Welcome to the jungle!

We made it!  And you know what the song says – “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…”

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Hello New York, old friend, buddy, pal.  It will never not be exciting to drive in from the airport and see the skyline in the distance…. a little bit like when you’re driving to Geraldton on the Brand Highway and you round that bend and see the silos – and you know that the journey is finally coming to an end.

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Well, it’s sort of like that.

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We arranged to stay at a hotel on our first night in NYC because we’ve rented an Airbnb apartment for our stay and we didn’t want to arrive in the evening and have something go wrong – we’re safety girls!  Also last time ML stayed here with her brother and his family, they got stung with a dodgy rental – we didn’t want to take any chances, so we booked into the Sheraton just around the corner…. well, we booked in but when it came to checking in at about 7.15pm there were no rooms available.  The lady on the reception desk was very apologetic and said it should be ready in a couple of hours.

A couple of hours???

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We were tired, dirty, hungry and bordering on cranky, but we left our bags and went out for dinner.  Here’s a fun fact for those who don’t know – when I’m hungry I can’t make a decision, so ML had to take the reins and looked around, then pointed us in the direction of the first place she saw – a little Irish pub called The Playwright which turned out to be lovely.  Well done ML!

You could tell we were in an American restaurant (even though it was Irish)…

Baseball on the telly…

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Mustard and ketchup on the table…

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As we were about to leave, the sky opened up and absolutely pissed down… so we sat at the bar and had another drink which would have been great if we weren’t both tired and dirty and no longer hungry, but still bordering on cranky, and also ML isn’t drinking at the moment whilst she gets completely over her lurgy – so sitting at an Irish bar on our first night in New York City with a glass of water feeling tired and dirty – not ideal – but hey, we’re in NYC! When we got back to the hotel, the room was ready and they offered us a $100 credit on our room which was the least they could have done.

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Sleep was finally had and then we were up to meet the travelling Browns – my cousin, Peter, his lovely wife, Kay and their two adorable kiddies – Noah and Wes.  They were staying at the same hotel, so that worked out well.  The boys had written us notes and drawn us a picture to welcome us to New York – they will go up on the fridge as soon as we get to our apartment.

It was great to catch up and talk to familiar faces.

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We pushed our cases the block and a half to our apartment building on 51st Street and met Rob, our doorman – a very helpful chap who gave us the keys and pointed us to the lifts…. On the way up I said to ML “Please let this be good.”  We crossed our fingers as we ascended all 20 floors.

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And OMG – it is awesome!  We have a two bedroom, one bathroom corner apartment  with a small kitchen and a fairly sizeable living area.

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We look out over Times Square ( a few blocks away) in one direction…

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…and over the Hudson River (down the street, in-between the buildings in the distance) in the other.

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We’ve just done 3 loads of washing in the basement laundry – the commercial dryers only shrunk one top which needed some shrinking, so perfect!

Now we’re sitting here in our apartment loving ourselves sick and waiting for Pete and Kay and the boys to come over and be our first visitors.

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When we were first booking this apartment on Airbnb there seemed there was going to be a bit of a palaver when we got here – it seemed like it was quite a strict building with strict rules on who could stay (for example, we were asked if we were coming to NY for business or medical reasons??) and if was suggested that if anyone in the building asked, we should say that we were business people, but since arriving – Rob on the door only cared to see one passport and when we told him that we were going to have visitor he replied, “yeah, I’ll just buzz them up.” like he couldn’t quite understand why we were telling him.  We had to admit that we weren’t used to  having a doorman.

So, we’ve unpacked, washed and dried all our clothes, put Noah and Wes’ drawings and letters on the fridge with the fridge magnets souvenirs we’ve purchased thus far, written a shopping list and researched where the closest Whole Foods supermarket is located – it’s about 6 little blocks up and one long block to the west at Columbus Circle, so we’ll probably walk up there and catch the metro one stop home with our groceries…. we have to call them groceries now.

This is all we have at the moment – obviously left over from previous tenants (except the vegemite – I don’t leave home without it!)

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Our visitors were suitably impressed with our new abode and we sat around and chatted for a bit before facing the absolutely freezing temps outside – I didn’t pack any long jeans because I didn’t anticipate it being this cold here, so I guess that means I’m going to have to go shopping  – damn it!  Although we’ve only got one more day of cold and then she’s hitting the high 20s – which I’ve packed for, so I’m sure I can continue to wear layer upon layer until then.

