really pretty stone alleyways with shops and restaurants. In one of the alleyways we found Glady’s Cafe. We were getting hungry so we stopped in for a bite. It was Robbie and my anniversary! We were married 15 years ago in Jamaica. To calibrate I had the jerk chicken and a Red Stripe beer! It was great to be back in the Caribbean with my beautiful Angel on our anniversary! I love you honey!
We had a nice leisurely lunch and we missed our ride back to the ship. We needed to walk off all of the wonderful food that we had been eating on the cruise, so we took a nice long walk back to the ship. When you get back to the ship there is always cold wate and lemon-aid and my favorite the cold damp towel! We had a great day exploring Charlotte Amalie! The next day was a day at sea on our way to the Bahamas and then back to Florida.
Robbie and I had a nice, but hot, afternoon exploring Old San Juan. It was great walking through the colorful old buildings. And blue cobblestones, how great is that! Going up and down the hills in the heat was not so fun but Old San Juan was amazing! We went back to the ship to cool off and relax a bit. Our all aboard time wasn’t until 11:00pm. There was still plenty of time to continue exploring Old San Juan. I wore Robbie out with the hills and the heat and 1111 steps! Robbie was going to stay onboard the ship. I wanted to take advantage of the extended time in port to take some night photos of Old San Juan. I brought my travel tripod along just for tonight. I was so excited to get started that I walked off of the ship without my mask! I’m surprised that they didn’t say something when they scanned me off of the ship. Pretty much everyone in town had been wearing masks when we were in town earlier. I didn’t want to go back to the ship though, there was a Walgreens across the street from the ship. I went in to buy a mask, there were 10 or more people in line to checkout! I went down the street to a souvenir shop, I now own an Old San Juan mask.
I wanted to try and get a few photos at twilight so there would still be some color in the sky. That didn’t go quite as planned, twilight was short lived and the narrow streets hid the sky. I did get two images with twilight sky.
When I photograph a place like this, I like to wonder around and just follow my nose. I usually end up finding some interesting things. I found myself in Plaza de Armas, the original town square. The centerpiece is a fountain, the fountain was now the base for the town Christmas tree. City Hall is along one side of the plaza.
After Plaza de Armas, I ended up back at Umbrella Street. The Christmas lights were lit where the umbrellas usually hang. The Governors Mansion is at the end of the street. Earlier when we went by here the street was closed. It was open now for Navidad de Puerto Rico. There was music playing and they were projecting a light show onto the mansion. The street was narrow and there were a lot of people, so I didn’t venture down the street.
I continued walking and I saw a woman walking a dog down a narrow street. I was hoping to get a bit closer but she kept moving away from me. It was an interesting street so I kept going.
This brought me to the old city wall along the entrance to the harbor. I was just in time to see one of the other cruise ships leaving the port. I did a quick time check to make sure it wasn’t my ship! There is always a little fear of the ship leaving without you.
I knew where I was now, Robbie and I came down this hill earlier. Casa Blanca was at the top of the hill. I decided to walk up the hill. It ended up being a pretty interesting street.
I came to a wide walkway with steps, it was sort of like a courtyard/pathway. We came down these steps earlier as well. It looked pretty cool at night.
I continued walking and found some interesting places. I found the famous Puerto Rican flag door by Rosenda Alvarez that I had read about. It was originally the traditional red white and blue. In 2016 she repainted it black and white to reflect the gloomy political climate during that time. Although I had the flag door pinned on my map, I never looked at my map. I just stumbled on to it. I didn’t know anything about the Ricardo Alegria door. Ricardo was a cultural anthropologist and archeologist. He was responsible for the renovation and restoration of Old San Juan. I think they could have given him a better door, maybe a nice wall.
Then I found this beautiful cobblestone street with the Puerto Rican flag in lights! There was also a section of the blue cobblestones.
The flag in lights was like a beacon that I had to follow. I walked down the cobblestone street and found an amazing carousel. I didn’t know about any of these things. If I had been looking for some specific thing, rather than just wondering around, I probably would not halve found most of these things.
The carousel lead me to another Puerto Rican flag. I just stayed in this intersection for a while photographing the people walking around.
