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Epic So. Caribbean trip report Jan 26-Feb 6 lots of photos

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We met up for lunch in the buffet and then I got ready because I was taking an afternoon excursion too, this time with Sis and Bil called "Best of Aruba."  Meeting time on the pier was 1:50.  I was on the pier right at 1:50 but everyone was already on the buses.  I got the last seat on the last bus and it wasn't the one Sis and Bil were on.  As I walked down the aisle to my seat, someone said, "Straggler."  I was really annoyed.  I was right on time.  But I now knew that the real meeting time is apparently ten minutes or so before the time stated on your excursion ticket.


The ride was scenic as the driver/guide told us about Aruba.  Their language is Papiamento.  You can tell I remember a lot of what he said.  I had to look up how to spell Papiamento.



Our first stop was at the Casibari Rock Formations.  Our driver/guide said if you climbed to the top you would have a view of the Epic.





There were no hand rails on the stone steps.  I probably wouldn't have had a problem going up, but coming down would have been tricky, so I just walked around taking pictures.  It was an interesting area.





I was surprised at all the cacti.









We had 20 minutes there and there was a free bathroom.  Our next stop was the Natural Bridge.  Unfortunately it had collapsed in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina damage.  But, there is a baby bridge.

The baby natural bridge





The collapsed natural bridge






Little man-made rock formations on top of natural rock formations.  There were a lot of these scattered around.



Back on the bus, our driver said he was giving us two bonus stops.  The first was the Bushiribana ruins of a gold mill.  He had talked about the Dutch looking for gold in Aruba.





The other bonus stop was St. Philomena Church. We had five minutes.






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Then it was time to tour the Aloe Factory.





The guide from the aloe factory explained how aloe is processed.  It is stripped



There is yellow sap inside but they don't use that.  If you eat/drink it, you will go and go and go and go as the guide said. The gel is collected.



Then we were led inside and shown a video about the process and we could look down on the factory floor.



It was 4:30 by now so the employees were leaving.  The aloe factory had been the first stop for Sis and Bil and she said it was interesting watching a worker strip the aloe by hand but with specialized tools that made it fast.  Then our guide showed displays of the wonderful products they make and explained what they did and led us to the very expensive gift shop.


Back on the bus, the driver asked if we wanted to do the lighthouse or the beach.  According to the tour description we were supposed to do both, but I guess the bonus stops put him behind time.  The answers were divided so he gave us a photo stop at the California Lighthouse (named for a ship that had been wrecked near there in the late 1800s).



We had a drive past high end hotels, had a drive by of one beach, then made our last stop at the white sand Eagle Beach.  Our driver, by the way, really enjoyed his own jokes.  Maybe you can tell I wasn't exactly enthralled by him.  The beach was beautiful though.  I looked like a good spot to spend some time.  We had 25 minutes, so really just enough time to get your feet wet.  Some people planned to stay at the beach and take a cab back to the ship since all aboard time wasn't until 7:30.







I saw lounge chairs stacked up, so this had been a busier beach earlier in the day.



I thought this plant was interesting although I have no idea what it was.



Back at the port.



I called Bro and Sil when I got back since it was already 6:30 and we were supposed to meet for dinner at that time.  Bro said he thought they'd have to send out a search party for me.  Sis and Bil's excursion bus had left even before I got to the pier and they'd been worried about me.


Bro, Sil and I had dinner at Taste. Sis and Bil were eating at Cagney's tonight. They'd heard there had been an earthquake that day near Aruba and a tsunami warning had been issued.  Sis had said if she'd known that she would have been wearing her life vest all day.  Turned out the quake had been in the Caribbean Sea between Cuba and Jamaica.



The chandelier was bright pink tonight.



We had a great server named Akita Thomas.  She was efficient, yet attentive, and she was personality plus.  I indulged in two appetizers since I couldn't make up my mind.  Creamy asparagus soup



And baked brie salad with puff pastryIMG_3825.thumb.jpg.3007b85fd24729d68ee8a4c1c52abfb3.jpg


I had the classic flounder for my entree.  It was on the menu every night.


Chocolate eclairs for dessert, although they don't look too appetizing in the photo.



It was all really good.  We went to the family friendly magic comedy show in the Epic Theater.





