Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Palm Trees are Really Cool: Onboard the Carnival Valor's Southern Route (Part Nine)

Back from Cali! I brought a camera with me, but ended up using my iPhone for most of my pictures and ended up taking some really fantastic snaps! In the meanwhile...we're almost done with this one! Ahh! Two ports to go!

((Also, side note, if you have a suggestion for our Fall vaca, shout 'em at me. We're all over the place trying to figure out what we should do! Off the list is Europe because we're doing a big Europe trip in the Spring, but everything else is fair game.))

I have a soft spot in my heart for St. Kitts.

I don’t know why – it’s not the lushest island, or the most tropical. It doesn’t have the best shopping or the greatest prices.

It may or may not have something to do with that one time I climbed that cannon perched on top of the cliff at the Brimstone Fortress, 800 feet above ground level, to take a picture for my Facebook profile (that may or may not have been filmed for shipboard TV, where the rest of my family could shake their heads at what they thought was my lack of common sense. Whateves on that – I was in control the entire time). Or it may or may not have something to do with our last visit just coming on a really memorable trip. I don’t know what it is. The memories I come away from this island with just bring a soft, nostalgic kind of happiness.

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We were already docked in Basseterre when I woke up. We didn’t have much time to get ready and have breakfast before we were expected in the Ivanhoe to meet with our tour group.

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When we got there, the group in front of us were being weighed for a zipline excursion. We weren’t doing anything that intense. Instead, we booked ourselves on a tour of the Brimstone Fortress and Romney Manor, the same tour we took back in 2009.

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We re-did this excursion instead of taking a new one for a couple of reasons. The main reason was because Stephanie and I really enjoyed the tour when we took it the first time and we wanted Mom to be able to experience it, too. The secondary reason was because we wanted to do some shopping at the Caribelle Batik studio in Romney Manor.

Two tour times were offered, 9:30 am and 12:30 pm, and we chose the earlier one so we’d have some time to shop at the pier before setting sail for St. Maarten. Someone on our tour had told us they booked the 12:30 pm excursion only to see it cancelled for not having enough participants. There didn’t seem to be a ton of people on this tour (maybe enough for one large motorcoach), but as we disembarked the ship, we were broken down into pretty small groups of 9-10 per van, keeping the tour groups incredibly small.

Our tour guide was Terrance, and he was nice and incredibly knowledgeable, but despite the small group size, didn’t do too much talking as we drove through the streets of Basseterre.

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Our first stop was at the Romney Manor, where we were given a half hour to tour the grounds and shop at the Caribelle Batik boutique. Romney Manor is hundreds of years old, an estate where, against a mandate from the British Parliament, Lord Romney emancipated all of his slaves. It’s surrounded by a lush rainforest and home to some gorgeous gardens, as well as St. Kitts’ Caribelle Batik studio.

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Batik is a method of dying fabrics using wax to block out the dye, resulting in a tie dye effect. They do live demonstrations at this location, and the shop is a fantastic place to pick up handmade souvenirs. I purchased a batiked pouch with three bottles of locally produced rums for around $10.

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Our next stop was the Brimstone Fortress National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fortress is situated 800 feet above ground and the ride up is a little treacherous. Once you get up to the fortress, it’s about 40 deep steps up to the fort. When we arrived, Mom made one request: don’t climb a cannon again. I’m an adult, Ma. I got this.

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She wasn’t amused. Some things never change. Throwback photo below.

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We had another half hour or so to explore the grounds, so once I climbed down from the cannon and Mom’s heart rate returned to normal, we set about exploring the fort.

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We made one more stop on this tour (which we didn’t make the first time we took this tour) – a photo stop at Frigate Bay, where the Caribbean sea meets the Atlantic ocean.

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After Frigate Bay, we were driven back to Port Zante, where we bid farewell to Terrance and made our way into a few shops on our way back to the ship.

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The shopping wasn’t as good as we remembered, and we weren’t really finding any steals, so we headed back to the ship.

When we went to drop our bags at the room, we found invites to the Past Guest Party – in four hours. I found it odd that they waited until everyone left their rooms to invite them to a party a few hours later. It was almost like a pity invite when someone doesn’t want you to come so they wait until the absolute last minute to tell you. A “we value your patronage but don’t want all of you to come to this party so if you miss it OOPS!”

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With most of our fellow cruisers off on the island, the lines up on the Lido deck were finally manageable. We decided on pizza for lunch.

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The aft adults only pool and jacuzzi’s were pretty empty, so we spent a few hours splashing around, soaking up the bits of vacation sun we had left.

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After a round of showers and another unintentional nap (vacationing makes me sleepy!), we headed to the Eagle Lounge for the Past Guest Party. I always do the kind of bitch face side eye when I see these parties held anywhere but the theaters. These lounges just aren’t big enough and it gets really uncomfortable, and the crowding issue makes it difficult to get steady bar service. I guess the solution to everyone mentioning any issues with crowd control at these parties was to not send out invitations until the morning of, when many people may not get them until after the fact.

