Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Posts Tagged ‘cruising’

Writers Conference on Independence of the Seas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 27, 2017

Fun in the Sun Writers Conference on Independence of the Seas
Sponsored by Florida Romance Writers
February 16, 2017

As soon as we boarded Independence of the Seas, we headed to lunch in the Windjammer Café. Entrees were tempting. They had the grill with burgers and hot dogs inside here instead of out on the pool deck like on other ships. Desserts were not overly appealing, especially after the artistic confections on Celebrity Equinox. The cookies were the crunchy type, whereas I prefer soft, chewy centers. However, there is a soft ice cream machine on the pool deck that’s free to guests.

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We strolled around and unpacked a bit before the lifeboat drill. This one took place outside on the deck where we lined up like sardines and stood there for a half hour until dismissed. No life vests required for the drill, which was a bonus. However, I prefer the cruise lines where you sit in an air-conditioned lounge to hear the spiel.

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The FRW Meet & Greet Welcome Party had the editor/agent panel where we heard what each industry guest has on their wish lists. This event gave us a good chance to mingle in the Olive or Twist lounge on Deck 14. Here I am with my agent, the wonderful Evan Marshall from The Evan Marshall Agency.

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Shortly thereafter, we attended dinner in the King Lear Dining Room. I’m not a late diner, and eating at 8:30 led to a long evening on a full stomach. Some nights we didn’t finish until after ten. While the food was good, it wasn’t exceptional. Nor was the dining room service as efficient as on other vessels.

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Our cabin service was excellent, though. The balcony cabin was spacious with adequate storage. We had an extra-long couch across from a desk console. The shower is the round manhole cover shape but at least it has a glass door. Don’t drop your soap on the floor. You have to be a contortionist to pick it up. I used my slumber mask as light came in from outside the ship at the edges of the drapes. Bathroom amenities included bottles of lotion, shampoo, and conditioner. The bar soap was very thin. I missed the robes we get on other cruise lines.

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We awakened at our usual early hour. I prefer the buffet for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast in the Windjammer Café offered varied choices, but they didn’t change much from day-to-day. A chef would do made-to-order omelets. Pancakes and waffles were always available along with the usual fruits, pastries, yogurt, and more.

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Our conference workshops began promptly at 8am on Friday. Stay tuned for more in the next installment. See all photos HERE.


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Coco Cay

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 23, 2016

The water in the Bahamas is a beautiful aqua, and I might have been tempted to go in except it was very windy when we tendered to Coco Cay on the third day of our cruise. RCCL’s private island is an oasis with native shops, a nature trail, small coves for snorkeling, and numerous beaches with lounge chairs already laid out.

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We enjoyed the beach barbecue with chicken, ribs, burgers, hot dogs, and accompaniments. Somehow this food tastes better outside and when someone else cooks it.

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I savor these private island stops both for the relaxation and the food. And don’t forget to order a Bahama Mama. You can’t visit these islands without drinking at least one. Or a Coco Loco, which they offered at Coco Cay. As the drink vendors said, “If you’re hot, see what I’ve got.”

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We lazed around until we’d had enough sun and then caught the tender back to the ship.

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At night, we celebrated our 40th anniversary with a champagne toast. And so ended our latest cruise.

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View all the photos HERE.

 

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A Day in Nassau

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 22, 2016

Our first port of call on Majesty of the Seas was Nassau. Having been here before, we didn’t care to take a tour and elected instead to find a place for lunch.

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I’d read about a native Bahamian restaurant and wanted to check it out. Several blocks later, we entered the place on a quiet side street. Nobody was there, and so we left. It’s not a good sign if a restaurant lacks customers. We retraced our steps and chose an air-conditioned place by the water called Via Restaurant and Bar. Our grilled snapper was delicious but spicy. It came with cole slaw plus rice and beans. You can find lots of places to eat along the waterfront including Senor Frog by the far end.

