A Snapshot of Bermuda

Kings Wharf, Bermuda

Bermuda is famous for its pink sand beaches and lush vegetation. Both times we’ve visited this group of one hundred eighty islands, we cruised there from New York City. I hope to fly there someday and stay at a resort, perhaps one like the Grotto Bay Beach Resort my talented blogger friend, Gwen Hernandez enjoyed with her family last winter. (I was unable to link directly to her article, but it’s called “Holiday in Paradise” and worth a look.) Until then, here’s a snapshot of our experience in beautiful Bermuda.

Our First Visit – 1998

Fort St. Catherine, St. George, Bermuda

The first time we traveled to this British territory in the Atlantic Ocean about 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, our daughter was seven and our son not yet born. We enjoyed spectacular views from atop Gibbs Hill Lighthouse and played in the turquoise waters off Horseshoe Bay Beach. Our daughter and her two cousins appreciated the aquarium and petting zoo, as we traveled from place to place via public bus–an adventure in itself on the island’s narrow roads. We also shopped in Hamilton and walked the streets of Kings Wharf, explored the history of Fort St. Catherine and cooled off with a swim at Tobacco Bay.

Our Second Visit – 2012

This time, our ship was docked for only one-and-a-half days in Royal Naval Dockyard and we traveled with both our adult daughter and our teenage son who is autistic. We didn’t explore Bermuda as much as fourteen years ago, yet took a forty-minute ferry ride from our port to revisit Tobacco Bay Beach, a taxi ride’s distance from King’s Wharf. (The ferry ride was $8 roundtrip per adult. Expect to pay $2-$3 per person for your ride, and more if you don’t fill the taxi. We shared our ride with other tourists to avoid paying more.) This public beach has a concession stand with restrooms and a shaded eating area. There are snorkel sets and a limited supply of umbrellas and beach chairs for rent. Arrive early for a good spot and if interested in renting beach items. Families with young children will especially like this beach, as the waters are tranquil and comfortably shallow. You may spy a variety of tropical fish near the rocks, too as the children did the day we were there.

Tobacco Bay Beach

Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda

After dinner that evening, six of our party trekked off the ship into Dockyard to soak in the Bermudian atmosphere. There was a street fair that night, complete with Goombay dancers and photo ops. Our enthusiastic photographer had difficutly getting my Nikon to cooperate. (Oh well, it’s a fuzzy photo from a fuzzy night.) If you look carefully, you may see our cruise ship in the background of this first photo.

Giggling with the Goombay Dancers

After browsing the vendors, we headed toward the Frog & Onion Pub. On the way, we stopped by the Dockyard Glassworks. The store was open but demonstrations had ended for the day. The displayed pieces were exquisite. In spite of the summer heat the following day, our daughter, her cousin, and aunt returned there to be mesmerized for an hour. She later told me, “For a moment there, I questioned why I plan to attend med school when I could return to Bermuda and learn the art of glass blowing instead.” I guess she liked it.

Drinks at the Frog and Onion

The Big Mama of Margaritas!

One of our group bought the Big Mama, a forty-five ounce margarita meant to be split between two or three. What do you think? Could you down that baby by yourself?

Clocktower Mall in Dockyard has a mix of upscale, kid-friendly, and local artisan shops. The air conditioning is a huge plus in the summer, especially for those individuals sensitive to the heat and humidity like our special-needs son. There were places to sit and rest, ice cream shops, and reasonably priced toys. All good.

Clocktower Mall in Dockyard, Bermuda

A view of Dockyard’s harbor from our ship balcony

See those jet skiers in the harbor. If you recall my recent adventure in Key West, you’ll understand why I wasn’t even tempted to go touring around the island with them. Don’t let those jet skiing myths fool you!

A Fish Hook Shaped Chain of Islands

Well, that about sums up our ventures in Bermuda to date.  We plan to return. Maybe then we’ll bike through island gardens, walk underground in Crystal and Fantasy Caves, play at Snorkel Park and enjoy a rum swizzle or two.

What have you been up to this fine August month? Working or playing, or a bit of both? We’d love to hear about your adventures.

Exploring the Eastern Caribbean

Explore \eks-plore\ v. 1. to investigate, study, or analyze: look into 2. to travel over (new territory) for adventure or discovery.

RCL Explorer docked at St. Thomas

As much as my husband and I enjoy Key West, we have a soft spot in our hearts for the Eastern Caribbean islands, each of them gems in their own right. In 2003, We were fortunate enough to explore Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and the Bahamas on a seven-day cruise

Our first stop is San Juan. We opt to kayak the San Spiritu River, a calm river northeast of Puerto Rico’s capital city. Chattering monkeys and squawking parrots greet our small tour group as we paddle along, surrounded by the greenery of El Yunque Rainforest. I spy two manatee in the water and an iguana in the trees. What a wonderful start to our Eastern Caribbean experience!

