Traveling Cleverly Since 2001

on Tuesday, December 27, 2011 | 1 comments
As 2011 is quickly ticking away its final hours, it's occurred to me that a lot has happened this year. I have: (i) changed jobs, (ii) gone on two "adult" trips, (iii) gotten pregnant, (iv) survived a 20 person family beach trip, (v) dealt with an exhausting pregnancy, (vi) had a baby, (vii) had surgery (see "had a baby") and a whole bunch of other cool crap I've forgotten about. Frankly, I'm spent. And now I'm back to work full-time. Lord have mercy.

On the travel front, I believe I hit six new countries this year. Not bad for a pregnant mommy, eh? Okay, okay, five of them were cruise ports, but still! Five places I'd never been, and five new adventures. I went to St. Croix, Dominica, St. Kitts, Grenada, Tobago and Bermuda. Are you sensing a theme? I might like beaches. I'm not sure.

When I think about 2012, I want the courage to travel more with my kids. I think I don't give my oldest son enough credit. I worry about how every new environment, scenario and stage of life will affect him. He seems to roll with the punches. He's starting a new school on January 3rd. He's been at the same place since he was 12 weeks old, and I am sick for him. I don't want him to be scared or confused. But I guess those things will happen regardless of what I do, right?

We are taking the kids to Isla Mujeres in May for a family wedding, so that'll be our first official "fancy" vacation adventure with two little ones in tow. I've got, like, four months to plan. That *should* be sufficient. If not, I'll just ask our relatives to push back the wedding.

Here's my favorite travel picture of me from this year, taken as we departed St. Kitts. I only wish I had a trip like this coming up again this winter... and that I could fit into that dress right now.
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The good news? My kids are great travelers. Meaning, the actual, physical act of getting from one place to another is easy with them. Car ride, plane ride, boat ride... they both seem to enjoy it all. Our problems start when the motion stops. We spent the Christmas holidays with my husband's family in NC. The 5 hour ride was fine both ways. The baby slept, the toddler rotted his brain with Toy Story 2 (over and over and over).

When we got there, our toddler was having a blast. Cousins galore, presents, attention all over the place. The baby, on the other hand, may favor his British ancestory more than his Italian. The noise was not for him. These are loud people; I frequently have to remove myself from the "festivities." I get it. But he would not sleep. Would not.

Consequently, he slept all but 3 hours yesterday, the day we went home. I am exhausted. And today I'm back to work full-time. My 10th anniversary kid-free time cannot come soon enough.
on Monday, December 19, 2011 | 2 comments
Still here, I promise! Second Wee Nomad born in early October, little travel since then as you can imagine. Though he has been on his first plane ride to Florida over the Thanksgiving holiday!

2012 is going to bring some new adventures. We are visiting Isla Mujeres for a family wedding May (time to get that baby a passport!) and likely Belize for a couples trip in June to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We have so much to look forward to! As we travel, I'll be sure to update or check in from time to time.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!
on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | 2 comments
We wanted to completely rebuild the deck for many reasons. First, the builder did a terrible job. The boards were uneven, warped, improperly cut and the pickets were ugly. Since our deck is above our walk-in basement, the straight 16-stair staircase was both ugly and dangerous for our children. Plus, the size was just too darn small. At 10x20, the deck managed to be too long and narrow. The dimensions were off. We decided to keep the length, but added four feet to make the deck 14x20. Plus, we added a 6x6 platform at the top of the stairs.

Mr. Nomad, hard at work:

Gabe: I like manly work:

Finished product, washed down:

Silly brothers building stairs:

Done for now! Next up, we add the roof and columns. Rails are the last detail. Total build time, about 4 days. 

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Our deck remodel project is finally coming to a close. The structure has been complete since April, but we are just now finishing the staining and painting process. Overall, this process was painless. We had planned this expansion for two years and spent plenty of time gathering estimates and designing the architecture. We are fortunate to have a family member (Mr. Nomad's brother) who builds decks in his spare time, so we were able to do the deck expansion and stair replacement at a significant discount. We received an excellent contractor recommendation from my boss, and he and his partner did a fantastic job. Detailed, on time and on budget.

