Trip to America, June 2014.

You can watch videos of this trip by clicking on the following links: California   Miami   Caribbean cruise   Washington DC 

Sunday 1 June. We flew from Paraparaumu to Auckland and then overnight to Los Angeles on NZ6. We arrived at midday (before we left!) and were picked up by Lynne Smith and taken to her place in Long Beach. After settling in we had lunch on the beautiful beach and then went for a walk down to the shops. Long Beach is truly magnificent with its ocean beach, peninsular and estuary surrounded by houses. This is summertime and the temperature was pleasant so there were lots of people out enjoying the beach environment. Lynne is an old friend so we had a great time catching up with her.

Monday 2 June. We drove from Long Beach to Palm Springs - a resort/golfing town that has been built in the desert. Just before Palm Springs we stopped and went up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This is a rotating cable car that travels about 2km almost vertically up Mt San Jacinto. The views out over the desert and Palm Springs are amazing! We had lunch up at the top then went for a walk through the forest and wilderness with its big rocks and magnificent trees. Then it was on to the Oasis Resort in Palm Springs. This has to be the most luxurious hotel/motel we have ever stayed in. (Perhaps that's why they call it a condominium!). After a refreshing swim we went out for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory - an American icon restaurant.


Tuesday 3 June. Ross was able to tick one off the "bucket list". He played golf at the beautiful Indian Canyons Golf Resort - one of the oldest and best courses in Palm Springs. He teed off at 7am to beat the heat and used a golf cart. (First time in 55 years of playing golf, much to the amazement of the course staff). He used Lynne's ex husband's clubs and shot a respectable 84. The green fees (incl cart) were $40 and the course closes in the summer at midday - it's so hot! 


After checking out of the Oasis we visited the Joshua Tree National Park visitor center and got a stamp in the passport, then stopped at a designer outlet shopping center on our way back to Lynne's place in Long Beach. We sure had a wonderful time with Lynne Smith. She is a great friend and a superb host.

Wednesday 4 June. Lynne took us to Los Angeles airport and we flew American Airlines on a 777 to Miami. We then caught a shuttle to our hotel in Miami Beach - the Red South Beach Hotel.

Thursday 5 June. In the morning we wandered down to the beach and walked along its boardwalk, then checked out the Lincoln Rd shopping district. Next it was back to the hotel for a refreshing swim and a rest. Later we went out for another long walk exploring Miami Beach. Interesting was that many buildings are Art Deco in style.

Friday 6 June. We went on a combo Miami City tour/ Biscayne Bay cruise/Everglades experience. First we drove through Miami Beach where the buildings are predominately art deco. Then it was over the causeway to downtown Miami. We saw Coconut Grove and Coral Gables where most of the houses are made of coral and then stopped for lunch at Little Havana which is very Cuban. Back downtown we went on a cruise around Biscayne Bay.  All of the islands except Miami Beach are man-made and most have very expensive houses looking out to the bay. Many of these are owned by celebrities. The overwhelming sense is of lots of money. After the cruise we were taken out to the Everglades to an alligator park. We went for a ride on an airboat and saw some  alligators.  The Everglades cover over 80% of Florida. They are called the river of grass  because the water is only about 20cm deep and grasses and bushes grow densely there. After a brief alligator show we returned to Miami Beach where we had dinner downtown and then walked back to the hotel.


Saturday 7th June. We had a final wander down the beach then packed up and checked out of our (excellent) Red South Beach Hotel. It was just a short taxi ride to the port so we could get on the Carnival Glory for our 2 week cruise. We were pretty excited!


The ship is massive with nearly 3000 passengers. It took a while to get through registration but we finally got to our lovely spacious cabin - #2288. We had lunch at the Lido restaurant, explored the ship and then had dinner at the Platinum restaurant. The food is simply magnificent so we'll have to be careful or we'll get like many others on board - bigger than we should. In the evening we went to the "Welcome aboard show" led by cruise director "Dr E".

Sunday 8th June. The Carnival Glory is a "fun ship" and today we had a "fun day at sea". After breakfast we went to an introduction to life on the ship (and won an underwater camera) and to shopping at its ports of call. Then after lunch we went to the gym, watched a movie and had a swim. In the evening we had a beautiful seafood dinner at the Platinum - oysters, shrimps and lobster. We followed this by going to a comedy show and a karaoke session. With all the lovely food we are making sure we get plenty of exercise by climbing 9 flights of stairs at least 3 times a day, plus the gym. We sure need this exercise!

