"" Writer's Wanderings: January 2023

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Battle Between The Pelicans And Tarpons

 Robbie's was a place we stopped on our way back to Key Largo from Marathon. We've been there several times before and it hasn't changed a whole lot. There is a place to get refreshments and several souvenir places but the main draw for many is the opportunity to feed the tarpons.

Now feeding the tarpons becomes a real battle between the pelicans and the rather large fish. The tarpon can grow to eight feet long. Most of the ones we've seen have been in the four to five foot range. They are fun to dive with. They gracefully swim beside you and if you are lucky to be diving on a sunny day, the large scales will reflect a dazzling silver color. They seem very gentle underwater but watch out if you're holding a tasty morsel of fish above a tank full of them. I guess that all changes when they feed. A website describes them as being "powerful, explosive and acrobatic."

The facility at Robbie's has two in-water tanks. I think the tarpons can swim in and out but what fish wouldn't want to swim in and enjoy a meal they didn't have to work too hard to get. The problem however is not only competing for the handouts with each other but the pelicans feel the authority to step in and grab the feeder fish the moment it is available.

There have come to be so many pelicans gathered at the dock where the tarpons are that it is almost impossible to keep the pelicans at bay. Since our last visit, Robbie's has installed netting over the tarpon pits with holes cut in them so you can hold the fish over the tarpons and not get bombarded by pelicans. That doesn't mean the pelican won't step in and try to steal the fish from your hand before you can get it into the hole or that they won't take advantage and grab as many as they can get from your pail if you're not careful.

My one granddaughter and I tried feeding some fish through the holes but the other granddaughter just clung to Bob, afraid that the pelicans might bite her. I have to say, the pelicans were about 3/4 her size so I can imagine her discomfort. 

When our fish were gone, we watched several other people who were a little more skilled at feeding. Of course they were down on their knees to get closer, something I couldn't do and my granddaughter wanted no part of. 

All in all it was kind of fun. I wouldn't suggest taking young children unless Robbie's does something more with netting overhead and around the dock to keep the pelicans at bay. At least with the netting that's there, the tarpons can no longer grab a pelican by the neck. Seen it on our last visit. Not a pretty picture.

Robbie's has also upped their prices. It's now $2.50/person to get on the dock and $5 for a small bucket of about 6-8 fish. They also rent kayaks and have fishing excursions from there as well. It's a Florida Keys kind of place. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon

 In all the years we have been coming to Key Largo, we have never been to the turtle hospital in Marathon about an hour south of us although we've been near it to go to the Aquarium Encounter. When we were due to have our two youngest granddaughters visit we wanted a new place to take them. I'd heard a great review from a friend and when we found out the girls had not been there either, we made reservations. 

When we arrived, we checked in and paid for our reservations ($30/adult, $15/child). When the lady who gave us our wristbands realized my name was Karen she said they had a turtle by that name and she would be looking at me when she told us about it.  We waited about five minutes or so for the tour to start. The skies were darkening for one of those Florida Keys showers that usually don't last long and since the first part of the program was 25 minutes inside the hospital, I thought we would be safe. The showers would pass.

Inside the small gathering room that seated about 25 people, I expected that it would begin with a video like so many do but it turned out that the lady at check-in, Mary, would be our guide and educational instructor. She explained that five of the seven world's species of turtles are taken care of there when they are injured or ill and gave us  lots of information about the differences in the turtles and how they survive in their environment.

Of course since this was a hospital for turtles, she went on to explain a lot of the common things they treated there. Fishing line was a big problem wrapping around turtle shells or appendages and causing damage just as it does to so many other marine animals and birds. Lots of junk from the water ingested that needed to be passed naturally with the help of laxatives or in extreme cases, surgery. 

There is a virus that turtles can contract which causes tumors to grow on them. Those that are brought to the hospital are treated with antibiotics and often with several surgeries to remove the tumors. A turtle cannot tolerate a lot of anesthesia so the removal of the tumors often has to be done over time. 

Then came the description of injuries incurred from collisions with water vehicles. Sometimes propeller blades can cause lacerations to the shell which allow infections to start. (We've seen manatees with awful lacerations from careless boaters.) The turtle shell is hard but not so much that a collision with a boat can cause a deformity in the shell and allow air to build up inside. When that happens it affects their buoyancy and ability to dive down to feed.

