The Perfect Cruise

Almost 18 months prior, I had booked an exciting 16-night Royal Caribbean cruise from Venice to Dubai via the Suez Canal.  At $22pp/night plus taxes, who could resist?  But as the departure time grew close, we realized the cruise itself was the only thing that was going to be a good deal.  The one-way airfares were going to cost a fortune – even with my travel miles and expertise!  We had a heart-to-heart and came to the conclusion that after all of travel we had done in 2016, our primary goal in December was simply some major relaxation.

And so it came to pass that we found ourselves on a 12-night Royal Caribbean cruise on the Grandeur of the Seas, round-trip, out of Baltimore.  Maybe not quite as exciting as the original plan, but it fit the budget, didn’t require airfare, and had plenty of R-E-L-A-X-A-T-I-O-N written all over it.  Elliott was thrilled that he could pack a million pairs of cufflinks and shoes, throw all of the luggage in the car, and not have to worry about airline baggage restrictions.

01 car full of luggage

Leaving Philly with all of Elliott’s shoes, cufflinks, and dress shirts.

We really didn’t have any expectations; we simply relished the idea of warm weather, calm blue seas, and not having to cook for a while.  We started out with three days at sea, as we left the cold North and headed down to the Caribbean.

 

It only took about a day and a half to get to the warm weather, which really surprised and pleased us!  I was out swimming in the pool before I knew it.

01a Relaxing in the pool

It’s my favorite place to be.

That wasn’t the only surprise, however; the entire cruise turned out to be one, big, happy surprise.  In those first three sea days, we went to Ballroom and Latin dance lessons, and found there were many more dancers onboard than we are used to.  What a treat!  We got to know many of the other dancers, and traded moves and inspiration night after night.  In addition, the onboard dance instructor loved dance so much, she offered free private lessons to anyone who wanted them.  What?!!  Unheard of!  We took her up on her offer more than once and added a few new beautiful moves to our Waltz and Foxtrot.

I had sadly assumed that since we were on a cruise, any holiday spirit would be totally forgotten for 12 days; it was, after all, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas!  I was wrong and couldn’t have been more pleased.  In the beginning of the cruise, there wasn’t much to remind us of the holidays other than the decorations a few passengers had hung on their cabin doors (which were really cute).  As the days passed, we’d hear a Christmas song here and there, then a Christmas tree was put up in the atrium… then at the end of the cruise some of the crew wore Santa hats!  We found it was the perfect amount of holiday spirit without being in-your-face or overwhelming.

 

There were a lot of fun activities onboard.  One night I joined in the fun for a rendition of an old favorite, Family Feud.  My team was terrible, but somehow made a comeback in the last minute (perhaps due to the fact that the last question was worth 3x the points?!).

 

Another night, we celebrated the ship’s 20th birthday with a big celebration and ship-shaped cake in the atrium.

 

Watch the balloons fall!

The itinerary was a fabulous one, and at the same time, an itinerary about which we felt very relaxed.  We had been to all of the ports before, so we didn’t feel pressured to do a lot on each one.  On our first port of St. Thomas, we walked around a bit and went shopping.  For those of you who don’t know, St. Thomas has many jewelry bargains; and it’s one place where I feel very lucky to have a husband who likes to shop!

04 More jewels from St. Thomas

Happy with my St. Thomas souvenir.

On Dominica, we didn’t even get off the ship, preferring to have a relaxing day of our own “at sea” and having the ship mostly to ourselves.  We did see a gorgeous rainbow from our ship:)

08 Rainbow over Dominica

Rainbow over Dominica.

In Bridgetown, Barbados, to the shock of the locals we walked a whole half hour to a local beach.  We spent a blissful afternoon relaxing under a poisonous(!) tree and swimming.

 

In Castries, St. Lucia, we got off the ship and walked around the town for a few minutes.  We didn’t feel the need to do much more, as we honeymooned there, and had a 10th anniversary trip there a few years ago.  Plus, we were on the wrong end of the island, in our opinion!

