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Published: November 7th 2019
This is a first – not beginning my latest adventure with my usual shuttle ride to the airport but instead, taking a coach journey from Edinburgh south to Southampton in Hampshire, a drive of approximately 14 hours and some 431 miles. I’m bidding adieu to Edinburgh via the central bus station at 9pm and after an overnight drive, arriving at Harbour Parade bus station around 11am. Unfortunately, I won’t get to enjoy the spectacular scenery I’ll be traversing in darkness, but fingers crossed I can grab a few zzzzz’s between station stops. I booked my ticket online via National Express a few weeks ago for £77.50 ($95.64), cheaper than flying and a pleasant change from always being a mile high in the sky.
My last morning in Scotland I awoke to light rain but not the near freezing temperatures of previous days. Checking out of the Hilton just after 2pm, the taxi had me at the bus station in a matter of minutes, and I settled down with my Kindle in the waiting room until departure. These are definitely luxury coaches as advertised…. new vehicles with very comfortable reclining seats fitted with
USB ports, Wifi and a great entertainment selection of movies, tv and games, all of which are played on your own devices, just like the airlines offer. That should help pass the traveling hours if I don’t get to snooze.
It was a looooonnnng night on that coach – a screaming rug rat who drove everyone nuts until finally his mother got him to sleep (where’s a roll of duct tape when you need it?) – a driver who obviously felt he was Lewis Hamilton in another life (but without that guy’s skills) – and a too stuffy interior – I was more than happy to see the ride end. As dawn broke, we were approaching Glasgow and the ground fog was thick. Trees appeared out of the mist like ancient monuments, but that finally cleared as we arrived in Oxford. There was stop in the center of the city to pick up passengers, giving me the opportunity to see this incredible university city in all its autumn glory. The college buildings were fantastic and the students in mandatory uniform (high collar and tails) were right out of a story book. Arriving in Southampton
just after 11am, somewhat stiff and aching from 14 hours of almost constant sitting in one place, I grabbed my luggage and the nearest taxi – I was depositing my bag with the attendant at dockside some 10 minutes later. Check in for Celebrity was a breeze and I was actually drinking my welcome flute of champagne by 11:45am. The rain had held off most of the night but as I was walking up the gangway, the heavens opened, and it poured down – I made it with just minutes to spare being drenched. I hadn’t been onboard for more than 20 minutes when I ran into a couple of the staff from prior cruises – here we go again! LOL Muster drill is over, we have set sail out into the Atlantic and I’m settled into my stateroom, preparing for the evening show and dinner.
Another Celebrity ship to evaluate – this time it’s the Silhouette – built in 2011 and refurbished in 2015, she carries a passenger load of 2,886 with a crew of 1,250, and due to be “revolutionized” in February 2020. She is one of the “Solstice” class of Celebrity
ships, sharing very similar deck layouts as the Eclipse, Equinox, Reflection and Solstice. Having sailed previously on these other vessels, it’s an easy acclimation after boarding, no problem with getting lost. The 15 ships in the Celebrity family are divided between 5 classes: Edge, Millennium, Solstice, Flora and Xpedition. In strolling around the vessel in the next day or so, it’s very obvious where and why a total refit is necessary. Stained and somewhat ragged carpeting in public areas, shabby curtains in Oceanview cabins, tired-looking chairs and sofas etc., etc., etc. Having seen what an amazing transformation takes place during prior refurbishments, I can’t wait to see her in all her upgraded glory hopefully sometime next year.
Now I have six sea days ahead….. time to wander, time to socialize, time to simply do nothing at all. I caught a couple of the invited speaker presentations during day 1 and 2, so far so good. The first full sea day found us on the edges of a major north Atlantic storm with high waves, high wind and a lot of rain. Outdoor decks were closed off to guests for safety reasons and the
temperature plummeted. Day 2 was blue skies, sunshine and little wind – there is a weather god after all – you simply never know what this ocean will throw at you from day to day. By sea day #4 I had settled into a routine of a leisurely breakfast in the main dining room, trivia game at 10:15am, maybe a presentation by one of the invited speakers (currently Ron Bowers, a former Los Angeles prosecutor), and then a light lunch. My afternoons are divided between a short nap, then more trivia games before the highlight of the day: the 2-hour cocktail hour for the elite and higher status guests. Here alcohol flows like the River Jordan accompanied by delicious canapes…. this is my idea of cruising on the high seas! I always catch the early show in the theatre before dining around 8:30pm. Might as well make the most of these sea days, only a couple left before we reach the American east coast.