A picture appeared on the screen before us. "This is Karen," Mary said looking at me with a bit of a grin. "She has what's called Positive Buoyancy Syndrome from a collision with a boat." The turtle's shell had a large bump near the rear and the back end floated toward the top of the water. Mary continued, "Positive Buoyancy Syndrome is also known as Bubble Butt." 

On our way out the door to the holding tanks, I shook my head as I passed Mary. "You didn't tell me Karen had Bubble Butt. Thanks a lot." I heard an insincere "sorry."

Outside, the weather was still promising rain. We walked around many tanks, some larger than others, and most hurricane-proofed where turtles in various stages of rehabilitation were housed. Some of the staff which is made up of Marine Science grads were tending to the turtles, taking blood samples, administering meds. 

There are no volunteers at the hospital only paid workers who have a marine science background. They do get free rooms. The hospital was originally a hotel purchased by Richie Moretti, a retired Volkswagon mechanic who decided to turn it into the facility it has become today. So, the workers stay in the renovated rooms. One separate cottage on the premises is where the two veterinarians stay when in Marathon to do surgeries.

At the end of the property nearest the Florida Bay, an enclosed tidal pool houses the permanent residents of the hospital, those who would not survive in the wild again. They are the turtles mostly with buoyancy issues who cannot be released into the wild. There were I believe 24 residents at the time of our visit and we were given handfuls of food pellets to feed them. The tidal pool ebbs and flows and the opening to the bay is large enough that fish and other marine critters often enter giving the turtles some extra treats.

It was an overwhelming educational experience for all of us and one very interesting fact that I took with me was that a turtle's brain may not be very large but it has crystals of magnetite (the same mineral used in compass needles) surrounding it. It is a built in guidance system which explains the lecture we'd heard on a cruise several weeks before about migrating turtles. 

And yes, we got a shower as well. It was a very gentle rain that fell through the mesh that covered the tidal pool. It only lasted a few minutes and I did not hear anyone complain especially the turtles.

Even if you can't get to the Keys to visit the hospital you can go online and see lots of video and read some interesting blogs. That is also worth a visit so here's the link: The Turtle Hospital

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Birds, Birds, Birds

 Whenever we have the Florida grands stay with us a few days we make a visit to the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary just down the road a bit from the condo. The younger girls especially like going there to see the birds that have been rescued. 

There are lots of owls, some hawks, a couple of turkey vultures, pelicans and some smaller birds as well.

The girls got excited when one of the crows seemed to mimic their "Hi!" They tried "Bye" as well and it sounded quite the same.

One of my favorite birds is the black necked stilt. The bird is black and white and walks on legs that are as thin as toothpicks. I say it is a favorite because in looking at pictures of previous visits, I always have one of the same bird. I can tell it's the same because he has a broken wing that apparently cannot be fixed.

We stood and watched a new addition we hadn't seen before or else it never poked its head out. It was a screech owl, a very small one so we weren't sure if maybe it wasn't a young one. It stared at us and just kept blinking. Once in a while it made a funny noise that was kind of a hoarse throaty sound. Not exactly a screech. It almost looked unreal though, as if it were a mechanical owl.

At the empty broad winged hawk cage that had a sign "Away on Vacation" posted on the door, we pondered where a broad winged hawk would to on vacation. Certainly not north, I hope.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Shipwreck: Sara G

 What has been one of our favorite places to go for dinner in Key Largo is a place called Shipwrecks Bar and Grill. It's kind of out of the way and not fancy (far from it) but we always enjoyed the coconut onion rings and the Mahi dinners. On one side of the patio is an open ocean rowing boat that has always been a curiosity. Where did it come from? What's its history? Why is it here?

Sometime in January (I think), an article was written about the boat by someone else who was curious, Ric Johnson. He is the author of an article, Sara G: From Australia to Key Largo. It was cut out from whatever newspaper published it (I suspect one of the Keys newspapers) and framed. The framed article hangs on the bow of the rowboat and tells the story of the Sara G.

The boat was built in Australia of balsa wood and fiberglass and holds several world rowing records. The last owner and skipper was Matt Craughwell who with five others in his crew set out in January of 2012 to row from Morocco to Barbados, a total of 3,000 miles. They made it 2500 miles when the boat was hit by several waves it was unable to handle and was overturned. The crew managed to retrieve the lifeboat from the rowboat and inflate it. They were rescued by a cargo ship responding to their emergency call. 

