Friday, June 24, 2011

Bermuda Cruise

Warwick Long Bay. Pink sand beach.It seems that only yesterday we were on our way to Bermuda, but alas, all good thing end quickly. I’m sitting on the balcony of our stateroom. The sun is shining, the wind is nice and warm and there is nothing, but water beneath my feet. Water as far as the eye can see. We are sailing home.

Us on our balcony.I, as always, was planning to write all throughout the vacation, and as always had no time for it. There are a lot of things to do on the ship and Bermuda had a lot of interesting destinations. We didn’t have enough time for everything as it is. Tomorrow we’ll be home and I decided that now is a good time to start writing memories down. I guess I’ll go in sections, as always, and hopefully will finish by the end of first week home.

The Cruise


Papa on deck 13. Leaving New York.For Alena and I this was our first cruise ever. And even though we were in all-inclusive resort in Mexico once, we didn’t really know what to expect from all this. Plus there is an added bonus of Aroshka and he is a handful to say the least.

As far as all-inclusivity goes it’s not like it was in Mexico. Only some places are free and no drinks hard or soft are included. In that respect Mexico was much better, but this was a whole other experience.

Ocean from our balcony.We spent a little bit over an hour in the port going through registration and check-in, which wasn’t too bad. The cruise itself has started the moment we got onto the ship. Our staterooms were ready, the buffet was open, we were in vacation world.

Beach. Water. Sand.Norwegian practices a form of cruising that they call freestyle cruising. What that means is that you can go into any restaurants at the time convenient for you and you can seat wherever you wish. This might not be a big deal normally, but when you are traveling with a 10 month old anything else would just not work.

The Ship


Norwegian Gem docked on Bermuda.The ship, Norwegian Gem, is an experience on its own. It’s huge. It’s a floating resort with restaurants, bars, clubs, lounges, pools, water slides, casinos, bowling alleys, stores and a full 2-level theater which can rival most Broadway theaters in size. And I’m probably leaving something out. It’s paint jobs is fresh, light and uplifting, compared to most other ships out there.

Mama, Alena and Arosha on Warwick Long Bay beach.The ship has 15 decks, has outdoor promenades for walking, running and sun-bathing. It also offers magnificent views of the city or the islands when in ports and endless ocean when at sea. The ship has the capacity for almost 2,500 passengers and over 1,000 crew members. It weights 93,000 tons!

Endless ocean.Even though it is this huge the movement of the ship still can be felt. Rocking gets especially pronounced when it’s moving at the maximum speed. I decided not to test fate and wore a patch behind my ear that prevents motion sickness. So did my mom. Alena and my dad were fine without one.

Parents' stateroom.The staterooms were quite small, but they served their purpose well. The best part was that our room was interconnected with our parents’ room. And unlike in hotels, when the opened door gets into your way all the time, these doors would swing open 180 degrees and would get magnetized to the wall, which was very convenient. It was also nice to have a 2nd room to go to when Arosha would sleep during the day, so we wouldn’t disturb him.

Departure


Manhattan skyline from the middle of Hudson river.This is something that I was really looking for and enjoyed very much. Armed with camera in hand I got up to the deck 13. As we started moving we were presented with very unique perspectives of our magnificent city.

Verrazano Bridge.Manhattan skyline, Empire State Building, construction of WTC 1 — everything right in front of us. However the best moment for me was sailing under Verrazano Bridge. I driven over it hundreds of times, but never under it. All in all I took a LOT of photos, as you can imagine.

Food


As far as food goes — there was plenty. A lot of different options and restaurants. The cruise includes 4 venues in it’s price — several buffets that have great variety of food depending on the time of the day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and are open 24 hours a day, 2 large dinning rooms that have a permanent main menu and a list of daily specialties and a place called Blue Lagoon which serves lunch food such as hamburgers, hot dogs and other kinds of sandwiches. There is also free room service available 24 hours a day, but we only used it for lots and lots pitchers of water.

Arosha eating green beans. Our first lunch on the ship.As I mentioned earlier the only included drinks in the price are hot tea, unsweetened iced tea, coffee and water. Also in the morning one could get juices which were not of the highest quality. Everything else costs money. An alcoholic cocktail would typically cost around $10 and one could get freshly squeezed juices for $4 a glass. Overall it worked just fine for us.

Deck 12. Pools, BBQ.Beside the included stuff there are multiple restaurants that require a cover fee. What that means is that you have to pay a fixed fee per person and then you can order as much or as little as you wanted from the menu. One could order several appetizers, soups, salads and main courses. We usually stuck to an appetizer or two, a soup and a main course. The cover fee ranges from $10 to $25.

