2/21 Key West, Florida

Today was a very busy Day. I was up at 6:45, quickly dressed and made my way to the fitness center. I spent 30 minutes on the elliptical while watching the sun rise over the eastern sea. We are far enough from the Floridian coast that no land is in sight and it was a beautiful rose colored sunrise. “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning”. Evidently this saying is true. The captain yesterday evening announced that we would be departing Key West 45 minutes early in an attempt to get ahead of a westerly front coming our way. To make up for the earlier departure he was going to have us in Key West an hour earlier than originally scheduled. It looks like we will make it, we were parting some waters pretty good during the night.

After my workout and a shower, Kay and I joined the rest of our group for breakfast in the Rotterdam (the main dining room). We enjoy the slowed pace of the formal room for breakfast. I had Eggs Royal (two poached eggs served over a toasted English muffin with smoked salmon and Hollandaise sauce along with a fresh fruit platter and the mandatory 3 cups of coffee.

After breakfast Janet, Carl, Kay and I went up one floor to the Spa to enjoy an hour of mineral baths, saunas and thermal chairs. We all agreed we felt like a wet noodle afterward but were totally relaxed. After a bit of shopping at the “sidewalk sale” Kay and I walked a little over a mile before joining the others for lunch at 11:30. Early for lunch but the ship was scheduled to dock at Noon.

We disembarked around 12:45 with nothing planned. We have all been here before so we just decided to walk for a while. We made our way to the end of the famed Duval street to the southernmost point of the continental United States and then headed back. Janet was looking for someplace with internet and at this point we were all needing a beer.

Carl said he could swim to Cuba, but we convinced him he didn’t have to prove it…

We happened up a neat little place called The Little Room Jazz Club. They were playing Motown music and advertised Happy Hour from 1PM to 8PM. We went inside and there were only a couple of people at the bar, but Norman the proprietor was most cordial. You would have thought we were lifelong clients who spent a lot of money. We ended up staying over an hour, consuming several bowls of bar snacks and a total of 8 beers. Cost was $15 and 4 of the beers were craft. We certainly found a bargain on Key West.

Just cooling down from our Key West walk.

Probably the most unusual Drug Store I have ever seen.

One of the interesting things about Key West is the variety of people here. You never know what to expect or what you might see…

Spiderman made an appearance

At least he is being honest about his needs…

We were back on the Ryndam by 3:30 and sailed promptly at 4:15. We had dinner reservations at the Pinnacle restaurant at 5:00. These were complimentary and the food was ok. Actually it was better than usual for the “Premium” restaurant, but still not as good as standard fare in the Rotterdam. I had lobster bisque followed by a beefsteak tomato salad and my entrée was a 10 ounce fillet with sides of baked asparagus and sautéed mushrooms. The Baked Alaska was about twice as much as I could eat.

After a brief respite, we made our way to the Showroom at Sea for the evening’s entertainment. Tonight we had the comedian Joe Yannetty and he was very entertaining.

All in all, a very pleasant day. Oh, for our friends in Soleil, it was 85 here today. I know you guys were in the high teens, but we were thinking about you.

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01/21 Tampa, Florida

I woke up at 6:45 this morning. I made a cup of room coffee and headed for some exercise. The hotel was very quiet, I guess because it’s a Sunday morning. I was surprised to find a small but nicely equipped fitness room. I only did 30 minutes on the elliptical and then climbed the stairs back to our 5th floor room feeling ready to face the world. Showered, dressed and to breakfast. Everyone else was just finishing when Kay and I arrived.

We still had about 2 hours before our shuttle ride to the port so David, Li, Kay and I decided to walk a bid. We went around a couple of blocks which registered about 1 mile on the Fitbit. After returning to the room we finished packing and settled down to read while waiting. At about 10:30 Janet called and said the driver was ready when we were so we left about 30 minutes early.

The check-in procedure at the terminal was painless and we were on the ship before 11:30 and in our cabins at 12:00. Although food was available on the Lido, we checked and a Mariners Lunch (for repeat cruisers) was available in the main dining room so we chose that. The interesting thing is that these are not announced and if you haven’t sailed previously with Holland America you would probably not know about them. A full menu is available and I had an excellent maple glazed baked salmon served over rice with fresh steamed vegetables. This was followed by a fresh fruit tart and coffee. The meal was excellent.