The Sara G was abandoned and drifted from waters near Barbados to the shore of Key Largo where Mike Hutching, the son of Shipwrecks owner found it and salvaged it. The boat has graced the patio of the restaurant since January of 2013.

And now we know.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

A Day In The Glades

The Florida Everglades is an amazing treasure of natural beauty. When our Ohio son and daughter-in-law invited us to join them in exploring we jumped at the chance not only to be with them but to hopefully enjoy a day full of discovery together. We met them at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center just before the entrance to the park. Being Martin Luther King day, the park entrance was free although we have a senior pass which would have allowed our car entry.

The weather was perfect and there was not a mosquito to be found, thank goodness. Not long into our journey we saw a couple of cars pulled to the side of the road. Sure enough there was an alligator out enjoying the sunny weather. It had been quite chilly, downright cold if you asked a Floridian, for several days and we expected that the reptile population would be taking advantage of the warm sun. This large guy was no exception.

After commenting how close those people were standing to the alligator and how that really wasn't safe, Bob and our son got out of the car and walked closer to it. Meanwhile, the girls stayed in the car and had our phones at the ready should we get a good video of the two of them running. Alligators may look sleepy and calm and too heavy to move fast but they are not. The four legged critters with the sly smile can run up to 35 MPH on land. This one just wanted to sleep and didn't seem bothered by the attention.

We were a little disappointed in the number of birds we saw. Usually there are a lot more and close enough to observe. We did get a close view of a large blue heron fishing and an anhinga but even the anhingas which used to be plentiful near the trails were scarce. Maybe there were too many people although it didn't seem that crowded except for the Anhinga Trail we walked later in the day.

At several places along the way out to the Flamingo Visitor Center at the other end of the main road, we stopped and walked the trails. While we didn't see a whole lot, it was very pleasant walking on the shaded paths. Looking up into a tree full of red berries, we found we weren't the only robins coming south for the winter.

At the Flamingo Visitor Center, there is a marina, a gift shop with sundries for campers, and a food truck! We've eaten there before and it's always been good. This day was no exception. A hamburger, sweet Italian sausage on hoagies with grilled onions and even the grilled cheese sandwich was wonderful. 

After we satisfied the appetite we'd built up with all that exploring, we walked around the marina area and watched several manatees. One of them was a momma with a very young baby on her back. I'm wondering how young the baby was. Baby manatees can't swim when first born so momma has to help them to the surface to breath. She carried the baby quite a ways and we never saw her submerge.

We drove back to the area closer to the entrance to the park which is called the Royal Palm Visitor Center. There is where the popular Anhinga Trail is and where you can almost always encounter an alligator. It was a popular place this day but it didn't seem to bother the alligators who were out sunning themselves. A couple were very close to the trail or right on it and certainly made several of us very nervous as we watched people getting closer and closer to them to get selfies. Warning: the alligators are not tame or domesticated. 

It was a full day at the Glades and we headed back to the condo in Key Largo where our son and his wife joined us for the sunset and dinner after. So much fun being able to spend a day enjoying life with them.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Seven Mile Bridge Walk

About a week after we were settled in, our Florida son came to stay a night with us. He had a free day and wanted to show us the new park for the Old Seven Mile Bridge that had been finished not long ago. It was quite a drive down to Marathon but it was a nice day for a walk.

The Old Seven Mile Bridge was built in the early 1900s as part of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway's Key West Extension known also as the Overseas Railroad. Henry Flagler played a big part in the history of development in the Keys. When it was abandoned because of extensive damage from the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, Florida bought the rail bridge right of way in 1936 for $640,000 and converted it to vehicular traffic which was quite an engineering feat.

When the new bridge was constructed in the 1980s, the old one was no longer used for vehicle traffic. The Old Bridge which goes to Pigeon Key is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the significant engineering it took to convert the bridge from railway to vehicle traffic. 

In 2021, the Florida department of transportation completed the rehabilitation of two miles of the Old Bridge to Pigeon Key and it is now a biking/walking path. Along the sides of the bridge are old rails from the original railroad. They were used as guard rails for the bridge when it was converted to vehicular traffic.

The walk was very nice in cooler Florida temperatures that day and with a gentle breeze blowing across the open water. Next to the Old Bridge we could see the traffic on the new one moving freely north and south but we were a bit more interested in the pelicans and fishing boats that passed by. I hear that on occasion you can see turtles and even rays in the water.

