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Cathedrals in the Eastern Caribbean II

Updated: Mar 14

Trip Report: 27 Jan 2024 to 12 Feb 2024: Dominican Republic and NCL Sky

Monday, 29 January (Day 1)

After dropping his family off, Rome took me to the La Romana cruise terminal. I dropped the larger bag off and headed through emigration where they collected $20US cash to exit the country. (NCL had posted that it would be $10 and the cruise line would handle it – that didn’t happen.) Over to the check-in counter, I was soon handed a keycard for stateroom 6310 and proceeded down an incline and onto the ship on deck 3. I hauled my smaller (and lighter) roll-on up the stairs to 7, where I completed the required muster station visit before finding the stairs to deck 6A where my cabin was.

An inside room, the paired twin mattresses were set in the center as a king bed, with narrow walkways on either side. A small loveseat sat at its foot on the side with the bathroom, while a small desk over the mini-frig and below the TV screen were opposite. Double closets held 4 small drawers and a safe on one end, full length against the outside wall. The sink in the bathroom had plenty of space for all my stuff, which pleased me. The shower was round and sufficient in size. I met my cabin attendant Jessica, a pleasant but quiet woman from the Philippines.

Grabbing my camera, I began a tour of the ship: atrium, casino, shopping and the theater. Then up to the pool deck and the walkway above it (decks 11/12) where I was able to see the port and the city in the distance up the Rio Dulce. After a stroll through the Garden Café (buffet), I got a Johnnie Walker Black and water at the bar (Muhamed of Indonesia poured a heavy drink!) overlooking the aft. I spoke with James and Jason, Brits from London and Chichester. With a second drink, I walked along the pool area forward, past the band finishing its set, headed downstair and found my bag in front of the cabin door.

After unpacking and shower, I climbed to Pinnacle. At 5:30, nearly three dozen solo/single travelers came together and met Kiko (Francisco) who was the NCL Entertainment staff assigned to host the group. At 6 he walked the bulk of the group down to Crosswinds (main dining room), while those of us who desired to dine later continued to converse. A few of us headed to Crosswinds at 7 where I had a spinach salad, pork spareribs and the cheese plate for dessert. The ribs were tough, but the cheese plate became my go-to for dessert for the rest of the cruise.

Tuesday, 30 January (Day 2)

Soupy oatmeal was hot, being served with raisins, brown sugar and hot milk. The half grapefruit wasn’t sectioned, so was a battle to eat. The corn beef hash, ordered as a trial, proved to be cubes of potato and beef; nothing about it was hash (or tasty.) The decaf coffee was acceptable, especially when I used the hot milk instead of the servings of half&half.

The ship had traveled about 1-3 nautical miles from the cruise terminal, to the south side of Catalina Island. The original itinerary offered by NCL had put us at Cabo Rojo, DR; that port is in the Parque Nacional Jaragua at the far southwestern corner, less than 20km from the Haiti border. Catalina was a sand bar for all intentional purposes – an oblong beach with no services, reached by the emergency vessels tendering passengers ashore with packed lunches.

With many others, I didn’t leave the ship. Cellular phone coverage from La Romana worked, so I spent time sitting by a window in the movie theater working down emails. I found a pink Canadian rubber duck. Heading up to the pool deck, I worked my way through the UK and Ireland cathedral list, comparing those I had included in Volume II of Cathedrals to the Glory of God and a new list I’d found on Wikipedia. While walking back downstairs to the dining room for lunch, I found another duck, this one yellow from Massachusetts.

The hostess station women went gaga when I walked in with two ducks! After my lunch of Italian wedding soup, bistro salad, bay scallops au gratin and hummus & pepperonata (all appetizers), I handed off the ducks to the two at the station as I left. By that time, the all aboard had happened, and it was approaching time for the CruiseCritic and FaceBook groups to have the Meet & Greet. Initially planned for the Library, I sat and read an hour before heading to the Spinnaker Lounge (Deck 11, forward). I crossed through the casino and took the stairs up to the spa, and then joined a dwindling group of folks I’d been chatting online with for the past month.

The solo group convened in Pinnacle (Deck 12, aft), so I walked past the pool and climbed a flight of stairs after getting a JWB and water at the aft bar. Sitting in facing comfortable chairs in a long row, we conversed until Kiko took us down for dinner, again at Crosswinds.

Crosswinds Dinner menu, day 2
Crosswinds Dinner menu, day 2

We were seated at two tables for 8 and a table for 4 – I was at the latter. My dinner mates were Maria from the D.R, Wen from Salt Lake City, and Rick from Montreal. Dinner was fairly good: a Caesar salad, cheese ravioli (blah), pork chops and the cheese plate.

