"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Point This Beast North - Caribbean Winter Retreat - Days 8 & 9

January 2nd and 3rd, 2009 Two days at sea seems like a long haul, but with a ship like the Celebrity Solstice there are plenty of things to keep you occupied. We played several games of bingo but never even got close to seeing any prize money. At least Rob was able to win our bingo entry fees back plus a whole lot more with two first-place and a second-place finish in one-table poker tournaments in the casino totaling $480. These tournaments were played on the new dealer-less and card-less style electronic tables. Each night the ship's main theatre had wonderful live shows including aerial acrobatics similar to Cirque du Soleil which they said had never been done on a cruise ship before. Reading, relaxing and eating were popular activities as well with too many visits to the pizza bar (man, they make good ones!) and Rob's constant challenge of our waiter, Ben, each night at dinner. Rob usually ordered a NY strip steak along with his entree and then one night ordered three entrees asking that one be brought out for the appetizer course, one for the salad course, etc. Ben was a professional and gladly obliged every silly whim. We found a great piano bar one evening and stayed late singing along despite being the most under-dressed in the room. Rob's other obsession, besides NY strip steaks, was trying to read each and every famous quote posted above the urinals in each of the public bathrooms throughout the ship. He says there is just something about reading a quote from Oscar Wilde while relieving one's self - very sophisticated. TV-watching is always relaxing, and with the great screens in the staterooms chock full of free and pay-per-view movies on demand and the discovery of the giant screen in the Celebrity Central Theatre broadcasting NFL playoff games, it was a guilty pleasure to plop down in front of the boob-tube for a while. Oh yeah, and there were plenty of opportunities to drink...one of our other favorite past-times.

A Dutch Captain in a French Port Livng the American Dream - Caribbean Winter Retreat - Day 7

January 1st, 2009 Happy New Year! Captain Paul has got it made. A great job, a beautiful wife, the body of a 25-year-old (he's well into his 40's) and healthy disgust for the French. Captain Paul was our guide today in our third and last port of call, St. Maarten, as we headed out for a day-long snorkeling adventure that would take us to three different locations. Evelyn chose to sit (or should we stay "shop") this excursion out, so it was just us and who Ashlee refers to as "that boy-kid." After sorting out who our driver was from the melee that was the cabbie/bus/tour stand near the port (geez, what a circus!), we were off to the French side of St. Maarten Island which is split evenly between them and the Dutch who lay claim to the port where we were docked. The waters of St. Maarten were by far the loveliest so far we had seen and the French side is a bit more tranquil and serene and as Paul says, "the French chose the best spots - the bastards." Paul is captain of the Awesome Too, a beautiful 30' powerboat which offers small charters in St. Maarten which we highly recommend. You can find information on his tours at http://stmaartencruiseexcursions.com/StMaartenIslandSnorkeling.htm. Our first stop after a 30-minute ride out of the quiet marina and into the "real ocean" was off the shore of tiny Tintamar Island. After our first snorkel we swam to the beach and Captain Paul invited us to partake in a mudbath he concocted of volcanic ash on the island which he guaranteed would take ten years off - did we mention he looked very young for his age - so we were sold. This "mud" was actually a very strong cleansing and exfoliating agent and felt amazing on our skin. After letting the sun bake it dry it was back into the ocean for an exhilarating cleansing that left your skin smooth and silky not to mention the water seeming colder thanks to all those open pores. We motored another five minutes to Penal Island enjoying cold Carib Beer on the way for our second snorkel. Here we were able to hand-feed the friendly (and anxious) fish soft bread. Amazing! Again, the water was crystal clear and we enjoyed some of the best snorkeling we have ever done. Another five-minute ride with a slight detour past a nude beach (no binoculars were provided unfortunately) and some more Caribs brought us to Green Key. Saving the best for last, this late-afternoon snorkel was amazing with incredibly beautiful coral lit by the sun's rays and some larger sea life as Ashlee saw a pretty big lobster and Rob spied a sea turtle thanks to Captain Paul sharp eyes. We motored back to the dock afterwards with more cold Caribs and good music playing on the stereo. Man, what a great way to spend the first day of 2009! This was mutually agreed upon to be our best excursion of the cruise and St. Maarten definitely makes our list of places we want to come back to if we get the chance.