Strangely, finding a painter has been the hardest, which is why it took so long. We received four estimates, and tried to hire two of the guys after estimates were provided. We never received return phone calls. We tried each one twice. Oh well. We finally settled on another co-worker recommendation, and they have one days' work remaining. I'll post final pictures in a few days, but here are progress photos:

Our boring, awful, ugly, dusty, hot builder deck (this day was rainy, but our deck is completely exposed to sun until 3:00 pm). Dimensions 10x20 feet:

Mr. Nomad knocking the old deck down to the joists:

on Monday, June 20, 2011 | 0 comments
Before I had a child, I thought that people who stopped or severely scaled back traveling after having kids were just lazy, unorganized or unadventurous. Very judge-y of me, eh? After living the last 18 months with my own "angel" a/k/a "tyrant," I now get it a bit more. Don't get me wrong, I still want to travel and experience, but alas, reality has set in.

Truth is, traveling with a child is work. It's not a vacation. It's not impossible, but you have to plan a bit more. It also helps to have pockets lined with gold. Here are some things I've learned over the past 18 months:

1. Babies don't like heat and humidity. The Caribbean in September is a bad idea until your child is able and willing to spend all day in the water.
2. Always know where the nearest hospital or clinic is located.
3. Babies may not like water until they are over 1. Those floats for infants? Half of them hate it.
4. Plan to do only half of what you would normally do.
5. Stay in the nicest place you can afford and cut back elsewhere. During naptime, it helps to have a great pool to hang out in or a great view to admire (see: pockets lined with gold).
6. Cook in a lot of your meals - it's easier and your baby will eat that way.
7. Babysitters and awesome mothers/mother-in-law's can be your savior. If you can afford it, take someone with you so you get to sleep in a couple of mornings and go out and have some couple time (see: pockets lined with gold).

I know it won't be this way forever. By the time our kids reach 3 and 5, I feel that traveling will be easier. We won't require as much help and everyone will be sleeping a lot more regularly. The next three years our family vacays will be costly, and thus fewer. However, we plan to stay longer each time and just commit to fewer adventures for the time being. Ultimately, it's a price I'm willing (and happy) to pay. When Wee Nomad leans over in the morning and plants a kiss squarely on my mouth, I melt.
on Tuesday, June 7, 2011 | 2 comments

Well, we're back! Mr. Nomad and I spent three nights in Bermuda this past weekend, enjoying some child-free time (except for the babe I'm carting around in my womb, of course). This report won't have the detailed, multi-part posts of our cruise review, mostly because this trip was much shorter than our usual jaunts.

Overall Impressions
I've heard a lot of words to describe Bermuda: stuffy, formal, beautiful, proper, British, expensive. It's all of those things, kind of. Bermuda is definitely more proper than the raucous Jost Van Dyke or the laid-back St. John. But Palm Beach it isn't, despite what people want you to believe. I believe there was a time when jackets and dress pants were required for men when dining; those times have largely passed at all but a few places. Truth is, Bermuda focuses less these days on tourism than on business, so the restaurants must either adapt to what the travelers want or face closure. Take your bets on what choice the restaurants are making...

Bermuda can be terribly expensive. It can also be a great value. It depends on what kind of traveler you are. If you insist on beachfront, be ready to shell out upwards of $500/night during high season for the best resorts. Or, prepare to book months in advance for the handful of resorts that don't charge a small fortune. However, if you are open to a waterview bed and breakfast, a quaint guesthouse, or a lovely self-catered vacation rental, you can easily find something to fit the bill for less than $200 a night, even in high season.

To me, Bermuda didn't look real. The business sector of Hamilton is so clean and pristine it puts the US to shame, except maybe for Seaside in Florida. Litter, grime, poverty: these are not things the average visitor to Bermuda will experience. Even the handful of homeless around Hamilton are polite, congratulating me on my pregnancy and not harassing. Once I read some of the literature on the island, I began to understand. The insurance and re-insurance sector is huge, and foots about half of the government's generous annual budget. Bermuda has the third-highest per capita income in the world. Standards are high.