Evening entertainment generally leaves much to be desired, but then this isn’t Broadway nor is it London’s West End. Admittedly some of the single artists (as opposed to the
production shows with Celebrity singers and dancers) are extremely talented, but some are obviously on their first or second gig and haven’t quite mastered their stage presence. Even these production shows don’t seem to have the punch of previous performances on other ships over the past 3 years – disappointment for sure, but such is life on a cruise ship – we are a captive audience after all.
Finally Halloween arrives. Smartphone alarm set for 5:30am so I can grab a great viewing spot on the top deck to capture our entrance into New York Harbor. It’s still dark – sunrise is about 2 hours away – heavy overcast and mist, dripping wet decks (obviously it rained heavily overnight) but thankfully, a comfortable temperature, probably around 65f and no wind. Lights are blazing on the horizon, New Jersey on the port side and Manhattan dead ahead. By 7am, we began our passage under the Verrazano Bridge outlined in brilliant lights as though welcoming us home. The heavy mist had lowered to obliterate the bridge towers, giving the entire scene a surreal appearance. No sooner had we cleared the bridge when the heavens opened
and the downpour drenched everyone on the open decks, obviously I’ve pissed off the weather gods once again. Finding a little overhang protection, I was able to photograph Lady Liberty in all her backlit glory…. she’s as magnificent as she ever was.
Being the first POE (port of entry) into the USA clearing immigration is mandatory, but apparently Customs and Border Patrol was definitely not in a generous mood. On occasion, they have been known to come onboard and allow passengers to be processed in comfort – not today folks. In an attempt to get this over with ASAP, we had been assigned into numbered groups…. here is where the disorganized chaos began…. people running around with their heads up their proverbial asses, what a zoo! I was #24, so I curled up in a comfy chair in the nearest lounge and relaxed until I was called. By 11:15am it was over – surprise, surprise they let me back into the country once again, wonders never cease. We are docked here until 2am tomorrow, plenty of time to explore and enjoy this incredible world-renown city.
What can be
said about a city which defies description? Construction continues along the Hudson River waterfront, with condo structures rising from the rubble of deteriorating docks, but god only knows what the price will be upon completion. The city still has the awe-inspiring skyline stretching as far as the eye can see, and thousands of those world famous yellow taxi cabs zipping thru ridiculous traffic jams. This was NOT a day to do much sightseeing. The rain continued heavy at times, just a soaking drizzle at others – not conducive to taking great photos at all so after a couple of hours, I headed back to the ship, I was soaked to the skin. That appeared to be the order of the day for many others, as the attendance at the afternoon trivia games were close to those of sea days.
The following morning I didn’t feel any rocking motion while dressing and upon checking the in-room tv, I realized that we were still docked in midtown Manhattan. Heading down to breakfast the captain made a PA announcement giving us the reason for not being out at sea. Overnight winds had registered at 55 knots (63mph),
strong enough to push the ship against the pier which resulted in damage to the gangway – this happened just before we were due to depart. Now we had city workers removing this damaged gangway and repairing any ship damage before we could set sail, but unfortunately the captain had no estimated time for our departure. After breakfast, I headed up to the top deck to be greeted by a glorious morning: clear blue skies, brilliant sunshine – the exact opposite of yesterday but extremely cold. It would have been a perfect time to go sightseeing, but no one was allowed to leave the ship. How long can a damaged gangway be removed via a blow torch I ask you? Certainly not 10 hours, but that is exactly what it took. Evidently there was a problem between the union workers of the NYC dockyards and Celebrity staff as to who had jurisdiction for the repair work. Anyone how knows anything about unions and the east coast docks doesn’t require any further information! It was shortly after 12 noon when the captain gave the order to cast off and we slipped out into the Hudson River, headed for the open ocean.
It was a fabulous sight, watching lower Manhattan slide by on the port side and the New Jersey waterfront on the starboard all shining in the sunlight, but we were seriously behind schedule.