A Fortress With a View - Caribbean Winter Retreat - Day 6

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 "Hello, my name is Pompy." With that simple introduction we were off on another driving tour at our second port-of-call, St. Kitts - one of two islands that make up the tiny nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. While waiting on our tour to start, we had taken a short walk around the port and capital city of Basseterre and quickly surmised that this was, in all honesty, quite a poor country. Businesses, houses and even government buildings were shabby and in disrepair. The streets were crowded and littered with trash. Obviously, our first impression of St. Kitts was not very good. Things did improve somewhat once we were able to leave Basseterre on our tour and some of the lush natural areas of the island came into view. Unexpectedly, we started and ended most of our tour privately with just us four and our driver, Pompy, in a small bus that could accomodate up to 14 people. We did make one detour to pick up some obnoxiously loud and brazen Texans who had went to the beach earlier that day on the slightly more upscale side of the island and needed transportation back to the port. Once we got rid of them, the scenery and the peacefulness got much, much better. Our first stop was at the former Romney Manor Plantation . This is an interesting place historically, as well as, the current home of a thriving artisians studio known as Caribelle Batik, an early form of tie-dying clothing. The plantation grounds are also now a beautiful botanical garden. Our final and best stop was Brimstone Hill Fortress, a hand-built 18th century stone fort sitting high up in the lush rainforest with tremendous views of the coastline and neighboring islands. Today was another rather short day ashore, but it was, of course, New Year's Eve and time to start preparing to ring in the new year. We counted down the year 2008 and brought in the year 2009 out at sea on the main deck around the pool area as a live band played and thousands of our shipmates cheered with us. Not quite the celebration we saw in New York City a few years ago that topped 1 million participants, but still a pretty uniqure way to usher in the new year. Evelyn turned in early and Matt hung out a with a gaggle of teenagers he had befriended on the boat within a day or two of sailing. We were thinking of turning in early as well after we finished our bottle of champagne just after midnight, but strolled to the Lawn Club on the back of the boat to escape some of the melee around the pool area and struck up a conversation with some nice folks from Texas (obviously not the same ones from our earlier tour experience) and New Jersey. Three hours and another bottle of stolen champagne later (Rob says it was justified...who charges $30 for two glasses of champagne on New Year's Eve??), it was bedtime. Another great, long day cruising and the end of a great year for us and the start of what we hope to be yet another one.

San Juan via Orlando -Caribbean Winter Retreat - Day 5

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 Today was our first port of call, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Our amount of time in port was rather limited (2 to 10 PM) as were our options for shore excursions. We arranged a private car tour of Old Town and the rest of San Juan via Fairway Transportation - we highly recommend their services: http://fairwaypr.com/index.html. Our driver, Orlando, picked us up at the port in a beautiful new Lincoln Navigator and we were off in style. Besides the comfort and class of our car, it was also a relief to have someone driving who knew the area and how to navigate the crazy traffic in San Juan. Man, what a mess! Tiny, crowded streets and what Orlando called the "Puerto Rican way" of driving (i.e. half-hearted observance of stop signs, aggressive merging and constant tailgating) would have made any visitor behind the wheel a nervous wreck, but he took it all in stride with a smile. Orlando gave a great tour and provided a lot of information about his city, his U.S. territory and his people. We wound around Old Town with stops at the two forts that flank the city (the latter included a beautiful park encompassing it and a seaside historic graveyard), a couple of beautiful churches, the capitol building, the governor's house, the business district in the newer part of San Juan and the large Hilton proprety that lies between the new and old sections of town ( this was a request by us for future reference in case we want to stay here again). After the tour, Ashlee and I made the foot-climb from the port back up into Old Town for a peek in a few shops and a stop for a couple of beers at the Old Harbor Brewery (San Juan's only microbrewery). Well worth the walk! As we wondered back to the ship for our late evening departure, we surmised that another visit to San Juan and some of the rest of Puerto Rico is definitely on our list of things to do in the future.

This Ship is "The Noise" - Caribbean Winter Retreat - Days 3 & 4

December 28 and 29, 2008

According to my 17-year-old nephew, when something is great it is referred to as "the noise." I guess then if something sucks it's "'the silence?" Well, the Celebrity Solstice upon initial inspection is definitely "the noise." Utterly beautiful from bow to stern. We spent the first day and half at sea just wondering around this uber-tug taking in everything it had to offer. And some of things it offered have never been on a cruise ship before. This includes a Lawn Club of a half-acre of real grass and a glass-blowing studio with working artists. The Lawn Club offered golf putting, croquet and a new game we learned on board: bocce ball. Other interesting accoutrements (see photo insets) included glass elevators, wine-tasting vending machines, an ice martini bar and a large live tree in a planter suspended in the aforementioned elevator atrium. The staterooms were extremely nice with plenty of room inside and out on the balcony, comfy beds and large flat-screen TVs.