Majesty of the Seas Live Blog: Day 3

Day 3 was our port stop in Nassau, which I’ve been to about four or five times in the last year. As a result, I wasn’t totally gung-ho to get off the ship right away, which made for a nice relaxing (and productive!) morning.

I woke up early and chugged a cup of coffee before heading to a 7 am class in the fitness center. (I told you I was one of those early-morning people!) The class was at the same time as our sail into Nassau, meaning that I would miss my opportunity to take some pictures, but that was ok. After the class ended around 8 am, I sat on the deck and drank a couple more cups of coffee before going back to my room to shower. It was a beautiful morning for Nassau, fairly cool and not nearly as humid as I was used to encountering at this stop, with some clouds keeping down the heat.

I spent the morning writing blog posts and enjoying the quiet of the ship. I’d heard from some frequent cruisers that many of them don’t even get off the ship in Nassau because they prefer to enjoy the day on board, and I can see why – the venues were uncrowded and the pool deck was fairly unoccupied. We were parked next to the Liberty of the Seas, an unusual sight to see in Nassau since this ship usually does Western Caribbean routes out of its home port of Galveston.

Photo Dec 06, 8 22 46 AM

Around noon, I wrapped up my writing and headed to the Windjammer for some lunch. I had thought about trying out the Johnny Rockets on board, but decided instead to be healthy and opted for a big salad from Windjammer along with soup and a sandwich from the Compass Deli. (I understand that the Compass Deli might not survive the next round of refurbishments on Majesty, which are scheduled for early 2018, which is a shame!)

After lunch, I grabbed an ice-cream cone and lounged for a bit on the blissfully quiet pool deck. Around 2, I decided it was time to head into town, so I went down to the cabin and collected what I’d need for the day. The port in Nassau is incredibly convenient to the downtown area, and to make things even better, we were parked in the very closest berth to the terminal building. Without a crowd of departing cruisers to slow me down, it only took me about 10 minutes to go from my cabin on the ship to the main street in Nassau.

My first stop was my favorite place to go when I’m in port here: the Pirate Republic Brewery. Friends, I’m a bit of a beer snob, and I’m here to tell you that their brews are not just surprisingly good for a brewery in Nassau, they’re flat-out good, period. I started with a flight so that I could sample some of their new seasonals, then switched to my old standby, the Island Pirate Ale (IPA, get it?). I found a nice couple who were on the Liberty, and talked with them for a while as we drank our beers. I made a stop in the brewery’s excellent gift shop to bring back a present for the hubby, who didn’t get to make this trip with me.

It was getting a little late, but I decided to walk a little more around Nassau before heading back to the ship. I found myself at an Irish-themed bar called Shenanigans, which was near the end of Bay Street, the main shopping street. I found in talking to the bartender that they had only opened a few months ago, and the bar certainly had two important elements: good wifi and cold air conditioning. I paid a lot for my Guinness ($11!), but if wifi and a cool place to sit down are what you’re looking for, this is a good place to stop. (Just don’t get the Guinness – I think the other beers are cheaper.)

As I finished up my beer, I realized that it was nearly 5 pm – and my dinner time was a 6! Overall, I’ve enjoyed having the early dinner seating on this cruise, but it can cause one to adjust the schedule somewhat, especially on port days. I headed back to the ship, but there was only one problem – after all that beer, I was getting sleepy! I made a beeline for the Windjammer and filled up two water glasses all the way to the top with ice, then filled them with coffee. Hey, it’s not the best iced coffee ever, but it works! I happened to catch a lovely sunset on deck while I drank my iced coffee and listened to the reggae sounds of the house band.

After recharging, I got changed for dinner, then headed to the dining room. I stopped at a bar on the way to dinner to use one of my Crown and Anchor deals to buy one, get one free on a glass of wine for dinner. Well, two glasses of wine, to be honest – which I then proceeded to combine into one very full glass. I got a few looks from my dinner companions!

After dinner, I planned to visit the casino for a few minutes, then head up to a vantage point to watch our departure from Nassau. Well, as it turns out, I should have just skipped the casino entirely, because I wound up losing back all my winnings from the first night (and then some) – but there’s always today, haha! And to add insult to injury, we sailed away earlier than scheduled (that happens sometimes when all passengers have gotten back on board, especially for a late evening departure), and I missed that too. By the time I got up on deck, the lights of Nassau were just a speck in the distance off the back of the ship.

