MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

12 days at Sea, 5 Islands and Some Big Apple Fun

This was it, my last trip of the year and it was a HUGE one... it was going to be my longest cruise ever and it was taking me to a bunch of new places.  To say I was excited would be putting it mildly.  Things seemed to be lining up nicely; I planned a great evening out with my city friend to see the limited run of Sweet Charity, I was coming in early to squeeze in another show that day, I had a great room not too far from the train station, my train was on time and the weather was holding out... I was all set for my cruise out of New York... ummmm, cruise out of Brooklyn.  (Note to Cunard:  you should differentiate these boroughs... they are not the same place and it can take an hour to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn, just saying).

After I rolled my bags through the streets of New York for a few blocks, I quickly checked into the Element, grateful I didn't stay deeper into midtown... I was weighed down in luggage (I was going away for 2 weeks on a fancy boat and need everything), so my arms and back were relieved to find the hotel. I looked worse than Millie moving into the city, just ready for a room and the Element checked me right hours early!  Woohoo for SPG status!  After resting up and re-bundling up, I headed for TKTS not really worrying about scoring tickets to my intended show target, Holiday Inn... I had no idea the city would be this packed on a weekday ... but there I was at the booth, getting the last ticket to the show.  Phew!  I was lucky.  So, off to Studio 54 I went, to the most uncomfortable seats in all of the theatre district for anyone over 5'2".  The theater itself is gorgeous, and even had a tree in the lobby, but those seats leave no space for longer legs... I am sure the people in front of me don't appreciate my knee in their back anymore than I appreciate the tension either.  I ended up shifting and squirming through act one, hoping for intermission to stretch.  The seats even made it difficult for me to toe-tap my way through the climatic dance numbers (the whole reason I went)... if you saw the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you know I was waiting for the jump rope garland routine... it just is not as much fun watching people dance their hearts out when your knees are killing you.  But I might just have to rewatch that routine a few dozen times to see all the tricks on each rope - there was a LOT going on! 
I had no such issues in the small Pershing Square Signature Theatre, off Broadway to see the 50th Anniversary production of Sweet Charity!  These tickets were hard to come by, and you understood why when you stepped into the tiny theatre.  We were 3rd row - you could see spit flying from the casts' mouths, you could step on the stage and dance with them... (temptation was killing me).  I make no secret that I love Sutton Foster... I think she is the greatest thing to come off Broadway in my generation.  A triple threat and she doesn't just dance, but she owns the stage. 
This production allowed us to see her charisma, mannerisms, charm, wit and flash up close. 
This small production stripped down and laid bare the hurt and humiliation Charity faces and you watched it all play across Sutton's face... you just wanted to give her a hug.  You wanted to tell her it would be okay, but you knew it wouldn't because even though "If My Friend's Could See Me Now" is funny and playful, even silliest number in the show, it showed just how desperate and sad, lonely and vulnerable Charity is.. this production just plain broke my heart in a million pieces (and ignited feminist ire as her last suitor talked about how she wasn't pure enough for him.) 
What a treat to share this intimate theater experience with a good friend and that amazing cast.    We headed off to dinner and raved to Oovina's staff about our amazing evening.  we were the only ones eating out that late on a Wednesday - we had the place to ourselves. The place was lit up to create an almost theatrical setting, with silver grape vines above our heads, purple floor lights and sleek settings.  And the food was scrumptious - we tried a little of a lot! Amazing food, amazing company, amazing last day on land! 

Cruise Day!  I scrambled to pull myself together and headed off to Brooklyn.  I was meeting friends at the terminal, so I was on my own for a while... I worked my way through the endless lines, waiting rooms and finally into the boat... when you have 2 weeks worth of clothes and 4 formal gowns (told you it was a fancy boat), you have a lot to unpack.  I wanted to settle in and get things up and out of the way before my friend and their "almost" 2 year old made it into the room.  It's a good thing I got things somewhat organized because it went crazy almost immediately.

I will say it, this was a cursed cruise.  I truly felt for the captain and crew... for the families... for my friends.  Before I get to my good stuff - let me just say that a cruise that starts with a likely death (woman overboard on night 1), a couple's so savage breakup that they defy customs and leave the ship at port never to return on 2 different islands, a fire, racist and ignorant comments, and a gang of unruly teens stealing stuff and playing pranks just might be cursed... I don't think that this is what anyway wanted on the Queen Mary 2's holiday voyage (if ever).  It was truly a horror story at times. Me, I let my Jersey Girl flag wave boldly, I was not having any of this craziness... I called out horrible people that made comments about kids, ethnicities, and classist behavior.  I was not going to tolerate being told to move because someone thought I was loud, the kid was loud or whatever else bothered their sensibilities.  It was nauseating how nasty some people could be... so I kept myself busy.  On days that we spent at sea, my friends and I played trivia, lots of trivia. We visited the planetarium (yeah, they had one on the boat).  Attended lectures from the college professors brought aboard (Caribbean history, pirates and Broadway).  I tried my hand at Bingo 3 times!  Went to almost every entertainment performance - seeing the boat performers, and special guests (including London stage star Ruthie Henshall).  We hung out on deck/at the pools where the little munchkin liked getting into the water.  (I am not mentioning the food because it was horrible).  It was a lot of relaxing time... And I was ready for the islands. 

