Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cruise Update: Aruba

CELEBRITY CONSTELLATION, ORANJESTAD, ARUBA — While in port in Aruba Diane and I decided to go ashore and walk around a little bit in the capital city of Oranjestad. It was remarkably hot, bright, and sunny, a marked improvement over our stop on the island together in January 2007, during which it rained off-and-on the entire time.

Highlights of our brief visit included watching the iguanas that dwell along the rocky shore to the east of the cruise port, going by the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum, and walking as far as the statue of Queen Wilhemina at the eastern edge of town.

A characteristic of royal statues bears mentioning here: any dates they bear are likely to refer to the years that the monarch reigned. Thus, on the afore-mentioned statue of Wilhemina, the inscription “Nos Reine Stima 1898 – 1948” refers to the years that she ruled over the Netherlands, not the dates of her birth and death. This was not readily apparent to the group of tourists who stopped and posed for pictures with the queen while we were there.

“She wasn’t very old,” one the of the men said upon reading the dates at the base of the statue.

“People didn’t live very long in those days,” an equally vocal but apparently more stupid woman in the group said, referring to the brutally short lifespans of the Paleolithic Era/mid-20th century. “They were lucky to make it to 40 or 50.” She was doubtless grateful to have reached that age herself in our own more forgiving times.

During our stay in Oranjestad we also had a nice chat with Senator Benny Sevinger, a member of the Aruban parliament. Like many people we have spoken with, U.S. citizens and non-Americans alike, he expressed pleasure at the results of the recent presidential election. He was also very well informed, and when we mentioned that we were from Virginia immediately knew that was one of the states Obama had carried.

Cruise Tip: Eating and Drinking Ashore

CELEBRITY CONSTELLATION, ORANJESTAD, ARUBA — Every time I am on a cruise and go ashore in any particular port I see people from whatever ship I am on going into local restaurants and ordering meals. I don’t get this at all and, for the most part, would recommend against it for anyone on a cruise.

In short, if you’re on a cruise then you’ve already paid for your food, and you are essentially paying twice for any meals that you eat while off the ship. And I have never, frankly, been on a cruise where the food was not great (I have also never been on one where I did not hear some other people complaining about the food, of course, but this generally represents a personality type and such people might as well save their money too and not bother buying meals ashore that they are going to also be displeased with).

Drinking ashore is, of course, generally another matter altogether, in that alcoholic beverages — and even soda — is not generally included in most cruise fares. Drink prices are not generally going to be much different ashore than on board a cruise ship, so it makes perfect sense to have a few drinks in port if you are so inclined.

Of course, I am willing to accept that there should be exceptions to these suggestions. When my wife and I were on a cruise in the Mediterranean a couple of years ago, for example, the shipboard menus did not include any sort of regional cuisine, which had very much been hoping for. Because of our craving for Greek food, we ended up having a couple of very nice meals ashore, notably in Mykenos and Santorini (where I had delicious fried sardines and an excellent cuttlefish stew, respectively).

Likewise, if you’re away from the ship for an extended period of time while in port then it may not behoove you to save money at the cost of going hungry. There may be some good alternatives available to you, however, as follows:

• Try ordering room service before going ashore and asking when you call for it if they are able to wrap it up for you (assuming you are in a port where bringing food ashore is not prohibited).

• Many excursions offer food in their price and, if you are going to be away for the ship for awhile on one, then you might want to select one of those that do.

• Nuts, crackers, and other snack-type items might be available in the shipboard buffet and easily wrapped up in napkins or placed in a bag and taken ashore with you.

So, there are options and exceptions to weigh when you are considering eating ashore. All factors being the same, however, make the most of your money by eating on board your cruise ship — but feel free to drink at the establishments at whatever ports-of-call you happen to be at!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Greetings from Celebrity Constellation!

CELEBRITY CONSTELLATION, CARIBBEAN SEA — As indicated by the preceding deateline, I am posting this travel update from the beautiful Celebrity Constellation and am currently somewhere in the mid-Caribbean, having left the island of St. Maarten last night and currently being en route to Aruba, which we will reach tomorrow.

My wife Diane and I sailed out of Cape Liberty, New Jersey, on Oct. 30 for a 12-day cruise that, in addition to the afore-mentioned ports-of-call, also makes stops in Bermuda and Haiti before ending Nov. 10 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

As the resident destination lecturer, I have been earning my keep by speaking while on board and have been giving talks on “Ghosthunting Along the Mid-Atlantic Coast,” “Exploring the Bermuda Triangle,” “A History of St. Maarten,” “Blockade Running During the Civil War,” and “Shipwrecks and Lost Treasures of the Great Lakes” (most of which tie in one way or another with various books I’ve written).

Anyone reading this, especially people who I have met on various cruises, should feel free to comment and let me know how you have been doing yourselves!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hiking the Bermuda Rail Trail

CELEBRITY CONSTELLATION, KINGS’S WHARF, BERMUDA — It took me a year-and-a-half to walk the Bermuda Rail Trail, but it was one of the most enjoyable things I have done during my visits to the island and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in doing something a little different that is also a little bit physically demanding.

My first trip to Bermuda was in May 2007, on a cruise out of Norfolk, Virginia. It rained the entire three or four days we were on the island and that limited what we were up for doing. I noticed, however, a trail running from the capital city of Hamilton to the village of Somerset, that followed the track of an abandoned island railroad, and determined that I wanted to hike it the next time I could.

That opportunity presented itself in October 2007, when I once again cruised to Bermuda, this time on the Azamara Journey, doing two one-week cruises from Cape Liberty, New Jersey. One day during the second week, I took a Green route bus out of Hamilton aalong the north shore of the island to Gibb’s Hill Lighthouse. (Buses, by the way, are one of the most convenient and economical ways to get around Bermuda and can take visitors just about anywhere they need to go.)

After visiting the lighthouse, I walked down the hill to the Rail Trail and followed it back into Hamilton. It was a bit longer than I expected — about eight miles — and I was pretty beat by the time I made it back to the port. But it was worth it. The trail followed the path of the old train line, and went through cuts carved through sandstone and coral and stretches of forest that displayed the multivaried subtropical vegetation of the island. It was, in short, a veritable natural history tour of Bermuda. It also provided a rare, almost mystical sense of isolation on fairly-densely-populated colony.

On this trip to Bermuda, our ship was berthed for the first time in my experience at the Royal Navy Dockyard/King’s Wharf, across Grand Harbor from Hamilton. So, this time my wife and I took a bus from the dockyard to a point called Somerset Station, at one end of the Rail Trail, and then proceeded to hike to Gibb’s Hill Lighthouse along the sections I had not yet experienced.

The best parts were definitely as good as what I experienced last year and I thoroughly enjoyed the six-mile hike (after which we took a bus into Hamilton and thereafter a ferry back to the dockyard). It bears mentioning, however, that my wife was especially displeased by the sections of the trail that broke out from a parklike setting and overlapped with the auto road, and other people might dislike this aspect of the trail as well.

I, however, cannot recommend the Rail Trail too highly, and the time I have spent on it has been among my most enjoyable experiences on the island. I would love to hear from anyone else who has walked this trail and know what they thought of it!