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.
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!
It has been said that all good things must end. Sadly our cruise came to an end. Early in the morning on the last day of our cruise we returned to Venice. The night before we needed to have our bags packed and ready to be picked up. They were taken to the lower deck to be unloaded at the dock in the morning. This helps get everyone get off of the ship more efficiently. It’s sort of a strange feeling. It’s a big sign that the cruise is coming to an end. Also there is a bit of anxiety, wondering if you packed something you need until you get the bag back again, or if you didn’t pack enough and have too much stuff in your carry-on the next morning. I woke up early the next morning. I wanted to see Venice as we sailed past. I went to the upper deck to get a good view. Venice is an island that’s sort of shaped like a fish. Ships enter the curvy narrow waterway around Venice at the bottom of the tail of the fish. They continue winding their way along the belly of the fish between Venice and some smaller islands. The cruise port is at the mouth of the fish. This path takes the ship right past St. Mark’s Square. I wanted to see St. Mark’s as we passed. From the upper deck I could see a lot of Venice as we sailed by. It was a beautiful clear morning. The fog that delayed our cruise on the first day did not appear. Cruise ships for their size are very maneuverable. Typically they can get into any port on their own without any help. I have seen them do some amazing things. Sailing into Venice, our ship was tethered to several powerful tugboats. Several months prior to our trip, a cruise ship sailing into Venice lost power and collided with a docked river cruise ship. This elevated the existing campaign to have the cruise port moved away from Venice. Also, this is why we needed the tug boats.
The weather for our trip was amazing! We sailed in the fall. The cruise started at the end of October and ended the second week of November 2019. We had summer-like weather for the entire cruise. It only rained a small amount the morning we were in Dubrovnik. The northern Adriatic sea was not so lucky. We were sailing in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. I heard there were some nasty storms that caused other cruise ships to miss some ports. That happened to us on our first cruise, it was not good, but that’s another story. On the upper deck there was a definite chill in the air. Fall temperatures had returned. I was taking in the beautiful city as we sailed by. As we approached St. Marks, I noticed the square was flooded. They were experiencing an acqua alta. This is when Venice is flooded by an exceptionally high tide. The water retreats at low tide but tends to return again with the next high tide. A few days after we left at the beginning of the cruise, there was a record breaking acqua alta. The highest in over 50 years!
After watching the beautiful city of Venice glide by, I met up with Robbie. We went to the dinning room for our final cruise breakfast. One thing about cruising, there is no shortage of good food. I gain 5-10 pounds on every cruise. After breakfast, we went back to our cabin for the last time to collect our things. They wanted us out so they could start getting the cabin ready for the next passengers – in just a few hours. We were assigned a group number and time for disembarking the ship. We made our way to one of the nice lounges to wait for our time. They called our number and we exited the ship for the last time. We met up with Sandy, Jerry, Marcia and Jack on the dock. The rest of the group had made other arrangements to get back home. We shared a cab to our hotel in Mestre. Venice, as I said, is an island. Mestre is a small town just on the other side of the causeway that connects Venice to the mainland.
We had a flight the next morning to Lisbon Portugal, so we had the evening to spend in Mestre. We had not planned on going back to Venice due to the limited time. After we all got settled into our hotel rooms, the group wanted to go to lunch. Robbie and I were a bit tired so we decided to rest for a while and go out later. Also there is that Italian thing I mentioned before, where some restaurants are closed for what we call “lunch time.” After we rested and relaxed for a while, Robbie and I ventured out. The woman at the desk told us where we could get a good pizza, so we set out to find the restaurant. After one or two wrong turns, we found it. You can’t really say that you’ve properly seen a new place unless you make a few wrong turns. We ordered a pizza, beer and wine, it was amazing! No worries, we did eat the whole pie. We need to remember to get a photo before we dig in. There was an awesome dessert as well. We stopped at a grocery store for some supplies on the way back to the hotel. It was nice getting to see a little of Mestre before moving on.