Alena. Dinner at Grand Pacific Dining Room.The quality of food was pretty decent. Wasn’t anything spectacular and some places were more enjoyable than others, but we sure did enjoy it a lot as far as quantity goes.

Right when we boarded the ship we visited the buffet for a large selection of foods. What stuck in my mind was beef curry, which was very good. Other days we mostly ate breakfast and lunch at buffets and for dinners we would explore different restaurants.

Mama. Grand Pacific Dinning Room.We went to Mexican Tequila Restaurant on our first night and on our last night (last night it was only Alena and I), on our second night we went to Magenta Dining Room, then we tried Cagney’s Steakhouse, French Le Bistro, Oriental Garden, Grand Pacific Dinning room and there were several places which we didn’t get to — not enough time. One such places was Japanese Teppanyaki which was always packed and ran $25 a person. There are plenty of these around us, so we comfortably skipped that on the ship.

In Cagney’s Steakhouse, which also ran $25 a person, our waiter screwed up the order of things. As a result our steaks were put under heat lamps to keep them from getting cold and I think they ended up being very dry because of that. The manager of the restaurant offered us a free bottle of wine because of the screw up.

Grand Pacific Main Dining Room.I think my favorite places ended up being Tequila ($10 per person) and French Le Bistro. Free dinning rooms were only OK. Each evening after dinner we liked to go back up to the buffet and eat fruits and deserts. And all throughout the trip we consumed several tons of ice cream.

Arosha


Arosha tries open water for the first time ever.Now this is a most important section and could be a post in its own. Arosha handled the trip very well, had no problems sleeping in his temporary crib, tried a lot of new things and generally had fun, I think. Of course the brunt of dealing with him fell upon Alena and my mom who was very very helpful. He didn’t really sleep any better than he does at home, but my mom would let me and Alena go do our own things after 7-8pm when Arosha would go to sleep for the night. We usually didn’t stay out for more than 2 hours, but it gave us a lot of freedom to explore a lot of things.

On the beach in the dockyards.When we were getting ready for the cruise we read that kids that have to wear diapers will not be allowed in any pools, including a kids’ one. Luckily for us that turned out not to be the case. For the kids who are 2 years old and older there are plenty of activities, including a baby-sitting-kindergarten service. For kids under 2 (and there were plenty of those too) there is a play room with all kinds of toys making a bunch of sounds and such, and as I mentioned a kid pool.

Kids pool on the ship.Arosha had a lot of fun swimming. Alena went to the pool with him every day and with each passing day he seemed to enjoy it more and more. The pool is really shallow, so he could crawl right in it on his own, but he insisted on trying to drink the water from it, so Alena had to pick him up all the time. He also tried swimming in the ocean on the beach while we were in Bermuda, and he seemed to like it for a short amount of time as well. I guess the water in the ocean was a bit too cold for him though, so it didn’t last long.

Arosha in playroom.When we went to eat we would give Arosha a piece of bread, green bean, or some other food and it would keep him occupied for a good amount of time. Although often it would still end with Alena or my mom having to pick him up and entertain him in some other way because he would start to get bored and would start to get fussy.

Arosha crawled into a tent in the playroom.As far as people were conserved — everyone was very very friendly — passengers and crew. They would talk to him, make sounds, funny faces and he would smile back to most of them. It really is a nice family place and people don’t mind little kids at all, which was very pleasant.

On the boat. Looking at fish.Arosha’s main forms of transportation turned out to be baby Ergo carrier strapped to Alena or his stroller. Large back-pack baby carrier that we bought right before the vacation and brought with us wasn’t used a single time. It simply isn’t practical at all for these trips. It’s way too big and complicated. Maybe if you take hikes every weekend it might work, but for vacation purposes it turned out to be an overkill. We returned it right after coming back home.

Ship Activities


There are a lot of things to do on the ship. We got to try only a small portion of activities. We didn’t even have time to go to the pools or hot tubs. We watched some of the evening shows in the theater, but found them rather simplistic. Dancing was somewhat amateur and got boring quickly. Hypnosis comedy was not funny. After several unsuccessful tries we gave up.

Deck 12.One evening Alena and I went to see a show with married couples in one of the lounges. Host, a guy named Sinan, would ask the questions of the wives while husbands couldn’t hear and vice versa and then the other one had to match the answer. That was pretty hilarious and we enjoyed that.

One of the hallways. Staterooms on both sides.Another very curious thing that happened to us was at the art auction. There was a gallery and they would host auctions daily. Everyone had to register to participate and you would be given a number for bidding. My dad’s number was 186 and mine was 190. Only two of us went from our family. There were a lot of people there. The prices however we quite high and we didn’t really find anything that we really wanted to get.

