Holland America Day at Sea

I have to admit, after two full days of ports of call I was looking forward to a relaxing day at sea. I was excited to explore the ship and sample some of the on-board amenities. Number one on my agenda was playing bingo with DJ Renee in the Showroom at Sea! But first I'd start with a scrumptious breakfast on the Lido Deck. I had a great day planned, but found out I'd have to go it alone because mom would need to be in meetings all day with her travel group. No worries, I can do this.

First we headed for breakfast together. The Lido Deck is great for this because there's a huge selection of all the best breakfast fare. And you can eat anytime during the morning and don't need to wait to be seated. And the windows along the interior area overlook the sea which it's always fun to sit and watch the view while you eat breakfast. This morning we could see the coast of Cuba where my sister was vacationing at the same time. We waved a quiet 'hello' to her over breakfast. At 10:00am it was time for the meeting to start, so I began my ship adventure.

I hit the Showroom at Sea room early to get my bingo card. It seems every day that more people show up for the bingo than the day before. It gets pretty popular as the week goes on. But, I didn't win. Oh well, it's always fun. When you get down to one number you have to stand up. Every time someone stands up they play "hallelujah" and people boo at you! :). It's all good fun though.

My next adventure involved checking out the shopping seminar with our on-board shopping ambassadors Nicole and Todd. This. Was. Fun. Upon arriving everyone received bags filled with pamphlets of the different shops we'd be seeing in our next port of call, Grand Cayman. There were also giveaways of gems and jewelry! I love shiny things and this was right up my alley. We talked about watches (mmm), diamonds, jewelry pieces, different types of gemstones, what to look for, where to get the best deals. It was very informative. I learned the Caribbean is the best place to shop because it's all tax-free and watches are slightly cheaper then MSRP at home. I love watches! When I left there, I was a walking encyclopedia of shopping knowledge! And itching to spend!

Next I decided to grab my Sony Reader and head to the Lido deck for some light reading by the pool. Traveling solo is unique because you're forced to really think about what you want to do. And normally you do things and see things you wouldn't normally make time for when sharing your time with another person or group. I settled in at a table at the back of the deck in the shade with a nice view of the pool. I was going to read but I spent more time people watching. Seeing who people were with, what they were doing and trying to imagine what their story was. Why they were here and who they were with and what their life must be like off the ship.

Because ours was the last Caribbean tour before our ship repositioned for Europe, there was a huge sale on the Lido deck. Purses, scarves, costume jewelry all at crazy low prices. I briefly tempted the idea to dig in and join the frenzy, but the tables were *insane* with bargain shoppers. It looked like a ferret free for all as I saw the back of heads bobbing up and down between the scarfs and handbags flying around. I decided I'd head over to the meeting room early to meet mom for her lunch break instead. To my excitement she was given the afternoon off so we'd have the afternoon free to roam. Yay!

The best thing about being on a cruise is the freedom to take a quick cat nap - whenever you want! Sure, you can do that at an all-inclusive resort too but a cruise ship is more like a high class hotel on water, with tons of activities and amenities, and the opportunity to see more of the world with multiple ports of call. An all-inclusive doesn't offer that, so therefore cruising wins! At least for me! We decided to take advantage of our hotel on water, and catch a quick nap before our private invitation-only cocktail reception in the Crow's Nest with our ship's captain. Very exciting!

The Crow's Nest on the Nieuw Amsterdam is pretty awesome! Our cocktail reception included open bar with exquisite hors d'oeuvres and a magnificent wide angle view of the water around us from the front of the ship. Matching these long line of windows and glorious view are the most comfortable chairs on the ship. And they recline! This was one of my favourite spots! This is absolutely something to check out!

All in all, I really enjoyed our day at sea and it was a nice break from our active ports-of-call schedule. But I'm the type of vacationer who likes to keep busy so I was really looking forward to our next stop in the morning: Grand Cayman. Ooo, and all that jewelry!

Holland America Port of Call: Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos

Did someone say swim-up bar? Welcome to the second stop on our Western Caribbean tour: Grand Turk, in the Turks & Caicos Islands! There are islands, then there's the Turks & Caicos Islands. I've been here once before so I knew this stop would be a highlight on our tour. It turned out to be one of the best! It seems like it's always sunny here and the beaches are filled with beautiful sun-bleached crystal white sand!