Monday 9th June. We docked in Cozumel, a small island on the northern coast of Mexico. Between 200 - 900AD Cozumel was inhabited by the Mayan Indians. On our first shore excursion we visited San Gervasio to explore its well preserved Mayan ruins. Apparently San Gervasio was a place of pilgrimage all Mayans tried to visit once in their lifetime in dedication to their fertility goddess. Mayans are short, oriental people. They  were nearly wiped out when the Spanish took over the area and killed most of their men. Intermarriage between Mayan, Spanish and many other races has resulted in Mexicans ("Mexican" means "mixed"). We survived the mosquitos of San Gervasio and were then taken right around Cozumel, stopping briefly at a lovely beach. The colours of the Caribbean Sea here are just stunning! We finished the tour in the typically Mexican township of San Miguel. After a rest, a session at the gym and dinner we went to a pretty pathetic game show in the evening.


Tuesday 10th June. We went by tender into our next stop, Belize, formerly British Honduras. This is a tiny country made up of about 200 island cays, along a 300 km long Barrier Reef. Belize is notable for being the only country in the Caribbean where English is the main language. It is situated south of Mexico and north of Guatemala in Central America.  Our shore excursion took us on a memorable 1 hour van ride over awful roads to Altun Ha, one of the world's major Mayan sites. It was a Mayan trading centre from 250-900 AD and consists of 13 temples and over 500 mounds grouped around two big plazas. The mounds are the tombs of rich people or 'princes'. When they died they believed they had to take everything they owned with them, so their successors had to build their homes over the tomb of their parents. Gradually the mounds built up with the youngest at the top. Altun Ha was discovered when they were making a road across Belize and has only been excavated since 1976. It is an amazing place and certainly worth the ride to get there. On the way back we stopped at a restaurant for local food then made it back to the Tourist Village then on to another tender and back home to the boat.


After a swim and dinner we watched a "Motor City" motown show - typical cruise ship entertainment!

Wednesday June 11. Today we docked in Mahogany Bay on Isla Roatan, Honduras. We went on a private shore excursion not offered by the ship, and it proved to be just fabulous. The tour was organised by Island Marketing and only had two couples on it led by our guide Lita. (Most people went to a lovely beach in Mahogany Bay, right beside the ship, but they missed out on seeing what Roatan is all about).  First we visited an iguana refuge where we were able to feed and pat the iguanas, then it was on to Oak Ridge, a fishing community on the very east of the island. We went on an amazing water taxi ride (with a Rastafarian guide) and marvelled at the houses, businesses, churches etc. built over the sea, some dating back to the 1700s. We then went through a natural canal in a dense mangrove plantation. Fantastic - we've never seen anything like it before. On our way back to the ship we passed through a Garifuna village. The Garifuna people are quite primitive, and keep to themselves. They are descendants of the original Caribbeans, the Caribs, and of slaves who were freed over a century ago. They build straw houses which are easily destroyed by hurricanes so are gradually replacing their houses with stronger ones.



Our tour finished with a visit to a beautiful resort where we had a swim and did our first snorkelling in the crystal clear, blue waters around the Barrier Reef.


After a session at the gym we had dinner and relaxed as the ship headed north towards the Cayman Islands.

Thursday 12 June. Grand Cayman. The Cayman Islands were discovered by Columbus in 1503 and quickly became a haven for sailors and pirates. The British took the islands from the Spanish in 1655 and land grants led to many settlements with much slave labour. Piracy ended in 1714 and slavery in 1833. Now the Cayman Islands are a financial centre with low taxes and many rich people keeping their money and yachts there. We were tendered in to George Town and our tour took us to sting ray city, sand bar where we cradled, stroked and even kissed the friendly rays. They are so used to people handling them they pose no danger and even seemed to enjoy us handling and swimming with them. Next stop was hell (so now we can say we have been there). This is set of volcanic rocks that have been pushed up from the ocean floor.



After a quick stop to taste rum cake we visited a turtle farm. We saw how all parts of the turtle lifestyle are managed so they can produce the popular turtle meat that is used widely in the Caymans. A highlight was to hold some small turtles. They are so cute! Then it was back to the ship after driving past the beautiful 7 mile beach.

The off shore excursions on this western Caribbean cruise have been excellent. Each of the islands we visited were different and contained interesting features and history.