  He was a good magician but I thought his tricks needed a smaller venue than the theater.  I don't think there was any comedy, or at least not much.  Sil fell asleep and I left before it was over.






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Those are sea grapes in the picture of vegetation, lots of them on the beaches in Florida.

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I'm really enjoying your trip report and all the great photos.  Thanks for sharing.

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This trip report is awesome! We leave next week, so this really makes me look forward to the cruise. Thanks for sharing...looking forward to more!!!


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15 hours ago, stefmaia said:

Those are sea grapes in the picture of vegetation, lots of them on the beaches in Florida.

Sea grapes! Thank you.  I'm not familiar with Florida beaches.

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2 hours ago, Nclcruise1415 said:

Thank you for sharing so much great information and pictures. May I ask who the Cruise Director is?

I'm not sure I ever saw the cruise director.  Some mornings the announcements would be from our cruise Director Clay and some mornings from our cruise director Lorena.

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Wednesday, January 29, Willemstad, Curacao


I now know how to pronounce Curacao!  I brought my buffet breakfast to the Great Outdoors to eat since it promised to be another beautiful day and I wanted to enjoy the weather as much as possible.  Took some photos from deck 16 as we arrived in Willemstad.





And then a little later.





We'll walk along this pier to get to town.



We were all going on separate tours today but all our tours met in the Epic Theater at the same time.  My excursion today was called "Hato Caves & City Center."  It was set for 8:30 with meeting time in the theater at 8:20.  I made certain I was there before that.  All tours were exiting through the lower right side door and since they were called one right after the other, people were bunched up.  Out on the pier, there was entertainment.  Beautiful costumes.





Looking around for the sign designating my excursion.



I am stopping here because after my computer updated last night, my photos are resizing differently and are uploading slower.  I want to be certain everything is okay, even though they seemed okay on the test page.




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I hope you keep this up.  Will be on the Epic in a couple of weeks, and your review is wonderfully detailed.  thanks. 

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Found my excursion group and the buses were nearby.  A couple of photos taken from the bus on the way to the caves.  There's that pointy hill I saw from the ship





The cave is near the airport





One of the things mentioned on the bus was Mancinella trees.  They are extremely poisonous and we were not to touch any part of them, not the bark, not the fruit.  The fruit is the size of a cherry but is green and looks as if it would be hard like an apple.  A Mancinella tree





There was a pavilion that served drinks and snacks and had a free bathroom.  We waited while some folks made the trip.



The tour description warned there are 50 steps to enter Hato Caves but there's a hand rail.



At the cave entrance



Looking down




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The cave was amazing, beautiful and colorful formations.  It was warm inside the cave which surprised me.  Every other cave I've been in has been cool.  There were four rooms, one had bats in it.  We could take photos only in one.














Then it was time to leave.



A few more pictures from the bus as we rode to the city center.





I loved the colorful houses



We were dropped off at Queen Wilhelmina Park and our guide told us more about Curacao while we gathered around her in the shade.  Their language is also Papiamentu and their education is helped with financing from The Netherlands.  Our guide, whose name I didn't write down which is a shame since she was one of the best, had recently gotten her degree in international hospitality from university.



She said "dushi" is the Papiamentu word for sweetheart and that it's used frequently.  It's prominent in the Queen W. Park, and once I heard it, I saw it used often during the rest of our walk.



Statue of Queen Wilhelmina



Across from the park is a synagogue



Large lizards in the park


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Then we set off to explore some of the city.







We stopped briefly for an explanation at another synagogue.  I believe this is the one that has the sand floor.  We did not go inside.



Saw this costume in a shop window



Our guide talked about Curacao's oil refinery which is owned by Venezuela.  Because of sanctions on Venezuelan oil, a lot of workers have lost their jobs which has had a dire effect on Curacao's economy.  On top of that, Venezuela has closed air and sea traffic from Curacao resulting in a collapse of trade.  This has had its effect on the city center too.  For many long years there has been the tradition of a floating market in the city center manned by Venezuelans.  That is no longer possible, and she bemoaned the loss of this tradition.  There are some souvenir stands where the floating market used to be and today there was some entertainment.



We continued on to a plaza



Some of the buildings here were reminiscent of the architecture in Amsterdam.