Originally we were due into Boston Harbor early the next morning but that had been pushed back to 11:30am, only allowing for an 8-hour stay in the city. That didn’t seem like an unusual short port of call until I watched the departure on the 4th
deck. People began queuing around 11am (that makes no sense to me, but to each his own) and by the time the ship was cleared by local authorities, the line had extended all the way to the theatre at the bow. I decided to wait until this mass of humanity had cleared the gangway before making my move. What happened next I would never have believed had I not seen it for myself. For the next 2 hours and 40 minutes the line crawled towards the exit. Those in wheelchairs, using walkers or scooters had difficulty navigating the twists and turns of the maze to keep passengers moving in single file which only slowed the
line even more. Why Celebrity doesn’t have a disability line for those with compromised mobility is beyond me and to put the icing on the cake, the gangway down to the pier was so steep, it took even longer for the wheelchairs/walkers/scooters to make the descent. Keep in mind the average passenger age on this cruise is 70 and these are NOT long distance runners nor tight rope walkers…. they take forever to shuffle down the gangway, clinging for dear life to the handholds, only adding to the extended delay in disembarking. By 2:15pm, it was obvious that it was a total waste of my time to think about going ashore. We had to be back by 7:30p and that didn’t give me the required time to make the circuits of the HOHO bus system. However the weather was as beautiful in Boston as it had been back in NYC, and I spent the remainder of the afternoon, up in the Sky Lounge enjoying the vistas. The grumbling of passengers was a constant throughout the rest of the day – people onboard are far from happy with everything that has happened over the past two days, but these are considered
acts of god and nothing can be done.
Another at-sea day had us sailing southwards in the North Atlantic to Bermuda for an overnight port of call. After breakfast, I went out onto the open deck and was immediately enveloped with warm, humid air – sweat droplets immediately popped out on my forehead after the chilly internal air conditioning. The pristine turquoise waters glistened under a tropical sun and the cloudless blue skies held the promise of a marvelous day. Arriving at Kings Wharf at the Royal Naval Dockyards just before 11am, the entire pier appeared remarkedly empty and void of normal traffic. Turns out it was a public holiday celebrating the 170th
anniversary of Portuguese immigrant arrivals to this island paradise. As a result many shops and venues were closed, which didn’t exactly thrill a large percentage of passengers who had never visited Bermuda previously.
Located approximately 665 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, Bermuda is a self-governing British Colony with its own constitution, government and a Parliament which makes local laws in the capital city of Hamilton. The United Kingdom retains responsibility for
defense and foreign relations. With an approximate population of 71,176, it’s the most populous of the British overseas territories. Bathed in the balmy turquoise waters of the Sargasso Sea, the string of islands that is Bermuda is ringed by treacherous reefs that make it one of the world's top diving destinations. With its pastel-colored houses and stately mansions drowning in lush greenery and fragrant frangipani and bougainvillea, their step-like white roofs poised to catch rainwater, Bermuda feels like a genteel chunk of rural England lifted into warmer climes. But it's much more diverse than that, with British, North American, African, Portuguese and West Indian influences adding to the unique cultural mélange. In spite of its tiny size –
just 20 miles by 2 miles – Bermuda's museums and art galleries add touches of urban sophistication and its many forts attract history buffs, while its varied topography makes it ideal for all manner of water sports, hiking, golfing, or just lazing on a picture-perfect pink-sand beach. A little bit of history:
Bermuda was discovered in 1505 by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez (hence the name) and had no indigenous population
at the time of its discovery, nor at the time of the initial British settlement a century later. Both Spanish and Portuguese ships used the islands as a replenishment spot to take on fresh meat and water, shipwrecked Portuguese mariners are now thought to have been responsible for the 1543 inscription on Portuguese Rock - previously called Spanish Rock. Neither Spain nor Portugal attempted to settle it.
For the next century, the island is believed to have been visited frequently, but not settled. The English had by this time started to take an interest in the 'New' World, initially attempting to settle in Virginia in what is now the eastern United States. During this period the first slaves were brought to the islands. These were a mixture of African and Native American slaves, shipwreck victims from enemy nations, and political prisoners from Scotland and Ireland. The archipelago's limited land area and resources led to the creation of what may be the earliest conservation laws of the New World. In 1616 and 1620 acts were passed banning the hunting of certain birds and young tortoises.
Bermuda is a group of low-forming volcanoes and although usually
referred to in the singular, the territory actually consists of 181 islands, with a total area of 20 square miles. The largest island is Main Island, sometimes called Bermuda, with 8 of the larger populated islands connected by bridges. Bermuda gives its name to the Bermuda Triangle, a region of sea in which according to legend, a number of aircraft and surface vessels have disappeared under supposedly unexplained or mysterious circumstances. It’s famous pink sand beaches and clear blue ocean waters are popular with tourists and many of the hotels are located along the south shore of the island. In addition to its beaches, there are a number of sightseeing attractions. Historic St George's is a designated World Heritage Site. Scuba divers can explore numerous wrecks and coral reefs in relatively shallow water with virtually unlimited visibility. Many nearby reefs are readily accessible from shore by snorkelers especially at Church Bay.