I enjoyed this port the most because we didn't have to tender in. Our ship was docked which meant we could easily come and go off the ship as we liked without having to wait for the tender boat to take us back and forth. But really, if you ever came here you'd never want to leave! Upon arriving we were greeted with a huge duty free shop and some of the BIGGEST bottles of alcohol you've ever seen. But don't try to take them back on the ship with you. Haha, they won't make it through security when you board (think x-ray machines and metal detectors and lots of security, and a nice present for the staff if you do try)!

Grand Turk has lots of fun shopping. Novelty clothing like Piranha Joes, nail polish that changes colour with the sun, and lots of jewelry too. Lots of delicious jewelry! Diamonds International is here, which is a staple throughout the Caribbean but sort of feels like a scam to me. They remind me of those commercials with the greasy guy begging to buy your gold for top dollar if you only conveniently ship it to him first. Lots of promises of everything being cheap, no tax, and of the highest quality. Yeah.

First mom and I did some shopping. We're girls so that's our specialty. :) We picked up some Piranha Joe shirts and hats for the family, then I spotted Margaritaville. Wait, Margarittaville? Like as in "wasted away again in Margaritaville"? The Jimmy Buffet song one? For real?


Oh wow, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Surely this can't be exactly like the song. Is Jimmy Buffet aware of this plagiarizing of his work? The inviting party atmosphere tumbled out onto the cobblestone sidewalks we were pounding.

I have to check this out. "Mom, let's go!". I took off in a fast trot towards this beautiful Caribbean mecca and sure enough. Yes, to my delight there is an actual "Margaritaville" bar and restaurant (and gift shop) chain, and Jimmy Buffet owns it! Way to stretch that one big hit wonder into something sustainable!

Mom's a pretty easy going traveler and was totally game to check this out. Like all well-planned venue layouts, we entered into a store area first. We grabbed more Margaritaville t-shirts. "This one will be my camping/party t-shirt!". Then we wandered with eyes wide into the bar area. I couldn't believe what I was seeing: to the left was a quaint thatch hut with a DJ inside, with a line up stretching around the pool area. The leader of the line was tipping their head back

under the thatch hut while the DJ poured a shot into their mouth. "FREE SHOTS". Holy geez, it's barely noon! The place was buzzing with patrons from the Carnival cruise ship already docked beside us. Looks like they had a good early start!

In front of us was the largest most amazing pool I'd ever seen! It wound around the area that was filled with beach chairs, umbrella tables, and lots of sun! There was a wave runner surfing pool, and my favorite: a swim-up bar! Oh my gosh, I just found my home!

Mom and I parked in at the restaurant to the left and ordered the most amazing nachos and what else? Margaritas! The food here is amazing, but you will want to bring your wallet because it's pricey!!! But it's worth it. Obviously we didn't choose to do any excursions here so the pricey lunch was okay for the afternoon we were about to have instead. After lunch we grabbed some beach chairs by one of the bridges over the swimming pool and that's where we spent the rest of the day. Now, anyone who knows me knows I hate water. I hate being wet, splashed, rained on, whatever.
Outside of a shower or a glass, keep water away from me. But I spent the entire afternoon in this pool! I paid a couple visits to the swim up bar where more margaritas ensued. A word of caution: these are pricey too at $10 dollars a pop, but they go well with the pool! I'd recommend bringing lots of ten dollar bills and a few $1's for tipping. By the time you swim over to the bar and get your drink, you don't want to be lugging around change. Especially American $1 bills that would get soppy and wet in the pool.

We had some good laughs watching people try to man the wave runner too. It's basically a simulated wave pool that you surf on...until you fall off which can happen pretty quick.

After soaking up lots of vitamin D, we decided to reluctantly call it a day and head back to the ship. On the way out, we swung by the Diamonds International store where I went against everything I stood for and fell in love with a yellow citrine ring flanked in a semi circle of "diamonds" followed up by a beautiful silver titanium ribbon. At $115, I didn't feel I was breaking the bank. It was a fun treat purchase to help remember my day.

By the time we got back on the ship we were exhausted. We grabbed an early dinner (complimentary room service of shrimp cocktail for this tired fish), and watched on our balcony together as we silently glided out of port as the sun set on our happy little island. This was definitely a day I will never forget.