Friday, May 24, 2013

Day 7: first at sea day

What I like about cruise is not all the exciting ports of call. Spending a couple of hours at a place doesn't suit my travel style. Instead I like the at sea days and the transatlantic cruise has plenty of at sea days.

With all the sightseeing activities we did in Puerto Rico and St.
Martin, today was transition to our daily routine and ship exploration.

1. In the morning, I dropped out dd4 at the kids program. On this
cruise there were only 15 kids younger than 10 and a handful of
teenagers. Dd4 had a good time playing with new kids, new play
coordinators and new toys in a new environment.

2. Ds7 didn't want to be in his age group so we spent time together drawing and trying out different activities on the ship (mini golfing)

3. At noon ds7 practiced violin and later gave dd4 a violin lesson.

4. Everyday we forward our time by one hour. By the time we reach
Lisbon, there will be no jet-lag to adjust and we will be ready to play
right away. This is one of the biggest benefits for us to cruise to
Europe instead of flying.

5. At 3pm we attended a talk "the secrets of navigating the ship". Very interesting. We learned the only place in the world that the captain doesn't remain sole control of the ship is at Panama Canal where the pilot and captain kind of co-control the ship.

6. I talked to the guest service and they agreed to let us use
their piano to practice at their schooler bar. So we explored this part
of the ship first time. We found out a wii station there and had a blast
playing there. Later the starlight trio started to play: one pianist
and two violinists, beautiful girls all in red from Ukraine. I couldn't
peel myself away and missed our first formal dinner.

7. Ds7 was inspired and wanted to go back to our cabin to practice violin. He said "I want to devote my life to violin". I recognized that was the line
from Vivaldi's CD story he had been listening for 100 times.

8. We dressed up and went to meet the captain. Dd4 said, "I was dreaming about
the captain!" I recognized that was an expression from the movie "Alvin
and the chipmunks". We met the captain and took a picture with him.

9. Tonight was the first big show called production. Music, singing and
 dancing. There was some adult content in the show but I was pretty sure
 the kids didn't get it and they just enjoyed the stage, singing,
dancing and the silly and funny part.

We all slept well on the ship

Day 8: at sea
We are in the middle of Atlantic Ocean. Since we left last port of call, we only spotted one ship (according to the captain). The closest land is thousands of miles away. The speed is about 19 knots (about 23 miles/hour).

There are lots of things going on: lectures, dance class, jewelry making, origami class, music, shows...

We are still in the transition: want to try everything and feel indecisive at the same time.

1. I attended a lecture about how Spain shipped all the treasure home
and how other European countries tried to get from Spain. Very informative and interesting. The lecture helped me to connect the dots from the visit to the Texas history museum in Austin, the fort in San Juan and the Caribbean island we visited. So far it is the highlight of this cruise for me: a series of history lecture. It was really nicely done and very relevant to where we had been or where we were going. One person commented "if our history class were like this, who wouldn't love history". I agreed.

2. Ds7 tried his hand on ping pang. He was quite good. I remember the last time he tried was about two years ago. By doing nothing and just getting older his coordination took him to the next level.

3. Kids did't want to eat at the main dining room, so I went alone and had a good time talking to other fellow passengers.

4. We practiced a little bit violin and watched TV as well.
DS7 commented he could stay on the ship forever if there were fast free Internet. Indeed, it is my thought too.

Day 9: Another at sea day.

The ship is beautiful and I started to like the size and layout. There are so many sitting areas that you can choose to stay where the action is or find a quiet corner getting lost in your own thoughts.

In the last two days I have been enjoying alone time knowing the kids are happy and well taken care of. I attend the lecture every morning, fascinating. Also I went to watch a movie: premium rush in their small but very nice movie theater. I knew kids would enjoy the movie too so I ended up watching it the
second time with kids.

The service on the ship is great. The standard set by the cruise is hard to beat on land. What makes cruise business model viable is the cheap labor with exceptional service. They are trying so hard that I feel indebted to them, especially for the minimal amount of money we paid for the cruise. It reminds me that while some of us pursue happiness as birth right, there are many people
struggle for survival or better life with sacrifice. My kids attract
lots of attention from the crew members. I am guessing probably because they
miss their own kids too.

We continue our routine: playing ping pang, listening to musical performance, watching movie, practicing violin and piano, drawing and adding some new things each day. We may try the pools and rock climbing today. It has been a little bit windy.

Day 10: at sea with shorter days

1. By sailing east, we lose one hour a day. Everyday at 11:30am we forward our clock to 12:30pm. So there are 23 hours in a day.

2. And everyday we sleep for 9-11 hours, have 2 hour dinner, watch 2-2.5 hour movie, 1 hour lecture. Before we know, the day is gone.

3. On every elevator floor, there is changeable plate with the days on so we can track our time, which is hard on a cruise.

4. From other passengers, I knew some terrible events out there, but in the middle of the vast ocean, I also feel so removed from the world.