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On the way home from dinner we came across another supermarket and whilst checking it out thought we might as well buy our stores from there – it is tricky to know what to purchase when you don’t know the brands.  It made me realise how important branding and packaging is with food because at home, I automatically go for the one I’m used to buying.  I know I like it, I know I’ve read the ingredients etc… before, so it’s a quick grab off the shelf – this shopping expedition took a little longer to complete and even then we left without a few items because it was just too hard to decide.  Damn you yoghurt aisle!

So we can home and our apartment was dark, but the windows were alit with the New York night – we didn’t factor this in when we chose the fabulous location!

Sleep well!

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Here’s a little ditty that explains how it feels to be in New York.  Thank you Alicia Keys.

Gator Time!

Last night when we went to bed we were still cruising somewhere near The Bahamas.  We had packed our bags and put the large suitcases out in the corridor for the porters to take off the ship and I slept soundly.  Luckily for me, but not so fortunate for ML – she is a terrible sleeper and was well and truly awake and up and ready to get going at 5.30 – having already been awake for 2 hours (something I will never be able to understand) I say it’s lucky for me because I sleep with ear plugs which completely block out ALL noise, including the alarm that I set, therefore I would have slept right through the disembarkation process!  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

So this is what we woke to this morning.  Goodbye Caribbean – hello mainland USA!

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We decided to leave behind our trivia winnings realising that there was probably not going to be much highlighting going on in the near – distant future – maybe they can go back into the winnings pool for the next set of trivia players…. it’s only just occurred to me that the team of people who put the quizzes together only need to organise one week’s worth – they can just rehash the questions again…. then I realised how boring that would be for the questioners.

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Even though I have decided to never to another group tour, we had already booked the tour of the Everglades including a ride on an air boat – just like in the TV show from the 60s – Gentle Ben – remember that one?  A story about a family who lived in the Everglades in Florida.  The dad – he was a wildlife ranger, his wife was there being a 60s wife, their son, Mark and Ben a 700lb black bear who Mark raised from a cub and now they all ride around on this cool air boat in the Everglades.

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So this is where the Everglades are and where we were within them.

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Since the days of Gentle Ben I’ve always wanted to ride on an air boat and today was my big chance.

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There were plenty of boats there as there were plenty of groups headed for this destination today.

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Our Captain was Captain Debra and she was cool.  She knew a lot about The Everglades and gators and the eco system in the river.  Debra loves being an air boat captain.

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She sat us right at the front so we had a great vantage point for gator spotting…

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But apparently with the cool wind, it was a little cool for the gators, so they were either under the water or hiding in the thick of the reeds.  I can’t say I blame them.  It didn’t occur to us to wear jackets or long pants – so I had to purchase a sweatshirt from the gift shop – which will end up coming in handy since the next couple of days in NY are meant to have a top temp of about 12 degrees!


So no wild gators for us today.  We did see some jumping fish and some large osprey /hawk types of birds.

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Now… I want you to think about what happened here in these toilet facilities and why there was a need for this sign.

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Attached to the river is a wildlife rescue park which was a bit of a bonus on this tour – it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the details.  They have a resident peacock who just wandered along with the group.

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They have a Gator Grill where you can try such delicacies as gator tail bites – we tried this and I can tell you that they taste exactly like frog legs.  A little like chewy chicken, but with a more sinewy texture.  Not unpleasant as long as you don’t think about it, but also not my favourite.

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Then, uncomfortably, we were then introduced to some alligators (they didn’t watch us eat their cousins, don’t fret)

There were two rescue gators in this tank – Crystal, the female who was tiny and then Cannibal who was MASSIVE – and still growing!  Apparently they live for around 90 years.  Crystal had been some idiots pet and when they have been domesticated, they can’t be put back into the wild because they are too used to humans giving them food.  Cannibal hatched 57 years ago at another facility that closed down, so these people took him on.  They are alive, which is great, but they also live in a very small enclosure, which is not so great.  The guy giving the talk was really interesting – impressively so.

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Alligators don’t do too much, which is why, according to Dalton, the talk giver, they don’t feature on shows like Animal Planet, etc… because they’re boring to watch.

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We then got an opportunity to hold a baby gator.  I wasn’t going to, but then I took this photo – look at him with his little bucked teeth – harmless, right?