I ended up back at the cruise port and the Nieuw Amsterdam, it was still there, phewww! I wondered around the dock taking a few photos of the ship before boarding. I set up to take a photo of the ship with the ornamental pillars and a woman laid down and started doing some arm exercises. So I took her picture too.
I had lots of fun photographing Old San Juan at night. I was able to do two of my favorite things. Wonder around an old town with cobblestone streets and colorful buildings and night photography. Hopefully I was able to get a few good images to boot.
Yesterday we had an long but awesome day exploring the Dominican Republic. Back on the ship Robbie and I had a nice relaxing evening. No matter how you spend your time on board, full tilt nightclubbing or just relaxing as we did, your floating resort is on it’s way to your next adventure. One of the things that I like about cruising is, waking up to a new and exciting port. Today December, 26 2021 we were sailing into San Juan, Puerto Rico. This is actually our second time in San Juan. On our first cruise into San Juan we visited the El Yunque Rain Forest. The rain forest was great but we didn’t get to see much of San Juan. This time we wanted to explore Old San Juan. This is why it can be nice to revisit a port.
We weren’t due to dock in San Juan until noon so we were able to spend the morning on the ship. So we took the opportunity to have a nice leisurely breakfast in the main dinning room. Before breakfast we watched the sunrise from our veranda.
As we sailed into San Juan Harbor everyone was on deck. Our cruise director was describing the sights and history of Old San Juanover the P.A. system as we sailed past. The most prominent landmark on the coast is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th century Spanish fort built to protect the harbor. Several other San Juan landmarks were visible as we sailed into the harbor. A few other cruise ships were all ready docked as the Neiuw Amsterdam eased up to the dock. It’s amazing how maneuverable these huge ships are.
Next to Barrio La Perla is Cementerio Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis. An ornate cemetery from the mid 1800’s. Several prominent Puerto Ricans are buried here. The cemetery is outside of the city walls. We had to walk down a steep road to the bottom of the wall. Then through the wall to get to it. The cemetery was closed when we were there but I was able to get some photos through the fence. The other side of the cemetery is bordered by Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Built in the 16th century in honor of King Philip II of Spain to protect San Juan. Old San Juan is bookmarked by Castillo San Felipe del Morro on the west and Castillo de San Cristobal to the east.
Continuing our walk through the beautiful cobblestone streets of Old San Juan I was noticing several homes with decorative tile house numbers.
Casa Blanca, a whitewashed home, built for Juan Ponce de Leon, the first Governor of Puerto Rico. Unfortunately he died on his expedition to Florida, in search of the fountain of youth, before it was completed in 1521. The home is currently a museum. It was closed when we were there.
Next we came to La Fortaleza, the fortified Governors Mansion. The street leading to the mansion dubbed, Umbrella street, typically has colorful umbrellas suspended above it. Umbrella street was decorated with Christmas lights instead of umbrellas during our trip. It was closed off to prepare for, what I later found out was, Navidad en Puerto Rico, a Christmas light show projected onto the mansion.
A quick look at Capilla del la Salud a small chapel at the end of the street, before heading back to the ship. We were very hot, sweaty and exhausted from walking up the hills and down the hills and back again. Robbie was done for the day but we were in port until 11pm. I wanted to take the opportunity to photograph Old San Juan at night. I freshened up a bit and went back for more of Old San Juan.
We have had a pair of sandhill cranes roaming our neighborhood for several years. They always bring their new chicks by to show them off. Back in January they sent last years chick on his or her way to starting his or her own family. Mamma and papa crane have been coming by together without any chicks. Several weeks ago they started coming by individually. Mamma would come by in the morning and papa would come by in the evening. We assumed this meant that they had eggs in the nest. Then about 5 days ago they stopped coming all together. We assumed this meant the eggs had hatched. Finally they brought their two beautiful new babies by, proudly showing them off.
For my birthday, my wife and our friend Cassy took me to ZooTampa in Tampa Fl. The zoo has 56 acres of naturalistic animal exhibits in a tropical setting, housing over 1000 animals. The zoo is divided into regions with corresponding habitats and animals. There is a region for Asia, Africa, Australia, and Florida.
We arrived just in time for the orangutan chat. The orangutan caretakers gathered them together and kept their attention by tossing them a treat as they told everyone about the orangutans. We were able to get a great look at the two week old baby clinging to its mother. They were all covered in feathers. Apparently, earlier they were given feather pillows and they all had a pillow fight!
