I will give a day by day breakdown of where we were and what we saw. Since we only had one day per island, we didn't have enough time to get to know them well.
In 1898, as a result fo the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States. In 1917 the U.S. Congress granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizen status. In 1951, Puerto Rico acquired the right to establish a government with its own constitution and, in 1952, Puerto Rico was declared a semi-autonomous commonwealth territory of the United States. Puerto Rico measures 3,435 square miles, population 3.7 million, 1.5 million in San Juan. Most people speak Spanish and English.
The first day we walked downtown around Old San Juan and ended up at Fort San Cristobal which has a nice view of the water and city. At night we went out to dinner at Lupi's, which is a mexican restaurant. The food and margaritas ($6 each) were good.
We ate lunch at Amandas which serves mexican food, and has a good view overlooking the water and Fort San Cristobol. We had chili questo (cheese & chips) and Sangrias for appetizers.
This was Good Friday and the tradition in Old San Juan is for the catholics to walk to each of the seven churches, some of which are only open to the public, this one day a year.
Dinner was at the Parrot Club, we got there early luckily (you need reservations to get in otherwise) and were sat at a patio in the back. We ordered lamb and tuna dinners and both were good with good portions ($20 dinners, $67 total).
We went on to the Butterfly Cafe which sells Butterflys (from all over the world) in acrylic cases for $25 - $3,000, depending on the number of butterflys, etc. They were very attractive and we considered buying one and having it shipped home, but decided against it for now. For lunch we ate at the Butterfly Cafe.
At 1:30 we picked up our luggage at the hotel and took a taxi to the ship ($8). We were able to board right away and unpacked (room B407, inside cabin), we then explored the ship. The Dawn Princess holds 2,000 passengers, during the weeks we were aboard, about 25% were English. Also, 1/8th the passengers each week were going for two weeks. The ship has the Horizon Court Buffet that is always open. They have open seating with waiters downstairs for breakfast and lunch; and assigned seating for Dinner. A few of the things on board were a: casino, bars, pizzeria, live entertainment, movies at night, bingo, weights, treadmill, rowers, stationary bikes, spa & salon, golf simulator, basketball, swimming pools, jacuzzis, sunchairs, scuba lessons, etc.
We were suppose to sail at 11:00 but didn't until 2:00 am due to late arrivals. We were assigned early seating (6:30) the first week and late seating the next. Our first week we sat with Chuck and Lori Kelly from Northern California, we enjoyed their company very much. Our waitor was Alberto and his Ass't was Katia, both from Mexico and both were good. We thought first seating was fine because we were usually back on the boat with time to spare and went to shows or other events after. The second week we sat with Graham and Gwen from Yorkshire, England, they were interesting to talk with and we compared cultures. They also were on their second week. Graham and Gwen were sun worshipers and had very dark tans. The later seating was nice because you had time to relax after boarding the ship and could watch the sunset. We were tired after dinner though, and if we had an early morning activities the next day, went to bed.
We went scuba diving from 8:30 - 1:30. We dove on Tropicana reef, 75' max for 30 min. then Dottins South reef 60' man for 40 min. The Tropicana reef was very nice with many nice sponges, fans and coral. Dottins South was a drift dive with the visibility clouding up a bit. The water temperature was 79 degrees and I was able to dive without a wet suit. A shorty would have been good. While on a beach doing our surface interval we snorkeled and saw turtles and flying fish. We dove with West Side Scuba Center, they were nice people but the boat left a lot to be desired. It was small and we needed to wade out to the boat in groups of 4 or 5, until all 16 of us were loaded and we could only take enough tanks for the first dive. At night we saw a funny juggling/comedian Sean Emery.
My overall impression was it was a good dive with good bottom cover, some but not a lot of fish. The island didn't seem to have much to do, a few shops and probably a few good beaches.