After dinner I wound up in the Atrium Bar, where Ben was playing the piano. I met Jason (Sheffield) and his wife Edith (Slovakia), who now live in Opava, Czechia. We had a great conversation about my cathedral obsession, and I heard about Jason’s skills with sound systems, crafting the social media messages, and as a drummer.

Wednesday, 31 January (Day 3)

During the late afternoon and overnight the ship cruised about 700km due south to Willemsted, Curaçao over a 20-hour journey. Arriving an hour before noon, I had sit-down breakfast: my usual oatmeal and shaksuka. The latter is poached egg over stewed tomatoes served in a small cast iron skillet. I had asked for an English muffin, but the kitchen was out! I had arrived at the hostess station near closing, with a 15-minute wait. I handed Fairlight, the lead hostess, one of my Mardi Gras rubber ducks, and I was jumped ahead of many waiting for a window table. She had been away when I handed out the 2 the prior lunchtime.

I was up on Deck 11 aft as the ship came into the harbor, watching the pedestrian pontoon bridge swing close after the ship passed. After allowing those fellow passengers with excursions and in a rush to debark, I sauntered off the ship and headed toward the bridge. This was a return to Curaçao for me, as I’d visited in November 2018 aboard the HAL Zuiderdam. Then I had captured photos of the two Catholic cathedrals on the island: the main Cathedral of the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and the Co-cathedral Basilica of St Anne. As I approached the bridge, I looked to my right, identifying the pale green with white trim of the Basilica. On the previous visit, I had only managed to get a picture through locked gates; I headed to the church with hopes to get a better shot.

Co-cathedral Basilica of St Anne, Willemstad
Co-cathedral Basilica of St Anne, Willemstad

To my surprise, the Basilica was open. Not only did I get a better outside shot, I was able to explore the interior, and say a few prayers. Thin support columns support a white ceiling, with the vault curving mildly over the central and side aisles. Green tiling covers the side walls to about 2-meters, and the stations are framed mosaics, quite lovely. Pictures to augment those in Cathedrals to the Glory of God.

Returning to the boardwalk, I headed to the pontoon bridge, looking to my right to view the Sky and the high vehicular bridge spanning the river valley. In an interesting variation on the tradition of leaving a lock on the bridge railings, Curaçao has large three-dimensional hearts placed in the shopping center.

Walking away from the St Anna Bay into the retail center, well-kept governmental and commercial buildings lined the street. A local woman greeted me as she left a market, asking after my intention to visit the cathedral. She suggested a walking route which took me to the end of the Waalgat where the plaza in front of Holy Rosary Cathedral lies.

Quen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, Willemstad
Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, Willemstad

Painted a pastel yellow-orange with white trim, the building was open for visitors. As this was a return, my memories were refreshed on viewing the lovely stained-glass windows in the apse’s tall curved wall. With high ceilings, lighted by chandeliers of vertically-hung florescent tubes, the interior was cool and peaceful.

Leaving, I walked the opposite side of the small marina inlet, getting into residential housing, in varying states of weathering. An open space surprised me, being so close to the city, with a large older spreading banyan tree. At the waterside, behind a fence was a two-masted vessel which looked to have been a dining-bar establishment – probably a victim of the Covid-triggered tourism downturn. A pedestrian drawbridge brought me across the inlet opening, into a large circular building which had numerous booths selling dry goods, tourist trinkets, clothing, notions, fruits – to locals as well as the more adventurous tourists.

More “street art” (sponsored graffiti?) caught my eye as I contemplated a return to an art installation, the Cathedral Labyrinth of Thorns. To see it again would involve taxi rides of 6km, and closing was approaching. So I opted to not go back (this time) and crossed the pedestrian bridge and then walked to the ship. Too late for seated dining, I climbed from the ramp on 3 to the buffet on 11. I put together a large salad of greens and cut veggies, and had a pair of glasses of water. Afterwards, I headed out to the shade by the pool and read and did email.

Prior to joining the solo group, I headed to my cabin and took a shower. Back up to the Pinnacle, where the group chatted and compared notes as the ship backed out of the harbor. Kiko took most of the group down to dinner, leaving me with Rudi; we chatted for about an hour before I parted and went down to eat at the Palace, the mid-ship seated dining room. Requesting a shared table, I was seated with two couples and another solo. Carlos and Ariadne are from Bolivia, on their honeymoon and would be returning to La Paz to get married. From Houston were Fred and Ginger, while the solo was a German woman named Margret. I had several appetizers and the mixed grill, the latter of which wasn’t good. Much of my conversation was with Fred, as the youngsters headed off to a show and the women chatted together.