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We shopped on Bay Street despite the intermittent downpours and ended up buying inexpensive umbrellas to add to our collection. Stores were decorated for Christmas. The straw market is still here and under cover. I bought a hat since I’d forgotten to bring mine. The usual souvenirs are available along with fine jewelry, liquor, and perfumes on Bay Street. Know your prices before you go.

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If you’re here for the first time, you can do a city tour, view the fort, visit the Atlantis resort, or participate in a number of water sports activities. I regret that RCCL didn’t offer a culinary experience or any kind of botanical garden if there is one on the island. However, the rainy weather made our independent choice the best one.

View all the photos HERE.

Next Post: Coco Cay

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Majesty of the Seas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 21, 2016

We took our adult children on a weekend cruise to celebrate our fortieth anniversary. The older Royal Caribbean vessel left out of Port Canaveral. This was our first time at this port, which seemed less hectic than Port Everglades. Besides our ship on Friday, only one other was docked there and it belonged to Disney. We parked in a garage opposite the terminal and boarded before noon.

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Lunch was available in the Windjammer Café on Deck 12. The buffet setup was much smaller than on our other recent cruises, and I vaguely remembered being here before. We’d sailed on this ship back in 1992.

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Although an older model, the ship is well-maintained and clean. There’s only one pool area on Deck 12 without a secondary glass-covered solarium pool. Elsewhere, there’s a rock climbing wall for sports enthusiasts. You can also go outside on Deck 7 and walk around the deck there for exercise or lounge in a chair facing the water.

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Our oceanview cabin on deck four was tiny, with a small desk that also served as a dresser. Inside the small bathroom, the rectangular shower space had a good showerhead on a removable hose and a curtain instead of a glass door. Lotion, shampoo, and conditioner were provided. I wasn’t as comfortable here as on other recent ships we’ve been on, but it’s a less expensive cruise and we managed for the three nights. This sailing is good for a quick getaway that isn’t as expensive as some other ships, and it has an appealing itinerary with two ports of call. The cruise staff was friendly and worked hard to give guests a memorable experience.

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Shops were located on Deck 5 and had better merchandise than on the larger and newer Celebrity Equinox, our most recent voyage. The shows were entertaining with a comedian, juggler, and singers/dancers. If you’re a night owl, other activities are offered to keep you occupied. The Schooner Lounge had a musician nightly, and you could find dance music in another lounge.

Deck 14 has the Viking Crown Lounge, always a favorite of mine with its panoramic view toward the bow with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. This is where Diamond Members and above could get their free cocktails and appetizers each evening at 5pm.

We’d opted for assigned seats in the dining room at 6pm and luckily had a table for four. The food was very good, although the choices were not as classy as on Celebrity Equinox. You had to pay extra for filet mignon or lobster. The bread selection was varied enough, and a different salad was offered each night. On the second night, the waiters danced along to a conga line. On the last night, they serenaded us with “O Solo Mio” to go along with our Italian cuisine. Other dining options included Johnny Rockets for a small fee, Sorrentos for free pizza, and a deli with appetizers and wraps. For early birds, Sorrentos is open early with coffee and pastries. 

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The Windjammer opens at 7am in the morning for breakfast. I liked that they offered prepared fried eggs although you could have your eggs or omelets cooked to order. Half and half is available in little cups to go with your coffee.

There’s a ceremony of flags in the atrium where the cruise director announces the number of crew members from each country. This was an impressive display along with a few selected native dances. We also attended the welcome back party for repeat cruisers, and Richard won 100 credits in the casino. It took us a while to figure out how to play the slots. It took us less time to play and lose all the points. I’d rather spend my money on souvenirs I can bring home. Note Santa hiding in the crowd on the below right.

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Now I have to work to lose the weight I’d gained. So it goes each time after a cruise.

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View all the photos HERE.

Next Posts: Nassau and Coco Cay

 

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Cozumel

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 14, 2016

Cozumel, Mexico

Ships can dock at several different piers in Cozumel. Our pier had a concrete shopping center with a wide variety of native goods, jewelry, and liquor. We passed on catching a taxi into town or doing a shore excursion, having been here before. Instead, we spent several hours browsing the port shops and buying some beautiful woven blankets.

