Thursday, 5 May 2016

Azores – with an added bonus!

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We recently took a break from our regular dining and joined Alan and Kim for a meal in the ship’s Ocean Grill – very nice! 

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On Sunday our last call of the cruise was in the charming port of Ponta Delgada in the Azores. As soon as we left the ship we were straight into the spotlessly presented town and, although a little cloudy (par for the course in the Azores!) it was warm and dry.

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The added bonus for our day ashore was that there was to be a grand parade to mark the Festival of the Holy Cross and the town was out in force to decorate the streets with flowers.

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It was marvellous to watch how quickly the centre of the roads were transformed with flowers and greenery.

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It was almost like watching carpet layers – when the wooden formers were taken away the final touches were made by patting and spaying with water to make things perfect.

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It was amazing to see so many people working, all knowing exactly what they had to do and no one getting in anyone’s way.

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The decoration was to mark the route of the procession later in the day and it was incredible to think that there was nothing there first thing in the morning!

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To brighten up some of plane walls the street art can be quite stunning. Together with the intricate tessellated pavement patterns and cobbles streets the whole place is a delight to walk around. 

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Many of the balconies and shop fronts are also beautifully decorated.

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Where there was no street decoration the stunning architecture could really be appreciated ………

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………. and. looking upwards, things just got even better.

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As the time went on the open spaces and squares started to buzz with people (including the 2000 or so passengers and crew from “Arcadia”) all anticipating the parade in the afternoon.

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Some of the religious and municipal buildings were decorated with lights which must have looked quite spectacular had we been allowed to stay into the evening. 

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There’s a chap in a red checked shirt who keeps cropping up in these pics!

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Apart from mooching around and enjoying the flowers and the increasingly exciting atmosphere we were also trying to find our favourite café for some food, drink (and Wifi !) – and here it is! Doesn’t look much but inside the young proprietors, the décor and the food are wonderful. It’s a little gem.

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Having spent some considerable time in the café we popped across the street to the wonderful cheese and wine shop. Impossible to leave without buying something we bought a whole cheese and a bottle of very tempting Honey Liqueur. 

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“Our street” – the one with “our café” in it, was now fully decorated and filling up with people …….

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….. and so was the square at the lower end. Interestingly, people were using fold-up cardboard seats (like large supermarket wine carriers) – we thought that was a brilliant new idea but maybe we’re behind the times!

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Another marvellous moment was being able to catch up with our friend Joe who is lucky to live in this beautiful part of the world and who came over from Pico Island for the festival and to meet up with us. So, it was quickly back to “our café” for a drink and a chat with Joe before ……….

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…… the kilometre long (yes – a kilometre!) procession came our way. By the way, only the banner carrier walked on the flowers!

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It was a very long and slow procession and, due to our lovely and lively chat with Joe, we were, if not very careful, going to be late for the 5 o’clock deadline for boarding the ship! Joe’s advice was to go with the procession (and not against it) and try and overtake it where we could!

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Of course, we made it back to the ship, took part in the last sale-away party of the cruise and watched the lovely islands of the Azores pass into the distance behind us.

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Our entertainments team have worked very hard during this, our longest cruise ever! Here they are – Sarah, Emma, Christopher, Grace, Adam and DJ James. 

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In the enormous crowd on the rear deck Doug managed to find Kim who he likes having his photo taken with as she makes him look so tall!

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There wasn’t much room on the rear pool deck as we enjoyed the Great British Sail-Away.

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During the early evening Tuesday we had a Farewell cocktail party headed by Captain Trevor Lane. A ‘valued member of the ship’s company’ who we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in the last few weeks is the Bars Manager who goes by the fabulous and memorable name of Ghandi Raj. A great guy who’s always around the ship making sure all his bars are being run correctly (a hard taskmaster in other words!)

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Another two lovely people at the party, who Doug insists on standing next to as often as possible, are Kim and Cinny – ‘nuf said!

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And, as usual on the penultimate evening, we had the traditional parade of the chefs.

Well, “Arcadia” has travelled a total of 40,878 nautical miles on this 2016 World Cruise and, having spent the last 50 nights aboard, we’ve covered 16,980 of those miles with her. Now leaving the Azores behind us we have three sea days ahead before reaching Southampton and, by the time this blog is published, we’ll probably have arrived home! We’ve circumnavigated the entire planet in one go! Flying to Hong Kong to board “Arcadia” we then went on to visit Beijing (China), Jeju-Do Island and Busan (South Korea), Nagasaki and Osaka (Japan), we crossed the International Dateline on April 2nd, then onto Oahu and Hilo (Honolulu), San Francisco, San Diego, Huatulco (Mexico), transited the Panama Canal, then Oranjestad (Aruba), Philipsburg on the Caribbean island of St Maarten and finally Ponta Delgada in the Azores.  We’ve crossed two oceans and passed through the narrowest transcontinental gap on the planet! Miraculously, we’ve had no rough seas with the waters being almost as calm as a mill pond for most of the time. It’s been a journey which has given us some overwhelming experiences, we’ve made new friends on board and been able to meet up with friends in various countries along the way (what a total joy!).