Oh well! I decided it was as good a time to any to head back to my cabin for the night. (It was definitely better than heading back to the casino!) I watched a bit of a basketball game on TV before turning in around 10 pm. Another early night, and no one to tease me about it. I was thrilled!

Read Day 4’s blog here.

Brewery hopping in Astoria, OR

You may have noticed by now that the Nerdy Traveler has a fondness for beer. I was excited to visit Astoria as the first port on our Pacific Coastal cruise because a simple Yelp search had revealed so many breweries in the downtown area of Astoria, near to where the cruise ship docked.

I noticed that Royal Caribbean offered a brewery-focused shore excursion, but the price (almost $80 per person) convinced me that I could easily create a DIY version for much less. I was right! (I love it when that happens.)

We started our day at Reach Break Brewing, which was close to where our shuttle bus had dropped us off in downtown Astoria. They didn’t do flights at Reach Break, but did offer half-pours, so we were able to try a few delicious brews before walking up to our next stop, the Fort George Brewery. We weren’t hungry, so we opted to bypass the crowded restaurant and stop in the taproom, where we had a delicious flight of IPAs. (The abundance of IPAs offered at breweries in the Pacific Northwest will always be one of my favorite things about that part of the country!)

Our next stop was the Astoria Brewing Company, a few blocks away and in the direction of our shuttle bus stop where we’d be picked up to go back to the ship. I saw only one beer style I really wanted to try (the IPA, natch), so I decided not to go the flight route. But I made the rookie mistake of blindly ordering a full pint without asking whether half-pours were available. (As a result, my memories of the rest of the day are a little, um, hazy!)

We did make it to one more brewery, the bustling Buoy Beer Company on the waterfront, to sample their IPA before we had to catch the shuttle and make sure we didn’t miss our ship! (We had started our day a bit late and so were a little rushed at the end). We didn’t have time to eat at Buoy, but I wish we had – the food looked and smelled delicious, and plus, we’d had a lot of beer! As you can imagine, once we got back to the ship, we had to take a bit of a nap before sailaway.

A Day in Havana, Part II: What we did

When we boarded the ship, we found out that the tour we had originally purchased, called “Hemingway’s Havana,” was cancelled and we would have to find an alternate tour. Although we were disappointed, the tour we chose as its replacement, “Old Havana City Sightseeing,” was a more than suitable replacement.

The buses we boarded for the roughly 3-hour tour were very nice – comfortable, cool, and with a more than serviceable bathroom. It even had toilet paper! (We were reminded frequently that this is not usually the case in Cuba.)

Our tour gave us a great introduction to Havana. We stopped at a cemetery, at a cigar store, at the Christ of Havana statue, and at a local crafts market. It was a nice combination of riding around (in the air-conditioned comfort of the bus) and walking around to take pictures and learn more about Havana and Cuba.

We finished the tour around 1:30 pm, which left us plenty of time, before our 7:30 all aboard call, in which we could explore the area around the port. We started by walking away from the port down a narrow street. We wound up stopping at a restaurant about two or three blocks away where I had Ropa Vieja, a traditional Cuban dish (being from North Carolina, I described it as “Cuban BBQ”), and the hubby had garlic shrimp. We tried one of the local beers, Bucanero. (In researching this blog I found some fascinating background on Cuba’s national beers here.)

Emboldened by our beers, we started walking further into Havana. It was then that I learned one of the best pieces of advice I can give to people visiting Havana – follow your ears. We heard some fantastic Cuban music coming out of a tiny bar and decided to go in and check it out. We had some rum drinks – a daiquiri for me, a mojito for him – and danced to the music as best we could in the available space (not much).

We walked on and found ourselves in the Plaza Vieja, a lively square where we stayed a bit to watch some street performers. I had decided that I wanted to take us to the “Museo del Ron” (Museum of Rum), and so we walked a route based on the map we’d been given. (Better PDF versions to come, but for now you can view the maps below.)

We had been told that you can change foreign currency for CUCs at hotels, and given that we were getting low on cash, I decided we should do this. We stopped at a hotel and asked about changing our pounds for Cuban currency. The desk clerk agreed to do this, but she said somewhat apologetically that she wouldn’t be able to give us as good an exchange rate. To me, that was fine – at that part of the day, it was pretty much a convenience fee. I exchanged 100 pounds for 110 CUCs.

It turned out that the so-called “rum museum” was really an attraction created by the local rum, Havana Club. It took up several buildings and featured a pretty little courtyard with a small bar where you could buy rum drinks. We tried a couple and even had a drink made with rum and freshly squeezed sugarcane juice! We were getting ready to leave when we heard a band playing in the complex’s bar, where they served all of the Havana Club products. We were convinced to stay for another drink and some more fun Cuban music. We stayed until the band finished its set and walked on.