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And then the lady who was holding him said – he feels just like a soft handbag which was sort of inappropriate as she was in ear’s reach of the baby, but I decided to give it a go and she was right – he was so soft and squishy, a bit like dry fish.  I’m holding him quite softly here, but in the first photo it looks like I’m squeezing him way too hard!

They also had lots of other reptiles – all rescue pets….  I mean who thought it would be a good idea to keep an 18 ft Burmese Python?  Or perhaps a buzzard? A couple of leopards? A racoon? A Bobtail Cat? A fennec fox or perhaps a kookaburra?  Most of the animals had a sad story of being abandoned, mistreated or simply given over once the idiot owners realised that the animal was nocturnal, loud or just huge and way too much work.

Apparently the owner of the kookaburra wasn’t aware it made a noise…


There wasn’t a huge amount of room at this refuge and they completely rely on donations to feed and take care of the animals, so it’s not over run with animals.  They rescued these ones and now use them as teaching animals – teaching people not to get inappropriate animals as pets.

It was a pleasant surprise addition to the end of our Royal Caribbean experience.  Now get me to New York!

A little bit of conversation

When you are at such close quarters with thousands of strangers, you’re bound to hear snippets of their conversations… some have been hilarious.

Here’s an example:

A father with his two young teenaged twin boys eating breakfast.  The boys had filled their plates with chocolate donuts.  Dad was explaining that this was a good opportunity for them to make good choices.

Then he said:

“It doesn’t matter what happens – I’ll always love you.”

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Without skipping a beat, one of the boys said, “What about if we killed Mum?  Would you still love us then?”

To which the dad answered: “Well, that would be sad, but I’d still love you.”

Then Mum appeared and we felt a little conflicted as to whether we should mention the conversation to her or not.

I couldn’t help think that this story sounded familiar…..

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Remember the Menendez brothers?

Remote Island

Today is a sea day as we make our way back to the United States, back to Florida and back to the port of Fort Lauderdale.

I was sitting on our balcony taking in the vast ocean when this floated into view.

We were too far away to see if there was any castaways waving at us, but if you want a remote holiday destination – here you go – it seems to come with its own lighthouse or tower of some sort.

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Labadee… Labadah… Life goes on in Haiti

This was the scene we woke up to this morning.

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Welcome to Labadee – Haiti.  The little arm of Labadee is either owned or controlled by Royal Caribbean, so the beaches are full of beach chairs and hammocks and dining areas – which Royal Caribbean run – they even take food from the ship to feed the masses.  It seemed that there were some local people working as “Beach Monitors” – they put the chairs out and put the umbrellas up, that sort of thing, but other than that, you couldn’t get to any other part of the island.

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The shop used to tender people to the island, but they’ve since built this little finger jetty which is pretty hard to believe holds the ship, but with such calm waters (at the moment) it was no problem.

With this many people there’s no point in trying to get a photo without other people in it – so thank you to this model family.

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I just wanted to add this photo in again randomly – cause it’s not very often that I take a good photo, so I’m going to milk it.

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The water was as clear as clear.  This little cove reminded me of Croatia – it would have been perfect to jump in right there in front of the ship, but the rocks were covered with sea urchins.

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There were a couple of options for a beach swim.  The ocean side which had a thin strip of clear water and then reef, so you could probably lay down flat and get your back wet (some people were taking that option) or there was the bay side where you could at least swim out of your standing depth if you could possibly avoid bumping into a group from Missouri discussing the downfall of American politics.

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Note to anyone wanting to purchase a “Lifeproof” waterproof phone case – do so, it has been a fantastic addition to our gadget collection on this trip.  We got ours from Mitchell and Brown in Geraldton – sure the underwater photography hasn’t been amazing, but that is more likely our skill set.

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These photos don’t do it justice – there were at least 3000 people on this very small beach… we found a little spot in the shade thank goodness – every second person had nearly 3rd degree burns on some part of their bodies and yet were still out there in the sun – in a different style of bather so to try to even up the redness.

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The chairs and umbrellas were $20 to hire, but since we were only going to have a swim we went without, but if we’d known you could hire these bungalows away from the hoards – we would have done that!  They had shade, a ceiling fan, day beds and people bought you drinks.

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This is the beach that we were on.  There were so many water activities to do – you could kayak, snorkel, jet ski, go on boat rides, parasail and play on the bouncy stuff (one young girl bounced wrong and was stretchered out of the water and back to the ship – apparently it was just s whiplash.  There was also a couple of ziplines – when did this become a favourite pastime?  People were literally lining up in the sun in their thousands dressed in harnesses to have a go.

