Graduation Caribbean Cruise Friday, May 30 - June 7, 2014

Published: June 5th 2014
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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Todd was up at 600am, grading papers. Yes I am working on part of the trip. After I finished grading papers, I headed back to our room to make sure everyone was up. We have a tight schedule this morning. Jenny, Marcus, Michael and I wanted to run on the beach this morning. The beach is 1.5 blocks away. Everyone was up to running; Michael decided to work out in the gym. Cindy stayed back in the hotel. So Jenny, Marcus and I walked down towards the beach. I ran ahead and started running. It was super warm and humid this morning, I felt like I was back in Houston in the middle of the summer. For me, it was so enjoyable running on the beach. I was able to keep my running shoes on and ran at the water’s edge. The beach area was lined mostly with hotels and high-rise condos. Many of the buildings here seemed very outdated. I have vivid memories of the same impression 25 years ago. At 7:30 am, there were already a lot of people on the beach stacking the territory. There were also a number of runners and walkers enjoying the warm and humid tropical air. I ran down one part of the beach as far as I could before I had to turn around and come back. On my way back, I ran into Jenny and Marcus. I gave them my camera and they took several photos of my posing with my Fort Bend Fit shirt on. Jenny wanted to take shots of my running too.

Cindy and I wanted everyone back in the hotel, packed and ready to eat by 9:00 am so we can eat breakfast and meet our tour. This hotel, the Embassy Suites, was seriously packed with kids and families. At 9:00 am, the breakfast area in the lobby was a challenge. Cindy and I waiting in the hot food line for 20 minutes. When we finally arrived at the serving line, we grabbed two plates each because we wanted Jenny and Marcus to be able to eat. Jenny and Marcus joined just in time. Our breakfast was super-fast because it was 9:45 am and we had to meet our tour at 10:00 am.

We returned to the room, grabbed our bags and headed back to lobby to meet our tour. All that the rushing around, our guide never came until 10:15 am, island time. The tour we arranged beforehand was of the Bacardi rum distillery. The gentleman that met us was super nice and helped us load our luggage on the van. After our tour, they are driving us to the cruise terminal.

The ride to Bacardi distillery took 25 minutes. The tour guide was really interesting and we learned some interesting things about Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico, officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Due to its location, Puerto Rico enjoys a tropical climate and is subject to hot weather all-year-round. The national language is Spanish but English is recognized as an official language as well.

In 1917, the U.S. granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans. In 1948, it granted Puerto Ricans the right to elect their own governor. In 1952, under request by the United States, a local territorial constitution was adopted and ratified by the electorate. Under the tenets of the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act, residents of the island are still subject to the plenary jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress, and the island continues as a U.S. territory. In 1917, the U.S. Congress passed the Jones-Shafroth Act, popularly called the Jones Act, which granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. Opponents, who included all of the Puerto Rican House of Delegates, which voted unanimously against it, said that the US imposed citizenship in order to draft Puerto Rican men into the army as American entry into World War I became likely.

Puerto Rico consists of the main island of Puerto Rico and various smaller islands, including Vieques, Culebra, Mona, Desecheo, and Caja de Muertos. Of these last five, only Culebra and Vieques are inhabited year-round. Mona is uninhabited most of the year except for employees of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources. There are also many other smaller islands, including Monito and "La Isleta de San Juan," which includes Old San Juan and Puerta de Tierra, and is connected to the main island by bridges.

After the tour guide gave us a fairly detailed description of Puerto Rico, we arrived at the Bacardi distillery. The grounds are beautiful and well taken care of. After parking the van, we disembarked and followed our tour guide to the ticket counter/pavilion. Part of our admission to the distillery included two free Bacardi drinks and the tour. The ticket representatives told our tour guide that the next tour would leave in 25 minutes. Our tour guide recommended using our drink coupons. All six of us headed straight to the bar to begin testing the Bacardi rum flavors. Some of the flavors we enjoyed were Raz, Dragonberry, Coconut, and Oakheart. Oakheart is there premium brand and aged in white oak barrels from the US mainland a lot longer. The oakheart was seriously smooth. We later learned the pavilion were sitting under is the shape of a bat. The bat is the label of Bacardi. Here is a little history about the bat label. With the development of the new Bacardi rum, in 1862 Bacardi purchased a tin roofed factory building in which he planned to start a distillery. In the roof of the building lived a family of fruit bats, considered to be a good luck omen in Cuban mythology. To this day, the official logo of the Bacardi Company bears the likeness of a fruit bat in flight.

The company was formed in 1862; the founder was Don Facundo Masso. He actually perfected his father’s formula, developing rum from yeast.

