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Archived Blogs Archived Blogs: 2013 December
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Tue Dec 31 23:24:24 MST 2013 - Day 6 - Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic - New Year's Celebration

Day 6: New Year's Eve in Puerto Plata.

Spent a nice afternoon today at low tide wading on shallow pools, discovering a wealth of life. This place is just taming with life - from fish, to shrimps, clams, shells, and sea urchins.

By nighttime, the resort went into a big celebration mode - from the festive food to party mood of noise, horns, and fire crackers. The food was excellent this time, lobster tails for buffet! Around 10PM, they started distributing party packages consisting of masks, confetti, streamers, and noisemakers. Wine and champagne flowed freely as the crowd exploded into cheers and noise as the countdown began.

Location: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic - New Year's Celebration


Mon Dec 30 17:19:04 MST 2013 - Day 5 - Puerto Plata Tours - Damajagua Waterfalls

Our tour-guide friend, Jose, had arranged a tour package for us for half the price from the resort. This tour will take us to a local gift shop factory where they carve anything out of limestone, then off to Damajagua Waterfalls, a 27-level waterfalls where you either climb, jump, dive, slide, rappel, or walk the long way -- your choice - or get pushed over!; and then to another part of town to a cigar factory.

Damajagua Waterfalls - Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic


Sun Dec 29 00:00:00 MST 2013 - Day 4 - Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Already feeling at home with the kind of weather we were having for the past several days. Into our 4th day - still getting to know the stretch of beaches, and a particular beach section just outside the perimeter of the resort - which is already part of town, but is not frequented by the locals.

And true to his promise, Jose, our befriended-tourguide, continues to bring us young coconuts. He cuts off a portion of the top, sticks in a straw and waits for us to finish off the water, and then proceeds to cut it in half. What a service!

Location: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic


Sat Dec 28 16:48:07 MST 2013 - Day 3 - Puerto Plata - Dominican Republic

On a previous visit to adjacent local shops just outside the resort, we befriended a local tour guide, Jose - a very friendly, and just way-down-to-earth person. He had given us tips around town - where to go, what to avoid, and of the people, their ways and their culture. He offered us to walk with him to town, just about 30minutes away from the resort.

This is our first time to be outside the resort. The walk to town was very nice, and in a way felt very familiar: often times stopping by Jose's friends or relatives, or getting into someone's house just to introduce us, greeted often by kids playing at the streets, or even stopping by someone else's front yard as Jose tries to show us a fruit tree or how they lived, or calling out someone at the shore about a fresh 'mahi-mahi' that someone just caught. We already felt at home!

Jose brought us to a friend's place where they cooked fresh fish to whatever liking; often times negotiating for us and helping them serve us.

On one of our conversations, we happen to mention about young coconuts and mangoes, and how expensive they were at the resort. Next thing you knew, he disappeared and came back with a bagful of ripe mangoes. He also promised us to bring young coconuts everyday for the rest of our stay. And he did! All these hospitality - without the mention or hint of some sort of payback or a tip! But we knew, he deserves more than a tip!

Location: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic


Thu Dec 26 20:28:06 MST 2013 - Day 1 - Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Our first in Dominican Republic. San Felipe de Puerto Plata, or simply Puerto Plata, Spanish for "silver port", with its caramel-coloured beaches nestled against a backdrop of mountains is ranked among the country's best. The beaches stretch along the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Caribbean Sea. The Creole culture of the island represents a vibrant, rich cultural inheritance from many parts of the world. This intermix of cultures is best expressed in the merengue dance and music of the island. Merengue is a rhythmic mix of African and Caribbean origins, is very much part of life here.

Location: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic


Sun Dec 22 17:54:11 MST 2013 - Space Shuttle Atlantis at NASA's Kennedy Space Center - Florida

The Space Shuttle Atlantis at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida.

Location: NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida


Sun Dec 22 15:11:04 MST 2013 - Kennedy Space Center Tour - Florida

Took a day-tour of the Kennedy Space Center at Merritt Island, Florida

  • Launch Pad Complex LC-39, a rocket launch site, was the departure point for all six Apollo missions and for all Space Shuttle launches
  • Vehicle Assembly Building which is considered the fourth largest structure in the world by volume, capable of holding four Saturn V's and other transporters
  • Saturn V, largest and most powerful launch vehicle in history
  • the Shuttle Landing Facility, a 4.6Km runway primarily for Shuttle's end-of-mission landing site, is among the world's longest runways.
  • the Crawlerways, the path leading to the launch pad site; a massive 2700Ton Crawler-Transporter was used to move spacecrafts and the Shuttle vehicles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad at a pace of 1.6Km/Hr; these Crawlerways are about 5-6Km
  • the Launch Control Center
  • cryogenic tanks that stored the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for Saturn Vs
  • the Sound Suppression Water System

The end of Space Shuttle program also lent to the closing of this launch pad complex. Normally, this launch pad complex is off limits to the public. Our tour group was considered one of the first to actually set foot at the actual Launch Pad site, right on the actual charred bricks on the site's exhaust flame trench. This site is now open to the public before it is torn down or refurbished (who knows) for commercial use by SpaceX, a privately owned space transport company.