 

The most fun and adventure we had on land came the next day, on Saint Martin.  We made our way by local transportation (always fun) to Maho Beach, which is next to the Princess Juliana International Airport.  Maho Beach is directly under the flight path of the planes, so you can stand under them as they come in for a landing.  Pretty cool!

 

See a plane come in for landing yourself!

It is so close to the runway that you can stand on it and feel the jet blast of the planes taking off.  Should you though?  Well, I guess each person has to make that determination for him/herself…

 

Elliott was smart like most of the people standing there and ran to the side when the blast got to strong; unfortunately I simply tried to run away from the blast, going further onto the beach and into the ocean.  Warning: don’t do what I did!  Not only did the bare skin on my back get totally sandblasted, every time I popped up out of the water to see if it was over yet, more sand got pelted into my head and hair.  Not a fun experience!

60 Sandblast

Run, Forrest, run!

Sandblasting and all, we had a fabulous time on this cruise.  So much so, that we did something we’ve never done before; we booked the same exact cruise for 2017, while still on the 2016 sailing!  I’m not saying it would be perfect for everyone, but this appeared to be the perfect cruise for us.  And we’re really looking forward to this year’s version:)

Attack of the Sea Urchin

Stephanie kind of minimized the events of my devastating sea urchin attack, but here’s what really happened…

We were SCUBA diving off La Digue in the Seychelles, and we were about 90 feet down. I was so enthralled looking at the reef that I failed to notice a giant, man-eating, killer sea urchin sneaking up on me. This thing had to be at least three feet across!!!

giant sea urchin.jpg

Giant, Killer Sea Urchin

Stephanie tried to signal me, but it was too late. Suddenly, the sea urchin grabbed me in its tentacles, and started jabbing me with its venomous spines – at least 60 or 70 puncture wounds!! Meanwhile, Stephanie was having none of this. She unsheathed her diving knife, and saved my life by killing the sea urchin.

It was too late to fend off the worst of the attack, however. The venom was affecting my central nervous system, and I was beginning to black out. Thinking quickly, Stephanie fashioned a makeshift tourniquet out of her bikini top to prevent the venom from completing its fatal work. It was then that she brought me slowly to the surface making sure I didn’t get the bends. Once on land, she hoisted me up in a fireman’s hold and carried me the 19 miles to the hospital.

The clinic turned out to be in some guy’s garage, so I was grateful that I didn’t actually need surgery. Instead, they prescribed fresh lemon juice to break up the spines still stuck in me. As much as I wanted to take the lemon juice orally in the form of a cooling (possibly alcoholic) beverage, it was to be applied topically.  I spent the next two weeks in traction recuperating while Stephanie tried to get me on “Good Morning, America.”  (Note: They weren’t interested.)

All in all, it was a lucky break for all involved except for Stephanie’s bikini top which was never seen again. 😦

bikini top

All Sorts of Activity and a Little Tragedy on La Digue, Seychelles

When we hitchhiked one afternoon on Praslin (there was a three hour gap between buses that we hadn’t realized, so we decided to try something new), I mentioned to our driver that we liked the island of Praslin in the Seychelles even more than we had liked Mahe.  A native of Praslin, he assured me that once we got to La Digue, we’d like it even better than Praslin!  Each island got smaller, more remote, and more beautiful, he told us.  It didn’t take us long after arriving on La Digue to decide he was right!  In addition to several stunning beaches, we found plenty of additional fun and adventure.

 

L’Union Estate, La Digue

We had to pass through L’Union Estate to access Anse Source D’Argent – the most beautiful beach in the world, in my opinion.  There is an entrance fee required to walk through the estate, so we decided to spend some time there and see what it had to offer before going to the beach at the end.  It turned out it had a lot to offer!

We first walked through the La Digue Cemetery, which was a private burial place for some of La Digue’s first settlers in the 1800’s, the Mellons.  Mrs. Louise Mellon was the first owner of the estate.

