Half Moon Cay by Kevin Carroll (March 30, 2007)

Martha and I are pleased to share our Caribbean vacation experience with you. This was our second cruise, but our first with Holland America Line. It was fantastic. We owe a big thanks to my friend Holly for the selection as well as for recommending and booking a balcony room. How can you ever go back once you go balcony? Anyway, we hope you enjoy the pictures. You will find Quick Links below to our top selections. If you would like to see all 893 pictures, you can view the Complete List.

Kevin & Martha

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

We arrived in Ft Lauderdale at about 11:30am and were probably at the port around 12:30pm. The checkin lines were much longer than I recall experiencing with Royal Caribbean, but maybe we arrived later this time around. Anyway, we were on the ship well before the 5pm scheduled departure. We left Ft. Lauderdale (10 selected pics) about 6pm, only an hour after our scheduled departure time - not too bad. We had plenty of time to check out the view from our balcony stateroom and to initiate relaxation mode.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

We spent the entire day at sea, so I took tons of pictures of our ship, the ms Zuiderdam. You will see many pictures of the artwork and such in the unfiltered list above. In our favorites (61 selected pics), you will find pictures of and on the ship. This is also where you'll see most of the Martha/Kevin/Holly pictures as well as our dinner companions (Chrys, Kaye, and Elizabeth - from Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada) and our dining stewards (Alex and Randy).

Monday, March 26, 2007

We arrived in Grand Turk sometime around 7am and departed around 2pm (53 selected pics, including underwater). We docked right on the pier there, which wasn't difficult given the 8,000 ft sheer drop-off, just off-shore. At the pier, we boarded the tender for a short water trip to the vessel Sea Trekker. It was a small boat, not much bigger than the tender - maybe 25 ft. We only travelled about 10 minutes the other side of the ship. On board the dive boat, we received a safety briefing and a description of what we would be seeing. The excursion material described SNUBA as a way for four people and a guide to explore the waters to a depth of fifteen to eighteen feet - "a magnificent opportunity to view a marine universe that is mainly unexplored and to frolic with the fish." I would say that over-dramatizes the experience quite a bit, but it was pretty fun. Indeed, there were only 3 of us to one guide and 4 to the other.

SNUBA involves breathing with a regulator and Martha and Holly were able to swim freely, having no tank on their backs - just a 15-20ft hose from them to the source of air, which floated in a small vessel above them (basically, an inflatable raft about 1.5ft x 3ft). Indeed, Holly may have experienced an underwater "freedom that snorkeling cannot provide." I didn't have the same experience. I was the only one to my raft, so it was tougher to pull and the regulator kept tugging at my head because my harness was apparently not adjusted properly. I can definitely see how it would have been a pretty cool experience, but I won't do it again. The 20 ft depth is no more than I dive when I snorkel and when I snorkel I'm completely free for the 30 seconds or so that I can hold my breathe. Anyway, they do call it the "first step in learning to dive." I would like to give diving a try. Martha never did get comfortable enough to dive, so she basically did just snorkel. I guess I should have attached my raft to hers and had her pull me along too. Overall, I would say the 2 hr experience was over-sold and under-delivered, but it was still worth the experience. I would definitely do it over again. I just won't do it again. Make sense?

One more quick note - the excursion mentioned having the option to relax on Sea Trekker with some refreshments after the dive or to immerse ourselves once again in the "wet and wonderful paradise" with complimentary snorkel gear. I don't recall having this option, nor do I recall hearing "tales of Grand Turk, its salt mining days, the Molasses Wreck and the day John Glenn came to town."

I did, however, hike down to the other end of the island with my own snorkel gear (while Martha and Holly relaxed on the beach). You'll see a couple of pics of the conk-covered beach at the end of the first roll of underwater film. I didn't stay in long because the water was a bit choppy, there was noone within a couple hundred yards to keep an eye on me, and I had no clue what was lurking in the waters at that end. You might say I chickened out. I did. :-) But Martha says I made a wise decision.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

We arrived in Tortola sometime around 12pm and departed around 10pm (21 selected pics). As soon as we arrived, we headed down to the pier to catch the Island Rocket for our 40-minute cruise along the Sir Francis Drake Channel to Virgin Gorda for our second excursion. As we headed away from Tortola, we heard something over the PA system about Richard Branson. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but I had heard that he has an island in the Caribbean where he holds meetings and parties. He also rents the island out for something like six digits per week. I think I read about it in Fortune magazine. Anyway, you'll see some pics of the small island with a nice castle-like estate, which we believed at the time to be Sir Richard's private island. In fact, Branson's island is called Necker Island and is in the vicinity we visited, but I don't believe we went that far North and East. What we photographed appears to be Buck Island. To learn more about Branson's Island, see Necker.com.

Virgin Gorda & the Baths

Upon our arrival to Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, we boarded an open safari bus for the short drive to the Baths (53 selected pics, including underwater). A guide led on a 10-minute hike down winding trails. When we reached the bottom, we were greeted by a beach covered with mammoth boulders, palms, sand and sea caves. I didn't waste any time before donning my snorkel gear and diving in to the crystal-clear water. It was absolutely amazing. The pictures don't do it justice. Just off shore I was diving 10 to 20 ft, exploring the boulders and enjoying the sea life.