Bermuda's most popular visitor attraction is the Royal Naval Dockyard, which includes the Bermuda Maritime Museum. Other attractions include the Aquarium, Museum and Zoo. Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, the Botanical Gardens, lighthouses, and the Crystal Caves with stalactites and underground saltwater pools. It is not possible
to rent a car on the island; public transport and taxis are available, or visitors can hire scooters for use as private transportation.
Considering the size of the main island, Bermuda has an excellent public transportation system. With 11 bus routes and 14 bus zones each one covers about 2 miles, effectively covering the entire island. Most buses leave from the Central Terminal on Washington Street, next to the City Hall in Hamilton. Regularly scheduled buses operate at frequent intervals to most of the destinations throughout Bermuda which visitors may find of interest. Bus stops are identified by pink and blue poles. Poles that are pink indicate service inbound to the City of Hamilton. Blue ones indicate outbound service. Tokens/Transportation Passes are available in the capital from both the Ferry Terminal and Central Bus Terminal, and also from Post Offices. Day Passes are available in a variety of options from 1 day to 3 months, covering all zones, with adult fares beginning at $19 to $169. Bermudian dollars are on a 1-to-1 par with the US dollar, and American dollars are widely accepted. Children under 5 and Bermuda senior citizens ride for free. The most popular bus
route is #7, which links the most desirable tourists locations, such as the Botanical Gardens, Elbow Beach, the Fairmont Hotel in Southampton, Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, Horseshoe Bay and the Royal Naval Dockyard, making it very convenient for cruise ship passengers.
My favorite choice of transportation here is without a doubt, the Bermuda Train Company. Iconic and unforgettable, this company offers unique narrative trolley tours of the island in a clean, comfortable setting. Being an open-air vehicle, it’s perfect for taking fantastic photographs. The tour takes about an hour and costs $50 per adult ticket. The train conductors combine humorous stories, colorful anecdotes and historical information into an entertaining celebration of Bermuda. The train itself is somewhat of a local symbol, giving riders a rare and charming perspective from which to view this incredible place. Most regular tours start at either 10am or 11am from Hamilton or the Dockyard. As our ship docked here, naturally I opted for the Dockyard tour which began just steps from the ship’s gangway. The driver gave a commentary of the Naval Dockyard, describing it’s rich history from the 1800’s and its contribution to Bermuda history. Key landmarks included the Maritime Museum and
Clock Tower Mall as we drove past shops and buildings on Camber Road. From here we continued on to Freeport Drive, turning left onto Craddock Road heading towards Lagoon Park. This is an interesting tidal lagoon with multiple species of birds and fish in their natural habitat. Continuing west along Malabar Road, the driver explained Bermuda’s unique rooftop architecture and the rain-catchment tanks. Next we crossed Watford Bridge where we had a photo stop at the Yellow Fever Cemetery before returning to the Dockyard.
Other than Hamilton and the Dockyard, the third and last major location is St. George, located at the far north east end of the island and accessible by bus route #3 from Hamilton. This town is soaked in history and as it was the original capital of Bermuda, it certainly has a story to tell. In 1609 the Virginia Company of London sent a total of 9 ships from Plymouth, England to the newly established colony in Jamestown, Virginia. The fleet laded with fresh supplies and additional colonists, encountered a fierce storm and the flagship “Sea Venture” was wrecked on the reefs off the eastern shore of Bermuda. Using skiffs, the captain was
able to save all 150 crew and passengers. These accidental visitors found living on an uninhabited island was surprisingly easy. Not only was there an abundant supply of fresh fish, but the island was also overrun by wild hogs. It’s not certain as to how these wild hogs first arrived, however some believe they arrived on an earlier shipwreck, while others speculate they were left as an emergency food supply by Spanish or Portuguese sailors. Using salvage from the Sea Venture and wood from native cedar trees, survivors built two new ships to complete their original mission. In 1610, the Deliverance and the Patience set sail for Jamestown with supplies of fish and meat, and only two colonists remained on the island. Back in England, officers of the Virginia Company learned of this new island with such rich resources and decided to establish a permanent colony. In 1610 they sent a party of 60 colonists to lay claim to this new settlement. Under the command of Richard Moore, the island’s first governor, they built a settlement called New London, which eventually was renamed St. George.