5. The crew members showed my kids how to make things out of napkin: mouse, shoe and hat.

6. Ds7 once a while wished there were free fast Internet so he could get back to his world of tanks to work toward the next tier of tank. He kept working on calculating how close to his next tank and how many battles he needed to fight in order to get certain XP. His math skill is developing fast: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and percentage and a little bit fraction. He amazed me that he learned the skill on his own without me teaching. Without Internet, he went back to minecraft again designing and building a race car.

7. Kids had fun watching food carving demonstration

8. At lunch I got to know my favorite lecturer. He used to teach history in high school and college. It was fun chatting with him. I learned more about Columbus from his lecture.

9. I realized there was some amazing art work on the ship. I started walking everywhere and looking at them.

10. Now I have reduced my eating to two meals a day and started to walk the stairs instead of taking elevator.

11. By now I am very relaxed and my mind is scattered as well.

DS7 likes to draw

DS7's drawing
mini golfing
practice violin
violin lesson
with Captain
musical performance
cruise ship
ping pang
There were two pianos we were allowed to use. I am really grateful for that.
food carving
napkin folding

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Transatlantic cruise from San Juan to Lisbon: 10 nights

sail away party at San Juan
Flying away is just no comparison to a voyage on the sea, especially leaving the port with sail away party. 

 Day 6 port of call St. Martin island 

Last night when the ship left the port (san juan) and with all the excitement around me, suddenly sadness creeped in: I was missing my DH and I remembered the good time we had together at our first transatlantic cruise two years ago. Fortunately we will see each other in 10 days. 

Kids were super excited and both of them wanted to sleep without me on the bunk bed. I said no problem knowing they would come down soon. Yes, after a while they both asked to come down and couldn't sleep without me. I took my two precious baby chicks under my wings and we all had a sweet sleep from the ship's gentle rocking motion. 

This morning we got up and had a breakfast and headed out. The ship docked at St. Martin island and I have arranged a private tour with Joyce. 

Joyce was a really likable person. No wonder she has one of the best reputation in the online travel world. 

1. She took us to the hill overlooking the beach, aqua blue water and our beautiful ship. This was one of the best photo ops throughout the day. 

2. At the back of the island we stopped to see some baby sheep and learned how to tell from sheep and goats: tail pointing down-sheep: tail pointing up-goat. :) kids were just naturally attracted to the baby sheep and goats. 

3. With a long stretch sand bar, it looked promising with some shell collecting. Ds7 did find a big shell and got distracted by the potential money making opportunity: he wanted to sell the shell for $5 and later increase to $250. He was so preoccupied with the potential that he almost ignored the tour for half an hour. Joyce joked he probably would be a good businessman in the future 

4. Per my request, Joyce took us to the butterfly farm. It was a rather small one but the owner's love and knowledge of butterflies compensated for the size. Dd4 asked me to take pictures of every butterfly. :) we learned a couple of things about butterflies. 

5. We proceeded to the famous Orient bay beach. The color of the water and nudity made it famous. Kids were oblivious to the nudity and just enjoyed the waves and beach. I was totally blown away by all the shades of blue and green color of the ocean water. 11 years ago I was on the same spot and memories started to come back to me. Now it was much busier than before even on a slow day. 

6. We kept going and reached the French Capitol: marigot. Today is sunday and not all the business were open. We stopped for a while and left. I had a good French meal here 11 years ago. 

7. Per my request, Joyce took us to the Dutch and French border monument. The northern side of St Martin belongs to French while the southern side is Dutch. Both sides get along pretty well but still it is two countries with different government, school, social benefits, tax and even different cell phone system: calling the other side costs more than calling US. 

8. We kept going and got to the "new" attraction: maho beach by the main airport on the Dutch side. The attraction is that the end of the runway is right on the beach only blocked by the fence. The exhaust from taking off airplane creates a big force that can blow people from the beach to the ocean. Ds7 joined other people and got blasted by the medium size jet plane. It was quite exciting for him. The bar on the beach had a board listing all the flight schedule and a big crowd in the bar and on the beach. It has become a very popular spot. I was mostly Amazed by the water color: very blue, crystal clear and absolutely beautiful, very different from the orient bay we just visited 

9. The island is quite contrasted: beautiful resorts verse local run down houses. Big yachts with heli pad and private jet verse people livingbelow poverty line. The few thing they share is the beautiful beaches and aqua blue water. Quite interesting to watch. The private jet and yachts left a big impression on ds7. He wants those and started to calculate how long it would take him to get if he makes $25/day. :) he was very sweet to promise that he would take all of us for tours in his jet and yacht. :) 

10. Our last stop was Dutch capital, philipsberg. Joyce mentioned there was big population of Chinese and Indians who owned more than 50% of the businesses in St. Martin. Ds7 was looking for a pair of cool sun glasses. Lately he has developed self awareness of his appearance. He wants to look cool and handsome. After we got him the sunglasses, he struck a couple of poses for pictures. 