The people are unfailingly polite and friendly. A greeting of "good morning" or "good afternoon" will actually work on 95% of the people you encounter. If there is one word I can use to describe Bermudians, it's "proud." These people are proud of their island and heritage, and it's not just lip service; they mean it. They keep their homes tidy, their outward appearances neat, their transportation efficient. Bermuda lacks some of the "wild west" feel of the Caribbean, but there is also no "island time." There's on-time, or late. And Bermudians don't appear to tolerate lateness.

I have routinely heard complaints that the water in Bermuda is cold. It's directly east of North Carolina, so if the waters are cold in NC, it's going to be cold in Bermuda. I'd guess water temps hovered around 75 degrees in early June; air temps were around 78 each day. Having left 93 degree temps in Atlanta, 78 was a dream. I'm guessing that July - September yields very pleasant water conditions but hotter/more-humid air temps. Pick your poison.

Some travelers are put off by the fact that you cannot rent a car in Bermuda. I suppose I understand that; it's a bit of an inconvenience. You can rent scooters but I'd recommend you learn the lay of the land before endeavoring to rent a scooter. However, the buses are clean, on time, inexpensive and frequent. I think it's all about choosing a location that is well-suited to your interests so you don't spend a ton of time traveling around. Beaches? Definitely stay on the south side. Shopping and dining? Stay near Hamilton. Quiet and quaint? Perhaps Flatts Village is more your style.

The ferries are also plentiful and timely. Do note that transportation schedules are severely scaled back on Sundays, and pretty much all stores (except for Dockyard) are closed.

You can do a lot of it in Bermuda, and it's not your typical Caribbean shopping experience. Marks and Spencer (surprisingly low cost), Louis Vuitton, fine linens, china... all mixed in with some t-shirt and magnet shops. See what I mean - exclusive or value, you pick.

We booked this trip six weeks out. While we got a great deal on airfare (under $300 a ticket), our rather late decision to book did limit our options somewhat. A lot of the good self-catering rentals were booked. The inexpensive beach hotels were booked. This left us with $700 a night beach resorts, guesthouses and small inns. We chose a property frequented by business travelers but also suited to leisure travelers too - the Royal Palms Hotel. We opted for one of the nicer rooms, a deluxe mini-suite. This room was $250 a night, which included a complimentary continental breakfast. The breakfast was expanded from a typical US continental, and included a do-it-yourself waffle station and a soft or hardboiled egg station. I think for a week it would get boring, but for three mornings it was more than adequate.

Our room was extremely comfortable and clean. Very British and proper, with dark furniture, heavy curtains and traditional artwork. But extremely cozy and comfortable. The staff was always friendly and available, and the gardener even drove us into town on Sunday to catch our ferry when the front desk had trouble locating a taxi before 10am.

In short, I'd recommend this small hotel to anyone looking for a location that is in walking distance to Hamilton but located close to buses and the ferry. (PS - taxi ride to Hamilton only $6 if you are feeling too lazy to walk. I certainly opted for the taxi a handful of times in my prego state).

Boston Whaler Rental
Our first full day was Friday, June 3rd, and we opted to rent a Boston Whaler from Aquatic Bermuda and see the island from the water. This activity is akin to renting a dinghy or small, no frills watercraft. The Boston Whaler is a cool little boat, very stable. I wish they had these in the VI, to be honest.

We chose to rent from Aquatic Bermuda because we could pick up our Whaler directly in Hamilton. We set off across the sound, went under the Watford Bridge, circled around Daniel's Head, fed some fish at the HMS Vixen wreck, went to a deserted island and then chilled in the Paradise Lakes aquatic neighborhood. A lot in four hours, that's for sure! Here are some photos of our adventure:

Beach Day
We only had one beach day, and we chose to spend it at "the" beach on Bermuda, Horseshoe Bay. We chose this beach for a few reasons: 1. We needed chair and umbrella rental, 2. We needed food, 3. We needed our beach day to be easy and easily accessible. Done, done and done. Horseshoe Bay was beautiful. In fact, every beach we passed seemed to be beautiful. Bermuda has different topography from most Caribbean islands I've visited. There are large limestone rocks sitting off most beaches, making for some dramatic scenery. Also, the beaches are very wide, more like what one sees in the continental United States. Lastly, the water color is a bit different. Caribbean islands tend to have light aqua water which varies in shade depending on the depth and rock formations. Bermuda's water is light, bright blue, perhaps due to the pinkish sand. Neither is better, just a bit different.