Although the thatched palmetto huts built by Moore and the new colonists
no longer exist, most of the structures standing in the town today date back to the 17th
centuries. Some serve as tourist attractions, but most function as houses, restaurants, pubs and shops. King’s Square is the focal point of the town. St. Peter’s Church, just north of King’s Square, is probably the most popular tourist attraction. Built in 1612 by the first colonists, it’s the oldest Protestant church in continuous use, in the western hemisphere. It’s treasures include a 1594 bible and the oldest piece of Bermudian furniture, an altar made by Governor Richard Moore. There are several beaches within easy reach of St. George. Tobacco Bay is probably the most famous, along with Achilles Bay and St. Catherine’s Beach. All can be reached on foot within 15 minutes, or local taxis are available. A “must see” event during the summer months are free guided walking tours, conducted every Monday thru Thursday, beginning at 10:45am outside the Town Hall in King’s Square, and last about an hour. At noon following each tour, the Town Crier conducts a mock 18th
century trial in King’s Square, where the nagging wife is always found guilty and is dunked in the harbor
as punishment. Fun Factoid:
With no rivers or freshwater lakes in Bermuda the only source of fresh water is rainfall, which is collected on roofs and catchments and stored in tanks. Each dwelling usually has at least one of these tanks forming part of its foundation. The law requires that each household collect rainwater that is piped down from the roof of each house. Average monthly rainfall is highest in October at over 6 inches and lowest in April and May.
Last port of call is in The Bahamas – Nassau – which thankfully escaped the brunt of the last hurricane which devastated other parts of these islands. Docking at 10am, it’s a warm and humid morning and an overcast sky. We have just 7 hours for exploration but for most, that will be enough.The Bahamas is a country located within the Lucayan Archipelago in the West Indies. Consisting of more than 700 Islands, cays and islets in the Atlantic Ocean, with Nassau as its capital city on the island of New Providence. The entire 700 islands comprise approximately 180,000 square miles of ocean space. A little bit
The Bahamas were inhabited by the Lucayans for many centuries. Columbus was the first European to see the islands, making his first landfall in the “New World” in 1492. Later, the Spanish shipped the native Lucayans to slavery on Hispaniola, after which The Bahama islands were mostly deserted from 1513 until 1648, until English colonists from Bermuda settled on the island of Eleuthera. The Bahamas became a British crown colony in 1718, when the British clamped down on piracy throughout the Caribbean. After the American Revolutionary War, the Crown resettled thousands of American loyalists to the Bahamas, who took their slaves with them and established plantations on land grants. African slaves and their descendants constituted the majority of the population from this period on. The slave trade was abolished by the British in 1807 and in the Bahamas in 1834. The Bahamas became an independent Commonwealth Realm in 1973, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
Nassau’s city center is the hub for all activities, with thousands of people visiting daily, to shop, dine, sightsee and to enjoy the tropical climate of the city. While the busiest part of central city
is the Bay Street thoroughfare and the Woodes Rogers Walk, located across the street from the port, the area extends for several blocks in each direction. It starts at West Bay, around the Junkanoo Beach area.
The British Colonial Hotel and the British Colonial Hilton are considered hotel landmarks – the Pirates of Nassau Museum (across the street from the Hilton) is well worth a visit. The next few blocks of Bay Street are wall-to-wall boutiques, with a few restaurants and clubs interspersed throughout the retailers. Although the tourist part of the city center peters out after about seven blocks, smaller more local shops are located down Bay Street. Without a doubt, the Straw Market is THE tourist destination. A new market was opened in 2011 after a fire in 2001 destroyed the original Fish, Vegetable and Straw Market. The market is open on all sides and contains a number of Bahamian craft stores. The best way to see all this is obviously to walk, but for those who would rather ride, hail a taxi or take a whirl on one of the public jitney buses – they are a hoot! Unfortunately like any paradise location, there
is always a darker side. Violent crime has risen considerably over the past few years especially against tourists who are frequently targeted for armed robberies. This is one place you would definitely not walk alone after dark, even in the city center. The US State Department has issued a number of travel advisories about New Providence since 2018.
The city's chief festival is Junkanoo, an energetic, colorful street parade of brightly costumed people dancing to the rhythmic accompaniment of cowbells, drums and whistles. The word 'Junkanoo' is named after the founder 'John Kanoo'. The celebration occurs 3 times a year on January 1st
, July 10th
and December 26th
, beginning in the early hours of the morning and ending around 10am. At the end of the Junkanoo procession, judges award cash prizes for the best music, costumes, and overall group presentation. Bahamians spend all year preparing their handmade costumes by using colored crepe paper and cardboard. The festival has been a popular back-drop in a couple of James Bond movies.
And so this latest voyage comes to an end. It has had its ups and downs especially in the food arena when I had to
send the French Onion soup back to the kitchen 3 times in 11 days as being inedible. The entertainment has been sub-par overall, and when you combine this with the events of New York and Boston, well suffice it to say this was not one of the more successful cruises I have undertaken, to say the least.
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