Posted by: glenswatman | September 16, 2008

200809-1-USA Florida BAHAMAS



MONDAY 1 SEPTEMBER 2009 –Royal Caribbean are
supposed to be posting a bulletin at 10am about any revised itinerary.  Its after 11am when we find out that instead
of being on Coco Cay island tomorrow we will be in Nassau and the full day in Nassau
on Wednesday is now a day in Key West. 
Not overly happy having been to Key West 3 months ago but better that
than getting caught up in Hanna.  Jamie
drops us at the port just after 12am and check in begins speedily. All going
well until they check our passports. 
Our 10-year visa expires on 8th September and although this
cruise arrives back on 5th September they are concerned we won’t be
allowed back in.  Explain that the 8th
is arrival not departure date and show them that we are stamped to stay until
January.  They are not convinced and
send for an immigration officer.  After
conferring they say everything is OK but don’t explain what OK means. Steve
chases after the official for a full explanation then turns around to come back
to me but walks straight into a glass wall.  
He bounces off it with a resounding thud and collapses on the
floor.  Along with others I race
over.  He gets up and staggers against a
wall whilst someone gets a chair.  His
nose seems red and has a bump on it but it is not bleeding.  A crowd of officials gather and I ask for an
ice pack.  Royal Caribbean staff
virtually insists he gets medical attention even though Steve thinks he will be
OK.  I get him some ice from the drinks
machine and before long the Sheriff joins us followed by two fire service
paramedics.  When Steve says he doesn’t
want to go to hospital they cancel the ambulance that is en route. Talk about
making a drama out of a crisis!  Whilst
Steve is giving them personal details I finish checking in.  We have an outside cabin on deck 8 and it is
adequate but on the small side.  Head up
to Windjammer for a buffet lunch.  I buy
the soft drinks package at $6 (£3.30) per day plus 15% – $27.60 – £15).  You get a special mug that with free refills
for the duration of the trip.  Not sure
whether it will pay off or not as water, lemonade, iced tea, coffee and tea
seem to be available for free in most places. 
After lunch we have a rest in the room. 
Steve has a bit of a bump coming up on his forehead and the makings of a
couple of black eyes.  Around 4pm there
is the lifeboat drill followed by sail away on the pool deck.  It’s quite strange to be looking out on the
Ron Jon Hotel and Jetty Park campground where we stayed 3 weeks ago.  Checking our schedule we are very
disappointed to find that tomorrow we only have from noon until 6pm in Nassau
meaning we probably don’t have time to take the local busses all around the
island as planned.  Change to the early
sitting evening meal and the food and service are excellent.  A wide choice and all very tasty.  The evening show with comedian Steve Shaffer
is great, either the American sense of humour has changed or we have adapted as
he has us chuckling away.  After another
exploratory walk around ship we return for a rest before the 70’s and 80’s
music.  Steve’s head is hurting a lot
now so when he falls asleep I call it a day. 
We are woken after 11pm with loud band music coming from the floor
below.  The thumping noise does not go
down well with Steve but we can’t be bothered to get up and do anything about
it tonight. 