Continuing our tour



We stopped at the Curacao store so our guide could show us the bottle that meant we were getting the good Curacao.  There were samples in small cups in front.  Unfortunately (or maybe not) they ran out before I got a sample.



She took us next to see the governor's house.  The tour description said the governor's house is in Fort Amsterdam, but Fort Amsterdam is right around the corner from the harbor entrance.  Their governor is a woman.



While we were there, our guide told us why Willemstad has such colorful houses.  At one time, all the houses were white (I don't remember how long ago she said this was).  The governor at the time said the city would be more beautiful if houses were painted colors.  They had a selection of colors but it didn't matter which one they chose.  After the governor died, it was discovered that he had a large interest in a paint company.  Our tour came to an end at the governor's house and the guide said we could stay in the city or she would walk us back to the ship.  Most stayed, but there was a small group of us who went with the guide. Those who stayed were asking where they could get the Funchi Fries that the guide had recommended.


We had to walk across the Queen Emma floating bridge.  It separates to allow vessels through.  The guide said when you hear the warning signals that the bridge is going to open, you stay off but if you happen to be on it, you run as fast as you can to the other side.  A joke since you apparently can just wait on the bridge as it separates.  That's the bridge with the arches over it.  Notice the colorful houses on the right.












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A picture of the Queen Juliana Bridge taken from the floating bridge.





I only got the above two photos from the floating bridge since the guide was walking rather fast and I didn't want to lose her.  By the time we were on the other side, I was the only one left of the group that stayed with her.  When we got close enough to see the Epic, she went on her way.  She said she had papers to turn in, and I assured her I could find my way from there. I had thoroughly enjoyed today's excursion.



The path went through the historic Rif Fort which seemed to be shops and restaurants.



I found these plants interesting.



I'd gotten a little past here when I found the guide waiting for me.  She said the gate was barred so she couldn't get to where she had to turn in her papers and she had to conduct another excursion this afternoon.  She walked with me so she could enter the area where the ships were docked.  I showed my key card and she explained she was my guide.






The walk back to the ship from the city was a lot longer than the five minutes the guide said it was, although I have no doubt she could have managed it in five minutes if I hadn't been trailing behind. I was hot and tired when I got back on the ship.  I ran into Bro and Sil who had just gotten back themselves.  We had lunch in the buffet together.  They loved their excursion too which had been in a semi-submersible vessel.


Lunch was pretty good although the fried fish wasn't as good as it looked.  Every day they had spaghetti specials where a chef would heat up the spaghetti and the sauce, and today the special was Spaghetti Alfredo (not shown in the picture).  I got it after the disappointing fish.



After lunch we ran into Sis and Bil who had just returned from their excursion.  Sis complained that they'd been on a bench seat on an old bus and she was squished.  At one point the guide thought she was gone because he couldn't see her and when he came back to check he told her to follow him and he put her in a seat by him in the front.


Originally I'd planned to walk back to the city center in the afternoon but I decided to relax instead.  I sat in the Garden Cafe for a while, updated my journal, watched passengers returning to the ship, and took some photos of the Carnival Horizon docked near us.







When they were closing the Garden Cafe for cleaning, I went up to deck 18 with my book and found a lounge chair in the shade.





I had almost finished my book when I realized the ship was leaving port, so I found a spot to watch the sail away.





I had a good view of the Queen Juliana and Queen Emma Bridges



Goodbye to Curacao



We met at Maltings around 6:00 for a pre-dinner drink, then went to Taste.  This photo was taken earlier in the day because at dinner time there was always a line.  I love the colors in the stained glass.



We asked to be seated in Akita's area but there would have been a wait for a table for five.  I had a delicious white cheddar and potato soup as an appetizer and ruby red trout as an entree.  The trout was disappointing.  It was very dry. I didn't even finish it.  Dessert helped make up for it, chocolate lava cake with stracciatella gelato (yum).  To me the gelato tasted like vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.  No pictures since I'd finished each plate before I thought about it.


We must have all been tired tonight because none of the entertainment appealed.  Bro showed me how to get outside on deck 7 to the promenade deck which on that side I guess is a running track.  The disappointing thing is that even though you are outside, you can't see the water because the life boats are blocking any view.


