Saturday, January 24, 2015

A little bit of France, in St Maarten!

Next we stopped in Marigot. I think this stop was one of the main reasons I wanted to do this tour! There's just something about this market area that I felt like I wanted to experience. It's not the typical cruise port shopping area, it's just a bit more than that. It's French, very French! And that's just unique to me. This tour gave us the drive around the island, the photo stops, the beach and time to stop here. I'm not a shopper at all. At least not a vacation shopper. I collect magnets everywhere I go, and maybe get a necklace or some other small thing, and by necklace I don't mean an expensive one, I mean something more handcrafted. Maybe a I don't go to the ports for shopping and bargaining, but I wanted to come here. Maybe this was why?

Everytime I read anything at St. Maarten, Sarafina's came up! 

Alex doubted me...remember he's a picky eater. And for some crazy reason he doesn't really like pastries or believe it or not chocolate! So this entire place really had no appeal to him whatsoever! But I dragged him in and afterall, I did say he has some sense of adventure so, he didn't complain!

We decided to get a "grilled three cheese and mozzarella panini" - apparently mozzarella is not really a cheese on the French menu! It was amazingly good! Alex and I split it and we also got these...

YUM! They were amazing! And since he doesn't like that kind of food, I got to have both. 

They had a great selection to choose from

And those are only a small section of the items. 

After our short little lunch break, we went over to the vendor and craft type market. One side of the street had stores and more of restaurant type places, and then over on the water side there were vendor type stands. We went over there and got a couple of small items. No one was pushy and there were some nice jewelry stands and many other stands. We didn't walk through the whole place but only walked through to get back to our van. I'd say all in all we had maybe an hour in Marigot.

When our time at Marigot was up we wandered back to our tour bus. It was a successful trip there! We had gotten our French lunch, complete with macarons! I got a lovely handmade necklace made of some type of sea shell found in the Caribbean.

It was time to move along! We left the French side and crossed over into the Dutch side. Again we got to hear all about crossing the border between countries and the differences between the governments. It was pretty fascinating! Our driver again did a slow drive so we could take pictures of the border.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

St. Maarten, Wednesday 11/19/14

Today was our day in St. Maarten! With the pretty much perfect day we had in St. Thomas, could this day compare? Keith and I had been to St. Maarten a few years back on the Eclipse cruise, but I felt like on that day we didn't really get a good feel for the island. We did a land/sea type excursion. I think it was one where you drive the jeeps and then drive the little speed boats and maybe snorkel? I know we had a blast! And while we did drive across the island, I don't feel like we "saw" the island! I'm pretty sure that time we did have some short beach time, which I'm sure was great - but this time, I wanted to actually get a feel for St. Maarten/St. Martin itself! I'd always been intrigued by this two country little place!

So, I booked an island tour with Bernard's tours. I picked the one that had some time in Marigot as well as about 2 hours at a beach. Originally the scheduled beach was supposed to be Orient Beach, but this was shortly after the hurricane and I think the beach and the bars or area around it just wasn't the standard that Bernard's tours wanted to take us to. 

It was again, another early morning and today, Megan just didn't feel well, she says. Honestly, I think she wanted to sleep in. Or maybe it was just a bit too much Qsine last night! There really was a LOT of food! So, after a long discussion Keith decided he would stay back on the ship with her - he was actually looking forward to a day with most people off of the ship and relaxing...and Alex and I would go to St. Maarten by ourselves. I was a bit disappointed, but Alex and I really have a great time when we travel together. As far as the four of us in our family, Alex and I probably have the most similar vacation styles when it comes to exploring, touring, types of vacations....that type of thing - so I knew we'd have a pretty great mom/son day!

We got off the ship and were to meet our guide as early as possible to start the tour. 

We walked by the St. Maarten sign and found where the private tours were meeting

And were given a sticker to indicate which tour we were on....the 1 hour beach or the 2 hour beach, and then went to wait for everyone to arrive. Interestingly everyone was actually on the same tour. So if you did the 1 or 2 hour beach, the rest of the tour was exactly the same. The only difference was the beach time. It seemed to me in reading the descriptions there were other differences, such as the amount of shopping time...but no big deal, the tour was still good! Alex again, felt like it was a "grown up tour"....Here we were docked right next to I think the Oasis...and not one family with kids was on our tour! There was a family with some older teens, but everyone else was adults. And I think it made him a bit uncomfortable since there is free flowing beer and whatever they call their island punch being passed about. Of course there's water, and it was by no means a "party" atmosphere, but I think he may have felt just a little out of place. Had Megan come, he may have felt a little more comfortable. That being said, it's odd because he does tend to relate a bit better to adults than kids at times, so go figure!