TUESDAY 2 SEPTEMBER – Food being a big part of
cruising we can’t resist a full cooked breakfast and more.  I check at reception about the noise and
find that the Bolero lounge has late entertainment each night.  We are offered a cabin on deck 9 which
should be quieter with just cabins above and below.  As a bonus it is a little larger than the other and has an
unobstructed view.  It’s an attractive
approach to THE BAHAMAS Providence Island with the capital of Nassau.  We pass many smaller islands with lots of
shacks.  Dock right by the main town
with big colonial style buildings, all very pretty in pink, and opposite
Paradise Island with the ostentatious Atlantis Hotel and casino, quite a
contrast.   With over 2000 passengers on
board the line to leave ship spans 2 decks and takes ages to pass through
security.  With around 5 hours on shore
and Steve still not 100% we settle for a walk around the town. Set off through
Parliament Square then up the attractive Queens Staircase for views from Fort
Fincastle.  After that we stroll through
the town and call in to one of the oldest homes “Balcony House” where a
donation gets us a free tour.  There are
4 cruise ships in port and the waterfront area is well geared up for them as
shopping seems to be many peoples reason for cruising.  $4 (£2.20) each gets us a seat in a shared
taxi over to Paradise Island.  Atlantis
is quite amazing with a massive aquarium in the main lobby that is even bigger
than the ones at Sea World.  The décor
is fabulous with lots of glass ceiling features but as a non-resident you
cannot get out to their man made beach areas. 
The $3 (£1.65) ferry back gives us even better views of the hotel.  Back on board mid afternoon for a snooze and
only just wake in time to get ready for formal night.  As on our last cruise this does not seem to be adhered to with a
few guests being allowed in wearing T-Shirts and shorts.  Of course I have my trusty little black
dress and Steve still has his suit from the last cruise so we manage to look
the part.  We have a really nice meal
and I round it off with 3 puddings. 
Down in the theatre it is the Captains reception where we get free
champagne and punch whilst the Captain introduces himself and the crew.  Learn that when this ship was built 20 years
ago it was the biggest ocean liner ever but today with 2300 passengers on board
it is comparatively mid size.  Steve is
feeling sleepy again so we retire to watch a movie and have an early night.




WEDNESDAY 3 SEPTEMBER – We are not scheduled
to arrive in port until the afternoon so get up late for leisurely breakfasts
then sit by the pool.  After lunch Steve
retires for a sleep whilst I stay to watch the “men’s sexy legs competition”
which is really funny as they award things like the most obvious tourist
legs!  Docking in Key West USA is
impressive as we are right in town by Mallory Square.  Although we dock before 3pm we cannot leave ship until
immigration has seen everyone.   Steve
now feels much better and his head only hurts when he touches it so there’s a
simple answer to that!  As soon as we
can we head towards Duval Street, which we walk along before returning via the
Bahamian area.  Unusually we are ashore
until tomorrow morning and with alcohol expensive on board most guests are
happy to hit the bars of Key West. 
Return for our evening meal leaving us time to disembark for the sunset
waterfront entertainment.   Whilst the
sunset is no great shakes the entertainment is good and we especially like the
escapologists who gets out of chains and a straight jacket. 




THURSDAY 4 SEPTEMBER – By the time we awake we
are well under way.  Although we are
sailing parallel to the Keys unfortunately we are too far off shore to see
them.  It’s a glorious day and perfect
for lying out by the pools.  I go into
grazing mode taking a small snack every hour rather than big meals.  The belly flop competition is great fun with
men put into size categories. 
Unsurprisingly the super sized man wins with the biggest splash.  At the afternoon trivial quiz we team up
with and American couple but even with us giving them the correct answers to 3
European relevant questions we still only score 7 out of 15 – having said that
the winners only had.  Steve watches the
Casino poker tournament whilst I head to Sudoku challenge.   Not all the ships clocks are synchronised
so I arrive after it has started but get stuck in.  It is all done on speed and the first correct entry is handed in
after 7 ½ minutes.  I get the silver
medal with my 9-minute entry, which is not bad considering I was more than 1 ½
minutes late in starting.  Our final
evening meal is excellent.  Whilst not
everything on the ship is the best we have come across the dining room service
certainly is.  A couple next to us had
mentioned they were a little disappointed there were neither crepes nor crème
Brule on the menu.  We had been chatting
about curries to the Goan headwaiter. 
Amazingly we find that a shrimp curry has been cooked specially for us
and the other couple get both the desserts they wished for.  A quick session of line dancing helps my
food go down before the evening show themed on the 60’s 70’s and 80’s.  The 1000 sea theatre is packed and the show
rounded off with the cruise director showing us the 10 funniest questions he
has been asked.  End up in the Voltage
lounge for “The Quest”.  We are asked to
form teams for 8 – 10 people and given a number.  Casey calls out a challenge, such as “I want 1 man to bring me 3
ladies bra’s in their hands” and the team members who do this within a set time
get a point.  It is hilarious and has us
in stitches and will be a highlight of the cruise.  Hand on afterwards for some disco dancing but the sway of the
ships finally sends us to our cabin sometime after midnight.