That was the end of the day for me though.  Back to my room for an early night.






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8 hours ago, mimmy52 said:

Then we set off to explore some of the city.stopped bri


Saw this costume in a shop window





This looks like a very fancy version of wearing a lampshade on your head at a party.  Probably after drinking too much Blue Curacao.


Your cave pictures were awesome.  I took a tour of Harrison's Cave in Barbados and it too was very warm.  I was actually sweating by the end of the tour and we didn't have to do any walking, we were seating in a tram for the tour.  Our tour guide explained why it was so warm but I don't remember what she said.  Caves in my home state of Missouri are in the 55 to 65F degree range.

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I am really enjoying your review and the fabulous pictures!!  Thank you for sharing with us!

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10 hours ago, Oakman58 said:


This looks like a very fancy version of wearing a lampshade on your head at a party.  Probably after drinking too much Blue Curacao.


Your cave pictures were awesome.  I took a tour of Harrison's Cave in Barbados and it too was very warm.  I was actually sweating by the end of the tour and we didn't have to do any walking, we were seating in a tram for the tour.  Our tour guide explained why it was so warm but I don't remember what she said.  Caves in my home state of Missouri are in the 55 to 65F degree range.


Made me laugh!  It does look as if someone partied too much.

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Thursday, January 30, Kralendijk, Bonaire


Another beautiful day for eating breakfast outside.



Anticipated arrival time in Bonaire was 7:00 am, but the ship was already docked when I woke up.  I took a few pictures after breakfast.





I had plenty of time this morning so I decided to check out the fitness center.  I took a few pictures but I didn't intend to use the equipment.  I'm a faithful gym-goer at home, but took a break from it on the cruise.







I was looking forward to all five of us being on the same excursion today, "Highlights & Culture Explorer."  It was set for 9:30 with meeting time at 9:20, so I made certain I was on the pier by 9:10.  There was already a line for it, so I checked the line and didn't see any of The Four.  About 10 minutes later Sis and Bil arrived.  As the line grew, they would take a certain number off to a bus.  We kept letting people in front of us, concerned about Bro and Sil because they are never late.  We finally decided one of them must be sick so we got on the next-to-last van. Bil was happy that he got to sit in the front, the seat next to the driver, so he had plenty of room.  It wasn't until we got back that we discovered Bro and Sil had been so early that they'd been on the first van that left even before I was on the pier.


Our guide/driver Rofino held up a map to show us our route today.




We were sticking to the west coast but what a lot of ground we were going to cover.  From Kralendijk to Rincon then to the salt flats, the pink area to the south on the map.


Leaving the port area



Rofino pointed out government buildings, the post office, some shops, then we were driving along the coast with the ocean on one side and cliffs on the other.  It was beautiful, the colors of the sea amazing.





In one area we saw several groups of divers getting into their wet suits.  This boat had a group of divers on it.



Rofino was a great guide but he talked constantly to the point where I'd realize I'd zoned out and had missed what he was saying.  My photos are all taken from the van so most of them have some reflection on them.



I know he said something about this cliff but I can't remember what it was.


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We continued on to Goto Lake, a feeding ground for flamingos.  Rofino said they're very shy and once the vans start rolling past, they go into hiding.  We got to see a few at a distance.  



All of my flamingo photos are equally terrible so I'm sharing a couple of Bro's pictures.  Since they were on the first van, they saw a lot more flamingos and he used his camera with the specialty lens.





The lake was nice even without flamingos.



As we continued along, we saw goats and a lot of lizards.  We also started seeing a lot of cactus.  Rofino said there are three types of cactus on the island.  Do I remember what they are?  Hah.  They make for nice pictures though.



We came into a small town.



And pulled into the lot of a house that is a museum.





It had a nice cactus fence.



The house is set up as it would have been 100 years ago.





I took a few pictures inside but mostly wanted to get outside to where the toilets were located.  I spent most of our short time there waiting in line.  There were a couple of vendors, one in particular had some souvenir jewelry that was a lot nicer than any I saw in the souvenir shops, but all I bought was a t-shirt.  We were also given a sample of cactus liquor.  Let's just say I didn't bring any home.


After this stop, we were back in the van for the long drive south. I love the colorful houses.