Anyway....I didn't take notes, so I don't remember the name of our guide, but he was very good and we all piled on our little bus. Maybe 25 people or so. We started driving and he told us about the island and the history and just talked freely about what we were seeing and his life. I like a talkative guide. To me, it helps to get to know the place you are visiting.

He told us about crossing freely from one country to the other, as we crossed into the French side

And we stopped at one point to take some pictures at a higher point on the island with nice views

Next we stopped at what might have been Oyster Pond??? I'm not sure. I'm just looking at our itinerary now and guessing. But it was a beachy area. Before we left the port our guide told us we would have the opportunity to see some sea "creatures" urchins, star fish, things like that. That he has someone on the beach that we can visit with and he will show them to us. This should have been that stop. When we got off the bus, I know the guide said something like "oh, I don't see xx down at his spot"...

Now, it was a really pretty area, with a look out platform. We stopped for about 5, maybe 10 minutes. Took some pictures and got back on the bus.

You may be able to see up there on the hill...there's a goat - I don't know if it was a random goat, or if there was a farm of sorts, but there were a few up on that hill.

Looks like a better picture of the goats!

So, I took this picture from a distance, didn't really know what I was taking a picture of, thought it was "picturesque"... a later stop, I ask our driver when we'll get to see the sea life? he says...oh, that was back at the scenic beach. Calvin was there, you had to go find him and he would show you all kinds of things. REALLY???? Well, first, maybe he could have told us about "Calvin"...instead of just mumbling something when we got off the bus. And then while we were there, if Calvin was really there, maybe he should have called us over. I know it sounds a bit petty, but if he was going to mention it when we got on the bus to start the tour - and really, he talked it up! Then when we get to Calvin and his sea creatures - please tell us! First, as I may have mentioned...I love all things ocean. And second, this would have been a teen friendly part of the tour for my teen who had now been sitting in a bus while the adults were passing a jug of some rum punch around! 

So, if there was one minor complaint about the tour, and it really is minor - that would be it. I felt a bit of lack of communication there.


Next we drove by some iguanas...they used to take their tour to an iguana farm, but that is no longer part of the tour. I've heard it's under construction or also that it's in bad condition. So the replacement is to do an "Iguana Drive By"....kind of funny. 

Both Alex and I are reptile fans- imagine that! Animal lovers that we are! Alex actually has a pet Chinese Water Dragon. Sounds more ferocious than he is. He's actually a very friendly, not too big lizard - much smaller than an iguana. So, we like the lizard stops - but it was kind of funny to actually pull over on the road to take pictures - when they are found almost everywhere in the Caribbean!

But they did have the cool orange ones!

And another picture stop...not the prettiest view, but it was a "sweeping" view!

And a shipwreck in the ocean

We definitely were enjoying our morning so far!  Next we'd be stopping in Marigot, the French Marketplace.....

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Specialty Dining with a Twist! - Qsine!

We were back from our fantastic day in St. Thomas, tonight we had our first specialty dinner reservation in Qsine! For those not too familiar with cruising, you basically have two types if dining.  You have your included dining options, the "Main Dining Room" or your "Specialty Dining".  Most of the cruise lines have several different special restaurants that have different themes or types of food offered for a range of surcharges.  Usually the charge is relatively small, and it's totally up to you if you choose to pay extra to eat, or you can always eat for free in the Main Dining room or the buffet.  We like the specialty restaurants!  So, tonight's choice is Qsine! Qsine is described as a culinary journey with an element of surprise at every turn...would it be?  Keith and I have dined at this restaurant on the Eclipse previously, and we enjoyed it...We were really looking forward to this. However, Alex and Megan are really are somewhat picky. And not the most agreeable! The good thing, they keep bringing food! The bad, what one likes, the other generally doesn't! But we knew we'd have a food adventure one way or another!

Both kids loved the atmosphere and while they thought the menu on the iPads was pretty unique, being raised in the tech age, they weren't quite as "wowed" by it as Keith and I thought it was unique. They wanted to know why there weren't games on it! Although we did enjoy watching the little video clips of the menu items!

 And this is the Menu....pretty cool right?

We chose our menu selections, and like so many people probably do, we chose far, far too many options! But after discussing it with our server, he told us that when we got full, just to let him know and he would talk to us about where we could thin out the choices and we could start cutting back. It was still a tough choice though - Alex wanted such different choices from Megan and we probably ended up getting a lot of food just to try a few bites here and there!