FRIAY 5 SEPTEMBER – With only carry on baggage
we have no specific disembarkation time.  Jamie is meeting us around 10am so rather than racing off after
7am we linger as long as possible.  It
is a very miserable rainy day.  Apparently
we have avoided Hanna as she is now up the coast ahead of us but this is a side
effect.  The last guests are asked to
leave ship just after 9am so we are pleasantly surprised to find Jamie waiting
for us under a big umbrella.  He takes
us home and tells us about the weather forecast with Ike now heading our way.  Looks like this is going to be a bad season
for hurricanes.  Back in the motorhome
we find a puddle on the floor under the air conditioner.  Steve sets to work mopping up and tracing
the leak whilst I unpack.  At 1pm we
have an appointment at Leisure RV as the Dometic fridge company have a recall
on our model for a fire shield fitting at their expense.  Whilst there Steve mentions our roof leak
and we find out that a gasket is missing but its not something they stock.  In the interim they have made a temporary
seal with something else but with the storms heading this way we need to think
about getting it fixed properly.  Jamie
has some home made soup waiting for us on return after which we take an
afternoon nap.   In the evening we go
back to Village Inn for coffee and pie and our stomachs cope much better with
this than the cruise dinners!



SATURDAY 6 SEPTEMBER – Hurricane Ike has
changed course and seems to be heading the way we had intended going.  Jamie is in no rush for us to leave so we
will spend today here monitoring the storm and doing odd jobs.  We now think the air conditioner leak was
due to the side winds and rain and unavoidable under the conditions so on that
basis it is even more important for us to hurricane hop along.  Cook a fish dinner at Jamie’s then spend the
day relaxing and tour planning.  I had
lost a bit of weight before the cruise and decided that having my belly pierced
would inspire me to keep going.  Jamie
does piercing and gives me a friend’s rate of $10 (£5.50) including
jewellery.  It’s a bit uncomfortable but
not really painful if I change my mind (or don’t lose more weight) I can just
take it out.



SUNDAY 7 SEPTEMBER – We leave after the Grand
Prix TV coverage has finished.  For the
first time in 4 months we are back on the road with no fixed destination for
the day and boy does it feel good.  We
came down the coastal road so hop on the 95 to get us north quickly.  Petrol prices are dropping and we fill up at
$3.56 (£2) but the exchange rate is worse for us around $1.80 = £1 so it is
really no cheaper.  Turn inland and make
our way to Deleon Springs State Park, $5 (£2.75).  An underground spring bubbles up into a man made swimming pool
before spilling over into a river.  It’s
a beautiful spot and obviously very popular with locals.  The old sugar mill has been converted into a
restaurant and the photographs show it surrounded by lush green lawns.  Today the floodwater almost reaches the
front of it.   I’m not sure about
getting my new piercing wet so only go for a paddle in the cool clear
waters.  In the middle of the swimming
area is an underground cave and we see divers swimming out to it.  Leave around 4pm and off hwy 40 turn down St
Johns road to the state forest.  The
gate is closed as the area is flooded but this suits us fine as a track beside
the gate gives us a nice free camp for the night.  We can barely hear the traffic but have a noisy night surrounded
by croaking frogs!