We did find the water chilly at this time of year. You could definitely adapt after a few minutes, but I never ventured higher than my belly. We spent all day at Horseshoe, and didn't leave until 4:30. It was a nice, relaxing day.

I'm not one to write long, exhaustive reviews on what I ate. I am sort of picky, but am oddly reasonably easy to please once I make my selection. A meal has to be pretty bad for me to complain. That being said, I expect an expensive meal to be much, much better than pub food. When it's not, I get irritated.

Hog Penny Pub: I had a Chicken Masala curry dish and Mr. Nomad had Fish and Chips. The Fish and Chips were really good, my Chicken was better than average. Toffee pudding for dessert was passable.

Barracuda Grill: touted as one of the best restaurants on Bermuda, I expected big things. This was the only reservation we made. The meal started well, with delicious bread and homemade tapanade. I got a grilled fig salad (just okay) while Mr. Nomad settled on a bowl of Bermudian Fish Chowder (really good). For our entrees, I selected the rockfish, which had an Asian preparation. The Mr. chose the Wahoo, which was more Italian, served with gnudi and cherry tomatoes. I frankly though Mr. made a better choice. Dessert was gingerbread toffee pudding with ginger ice cream, and it was really divine. Overall, I was a little disappointed in the food. I'm not sure I'd return for the price, honestly.

Pickled Onion: This is a cute little place on Front Street in Hamilton. We liked it and went back twice. The first time, we split a Chicken Panini for a late lunch. When we returned for a casual dinner on our last night, I had a spinach salad with chicken and Mr. Nomad had a pepperoni pizza. I also had the best non-alcoholic fruit drink in the world. Pineapple, orange, cranberry and Barritt's ginger beer. I will be re-creating this at home.

Swizzle Inn, Southhampton: We stopped by the Swizzle Inn on our way back from Horseshoe Bay. We split a small BBQ Chicken Nachos and I had a non-alcoholic cocktail. I got to hate Mr. Nomad as I watched him consume rum swizzles. That's okay, one day I will no longer be prego and cocktails will be mine. Cute place, visited by locals and visitors alike. I could see how the bar crowd might get rowdy. Well, rowdy by Bermuda standards, not Willy T standards.

On our last day, our flight didn't depart until 3:45. As such, we decided to take the ferry out to Dockyard, which is on the far Western tip of the Island. Dockyard is some sort of old naval installation (I never quite read up on the history) and is one of the only places where shops are open on Sunday. It's also where most cruise ships dock). We made the 10:00am ferry (we'd planned on the 9am, but slept in) and we're walking around by 10:30am. We did some quick souvenir shopping, watched the Norwegian Dawn come in and grabbed a quick bite before heading back. The ferry was quite full with cruisers on the way back and I wished someone had warned us that the ferry would get that packed. All was okay, but I would've been pretty peeved if we'd missed our flight.

We had a great cab driver to the airport. He took us on a route that ran the northside of the island (beautiful rocky areas, completely swimmable but no beach) and no tourists. We also went through Flatt's Village. I frankly prefered the north side and Flatt's to some of the more touristy areas. But that's just me.

So... Do You Have a New Island Favorite?
No. I believe Bermuda is fabulous for a 3-5 night trip. Any longer, and I think I'd get bored. Somehow there's just nothing to grab onto about Bermuda. I can't explain it. I'd return in a second (especially in July-September) but it's probably not my personal first choice. I like my island paradise a little grittier, which I realize makes no sense, but that's just me. Bermuda is almost too perfect. I do admire what the country has done for its citizens. Unlike most of the Caribbean islands, which have sacrificed their local population for a quick real estate dollar, Bermuda has strict rules about real estate. Very few properties are available to foreigners (and those that are available cost an average $4 million), but Bermuda residents can afford property because most properties are only available for purchase by residents - this keeps prices lower on those properties. Of course, the island has changed in other ways - including importing thousands of foreigners to work all of the insurance jobs. I liked Bermuda more than St. Thomas, Grand Bahama or St. Kitts... but liked it decidedly less than St. John, Dominica, Aruba or the BVI. For me, the Virgins are still my island "home," but I'd never turn my nose up at Bermuda.

on Thursday, May 19, 2011 | 0 comments
Besides dreaming of beaches and searching for pink hotels in Bermuda, I've been busy with some other stuff. Like growing a new human, taking care of the little life we have in our hands and, oh yeah, work. Always with the work.