 

Once upon a time, the main industry on LaDigue was coconut farming, and its center was the L’Union Estate.  Today, the estate still grows coconuts, and is home to a traditional copra mill.  (Copra is the dried meat used to extract the coconut oil.)  We watched a bull turn the mechanism that crushes the copra and presses it into oil.  After we watched some fresh coconut oil being made, the woman there bottled it up and sold it to us!

 

Watch the ox make us coconut oil!

Next we came upon the plantation house, so we took a look around, and marveled at the view from inside.

 

Soon we came upon the giant land tortoises we had heard about.  These tortoises were penned, not free like the ones we saw on Curieuse, which made us a little sad!  Our sadness turned to smiles quickly when we saw the piles of lettuce the estate had put out for us to feed them though.    (Even though one of the tortoises was quite snappy!)

 

The last area we came upon before finding the beach was full of plants, and our favorite was the vanilla.

 

 

Belle Vue

All of the tourist information we had on La Digue said we had to go here for the scenic view.  In fact, I believe we were promised “cardiac-arresting views from the terrace.”  Hmmm.  It was a good climb indeed.  At the top, however, we found a café, and a lot of clouds.  Luckily they started clearing as we hiked back down.

 

 

Anse Severe and the Sea Urchin Tragedy

“Anse Severe is a quiet spot, well suited for sunbathing and swimming.”  More false advertising?  It looked harmless enough, we thought, as we walked to the north of the island one morning and came upon it.  (We saw some interesting sites along the way.)

 

We had dragged our snorkel gear along, and despite warnings from the tourist office to go to several of the beaches only at high tide, we were determined to go.  Okay, true, it looked very shallow, for hundreds of feet out, and there were a lot of rocks for those hundreds of feet, but it had to get deeper at some point, right?

 

I started to walk out slowly, trying not to hurt myself on all the small granite rocks I was stepping on, or more likely by tripping over their slippery curves.  Elliott got ahead of me, and was apparently determined to prove he was adventurous on this morning.  All of a sudden, as he was getting ready to jump over a wave into a deeper part, I realized the rocks were about to turn into a coral reef, and thought better of this idea.  But it was too late – he had already made the jump!  “How are you going to get back?” I asked.

“Just ride a wave back up onto the reef I guess,” he said, shrugging.  “Do you think this was a bad idea?”  And just as he said that and started to ride his wave in, the same wave knocked me over on my back, onto those rocks.

Ouch.  Only his pain was much worse, as I could deduce from the screams and language coming out of his mouth.  It was a sea urchin sting, and my babio was in serious pain.  I tried to stand up to help him, only to realize that if I didn’t sit back down, I was going to faint from my own back pain and the site of his bloodied, swollen, black and blue finger.

At some point I was able to stand back up and walk back to the beach with him, gather our things, and go ask the woman at a nearby bar where to get help.  And during these few minutes it occurred to me that 1) we had never had a medical emergency while traveling before 2) we had no means to get anywhere other than our feet, and 3) I had not a clue about the severity of a sea urchin sting!

With no transportation, we had no choice but to start walking into town. We asked several locals – including a pharmacist, and everyone told us we needed the hospital. Needless to say Elliott was flipping out imagining them cutting open his finger to extract the embedded spines. Luckily after obtaining the advice of the hospital clinic on the island, we learned the sting would not end his life.  A little lime juice, along with much pain and suffering, and a few days time, would heal all wounds.  (You’re lucky we didn’t take a photo of the lot of spines in his finger!)

We eventually made it back to Anse Severe that day, and we stayed far away from the site of the sea urchin sting.

 

 

Bikeride and Anniversary dinner

On our last full day on La Digue, we did as the locals do, and took to bicycles.  We had an awesome, super-scenic ride around the north of the island, and then all the way down the road on the east side of the island, to its end.  We stopped at a few beaches on the way back, resting on the sand and frolicking in the waves wherever we could.

 

Wouldn’t you know it though – somehow at the end of the day we ended up back on Anse Severe?  With the help of a local this time, I found my way to an actual deep area of the water where I went snorkeling.

 

Elliott, scarred from events of the previous day, happily rested on the beach.  And later when it rained, we sat in the shallow water, taking it all in, treasuring our last moments of our last day on this wonderful island.