We now look forward to quickly meeting up with more friends and family on our return to the UK before boarding our own “vessel” for the joy of England’s canals during the summer months ahead.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

St Maarten – half and half.

After just a day since leaving Aruba we reached the Caribbean island of St Maarten where we docked in Philipsburg, the capital of its Dutch half.  

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Once off the ship we could see there was a lot of repair work after our passage through the locks of the Panama canal. The port side had been repainted while we were in Aruba but this time “Arcadia” was docked with her starboard side to the pier ready for the paint brush.

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The tugs seam to have made most mess with their rubber fenders ……….

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…… but there was marking of the paintwork along the whole length of the ship as a result of her tight squeeze through the locks. However, by the time we returned in the evening everything was ‘ship-shape and Bristol fashion’ again.

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Docked on the other side of the pier to us was the Celebrity “Summit”. We believe the two ships are the same width (Panamax size) but “Summit”s square rear end makes her look very ‘broad in the beam’!

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We hired a car for the day again and had a drive round the island, ending up in Marigot, the capital of the French side. Defining and categorizing all these Caribbean islands is a nightmare – it doesn’t make it much clearer but St Maarten is one of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles! The bay at Marigot is very pleasant with lots of yachts and rocks while the town is filled with French patisseries and chic designer shops.

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After a nice cup of coffee in a French café on the waterfront at Marigot we made our way to the island’s famous “Airplane Beach” (well – you just have to!) where we had a good lunch with Alan and Kim and ………

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…….. watched the low flying planes coming in over the beach. Slightly disappointing as they didn’t seem to fly as low as the last time we visited.

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However, we did stay long enough to watch a few take-offs where people on the beach were blown over by the thrusts from the jet engines. Well - they will insist on standing there despite the warning signs!

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Just out of interest, it’s a very different atmosphere when we arrive back to the ship in the evening. After an enjoyable but hot day out “Arcadia”, with all her lights on, looks so inviting to our tired bodies.

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At 9:30 that evening we enjoyed a brilliant ‘sail-away’ party on the rear deck. Just occasionally everything comes together to make a really great time – and this was one of them! Much of the deck space was taken up with dancing into the small hours of the morning.

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We’ve got to know quite a few new people on the cruise (nothing changes) and two of them are here with Doug – Jane and Ange!

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Of course, Doug leads the way with some of the party dances! …….

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…….. and he also tries a few precarious steps on the edge of the pool! ……….

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……….. while James also struts his stuff on the safer part of the deck!

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Kim and James find their ideal dancing partners! (What’s a foot and a half between friends anyway?)

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And that poor pole will never be the same!!!!! What a superb evening we all had – and James didn’t injure anyone with his dancing!

We now have four days of Atlantic Ocean to cross before we get to our next (and final) port of call – the Azores. “Arcadia” has now clocked more than 37,000 miles on her 2016 World voyage.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Aruba

After our exit from the Panama Canal “Arcadia” steamed towards the southern Caribbean and docked at Oranjestad in Aruba.

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The tiny island of Aruba is just 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela. It’s very flat with only three “mountains” the highest of which is 617 feet. The many beaches, and the first one starts in Oranjestad, are of pure white sand and dazzling in the very bright sunshine.

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The lovely buildings in the town hark back to the Dutch influence.

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As we walked along the waterfront we could see that “Arcadia” certainly dominated the town.

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We spent the day with fellow passengers Kim and Alan who we struck up a conversation with very early on in the cruise and found they live in the next village along the coast from us.

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The south shoreline of the island is full of wonderful beaches but the constant strong winds make the north shores very different as huge waves crash into the rocky coast.

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The Divi Divi, or Watapana, trees dominate the island and many of them lean at strange angles.

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Divi Divi trees on the gorgeous sandy beaches.

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During our walk we saw hundreds of lizards which scurried out of our way. Some of them were a striking turquois colour.

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We hired a car for the day and drove to the west of the island. Not a long journey as it’s only 19 miles long and 6 miles wide! At the far end apart from a light house there was a superb restaraunt / bar with fabulous views towards the coast.

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After a few beers and a delicious freshly cooked pizza ………

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…….. we drove the few hundred yards to a lovely beach where we had a couple of hours of sunshine and swimming.

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After giving the car back and returning to the ship for a wash a brush up we took advantage of not needing to be back aboard until 11:30 and went back into the town. The centre of Oranjestad is very pretty and the evening lighting give it quite an intimate feel. All over the town there are blue horses which seem to glow in the dark.

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They take up all sorts of poses – even drinking out of the fountain.

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With Alan and Kim we found the most fantastic restaurant which catered extremely well for the meat eaters, the fish eaters and the vegetarian! Superb food and wine, excellent company, a hot breezy evening – what could be better!

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Those horses just creep up on your blind side! ………

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…….. and they’re very willing to have their photo taken with some mad people!

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Before boarding the ship we took one last sojourn at a very conveniently situated bar next to the water’s edge where we were able to keep on eye on the ship in case it departed without us!

Aruba is a lovely, pretty, clean island – wonderful beaches, excellent food and friendly people. A good contender for paradise!