MONDAY 8 SEPTEMBER – We are woken early when a
noisy car pulls up opposite.  The couple
in it walk around the gate to walk in the forest.  Ocala is the largest city in the area and we head to the RV
dealer to see about getting a service for Harry.  They advertise one at $39.99 but this turns out to be just an oil
change and once you add on anything else at all it jumps up to their hourly
rate of $105 so we give it a miss.  We
are heading to the town of Hawthorne to meet Rich & Phyllis.  6-years ago they did a home exchange with my
cousin Karen in Wakefield and she has put us in touch with them.  At the moment they are building a new home
for themselves but suggest we meet at their lakeside log cabin around 5pm but
can arrive early and settle ourselves in. 
On a large plot of land we find a traditional style cabin with rocking
chairs on the porch and behind it a beautiful screened swimming pool.  Beyond this a boardwalk leads down to the
lake.  Rich arrives and we are soon
getting on a like a house on fire with much in common.  Along with his partner Phyllis they are
living in their motorhome on a plot of land where they have just about finished
building their new home.  The cabin is
rented out most of the time but when they have had weekenders in they come back
to stay during the week.  Once the
market picks up they are planning to sell it along with their other rental
properties in order to do more travelling. 
He suggests we go to the “Blue Water Bay” in Melrose to meet Phyllis for
a meal.  The original bar and restaurant
burnt down and was rebuilt in 2003 but made to look old.  Phyllis is waiting for us and has bumped
into her son Houston there.  Again we
find lots to chat about and notice that this is more like and English style pub
with locals bobbing in and out including Houston’s father in law Matt.  On Monday they have a special $9.99 (£5.50)
menu with some interesting choices. 
Steve and the others opt for salmon en croute topped with crabmeat
whilst I pick the crawfish Creole over herb rice.  All the meals are outstanding. 
My visit to the bathroom turns up a few surprises.  Electronic gadgets abound but the one I like
best is the sensor near the door, which opens the door automatically when you
wave your hand in front of it.  I
comment on how impressed I am to the owner and he says a friend markets these
products and put them in for him but most are sold in India of all places.  It’s quite late when we leave but we will
see more of Rich and Phyll as we have volunteered to help them with some
painting at he new house.



TUESDAY 9 SEPTEMBER – Phyll was originally a
barber but now does ladies hair and today is working at a nursing home and has
left before we get up.  Rich joins us
for breakfast in the motorhome after which we drive to their new home.  First he gives us a tour of the estate and
takes us down to the jetty on the nearby lake. 
Its easy to see how high it as the adjoining swamp is now completely
flooded.  Their home is in modern style
with open plan lounge, diner and kitchen on the ground floor as well as two
en-bedrooms.  Upstairs covers only part
of the building and will a combination of study and a place where Phyll’s
grandchildren can hang out sleep when they visit.  Today one of the bedroom ceilings and the upstairs rooms high
sloping ceiling need painting.  It takes
us back to doing up Parkwood as I begin dong the ceiling edges whilst Steve
does the rest with the roller.  Once we
have finished the bedroom we join Rich upstairs and it is not even lunchtime
before we are done.  After showering at
the cabin we have lunch in our motorhome. 
Join Rich for a ride into Gainesville, a University City and home to the
Gators football team.  After driving
past the stadium we visit Home Depot for Rich to get more supplies.  We’ve time for a dip in the swimming pool
before Phyll returns and join us for a meal in the motorhome.



WEDNESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER – We wake to a warm but
cloudy morning, perfect for giving the motorhome a good clean so we get stuck
in.  Steve treats the rubber roof and
starts working his way down whilst I start at the bottom working up.  Rain stops work just before we are finished
but we are exhausted anyway.  It is a
heavy storm and probably a sidekick to hurricane Ike.  According to the news it is an enormous storm over 600 miles across
and heading for Texas.  Rich calls in
for a drink in the evening.



THURSDAY 11 SEPTEMBER – Rich takes us out for
breakfast and Lois’s and we have a great feed. 
He drops us off before heading to the house.  There is no more work we can help him with so stay at home to
potter round and enjoy the pool.  In the
evening Phyll and Rich join us for a curry and we talk more about motorhoming
as they seem keen to visit us in Mexico this winter either in their motorhome
or by flying out to join us in ours.