The ship set sail for Miami in the evening and we had a more formal dinner followed by a "Divas" show.

Friday 13 June. We had a quieter "fun day at sea" as we left the Caribbean, sailed around Cuba and headed for Miami. We tried dining in a different style with breakfast at the Platinum restaurant and dinner at the grill. In between we went to a Bible study, watched a movie, sunbathed and had a swim at the pool. We have really enjoyed our time on the Carnival Glory. We have a spacious and comfortable cabin, the food has been great, the weather has been fine (but pretty hot) and the sea has been smooth. We can do as little or as much as we please and the staff are always pleasant and helpful. How good that we can repeat it all again next week in the Eastern Caribbean!

Saturday 14 June. We docked in Miami and walked in to the city across the causeway. It was pretty hot but we made it. Once there we took the monorail around the city centre then did some shopping. Back on board we found we had been moved into the cabin next door and we quickly moved our belongings over and settled in. These Caribbean cruises are extremely popular and once again the Carnival Glory departed with a full load of passengers. The entertainment on board is the same as last week, so after dinner at the Platinum Restaurant we went to a comedy show we missed last time.

Sunday 15 June. We stopped at Half Moon Cay, a beach on San Salvadore Island in the Bahamas. This privately owned island was once a refuge for pirates and is now a sanctuary for wildlife. We were tendered in from the ship and blown away by the absolutely gorgeous beach. It has crystal clear waters in amazing colours; fine white sand and is beautifully set up for cruise ship tourists. We sunbathed and swam but only saw a few fish as we snorkled. This was about the nicest beach we've ever swam at! Back on the ship we had a rest, went to the gym, had a spa, watched the US Open golf and after dinner went to a comedy show. Half Moon Cay is just what you imagine when you think of a tropical paradise.


Monday 16 June. We berthed at Grand Turk, the main island and capital of the Turks and Caicos, a British Overseas Territory. It was Christopher Columbus' first stop in his voyage to discover the new world (1492). We took the Great Salt Tram tour to explore the island. On the tour we saw Cockburn Town's Bermudan style houses established by 17th Century Bermudan salt rakers. Salt was the major industry of Grand Turk and was worth more than gold in the days before refrigeration when ships preserved everything with salt. We also saw the 1852 lighthouse that protected the coast (imperfectly so shipwrecks were common, spawning an industry in salvaging them).  We also saw John Glenn's Mercury space capsule which splashed down here in 1962. Back at the tourist village we were able to catch up on our emails and facebook before returning to the ship. It was great to take the island tour. Most people just stayed at the beach and missed out on seeing the interesting island of Grand Turk. In the evening we had our formal dinner (with more lobster, shrimp, oysters and chocolate cake!).



Tuesday 17 June. We berthed in the historic city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Old San Juan is the second oldest city in the Americas dating back to the 1500s. It was discovered by Columbus in 1493 and settled by the Spanish in 1512. It is a walled city with a palace and is protected by two forts El Morro and San Cristobel. They are part of the US National Park system so we were able to get a stamp in our passport. The city took 250 years to build and became the main sailing and trading hub for British, Spanish and French pirates and privateers. After the Spanish-American War in 1898 Puerto Rico became a US Commonwealth and in 1917 Puerto Ricans became American citizens. San Juan is a World Heritage site and is seen as the best example of Spanish colonial architecture in the Western hemisphere. It is famous for Bacardi rum, cigars and coffee. Our private tour took us to San Cristobel and then around all of Old San Juan. Next we crossed the bridge to San Juan City and saw its big buildings, beaches and tourist areas. The city has a population of 1 million and reminded us of Melbourne. Puerto Rico itself has a population of 3.5 million and only contains about 80 cities and towns. Puerto Ricans are a mixture of Indian, Spanish and freed slaves from Africa.




Wednesday 18 June. Our final port stop was on the island of St Maarten/St Martin. This lovely island is part Dutch and part French and is the world's smallest territory shared by two countries. Our tour took us from Philipsburg on the Dutch side to Marigot on the French side, each reflecting the culture and style of their different countries. The island was first settled by Arawak indians but they were overtaken by Caribs before the time of Christopher Columbus. He named the island in honour of St Martin of Tours but the island remained largely uninhabited due to lack of fresh water. It was colonized by the French and Dutch in 1631 and became important as a supplier of salt. The Spanish occupied it briefly and in 1648 it was retaken by the French and Dutch who have lived quite peaceably there ever since. A treaty in 1815 established a border between the two countries. St Martin was a busy trading centre for silver, salt, cotton, tobacco and sugar. After slavery was abolished it went into decline until the 1940s when it began an economic boom through duty free shopping. These days it is a major Caribbean tourist destination and its airport is the main hub for eastern Caribbean islands. Our tour stopped for a swim at a lovely beach on the French side and Maho Beach at the end of the runway on the Dutch side where we watched the planes coming in very low over the beach.