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Here’s a close up of our beach and the bungalows we’ll be renting next time.  This photo was taken much later in the day – so times the number of people you can see here by 100.  After our swim, we decided that rather than elbowing our way around a buffet on the beach, we’d head back to the near empty ship and have a relaxing lunch on our own.  We also had the pool to ourself – unheard of!

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And as quickly as we arrived, we were away again.

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Tonight activities included a bout of musical trivia – rock classics where we didn’t do very well – ML was still amazing – considering they only play an ‘enth’ of the first 2 beats of the song and you’re meant to guess from that she did very well.  However we were left with a gaping hole in our highlighter collection.

With our tails between our legs we went to the main dining room for diner with Migsy and Willy.  The food onboard has been pretty good – especially in the dining room, however tonight was less than ordinary and I know complaining about somebody bringing me free food makes me sound like an entitled wanker, so please know that I’m simply describing the experience – not complaining.

We had a couple of hours to kill between dinner and the evening show – The Fine Line Aqua Performance, so we sat in the piano bar and people watched whilst listening to the dulcet tones of an amazing singer.  We could have sat there all night and listened to him, but the high divers were calling.

I’ve seen a few high diving aqua shows before, but this was completely out there.  It had everything – underwater synchronised leg dancing, stomp dance performers (in the shallow water), high divers, slack liners, high tight rope walkers, an aerial performer – all happening at once.  We got a bit of whiplash ourselves trying to see everything!

These photos don’t do it justice either on how high they were and really how small the pool was that they were diving into.  Amazing!

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It’s goodnight from us…. and out duck lip pouts.

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Hola Puerto Rico

Today’s port was San Juan – Puerto Rico…

Does this building remind anybody else of a rack of stacked bowls?

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ML has been overcome with a bit of a respiratory issue, so she is staying tucked up in bed today whilst I venture out on a tour – The Wonders of San Juan.

The tour buses are all ready and waiting!

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So my tour started out ok in that I got a window seat and a pretty cool tour leader – Luis, however that’s where the good times ended.  Unfortunately the microphone/speaker that Luis was using had a big static problem – obviously something that neither he or the driver could fix easily – otherwise one would have…  the driver’s name was Juan :-).  So Luis acknowledged there was a problem and then just turned up the volume – making it worse… now 1 or 2 of you might know that I have a bit of an issue with these types of noises, especially if I’m meant to focus on what he is saying – it’s like somebody running their fingernails down a blackboard… so I managed to get a bit of information, and then on our first stop, I got out and told Luis that I could go no further.  He was very understanding and pointed me in the direction of the town and back to the ship.

But… what turned out to be a not so good start the day actually was the best thing, because I got to see so much more walking through the town – note to self – stop booking tours!

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So the city of San Juan is a walled city – the wall still exists.  The island was originally inhabited by a few different tribes of Indians, but when Chris Columbus turned up, and the population got down to dangerous numbers due to infectious diseases and exploitation and war.

Puerto Rico – meaning Rich Port was a place where merchants used to hide their ships filled with all sorts of goods.  It was part of the Spanish Empire back in the day and has been a major military post during many wars between Spain and other European pwers.

During the Spanish–American War in 1898, Puerto Rico was invaded and subsequently became a possession of the United States, but it took until 1917 and the establishment of The Jones Act which made Puerto Ricans US Citizens.

Below is the spot where I hopped off the bus and said Adios to Luis and Juan, and just down the bottom there you might be able to see a graveyard with one of the best views in the world – Raul Julia is buried there and apparently Ricky Martin has put his name down when his time is up.

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There are 78 little villages in San Juan like this one below.  They are actually built outside the city walls on land given to them by the government.  They are like ghettos where the lower socio economic group of people live.  This one is called La Perla.  The buildings that I could see looked uninhabitable – possibly from Irma, but it’s possible that they were like that before.

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The streets are all cobblestone and the buildings are painted beautiful pastel colours.

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I passed a lovely little square …

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with a church on one side…

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and an El Convento on the other.

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I love that you could purchase water and sodas at the religious goods store. 🙂

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More of the pretty coloured buildings…

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and the shop fronts…

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Puerto Rico is quite a religious place…

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There are pictures of Jesus and nativity scenes everywhere like this one made out of a coconut shell… I don’t know, but a couple of those wise men look a bit shifty to me.