We went scuba diving all day. The ship provided a fast ferry to the dive site, it took about 1/2 hour to get there. We dove on Anse-Chastanet reef. This dive off a beach was one of the best I remember. We saw a 6' long barracuda, 3 eels, flounder, lobster, spotted drum, sanddiver, hermit crab, etc. etc., also some divers saw seahorses. The bottom had a lot of coral, sponges, fans and fish. We had lunch between dives and they were real strict about wet cloths and having shirt and shoes. The second dive was Grand Cailla reef. It was not as good as the first, the sun was not out and we didn't see as much, but the bottom cover was just as good as the first. We were told that some of the best dives are off the the Pitons (mountains), not far from where we dove. At night back on the boat we decided to donate $50 to the casino.
My overall impression was it was a great dive with good bottom cover, and a lot of fish. We didn't get to see much of the island but have friends we met the second week staying there. Hopefully, they will give me an update.
We went into town by tender boat. It has many shops selling gold, diamonds, electronics, and watches. Absolute vodka sold for $4.95 a liter. I bought a citizens watch that is solar powered, water resistant to 200 meters, has stopwatch, alarm, and is titanium for $200. The retail sticker said $550. Many people were on the dock trying to get us to go look at timeshares. We only went on the Dutch side shopping and heard that the French sides shops closed from noon until 3, so we went back to the boat. We were told by our dinner companions that the french side had a beach called Orient beach was very nice, like a mini french riveara.
Saba is a close island that is suppose to be very good diving. We were told divers stay here and go dive on Saba.
My impression of the island was that I would like more time to explore it. Tons of shops and nice beaches. We may want to stay here to dive on Saba someday.
We walked off the pier and got a van for a private tour around the island. The first stop was the Caribelle Batik at the Gardens of Romney Manor. We bought a couple gifts and were on our way. We stopped at the Golden Lemon Hotel which charges $400 per night. Our driver (Robert) stopped for us to pick up a couple local beers (Carib, $1 each). We went all the way around the island taking pictures for $90 in our own tour. Chuck Kelly golfed on the islands one golf course and said it was a little dry and they were in the process of fixing it up.
My impression of the island was that it was interesting to visit with a few nice beaches, but once was enough.
During World War I, the U.S. became fearful that Denmark would fall to the Germans, thus making the Virgin Islands a German base in the Caribbean. In 1917, the U.S. bought the islands for a total of $25 million in gold.
We signed up for a bicycle tour. It said you should be in good shape but most of the trip was downhill. We started the bike trip with the group breaking into two groups, one to go the easy way to start, one to take a harder start. I decided to try the harder way, only two of us did, out of a group of 14. The start was easy, downhill. The problem was we had to come back up the hill which had a very steep angle. Then we joined up with the rest of the group who were all rested and we then did a total of two more steep hill with downhills and breaks in between. To say the least it was a good workout. The views were great and we ended up at Meagan's Bay, which is rated one of the 10 best beaches in the world. We stayed there for one hour then were picked up and taken back to town. The views on the way back were great. The bike trips cost $59 per person.
Downtown we were pricing diamonds and gold. We were told this is the best place to buy them due to prices and being duty free. Gold was priced at about $9.00 per gram, Absolute vodka was $4.50 a liter. Lynn saw a 18k gold necklace with 2 cts of diamonds for $2200. It looked well worth the price, but more than we wanted to spend, and it looked like you should wear it to the ball, which we don't go to very often.
My impression was that I would like more time to explore. There were nice beaches and a lot of shops.
We went scuba diving with Red Sail Sports, from 8:30 - 1:00 ($79/per person). We dove on two wrecks from WWII. One the "Antilla" is a ship scuttled by its crew (germans), a 400' ship you can swim through. We dove 55' for 40 minutes. I saw a scorpion fish, flounder, and a cucumber (I think) on this dive. The second dive was not so hot, pieces of an oil tanker, I would have rather dove a nice reef. I was told the south side of the island is where the reefs are. The water temperature was 78 degrees and I was able to dive without a wet suit again. A shorty would have been Ok.