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We ate lunch at Senor Frogs by the water, enjoying Bahama Mamas and splitting a beef fajita. The food was good and the rum was plentiful. By the time we boarded the ship, we were both ready for a nap.

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Cozumel has beautiful crystal-clear water that is perfect for water sport enthusiasts. As Floridians with our own swimming pool and beaches, we chose to go shopping instead. Besides, we’re coming back here in February on the conference cruise sponsored by Florida Romance Writers.

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And so ends our cruise aboard the Celebrity Equinox. I hope you’ve enjoyed my journal entries.

 

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Booklovers Bench, Dec. 1 – 18

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Grand Cayman – Pedro St. James

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 13, 2016

Grand Cayman – Pedro St. James

The entrance to this historic estate takes you through a gift shop. From here, we entered a theater and watched a multi-media presentation relating the history of the estate. It was quite interesting, especially the part where a daughter of the owner was killed during a lightning storm. She and her younger brother were fetching rain water in a bucket at the bottom of the stairs when she was struck and killed. The brother was knocked unconscious but survived. Thunder and flashing lights accompanied the tale. No ghost stories here, according to our local guide. Later fire destroyed much of the estate. It was reincarnated as a castle, and now has been restored to its original design.

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The original structure was built by slaves. It’s a beautiful place with covered porches, slate stone flooring, mahogany furnishings, and thick stone outer walls. Wood shutters shade the windows and keep the interior cool. Mosquito netting on the beds was essential.

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After viewing the building, we were led inside a café where we received tea and cakes. I liked the moist coconut cake better than the dense carrot cake and bread pudding.

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We headed back to the ship from here. By now it was two o’clock. The last tender left at three, so we peeked quickly inside the shops at the port and then departed the island.

See All Photos Here

Next Port: Cozumel, Mexico

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Booklovers Bench, Dec. 1 – 18

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Grand Cayman – Botanical Gardens

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 12, 2016

We tendered into town on this island. Several gift shops selling souvenirs and craft items along with a café are located at the pier. Clean restrooms are available here, too. Outside the gates, you can find jewelry stores and other upscale shops plus a Margaritaville restaurant. We took an air-conditioned bus tour to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Gardens, which inhabits 65 acres. It took us about forty minutes to get there. We saw expensive homes, including a multi-million dollar mansion owned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

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We passed a beautiful modern school, shopping strips, gas stations, and more wealthy homes. At the garden, labels defined the trees and plants in sectioned areas. It could have taken us all day to view the various displays. Our local guide took us down the sandy paths and described the plants.

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There is a small historic house on the grounds, and a gift shop that sells souvenirs and refreshments. We got stuck there when our bus broke down, and we had to wait twenty minutes or so for a replacement.

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This tranquil nature park is well worth the drive if you’re looking for something new to do during a repeat island visit.

See All Photos Here

Next Port: Grand Cayman- Pedro St. James

Giveaways

Holiday Glitz Contest, Dec. 2 – 12

LAST DAY! Enter Here to win a silver evening bag or one of two runners-up prizes – a Diamonds International charm bracelet. U.S. residents only.

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Booklovers Bench, Dec. 1 – 18

Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench

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Cartagena, Columbia – Day 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 9, 2016

Cartagena, Columbia – Day 2
Celebrity Cruises

Our second day in Cartagena, we were determined to head back to the Dungeons and shop the arcades. Our tour guide from the day before had offered to take a group into town, but we missed the ride. So we caught a taxi with another couple and split the twenty dollar fee. The driver dropped us off in the Old City but couldn’t tell us where to find the Dungeons. We noted our location so we could head back there for pickup and refused his offer to wait for us, or to come back at a specific time. We figured it wouldn’t be hard to flag another taxi in the same place.

We’d obtained a shopping map from the ship, but the streets were not labeled correctly or with any detail, and it only pointed out the ship’s recommended stores. We found these okay, but they weren’t where we wanted to go. Nobody seemed to understand when we asked about the Dungeons, or else they pointed vaguely and said the arcades were blocks away. We strolled along the streets, admiring the architecture and the wares sold by the street vendors.