In the middle though, I've managed to devote some time to learning more about good nutrition. I've always liked to eat healthy, but like a lot of people, I'm rather up and down in my habits. I tend to be "all or nothing," when I need to take a more moderate approach and strive to do the best I can at all times, even if I'm not perfect.

I'm re-reading the Omnivore's Dilemma, which if you haven't read, I highly suggest. I'm also taking some tips from a really great cookbook/cooking guide called Nourishing Traditions. Please ignore the cheesy cover and horrible author picture. The book is chock full of good information about WHY you should make things like stocks, beans and dressings from scratch and avoid canned goods like the plague. Oh, and she explains why eating animal FAT is actually good for you. Yay!

At this very moment, I have a chicken stock cooking in my slow cooker at home and black beans soaking on my kitchen counter. If I can find some time to do this sort of thing from scratch, so can you. It's actually kind of fun and doesn't take as long as you think, just some forethought (the horror!).
on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 | 0 comments
When it comes to traveling, I'm kind of cheap. I'll spend a fortune on some things (like a private boat charter), but I tend to cut some corners when choosing where I'll stay. For me, $250 a night is a lot to spend on a hotel, even in the Caribbean in mid-winter. Again - I'm kind of cheap.

You can imagine my surprise when my Bermuda research led me to the conclusion that one cannot score a beachfront hotel for less than $350/night. Actually, $450 and up is more like it. That is, IF you can find a room at all. Apparently June is high season and it's no joke. I even searched for cottage rentals but they were mostly booked six weeks out. Anyways, we wanted a hotel for such a short trip. So, we made some compromises. We've decided to stay at a lovely hotel in Hamilton that, while not beachfront, is rated #1 on TripAdvisor. It's called Royal Palms and it's pink(ish) and it has a pool and a full breakfast included. We're off to a good start.

The advantage to our location is that we can walk to dinner each night, saving a fortune on cab fare. I know that Bermuda has a great bus system, but frankly, I don't have the patience for that when pregnant. We did the bus thing in Italy last time I was prego, and I almost killed a bitch. Twice.

We've decided to rent a Boston Whaler boat for one of our days (we can walk to our pick-up point) and then, on our other full day, we'll grab a scooter and venture to the South Shore of the island. I'm really excited about our boat day. It'll be kind of like a dinghy day on St. John, but with a more comfortable craft. We can jump out and swim, tour the shoreline and get some snorkeling in.

We plan to take it pretty easy this trip and enjoy ourselves, with no too much planned. Except to spend a lot of money. Bermuda is not cheap. Entrees at "good" restaurants are $40 and up. Entrees and "reasonably" priced places are $20 and up. That's serious cash - though I guess not too much different from St. John when you really compare. Any ideas for cheap(er) eats in Bermuda?
on Monday, May 9, 2011 | 0 comments
As usual, I spoke too soon. Maine was booked (well, the hotel was...) and then there was a change of heart. Blame my fickle pregnancy hormones, blame my insatiable lust for blue water, blame the fact that I hate shellfish. Blame it on any of those, but really, you can blame Delta for running a fabulous sale fare to Bermuda.

So, Bermuda it is for that long weekend, not Maine. Ultimately, I convinced the hubs by explaining to him that Bermuda is only in the high 70s during the time of the year we're visiting, and I think that sold him. Plus, I really, really want to get out in the water. When I'm big and prego, it's nice to be weightless, even if for a few moments.
on Friday, April 22, 2011 | 0 comments
Mr. Nomad and I are jaunting off on an adult weekend away in June! This time, we're headed to Maine to celebrate our 9th anniversary. It's going to be my first time in New England, and I'm excited to see a new (for me) part of the country. We only have three nights, which limited our choices somewhat. We decided it's best to fly into Portland, since it's a direct flight from Atlanta. This does limit our options on where we can go, since we don't want to undertake a four hour car ride to famous Bar Harbor for such a short trip.