Five Islands.  Lots to see.  And I had plans for each of them.  The first day I hit the ground running - St Maarten!  I was off on a hike, up the highest peak to see some views and a hike down.  And it rained... oh yes, it rained.  They warned us the trail was muddy and slippery... and it was.  The walking sticks provided (that I wanted to turn down),
were, in fact, handy.  I made my way to the back of the pack so I could hang back and snap some pictures... our guide could not identify many of the features we were seeing and my eyes needed time to scan.  Otherwise, I would have missed sights like the snail, the spiders and the incredible trees!  I was so busy taking pictures I did not notice that my lens cap fell off my camera's attachment, so by the time I made it down the island, I was capless and had no idea where to look.  Good thing the tour dropped me off in Phillipsburg where I was able to replace it in one of the camera shops in town. Turns out that Philipsburg was the largest Caribbean city we were visiting (until St Thomas, and even then I think its bigger than Charlotte Amalie).  There were endless stores peddling diamonds; in fact almost every island we visited peddled diamonds (it was horrible).  In  Philipsburg there was at least some diversity of shops filled with textiles, local crafts, boutiques, and liquor.  I was able to find some Larimer, my lens cap, get some food, take some pics of colorful island bungalows and the beach - a great way to cap off a wonderful hike.  This was a great start.

The next day held my favorite tour, by far.  My friend and I had a hike through The Baths at Virgin Gorda.  So when we were let off the boat in Tortola, we headed out and got rained on... yep, more rain.  But with the rain came a beautiful rainbow.  It stopped after a while and we were off to get wet anyway... The Baths are famous, said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and one of the top things to see in the Caribbean.  Its a geologic wonder - large boulders fill the time of the Gorda, spilling out into the water, some stand solo, some grouped, and some piled on top of each other.  The boulder form pools of water and create a cave like system that you can (and should) make your way through.  We went over, under and through some of the rock formations.  You need to be able to bend stretch and climb at times.  And wow, was the scenery stunning.  After hiking for a bit, we ended on a small beach, where we got in the water and were battered about (it was a rough water day - storms, you know).  I didn't want to leave, I wanted more time... and what did we go back for?  Tortola was closed.  I walked up and down Roadtown looking for life, and it was empty... so, why did we leave?  Ask the tour people!

The next stop was the most undeveloped island we would visit, Dominica ... and I had a Jurassic Park type open air jeep tour planned... and it thunderstormed!  Not kidding, full on rain showers.  My tour started a bit late, so I geared up and headed out into Roseau Dominica to check out the capital and walk around the botanical gardens less than a mile into town... and the sky just laughed at me... it sputtered and spit until I got to the park and then POW.  I took refuge in a gazebo with some stray dogs and the local policeman, hoping for a reprieve so I could take a few pics... I tried and then hop scotched my way down the street again, back to the boat before another wave and waited for my tour... and as we loaded the jeeps, down it came again...
I had to laugh, I was on a trip.  I bought a poncho for my camera and tried to keep perspective... I was traveling through the lushest of tropical rain forests.  I saw insane vistas, waterfalls, sulfur springs, wild poinsettias, beautiful ivy, some mushrooms that looked like parasols, colorful flowers, humming birds, and the Ti Tou Gorge (where Pirates of the Caribbean filmed a scene or two). 

I planned day 4 of island hopping , on St Kitts, to be more relaxing.  I had a railway tour planned.  St Kitts has a diesel powered rail car that travels through part of the island so you can see coastline, farmland, villages and sugar mill ruins.  I planned the tour for late in the day so I could have time to see more ... so I hopped a taxi tour and visited one of the sugar mills, we headed to the isthmus where you could see the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea separated by a small stretch of land.  We saw the "famous" bottle tree (a tree filled with empty liquor bottles), and fertility rock (a rock in someone' back yard where they were peddled pictures with a poor monkey with no teeth because they took them out).  I swear your can't make this up!  And then I headed back for the train tour, and guess what?  It rained... it poured... it stormed and the sky was angry - thunder, lightening, winds... it was cold rain.  Did I mention this was an open air train?  HA!  It stopped after a while, after all of us up top were drenched... but I came for the views, I was going to see them!

My final island was St Thomas.  I was here for my 30th birthday (a little while ago)... I was familiar with the island ... but really I had my sights on a sea turtle snorkeling excursion.  Did it rain!  Ha!  Nope!  But I did get soaked before I got in the water... a rogue wave hit the ship just after the captain said "smooth sailing"... I was knocked over (I was sitting down)... I just laugh.  When we got to Turtle Cove I was already wet and ready to get in the water.    I came for sea turtles and I saw them... I also saw parrot fish (and other reef fish), long spiny urchins, and a whole bunch of coral types (brain, elk horn, branch, fire)!  One of the coolest things, listening to the parrotfish munching on the coral.  One of the not so cool things - getting kicked in the face numerous times by people diving to see the turtles.  It was a free for all... no one listened... those poor green turtles.  I kept my distance and gave them space.  I had lots of butts in my face because of it, but I swam around and saw a few (more than a few) and that is what I came for.... it was glorious.  After I snorkeled, I headed into town to wander old town, ignoring all the diamond stores, in search of some art and fun jewelry.  It took a while, but I found a gallery selling some wonderful pieces of local art and a boutique that sold baubles in more than precious gems. 

All in all, it was an amazing experience.  I am so glad I did it... glad I saw those sites.  I want to see more.  I am not sure another 12 day cruise is on my plate... it was a lot of down time when really I just wanted to explore.  It took days to get my land legs back - for days I was swaying with the ship I was no longer on... but I just may miss the rocking of the boat that brought sleep on swiftly.

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