Authors note: We took this trip in Oct./Nov. of 2019. I took a gazillion photos. It takes me a long time to sort and edit my photos. My plan was to write most of the posts about this trip before I started to post them. I am not the fastest writer by any means. It’s surprising how long it takes to write 500 or so words when you choose your words carefully. So I knew from the beginning that it was going to take me a while to start posting about this trip. Anyway, I’m ready to start posting and BAMM!! We find our self in the middle of a global pandemic! Cruise ships are stranded at sea and people are dying onboard! That sort of took the wind out of my sails. I didn’t think this was an appropriate time to start posting about a wonderful cruise. So I shelved my cruise posts. Time flies when you’re not having fun. It’s now been a year since we departed on our trip. What a year it’s been! I’m not sure what the future holds for the travel industry. I was hoping to be traveling again in the spring of 2021. Now it may be longer and even longer yet for the cruise industry. For now I hope that you will enjoy reading about our Italian, Aegean Sea cruise.
Continuing to work our way through the Dubrovnik, we ended up in the old east port. The old east port was a waterfront area that had restaurants with a beautiful view. If you wanted to, you could catch a ferry to the island of Lokrum. Here, you could see the actual iron throne. We didn’t make that trip.
After a great morning exploring Dubrovnik, it was time to take a refreshment break. We picked one of the many nice sidewalk cafes along the Stradun. Ordering some cold beverages and relaxing for a while. It was also time to take advantage of the cafes WiFi. Robbie and I were using Google fi, so we always had good service. Everyone else depended on WiFi where ever it could be found. It was nice to see that the Zvonik clock tower was still standing. It was seen dramatically crumbling to the ground in the GOT finally, as was most of the city.
Feeling all relaxed and refreshed we continued on with our tour of Dubrovnik. I wanted to see the Minceta Tower. I really like the scene in GOT where Daenarys is looking for her dragons in the tower. She is walking around the base of the tower looking for a way in. She is followed by Jorah, as they circle the tower, Daenarys vanishes into the tower. Jorah is unable to get into the tower to help her. Anyway the visual is pretty cool looking. The reality is that you cant actually walk all the way around the tower, more Hollywood magic. The tower is at the highest point in the old town. I totally chose the wrong way to get there. We had to climb a very steep and long stone stairway to get to the tower. We kept going up and up and up. It was quite the climb. We should have gone the way Jerry wanted to go, it was a longer but more gradual climb. The view at the top was amazing! Unfortunately we couldn’t see as much of the tower as I had hoped. You need to do the city walls tour to see it better.
Taking the longer more gradual decent on the return trip, we past a very interesting restaurant called, Lady PiPi. It gets it’s name from a statue/water fountain of a lady going PiPi in front of the restaurant. You wont find a more interesting fountain anywhere. I was looking at their website, it looks like a really nice restaurant. They were closed for the season when we were there.
It was time to do some shopping, so we all split up to find something amazing. After dong some shopping some people went back to the ship. Robbie and I did a little more exploring before returning to the ship. We had a great day in Dubrovnik. It was really nice seeing all of the GOT filming locations. It’s no wonder that they chose Dubrovnik as a filming location. It really is a beautiful medieval city. When you are cruising sometimes you really only get a small taste of a place. This is when you need to plan another trip to see more. I think Croatia would be a great place to plan another trip.
When sailing in or out of a port, a fun thing to do, is to go to the upper deck, to watch the sail away. It’s a great way to say hello or goodbye to a port. We went up on deck to say goodbye to Dubrovnik and take one last look.
Our next port of call was Dubrovnik, Croatia. A port that I was looking forward to for several reasons. Foremost, it is a beautifully preserved medieval city. I really like exploring old places like this. Secondly, Robbie and I had become Game of Thrones fans. This beautiful medieval city was a prominent Game of Thrones filming location. Also Croatia is one of those Slavic countries that you hear of but really don’t know too much about. I was curious to see what it was like.