Instead, we've decided to focus on the southern coast of Maine. We're staying in that famous Republican stomping ground, Kennebunkport. It's been a vacation spot since long before the Bush family made it famous, and frankly, I just like saying Kennebunkport. Kennebunkport. Kennebunkport. It's fun. Try it.

Plus, turns out Maine isn't all that warm in June. So, the further south, the warmer. I'll probably be in wool sweaters.

After lots of research and review reading, we've decided on the Captain Fairfield Inn, seen here in snowier times:

This B&B is slowly undergoing a redecorating room-by-room. It's going from a traditional, old-lady style decor to a modern, sleek look. I am very excited to see it in person. We've opted to stay in a newly renovated room, sight unseen. Apparently there is pomegranate paint, a wallpapered accent wall and a zebra headboard. Sold.

Plus, it's haunted.

Now, we just have to make decisions on what to do. Whale watching, biking, eating a White Barn Inn, the only AAA 5-star restaurant north of Boston? All of it?

So excited about our new adventure.
on Monday, April 18, 2011 | 1 comments
I've been rather silent around these parts, mostly because I've been slammed busy. Our deck renovation project is well underway. We've completed demo of the existing deck, have expanded and built the new deck and stairs, and the contractor is now constructing the covered area. It's a large area - 21' x 14' - and we're excited to have a little bit of vacation right outside our back door. We cannot wait until it's complete. The structure should be complete by the end of the day tomorrow, and all that's left is putting the rails up this weekend and then painting. But, by the end of this weekend, we'll be able to use it! So pumped. I'll post pictures of the process once it's all complete. Mr. Nomad has been doing a ton of extra work, so he has monopolized the laptop at night.

On another front, we have some Nomad News. I'm pregnant - again! Yes, I am 13.5 weeks along with our second (and probably last) child. We are really excited but also a tad nervous. We're going to have a hectic couple of years, but we cannot wait to travel and share our adventures with our wee nomads.

We did get the chance for a weekend getaway recently. Last weekend we headed to Hilton Head Island, SC - this is our default getaway. It's 4 hours from our house, we have good friends there, and there is a ton to do besides the beach. We love riding bikes on the many trails, eating at the good restaurants, shopping (well, I like the shopping), hanging out at waterside restaurants and checking out the boats at the various marinas. For us, even though the water lacks that Caribbean blue that I so love, Hilton Head offers so much to do. Plus, we've been there so often it feels like a second home.

Even though I love traveling far and wide, stateside getaways has their advantages. Where's your favorite "close to home" getaway?
on Monday, March 28, 2011 | 1 comments
It's been almost two months since we left for our cruise. It feels like five months. Turns out a toddler (plus a full time job) keeps a person busy. We don't have any really exotic trips on the horizon, just an upcoming weekend on Hilton Head Island in SC and another weeklong trip to the same island in July. Hilton Head has become our default beach vacation when we don't want to travel far. While the beaches leave something to be desired for this Caribbean-loving girl, the restaurants, biking and shopping really can't be beat. Plus, we have good friends who live there, so it's kind of like going home.

We are also redoing our deck. We're expanding the deck, redoing the boards, relocating and rebuilding the stairs, and then covering the whole 14 x 20 space. Dave demolished our deck yesterday, except for the support boards. A few days of manual labor will be good for him. Pictures coming soon on the deck project. It's a larger project than we'd anticipated, but we're excited about the results.
on Thursday, March 3, 2011 | 0 comments

Well, here we are... our final port. Several months before we left for the cruise, I'd started researching Tobago to determine what to do in our short time on-island. I truly don't know a ton about Tobago, as it's not a destination easily reached from the U.S. I tossed around the idea of renting a car, stopping by Pigeon Point and then just seeing what the island had to offer. In the end, we realized we didn't have a single port day "on the water," so we opted to sign up for a catamaran cruise with Island Girl. Again, this excursion is not found through the cruise line. I believe Celebrity is dropping Tobago as a port after this year. It's really too bad; I personally found the island worthwhile and would love to return for an extended visit.