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We peeked inside a cathedral that was crowded on this Sunday morning. Many patrons sat in the pews. We saw the famous clock tower.

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We climbed the wall and admired the view. The ancient wall is an attraction in itself.

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By now we were hot and tired. We trudged back to our place of origin. Buses sat waiting for their groups, but we spied only one lone taxi. The driver didn’t speak English and shook his head at my gestures. He must have been waiting on a return fare. It looked as though other cabs were driving by another section. Maybe we could hail one there. But the streets were flooded from recent rains, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that getting over to that spot would be difficult. Plus the cabs were zooming past as though already occupied.

Maybe we could find another place by the wall where there was a taxi stand. We wound through the streets, sweat dripping down our faces. Feeling lost and on the verge of collapse from heat exhaustion, I wondered what would happen if we needed medical assistance in this foreign place. We stopped passersby to inquire about a taxi, but no one spoke English. Overheated and panting, I feared we wouldn’t make it back to the ship.

Shoving aside a sense of panic, I staggered onward. As though by divine providence, I saw the familiar and very welcome face of our tour guide from the day before. He must have dropped off his load of tourists there and was hanging around waiting for their return. I waved to him. He recognized me and waved back. As we approached, I said we were ready to go back to the ship. He offered to take us to the Dungeons, but I didn’t care at that point. We followed him on a fifteen to twenty minute hike through the maze of streets to another section by the wall. Here he got us a cab and negotiated with the driver on our behalf. Greatly relieved, we dove inside the air-conditioned interior and settled back in our seats. The fare was supposed to be $15 for the two of us, but when I handed the driver my $20, he nodded and kept it. I was so glad to be back at the ship that I let it go.

A shuttle ran between the end of the pier and our ship. We gladly climbed aboard. Once back in our cabin, I rinsed my face with cold water. My complexion was red as a beet. We’re Floridians, so our sweat glands had done their jobs, but all the walking in the high heat defeated even us. Truly our guardian angels were watching over us that day to bring the tour guide our way.

Once we’d recovered, we took the shuttle back to the entrance and shopped in the spacious, air-conditioned gift shop where they sell emerald jewelry, native crafts, coffee, candy, and more. Outside, the port area is attractively landscaped with birds on display. You can catch a taxi out front. Just remember to arrange for pickup if you go touring on your own.

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After having been so stressed out, overheated, and dehydrated, I succumbed to a scratchy sore throat. This was the beginning of a cold which my husband caught from me. No doubt our resistance wore down that day, but we learned a lesson. Columbia isn’t like the Caribbean islands where people speak English and you can easily hire a cab. Nonetheless, Cartagena’s Old City is a beautiful place with flowers and ironwork on second-story balconies and romantic carriage rides. Visions of Romancing the Stone will play in your head. But now I understand how the heroine felt when she got lost on the wrong bus.

See All Photos Here

Next Port: Georgetown, Grand Cayman

Giveaways

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Enter Here to win a silver evening bag or one of two runners-up prizes – a Diamonds International charm bracelet. U.S. residents only.

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Cartagena, Columbia – Day 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 8, 2016

Cartagena, Columbia – Day 1
Celebrity Equinox

Cartagena is a cosmopolitan city with skyscrapers in the new city and Spanish Colonial architecture in the walled old town. We came into the port where massive cranes showed a bustling cargo operation. Across the water is the modern cityscape, impressive in its sun-bathed brilliance.

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Our air-conditioned bus tour took us through city streets and up a hill with winding hairpin curves to the highest point in the city. Ten crosses along the way marked the road for drivers. At the top is La Popa Monastery, now a tourist attraction. Built in the 1500s, it serves as a museum to the past. Outside the entry gate are vendors hawking their wares. These natives can be very persistent, and you are expected to haggle for a good price.

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Once past the gate, we entered a brick plaza. Our guide took us into the building. Inside was a two-story courtyard like the one at Vizcaya in Miami. We viewed the Chapel with its wooden pews and enormous gold ornament on the dais.