Some views of our “Home away from Home”

After lunch we went our own ways. Kay and I returned to the cabin to find our luggage. We did our unpacking and settled into our home for the next 3 weeks. At 3:15 we had to attend the dreaded mandatory Life Boat Safety Drill. It actually went better and faster than usual. This could be because within a minute of the alarm sounding our cabin steward was at our door to rush us out. We have previously joked about the passenger’s on the upper floors always being late to the drills, perhaps HA is prodding them to speed up a bit.

The ever dreaded LIFE BOAT SAFETY DRILL

Fresh fruits ready to be loaded for our soon to be meals..

Following the drill, we did some additional “housekeeping”. We signed up for unlimited laundry service, an absolute must at $7/day. Thankfully after this cruise we will be 4-Star Mariners {200+ sailing days with HA) and will qualify for FREE laundry service along with additional discounts on wine packages (50% off) and other goodies. We also signed up for a spa special, unlimited visits to the Thermal suite & Hydropool. I hope it’s as good as it sounds “ ..the ambiance of a Turkish bath. Multiple grottos and chambers release a variety of dry heat, hot steam and aromatherapy vapors. De-stress in a heated ceramic lounge that is designed to match the curvature of your spine and melt away muscle tension. … Hydropool is enriched with mineralized water, heated to body temperature which gently embraces you with warmth while jets massage your body..” Well we will see.. While there I also scheduled a haircut for the first sea day – Tuesday.

It never ceases to fascinate me how the crew works continuously on the upkeep and maintenance of the ships. These guys were painting literally outside our veranda on a crane about 5 stories high.

We have early dining at 5:15, which is a bit too early, but late dining is just too late. Tonight I started with baked scallops with a fresh fruit chutney followed with barley and mushroom soup. For my entrée I selected a baked tuna steak with vegetables and fingerling potatoes. The tuna was a perfect medium rare. I must confess that I also ate about half of Kay’s huge serving of prime rib which was also delicious. I followed this with a banana crisp dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and coffee.

Janet, Carl, Kay and I decided to watch the movie in the theater tonight since we had already seen the scheduled show in the show room. David and Li were just planning to go to the upper deck. We were expecting Wolverine, but instead it was Great Expectations so we decided to bail on that one. Instead we walked the promenade deck four times, 1.15 miles. Well we need all this exercise if we plan to keep eating like we are…

It has been a long day, so we just returned to the room. Kay read awhile and is already asleep while I finish this post. We will be in Key West tomorrow afternoon. We don’t have anything planned since we have all been here before (and will be back in 2 weeks).

So… good night, I will see you tomorrow.

Finally!, The Day of Departure

I took Daisy to the kennel yesterday and felt guilty about leaving her for over 3 weeks, although I know she is loved and cared for there. We finished all of our packing last night and made our checklist for this morning. I had a great nights rest and was awaken by my alarm at 4:30 AM. After making coffee and getting a quick shower, I moved our luggage to the garage and began my checklist. Thermostats reset, check. Doors locked, check. Water main turned off, check. We decided to take this precaution since the temperature is predicted to get as low as 4 degrees next week.

David and Leiona arrived in the “Big Red Truck” just before 6:00 AM. After adding our luggage to theirs we proceeded to the Wellborns and picked up Janet, Carl and their bags. We were on our way by 6:10. According to GPS our ETA is 1:15 PM provided no stops or delays.

Just south of Macon, we stopped for Breakfast at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant. Service was very fast because there were few people although it was after 8:00. Almost always they are busy by this time. I wonder if it has anything to do with their Duck Dynasty fiasco?

We were soon back on the road and on our way. Another 2 + hours down the road, we stopped to refuel an take a restroom break, this was just inside the Georgia state line. As I write this we are a south of Gainesville, FL moving toward Tampa at 75 MPH with an ETA of 2:15 PM or about an hour and a half. To be continued tonight…

Just outside of Tampa we stopped for a late lunch at about 2PM at Applebee’s. We arrived at our hotel around 3. We chose to stay at the Comfort Inn Fair Ground in Tampa. The primary appeal was free parking during the cruise and free round trip shuttle service to the port. The rooms were huge and very nice and a full breakfast is provided.