Dubrovnik is a great city to explore on your own, so there was no need to pay extra for a cruise line shore excursion. The cruise port is however about two miles from the old walled city. Not super far, it would be an easy cab ride. The cruise line did hire a bus to take passengers to and from the city. There were several people in our group that wanted to see the city together, so we opted to pay the small fee and take the bus. We woke up to some light rain showers. This was the first and only rain of the trip. The weather for this trip was amazing! It was unseasonably warm and sunny for pretty much the whole trip. It wasn’t until we returned to Venice that it cooled down to normal fall temps. It was lightly raining when we boarded the bus. The bus dropped us off just outside of the old walled city. Before entering the city we visited the old West Harbor. The weather was starting to clear. What a beautiful little harbor. There is a stone pier jutting out through the rocky cove. To the left there is a great view of the stonewalls of the city that was built on the rocky cliffs. On the cliffs to the right is Fort Lovrijenac. The harbor was a beautiful place to visit, which is probably why it was used several times as a filming location for the Game of Thrones. Almost all of this little harbor was used in GOT at some point. It’s not hard to imagine the Red Keep CGI-ed on the old city walls or Cersei standing on the stone pier as Jamie’s boat returns with the body of their daughter.
We entered the old walled city through the Pile gate, another GOT filming location. The old stone walls and cobble stone streets are truly like strolling through a medieval city.
Exiting the Pile Gate puts you on the Stradun, the wide main boulevard through the city. We strolled down the Stradun taking in the beauty.
At the end of the Stradun, we made a right turn that took us to the famous Jesuit staircase. The staircase was used several times in GOT. Notably, Cersei’s walk of shame. Looking up the staircase you need to imagine the huge Great Sept, CGI-ed at the top of the stairway. We walked up the staircase to Saint Ignatius Church. The actual real Catholic church at the top of the staircase. Once at the top of the stairway, turning to look down, you see all of
Kings Landing Dubrovnik in front of you.
Winding our way through the cobbled streets, Robbie spotted a sign that read “Cold drinks with the most beautiful view.” This we needed to investigate further. The arrow on the sign pointed to literally, a small hole in the wall. We went through the hole in the wall and were treated to the most beautiful view! The bar was not open, it’s called the Buza Bar. Standing on the rocky outcrop, we had a nice view of the city’s stone wall. Below the beautiful Adriatic Sea was lapping at the rocks.
After visiting the amazing view of the Buza Bar, we made our way through the winding streets of Dubrovnik. We passed by many medieval stone buildings through narrow cobblestone streets. There were several churches, the Church of Saint Stephen and the Cathedral of the Assumption. The Rector’s Palace is the home of the Rector who was the head authority of the town. The palace has been beautifully restored and is now a museum. It was also a GOT filming location.
One of the things I like about cruising is that your floating hotel takes you from place to place. After an awesome day in Rhodes, we arrived back on our ship, the Lirica. As we were freshening up and getting ready for dinner, the Lirica’s crew prepared to head out to sea. It’s fun to go on the upper deck and watch the sail away from port. We usually ate dinner as a group in the main dining room. After dinner, we would watch a great show in the main auditorium. As we were sleeping, the Lirica would take us to a new and exciting port.
Today we woke up on the Greek Island of Mykonos. If you like, the cruise line will plan your whole day for you. This does come at a cost though. Wherever possible we liked to do some exploring on our own. Mykonos is a great port to explore on your own. It does, however, require a small ferry ride to get from the cruise port to the town. The cruise line hired a ferry to transport passengers to town. They made it very convenient and quite easy to charge for this ferry. It pays to do a little research about each port. I found out that you could buy a ticket directly from the same ferry company for considerably less. Not only was it less expensive, they used a different ferry. The ferry was not as jam packed full as the cruise line ferry. A side trip we could have taken while visiting Mykonos, is a trip to the ancient ruins on the nearby island of Delos. The cruise line has a shore excursion to Delos. This same ferry company also goes to Delos for less. We decided not to go to Delos. Robbie and I and a few of the others spent the day in Mykonos. There were a couple of people in our group that did do one of the Mykonos shore excursions. Disembarking the ship was quick and easy. We found the ticket booth for the ferry and purchased our tickets. On the way to the ferry, there were several brightly colored, old wooden fishing boats. I really liked these old wooden boats.
Getting off of the ferry in the old port of Mykonos, we were greeted by a reminder of our old friend again, Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicolas). St. Nicolas is the patron saint of sailors and fisherman. Agios Nikolaos, the small whitewashed church with its bright blue dome has a prominent place in the old port. Locals would enter the church to light a candle and say a prayer for their sea going friends and family. Mykonos is dotted with dozens of small whitewashed churches with brightly colored domes. Each ancient local family was required to build a small church to worship and celebrate religious holidays. The small churches also housed the bones of family members. There must have been lots of families on Mykonos back then.