I was so impressed with the salt flats!



 Rofino explained a little of how salt is produced.  The pink color means the bacteria is working to make salt, but the white stuff was foam, not salt as I thought.  It's all part of a Cargill plant and we couldn't stop to get a closer look since it's private property.  I would have liked being able to get out of the van to take my pictures.





Bro's picture, a better angle than mine of the salt mounds.




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I see that if I forget to insert a photo, Cruise Critic does it for me.  Somehow I missed inserting that last cactus picture into the part where I mentioned cacti.


A few more pictures of the salt flats.





Just a little further brought us to old slave huts on a pretty coral beach.  Back in the 1850s, slaves worked the salt fields and were housed in these huts.  They were not high enough for a person to stand upright in them and the doorways are so small they would have had to crawl through.









Then we started back to the ship.  As we got closer to the harbor we passed these colorful buildings.  Rofino said they are part of a hotel being built.



This homeowner has double protection for their yard.



The Epic comes into view.



The shops near the pier looked interesting, but it was already 12:30 and that was all aboard time.  Back when we had been at the house/museum, Rofino said all the guides had received a text from the Epic to be sure everyone was back by 12:30.



The three of us met up with Bro and Sil in O'Sheehan's for lunch.  I started with the delicious spinach and artichoke dip and a Stella Artois and finished up with fish n chips that were mighty tasty.



Inside cabins are so confining.  I took my book up to deck 18 for the afternoon.  A lot of the lounge chairs had been pulled out of the shady area and even though no one was using them, they had towels pinned to them.  There was only one left in the shade.  I settled in with my book, took off my shoes, started to read.  A few minutes later I heard, "Excuse me, Madame."  The woman in the lounger next to me had been asleep but now she said to me, "My husband is in that chair."  Apparently he was invisible.  I went over to a chair that had partial shade and pushed it back as far as it would go.  There was quite a large shady area, but the loungers that had been pulled out into the sun were blocking it.  Still I was able to get comfortable and read for about an hour.


We had reservations for the 7:00 Priscilla Queen of the Desert show, so to stave off hunger (as if that was needed) I met Bro and Sil in O'Sheehan's again.  Bil had enjoyed lentil soup at lunch and I was craving that.  It was very good.


Even though we had reservations for Priscilla, the seats were still first come first served.  We got in line before the doors opened and a stand by line was also forming.  We got some good seats.  I think everyone in standby probably got seats.



The stage is set.



It was an excellent production, entertaining, good performers, humor, and absolutely fabulous costumes.  Bro had seen it a few years ago and said that despite all the warnings there had still been a lot of people who walked out.  We were watching to see if many left this time, but we only saw one couple leave.  No photos allowed during the show.


A couple of the entertainers were outside the theater when we left.  This is one of my favorite pictures of the trip.



Time for dinner.  The chandelier in Taste was white tonight.



We sat at Akita's station and once again had terrific service.  She is such an enjoyable person and such an efficient waitress.  So different from a lot of the other servers we encountered.  


I had cheesy potato croquettes as a starter.  They were good but a lot of cheese.



Sauteed eggplant and zucchini with a side of spaghetti for my entreeIMG_4242.thumb.jpg.73661da06fe3866296e2e1e430028744.jpg


About this time Akita stopped by our table to say she had been called away to work in O'Sheehan's and another server was taking over our table.  We were surprised.  Maybe she was too efficient to be in Taste.  At some point I filled out a hero card for her, but when I turned it in I was told they were phasing them out. So no more hero cards.


There was still dessert to come though.  Cannoli.  Yum.



Bro and Sil invited me to sit on their balcony for a while so we brought wine with us.  We watched the moon go down behind the horizon.  I had never witnessed anything like that before.  Maybe it was the wine, but it seemed kind of magical out there in the ocean watching the moon disappear.





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Priscilla is a great show with a great cast.  Although I've saw the show in 2016 on the Epic it was just as entertaining seeing it a second time.

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Friday, January 31, Castries, St. Lucia


We weren't due to arrive in St. Lucia until 1:00 this afternoon, so when I woke up this was the view from the bridge.



This seemed like a good day to have breakfast at Taste.  I wanted pancakes and they're usually not very warm when you get them from a buffet.  A daytime view of Taste.