Location: NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida


Sun Dec 22 07:42:08 MST 2013 - Day 8 - Caribbean Cruise - Back On Port - Orlando

7AM, Sunday in Orlando. We had all our luggages tagged and left outside our suite door the night before. We are supposed to pick them up down at the Claim area. Very convenient! So, you're eager to ask us "Will we do it again?"? A big resounding yes, of course! In fact, a plan is already on the way...

We will leave the ship with this, thank you's to the Royal Caribbean Cruise crew who did an excellent job and service if not, well beyond excellence. A special thank you to our co-patriot Dining crew and their Head for going beyond. Our table always had surprises outside of what was on the menu. Hope we didn't get you in trouble too for the drinks!


Sat Dec 21 23:58:03 MST 2013 - Day 7 - Caribbean Cruise

Day 7. Our last day of cruise. Scheduled to be back at Orlando port by early 7AM, Sunday.

Today, we just took it easy and relaxed at the lounges and at the Promenade, often times hanging out for coffee, goodies or drinks, or the occassional visit to the Pizza restaurant.

By around 3PM, there was another Fair at the Promenade -- liquor and wine Sale, jewelry Sale, and food, and food, and food, and food!

The evening, another party to be had: a Disney-character Theme Party. After which we headed straight to our usual hang out place at the Boleros where we just soaked ourselves with Latin music and dance from a live band. It was sort of intimate party, just out there in a lounge.


Fri Dec 20 23:56:01 MST 2013 - Day 6 - Caribbean Cruise

Into Day 6 of our cruise. We are on our way back to Orlando and will be on the sea for 2 days.

Spent the entire day at the sundeck with a live band in between other activities, and whatever competitions at the pool side, and of course Nora's daily Zumba routines at the poolside. With all that food and dining we've been treating ourselves lately, seems inevitable we do our share of long laps at the tracks at the sundeck.

Tonight was another party night, the "Dancing In The Street - 70s/Disco theme" at the Promenade. And since we are now out in the open ocean, a little rocking of the ship every now and then didn't seem to bother us a bit. If you're out there with these crazy crowd? No, you can't seem to have time to notice!


Thu Dec 19 17:28:09 MST 2013 - Day 5 - Caribbean Cruise - Back On Board

After a day out exploring the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin, we're ready again to be back on board and enjoy dining and other activities. After dinner, we went to see the Ice Show... and retired to bed early.

Thu Dec 19 16:28:02 MST 2013 - Day 5 - Caribbean Cruise - St. Maarten/St. Martin Island Tour

We took a scenic 5-Hour sightseeing tour to explore both sides of the island - Sint Maarten (the Dutch side) and Saint Martin (the French side); visited the capital city of Phillisburg (Dutch side); explored the village of Marigot (French side, its street shops and a trendy West Indies Shopping Mall; breathtaking views of the Caribbean; and learn about the cultural history of the island.

St. Maarten/St. Martin is the smallest island in the world ever to have been partitioned between two different nations. Saint Martin, the French side, tend to emphasize on elegance and luxury with an easy-going lifestyle while Sint Maarten (the Dutch side) has been active in tourism, tend to be more developed yet informal. The neighborhoods still have traces of ancient sugar cane plantations. Yet this island of two countries has a border that you can't even notice except where its marked with signs on the mainroad. People cross back and forth without realizing they are entering a new country - yet retaining its own cultural distinctiveness.


Thu Dec 19 08:53:22 MST 2013 - Day 5 - Caribbean Cruise - Port of Saint Maarten

After an hour delay (the ship had to rescue a boat in distress just about an hour away from port), we got to this French/Dutch island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten - an island of two countries. This is the smallest island in the world ever to have been partitioned between two different nations. Saint Martin, the French side, tend to emphasize on elegance and luxury while Sint Maarten (the Dutch side) has been active in tourism, tend to be more developed.


Thu Dec 19 05:05:27 MST 2013 - DAY 5 - Caribbean Cruise - Witnessed A Fishing Boat Sink

As per schedule, we were to arrive at the French/Dutch island of  Saint Maarten at 6AM. 5AM, I was awakened by noise of something being hoisted down the ship. I glanced at the ocean just outside our balcony and noticed that the ship seemed to be standing still. I jumped off the bed and looked outside and noticed that the ship was actually doing a 180. And I thought that was strange; I could not see any port close by!

Few minutes later, I saw the rescue boat speeding away from us (that was the source of the banging noise, I guess). It was heading towards another boat that I could hardly see. I quickly grabbed my camera and mounted my 100-400mm telezoom lens. By the time I saw them through my zoom lens, they were all heading back towards our ship. I zoomed back at this sport fishing boat they just left behind and can't help notice that it was actually sinking.