We walked through the Florida manatee exhibit. ZooTampa is a manatee critical care center. Injured and sick manatees are brought to the center and cared for until they are healthy enough to be returned to the wild.
There was a wildlife connection at the Zoo Ventures Theater. The caretakers for the macaws told everyone all about the macaws. They had two macaws that were flying over the audience from one caretaker to another. After the wildlife connection, it was time for the macaw fly over near the main entrance. All the macaws fly through the zoo to manatee circle, a large circular sitting area with a manatee sculpture in the center. The macaws land on a perch near the circle. The caretakers explain how the macaws are going to fly around the circle and back to the perch. They did this three times before they sent them flying through the zoo back to their enclosure. It was pretty cool seeing the large colorful birds flying overhead.
We had a trip to South Africa planned for this coming April. We were really looking forward to this trip! But the tour company canceled the trip due to the covid pandemic. We planned on seeing the African Penguins at Boulders Beach and doing a safari through Kruger National Park. Today we saw some African Penguins and took a ride on a safari vehicle through the African region of the zoo. It wasn’t quite the same as a trip to South Africa, but I guess it will be as close as we get for now.
Here are a few of the other animals that we saw along the way.
This Indian Rhino was keeping cool in his pool and having fun blowing bubbles.
The lorikeets are always fun! We always like to visit the lorikeet aviary anytime we visit a place that has one. We bought a little cup of nectar to feed them. They can spot those little cups from a mile away! They come sit on your shoulder or your arm and even your head! We had a great time with the lorikeets. We had a awesome day at ZooTampa! It was a fantastic way to spend my birthday!
The San Juan port is right in Old San Juan. Pretty much anything in Old San Juan is within walking distance. We did not do a shore excursion here. We just walked through Old San Juan on our own.
My wife Robbie and I walked off of the ship into Old San Juan. It was a short walk to the Capitol Building of Puerto Rico.
The front of the Capitol Building faces the Atlantic Ocean. Across the street is a statue of San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist) name sake for the city of San Juan. It looks like he is giving the world the finger but he is actually pointing into the air. We took the steps down to the beach. The beach is quite narrow but the blue water and the Coconut palm trees are beautiful!
We continued walking through Old San Juan. It was a very hot day for the day after Christmas! Old San Juan is by no means flat! We were walking up hills and down hills, did I mention that it was hot! At the top of a steep hill we came to Castillo de San Cristobal, an old Spanish fort. It took 150 years to build, construction started in 1634 and wasn’t completed until 1765. It’s the largest Spanish fort in the Americas.
The blue cobblestones of Old San Juan. When Spanish ships sailed to the New World they were filled with ballast for stabilization. The Spanish ships sailing to San Juan were filled with ballast bricks made from iron mill slag. Ships returning to Spain, replaced the bricks with pilfered gold as ballast. The discarded bricks were used to pave the streets of Old San Juan. With age, the slag in the bricks turned a cobalt blue.
Barrio La Perla, a colorful ramshackle neighborhood along the Atlantic coast of San Juan. During hurricane Maria in 2017, La Perla, as well as most of Puerto Rico, were heavily damaged by the storm. A music video filmed in La Perla called “Dispacito” (slow), criticized the slow response by the United States government, it went viral. The video created a surge of visitors to the barrio.
Christmas/Anniversary Cruise 2021: Day 3, Part 3, Christmas Day! Fort San Felipe, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
After a great tour of the Isabel de Torres National park, our minibus took the roller coaster ride down the mountain, back to Puerto Plata. As we were walking and driving through Puerto Plata, it was nice to see that most of the people all over Puerto Plata were wearing masks during this time of covid. We stopped along the Malecon de Puerto Plata, a boulevard along the coast. We got out and stretched our legs on the beach for a bit.
We took a short drive down the road to Fort San Felipe. The stone fort was built by King Felipe II of Spain, in the mid 1500s, to protect Puerto Plata from pirates and privateers. This was a quick photo stop, we needed to get back to Amber Cove.
We returned to Amber Cove to board our ship to start our next adventure. We had fun spending Christmas Day in the Dominican Republic. Our next port will be in San Juan, Puerto Rico!
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.
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 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.