Monday 27 February 2017

The Glory Days: Amber Cove

Amber Cove reminds me of Grand Turk. It is definitely catered toward cruise ships as the port is actually newly developed by Carnival. However, while Grand Turk has a beach at the port, Amber Cove does not. There is a pool, a bar, a zip line, and a whole strip of souvenir shops, but no beach. Because of that, we decided to book an excursion at Coconut Cove Beach Club at the advice of the Shore Excursion Team.

Amber Cove is also the gateway to Puerto Plata. The landscape in Puerto Plata was beautiful. Along with the clear turquoise waters, there was plenty of greenery. Fun fact: Puerto Plata is where they filmed the museum scenes for Jurassic Park.

When we arrived, we saw bungalows to the right and a shopping village (including the duty-free Dufry serving as the cruise terminal) on the left. Very Grand Turk-ish. We got off the ship as soon as it was docked. It was a quite a walk along the pier from the ship to the cruise centre. Even though it was 8 AM in the morning, it was already scorching hot. However, if you're not up for the walk, there are pedicabs which will take you to the cruise centre. As soon as we did get to the cruise centre, we joined our excursion group for Coconut Cove.

An open-air taxi took us to Coconut Cove. The port officers were very thorough at the checkpoint, two officers checked the entire truck from top to bottom as we exited the port.

To no one's surprise, the driver drove like a madman. It was a short drive through the city, but a long and rocky drive through the countryside. The description said it was a 35 minute ride but it was at least 45 minutes, if not, more.

Coconut Cove Beach Club is run by a tour company called Wild Play Adventure. Unfortunately, there is not much information about them online. The beach was beautiful, and the beach club employees went above and beyond. Anytime I got up with litter, one of them would come running to toss it for me. Two of the employees came around with a monkey for pictures (with a fee, of course!), but I wasn't too keen on having the little guy run and poop on my shoulders, so we passed.

Because we got the all-inclusive package, lunch and drinks were included. The buffet was just okay, but the service, again, was spectacular. The busboys make sure you have a drink the second you sit down, and the second you're done, they bring you another one! The one problem I have with island drinks is that they are way too strong for me. I know, it's terrible but I just love the overly-sugary cocktails on the ship. In the Caribbean, they give you what you pay for, and that's alcohol. So if you love your boozy drinks like my fiancé, you're in luck!

Unfortunately, it was also very windy. The water was also too cold, and the waves were too strong for a swim. We spent the day lounging on the beach and taking pictures, only getting up for the occasional drink. Time flew by as it was only a 4 hour excursion.

Our taxi was late leaving Coconut Cove. A few passengers had lost their way or lost track of time so our driver had to go search for them. On the way back to the ship, we also stopped for some pictures (as seen below).

When we returned to the cruise centre, we did some shopping. Although we were ducking in and out of shops, it was hot at Amber Cove. Thank goodness the stores were air conditioned! We ended up buying Dominican cocoa and some trinkets for our friends. We didn't have time to check out the zip line or the bar.

Now was Coconut Cove a great excursion choice? Unfortunately, far from it, but we had exceptional service at the Beach Club and a nice time relaxing on the beach, and of course, we got sun so no complaints there. I'd definitely check out what Amber Cove had to offer at the cruise centre next time. I really wanted to try the zipline. Amber Cove is a relatively new port, so I do hope more and better excursions will come along in the future.

It was our second formal night so we wasted no time in getting ready after we were onboard. One thing we definitely missed about being on the lower decks was being able to walk up the stairs to our cabin. We were on Deck 6 so after a long and sweaty day on land, we opted for the elevators. It is a long wait for the elevators from the gangway!

No lobster tonight... and apparently, no appetizers either according to our camera roll. I'm pretty sure we both had pretty boring appies, like cocktail shrimp and soup. For our entrees, salmon for myself and filet mignon for him. For dessert, chocolate cake for myself and a soufflé for him.

After dinner, we went straight to the Amber Palace for the show. The Playlist Productions cast put on a great show of Cuban music combined with current Latin hits. It was a live Caribbean romance performance. Very energetic, very passionate. I can't rave about them enough - they were phenomenal.