When we finished (and were pushed out of the room by waiters anxious to set up for the next day), I headed up to the Atrium bar where I ran into Stephanie, the St Alban’s woman I’d met on my two previous January NCL cruises. We talked and sipped until it was close to quitting time.

Thursday, 1 February (Day 4)

Unlike in Curaçao, the Sky was already in the port of Oranjestad, Aruba when I woke up at 8am. At Crosswinds I had my oatmeal and the breakfast special of huevos rancheros, which were great. When I walked off the ship, I ran into Stephanie in the covered seating area. She was waiting on Robin and Tim (Californians) for their trip to the beach. As this also was a port to which I was returning, I decided that I’d revisit the cathedral, if possible, before heading into the downtown area for my distillery tour. The Pro-cathedral of St Fransis of Assisi was closed, but I was able to admire the cream-colored exterior with coral and teal trim.

Breakfast: huevos rancheros
Breakfast: huevos rancheros

Pro-cathedral of St Fransis of Assisi, Oranjestad
Pro-cathedral of St Fransis of Assisi, Oranjestad

During my pre-trip research I had determined that my Aruba activities would include the Trolley in downtown and a visit to the Pepe Margo Distillery. I’d sent an email for a tour reservation, and was advised I’d be welcome. At 11, I entered and took a few pictures of the still and storage tanks. Eric then took me around, giving me the history of the site and Margo and her family. Distilled from molasses, their products are gin (flavored with native grown herbs, botanicals, and fruits) and rum.

Sitting at the bar with a gin and tonic made with their Calypso brand hard seltzer, I chatted with some fellow cruisers. Over samples of rum and gin, I spoke with a trio of entrepreneurs doing upscale marketing research. As the three departed, a quintet from Wisconsin came in: they were on a week’s holiday on Aruba. I purchased a 750ml heavy glass bottle of Nautical Rum (rum not aged the requisite 3 years, but dosed with a touch of molasses) and a pair of 200ml bottles of gin (one ginger flavored).

After walking back through downtown to the pier, and the long walk to the ship, I climbed to the Atrium bar for a gin and tonic and sat to process emails while I had cellular coverage. When the ship set off, I headed to the cabin for a shower and then up to Spinnaker to join the solo group. When the group left for 6pm dinner, there were 4 of us remaining: Montrealer Rick, German Rudi and Toronto Mary. The trio had dinner reservations at Cagney’s, the steakhouse, while I was supposed to meet Stephanie for dinner at Le Bistro, the French restaurant. They split about the time I needed to head downstairs, but I was left to dine alone. Bay scallops and a chevre salad to start, and delicious lamb chops and shank as my main. I got a bottle of a syrah/grenache blend from Roussillon, which lasted two more dinners. For dessert, “Marquise an Chocolat”, a dark chocolate covered phallus (that was the general description heard by all who ordered it.)

After dinner I headed back to the Atrium bar. I spoke with Jason and Edith, and we were joined by a couple from Bristol. I left about 11 and crashed for the night. My sleep was disturbed by my runny nose, sniffles and a dry cough.

Friday, 2 February (Day 5)

Awakening at 8:10, I headed to Crosswinds and had oatmeal and poached eggs for breakfast. Leaving the ship, I walked into Kralenduk, Bonaire. Well-kept buildings painted in tropical hues, the streets were clean, not too crowded given two ships were in port. I took about two handfuls of photos, mainly the lighthouse tower and the cannons at the “fort”. I was back on the ship in less than an hour.

Switching to club soda with bitters, I sat in the Atrium bar and did some email before descending to Crosswinds for lunch. Seated with a couple now living on the North Carolina Outer Banks (formerly from Philadelphia), we commiserated on the options for shore activities on Bonaire. My lunch consisted of corn chowder, spinach Caesar and fish tacos. While dining, the ship left port.

Returning to the cabin, I changed shirts before heading to Spinnaker for the Latitudes party. Following my transatlantic crossing, I’d graduated to Platinum level, which brought with it an invitation to the “meet the officers” party with wine and cheese. While I was able to speak to some of the “braid”, I really didn’t talk with many other passengers.

As the party ended, I remained in Spinnaker, reading. Beginning around 5, solos began to gather and by Kiko’s call to dinner we were 18-20. He broke us into two groups and the teams competed at Charades, with keychains as prizes for all. The group went to the Palace for dinner, breaking into two tables. I was at a table for 7.

My dinner consisted of cream of broccoli soup, bacon wrapped shrimp on grits, and the cheese plate. Three of us wound up at the Atrium bar afterwards, chatting: Jess, a young woman now teaching in Shanghai (previously in Hungary), and Carol, formerly of Kansas City (Mo) but now of Florida. When I got to my cabin, I finally got my photo backups done, albeit I hadn’t been taking a lot of photos on the three days on Dutch islands.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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