Whimsical water feature outside a shop

St. Maarten/St. Martin is our next destination. It’s a unique island, ruled on one side by the Dutch and the other by the French.

We shop on the Dutch side, grabbing incredible bargains on cameras, linens, and rainbow topaz jewelry. The Belgian chocolate is delicious. Don’t plan to bring any home with you, though. It’s not a good traveler.

On the French side, there are beautiful beaches (including a nude beach if you’re so inclined). We visit a butterfly farm, where I get my first glimpse at the elusive blue morpho butterfly.

My lamb isn’t too baa-d, is it?

Days at sea gives us an opportunity to explore the ship. We play mini golf, learn how to make towel animals, make friends with our dinner mates, and take in the nightly shows. There’s so much to do, but we spend part of each day simply sipping a cool drink and taking in the stunning Caribbean views from our comfy spot in the Solarium hot tub or pool.

St. Thomas is another port. We venture out on our own today, the taxi ride through the hills to Magen’s Bay Beach a bit like a roller coaster ride without the safety of the rails! We arrive early, so the beach isn’t crowded. I soak in the crystal blue water. It’s heavenly.

Magen’s Bay Beach, St. Thomas

We leave the beach before I turn too pink, travel down the windy road into town, and then take a tram up to Paradise Point, St. Thomas’ lookout point. The blues of the Caribbean mix with the vibrant tropical flowers and trees. Everything is lush and beautiful.

 Leaving St. Thomas

For our last day of sun, sand, and water, we join a friendly group on a booze cruise to Pearl Island away from the busy commercialism of Nassau. We enjoy a spicy lunch and rum drinks as we wade in the warm waters. Later, we explore the island’s tiny lighthouse and look at the seashells. The boat trip back to the ship includes music and dancing, and puts us in the mood for a fun last night at sea before returning to reality.

I enjoy our getaways to Key West, never tiring of its natural beauty and its people, but cruising is a wonderful way to learn which destinations may hold promise of an extended holiday to suit your needs. I’d definitely like to visit St. Thomas again, perhaps while vacationing in nearby St. John–secluded and romantic.

Oops, gotta go! I hear the blender whirring and steel drums playing in the kitchen. Time for a margarita moment or two. Until next time…

The Big Apple From A Different View

Times Square, New York City

I live about forty-five minutes outside of New York City. Since suburban life is a completely different experience than urban living, my family enjoys taking a bite out of the Big Apple as much as tourists from anywhere else. We just have the luxury of doing it more often.

Long Islanders travel into the city for a variety of reasons other than work or connecting with relatives. We like to catch shows on Broadway, go out to dinner and shopping, see baseball games, visit museums, attend concerts, and go out to the bars. For holidays, many will hop the LIRR (train) to see a parade, watch fireworks, or count down until the ball drops. The difference with us local visitors is that we generally skip tourist attractions like the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and tours of any kind.

East River View of Manhattan

Two years ago, my son’s fifth grade celebrated their “moving up” to the middle school with a very special event. They scheduled a private day cruise around Manhattan on the Skyline Princess , and we parents were invited along for the ride. This gave us an oppotunity to view the city from a different perspective–away from Times Square crowds and midtown noise.

At first, I was hesitant about whether our son would enjoy the daytrip. His autism and sensory issues can lead to him acting out during new experiences, and we didn’t want him to leave his classmates with that lasting impression before they parted ways for the summer. To get him excited about the outing, his grandmother told him he’d be going on a cruise just like she does with his grandfather. We also showed him online photos of the cruise boat and explained the schedule. That did the trick. He wanted to go. For good measure, I prayed for nice weather.

The Pier, Across from CitiField

Cruise day arrives and it’s sunny! The boat’s pier happens to be across from CitiField–the Mets’ new stadium. We load onto the large, comfortable boat and the party begins. We watch planes take off from LaGuardia as we make our way onto the East River. We gaze in awe at the beauty of the skyscrapers lining the water’s edge, spying landmarks along the way.

Pier 17

The Empire State Building peeks above the other buildings as we travel beneath the 59th Street bridge. If you’re a movie buff, you may recognize Pier 17, featured in the romantic comedy, Fools Rush In, for the helicopter scene where the hero realizes he cannot live without his heroine. Don’t you just love happily-ever-afters?