After about an hour, we grabbed our gear and headed to the next beach. This required navigating the Devil's Bay Trail, which led us over, under, and around huge granite boulders. It was a pretty cool hike. I wish we had more time to explore the nooks and crannies along the way. The next beach wasn't quite as good snorkeling as the first, but it was pretty good. I'd readily spend more time here as well. Of all the destinations on both of our cruises, the Baths are the one place I'd really like to re-visit and spend more time - maybe even a few days.

After a shorter hike from Devil's Bay to the Top of the Baths, we were greeted with a refreshing drink - rum punch (my favorite vacation beverage). The buses were about to leave, so we grabbed our drinks and hopped aboard. We almost lost Holly, who was lagging behind after taking a peak at the gift shops. Someone else grabbed the last seat on our bus and she had to catch the next one. It followed right behind us, though, and we all arrived back at the docks together.

After the 40-minute ride back to Tortola aboard the Island Rocket, we re-boarded the Zuiderdam and changed for dinner. We headed into Road Town to find a restaurant and found a fantastic one called Village Cay Marina right on the waterfront with open-air dining. The food was as good as the atmosphere, solidifying Tortola/Virgin Gorda as my favorite port.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We arrived in St. John sometime around 7am and departed around 6pm (19 selected pics). Again, we hopped a boat away from the island, but this time we arranged it on our own. We caught a bus from our port at Crown Bay to the more popular port of Charlotte Amalie. From there, we hopped a passenger ferry to Cruz Bay, St. John. On our way out, we snapped some pics of the Marriott hotel as well as what appeared to be a relatively new shipwreck.

In St. John (93 selected pics, including underwater), we caught a bus from Cruz Bay to Trunk Bay - home of the underwater snorkeling trail. We found a great place to drop our blanket and geared up for more snorkeling. There was an island just off shore and it was crowded to the left, so I started to the right. I quickly found out why the right was not crowded. There wasn't much there, so I headed around the back of the island to the other side. It got a bit deep (maybe 30 feet), so I picked up the pace. The waves were crashing on the rocks and I must admit that I got a bit nervous. Anyway, I was on the other side in no time at all. The surf was still pounding a bit, but now there were people around - quite a few in some spots. I was now upon underwater markers. I swam around snapped up pictures until the camera was full. Then I headed for shore, reloaded, and hopped right back in. The markers were quite educational, but I think I saw everything I would want to see on that beach. One day was sufficient. My only advice would be to stick to the left/west side of Trunk Cay. Start at the first floating marker, make your way to the second and then vere slightly to the west on your way back.

Our ride back to the dock was uneventful thankfully. We just sat back and enjoyed the ride. Back at the dock, we did enjoy some ice cream that the girls went off and bought whilst I waited in line for ferry tickets. On the ferry back, we got to see planes take off from the water, parasailers fly high, and we took more pics of the shipwreck.

That night on the ship was the grand dessert buffet. Unfortunately, Martha was not feeling well and we were all tired. We snapped a couple of quick pictures and headed back to the room to crash.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ahhh! Time for our second full day at sea. For me, that meant sleeping in. For the girls, that meant sunbathing and pool games. I think you'll be able to get a feel for what Martha thought about the pool games. She tried to get me to put almost every picture in the favorites. Of course, she did have reason to be proud. She and Holly led their team to victory in maybe four of the five or six games. They should have had at least one of the other games too, but I think the other team got the mercy vote.

I spent almost all day reading the book that Chris gave me - Michael Crichton's "Next". I didn't think it was one of his best books, but it was good enough to keep me occupied for the better part of the day.

Friday, March 30, 2007

We arrived in Half Moon Cay at about 8am and were probably there until around 4pm (24 selected pics, including underwater). This really was a nice island and it was quite obvious that it was private. It was practically empty wen we got there. That changed quite quickly though, as the tenders unleaded maybe half the ship or more. While Holly made herself comfortable on the beach, Martha and I decided to go for a hike and see the island. We hikes all the way down to where they were doing the horse rides. Then we got lazy and caught one of the shuttles back to the main beach area. We got back just in time to have some lunch - catered by the ship's staff, of course. It was a decent lunch and much more convenient than getting back on the ship for lunch.

After our lunch break, I made my way to the water for one last snorkel. There didn't seem to be much to see until I stumbled across a weird looking fish that we have so far been unable to identify. I would call it a peacock fish because of the way that it fanned out when provoked. It was pretty neat. Nearby, I found a stingray. After a few pics, I pointed some of the other snorkelers in the vicinity its way. Not so bad as you might expect for such a beautiful, clear, calm beach. It probably was the best beach that we went too. Of course, being the end of the week, I didn't mind having some down time to relax (and to finish the book). I think we were all quite exhausted and ready to go home.
I won't speak for Holly, but Martha and I had a fantastic time. Holly was a great roommate and it was definitely worth sharing a room in order to save a couple of hundred bucks or whatever it was. Thanks again Holly!!!

Port Information at HollandAmerica.com

Itinerary (Holland America Line's Zuiderdam, Mar 24-31, 2007)

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