The story from captain over the emergency monitors on our suites was that -- the ship received a radio call for help from the Port of Saint Maarten of a fishing boat in distress just an hour away from the port. Luckily for these 2 guys, our ship was on the vicinity and was the first one to respond. Within 5 minutes of rescueing them from their fishing boat, the boat sank right within my zoom view. Eerie!


Wed Dec 18 16:03:23 MST 2013 - DAY 4 - Caribbean Cruise - San Juan - Puerto Rico

We got to San Juan, Puerto Rico early in the morning. We booked a city tour and went around the city on our own after that -- walked the streets, hopped in in this cute trolley that brings you around the city for FREE (yes, you heard me right. Free!), enjoyed the city street vendors and also found Starbucks shyly tucked in this cute cobblestone street.


Wed Dec 18 08:48:25 MST 2013 - DAY 4 - Caribbean Cruise - San Juan City Tour

Into  Day 4 of our cruise. Our second port call at San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital city and one of its important seaports -- is also the oldest city on US territory. This one-day-stop in our Caribbean itinerary is one of our to-go-to-do list because of its appeal to us. This city is divided into the new and the old, or the walled city. The walled city interested us most. It has been nicely preserved, including its forts, cobblestone streets, the street vendors, shops and galleries.  Our cruise ship conveniently docked right off the old San Juan where you can just walk right into the old city.

We took a city tour to experience what the city was like -- the new and the city within the walls. We also visited the historic Castillo San Cristobal, a fortification built by the Spanish wrapping around the city. 



Tue Dec 17 23:58:03 MST 2013 - DAY 3 - Caribbean Cruise

DAY 3.

Today after our all-day-out up and about the ship, we got our surprise treat from Alyssa! We can't thank her enough for her thoughtfulness.

Big items on our list. A merengue dance class. Hang out by the sun deck. Sunset by the sun deck. Another ballroom party at the Promenade after dinner. A Disney-themed musical show at the theater.  A photo shoot (yes, that is every night at different places of the ship -- and you've got to collect all of them if you want to after the end of your trip. For a $ of course!). Lounge at the 14 Floor bar with a live band.


Mon Dec 16 23:29:24 MST 2013 - DAY 2 - Caribbean Cruise - Aboard Ship

Back on board after a day-trip to Coco Cay island (Bahamas).

Headed straight to the coffee shop and just hang out and enjoy some snacks from Starbucks. Took our coffee back to our suite where we continued to kill time before dinner. After dinner, we headed off to the Promenade for a formal ballroom party. This was the designated "Meet the Captain" night. The live jazz band and the entertainment from an elevator platform was great! That platform straddled the width of the Promenade and was raised back and forth.

After some photo shoot sessions with the ship's professional photo crew (several stations were strategically placed all over the ship), we dropped by at the Schooners bar and was wowed by a flamenco player, then headed straight to the theatre for a Broadway stage show. Their shows were spectacular and professional, quite comparable to any Vegas show. Great time there!


Mon Dec 16 18:14:23 MST 2013 - DAY 2 - Caribbean Cruise - Coco Cay, Bahamas


A whole day visit at Coco Cay, Bahamas. We had barBQs at the beach. We choose sightseeing around the island instead of the usual beach time. By late afternoon, although it showered a little bit, we still had fun at this tiny island and left at a good note.

We took one of the last trip off the island and headed back to the ship for more fun, shows, and a taste of the night life!


Sun Dec 15 18:00:00 MST 2013 - DAY 1 - Caribbean Cruise

Ok, DAY 1! It's been a lovely cruise so far. There's way more activities you can pick and choose. Service has been awesome to start with so far...

Aside from the activities and shows we've been wanting to join and see, we still have lots to know about the ship! Today will be discovery time as well!


Sun Dec 15 16:30:00 MST 2013 - Boarding Time At Freedom of the Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

We purposely got to Orlando a day ahead before our cruise to allow us additional time to go around town. The rental car was perfect for this along with our GPS!

The following day, even though we got to the dock a little early, the boarding lineup to the ship was already long. After all our suitcases were tagged, we left them with the cruise line porters to be delivered to our suite.

We will be cruising the eastern part of the Caribbean aboard the Freedom of the Seas (a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line), with destinations to San Juan (Puerto Rico), Coco Cay (Bahamas), and an island of two countries - Saint Maarten (the Dutch side) and St. Martin (the French side of the island). This will be our very first venture with cruise holidays.

We choose a stateroom with a balcony overlooking the sea. The agent that booked our trip was so nice to book us a quiet suite away from traffic but close to the nearest elevators and amenities, and also a stateroom at mid-ship -- less rocking in case of rough seas. The suite worked out so well! To top it off, we were greeted with a surprise package when we got to our suite -- compliments of our loving daughter!


Sat Dec 14 15:09:27 MST 2013 - 14Dec2013 - EnRoute: Caribbean Cruise, Orlando, and Puerto Plata Dominican Repulic

At Newark Airport, enroute to 3 exciting destinations: a week long Carribean cruise, then off to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic for another 10 days, and then Orlando!

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