2013 Christmas Eastern Caribbean Cruise


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Published: December 28th 2013
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Thursday, December 26, 2013 (St. Maarten)

As always, I am up early in this morning, 4:45 am. I headed to my normal spot on the 7th level, Atrium area where I could work on this blog. I believe I am the only crazy person up this time of the day on the ship, other than the crew.

Today we docked in the port of St. Maarten. The surrounding area was not as dramatic as St. Thomas, however it is still a pretty area. Today the girls and boys are doing separate tours. Cindy and Jennifer are horseback riding in the morning and Michael and I are competing in an America’s Cup race in one of the retired America’s Cup sailboats.

Here is some great information on the island of St. Maarten, compliments of many resources on the Internet. Saint Martin (French: Saint-Martin; Dutch: Sint Maarten) is an island in the northeast Caribbean, approximately 300 km (190 mi) east of Puerto Rico. The 87 square kilometres (34 sq mi) island is divided roughly 60/40 between France (53 square kilometres (20 sq mi) and the Kingdom of the Netherlands (34 square kilometres (13 sq mi)) the two parts are roughly equal in population. It is one of the smallest Sea Islands divided between two nations, a division dating to 1648. The southern Dutch part comprises Saint Maarten and is one of four constituent countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The northern French part comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin) and is an overseas collectivity of France.

On January 1, 2009 the population of the entire island was 77,741 inhabitants, with 40,917 living on the Dutch side, and 36,824 on the French side.

Collectively, the two territories are known as "St-Martin / St Maarten". Saint Martin has a land area of 87 km2, 53 km2 of which is under the sovereignty of France, and 34 km² under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This is the only land border shared by these two countries anywhere on Earth.

The main cities are Philipsburg (Dutch side) and Marigot (French side). The Dutch side is more heavily populated. The largest settlement on the entire island is Lower Prince's Quarter, on the Dutch side.

The highest hilltop is the Pic Paradis (424 metres (1,391 ft) on center of a hill chain (French side). But both sides are hilly with large mountain peaks. This forms a valley were many houses are located. There are no rivers on the island, but many dry guts. Hiking trails give access to the dry forest covering tops and slopes.

OK, enough technical stuff about St. Maarten, so let’s talk about all the fun things we did here. The three of us (Michael slept in) ate breakfast in the Horizon Court again, a quick way to eat from a buffet when your time is limited. They always have a great selection food.

The girls needed to meet on shore for their tour at 8:50 am. They were super excited to go on this tour. This part of my blog is written by Cindy, good stuff.

Horseback riding – Cindy & Jenny enjoyed horseback riding in St Maarten. They arrived at the stable which was located on a former farm; however both were amazed at how hilly the terrain was. They were assigned horses based on their horseback riding experience. Cindy’s horse was named “Bob” and had a reputation of biting fellow horses in the butt. Jenny had a horse that was a very docile. They rode horses with 2 other ladies from the cruise. The trails were narrow and surprisingly had cactus – a shock to these Texas ladies! There were some flowers but mostly rocks and brush and a spectacular view of the Caribbean ocean. After the horses climbed up and down the steep the terrain they then brought Jenny & Cindy down to the beach. The horses also went into the ocean – the water was up to the saddles.

After being brought back to the cruise ship, Cindy & Jenny enjoyed lunch with Michael & Todd. Then after the guys left they went to one of the upper decks to compete in a Putt Putt competition. Cindy eventually won by sinking a putt, she was awarded a “Princess Cruise Sports Bottle.”

While Cindy and Jenny were on their tour, Cindy’s Dad and I disembarked from the ship and went to the shopping area. While walking to the shopping area we counted four other cruise ships, Royal Caribbean, another Princess, and two other cruise lines I have never heard of. What we found interesting is the massive size of the Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. This ship was at least two stories higher and significantly wider. At the back of their ship there were two rock climbing walls. We also observed they had inside balcony room facing an open atrium area. It certainly dwarfed our ship, in my eyes was pretty huge.