One thing I didn't like about eating alone in the MDR was being seated next to strangers, in this case a couple.  We were at separate tables but the tables were only inches apart.  Even that wouldn't have bothered me except the couple seemed to be disagreeing on every subject they talked about.  I never know how to behave in such a situation.  Obviously they must know I can hear them so it doesn't bother them that a stranger is listening to their conversation.  I just try to avoid eye contact.


A mention of the servers in Taste.  They were professional but except for Akita, they were not personable as they had all been on MSC Poesia.  The food was slow coming out but it looked great.




I think the pancakes might have been sitting somewhere a while.  They weren't any warmer than if I'd had them at the buffet. 


Every morning in the atrium area near the guest services counters a bulletin board was set up with suggestions for things to do in the port.  For some reason I didn't take a picture of the entire board, but two of the examples:




There were also descriptions of beaches on some of the other cards.


Where are we now?  Are we getting close to St. Lucia?



It was another beautiful day and with the morning free I decided to explore the ship a little more. The sports area on deck 17





There are tables and wicker couches up there too although no umbrellas.



Looking down on Spice H2O



In an area near Spice H2O there are also wicker couches and chairs.  I've seen threads on this forum about people who have their feet up on couches and how gross that is.  That doesn't bother me.  What does bother me are the people who put their feet on tables.



A Mimosa seemed to be in order.  I sat in the Great Outdoors and enjoyed the drink and the weather.



On my way back to my room after visiting the shops, a man on the elevator was telling us that a ship had arrived in Rome after a two week cruise and the passengers were quarantined. I know that's old news now and that those passengers were fine unlike what has happened since.  As I was walking to my cabin, the captain came on the PA to announce we would be 30 minutes late arriving in St. Lucia but would make it up by staying 30 minutes longer so we could do our tours.  He then said that for extra protection from coronavirus, we would be handed our plates in the buffets and we would be served by crew members, so be patient with lines.


When I entered the Studio Lounge, I noticed the food and drinks that had been out on other days were already gone.  No pastries or cookies.



No orange juice, iced tea, or water.



Had lunch in the buffet with Bro and Sil, and the place was a madhouse.  The lines were so long you couldn't tell what the offerings were.  I settled for pizza and fries.  Bro said when they'd eaten breakfast in the buffet that morning, they were already handing out plates and the crew was serving.


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Despite the captain's announcement that we would be arriving 30 minutes late, we were pulling into St. Lucia around 1:00.







All five of us had booked the same excursion today, "North Tour--Green to Sand."  The cruise director had announced that we would meet in the theater at the original time on our ticket.  We complied.  It seemed that every tour was meeting in the theater and all at the same time.  They started calling tours and we waited.  The theater started emptying out.



We were the last tour called.  Then we lined up on the pier before walking to a shopping/eating area where we stood in the sun.



Maybe sitting down with a drink would be a better thing to do.  It certainly seemed more inviting.



We finally moved to the parking lot



After another little wait, we were able to board our bus.  It had been an hour and 15 minutes since we had arrived in the theater.  I had the seat next to the driver, but it wasn't an easy seat to get into.  There were a couple of obstacles I had to climb over.  I had a great view, though, and thought maybe I'd get some nice pictures.  It took me a while to realize that the pictures I was taking had license stickers as a feature.



We could see the Disney Wonder docked at a different pier.



Traffic was a nightmare.  We were moving very slowly.  We passed a local market place.



Our first stop was supposed to be the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  I don't know if was because we were running late or because the traffic was so terrible or maybe there was no available parking, but we didn't stop.  We drove past.





Pictures on the internet show a very different and unusual interior than other churches I have visited, so that was a disappointment.  After a couple of turns and still in traffic, we were stopped near a Calabash tree that our guide said was the national tree of St. Lucia.  I was on the wrong side of the bus for picture taking so again I'll use one of Bro's.



Then we were finally out of the city.  Our guide said the official language of St. Lucia is English, but her accent was so strong and she talked so fast I had trouble understanding a lot of what she said.  I did hear that St. Lucia is proud of having gained its independence in 1979.



Our drive was much like the photo above and the photos below. For the most part the roads were in bad shape.






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