If you visit from the north, you need to be careful not to miss the parking lot for the Old Bridge. It's seven miles before you can turn around. There are only about 35 spots to park so people pull in and cruise slowly or just sit and wait for a spot to become available. 

We didn't make the four mile round trip but we did make a one mile round trip. We were getting hungry and the promise of lunch at the Keys Fisheries in Marathon was calling. We have found reasonably priced stone crab claws in the upstairs bar in the past. They were less expensive than the ones we'd found in Key Largo but we opted to get sandwiches and lionfish tacos down at the grill next to the market.

Bob and I were still interested in the stone crab for dinner so we asked if we could get them to go. They sent us back down to the little market and thankfully they did. The market had what they called "brokens" but Key Largo calls "uglies" at about half price. We bought enough for our dinner and packed them in ice for the trip back. 

That night we used a claw hammer and pliers to crack the shells and indulged in a delightful crab dinner. Tasty!

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Key Largo 2023

 There are so many things I love about being in Florida for the winter besides not having snow. I love getting up just a little early and watching the sunrise. Now I don't look east for that. The condo faces west but the sky brightens gradually with soft purples and pinks and changes to a pale yellow until finally, if there are any clouds they turn a brilliant white. No clouds? The sky is a deep blue. Of course all of that is reflected in the waters of Florida Bay.

A few days after our arrival the moon was full which meant that there would be the little bioluminescent worms swimming around a couple of nights later.(See Fireworms of Florida Bay).  We found them but there were not as many as in the past. 

A lot of the plentiful marine animals we used to find seemed to be scarce since Irma hit the keys in 2017. There used to be hundreds of upside down jellyfish around the dock and a lot of colorful tropical fish, a few lobster and horseshoe crabs. We did manage to find quite a large sea snail one day.

We were afraid there were fewer manatees but eventually they appeared and while my manatee picture looks more like a crocodile in the water I assure you, it is a manatee. 

Speaking of crocodiles, the word is out that we have one roaming the area. We've seen some in the little lagoon where we've kayaked but never around the shore by the condos. Word is that a little dog got snatched. Bob says it's an urban legend. Whatever the case, there are signs posted to be aware of your surroundings because of alligators. Alligators however are more fresh water animals so I think they mean crocodiles since Florida Bay is brackish water--a mix of salt water and the fresh water flowing down from the Everglades.

We'll continue to look for our lobster around the rocks (hope no one ate him) and keep an eye out for the occasional dolphins that pass by. The osprey is still here and fishing everyday by our dock. He's pretty good and we see him fly by the window with his catch in his claws mornings and afternoons. Yummy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

The Zuiderdam arrived January 3 in Fort Lauderdale. We ate breakfast in the Main Dining Room and grabbed our suitcase from the room to disembark. We just missed the first sweep of the parking shuttle from Park By The Ports where we had left our car. The shuttles came around every 20 minutes from 7-9 am so we waited for the next one which was right on time. 

Our car was just where we left it and untouched. It always makes me a little nervous when it's obviously packed for a long Florida stay and we have to leave it for a cruise. Add to that the location of the lot which was behind the Dania Beach Casino. All went well however and we were soon on our way to Key Largo.

The owner of the condo graciously said it was ready for us and we could arrive early. It was a beautiful sunny day and we found most everything in Key Largo to be as we had left it two years before. A few new restaurants but our favorite store for extras, K Mart was gone and half demolished. 

The condo complex was as lovely as ever and our condo sported new appliances and flooring. What a treat! We were soon unpacked and headed out for a late lunch. Groceries stocked after lunch, a meet and greet at sunset with friends and we were off to get dinner at our favorite restaurant for French onion soup and Mahi sandwiches--Skipper's.  

We slipped into bed and fell asleep quickly. Home at last--well at home away from home.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

 After spending New Year's Day at sea, we arrived at our favorite private island, Half Moon Cay. It is a beautiful crescent shaped beach that faces tranquil turquoise Caribbean waters on a perfect day and this day was perfect. 

Bob is a bit sensitive about sitting in the sun so we had reserved a clam shell which looks much like sound of its name--like one half of an open clam. It does a great job offering shade and comes with two lounge chairs. We took the nice big tender that the island uses to transport passengers to the beach. There's a dock and a little "town" area where you exit and walk through to the beach. The area has a few shops and refreshment areas.