Our walk around town to shop was fairly short, there really was not much to choose from. Mostly jewelry and liquor sales, less touristy stuff. Cindy’s Dad returned to the ship and I walked around a little more.

Michael and I meet for our tour onshore at 1:50 pm. Our tour is an actual learn and then play tour. We learn all the basics of sailing and then compete with another team in an actual race. Our group was fairly large, 24 people. Once together, we walked about 10 minutes from the ship and meet at a separate dock, next to the water taxi. Before boarding our tender to go to the sail boats, we heard a brief history of the sailboat racing, specifically the America’s Cup history. We then organized our teams; one team is going on the British sailboat and the other the American boat. Michael and I were picked for the America sailboat, stars and stripes. Then boarded the tender by teams, the competition was starting to heat up. When our tender left to go meet our sailboat, each person on our team was assigned positions on the sailboat. They had positions from the bartender to the Main Grinder. Michael and I wanted to do some of the more intense positions; we were picked as the Primary Grinder. We had the second most important role on the sailboat. Our captain spent a significant amount of time going over our positions and not what to do because of the possibly of serious injury. There was another primary grinder team next to us, a father/son group. Our role as a primary grinder was to control the front sail at the direction of the captain. We practice our roles a few times, before the start of the race. There were pre-marked buoys in the water we needed to follow for the race. Before the race started we were given 6 minutes to get organized and rest before we get the green flag. The weather was perfect at the beginning of the rain, it was partly cloudy and a few clouds over the mountains with some showers to our west. The wind was about 10-15 notes, perfect sailing weather.

Our race started and the intense work started. We turned at the first buoy and the other sailboat had a slight edge over us. It was hard for Michael and to really see the course because we need to be ready to grind in one of three positions at the command of our captain. During the race the winds did begin to pick up which helped us gain speed. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, a huge rain storm developed over us with heavy winds and rain. The swells in the seas were getting large. Things got seriously intense in a way we needed to main control of our sailboat so we would flip our boat. For years I have watched sailboat races and the boats were listing on the side, this looked very cool. Guess what, with the significant wind, rain, and sea swells, we were seriously listing and holding on the safety line on our side of the boat. I swear a couple more feet of listing we would have been in the water. This was probably one of the most intense situations I have been in a while. It was also very strenuous on your body because you needed the strength to be a grinder. The storm lasted about 15 minutes, however all of sudden it cleared up and we could see the finish line. Our competition was to our right and slightly behind us. In the end, our team won the race. Michael and I were totally drenched from the rain storm, however when it is all said and done, this was an awesome experience, a memory maker for sure.

Before joining a tender back to shore, our team had to move to the front of the boat so the crew could lower the sails. They asked Michael to help bring done the rear sail. Throughout the experience I tried to have people take pictures of Michael and I on the sailboat, however the photos we took are on a throw away camera that needs be developed when we return home.

We boarded our tender to return to shore. Before we went back to the cruise ship, we had the option by a photo of the entire team on the sailboat before the race. Michael and I bought the photo for sure. They also service rum punch, yum.

We arrived back at the ship around 5:15 pm. Our ship was departing the port at 5:30 pm.

This evening was a smart casual dress for dinner. We had our even drinks in a lounge before heading to dinner. We all tried different drinks again, I had a Washington Apple. The mix was Crown Royal (I actually am starting to enjoy crown royal), Apple schnapps, and cranberry juice. For dinner this evening, unfortunately I did not write down all the awesome fun items I ate, darn it. All I remember is that I ate a lot of food. I am getting worried because I have not exercised all week, yikes.

This was our last island tour and we started our journey back to Fort Lauderdale, arriving back on Sunday morning. Tomorrow is a sea day and I have no doubt there will be a ton of fun activities planned.

Stayed tuned for my sea day blog for Friday, December 27, 2013.

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