Western Caribbean - January 2004

Nordic Empress

Here we are again, cruising the exotic shores of the Caribbean. This time around, Cathy and I are joined by my parents for a week of fun in the sun. Actually, there was a bit of rain and clouds on this trip, but rain at 80 degrees in the Caribbean is better than snow and 17 degrees in Philadelphia.

We started from the not so exotic port of Tampa Bay. Tampa is a bit easier to get around than Miami, so we got to the ship soon. This is our third time on the Nordic Empress, and she is a nice ship. Smallest of Royal Caribbean's ships, she is due for a few weeks in dry dock in April. Cathy and I are considering another cruise to Bermuda on her in June. We had a great group of people helping us. Our cabin steward, Ralph, kept the room clean and kept us entertained with the towel animals. Our wait staff was fabulous. Our waiter Ana was extremely friendly and is one of the first women supervisors for Royal Caribbean. Our assistant waiter Norbert was new to the job, but did a good job of keeping our glasses full and our plates cleared (after we cleared the food, of course). Head waiter Haydar was running our part of the dining room, and he did his job keeping us informed of happenings and making sure we were happy. Service was excellent. The shows were good, I shot a small clip, and as our "Celebrity Headliner" we saw Yakov Smirnov. It has been a long time since I've heard anything out of him. I can't wait to see the Nordic Empress after a little updating.

Nordic Empress Pool Deck

On this trip I got to try my new Canon PowerShot A70. A birthday present for myself, I got it along with the underwater housing. The image quality is very nice and it has a few nice features such as Stich-Assist to create the panaromic shots you see, and movie mode. I was able to shoot some short movies. I think the one while diving in Cozumel is pretty cool. The biggest issue with the camera is shutter lag. There is a bit of a delay between hitting the button and the camera firing. I'm hoping to play with some settings to see if this can be reduced. Some of my subjects were swimming away before I got them.

Our first port of call was Grand Cayman. Cathy and my parents went to Seven Mile Beach while I went diving. Unfortunately they got a little wet without going in the water. A couple intense downpours hit. Fortunately for me I was underwater most of that time. I went diving with Red Sail Sports. This is the second time I've had a trip with them and they are my favorite operation. Their boats are comfortable and well equipted. Tim and Drew were the crew, and Drew was actually from Norristown, PA, so we talked a little about Dutch Springs. We dove two sites, Great House Wall to 80 feet, and Ora Verde to 50 feet. Ora Verde is a Banana Boat turned dope smuggler turned wreck. While it was mostly broken apart from storms, the bow section was intact and there were a couple huge grouper residing inside. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera.

Norwegian Cruiseline ship in Belize

In Belize I again went diving while Cathy and the 'rents went on a tour of Belize City (a bit scary, their cab driver showed them the lowlights of the town) and then went on a powerboat ride to a small island. They thought it was the perfect place to go if you are hiding from the feds.

Belize Dive Boat

For the dive, there was a long boat ride in a small dive boat. The dive guides were Russel and Francoise. We went out to Turneffe Reef and it took about an hour. It was raining for most of the ride and I was soaked. Our first dive was close to the Kalabash Resort, hence the name, Kalabash Wall. The second dive was Chinaman's Wall. It gets its name from Chinaman's Cay, the small island in the pictures. After the dives we had lunch on the Cay - chicken with a great local sauce, cole slaw and tortillas. Then it was a very bumpy ride back. You can get an idea of the ride from the movie I shot.

Chinaman's Cay - Belize

The final stop on the cruise was Cozumel. Cathy and my parents went shopping while I, you guessed it, went diving. This was the first time I was on a real drift dive. It was a little disconcerting flying along the reef. Gabriel, our dive guide, took us through swim-throughs at Santa Rosa Wall, and then to Yukab, a reef a little off the wall. We hit 84 and 54 feet respectively. The water was crystal clear and the marine life incredible. The biggest problem I had was with taking pictures. As soon as you see something you want to photograph, you are six feet past it. You can see some of my pictures are a bit blurry. I took a great movie of everyone diving with us. Gabriel is the one in the full wet suit. Also in the shot you can see Kelly, Irene, Mark and Angie. I was a good bunch of folks.

Well, there you have it, another travelog by me. Until we cruise again - clear skies and smooth seas.