FAMILY BERMUDA TRIP 2004
...with a preliminary trip to Wash. DC & Norfolk
This was our 9th family trip and Weston’s first. We have reached our maximum size of 10. The point of the trip was eventually to board the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator in Norfolk for a one week voyage. Jodie, Natalie, Nathan, and I left early and spent three days seeing the sights of Washington, D.C. and then drove to Norfolk, VA in a rental car. We spent an additional three days there. Beth and Ryan arrived in Washington the day before we left; Randall and Weston arrived the evening of the day we left. Then they drove their rental van to Norfolk. Donna and Chris also arrived the night before we were to embark We all met at the Radisson Norfolk Hotel, taking advantage of the precruise package.
We’ve been in Washington for two days so far. Beth and Ryan arrived last evening. Our Continental flight arrived early in Houston. A strong thunder storm had passed across the field prior to our arrival however it didn’t delay us. It did, however, delay the flights coming in from the East. Therefore our flight to Washington National was delayed departing since it came from there. We were an hour late departing but it wasn’t too bad since we were waiting in the Continental lounge. Although we were flying steerage we were allowed in by virtue of our American Express card. We were served a snack, consisting of a tasty little sandwich, on each leg of our flight.
After collecting our luggage we found the Metro station and bought tickets from the machines. The cost was $1.05 each. The train arrived and we rode it for just two stops to King street. Our hotel, the Hampton Inn, was supposed to be close to the station however it wasn’t visible. We asked for directions and found it a couple of blocks away. While we were checking in we asked if there were any restaurants open at this late hour. Joe Theismann’s stays open late so that’s where we went. Their late nite menu consists mostly of sandwiches but that was acceptable. Natalie was impressed with the chicken fingers.
We arose around 8 am the next morning and enjoyed the better-than-average included Continental breakfast at the hotel. Since the Metro rates change at 9:30 we waited until then to board the train to Arlington National Cemetery. This is a terminus for the Tourmobile - the on/off NPS authorized tour of the monuments, etc. We saw all the biggies, including the new WWII Memorial, plus the part of the Holocaust Museum available without a ticket. Lack of tickets also prevented us from entering the Washington Monument, Capitol, and White House. Both the Capitol and the White House tickets must be obtained a month or more in advance from a congress person.
We had lunch at the remarkable food court at the Air & Space Museum. When you enter you encounter a row of at least 10 ordering station/cash registers. Food is available from McDonalds, Boston Market, Donato’s Pizzeria and one other fast food source. Anything from all four may be ordered at the same register. After ordering and paying you are told to go to a numbered location on the long pick-up counter. The whole process takes only minutes. They must serve hundreds of people an hour.
If you take the Tourmobile from Arlington you must start your return from downtown by 4 pm before they stop running. Our ticket included a tour of the cemetery and viewing of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solder. After the tour we hopped on the Metro and got back to the hotel around 5 pm. The skies were overcast so the temperatures weren’t too bad. There was even some light rain.
So far our search for wine for Jodie has been fruitless. While Natalie enjoyed the hotel pool, Nathan and I walked several blocks down King street but found only some soft drinks for the kids. By local law, there is a full-time life guard at the pool. When we were finally able to drag Natalie out of the pool we walked to an Italian restaurant a couple of blocks from the hotel on King Street in old downtown Alexandra. The meal was so-so.
The guests in the hotel are a mix of business people and tourists. Most of the buildings around the hotel seem to be occupied by various lobbing groups or trade associations. Since school is out, central Washington is overrun with tourists, mostly families with kids. Access to many things, the Washington monument, for example, are by ticket only. Although the tickets are free all of the day’s tickets are gone early in the morning. The ticket booth at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving opens at 6:30 am. When we got there at 9 it was closed since all the tickets for the day were gone.
The attacks by the Moslems have really impacted things. We had to go through security check points with metal detectors and x-ray machines whenever we entered any building. They would not hand check cameras. Security barriers are very much in evidence, especially around the White House. Washington police and other security people are very prominent.
Yesterday’s overcast was replaced by bright Sun. We had a long, hot walk to the Air & Space Museum where we spent the morning and had lunch at the food court. We then walked across the mall to the National Archives. After about a 30 minute wait we viewed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
We had intended to visit some of the other Smithsonian museums however decided to return to the hotel. Jodie obtained directions to a liquor store from the desk so she set off on foot while Natalie swam and Nathan vegged. She finally returned with her wine after a very long walk On her way to the liquor store she found a Trader Joes. Two Buck Chuck is $3.29 in Washington.
Beth and Ryan arrived around 6 pm after a close encounter with one of the posts in the garage under the hotel. We again dined at Joe Theismann’s but this time from the regular menu.
Since Beth had a rented van we all drove out to Mt. Vernon the next day. After a bit of a wait in line we toured the house and then wandered about the grounds. After a visit to the souvenir shop we headed for the exit. It very conveniently passes through a facility which contains a food court, a dining room, and two big souvenir shops.