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Another thing that they love here is the Pina Colada because this is where it originated.  Not just in San Juan – but in this restaurant right here:

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They’ve got a plaque and everything.

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Another thing they love which I can completely relate to is doors.  There is a shop there that specialises in making these tiny doors which they will personalise for free.  I thought they were lovely, but would possibly break in my suitcase.

I didn’t have to walk too far really as San Juan is quite a small little place.

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I passed some fabulous old buildings…

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… and some lovely flash new ones.

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I was expecting there to be a lot of Irma damage like there was at Sint Maarten, but San Juan seems to either have been spared or they had done a massive clean up job… in fact, this was the only mishap the I saw and that could have been caused by a car backing into it.

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The entrance back to the ship was lined with market stalls selling their wares – most the same as the last.  There was a lot of handy crafts made from reclaimed wood from the storm which is great, but not so great for me bring back in Australia – I know the rules!

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Is this what happens to you when you live/travel with the same person for too long?

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This was the view from back on the ship where I went to escape the heat of the day.

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There were two other ships in port next to us – 1 x Holland America and 1 x Carnival – Here’s hoping that the tourist dollar is helping to rebuild Puerto Rico.

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Adios San Juan – you were a pleasant surprise.

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Back to life on deck… ML was feeling a touch better after her sleep in and was raring to go for a little bit of music trivia… and would you look who won – solo – like on her own – I mean, I only wrote the answers down – she was a machine! Like a solo music factory – only one team came close and when we ended up with even scores – there was a tie breaker which ML nailed and we went back to our cabin the proud owners of a highlighter each.  Not just any old highlighter – one that clips on with a carabena clip.

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Still on a high from our win we dolled up and hit the Japanese restaurant which was hilarious for all the wrong reasons….

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The food was absolutely delicious…

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…. but ML can’t use chopsticks, so we got a lesson from the waiter Ed, who is from The Philippines and then he went away and made these for her…

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Here’s a close up at his handywork

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Now there was a lady sitting behind me – in ML’s view and every time she had to read something she’d pop on her glasses – which only had one arm.  ML was trying to tell me about her without me having to turn around and every time she went to tell the story – this happened….

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We were absolutely crying… and then had to order with Ed with tears streaming down our cheeks.  Hilarious.  I don’t care if you had to be there – it was hilarious!

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Another great day!

The Devastation of Irma

Our first port of call is the island of Sint Maarten.  We weren’t sure what to expect on this island although ML has been here on her previous jaunt.  All I knew about it was that is has the beach – Maho Beach where the planes land and take off over the beach – you know the one where you can stand on the sand and be blown into the water by the jets…. in fact a woman was killed just recently doing exactly that – so of course, that was where were headed…..

Looks pretty nice doesn’t it?

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We got off the ship and headed for a taxi stand.

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The water in this bay is a glorious shade of pale blue.

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As we turned the corner across to the other side of the island things started to be put very much into perspective and we saw the devastation that Irma and the other woman did to this beautiful island…. more on that in a minute.

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Because firstly let me take you to the famous Maho Beach… when ML came here last time she said that there were only a handful of people there with a gentle reggae band playing in the distance and lots of planes landing – like every 5 minutes or so…

When we got there, this is what we found…

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No planes yet, but I did get to dip my toes in the water.

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Instead of a gentle reggae band we had a hammering of noise from these buildings….  One place had some sports game on LOUD and the other had a DJ playing at volume 13 (at least)

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It was all too much for my sensitive ears, so we got back into a taxi and waited until the bus was full before we could leave.  Obviously they were short of drivers.

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Then as we drove away about 6 planes flew in.  I wasn’t disappointed that we missed it.


Now on the way back to the ship, this is what we saw….

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Utter devastation.

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Most of the buildings had some sort of damage and lots were uninhabitable.

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Boat upon luxury boat were just washed up on their sides – some with people on them, just sitting having a cup of tea or doing a bit of repair work.

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I’m not sure what landed here in front of the Traffic Man, but it surely made a dent.

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There is so much work to do on this island that it was hard to just get back on our ship and sail away, but the people that we came across seemed to just be getting on with their lives.  Maybe in this part of the world hurricane damage is a part of that life?  Hopefully our being there, along with plethora other cruise ships is actually bringing in money for the locals to start rebuilding.

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Now, I can’t blame Irma for this devastation, but I cut my legs shaving and had to Norman Gunston them.  I’m both embarrassed and sad…. and a little bit in pain.

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