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There were no trays with brightly colored concoctions, wines, beers and champagnes. Not this time. The choice was punch or…punch. With or without rum. If you slipped one of the servers a ten, they were willing to bring mixed or frozen drinks. It had an umbrella in it, so I made do here.

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As we contemplated whether we wanted punch or…punch, servers passing around cold hors d'oeuvres made the rounds. The offerings were the same as they had been on many of our recent cruises (try the bacon cheesecake – it’s rich and decadent, salty and savory, a culinary contradiction that works in the best way).

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There was live music and singing, a plus. They brought out the captain and crew for the obligatory “HE’S PAYING FOR THE DRINKS! THREE CHEERS! WAIT, WHO’S DRIVING THE SHIP?” joke and we had a few rounds of…punch.

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We were having nice time. And then Stephanie, the Assistant CD, came out with some “great news.” I have the same reaction to “great news” as I do seeing large gatherings held in unbelievably small lounges. They usually mean upsells. And I was right -- the good news was that the Carnival corporation? Yeah. They hear our voices. They read our comment cards. And because the loyal customers demanded it (italicized because that was verbatim, I kid you not), they were bringing back the free cruise raffle.

Seriously.

Of all the valid shit everyone’s been putting on their comment cards (crowding issues, diminishing Platinum perks, the ever shrinking size and quality of the filet mignon in the dining room), this is what you fix? Did this raffle even ever go away?

And then they started selling tickets during the party. No draw for a free cruise, or anything else, for that matter. Remember the good old sea days where your party invite was collected at the door and put into a raffle for a bottle of champs or dinner at the supper club? Those days are gone. But if you want to buy a ticket for a chance to win a free cruise? As a loyal cruiser, you can be first. Because they care. Being a past guest won’t improve your odds, but CARNIVAL CARES!!!1!!111!!

I couldn’t listen to ASD!Stephanie drone on with this long speech about this raffle. Sister!Stephanie, Mom and I headed outside for some fresh air and to watch the sunset before dinner instead.

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The dining room was pretty empty (a theme throughout this cruise – since it was so port intensive, it wasn’t surprising that people were opting for a more casual option up on Lido for dinner). Service was spot on, food was an odd mix of superb and sub-par. There were bright spots. The lasagna was wonderful (though the appetizer portion was still a bit on the heavy side for a starter) and the turkey plate remains Stephanie’s favorite cruise meal of all time. The soups weren’t as warm as we would have liked them, but were tasty and didn’t require a single dash of  salt or pepper. The big disappointment was the filet mignon, which was incredibly small, incredibly overcooked and incredibly flavorless, served on top of some fatty short ribs and alongside a perplexing two potato side dishes (a halved seasoned potato and a scoop of mashed sweet potatoes).

Wild Mushroom Cream Soup
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Old Fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup
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Lasagna Bolognese
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Vine Ripe Beefsteak Tomatoes and Buffalo Mozzarella
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Chicken Tenders Marinated in Thai Spices
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Petite Filet Mignon and Braised Boneless Short-Rib
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Clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee
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Old Fashioned Apple Pie
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Warm Chocolate Melting Cake
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We headed back to the room and found a new friend waiting for us on Stephanie’s bed.

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The distance between St. Kitts and St. Maarten isn’t that great, and we were certainly taking our time – we had pulled away from the dock before dinner and we still weren’t far when we got back to the room. We spent some time on the balcony watching the island lights off St. Kitts and nearby Nevis and St. Eustatius.

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No big show tonight, and nothing appealing playing under the stars, so we watched Baby Mama in our room. We’d seen commercials for it all week and we were all stoked to catch it. Stephanie and I quote this movie all the time (“Bitch, I don’t know your life!” has a permanent slot atop my comeback arsenal).

After the movie, Mom decided she needed to pack. I still had a day of vacation left and I didn’t want to think about it, so I dragged Stephanie up to the Lido deck. There was no line at the pizza counter (a rarity on this cruise) and there was a slice of just out of the oven prosciutto pizza calling my name.

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We headed up to the Serenity deck for some quality hammock time, but we ultimately ended up in the forward sun beds.

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The stars shone bright overhead, like a million tiny diamonds woven into the darkest blue velvet sky. It was dazzling, mesmerizing and all things beautiful. And in true fashion, I took another unintentional nap.

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Stephanie woke me up when she stopped being amused by my narcoleptic tendencies to show me how closely we were passing by other islands. We were going to go swimming, but Stephanie wasn’t feeling well, so we headed back to the room to watch some TV before heading to bed.

Today’s Lido Lunch Menu:

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Today’s Lido Dinner Menu:

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