Love and Tapas in the tropics in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
The Tapas at El Toro de Saloa were outrageously great. We had an incredible Gazpacho, then ten platters of Tapas preceded by two different Sangria and followed by entrees, dessert and espresso. Luckily our wonderful accommodations at the Old San Juan Sheraton were two blocks downhill so we could roll home afterward and swim off some of the calories in the rooftop pool overlooking the harbor.
Imagine the kid's shock when we discovered we had a suite rather than a room with bunks.
One grand-person was in the Jacuzzi in the bathroom within minutes of arrival.
The Fiesta Deck has only 7 suites on the entire deck.
After only five hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico, my son Todd said, "The difference between Puerto Rican woman and stateside women is the height of their heels."
This island's women really do seem to have cornered the market in 4-inch wooden Wedge heeled shoes.
He might have added the proportions of their upper torsos because it must be a requirement to have visited a plastic surgeon before boarding the Caribbean Princess on which we are spending the week with Todd and our two grandchildren.
My wife is a travel arranger par excellence, and the choice of the Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel and Casino across from the cruise line docks and in the middle of historic and beautiful Old San Juan.
This gorgeous city has been preserved in its colonial splendor, and next to dozens of local restaurants.
Locals had advised Patricia to choose El Toro de Salao which is Spanish for "Salty Bull", and what a great choice it turned out to be.
We placed ourselves in the hands of Manager Violeta Delgado (that's her standing in the doorway above) and server Diane who kept bringing ever good and delicious goodies to our table until we thought we might burst.
What more pleasant sound can there be than a ten-year old granddaughter groaning in gastronomic delight as she tried one new-to-her dish after another?
You can judge the varieties yourself on the menu on the OOF! Restaurants site here.
Day Two: A day at sea
Our first day aboard the Caribbean Princess
I called this trip a State of Minus because it is a requirement that you leave your cares and worries behind. It is also important to plan ahead when you decide to closet yourself with highly energetic tweens for a week afloat
The ship is beautiful, and when they discovered we were journalists they bumped us up to two large suites on the same deck with the restaurants, shops and theater.
This probably contributed greatly to our sanity for the voyage and is well worth the $300 or less for the space and services for a whole week.
There are only seven suites on this entire Fiesta Deck 6. Will said it was the most luxury he'd ever experienced and the kid has already been to a dozen 5-Star resorts and 15 countries in his first dozen years, and we ordered breakfast from rooms service most mornings at no extra cost.
Day three: Aruba, "One Happy Island"
But this ship's architect obviously never took a cruise
We all climb aboard Eddy Cros' former Dutch Army personnel carrier for a fun-filled, and bumpy ride all over Aruba.
Here at Baby Beach that bump in front of the ship on the horizon is Venezuela only 16 miles away.
The whole crew plus Eddy Cros at Zee Rover for lunch.
After an excellent Caesar Salad and twin Filet Mignon in the beautifully decorated Palm Dining Room at the stern of the Caribbean Princess and another good show in the theater, we awoke this morning as the ship made its way slowly past the reefs guarding Oranjestad Harbor in Aruba, only 16 miles off the coast of Venezuela.
In his huge and high former Dutch Army personnel carrier, we bumped our way along beaches, past natural bridges and struggled to the top of Aruba's highest, cactus covered hill from where we could view the entire island paradise.
The tour included a visit to Arikok National Park, lunch at a local watering hole and swimming and/or snorkeling at Baby Beach which is only 16 miles north of the South American coast.
What's good & bad about our ship
The Deck 6 suites are a great location for the theater but not for your dining room, but the free room service and laundry alone make them a strong consideration for any traveler. The staff is superb, and Customer Relations officer Alex Mudalier was especially helpful with our AC problems.
The food is the best afloat. After dozens of cruises we can report dining at the Palm restaurant, Crown Grill and Sabatini's was like dining at any major city's best bistros. The level of food here was second to none.
Pat also asked her contact to send us to a "real, local" joint for lunch, the equivalent of the Yardarm, Land Ho or the Squire on Cape Cod.
So we had a huge bucket of deep fried red snapper, chips, fried bananas and shrimp at Eric Bisslik's Zee Rover (Dutch for Sea Rover) at his pescaderia hovering over the sea in the township of Savaneta.
Saltwater splashed up through the floor boards as hundreds of crabs came aboard to feast on the fish skins Eric threw out for them, and it was a marvelous, tasty and satisfactory lunch.
Aruba is a generally flat, river-less island in the Leeward Antilles island arc of the Lesser Antilles. Aruba is renowned for its white, sandy beaches on the western and southern coasts of the island. It is relatively sheltered from fierce ocean currents, and this is where most tourist development has taken place. The northern and eastern coasts, lacking this protection, are considerably more battered by the sea and have been left largely untouched by humans.
Eddy Cros got us back to the Caribbean Princess with 4 minutes to spare, and we're now headed for Bonaire.
Day four: Beautiful Bonaire
Drawing saltwater from the Caribbean with wind power to make sea salt is the island's second largest industry. Tourism is first, and their hospitality shows they value it. This is looking northern from Bonaire's southern tip across the Flamingo Sanctuary to the Princess Caribbean seven miles away. Marina Brooks photo.
The male slaves lived in these coral huts near the salt flats. "White Slaves" designated one of three such camps named after the colors of the Dutch flag - red, white and blue. The slaves were all black and from West Africa.
Bonaire's 85-degree weather made a run to the pool the first priority on re-boarding. This is son Todd aloft.
Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao were called the ABC islands of the Netherlands Antilles, although that will now change as some of these Dutch possessions have elected to become independent and only associated with Holland in a commonwealth relationship similar to Great Britain's.
From the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles one month ago today, the BES islands, Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius, were given the status of public body (often referred to as "special municipality") within the Netherlands, while the islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten are independent states within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. At present, although part of the Netherlands, it remains an overseas territory of the European Union.
But Bonaire has elected to become closer, and is now a Dutch Province.
The Tourist Corporation Bonaire's Information Officer, Rolando Marin, picked us up at the dock and brought us on a tour from on end of this 24 mile long island to the other.
Bonaireans enjoys a high standard of living, get a parcel of land to build on, and pay about $60 a year property tax while enjoying full medical coverage.
They are wise enough as well to be converting the island into energy independence with a wind farm on the northern hills supplying 60% of their energy needs already with the rest to follow quickly.
The island is easily one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean and the temperature hardly varies from the low eighties year-round.
Day Six: Grenada -The last war we won
They still love us in this lush, tropical paradise
We returned to the Caribbean Princess at 6pm as the sunset behind a sailboat on the horizon.
Rolando had us stop for fruit on a rain forest road.
The Crown Grill on the Princess Caribbean took over 1st. place as the best steak house in the 14 countries he's visited according to my steakaphile grandson. The presentation alone was worth the cost.
This is truly a "spice island" with every tropical fruit imaginable hanging from the trees. This is the land of spices, exotic flowers and rare fruits; the three island nation of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
The overthrow of a moderate government in Grenada in 1983 by one which was strongly pro-communist worried U.S. President Ronald Reagan as America was still smarting over the Vietnam debacle. Some assume he was looking for a nation small enough to beat, and on October 25, 1983, Grenada was invaded by combined forces from the United States, the Regional Security System (RSS) and Jamaica, in an operation codenamed Operation Urgent Fury.
The U.S. stated this was done at the behest of Dame Eugenia Charles, of Dominica. While the Governor-General, Sir Paul Scoon, later stated that he had also requested the invasion, it was highly criticized by HM Queen Elizabeth II and the governments of the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago and Canada.
The United Nations General Assembly condemned it as "a flagrant violation of international law" by a vote of 108 in favor to 9, with 27 abstentions. The United Nations Security Council considered a similar resolution, which failed to pass when vetoed by the United States, and local polls at the time showed 95 percent 0f the the islanders approved of the US action.
But all that is a distant and dim memory to both the islanders and the 3,000 foreign medical students training here today.
Day Seven: Dominica really needs our help
Chavez, Castro & China are better friends of this neighbor
Swimming at Emerald Falls which is just one of Dominica's UNESCO World Heritage sites, and it's cool too.
Christopher Rolle was a tourist guide un til he lost his right leg in a mountain climbing fall, so today he sell his hand-made bamboo pipes at Freshwater Lake, and of course we bought one.
Our Mero's black sand beach lunch was fish with beans and rice & locally bottled Fanta plus tons of hot sauce.
The US gets angry at countries within its sphere of influence when they do things we don't like. In poor Dominica's case it was breaking off relations with Taiwan to get huge financial help from China.
Cutting off our nose to spite Dominica's face only opened up the door further for Cuba and Venezuela, and all three now have greater influence and affection from these struggling neighbors of ours.
Today this lush, beautiful isle is perhaps the poorest in the Caribbean after Haiti, and I wish Mr. Obama would pay more attention to needy neighbors like this one.
Christopher Columbus named the island after the day of the week on which he spotted it, a Sunday (dominica in Latin) on November 3, 1493, which is also the island's independence day. In the next hundred years after Columbus' landing, Dominica remained isolated, and even more Caribs settled there after being driven from surrounding islands as European powers entered the region.
Dominica has been nicknamed the "Nature Isle of the Caribbean" for its seemingly unspoiled natural beauty. It is the youngest island in the Lesser Antilles, still being formed by geothermal-volcanic activity, as evidenced by the world's second-largest boiling lake. The island features lush mountainous rainforests, home of many rare plant, animal, and bird species.
The Dominica Office of Tourism had us met at the dock by Charles who drove us through rain forests to Trafalgar Falls and the Freshwater Lake, and Emerald Lake, all UNESCO World Heritage sites, and lunch at Mero's black sand beach.
Day Eight:On to St. Thomas and more Scuba diving
Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas USVI is a bustling port much loved by mariners and ex-patriots.
Capt. Greg gave Will the helm on our return.
Marina got close-up and personal with the Iguanas.
Our last port of call was St. John in the American Virgin Islands where Pat had arranged a snorkeling tour on The Sea Blaster.
The Dutch West India Company established a post on Saint Thomas in 1657 and ruled the islands until 1917 when St. Thomas was purchased along with Saint Thomas and Saint Croix by the United States for $25 million in gold, as part of a defensive strategy to maintain control over the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during the First World War.
St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are constituent districts of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and are unincorporated territories of the United States.
Capt. Greg gave Will the helm when he found out what an experienced sailor he was, and in minutes we were all in our gear in the warm waters full of topical fish including one ancient Barracuda.
This fast, 70-foot long powerboat has been voted the best snorkeling trip in St. Thomas.
Capt. Greg whisked us on an exhilarating and wet ride to reefs offshore of this American tropical paradise.
We saw dozens of different tropical fish, turtles and sting rays.
With the rum and snacks freely flowing, it was a great way to spend our last day at sea before heading back to San Juan PR tonight after dinner in Sabatini's.