Bowling alley.The best part came at the end. There was a raffle and the auctioneer goes — the winner is one-eight-six! We got quite ecstatic. It’s not often that you win anything. The winner gets to go to the gallery and pick one of the five paintings. I’m sure they are not expensive, but it still is nice. So the room murmured and the auctioned told them to applause because the guy won, even though they didn’t. Then surreal starts to happen. He puts his hand into the bucket and pulls out another number — the winner is one-nine-zero. I raise my hand in disbelief. The guy looks at us and says: “Did you guys mess with my bucket?!” So out of 3 tickets that he pulled out 2 of them were us. Unreal. We won not one, but a pair of nice paintings.

Mama bowling. The sharpest shot I got.The night before last we all went to the bowling alley. My mom never played bowling and really wanted to try. So we played one round and I was really glad that she got to experience that. Also I got my parents to play air-hockey for the first time. That same club also had a karaoke machine. When Arosha went to sleep for the night my mom stayed with him and Alena, my dad and I came back. You see, Alena wanted to try karaoke.

She says that she tried it once a long time in Minsk, and never tried it in America. The club was full of people and I was thinking — why would somebody voluntarily put oneself through all the stress of going on a stage and singing in a club full of people, but she insisted. The book of songs had songs in English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese and Japanese, but of course no Russian. Alena picked out a Beatles song Let It Be.

Ship pools.We put her name into the bucket and she got picked first. I was slightly freaking out from the nervousness, but she just went up there. The host asked her what did she have to do to get there. I’m not quite sure what the question meant, but Alena replied that she probably should’ve drank a bottle of beer before it. And then she started singing. All my nervousness went away when I heard how good she was. I stood up all proud. Then everyone started clapping and so did I.

Ocean.She was happy and my dad was extremely surprised at how good she is. He has a lot of musical background seeing how he played four musical instruments, his dad (my grandfather) was a professional musician all his life and his sister (my aunt) was a music teacher. Of course he heard Alena sing before, but when at home she always tries to keep it down. Anyhow that was a very cool experience.

Last night Alena and I went to see Deal or No Deal and the computer would pick people out to play. I was really nervous about that too, so I was kind of glad that we didn’t get picked. One lady next to us got selected though, but she didn’t do too well. She “won” 50 cents.

Spinnaker Lounge.Also we could just go to a lounge located on one of the high levels on the front of the ship. It was called Spinnaker lounge. It had beds and large chairs right in front of the windows. You could just lie there and enjoy the view. Balconies also had a great view. Actually it was just an endless ocean and nothing else, but it felt very peaceful and romantic.

Ship guide.One day looking out of the windows at Spinnaker lounge I spotted a large flock of dolphins just jumping out of the water. We were in the middle of our journey at the moment. It felt special to just see a group of wild dolphins living their lives in endless waters of the ocean.

Beach near dockyards.Alena and my mom did some shopping on the ship in Duty Free stores and we played in a casino once. I’m sure there were other things, but I can’t think of anything else we did. We just relaxed. And spent a lot of time in Kids’ Playroom.

Bermuda


On our way to Warwick Long Bay.For my last section I left the Bermuda itself. We were supposed to get there by 8am on Wednesday, but we had to increase the speed because somebody had a medical emergency and we were supposed to meet with some boat from Bermuda who would pick that person up. So we ended up seeing the island itself on Tuesday evening. However the ship didn’t go into the port.

Fish in the water.When we woke up on Wednesday morning we were already docked at Heritage Wharf. We could go off and on the ship as many times and as often as we pleased. The ship served as our hotel while we were there. Wednesday morning turned out to be rainy and everything looked gloomy. Not at all as I imagined Bermuda. But luckily for us the rain stopped soon after and we took our first tour.

One of the scenic outlooks.There were a bunch of taxis right in the docks and we picked one guy who agreed to show us around for $40 an hour. Not a bad deal at all for a private guide and a car for the 5 of us. He took us to Hamilton — Bermuda’s capital — at first. The city was really nothing special. The tallest building on the whole island is 10 stories tall, which makes our ship taller. But we did get our passports stamped with Bermuda stamp at the Customs Building.

Park in Bermuda.The driver made a lot of stops at the scenic outlooks and we visited one of the beaches on our way back. We saw the famous Horseshoe Bay that is supposed to have pink sand from the hill, but he took us to a beach where the sand was noticeably more pink — Warwick Long Bay. All the beaches were absolutely beautiful with volcanic rock formations of different forms in azure water. The only sad thing was that the sky was all covered in dark gray clouds. All in all we ended up spending 2 and a half hours with our guide, which was more than enough for us.