 

160a Heading home

Biking home after a great day.

That night was Erev (Hebrew for the evening before) our wedding anniversary, so we rode our bikes to Zerof Restaurant, where we had made reservations for a special buffet and live music.  To our surprise, the restaurant workers had gone out of their way to make this occasion special for us, placing white fabric covers with silver bows over our chair backs, and a vase of flowers (ginger!) on the table. But that wasn’t all; there were pink and silver hearts and confetti on the table, they brought us a complimentary bottle of champagne, and after dinner, a decorated, homemade anniversary cake!  It even had a huge sparkler/candle on top for us to blow out!  It was indeed special, and I’m not sure I can recall a time when complete strangers went so out of their way for us, without asking or prodding:)

 

173 This cake was fabulous (and handmade)

The next morning, on our ferry ride back to Mahe, we enjoyed a little post-celebration leftover cake.  It was our actual anniversary, after all!

 

Fun with Plants & Animals on Praslin, Seychelles

Praslin has a lot more to offer than just its beaches – see for yourself….

The Praslin Museum

This “museum” is less a traditional museum and more a very informative tour of a private estate featuring medicinal and endemic plants and wildlife of the Seychelles.  It takes a bit of bashing on sites like TripAdvisor, but we found it quite interesting and enjoyable.  Elliott’s favorite time was spent inside the fruit bat cage, and I enjoyed seeing our first Seychellois tortoises up close.

41 In the bat cave...er...cage

In the bat cave…er…cage

We saw vanilla and mango trees, I got to participate in coconut de-husking, and we even sampled some citronelle tea.

(Watch the live coconut de-husking here!)  We also saw a collection of traditional tools and musical instruments, stood inside a palm-leaf hut, and learned about traditional food preparation.

50 Traditional Seychellois kitchen

Traditional Seychellois kitchen

Curieuse Island

The 5th largest island in the Seychelles, Curieuse is just over 1km from Praslin and makes for a wonderful day trip by boat.  The island has a diverse history, including being “leased” to private companies for the production of vanilla, copra (dried coconut used for oil production), and livestock, and serving as a leper colony from 1829-1965.  It also contains many endemic and native plant species.

We went for the turtles; Curieuse is home to about 300 Aldabra Giant land tortoises, the largest in the inner granitic islands.

91 Lunchtime for the tortoise

Lunchtime for the tortoise

101 We're both cute!

Do we make a cute couple?

I f you’re like us and you can’t get enough of giant tortoises, check out the videos:
Elliott feeds a giant tortoise.
Stephanie feeds a giant tortoise.

After playing with the tortoises and feeding them lots of leaves from the plants right on the island (their natural food), we took a leisurely hike.  We saw many mangroves, land snails, and great views, along with another animal or two.

122 A bazillion land snails

A bazillion land snails

133 See the tiny Lemon sharks

If you look very closely, you’ll see the Lemon sharks!

At the end of the hike, we were treated to a beautiful beach (go figure) and a delicious local lunch.

139 On the beach at Curieuse

Another big draw of this island is Curieuse Marine National Park.  On our boat trip back to Praslin after lunch, we made two stops and did some great snorkeling.

153 Our snorkel spot

Our snorkel spot

Valle de Mai

194 Valle de MaiThe highlight on Praslin is most definitely its Unesco World Heritage SiteValle de Mai is literally a prehistoric palm forest that is believed to have remained virtually unchanged over millions of years.  It is home to six endemic palms, most notably the coco de mer.

219 Coco de mer

Coco de mer

Coco de mer palms grow naturally only on Praslin and Curieuse, and were once believed to grow in the depths of the sea (the English translation is “coconut of the sea”).  The female tree’s seed, heart-shaped and weighing up to 25kg, is the largest and heaviest of the plant kingdom.  Because its shape is reminiscent of a woman’s pelvic region, the seed once enjoyed a reputation as a coveted treasure in former royal courts.  Both trees and seeds are endangered due to parasites, fire, logging, poaching and theft, and are therefore highly protected.  The seeds may also qualify as the most expensive in the world, ranging in price from $200-$600!  Due to their low numbers, the number that can be sold is highly regulated, and a new tree must be planted for every seed that is sold.