The Sushi Lollipops

This was maybe Voodoo Shrimp? I'm not sure about the names of the dishes at this point - but it was good!

Another one you apparently eat with chopsticks!

 This one was Alex's favorite by far! I think if he ever went back, he'd order four or five of this course alone!

Just look at how happy he finally is to be getting some food HE likes!

One of Alex's favorite things to do with a burger is to put fries on it, and yes - he even got to do that here with the sliders!

Megan made a ketchup smiley face on hers - yes it was quite the whimsical evening!

It was about here that we hit the wall...we truly didn't need this GIANT kabob! 

But, then they brought this, and this was another really huge hit at our table!

Finally, flag waved, make the food stop! I didn't even post pictures of all of the courses we got!  There were several more believe it or not! But then our server brought these little cubes for us to order dessert. As if we could eat another bite! What does our server say? No need to decide, I'll just bring you one of each? Are you out of your mind? Ok - fine do it!

 I don't really remember what was all there - a chocolate wall, decorate your own cupcakes, little donut things, a couple of other things. I really couldn't even take a bite of most, and I feel bad because we didn't eat even a dent in it!

But we did get the Strawberry Fields Forever brought to us, and that was the perfect ending to a great meal that was a lot of fun after a pretty perfect day!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

St Thomas in the afternoon!

So.....back to it! We left off with still about 3 or 4 hours of time in St. Thomas and no plan! As I mentioned on our San Juan day, I'm a planner, and this really isn't like me to not have a plan, so we had to come up with something! There was no way I was going back on the ship. I'm not only a planner, but I'm a doer. If you ever read my other reviews, you can see that when we travel, we like to really make the most of our time in ports! So, I mentioned that I had heard about the Banana Daiquiri and the amazing view up on the Mountain Top, so the question was, how to get there and how to best spend the time!

So we found the taxi stand and talked to one of the drivers. He basically told us that for just a little more than the price of a round trip taxi ride up to the Mountain Top and back, he'd give us an island tour, with a stop at the Mountain Top and take us back to the ship when we were done. So, there we have it! We got a nice island tour. I want to say it was about $15/person but can't quite remember. It may have been a bit more or maybe less! 

The downside was that we were exhausted from the snorkeling, so it was a bit hard to stay awake for the drive. I think Keith and Alex fell asleep as soon as we started driving! But our driver drove us around and told us about the different neighborhoods we were going through. He talked about his life, which was colorful! And then we stopped at some stands and mainly just took some pictures. It overlooked an airstrip. Also overlooked the Allure, or maybe it was the Oasis!

We drove up to Mountain Top and our driver told us we had about 30 minutes or so to walk around the store, check out the view and whatever else we wanted to do. I really liked his laid back attitude. He was pretty much on our time and that was nice!

If you couldn't find a souvenir here, I'm pretty sure you weren't going to find one anywhere on the island! It was a bit crowded, but not overwhelming at all.

There was a bar at the back making the daiquiri's and I decided to get the one with the souvenir cup. Why not! And do I have a picture? No....boy, I was falling down on the photo requirements this trip! I actually had just come back from a business trip to Mexico the previous week and had less than 12 hours at home to unpack, do laundry and re-pack, so I think I was still recovering from the whirlwind turnaround! But still - it's not like me to miss all of these photo ops!

Here we are outside - one of the few group shots of all four of us! Oh, Keith does have the souvenir cup in hand! Whew!

The view was just stunning....

We made another stop on the way back to the ship. Another photo stop and some more vendors selling things there. Here there was a really nice view of the ships in port.

Our driver brought us back to the ship in plenty of time, but not so much time that I felt like we had time left wasted that we could have spent it in port, know what I mean? 

We really enjoyed our time in St. Thomas and I was glad that we chose to stay in St. Thomas instead of heading to St. John. I'm sure we'll be back here some day and that will definitely be an option, but for our first time here, this was a great port day for us! 

Keith and I went up to Lawn for sail away. Did I mention that the ship has a lawn?  Yes, the top deck has actual grass on it.  I know I mentioned in passing and posted a few pictures of this area, but it's really a pretty unique feature of this class of the Celebrity ships.  The "Lawn" area....

So, we went up to the lawn and watched the Coast Guard boat clear us (I assume) for sailing out. 

This one is through the glass on the deck, so there's a bit of reflection

And now it was time for dinner....tonight would be Qsine! I was really looking forward to this! Keith and I went to Qsine back on our cruise on the Eclipse and really enjoyed it. I knew Megan would love it, but Alex, my picky eater....well, I'm not sure what he's going to think!