We spent the afternoon at our own pursuits. Some walked around the area but Kay and I watched an episode of Dexter on Netflix using my tablet connected to the TV. Afterwards we all walked up the street to Wing House, a local sports bar where we had some great wings and beer joining a large contingent of bikers. I always enjoy experiencing the local color J After returning to our room we watched two additional episodes of Dexter. We will miss him during the cruise…

My plan is to arise early in the morning, have a quick workout then shower & breakfast. Our reservation is for the shuttle to transport us to the pier at 11:00 AM

6 Days remaining…

With the shortened Holiday week, our departure date is rapidly approaching. Although this cruise is a relatively short 21 days, there is still a great deal of preparing to do. Not only for the cruise itself but also making sure things at home are taken care of while we are away.

We have already booked most of our planned shore excursions through Shore Excursion Group (http://www.shoreexcursionsgroup.com). We have used this service before and found it to be better than booking with the cruise line. Typically the groups are much smaller, in fact on a walking tour in Quebec City there were only four of us. Also the prices are usually one-half to two-thirds of the cruise line prices. We did book one excursion with Holland America and were notified last week that it had been cancelled due to flooding making roads impassable.

We also got another bit of good news this past weekend. Our cabins were upgraded from BB category to A. Our cabin is now number 055 on the Navigation deck. We were excited about the upgrade. I did get some of my things together today and expect to finish up Friday.

Well, actually I don’t expect to have this much!

One week till we sail…

Our winter get-away is for a 21 day cruise in the Caribbean.   Well, actually it’s two cruises – a 14 day followed by a 7 day, known by Holland America as a Collector’s cruise.  We will depart from Tampa Florida on January 5 and return on January 19 leaving the same day to return on January 26. Our itinerary is as follows:

Day Date Port Arrive Depart
0 05 Jan 2014 Tampa, Florida, US 04:00 PM
1 06 Jan 2014 Key West, Florida, US 01:00 PM 05:00 PM
2 07 Jan 2014 At Sea
3 08 Jan 2014 At Sea
4 09 Jan 2014 San Juan, Porto Rico Noon 11:00 PM
5 10 Jan 2014 St. Thomas, U.S.V.I 08:00 AM 05:00 PM
6 11 Jan 2014 St. Johns, Antigua 08:00 AM 05:00 PM
7 12 Jan 2014 Castries, St. Lucia 08:00 AM 03:00 PM
7 12 Jan 2014 Soufriere, St LuciaSC 05:00 PM 06:00 PM
8 13 Jan 2014 At Sea
9 14 Jan 2014 Willemstad (Curacao), Antilles 08:00 AM 11:00 PM
10 15 Jan 2014 Oranjestad, Aruba 07:00 AM 02:00 PM
11 16 Jan 2014 At Sea
12 17 Jan 2014 Georgetown, Cayman IslandsTR 08:00 AM 03:00 PM
13 18 Jan 2014 At Sea
14 19 Jan 2014 Tampa, Florida, US 07:00 AM 04:00 PM
15 20 Jan 2014 Key West, Florida, US 01:00 PM 06:00 PM
16 21 Jan 2014 At Sea
17 22 Jan 2014 Roatan, Honduras 08:00 AM 05:00 PM
18 23 Jan 2014 Santo Tomas, Guatemala 07:00 AM 05:00 PM
19 24 Jan 2014 Costa Maya, Mexico 08:00 AM 03:00 PM
20 25 Jan 2014 At Sea
21 26 Jan 2014 Tampa, Florida, US 07:00 AM

We again have the privilege of traveling with our friends Carl & Janet Wellborn as well as David Jarvis and Leonia Chase.  I will do my best to keep the blog updated with photos and commentary as we make our journey.  From past experiences, my ability to do this will rest primarily on the availability of internet service.

I hope you will join us on our journey.