195 Stephanie and a not-at-all-suggestive Coco de Mer

Stephanie and a not-at-all-suggestive Coco de Mer

The male tree is equally unique, with its phallic-shaped seed.

240 Catkin (male Coco de Mer plant)

Our guided tour felt like a walk through the “Garden of Eden,” and I’m not sure we’ve ever been aware of our smallness compared to this giant Earth.

244 At the bottom of Vallee de Mai

We felt so small!

Valle de Mai is also home to many animals…

222 These guys move too fast to photograph, but we did see them

The rare Black Parrot likes to be heard but not seen.  These guys move too fast to photograph, but we did spot them.

Other Sites & Activities on Mahe, Seychelles

The beaches on the Seychelles served by far as our biggest pastime during our three week visit.  But each island had more to offer, and we so we did take in a few sites and activities each week.

Victoria, Mahe
On our first night in Mahe (and the Seychelles) we were really tired.  We decided to let our bodies decide how much sleep they needed and forgo the alarm.  In retrospect, that *might* have been a bad idea!  We awoke at 2:30pm the next day, realizing we had slept longer overnight than ever before – a full 15 hours!  There was no longer time to do a day trip to a beach, so we opted instead to take the local bus into the main town on the island – Victoria.

Victoria was small and quaint with a few interesting things to offer.  Due to our late timing we only caught the tail-end of the local market, a much smaller version of the markets we have in Cuenca.  We enjoyed it nonetheless; we picked up a few items and then walked to the center of town, which is marked by a traffic circle and the Victoria Clock Tower.  Remarkably unchanged over the 100+ years it’s been standing, the clock tower is named after the same monarch for which the capital city is named.

 Then we moved on to the Bel Aire cemetery, a Seychelles National Monument.  It opened in the late 18th century and was Mahe’s first public burial ground.  It houses the bodies of the first French Settlers, including a “giant” who had reached the height of 9 feet 6 inches by his death at age 14, and Pierre-Louis Poiret, the alleged son of Louis XVI.  In 1862 many of the graves were buried by the great landslide (Lavalas), which only makes the place more interesting.  This place was amazing, with huge old deciduous trees mixed in with towering palm trees.

Last but not least, we walked through the notable Hindu Temple in town.

SeyTe
A few days later we went to the tea factory on Mahe. Tea is one of the primary agricultural exports of the Seychelles along with vanilla and cinnamon.

As luck would have it, they weren’t processing tea that day, but we were able to walk through and observe the equipment and machines at a discounted price. We did so, and came back with a lot of questions!  Our luck changed when a man who worked there overheard us, and offered to take us through again, giving us explanations at each phase of the process.  He even turned on several of the machines so we could see exactly how they worked!

123 The whole process

Hike to Anse Major
As we mentioned in our post on Mahe beaches, Anse Major was one that was only accessible on foot or by water taxi.  We chose to go on foot.  The hike was maybe an hour long, and went through forest as well as along many ledges with beautiful views – the ocean way down low to our right, and enormous granite boulders, “slides,” and “walls” to our left.

Snorkel / wildlife photos

Seychelles Stunning Beaches Part III – La Digue

Welcome to La Digue!  This was the smallest of the three islands we visited.  It’s the third largest inhabited island in the Seychelles, but it’s still pretty small.  No cars!  Everyone gets around on bike or foot.  We loved it.  Here are the beaches on which we spent our time.

Village of La Passe on the east coast of the island – walking just outside of town at low tide.  This beach doesn’t even have a name that I could find, and it’s too shallow to swim, but the great views of Praslin are breath-taking.  One day we just sat on a log and ate our lunch while taking it all in.

