Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Baths and Devil's Bay National Parks

As far as shore excursions go, my trek through the Baths to Devil's Bay at Virgin Gorda was the highlight of my recent cruise in the Eastern Caribbean. Rather than taking the excursion organized by MSC Cruises, this adventure was organized exclusively for our Cruise Holidays group by one of my colleagues onboard, Tim Walsh, who called D&D Boat Charters. One of the advantages of organizing your own shore excursion rather than purchasing it through the cruise line is that you are among friends when you go and you can tell the shore excursion operator what you want to do.

On this trip, our original plan was to arrive at The Baths by boat rather than by bus. However, the strong current prohibited us from docking at the The Baths so we tied up at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor instead and took a bus to the The Baths and Devil's Bay National Parks.

It was a beautiful but circuitous and tricky walk through The Baths to Devil's Bay and to be honest I didn't have the best shoes for this expedition. I was wearing tennis shoes which worked fine until the water started getting deeper. I wish I had packed my aquatic shoes which are waterproof and effective when walking on slippery and wet rocks. I'm glad we allowed enough time to do this walk as we encountered many hesitant people along the trail who were slowing progress. We couldn't walk around them as the trail was narrow and surrounded by high boulders in many places.

One of my colleagues remarked that he wouldn't recommend this walk for seniors because there were too many uneven surfaces. Not long after he said this, a senior couple passed me on the trail. I couldn't resist stopping them and asking them what they thought about my colleague's remark. The gentleman laughed, told me he was 81 years old and said something to this effect, "What's the big deal? If an old guy should happen to pass out and die here, just bury him!"

At any rate, at the end of the walk we reached Devil's Bay which was a gem of a cove. The water was welcoming and warm even though the current was strong. Just be careful as you don't want the water to slam you into the rocks. And bring your own snorkel gear as there is no equipment to rent.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dining in Old San Juan

Although I've been to San Juan, Puerto Rico many times and seen most of the ancient fortresses, I'd never taken the time to relax and savor traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. So my colleague and I, Renee Fye, decided to plop ourselves down at a table at Caficultura on Calle San Francisco in Old San Juan, enjoy the evening and get to know each other better. A coffee bar by day, Caficultura turns into quite a happening tapas bar during the evening and was an ideal place for conversation and camaraderie as we could talk to each other without shouting.

Before we actually sat down, we told the hostess that we were looking to be adventurous in the food department that night and wanted to try authentic Puerto Rican appetizers or "cucina criolla." She told us we were in the right place and recommended a tapas assortment (the Tapa Cafi sampler)that included fried catfish, plantains, creole chicken and empanadillas. They were so tasty that Renee and I decided to order more. The tapas went especially well with the local brews, one Kofresi (dark) and one Medalla (pale).

We were never rushed while we there and the waitress shared stories with us about life in Puerto Rico and how tense it was after the layoff of thousands of government workers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review of the MSC Poesia

A friend of mine, Garry Thompson, reminded me at an NCL presentation this week that my blog was woefully out of date. He's right. Shame on me. I'm thinking I should blog first thing in the morning instead of waiting until the end of the day when inspiration is lacking.

There's no doubt that the MSC Poesia is a gorgeous ship and the public areas are beautifully decorated. If my visit had been a ship inspection only, I would have been wowed. Unfortunately, the food and service were disappointing.

If I had spent the entire week indulging in Italian cuisine such as pasta, risotto and gelato, I would have thought I had died and gone to heaven. The pasta dishes from the different Italian regions were delicious. However, the fish, poultry and beef dishes that I had were bland and dry. And if you like strong coffee, MSC Cruises comes out on top. I particularly like coffee that's robust and I've found that most of the cruise lines serve coffee that tastes like flavored water with a touch of cardboard. Come on now -- I want to wake up and smell the coffee! There's nothing like a great cup of java to get the day going.

And another thing I should mention -- alcoholic beverages are very reasonably priced. The same could not be said for salon services, however. I went up there for a nail polish change and decided against it after they quoted me $30. After finding some $3 nail polish remover in St. Maarten I was content to do it myself.

Being in the cruise business, I feel the need to keep in touch with my clients while I'm gone. Unfortunately, the Internet service on board the MSC Poesia was intermittent and slow compared to what I've experienced on other lines. My bill for wireless Internet service made me cringe. I don't expect the Internet service on board ship to be any where near as fast as my broadband connection at home but I don't expect it to be an experience akin to watching grass grow either. Of course, if you're not a workaholic and are cruising to get away from it all you won't care about the speed of the Internet connection.

Although we had a very attentive, friendly and humorous Italian waiter from Calabria in the dining room, he was the exception rather than the rule. I was rarely greeted with a smile or a "Good Morning" by any of the staff as I wandered around the ship. Most would not acknowledge me until I acknowledged them. I spoke about this with my colleagues on board and some of them thought this was perhaps a cultural thing as Europeans prefer staff to remain in the background. I realize that MSC is an Italian cruise line with mainly a European clientele, but over 90% of the passengers aboard the MSC Poesia on this Eastern Caribbean cruise were from North America and we generally like cheerful, outgoing staff.

The conference facility was small, which is fine for a cohesive group of around 20-30. However, it's important to bring transformers and/or adapters as the room had only one outlet for an American-style plug.

MSC Cruises also plays by a different set of rules than most American cruise lines. Most cruise lines don't allow women on board who are past their 24th week of pregnancy and infants under the age of six months. I saw infants who were obviously less than six months old and a woman on board actually gave birth in the casino one night which caused an unexpected stop in Freeport.

Pictures of the MSC Poesia