11. We also visited an area with lots of wild iguanas, wild turkeys and other creatures. Someone was turning it into a park. 

12. The towel animals on bed surprised and pleased the kids. It was an elephant.

By 2pm, we finished our 5.5 hour tour and were pretty exhausted from the Caribbean sun. It was nice to return to our cool and comfortable ship. One great thing about cruise is the 24 hour access to food. It makes my life much easier. Kids can eat anytime with huge selections. 

Tonight we went to dine at the main dining room. Our assigned table was with another five people. Ds7 has been showing great confidence, politeness and proper demeanor. He greeted people, answered questions and carried conversation with people. He is no longer the boy who was shy, refused to talk to people or have eye contact and hid behind mommy. I am still amazed by the change.

St. Martin

Butterfly farm
Orient Bay
back to ship

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 5: We had a super busy and productive day

Day 5: We had a super busy and productive day
1. Today we drove west. Beautiful scenery along the way with lush landscape and ocean in the background

2. The rio camuy cave was absolutely amazing. The trolley ride down through the towering trees to the cave put us in a beautiful and surreal world. The formations were absolutely amazing. Also The cave has a big opening that can hold a 17-story high building in it. (这个岩洞非常棒!)

3. Getting lost brought us deep into PR. Saw all the black and white cattle. We even saw a just birthed calf on the field. The mama cow was still licking the baby cow.

4. The arecibo observatory was amazing. It has the biggest radio reflector in the world. Seeing this in person just wowed us. Also it has other interactive exhibitions that people can explore. The best part was that the personnel would come to explain each one. Ds7 didn't want to leave. Unfortunately we were in a hurry to get back to town. We need to visit again. My heart was leaping. It would have been my field of work since this was the field of my study. So exciting for me to be there and see it in person. (007在这里拍的)

5. Kids were super excited to board the ship. The ship is beautiful with lots of glass windows to look out. Kids also loved the bunk bed in our room. We haven't seen the whole ship yet. Just had a dinner and food was delicious! I can tell we would have a wonderful time here.

Pictures don't do justice to those two amazing places.

Sign off now. No Internet or very limited Internet after tonight for 10 nights.

Day 4: El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in U.S. national forest system (美国唯一的热带雨林)

Day 4: El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in U.S. national forest system (美国唯一的热带雨林)

I couldn't resist a good hike especially we got too much sun on our second day in PR.
1. The drive in El Yunque reminded me a lot of the road to Hana on Maui

2. Beautiful waterfall right at the side of the road (La Coca Falls)

3. Really well maintained trail with shelters (picnic tables)

4. Had a great time hiking to La Mina water fall trail and big tree trail. Ds7 hiked all the way by himself while dd4 needed some help half way through. It was great to spend a refreshing day away from the sun.

5. Picnic lunch

6. Kids had lots of energy: running, skipping and climbing. Ds7 being the leader of our hike often pointed our points of interest.

7. And a short movie at the visitor center helped to summarize our experience.
Now I am exhausted


Day 3 in PR

Day 3: today we took the bus to the old San Juan. Loved the bus ride which took us through the areas normally tourists would not see. PR is quite diverse but all is surrounded by different shades of emerald or blue ocean. Old San Juan is a really interesting town, walled city and quite walkable. One of the best features is the free trolley bus ride that makes it easy to visit the town under the hot Caribbean sun. Narrow cobble-stoned streets were very charming. The fort was very impressive. The narrative kept saying we were looking at the same view the Spanish soldiers were looking at. We had some delicious authentic Puerto Rican lunch. Kids loved feeding the doves.

Day 2 beautiful beach right at the hotel and beautiful rooftop pool and lounge

Day 1: arriving in Puerto Rico

Day 1: arriving in Puerto Rico

Kids were doing well on the flight. Ds7 occupied himself with iPad games (stacking states, music notes reading, letters and words and other games). Dd4 played with her little rabbit toy and entered her own imaginative world.
I fed them and reminded them to be mindful with other passengers. 4 hour flight was a piece of cake for my road warrior kids.

1. PR is bigger than I expected
2. At SJU airport, Ds7 said, mama, the toilet is really cool. You flush with a foot pedal like gas pedal in a car
3. when coming out of the airport, kids discovered "it looks like Maui. Lots of Maui trees (palm trees) followed by why the similarity. Then a brief explanation from me about tropical area, latitude, equator...
4. Is this a state? Why do they speak Spanish? No, it is US territory. Later I googled more about territories.
5. When got to the hotel, they found they were in a blue and white space. Everything is either blue or white. The room? Blue room with all back lit lighting and sheer drapes. Definitely not the typical hotel. They found it interesting.
6. World of tanks, ninja turtle, shower and talks with daddy before sleep.

Here is the blue room
— at Isla Verde.

blue hotel room