Once we made it to the end of the day, I was longing for the A/C on that cool tour bus. Although most have plenty of ceiling fans, there’s little air conditioning in the bars and restaurants in Old Havana. My advice is to dress in cool clothing and just be prepared to be hot and sweaty – try not to let it bother you. I can guarantee you’re not the only one.

After we left the Havana Club/Museo del Ron, we thought we might head straight back to the ship. But we passed by a restaurant with an invitingly breezy patio and decided to have a seat. Turns out we were at a Harley Davidson motorcycle bar! I believe the place was called Café Ciclo but unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures, and to be honest I had had a LOT of rum at this point. Some fun decor made this an easily identifiable place on the same street as the Museo del Ron:

{{pictures to come}}

We had a snack and a big bottle of water, and I tried the other local beer (Cristal), while we cooled off and prepared to head back to the ship.

My day in Havana definitely left me wanting more. I can’t wait to come back on a cruise with an overnight stop or even fly in for a couple of days. Soon!

Staying in an AirBnB in Ballard

I usually like to arrive a day or two early for cruises just in case of unexpected travel delays. For this cruise, we decided to stay a couple of nights in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard. I was familiar with the area from previous visits to Seattle, and I had a friend who lived in a neighborhood nearby, so staying in Ballard would make getting together with her easier.

But Ballard is a residential neighborhood, not really a touristy one. The sole hotel in the area was selling rooms for nearly $400 a night! So I turned to AirBnB for a place to stay.

I admit that as an overthinking traveler, I’m a little conflicted about AirBnB. There’s no doubt that the growth of AirBnB has wreaked havoc on some of my favorite cities to visit, such as Barcelona and New Orleans, because people buy properties solely to use them as vacation rentals. This drives up monthly rental prices to an often unbearable level, because daily rental rates are so much higher than their monthly equivalent.

So when I can, I try to find a rental that upholds the original spirit in which AirBnB was founded: People offering up spaces on their property to short-term renters. The trick is, I prefer to have some sort of private space. So I look for properties like Doug and Lori’s, with a private entrance and self-contained space. (Psst: If you’re looking for a place to stay in Seattle, I highly recommend this one!)

We had a blast during our two days in Ballard walking around the neighborhood, with an occasional Lyft to get us to nearby places. We had a delicious breakfast at Portage Bay Café and tried some great local beers at the Ballard Beer Company. When we took a car to the nearby Fremont neighborhood, we tried some excellent flights at Schilling Cider Tap Room and the Fremont Brewing Company.

Our two days went by too quickly, and soon enough it was time to get on the cruise ship. Seattle, we’ll be back!

Nassau: What to do with your port day

Due to its proximity to Florida, Nassau has served as a cruise ship port for decades. As early as the 1960s, commercial cruises were taking passengers to Nassau on cruises out of Miami. (If there are any real nerds out there, you might be interested in this academic research article about the Bahamas’ history of tourism and its ties to the nation’s colonial past.)

With so much of a head start, you might think that Nassau would be well ahead of the curve when it comes to developing attractions for cruise ship tourists. In this regard, though, Nassau has struggled: It often finds itself on “worst of” lists, and cruisers on popular message boards bash the location with gusto. I often overhear passengers talking about how they’re not even planning to get off the ship in Nassau.

Personally, I think Nassau gets a bad rap. I’ve stopped at the port four or five times in the last few years, and every year we find something different to do. Our day always includes the fantastic Pirate Republic Brewing, which is a short walk from the cruise terminal. When we stopped in Nassau on Majesty, we decided to take the advice of Trip Advisor’s reviewers and visit the Athena Café, ranked #3 in Nassau by users. We had an unusual, only-on-vacation snack of conch fritters and spanakopita (both delicious!), washed down with a Bahamian Kalik beer.

You can read up on Nassau and its options for cruise ship visitors at a number of websites. The Travel Channel gives tips for a day ashore in Nassau, among other popular cruise ports; I highly endorse their suggestion that you head to the area of town known as the Fish Fry, where you’ll find delicious seafood for lunch. This thorough guide to Nassau from the travel blog EatSleepCruise goes over a number of options including beaches and sites from Nassau’s colonial history. (I’m looking forward to taking their suggestion to visit the Ardastra Gardens/Zoo on a future trip!)