Following drinking our beverages, we boarded a tram to visit a museum of the distillery. The gentleman in the museum area explained much of the history and then walked us through reconstructed demonstration of the old manufacturing process. This was all very interesting; however I am waiting for the real of the actual plant. However we learned following our tour that there will not be a tour of the actual plant, we were really bummed.

Following the old manufacturing process, we headed back to the pavilion on the open air tram. Before we departed to the next part of the tour, we visited the gift shop. We had about 45 minutes there. It was sure tempting to purchase something, however Cindy and I really did not purchase anything real big, however just something small. I can’t reveal because it is a gift for a family member. When you purchase alcohol off the ship and then return to the ship, you have to check the alcohol in with the cruise ship. They will return the alcohol the day depart the ship. This is probably a good thing; it maintains the amount of alcohol flowing through the cruise ship.

We left the Bacardi distillery and then headed to Old Town San Juan. The trip on the van took about 20 minutes. The tour guide dropped us off at the Colon Park, really close to the San Cristobal Castle. The tour guide recommended a few restaurants in the area for lunch. He also informed us that he would pick us up at 3:15 pm and then take us to the ship. Once off the bus, we walked up Fortaleza Street. Along the way, we observed 400+ year old buildings that reminded us of Italy or Europe in general. I enclosed are photos to show what we meant. We couldn’t help to notice that down one of the side streets, there was a man lying next to a building. Marcus is able to speak Spanish, he heard them mention this person maybe dead. We did not stick around to find out, however this is really sad. Even though we were observing the beautiful sites and buildings, our first focus was to find a place to eat lunch. We settled on a small local café, on San Justo Street, which was super busy, a good sign. The name of the café is Manolin-Old San Juan. We wanted to try some local cuisine. Most of us had Mofongo Relleno con Pollo. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch; however our service was super slow. We are just thinking this is island time; we are just not used to it. Lunch took over an hour, so we did not really have much time to really enjoy the area of visit the fort or castle. Note to self, we need to come back and spend time in Old San Juan.

The tour guide picked us up at the scheduled time, 3:15 pm. We boarded the bus and off we went to the cruise ship. The cruise ship terminal was about a 10 minute drive, super close. We arrived at the terminal, unloaded, and then organized ourselves before standing in the long line. Even though we earned Gold status from our Fiji cruise, still did not give us any special access to this part of checking in. After about 10 minutes, we reached our luggage drop off location. When then had to go through two separate security screenings. I am glad they are doing this, is gives you some sort of reassurance. Our Gold status did provide a nice benefit when we had to present our SeaPass check in documents. This made the verification process much easier. The lady was kinda grouchy; however the computer was giving her a fit and probably a long day.

After the fully checking in, we boarded the ship, let the excitement start. Before making it to our room, we needed to take the traditional photos the cruise ship organizes. We headed straight to our room, deck four, and immediately met our room steward Alan, super nice. Since we did not have our luggage yet, we figured our room layout. This room seemed about the same as the Royal Caribbean ship we were on back in February/March. We did not have a lot of time to explore the ship since our dinner sitting is at 6:00 pm, however we made a good dent in seeing part of the ship. On our Fiji cruise, Cindy and I really liked the Solarium pool area, swimming and lounging around for adults only. This Solarium was a lot better. It had a bar which is very nice. The only downside, there was only one hot tub, the Fiji cruise had two.

We wrapped up our short self-guided tour and headed to our dining room, Tides for dinner. The dining room was on the fourth floor, one minute walk from our room. We were immediately sitting and met our head waiter, Marilou. By the end of the dinner, she had our names memorized, wow. For dinner (the theme was Mojo-Caribbean spices and sauces) the starters included Fruit Medley, Rish Rillettes, Watermelon and Rasberry Soup, Shrimp Cocktail. For dinner, the selections included Seafood spaghetti, soft shell tortilla’s, mojo-marinated grilled pork chop, horseradish-crusted fillet of atlantic salmon, slow-roasted prime rib, and steak and spinach salad. The food is really good and portion sizes are manageable (not too big or small). As always, the ship photographer took photos of us while seated. We had a large table. There was Cindy, Jenny, Marcus, Michael, Brian (Michael’s HS friend), and Brian’s Mom and Dad. What a really fun group.

Following dinner, everyone went their separate ways. The only requirement we asked of everyone was to meet at 6:00 pm for dinner, other than that, everyone did what they wanted to do. Cindy and I explored more of the ship and ended up settling in at a piano bar. We ended sitting there for two hours listening to the gentleman play Elton John, Neil Diamond, etc songs. We had the drink of the day, Tropical Lemonade. It was really enjoyable. We ended up retiring to our room around midnight.

What a fun filled day on land and sea. I can’t wait to visit St. Thomas tomorrow and visiting the beautiful Megan’s Bay.

Additional photos below
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