From there, we headed over to the Ebony Cabaret Lounge for the Punchliner Comedy Club performances of the night. The two comedians of the night were Jim Brick and Derrick Eason. Both men were hilarious and we enjoyed the show very much. It was definitely more challenging to find seats in the lounge in comparison to the Vista. It wasn't a smaller lounge, but rather, it seemed like more people were interested in comedy.

We played in the casino for a little while before retiring to our cabin for some shut eye. The next day was our last full day and it was a sea day. Nothing like a little R&R to end our cruise... Stay tuned!

Saturday 11 February 2017

The Glory Days: San Juan

We docked the next morning in San Juan, Puerto Rico even earlier than our previous port. San Juan was yet another familiar port as we had both been to here before. The last time we were in San Juan, we decided against an excursion and explored the Old San Juan area.

We walked around Old San Juan (top right) again. We took a quick look inside Marshall's and some souvenir shops. Eventually, we made our way to Castillo San Cristobal. I had done some research this time, and I was very interested in touring the fortress. The admission fee is $5 and it includes entrance into two of San Juan's National Historic Site: the aforementioned Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro. The latter is farther away from the port area and requires a trolley (or taxi) ride, so we decided it was best to only visit Castillo San Cristobal this time around.

Castillo San Cristobal is a defensive fortress built to guard the only land access to Old San Juan. It is part of an extensive fortification system built by Spain to protect San Juan. We paid for our admission at the main entrance, which is in Old San Juan. The entry from the main offices started in a tunnel. It was a little daunting.

As we walked around the fort, we saw cannon openings and military quarters with exhibits. On this level known as the main firing battery, there is also a open space looking out to the port. On this particular day, there were two other ships in port with us. We (or I mean, the Glory) are on the far left, and in the middle is the Carnival Magic and on the right is the Oasis of the Seas.

We headed up to the top of the fort, known as the observation area. It is the highest level of the fortress. It was a very steep climb and it was difficult in the heat, but the panoramic view was gorgeous. You can see all of Old San Juan from the top. We later found a shaded, narrow spiral staircase from which we climbed back down to the second level. I definitely recommend going up and down the staircase over the ramp on a hot day.

Most of the fortified walls have sentry boxes, also known as guerites. There is a sentry box up on the top of the fort. Only one person can make their way to the box at a time. My fiancé and I took turns standing in the box. It's a small confined space, but the waves crashing against the bottom wall made it feel very peaceful. 

One of the guerites at Castillo San Cristobal is called "The Devil's Guerite." It is one of the oldest part of the fort. This guerite (bottom left) offers a vantage point for watchmen guarding the shore, it is located in closest proximity to the ocean. Legend says that soldiers disappeared when they were on guard in that sentry box because they were taken away by the devil, hence its name.

Castillo San Cristobal is a historic site not to be missed. We had a wonderful time exploring in the fortress. For the admission of $5, it's certainly worth the visit!

We didn't remember the specific route we took to reach the fort, so we just made our way down towards the water. It was a bit of a maze making our way back down, but we left plenty of time to do that so we were in no rush. If you make no pitstops along the way, it should only take about ten minutes. When we made our way back to the port, the sun had disappeared. I got a few more pictures of the Glory, then we made our way back onto the ship.

Sail away time was at 4 pm due to our early arrival, but we weren't complaining. We were quite hungry, and made our way to the Lido deck for one of Guy's burgers and ice cream.

Dinner as show below... I ordered two soups. The fiance had a filet mignon (not pictured) and I had fish. I won't bore you with the details. Dessert was interesting! We had the popcorn desert on the Vista previously, so we were excited to see it again. It's a tad overly sweet for me, so I just like to take a few bites from his.

After dinner, we popped by Amber Palace to check out Comedy & Magic with Eric, but it was a little cheesy for us so we didn't stay long.

Unfortunately, the comedian, Derrick Eason, didn't make the ship. So we headed up to the deck to join the 80's Rock and Glow Party. We left as the band started to play the last song, "Don't Stop Believing." It's one of my favourite songs but we were hungry and we wanted to beat the line for late night pizza. One of the best things on a Carnival ship is their 24 hours pizza service. They're often understaffed so there is always a line late at night, so be prepared to wait!

After our midnight snack, we called it a night. We headed back to the cabin for some shut-eye and greeted by this friendly towel frog! 

Our next port is Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. This was a new port for us, so we decided to book an excursion. Stay tuned for our beach day!