Now we have two "fun days" at sea as we head back to Miami to finish our cruise.

Thursday 19 and Friday 20 June. We had to stop at Grand Turk to drop off a sick passenger but still got back to Miami on time.

Highlights of our cruise on the Carnival Glory were:

  • the visits to Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, Grand Cayman, Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk, San Juan and St Martin. All different; all hot; all with torrid histories, yet all extremely interesting and beautiful.
  • doing more sunbathing and swimming in two weeks than we have done in years.
  • life on board the 'Glory' which was as comfortable and enjoyable as on any cruise we have done before. The food was great, the gym excellent, the entertainment adequate, the cabin spacious and the staff friendly and helpful. Our two weeks sped by and we would have loved to stay on board longer.
  • the beautiful Caribbean with its amazing colours and calm nature. We had flat, calm seas for two weeks (but this wasn't the hurricane season).
  • celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary by visiting yet another wonderful part of the world.

Saturday 21 June. We left the ship (sadly) and took a taxi to Miami airport. We had to wait for hours for the flight and then it was delayed by a thunderstorm. Ross was sick with a tummy bug so the flight was pretty unpleasant. In Washington DC we caught the Americana Hotel's free shuttle and settled in. This hotel is ideal for a stay in DC as it is in Arlington close to the airport and a mall, and has the free shuttle.

Sunday 22 June. We took a shuttle into DC and took the hop on hop off Old Town trolley tour. It was excellent and we were able to see most of the main places including the White House, Capitol Hill, the Jefferson Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Korean and Vietnam War Veterans Memorials, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. DC showcases the best of America so well, and it is beautifully set out out with lots of parks and open spaces in among the big Government buildings and monuments. We had visited these places in 1997 but it was good to come back and explore them in a more leisurely way. In the evening we walked to the nearby Crystal City shops.


Monday 23 June. We did the second day of our hop on hop off tour, this time visiting Arlington Cemetery (where we saw the eternal flame for JFK), the Holocaust Museum, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and then took the "green loop" to see more of the city. We saw the National Cathedral (6th biggest in the world), Dupont Circle,  Georgetown, Embassy Row, Foggy Bottom, and Chinatown. There sure are lots of lovely homes in Washington DC. In the evening we walked over to Pentagon City,  a massive mall, close to our hotel.

Tuesday 24 June. After breakfast we checked out of the Americana and were shuttled to the airport. It was a 5 hour flight from Washington DC to Los Angeles and the weather was clear so we got good views of the Mid West, Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. We were picked up by the Travelodge LAX's shuttle and checked in to yet another great hotel. After a gym and a swim we went for a walk, had dinner and settled in.

Wednesday 25 June. We checked out of the hotel and took LA Sightseeing's tour of Los Angeles. We were picked up by a shuttle and taken about 1 hour's drive to Santa Monica where we joined the tour. We saw the beach and pier, then drove along Sunset Boulevard to see lots of movie star's homes and well known sites. Just so many famous people, and all so obviously extremely rich! A particularly interesting home was Michael Jackson's one. It was 5 year's since he died so there was a shrine set up outside his house. Next it was to Rodeo Drive where the rich people shop. Way out of our league!


Then it was on to Hollywood to see the 'walk of fame' where famous people have their name set in to the sidewalk. Next we saw Hollywood bowl and the famous Hollywood sign then headed to Universal Studios for lunch at its City Walk. In the afternoon we went to downtown LA and stopped to explore its old Mexican plaza. The traffic was very busy and we got back to the hotel just before 7pm when we were due to take the hotel shuttle to the airport. Overall, the tour was excellent and gave us a great overview of LA.

We flew from LA to Auckland on a Boeing 777 and were very tired so we slept OK.

Friday 24 June. We arrived in Auckland early and caught the plane to Paraparaumu, then a taxi home.

Overall we had a marvelous holiday and certainly celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary in style!

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