View from our window on Bermuda. Commissioner's house.On Thursday we woke up to a sunny blue sky with amazing blue-green-azure water. Now that’s how Bermuda should look like. In the morning we went to a local beach. This was Arosha’s first time swimming in open waters on a real beach. We didn’t spend much time there as we didn’t want to get sunburn. Later in the day we went through some local shops. We were considering to take some tours, but we were late for most.

View from the fort.I really wanted to try a Segway tour for $75 a person, but it really only went through docks which was not fun and the day was too hot. I’ll try a Segway somewhere else. Also we wanted to try a glass-bottom tour, but they were done for the day. I ended up going into a local fort that was visible from our rooms, but it wasn’t very interesting. However the views from the top of the walls were pretty good. That’s where I took a shot of our ship that i wanted to get.

Horseshoe Bay.On Friday we only had a part of the day, since the ship was leaving at 5pm. In the morning my dad and I took a bus back to the Horseshoe Bay to take some photographs of the beaches and blue sky this time. Alena, mama and Arosha stayed behind. We agreed that when we get back we’ll take a glass-boat tour that starts at 1:30pm and ends at 3pm. We were supposed to be back on the ship by 4:30pm the latest.

Horseshoe Bay.The bus ride to the beaches took a little over 30 minutes. We got off at the right spot and started our hike. We wanted to hike from Horseshoe to Warwick. We calculated that we should be back on the bus stop near Warwick at 12:20pm to make it back in time. So that’s what we did. The views were magnificent. I took a lot of photos. All the beaches were filled with people. Some had more, some had less. Horseshoe Bay had way too many. On our way we had to climb a bunch of steep rocks and hills and I’m happy to say that my dad at his 72 has no problem keeping up with me.

Near Warwick Long Bay.When we got to Warwick Long Bay, I took my photographs while my dad jumped into the ocean for a swim. After he got out I decided that I should get into the water at least once during this vacations as well. So I jumped right in and stayed in the water no longer than 5 minutes. Now I can say I did swim near Bermuda.

Hamilton. City hall.At 12:20pm we were on the bus stop. To our dismay however the bus would not come. Something happened and they were not running on schedule. One full of people finally showed up at around 12:50pm. It took us to the next stop and told everyone to get out at Horseshoe. That bus stop had 3 times more people. And no buses. Finally some “Special” showed up and started loading people. We decided not to wait for the next one, get in and just stand. We were not making it at all back in time for the boat tour.

Glass-bottom boat tour.Because the bus was overfilled with people it was not making any stops. I was hoping only for one thing — that Alena and mama would come down from the ship to the start of the tour. But what were the chances? When we got back to the dockyard I somehow spotted Alena in the massive crowd before we even got out of the bus. I don’t know how. We jumped off the bus and ran to her and spotted mama too. It was 1:30pm. We got the tickets and got on the boat at the last moment.

Coral reefs.The boat didn’t take long to get to coral reefs. We could see all kinds of weird things growing and tons of fish through the glass. Bermuda is a shipwreck capital of the world as we were told because of all the hidden reefs. We saw one shipwreck and even got to feed the fish. There are tons and tons of them in the water. We ventured into the Bermuda Triangle as well, but luckily didn’t disappear. I thought that hour and a half might be a bit too long of a tour, but the time flew by in an instant.

One of the shipwrecks.And that was that. We were back on the ship, waiting for it to sail off back home. Exactly at 5pm it departed. We were going back full speed and the ship was rocking hard from side to side. Vacation was coming to an end.

Coming Home


Pink sand.The vacation was great. The cruise was a lot of fun for the whole family. Bermuda was beautiful and now we can stick another pin in our travel map. Too bad it was so short. It felt like one moment we were getting onto the ship, all excited and another moment we had to get off and it was all over.

Getting ready to leave Bermuda.The disembarkation procedure was simple enough. Pick a time when you want to get off, get an appropriately colored tag, attach it to your luggage and put the luggage out into the hallway. Ours was green for 9:30am. We got up in the morning, ate our breakfast and waited for 9:30. When we got off we found all our bags, but Arosha’s brand new baby carrying backpack was missing. We looked through everything and were starting to make our peace with the fact that somebody took it, since it was new and there were no checks of any kind. But our faith in humanity was restored when we spotted our backpack in the Lime section. Somebody just can’t tell the colors and they put into the wrong group.

Sunset. On the way back home.When passing through customs the officer didn’t even open our passports. Counted our passports, counted us and let us go. We caught a cab and that was that. Great vacation, great memories.
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