There is a very pretty parkway that follows the Potomac to Mt. Vernon. We took it both ways. When we got into Alexandra we took a side trip to Trader Joes. That evening we dined with Beth’s friends, Sharon and Jay and their two little girls.
Beth drove me over to the Thrifty car rental station near the airport and, after a very long wait, I drove off in a red jeep Liberty. This was not what I had requested however it was what they had. We got out of town around 11 am and almost immediately encountered stop-and-go weekend traffic on I95 which persisted all the way to Fredericksburg. We had intended to spend a fair amount of time visiting the Civil War battlefields there however our very late arrival cut that short. In addition to the traffic, the very poor AAA maps made it difficult to find the visitor center.
After viewing a film depicting the battle we joined one of the docents for a tour of the sunken road. The Confederate troops occupied a road that was worn down from use so that they were behind a earthen berm and stone wall that was about 4 feet high. In addition, they had artillery on top of a hill behind the road. The Union troops attacked by marching in mass across an open field toward the Confederates and were cut down in waves.
By now it was 3 pm and we still hadn’t had lunch. As a result of the AAA maps we became rather lost but finally had a very poor lunch at a Hardees. I asked someone where the interstate was so we were finally “found” again. Traffic was somewhat better but eventually we were driven from the interstate to smaller, more direct roads. As we approached the Norfolk area we picked up a traffic broadcast that stated there was a 30 min delay getting through the tunnel we intended to use so, using the inadequate AAA map Jodie navigated us there by a different route. With some luck we found the Radisson hotel and with even more luck found the entrance.
The parking lot and hotel were quite full. They gave us rooms across the hall from each other. Natalie and Nathan found that theirs was still occupied. After great effort they were relocated to a handicapped room on the 10th floor, the only room available. We had a late dinner at the hotel in a very empty dining room.
The next morning, after a very good complementary breakfast, we checked with the desk clerk. He gave Natalie and Nathan another room close to ours, however it wasn’t available yet so he left a very clear note that the occupants of room 1000 were to be moved to 514. When we returned to the hotel that afternoon we learned that the day manager couldn’t understand the note so she gave the room to someone else. There was, however, another room available on our wing of the hotel.
Our plan that day was to visit Colonial Williamsburg and the Yorktown Battlefield which are both about an hours drive away in the same locale and requires passing through one of the underwater tunnels. Williamsburg was so interesting that we spent the entire day there and had a good lunch at a tavern. A man portraying a school master of the period came in and chatted with us as we ate.
In addition to the usual display of colonial life, there was a large encampment of red coats. They came in and occupied the town as their real-life counterparts did during the revolution. At the end of the day Sunday they were to march our, again as actually happened.
We strolled down the street from the hotel and had dinner at a Chili’s in the MacArthur shopping center. Since it was Sunday, most of the center was closed.
We had rain for our visit to Yorktown the next day. After viewing the film at the visitor center we did the auto tour of the various sites. The rain didn’t impact us very much. I turned in the jeep after we returned. The Thrifty rental location was within a block of the hotel. The jeep was smallish but with 4-wheel drive and got 18 mpg.
The Fergusons arrived in their little silver van and we all dined at Castaldi’s Italian restaurant in the shopping center. All of the wait staff take turns singing to the accompaniment of a piano. Some were good; some were quite loud.
Donna and Chris were due in that evening and, in fact, arrived on time. Delta, however, couldn’t get the baggage doors on the aircraft open so they were delayed. I had made arrangements for the hotel shuttle van to pick them up. With many calls between Chris and me on cell phones, to the desk by the hotel phone, and from the desk to the van driver by cell phone they finally made it.
Our precruise package at the hotel included transportation to the ship so the next morning around 11:30 the 10 of us plus our luggage boarded the shuttle van and were whisked off to the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator. It was moored next to the battleship Wisconsin. We had to wait a bit before being allowed to board. Security was fairly tight, metal detectors and hand luggage searches. I don’t think anything was done to the luggage, however.
With our glass of welcoming champagne in hand we approached the tables set up in the dining room. The staff collected our tickets and passports, took a credit card impression, took our pictures with little computer cameras, and issued our cruise cards. Then we were led off to our rooms. We found that several room adjustments needed to be made to get Jodie and me in the same room and to get the Fergusons in adjoining rooms, so we went to reception where it was quickly accomplished. We had lunch at the pool deck grill and unpacked. Given the large closet and many drawers, unpacking went rapidly so that we could be out on deck for sailing at 3 pm.
The Norfolk-Hampton Roads harbor complex is quite extensive. It took over an hour to reach the open ocean. Along the way we passed by the Norfolk Navy Base and passed over two of the automobile tunnels that cross the bay. The ship was escorted the entire way by two Norfolk Police boats, one on either side and that took turns moving ahead of the ship and then dropping back. We had the first of several cocktail parties in our cabin, utilizing the champagne gifts we had received.
Although it was rather hazy, the early morning entry into New York harbor was well worth arising for. There was a steady stream of outgoing traffic with little boats darting about among the stately procession of large ships. After we passed under the Verrazano Narrows bridge, the Statue of Liberty came into view. She seemed small when viewed against the backdrop of skyscrapers. Ellis Island came into view shortly thereafter.