Strolling through the giraffe patterned stone streets of Mykonos is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. The narrow streets are lined by whitewashed buildings, with blue or red trim, laced with colorful bougainvillea. There are lots of shops selling everything from souvenirs to high end clothing, jewelry and art.
Having just been in Venice, we needed to check out a small section of Mykonos called Little Venice. It’s basically a row of buildings that were built right on the edge of the sea. Most of them are restaurants or bars with an awesome view of the Aegean Sea.
From Little Venice we got a great view of the windmills of Mykonos. The windmills are the most well known landmarks on the island. Six of the windmills are on a hillside overlooking the Aegean Sea. This is a beautiful location with an awesome view of the sea. This was also the best location to harness the winds of the Aegean. The wind power was used for grinding grain. Today some of them have been converted into homes. One of them is listed on Airbnb. That would be a great place to stay.
As we were making our way through the town, Sandy kept an eye out for a nice restaurant to have lunch. She thought Katerina’s looked nice. Katerina’s was one of the restaurants in Little Venice. So we made our way back to Little Venice. Sandy made a great choice, Katerina’s was awesome! We had a nice view of the Aegean and our waiter was great! I had the linguini and shrimp, it was very good! Everyone else enjoyed their meals as well. The waiter brought us some baklava to share; it was amazing! As we were finishing our lunch two weary travelers came in. It was Sherry and her husband Jeff, from our group. They had taken one of the shore excursions. It was interesting that they chose the same restaurant. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” (Casablanca)
Feeling rejuvenated from our refreshing lunch, we made some plans for the rest of our afternoon. While doing my pre-trip planning I was reading about Boni’s windmill. Boni’s has been totally restored and is now a museum. Unfortunately the museum was closed for the season. The best thing about Boni’s is the location. It’s perched high above Mykonos and has the best view in town. So I wanted to go to there. Barb wanted to do some shopping, so we split up. Robbie went with Barb, Sandy and Jerry. Marcia and her husband Jack came along with me to Boni’s. The thing about the best view in town is that it involves a fairly steep climb. We huffed and puffed and the view kept getting better and better, driving us to the top. The climb was totally worth it. The view from Boni’s was amazing! Marcia and Jack saw another place they wanted to explore. I wanted some more photos of Mykonos, so we split off exploring in different directions. I made my way back down the hill through a maze of narrow walkways with whitewashed buildings and churches. Back at sea level there was a nice beach. A dip in the Aegean would have been nice. I didn’t bring my swim suit though. Walking along the waterfront, I found Robbie and Jerry having drinks at a cafe. I ordered a nice cold Greek beer as we waited for Sandy and Barb. On the way to the ferry I had to get a gelato. They wouldn’t let me on the ferry with it, but we still had some time before it departed. Still no sign of Marcia and Jack. We hoped they would catch the next ferry, and they did. Mykonos was a great town! It had a very relaxing vibe to it. Just lazily wondering this beautiful town was an enjoyable way to spend the day.
No rest for the weary! We had two wonderful days of sightseeing in Israel. But we didn’t stay up too late partying. We needed to get an early start the next morning. We had a short 170 mile cruise to our next port of call, Limassol, Cyprus. We opted to do a shore excursion in Cyprus. Limassol is a great town with a beautiful waterfront area, but when in ancient Greece/Rome, we should see ancient Greece/Rome.
We took a trip to the Kourion Archeological site with a wine tasting stop afterwords. The Limassol area of Cyprus is a big wine producer. The ancient city of Kourion was a thriving Greek city. It was taken over by the Romans in approximately 58 BC. They gave it all of the Roman amenities. First we entered the house of Eustolios. The house had very elaborate mosaic floors. There were several Roman baths. They had a very sophisticated water supply system throughout the town. We could see the remains of the clay water pipes in the ground. They almost seemed like they were from 1900 rather than 200. There was a beautiful Roman style amphitheater with an amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea. I think at first they held theatrical performances there. After the amphitheater was expanded, they held gladiator contests and man against beast type contests. They still perform ancient Greek plays in the amphitheater today. I think the amphitheater would be a great place to see a show.