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Outside, we took photos of the panoramic view. You could see the city and the sea beyond.

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From here we drove downhill and toward the old town, where we stopped to view Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. This is the largest fort South America. It’s fully intact and very formidable. If you were marched inside as a prisoner, likely you weren’t coming out. It reminded me of the Count of Monte Cristo’s story. This was like something you’d see in a movie. We didn’t go inside on our tour, but it would have been a very interesting excursion. Vendors hounded us again, selling costume jewelry, leather belts, handbags, colorful paintings, hats, sunglasses, and tacky souvenirs.

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Next we entered the walled city. This was the first time I’d actually been inside a city with an ancient stone wall fully functional with ramparts and all. We had a quick stop at the Dungeons that are now shopping arcades with 23 enclosed stalls. We’d barely time to look around at the leather goods, souvenirs, coffee beans, woven hammocks, linen tablecloths, tee shirts, hats, mugs, and jewelry. Here it would have been nice to have an hour or two to shop instead of twenty minutes.

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Then we joined our guide in a walking tour of the Old City. It’s a maze of streets, lined by vendors selling more of the above. We saw fruit carts loaded with mangos, peeled pineapple wedges, bananas, and coconuts. Food vendors sold fried corn cakes.

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At the Emerald Museum, we went inside for a quick tour. According to our guide, Columbia has three main exports: coffee, emeralds, and a third item not mentionable. We all laughed at that remark, knowing what he meant. I enjoyed the displays in the museum, but this part ended in a rushed visit to an adjacent gift shop. Then we emerged into the bright sunshine to carry on.

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Next we went inside the Naval Museum, where we browsed among interesting displays relating to the region’s history. A folkloric show was performed for our benefit. This lasted about ten minutes, and we each received a bottle of water for refreshment. While I liked seeing the museum, this part I’d give up in favor of more shopping time at the arcades. Restrooms were available here, at the monastery, and by the Dungeons. We vowed to return ourselves to the arcades tomorrow. This was an excellent tour, covering many of the city highlights.

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Next Port: Cartagena, Columbia – Day Two

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Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 2, 2016

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
Celebrity Equinox Shore Excursion

On our way out of the port town, we noted tin-roofed residences painted coral, aqua, and sand colors. Barbed wire and guard bars on windows were widely evident. So were electric wires in overhead tangles. The city had a third world look, although our guide said education is mandatory, and they have a high literacy level. Nicaraguans take the more menial jobs. It’s a mountainous country but not near the coast, where our air-conditioned bus took us to the Tortuguero Canals to see the wildlife. The mountains rise 12,000 feet in the highest place. Our tour guide was excellent, keeping up a running commentary along the way. He’s a Catholic who goes to church only on three occasions: “when we hatch, match, and dispatch.” He went to school to become a professional tour guide, and his training shows.

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The open-air boat ride took about two hours. A roof provided shade as we cruised slowly along, stopping up close to see animals such as a small red dart frog, a sloth, howler monkeys in the trees, various birds, a blue butterfly, iguanas, and Cayman gators that are smaller than alligators. The water was murky brown, possibly stained from mangrove roots.

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Back at the boathouse, we used the restrooms and ate a snack of juicy sweet pineapple and fresh bananas. We gulped down the cold water offered. There’s a small souvenir shop with tee shirts and carved wood items, plus Costa Rican coffee for sale.

Traffic in Limon was congested. Driving in the city was a free-for-all with cars going every which way at intersections and no traffic lights. If there’s wealth in this country, we didn’t see it by this coastline. A tour to the rainforests would be another good choice, but since the mountains are distant, it probably takes a while to get there from this port town.

We noted a gift shop near the entry gates, but it didn’t look too inviting. Since we don’t need any more wood carvings or native handicrafts, we passed on this opportunity and went back to the ship.

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Next Port: Colon, Panama

Giveaways

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Enter Here to win a silver evening bag or one of two runners-up prizes – a Diamonds International charm bracelet. U.S. residents only.

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