We found our favorite spot on the beach which is near a large pirate ship structure where drinks and some snacks are sold and found a clam shell. Bob went to where you had to check in to say you were there for the shell. Usually someone hustles over and sets it up but that's not much more that pulling the canvas up and setting the plastic pole in place. Bob handled it. We dumped sand off of the loungers and settled in.

A little reading, a little swimming (for me) and a nice refreshing drink before lunchtime. Lunch was at the large food area where they barbecue hamburgers, hot dogs, beef ribs and a slew of other things to go with them. Since there was another ship there as well it was a little crowded but not so much that you couldn't get your food in reasonable time and find a place at a picnic table under one of the small shelters to eat. 

We got back to our clam shell and took a little walk along the beach. One more little dip in the water for me and we headed back to the ship. Half a day on a beach is plenty for us and the day had been perfect--our last day of the cruise.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

 Can't resist just another picture or two from our fun excursion to Monkeyland in the Dominican Republic. It was so much fun!

Posting the video as well. Please, no butt jokes.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo


And now for the really fun part of our excursion in the Dominican Republic, the monkeys. 

After we were through our sample drinks, our guide led us down a path to a caged area where the squirrel monkeys were eagerly awaiting our arrival. MonkeyLand is a lot like Monkey Jungle near Miami only you are let into the huge fenced in area (read cage) where the squirrel monkeys live and interact with them. 

It was explained that the squirrel monkeys are not native to the Dominican Republic but rather they came from South America. This was a sanctuary for them although it was never clear the reason they needed a sanctuary far from home. I drew the obvious conclusion. Wouldn't you?

The guide for the monkeys ushered us all to an area behind the gift shop where we received instructions. Nothing could be taken into the monkey area but cameras and phones. He cautioned that earrings were a favorite thing for the monkeys to pick at especially if they thought they were seeds. I tucked mine in my purse. 

I wanted to leave my phone in my purse that is a little bag with a cross over strap but it wasn't allowed so I had to stick my phone in one back pocket and my wallet with my credit cards in the other, hold onto my camera and hope that the monkeys weren't as clever as the capuchins we'd met in Costa Rica.

Lockers were provided for a fee for those who wanted to stow valuables but a bin was also provided where you could leave things as well. We put my purse there since anything valuable was in my back pockets.

The guide led us to a small caged area where we gathered and closed one door behind us before opening the door to the big cage where the monkeys were. It was just like at the zoo where you have a foyer-like entry before you enter an aviary so the birds won't fly out through an open door. All along the wall and the top rail of the fence inside, monkeys eagerly awaited the opening of the door and the treats they knew were in the plastic container the guide held.

Once he entered and we followed, the monkeys were all over him eager to be treated with some seeds. He led us to some benches where we each took a seat on either side of the walkway. Once seated, the guide began to gently shower each of us around the circle with a few seeds. Of course this sent the monkeys scrambling to get them and they started climbing all over the guests.

To my surprise, there was no squabbling among the monkeys for the seeds. They would perch for a time on a head or shoulder and wait to see if some seeds would come their way. At times however it was a toss up between what was more fun to watch, the monkeys or some of the reactions of the guests. One lady let out a scream every time a monkey jumped on her head or shoulder. I don't know what she expected since we were told ahead of time what would happen.

As time went on we snapped more and more pictures. There were quite a few mom monkeys with babies clutching their backs. I was amazed at how they stayed on with mom jumping all around. The only time I saw one off the mom's back was when he picked up a seed. He scrambled back on quickly.

A photographer took pictures of each person and then pictures of family groups and dashed off to download them for viewing later in the gift shop. Meanwhile we were frantically trying to shoot pictures and video and giggling so hard it was almost impossible. 

At one point, we were given small bowls of fruit for the monkeys who devoured it all in the blink of an eye, discarding only a couple of pieces not to their liking I guess.

All in all, we must have spent around forty-five minutes interacting with the cute critters. The shared experience with other cruise guests kind of bonded us for a bit. 

Our excursion ended, as many do, with a shopping opportunity not only in the MonkeyLand gift shop but on the way back to the ship. We were told it was a demonstration of how men carve art pieces from petrified wood. The demonstration wasn't very long but that could have been a time constraint. The gift shop had tons of carvings, jewelry and other items and we found a pair of earrings to match the necklace we'd bought on our shortened world cruise in January. 

Quite a nice way to end the old year except for watching the Buckeyes lose to Georgia just as the New Year rang in. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

 In the little town square, or circle, of Amber Cove we met up with our guides for our afternoon excursion. There were about fourteen in our group and we were led to a comfortable mini bus for our ride to MonkeyLand. 