Empire State Building peeks above other skyscrapers

We take a break from our sightseeing and photography to indulge in a catered lunch. For guests who’ve had their fill of water with a backdrop of tall buildings, the DJ begins the afternoon of dancing and music.

The Skyline Princess honks joyfully to the Staten Island Ferry as we glide into open water. It’s a bittersweet moment as we pass the southern tip of Manhattan. We then turn our thoughts toward the beauty of the monument ahead.

I’ve been to Ellis Island, but this day cruise is a relaxing alternative. We are able to see the Statue of Liberty from all angles, and imagine how the immigrants felt at their first glimpse of her after a difficult journey across the Atlantic.

Statue of Liberty

After a dozen or so photos of this beautiful gift from France, we head back toward Manhattan. The kids are excited to see all sorts of water craft on the return trip. I have to admit, I am, too.

Tugboat and Barge

It’s not often I get to see a tugboat pushing a barge, a fireboat spraying its water in all directions, or a beautiful sailboat with the New York skyline behind it. It’s been a wonderful day–relaxing, comfortable, pretty, and fun. In other words, a perfect escape.

A Fireboat

Have you ever visited New York City? If so, what were your favorite activities or attractions? If not, what would be on your must-see list for the Big Apple?

Chichen Itza or Senor Frogs?

Overlooking Key West

I love to travel. To celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband and I were fortunate enough to take a Western Carribbean cruise. Strong believers in the mantra, “Work Hard, Play Hard,” we vacationed with gusto. We listened to live bands in Key West, savored local foods and water sports at a Cozumel beach resort, and ziplined through a Belizan rainforest. For our stop in Playa del Carmen, we were tempted to join many of our shipmates at Senor Frogs for a day of partying. Being a history buff, I had signed us up for a tour of a Mayan pyramid instead. I’m so happy I did!

We rise early for our tour. The tender ride to port is short and smooth. We are herded through the busy town to the waiting bus with forty other tourists. As we ride inland for three hours, our Mayan guide, Humberto, makes the time fly–entertaining us with interesting facts about the Yucatan Peninsula.

El Castillo at Chichen Itza

The grounds at Chichen Itza are tremendous. We only have enough time to focus on three sections of the ruins today, including the main pyramid, known as El Castillo. Humberto tells us the ninety-five foot tall El Castillo has ninety steps on each of four sides, equalling 364 days plus one platform for a total of 365. Nine bump-outs on two sides of it represent the eighteen months on the Mayan calendar and five statues on each of four sides equals twenty, representing the number of days in a Mayan month. There’s more, but all this math is making my head spin. If you want to learn other details about this feat of Mayan architecture, click here.

Humberto explains Chichen Itza’s pyramid is hollow, with a smaller pyramid inside the larger. Like Egyptian pyramids, one purpose of El Castillo was to serve as a burial site for their royalty. The adventurous side of me is disappointed we’re not allowed to see the crypts surrounded by protective stone figures or climb all those steps to the top.

Building of One Thousand Columns

Skull Etching in Stone Wall

The gruesome aspect of Chichen Itza’s history centers around the ball court, where Mayan teams competed using a rubber ball about the size of a softball. We learn that the “winning” team’s captain would be decapitated as a sign of honor to the Mayan gods. No wonder a game could last for days, no one wanted to win! The captain’s head would then be displayed on a low stone wall etched with skull heads across the many rocks. I’m not creeped out so much as interested in the heiroglyphs located at either end of the ball court walls. They include an etching of Quetzalcoatl, whom Humberto says the Mayan believe to be Jesus Christ.

We have some time to wander around on our own. I’m overwhelmed by the sheer size of everything here. When I approach the base of El Castillo, I realize how steep the steps are and why the rumor we heard about tourists accidentally falling to their deaths while attempting the climb may be true. The official reason Humberto has given us for no one being allowed to climb it is to “prevent the ruins from being ruined.”

The last area we explore is “The Building of One Thousand Columns.” There must be at least one hundred columns, if not more as its name suggests. I’m impressed by the architectural precision. Before we head back to the bus, we experience one of my favorite parts of the trip–bartering with the on-site vendors. We purchase silver items, an embroidered top, and carved figures. The shopping is fun, but chatting with these native people and getting a peek into their daily life is priceless.

A Yucatan Roadside Store

On our relaxing bus ride back to port, we realize by traveling a little off the beaten path we experienced more than a place, we experienced its people. We hope to return to the Yucatan for a longer stay and learn more about the Mayan culture. Oh, and we may have to stop at Senor Frogs, too. I hear they make a heck of an ice blue margarita!

Have you ever explored a place, only to find what fascinated you most were the people? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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