Tobago is part of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. This island nation is the furthest point south in the Caribbean, and Trinidad sits literally right on top of South America. These islands have a rich culture; a mix of Afro-Caribbean, Indian and South American descended residents makes for quite the melting pot. Tobago is the much sleepier, much smaller cousin of Trinidad.

The port of Scarborough definitely left a lot to be desired. It's a port, plain and simple. After getting off the ship, we met up with a group headed to Island Girl. We all boarded a mini-bus and took a 20-30 minute ride to Mt. Irvine Bay, where we could see Island Girl waiting. We quickly gave our shoes to the crew, jumped in the dinghy and found ourselves comfortably situated on the u-shaped benches near the front of the cat. The 43-foot cat holds around 25 people, and I believe we had a full house that day; nevermind, it didn't seem crowded to us.

Here is a photo looking back towards Mt. Irvine from aboard Island Girl:

As the cruise got underway, it quickly (as in, within several minutes) became obvious this was not destined to be the leisurely, smooth pleasure cruise many are used to. The waters around Tobago are not always placid; I was prepared for this. Fortunately, I am not afflicted with sea-sickness. I cannot say the same for others and I believe many were a tad green around the gills during our trip, including Dave from time to time. I admit, I was a tad worried initially, but after around 10 minutes, I became used to the motion and had no further worries.

As we headed out, we made the acquaintance of a lovely couple from England - hi D and J if you're reading! Most of the land-based visitors to Tobago are from Europe, England in particular. We talked to D and J on and off all day and are still in touch. It's great to meet people on vacation; we've met some really interesting and lovely people this way.

As we sailed up the coast of Tobago, the occasional development gave way to a more rural landscape. Tobago has natural beauty in abundance. As you get further from the developed areas, the water becomes an amazing deep aqua color and the black cliffs and emerald green trees give way to gorgeous slivers of beach, many accessible only by boat. It may be a wild ride, but for a snorkeler or diver, I believe the returns are worth it.

After about an hour to ninety minutes of salt-spraying fun, we arrived at our first stop: Cotton Bay. This is a lovely, small beach only accessible by boat (unless you're a mountain goat; I believe they could make it down the hill). The beach is golden sand streaked with black. It is truly a gorgeous cove. There is some better-than-average snorkeling just off the beach, and Dave and I jumped in and swam around after a bit.

Here are some pictures of Cotton Bay:

As you can tell, the weather began to turn a bit as we anchored off Cotton Bay. The clouds thickened and we wondered if we were in for rain. If so, the rum punch wouldn't be the only thing flowing. After spending some time ashore, lunch was served. Island Girl puts out a spread that I, for one, found to be absolutely delicious. Grilled fish caught that morning, stewed chicken, rice, hot sauce and a handful of salads were the offerings that day. The stewed chicken was literally the best I've ever tasted. I'd go back on Island Girl just for that chicken, no lie.

After lunch, we swam around in Cotton Bay for a while and then set sail for our second destination, a snorkel spot called Emerald Cove. This is, again, a spot only accessible from the water. This is a small cove with one of the healthiest reefs I've ever seen. I found it to be healthier than the Indians in the BVI, and that's good snorkeling. One interesting contrast between the USVI/BVI and Tobago... same fish, but the Tobago fish were enormous. Huge, mature sergeant majors, parrotfish, etc. populated the waters all around. I truly wish I'd had an underwater camera to get some shots.

As the afternoon wore on, our sunny day gave way to gray skies and rain. This meant that the visibility at Emerald Cove wasn't as good as it would have been if the sun was out, but the snorkeling was impressive nonetheless. After this stop, it was time to begin our long sail back. Though the seas were large, the wind was noticeably absent. I laid on one of the nets at the front of the cat and took a nap. With no sunburn to worry about because the skies were gray and 80 degree temps, I was content. After his stomach settled, Dave joined me on the net and we relaxed on the way back.

As we neared Mt. Irvine Bay, I began to hear rumblings from behind me. Our captain had located a large pod of dolphin, and as we neared, the dolphins began to jump and play right at the front of the cat, literally right under Dave and I. We followed the dolphins around for quite some time, until they got bored of us. It was a nice treat to end our final port day.