It was interesting to see the countryside. We passed through a little town area with fruit stands. Mandarins were in season and there were long skinny bags of them strung on the overhangs of the fruit stand shelters. The ride was pleasant with the patter of our guide giving us lots of commentary on what we were seeing. In about twenty minutes we pulled onto a gravel drive and parked in a small lot. When we got out and walked down a short path, a huge set of letters spelling out MonkeyLand welcomed us.

Our guide said another group was in with the monkeys at the time so we would start by visiting an example of a Dominican Republic home. It was very colorful on the outside with a thatched roof. The inside had a small kitchen one bedroom and a small living area. He explained that the caretakers took turns staying in the small home when it was their shift.

As we exited the back of the house, we were shown several different types of plants some of which I'd never seen before. I was familiar with sugar cane and a few others, but the one that fascinated me was the star fruit. I'd never seen a star fruit tree anywhere we have traveled. The blossoms on part of the tree were a pretty pink cluster. The green star fruit blended in with the green of the leaves. I almost missed seeing it. 

Of course coffee from the Dominican is very desirable and we were seated on some benches while a lady in traditional dress showed us beans before and after roasting and how, in the old days, the beans were ground after roasting using a large mortar and pestle. 

When she had ground some beans, she put them in a cloth funnel and slowly poured some hot water through the cloth funnel. It was basically a drip coffee maker. We each got taste the coffee which had a really good flavor. It wasn't sold in K-cups though.

Next came the cacao bean and the process of removing the beans from the pod and roasting. Somehow she got it to a paste and then a powder or maybe it was the other way around but the smell of hot chocolate distracted me from the details. We each got a small cup to taste the rich mixture. Luckily some people passed on the chocolate and there were a couple extra for us. Score!

Last but not least was a drink called MamaJuana, not to be confused with another word that sounded similar but was illegal in the DR. MamaJuana was said to be very "medicinal" since it had several different herbs and tree bark in it that were healing. All the herbs and tree bark were  then covered with rum, red wine and honey and left to marinate for a week or two. As it was explained, you could refill the alcohol and the tree bark and herbs would be good for quite some time. And yes, little cups were passed around for tasting. It tasted very sweet. Someone said it reminded them of sangria.

We exited the outdoor exhibition area as the other group began coming in from their monkey experience. It was time for the main event.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

The Zuiderdam docked early in Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. The first time we were at a port in the DR, we got off the ship and turned around after walking a block and got right back on the ship. I don't remember the name of the port but we didn't feel comfortable and we always go with our gut in unchartered territory. The second time our cruise port was Santa Domingo and it was a much nicer visit. I was eager to explore Amber Cove since it was specifically built as a cruise port. 

Breakfast in the dining room and a stop to collect our things from our room and we were on our way. It was a nice walk on the dock to the entrance of the port's shopping area. There were more than a dozen bicycle taxis for those who couldn't or didn't want to make the 3-4 minute walk or just wanted the fun of riding in one. We felt we needed the exercise.

Once we passed through the area that looked like a duty free spot in an international airport terminal, we started to walk around the shopping area. Most shops were open minutes after the ship docked. The stores were all in a giant circle for the most part and we walked around it stopping to read some of the fascinating information about the island. Parts of the 1993 Jurassic Park movie were filmed here. The piece of amber with the mosquito inside came from a fictional mine. The amber actually mined here is only about 25 million to 40 million years old, not old enough to be from the dinosaur era. Also, there have never been any fossils found that date back to the dinosaurs.

Up on a hill sat a place called the Sky Bar. It looked to offer a great view of the port so we followed the path up that had some steps. Steps aren't bad if you stop often to take pictures (smile), At the top we found a very nice open air bar and restaurant with some interesting food options but it was too early for lunch. We took some pictures from up top and then found a path to where the zip line started. The line went all the way down to the bottom, passing over the swimming pool. There were a couple of teens we met on our way down a path without steps who were coming back up for a second ride.

There were some cabanas on a dock area that also had another deli style open air bar/restaurant. We checked it out and then continued around the large pool area. Everything was available to the ship. I'm not sure if the zip line was free or not but judging from the excitement of the teens, I'm guessing it was. Had we not booked an excursion, it would have been a relaxing time in or next to the pool. 