After showering and eating lunch we headed out shopping. We went into a store called Boolchands and they had great prices on gold ($8.20/gram) and diamonds. We bought our pre-anniversary presents for each other. This seemed to be one of the best stores, they have 38 in the Caribbean. We went back to the ship and relaxed on deck watching the ship get underway.
My impression of the island is that it would be a good place to dive if you went to the reefs and the island seemed to have enough to keep us occupied. We heard there were some nice beaches, especially Palm Beach.
Pulling into La Guiara there was a stunning site of the mountain range, the Andes Mountain range. Have you ever heard about the plane that crashed with a soccer team on board and they had to resort to cannibalism to survive? There seemed to be two main choices for excusions. One went into Caracas and went to a glass factory, which didn't sound to exciting to us. The other was a four wheel drive, exploring the coastline of Venezuela. We decided to try this.
We broke into groups of 6 or 7 per jeep, with about 9 jeeps. We went in a red jeep with Katie & Kirk from Atlanta and Angela & Doug from Connecticut on a full day excursion. As we departed we all had a good laugh as our driver got lost getting out of the parking lot and the jeep was so old that the passenger door opened on its own. Also, the roof looked like it had just been welded on and you could see between the gap in the back doors. Also, as advertised the driver didn't speak english so there was no explanation of anything we were seeing. Another bad thing was that the seats in the back faced in, with the windows below eye level so you could not conveniently look out the windows. Well, misery likes company and even though we were not thrilled with the tour we made good friends, and us three couples started hanging out together the rest of the trip.
My impression was that once was enough. I think the ship stops there to fill up. Venezula major industry is oil and I think gas was 50 cents a gallon with diesel costing less.
We slept in until 9:00, then worked out, showered, and ate breakfast. We took the tender ashore with Kirk, Katie, Doug and Angela and took a water taxi to Grand Anse beach ($2/each). It was a very nice beach, the only bother was the beach vendors tying to sell their wares. We stayed from about 12:00 - 3:00 then took the water taxi back to town. After walking in a few stores we all rented a taxi for an hour island tour. We went to Annandale Falls, a nice sight except for the locals trying to get money for letting you take there picture jumping into the water. The island itself was very beautiful with great views from the mountain tops.
My impression was it was a nice island to visit and buy spices, probably not enought to do to stay there a week.
We went scuba diving with from 8:30 - 1:00 ($82/per person). The dive shop we dove with was very good at giving a pre-dive talk and preparing everyone with the proper weight and set up. We did two dives on Dominica the first was a maximum depth of 75' for 40 minutes, a wall dive. We saw porcupine puffers, a peacock flounder and a lot more on the first dive. The second dive was 50' max for 45 minutes. On this dive we saw a frog fish, two seahorses, many eels, etc. Unfortunatly my camera broke on the first dive and I only got three pictures.
After returning to the ship for a shower and lunch we headed out into town. Unfortunatly, there didn't seem much to see and the weather was very hot. So, after one hour of looking around we headed back to the ship and took a nap. This was formal night but we had already done three formal nights and didn't feel up to dressing up, so we went to the Horizon Court and had a candlelight dinner, with a pretty good menu.
My impression was it was a very nice place to scuba dive, a lot of variety and fish I don't see very often. The island itself did not have enought to do to stay there a week, unless you want to just hang out and relax.
We met our shuttle that we had pre-arranged to pick us up and went back to the ferry. This time we took a ferry straight to St. Thomas ($9/each). From there we had lunch with Katie and Kirk at Cuzzins, a carribean cafe. The food was good adn they had great Mango Coladas and Margaritas. Finally, a bit of shopping and back to the ship to start packing to leave.
Last night is tip night. Waiter and Room Steward customarily make $3 per person per night. Assistant Waiter gets $1.75 - 2.00 per night. Maitre d'Hotel and Head Waiter get whatever you feel.
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