As we neared Mt. Irvine Bay, the skies opened up, and I mean poured in the way it only does in the Caribbean. We were immediately drenched. As we all settled our bills, we hoped the rain would abate, but no such luck. We boarded a wet dinghy is pouring rain and quickly returned to Mt. Irvine Bay. We bid farewell to our new friends and returned to the ship.

As we pulled away from Tobago (with a glass of Veuve from yesterday in hand), I marveled at the beautiful homes hugging the coast and realized I want to return, if only to eat that stewed chicken. Oh yes, and the snorkeling. And the roti. And the Indian food. I may be a tad food-obsessed.


I'll post a final wrap-up installment of our sea day, our return to San Juan and some additional photos of the cabin. I was truly sad for our port days to end. I loved the port-intensive itinerary and frankly, will only do cruises in the future with these types of itineraries.
on Sunday, February 27, 2011 | 0 comments

l'll warn you readers: as the days went by, our picture taking became less and less. We were lulled into the rhythm of vacation and relaxation, and consequently our trip journaling suffered. But we still got a few great shots of both Grenada and Tobago. This will be the most boring of all the segments, because we opted to take it easy on Grenada.

I've harbored a strong desire to see Grenada for years now. I've had many travelers tell me it's a lovely place, and the book "An Embarrassment of Mangoes" certainly plays up Grenada as one of the author's favorite places in all of the Caribbean.

I knew we'd be tired by the time we reached Grenada, so we planned for a beach day. I thought we'd walk around St. Georges, check out the Carenage (touted as one of the most picturesque of all Caribbean deep water ports) and taxi over to either Magazine Beach or Morne Rouge.

One of the Summit's sister ships, Millennium, was in port with us that day. It was odd watching our mirror image ship pull in alongside us, but very cool. These folks were on a 10-day Southern Caribbean voyage, so I admit a tad bit of jealously towards the passengers aboard.

Upon disembarking the ship, I was somewhat surprised at how developed Grenada's port facilities are. This island clearly wants cruise ships, and has spent a considerable amount of resources building a large indoor shopping area attached to the port. You must enter through this shopping arcade to get to St. Georges, and I imagine this area is good for business.

We dodged the many aggressive trip hawkers as we made our way to town. Once on the streets of St. Georges, we encountered several friendly folks: one who proudly told us about the country's independence celebration a few days prior, and another who helped us out with directions just because we looked lost.

After walking up what must be one of the steepest hills in the Caribbean, we found the Carenage. I'm not sure what I was expecting... I thought there would be more shops lining the waterfront or something. It is a picturesque town in some ways, but somehow not what I was expecting. No worries. We found a taxi driver and hired him to take us to Morne Rouge for a morning of relaxation and rest.

Morne Rouge is a gorgeous beach, just past Grand Anse. I did notice there is a large pipe feeding into the ocean at one end of the beach, near the Gem Holiday Resort. We steered way clear of this end of the beach and opted to set up shop for the day a good distance away.

We rented chairs for around $10 for the day, and promptly took beach naps under the shade of one of the many large trees that line the beach.

Here's the busy end of the beach...

And here's the view from our chairs...

After napping and reading for the entire morning, we ate at one of the two restaurants on the beach, at the Gem Holiday Resort. I wanted chicken roti. Truthfully, the food was just okay. I kind of wish we'd opted for Magazine Beach because the restaurant there is supposed to be one of the best on the island. But, no regrets, the day was relaxing. That was our objective.

There is a ton to see on Grenada, including rainforest, waterfalls, history (especially from the coup and US invasion during the Reagan administration) and monkeys. By making this a beach day, we did miss out on seeing much of what Grenada has to offer, but we were tired and this was vacation! I loved our beach day. After a passing downpour, we jumped on a water taxi back to St. Georges.

We returned to the ship mid-afternoon, and chose to hang out on our balcony and around the pool instead of in St. Georges. As we sailed away, we opened our bottle of Veuve purchased in San Juan and celebrated another beautiful day in the Caribbean.
on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | 0 comments
I'm forced to admit defeat. Work is derailing my plans to get the next installment out anytime prior to the end of the week. C'mon, a new job, a toddler... how hard could it possibly be, right?

For now, I'll give everyone a taste of my next installment: Grenada. Frankly, I could use a little Grenada in my life today, too.