We returned to the ship after our morning of exploring to have lunch and gather our hats for the excursion in the afternoon. I was looking forward to "monkeying" around.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

 Our first full cruise day was a day at sea. A good chance to relax and take in the beautiful sunshine, warm weather and sea air. We enjoyed breakfast in the main dining room and our mile around the Promenade Deck. 

The morning had several activities including a talk about the two ports we would stop in. We knew about the private island, Half Moon Cay. It was one of the reasons we hadn't cancelled this cruise when we cancelled the 2024 World Cruise. We love that island and it's beach. We were warned however that it could be a bit crowded since another HAL ship would be there with us. Our clam shell (a canvas shelter from the sun with two loungers) was already booked.

The most interesting part of the excursions talk was about Amber Cove which was a new port for us. If anyone has ever been to Grand Turk, you'll understand what is meant by a "cruise port". It is a port actually built by and for the cruise lines. Grand Turk has a little shopping village and a Margaritaville bar and restaurant with a huge pool. It also has a nice little beach. We expected this would be very much the same.

Then the excursion speaker got to the actual excursions you could book. Because we had some onboard credit, we had already booked an excursion to MonkeyLand. While he didn't give a lot of detail, he did indicate that we were in for a real treat on this one. The picture showed someone with a monkey on each shoulder and one on his head. Note to self: Wear a hat.

Our dinner was at the specialty restaurant, The Pinnacle, and we enjoyed filet mignon and all the fixings. It has been our experience that sometimes when you order decaf coffee after dinner, either the pots get mixed up or the waiter does especially if they are really busy. We're old. Caffeine keeps us awake at night. To remedy this, we skip dessert in the dining room and go up to the Lido buffet and get our own coffee and dessert. It hasn't failed us yet and often we get to see a nice sunset from that top deck.

Maybe this night we should have had caffeine. We were too late from dinner to catch the seven o'clock show in the Main Stage so we sat and listened a bit to the two pianos and singers in the Billboards venue. By the time nine o'clock came, we were too tired to make it to the show that featured a male quartet. I think our road trip adventure had caught up to us and the leisure of the day had relaxed us. We headed for bed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

 When our five day cruise aboard the Zuiderdam was booked, we thought we had open seating where we would have to make reservations each night for the time we wanted to eat in the Main Dining Room. Bob, proactive guy that he is, had already booked several nights for 5:30. We showed up at the reservation desk at 5:30 and the hostess looked at us, smiled sweetly, and said, "Your reservations are at 5 each night upstairs. I'm sure your waiter is waiting for you."

Sure enough on our seapass cards (the cards that are your room key and your way to make onboard charges) it was printed, "early dining at 5 table 27." It actually worked out very well. We wanted a table for two and that was what was arranged. 

We had a lovely dinner of jerk pork tenderloin (the EXC special) along with Caesar salad and enjoyed the service of our waiter.

The night's entertainment in the Main Stage was a historical lecture with slides of the history of Holland America Line which we'd heard in March so we opted to listen to the dance band that was performing and then went onto something new, The Rolling Stones Lounge, where there was a group playing and singing music from several decades. The only problem was the volume. Way too loud even for these old ears. Note to self: don't forget the earplugs.

We returned to our room to find it all ready for us to climb into bed. It's so nice to come in from the evening and find the lights dimmed and the bed ready for entry. It was a good night.

Monday, January 09, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

The evening of the 28th found us back at the hotel where we'd stayed the night our canceled world cruise was finished in January of 2022. No bad memories. The Hampton was bustling with people, many I'm sure spending the night before cruising as well. With the airlines having so many cancellations, lots of people were giving themselves an extra day at least to get to their embarkation port so as not to miss their ship.

 We were really tired and looking forward to getting on the ship and relaxing. It was only going to be five days but we needed the down time from our long drive south. Originally we had booked this cruise to see if we liked the ship because we had also booked another world cruise for 2024 in order to get to the places in the world that we hadn't seen and missed because of the other cruise being cancelled. 

We knew the Zuiderdam was an older ship in the fleet (20 years old) and it wasn't quite as large as some of the other Dam ships we'd been on. A cruise of 128 days could be a really long time if we didn't like the ship and its crew. Eventually we found two other cruises that took in the areas we wanted to see, eliminated places we didn't want to go that were on the world cruise and was less expensive. But, we decided it would be fun to take the five day cruise anyway. It stopped at our favorite private island, Half Moon Cay and a place we'd never been, Amber Cove. Who can argue with five more days in the sun?