View of Praslin from Village of La Passe

 

Grand Anse – A picturesque beach with huge waves and surrounded by large granite rocks.  Imagine long sweeping arcs of pristine white sand.  The big waves roll in from across the Indian Ocean and they are both wild and wonderful.  There are many warnings not to swim due to a strong undertow, but we were not the only ones in the water and in this (admittedly strong) swimmer’s opinion, the Seychellois are much more cautious about swimming than us Northeasterners!

 

From Grand Anse, you can take a leisurely hike to Petite Anse by walking across the rocks and following the footpath.  During the 15 minutes it took us, there was some beautiful scenery in the form of hidden pools, unlike what we saw on the beaches.

107b A hidden pool between Grand Anse and Petit Anse

A hidden pool between Grand Anse and Petit Anse

107a A hidden pool between Grand Anse and Petit Anse

How gorgeous is this?  Another hidden pool between Grand Anse and Petit Anse

 

Petite Anse – This is the Sister beach to Grand Anse.  It was raining when we got there but still beautiful enough that we decided to wait it out under one of the little palm frond shelters there.   Swimming here is also regarded as dangerous, but that didn’t bother us.  We stashed our things in a crevice between those famous granite rocks, and dove in.

110 We can (try to) keep out of the rain

We sat under one of these palm shelters to keep out of the rain

 

Anse Cocos – We continued on the path to get to this beach which is also accessible only on foot.  This beach is more sheltered; it benefits from a natural lagoon formed by granite rocks providing calm waters to swim in.  I believe it was low tide, however, and it looked… well… murky.

 

Anse Source D’Argent – This place is reputed to be the most photographed beach in the world, and it’s not hard to understand why once you see it.  It was my absolute FAVE of not only all the beaches we saw in the Seychelles, but in the world!!  It has soft white sand, clear turquoise water and huge granite boulders sculptured by the elements and time itself.   The very shallow waters are so sheltered by the reef that they actually felt HOT when we snorkeled.  I had to swim super far out to get to lukewarm, and finally somewhat cool water.

The one downside to this beach is that the only access is via L’Union Estate, which requires an entrance fee for non-residents.

ASA55 Low tide, Anse Source D'Argent

Low tide, Anse Source D’Argent

ASA70 Anse Source D'Argent

Anse Source D’Argent

ASA56 Uh oh, another beautiful Seychellois beach

Uh oh, another beautiful Seychellois beach

ASA69 Source D'Argent beach

Source D’Argent beach

Seychelles Stunning Beaches Part II – Praslin

Mahe was gorgeous, but the moment we arrived on Praslin via ferry, I knew I was going to like it even better.  It’s smaller and definitely easier to get around.  We hopped off the ferry, onto a bus, and 15 minutes later arrived at our guest house.  That afternoon we were on a beach!

Anse Volbert – Also known as the Côte d’Or (“Golden Coast”), this beach has sugary white sand, crystal clear water, great views and the occasional friendly dog.  It’s a popular beach on the island but 1½ miles long so it never felt crowded.  Best of all, it was within easy walking distance of our lodging!

P19 A boy and his dog

A boy and his dog.

Anse Lazio – It is frequently called ‘the best beach in the world’.  Even on a cloudy/rainy day, it was beautiful.  Its fame has led to great popularity though, so it can feel crowded compared to other beaches.

P82 Back on shore

P84 Anse Lazio, Seychelles

Grand Anse – We learned firsthand that this is more of a town on Praslin that has beach along it.  There were lots of fishing boats in the water here.

P184 Oh look - no one here

Oh look – no one here!

P183 Drying fish on Grand Anse

Drying fish on Grand Anse.

Anse Kerlan – It was difficult to find public access to this beach as there were several private chalets along its side, but once we found it, we had it to ourselves for hours.

P189 My beach baby

Postcard perfect beach – Anse Kerlan

P192 A whole driftwood tree

This is one of my favorite photos we took in the Seychelles

Anse Consolation – This was the most difficult beach for us to get to, as we had to transfer busses in Grand Anse.  What we didn’t know is that the buses take a several hour break during lunchtime, and we happened to need our transfer right about then.  No worries – it led to our first real hitchhiking adventure (if we don’t count the one inside Haleakala National Park).  And we’re alive to talk about it!