FRIDAY 12 SEPTEMER – Join Phyll and Rich for
breakfast by the pool.    He is trying
to sell 4 of his 5 houses in order to travel much more but the market here is
on the decline so not the best of times to get out of it.  They are a great couple and we hope to meet
again in the near future.  Head off to
Alachua where we are booked in at the Ford dealer Santa Fe for a service.  Arrive a little early for our 1pm
appointment but we are all done and out just after 2pm with a bill just under
$100 (£55).  After picking up wi-fi in
High Springs we continue to O’Leno State Park where they are supposed to have
primitive camping at $4 pp but they tell us it is $16.50.  Back track to where we saw a sign to the
Florida Birding trail on Old Bellamy Road. 
A mile or so along the track ends in the park area but it is attached to
O’Leno and closed from sunset to sunrise. 
Heading back to the main road we find a nice little track on our left
that will suit us fine for overnight. 
It’s a very hot night but nice and peaceful.



wedding anniversary.  We plan to visit
some springs where you can ride down the river on tubes.  Heading towards Ichetucknee State Park we
see lots of places that rent out tubes and dinghies but we have an airbed that
should do the job.  Admission is $5
(£2.75) a car but at the moment they will take a book donation in place of
it.  We walk upstream to enter the
river, a 10-minute stroll through the forest. 
A platform makes it easy to launch the airbed and then we are off floating
on the natural lazy river.  Being a
spring the water is 72F year round, perfect for keeping you cool but not
cold.  The water is very clear and a
nice turquoise colour but flowing slowly, all very pretty with Spanish moss
strewn trees forming a canopy.  At the
half waypoint we hop out and find that some people have apparently decided not
to do the full trip and abandoned their tubes so we pick one up.  Reckon we are well over an hour floating
down to the end where ropes guide you to the exit platform.  Tubes and dinghies are deposited here for
collection and most people have someone waiting to pick them up in a car but we
walk the 20 minutes back to the main parking area.  To get to the north section of the park you have to leave and
drive around the outside.  Again it’s a
very pretty spot and this time you get to see where the springs bubble up.  Ichetucknee is a pretty one and great to
swim in with goggles as you can see down into the cave and admire lots of
colourful plants under the crystal clear water.  A track enables you to walk to the “Blue Hole” downstream, which
is even bigger and much quieter but a bit colder.  After making use of the showers we head off around 4pm and cross
the Suwannee River, the one that crops up in many songs.  Troy Springs sound good as a civil war ship
was scuppered here but never re floated so the wreck can be seen under
water.  Unfortunately we arrive to find
that due to the heavy rains from Fay the area is flooded and the water no longer
clear.  Heading back out we see a side
road marked “Ruth Springs Road” and we immediately see a sign saying it is
public land.  A side road that loops
around becomes a perfect overnight spot for us with grass and shade.



SUNDAY 14 SEPTEMBER – We explore further along
the main track after our loop and Steve walks into the next track, as it looks
narrow.  He returns to tell me a steep,
twisted and uneven track drops down to a beautiful natural spring and he thinks
we can make it.  He’s right and we end
up parked under shady trees beside a natural headspring and spend the day
alternating between lounging around and bathing.  Few people come by and it is really peaceful.  Late afternoon it begins raining so we
retreat up the hill in case it becomes too slippery but enabling us to go down
for a late skinny dip.   Returning down
the main road to our overnight spot we can see what a difference a small amount
of rain makes as the track is already very muddy and boggy.  Finally we get a cooler night making it
easier to sleep.



MONDAY 15 SEPTEMBER – Back to the springs for
another relaxing day.  Around 2.30pm it
begins raining so we take our cue and leave. 
The next big town is Perry where we use the library for Internet.  Looks like we may have to travel slower than
planned as pretty much all the coastline of Texas was wiped out by Ike and
people are still stranded in cars. 
Settle onto the Wal*Mart car park for the night.



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