Embarkation is a breeze with all the preboarding check-in procedures they have nowadays and with our four star Mariner status we were among the first to board. Amazingly, and to our relief, our stateroom was ready for us. Normally staterooms aren't available until around 1 pm on embarkation day. I think they had quite a few people who had stayed on from the previous cruise so there weren't a lot of rooms to "deep clean".

I hate to say we hadn't paid a lot of attention to our booking details. (We would discover our dining reservations weren't what we thought.) We knew we had a Signature Suite because, had we taken the WC, that's the suite we would have been in. It was very nice. Not quite as big as the Neptune Suite we'd pampered ourselves with for my birthday cruise and it didn't have access to a special lounge but we hadn't used the lounge all that much back in March. 

It was noon and time to go off to forage for food. 

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

 After finding our way around the I 26 accident, we thought it would be smooth sailing. That was not to be. We ended up in stop and go traffic on I 95 heading into Georgia. We finally found an exit where there was a road that ran parallel to I 95 and took the back road. We were on route 17 heading south and would connect again with I 95 just as we entered Florida. Yay! The traffic was much less and the scenery much better but we had added three hours on to our day's drive. We would be late for our reservation at the nice French restaurant, Le Clos, in Fernandina Beach.

Bob called and explained our situation. We weren't going to get there until 6:30 at best. It turned out that something had gone wrong with the reservation he made online and we didn't have one. That would have been disappointing in itself added to a long day in the car. 

We finally arrived in Fernandina Beach around 7 (too late for my first Florida sunset over the water), checked in and rushed off to a second choice restaurant we knew would be open. The Salty Pelican is a bit noisy but we were seated before long and enjoyed a light dinner. Not long after we collapsed in bed for the night.

A good Hampton Inn breakfast, followed by our favorite McDonald's coffee and we were on the road again and yes, wondering if the I 95 traffic was going to continue to slow us down. Thankfully it wasn't bad at all and we were early enough that we managed to meet with our kids in Cutler Bay and have our Christmas with them. 

After dinner and a little UNO, we headed for our hotel in Fort Lauderdale where we would stay the night before starting our cruise the next day. We were definitely ready to cruise.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Road Trip--Cruise--Key Largo

 We arrived in Dobson, North Carolina, about four o'clock or so in the afternoon. We were a little disappointed that our stop here was on a Monday since our favorite restaurant, Harvest Grill set among the Shelton Vineyards, is closed on Mondays. There would be no nice fireplace to sit by as we enjoyed their wonderful food. There was a restaurant right next to the Hampton Inn called Coach's where we'd eaten once before but it was mostly hamburgers and such and not nearly as nice a venue. 

After grabbing our overnight bags, we rolled into the Hampton which was unusually dark. I began to get a bad feeling as I remembered the parking lot was not very full. Sure enough the hostess told us she'd been trying to contact us all afternoon. (We were listening to an audio book on my phone so Bob's phone was not connected.) There had been several nights below freezing in Dobson and some of the pipes had frozen and burst, somehow causing the fire sprinklers to go off and spray the rooms on the upper floors. The whole place was without water until they could get it fixed--and of course, replace the wet mattresses. In a couple of minutes however, she had us booked in another Hampton just down the road about 11 miles.

The Hampton in Jonesville was a little smaller but had lots of Christmas decoration and offered popcorn in the lobby along with the usual coffee. Our room was quality and we settled in to find a place to eat. There was plenty to choose from but again a lot of them were closed on Mondays. We settled on the Cracker Barrel and enjoyed a meal within view of their fireplace. 

The next morning we were up at our usual seven o'clock time so we could eat and be on the road by 7:30 or so. This day of travel was usually about seven hours. It would prove to be a lot longer. We reached I 26 near Columbia, SC, and found ourselves stuck in traffic that soon became a parking lot. When two fire engines, an ambulance and several state patrol cars passed us on the berm we knew what lay ahead couldn't be good. 

As we sat there listening to our audio book, we noticed people backing up or crossing the side berm to get to the rest stop near where we were. It took a little while and some observation and we realized they were accessing a side road through a gate in the fence surrounding the rest stop. Bob judged the depth of the gully in the berm and decided we could make it across. We followed the traffic out onto the side road and to another road that ran parallel to the highway. It was heavy traffic but at least it was moving. 

We made it around the accident and back onto I 26 and thought we were home free. Not so.

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