Monday, April 14, 2014

Tropical Contact Highs: Eight Breeze-y Nights in the Southern Caribbean (Part 5)

We weren’t quite docked in the Dominican Republic yet when we woke up, but the sun was shining in brightly through our balcony window, and it was hot.

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Our last time in La Romana was on our first cruise – nearly 10 years ago. It was our second port of call on an eastern Caribbean cruise onboard the (then) smoke-free Carnival Paradise.

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The memories of that visit are like an aged photograph: bright in some spots and worn around the edges. I remember an afternoon under a palm tree on Catalina Island and staring wondrously into the aquamarine waters on our way there. I remember a conversation with a local shop keeper about Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou (“Chicago? Like Chicago Cubs? Sammy Sosa?”). But that’s about it. So much time has passed since our last visit that this may as well have been our first.

We grabbed a quick Lido breakfast and disembarked shortly after to catch our excursion. You’ll want to give yourself some time to get to your meeting place if you’re doing a ship-sponsored excursion in La Romana. It’s a bit of an uphill hike to the parking lot (and if you’re looking to buy souvenirs, your only option is the Dufrey in a small hut-like structure).

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Melodies from a small band of local musicians accompanied us on our walk up to meet our tour bus.

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Today’s adventure had us heading over to Bayahibe for the Bayahibe Beach Break. The excursion used to take cruisers to the Dreams resort for some swimming and sun, but had recently switched over to the BeLive resort. The excursion included open bar and use of the resort’s facilities. There was a pool for me, a beach for Stephanie and plenty of umbrella shade for Mom.

We boarded our tour bus and our driver greeted us, but all communication really stopped there. A guide hopped on to explain to us what our day would look like and the rest of the ride was pretty silent. There was no introductions, no stories, no history or words about the land (except for a brief mention that something that may or may not have been Altos de Chavon was on our right), but that was okay – we weren’t on this tour to hear the history of the island, anyways.

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It was a relatively short and uneventful 30 minute drive to the resort. We were greeted by the resort concierge, who handed us wristbands, towels and a welcome drink before leading us on a tour of the grounds.

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The resort was well-maintained and quiet. Manicured lawns followed paved paths to the main pool area, which we had full use of.

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We quickly grabbed a few lounge chairs that were perched under some palapas next to the pool and settled in for our three hours of resort time. Mom laid out with a book while Stephanie and I made a bee-line towards some open seats at the swim up bar.

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There was a bit of debris in the pool that I chalked up to the fact that there were people going back and forth between the ocean, beach and pool. Nothing too bad. The sun was scorching and regardless of some floaters in the water, that water was a cooling grace.

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Stephanie and I noticed early on that the bartenders at the swim up bar didn’t speak much English. No problem for us – I had two years of junior high, four years of high school and two years of college Spanish under my belt. Those who had more of an issue with the language barrier seemed to find it best to point to what they wanted on the (rather expansive) drink menu.

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I swapped out with Mom after a bit and she went in the water with Stephanie while I laid out under the palapa.

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Stephanie really wanted to check out the beach, so we headed down there after a little bit. The beach wasn’t a private, protected beach, so there were a handful of locals trying to hassle tourists into visiting their shops. Other than that, the beach was quite lovely, with clear, cool water. Someone mentioned that there was some coral a short swim out, but I can’t vouch because, per usual, I just stuck my feet in J

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It was a long walk back to the meeting area, so we left early and took a leisurely stroll back.

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We had a 1:20 back onboard the tour bus time, but the busses were running very late and still weren’t there by 1:45. One bus came and we hurried onto that one since there was not an ETA on the second bus.

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I stopped in the Dufrey on our way back onboard for some keychains and magnets and then we headed back onboard.

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We dropped our bags off at the room and headed up to the Lido deck for lunch, but a combination of our fellow guests grabbing at seafood with tongs meant for vegetarian items and a general disinterest in everything being served had us heading back to the room and ordering room service.

Roasted New York Strip Loin and Cheddar Cheese on French Bread
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Mozzarella and Portobello Mushrooms on Foccacia
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Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato
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Assorted Vegetable Sticks with Blue Cheese Dip
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New York Cheesecake
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Chocolate Cake
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Assorted Cookies
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After lunch, I showered and by the time I was done, it was pouring rain outside. I took that as a sign that it was time for a nap. I woke up a couple of hours later with skin that was inflamed and angry. I used to tan for a month before crusing to prevent burns, but I stopped tanning before cruises a couple of years ago after Mom’s skin cancer diagnosis. Ever since then, no matter how high the SPF or how many times I apply, if my skin sees sunlight, it burns. The burn lines across my chest and back were bad, but the swatch of skin where Stephanie playfully smeared some SPF 70 on me took the cake. I looked like a rag doll.

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We contemplated going to the Lido deck for dinner but ultimately decided to eat in the main dining room. We encountered no wait for a table at 6:15 pm and the dining room wasn’t all that busy. I guess our fellow cruisers had their fair share of sun during their days in the Dominican, too.

Dinner was pretty good. Every time I order the enchiladas, our server du jour asks if I really want them. I don’t know why they never come recommended, but I’ll recommend them. They’re always a highlight. Also a highlight? The peach soup. Everything was overshadowed by the Bitter and Blanc. As it always is. We’ll be on the Valor in just over a month and while Stephanie is disappointed that the new menus won’t be rolled out, I’ll relish in another rendezvous with the most delicious dessert served on a cruise ship. I’ll save my disappointment for the fact that the Blue Iguana Cantina hasn’t found a home on the Valor yet, so I’ll be without arepas for breakfast.

Fresh Fruit Cocktail
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Fried Vegetable Spring Rolls
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Caesar Salad
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Chilled Peach Cream Soup
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Beef Stroganoff
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Grilled Flat Iron Steak from USDA Choice Beef
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Black Bean and Vegetable Enchiladas
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Lime Sherbet
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Vanilla Ice Cream
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Bitter and Blanc
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After dinner, we made a quick stop at the Casino so Stephanie and Mom could…not win any money.

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We made a few stops in the shops, at the shopping desk and the piano bar before heading back to the room to change before showtime.

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All of the good seats were taken more than 30 minutes before the show started, which was a bit different than our normal experiences on Carnival. Brittany led a small British trivia session before the show.

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Here’s what I have to say about The Brits – there was a lot of disappointment packed into a 30 minute show. I hate what Carnival showtime has become. The animatronics are cheesy cop outs to having real sets, and a cheap imitation, at that. This is a show that could have been so good two years ago before Carnival decided that digital screens and animatronics >>>> dancers and sets. Instead of marveling in a fantastic production, I found myself wondering why I was watching two animatronic cartoons duet during costume changes and how Tom Jones fits into a British show (it turns out, Tom Jones is British. Or at least more British than Lionel Richie is Motown, which is another issue with another show for another time).

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I know it seems like I’m constantly ragging on Carnival and the shows. I’m not going to stomp around indignantly saying that as a paying customer, I deserve blah blah blah blah etc. I will say, though, that when you are conditioned to a certain level of entertainment for so many years, cheapening it so heavily while continuing to market it as top notch entertainment is quasi insulting. If you’ve never seen a Carnival production show from before they got rid of the live band and started thinning the dance troupe, you don’t know what you’ve missed. YouTube might have some clips. If not, I have a little bit of Rock Down Broadway on my hard drive somewhere.

We headed back to the room after the show and napped, intending to go out again later. And then we just decided to go to bed. The boat was rocking pretty hard (probably because we were booking it to Curacao). We got in some Showbiz News on HLN before falling asleep.

Today's Lido Lunch Menus:

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Today's Lido Dinner Menus:

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