The ship slowed as it progressed up the Hudson River. We were almost dead in the water when two Moran Company tugs joined us. They pushed us into our berth at pier 92 around 8:30.
In-transit passengers, which we were, were free to leave the ship by 9. Departing passengers needed to be cleared by customs. We had booked an independent tour of New York but when we got off before 10 to look for our tour guide we couldn’t find him. While waiting in front of the pier I noticed several busses lined up to take the departing passengers to the various local airports. I hoped we would have a similar service in Norfolk when we departed.
When there was still no sign of our guide, Chris called the Discover New York office, 212-370-1319, to see where he was. They called the guide and then they called Chris back. About this time the guide showed up and called the van. The guide was John, apparently no last name; the driver was Ivan. We told John we wanted to spend some time in Central Park and to see Ground Zero. The preliminary material we received from Discover New York said the tour included the observation level of the Empire State Building. He felt this was a poor use of time since we would be standing in line a lot. We agreed.
John was born and raised in New York. As a true New Yorker he does not have a car nor a driver’s license. He is an architecture historian and teaches at a local college. Ivan is foreign born and has been driving in New York for 25 years. He lived for some time in Redondo Beach.
We went almost immediately to Central Park which is an impressive verdant green in contrast to the stark stone of the surrounding high rise buildings. Our first stop was a playground area that the three younger kids enjoyed. We then strolled across the concert green which was originally a sheep pasture. The famous Tavern on the Green was once the sheep barn and sheepherder’s dwelling. The underlying granite of the island poked through the grass at random throughout the park. All of the trees and much of the soil were brought in when the park was created by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1857.
We toured most of the island and had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. Our tour concluded in the Winter Garden at a point overlooking Ground Zero. I was surprised that I felt no particular emotions when visiting that point. It now looks like just another construction site.
It was a very good tour. The only complaint was that John is rather soft spoken and couldn’t be heard by those toward the rear of the van.
This was a day at sea so there were many activities scheduled. We went in for the wine tasting and found that it started a half hour before scheduled. Our presence was ignored so I left in disgust. Jodie stayed and during the question period asked why it started early but received no reasonable explanation except that they started it after a cooking demonstration. There was also a good lecture on Bermuda and a very poor lecture that was apparently intended to be on sugar and rum.
We had ordered our Bermuda tour tickets by fax from home. Radisson sent out the tour book rather late and we had to rush the ordering. We found a large envelope containing the tour tickets on our door this morning. Jodie checked them over and found out that the times had changed from what was presented in the book and that we had several conflicts. In addition, several tours had been cancelled. The lateness of the book and the disorganized nature of the tours makes it hard to believe that Radisson had done this same itinerary last year. The shipboard tour office was not especially concerned about their foul-up but they did cancel our conflicting tickets.
The only part of the ship hotel staff that seems unchanged is the food service staff. We have been receiving absolutely outstanding service from all.
We arrived at Hamilton, Bermuda, after our day at sea. The ship followed a serpentine course through the surrounding coral and finally came alongside right in downtown Hamilton. We were about 50 feet from the main street with all the shops on the other side. It was raining when we set out to shop. We shopped but bought little. There was really little to buy that is unique to Bermuda. The Bermuda dollar is pegged to the US dollar so both are used interchangeably.
Bermuda is the home of the onion of the same name however none were available as souvenirs. Another symbol of the island is the pastel-colored house with a white terraced roof. Since there is no natural water supply, all roofs are designed to channel rain water into cisterns. The rain that dampened our shopping was quite welcome since there had been no rain for a couple of months. There are companies that will deliver a weeks worth of water for $65.
In the afternoon we did a glass bottomed boat tour which took us to a sunken ship which was populated with coral and large fish. The boat was a Royal Navy ramming ship and was built out of cast iron. When it was discovered that the iron was dissolving in the sea water it was overlaid with thick oak planks. After this was done, the ship was so heavy that its speed was much too slow to be an effective ram so it was sunk to block one of the entry channels into the bay.
The fish are instantly attracted to the glass bottomed boat since the crew feeds them bread every time they visit. There were no especially pretty fish, just big ones. Weston found the fish quite exciting. We also saw some green sea turtles off to the side of the boat.
Donna, Chris, Beth, and Randall were treated to a “romantic sunset cruise, which was neither, while we kept the kids. We ate dinner at our usual table for 10 although we were only 6 in number. The kids were well behaved.
Jodie, Chris, Nathan, and I did the Hartley Helmet Dive this morning. We rode a boat out to a small reef area that the operator, Greg Hartley, has set up for his operation. After tying up the boat, bow and stern, to prelocated anchors he donned his wet suit, popped on his helmet and dropped into the 10 foot deep water. He lifted up a ladder that spans the stern and his assistant Jerome attached it to the stern. Chris and Nathan descended the ladder until only their heads and shoulders were out of the water then Jerome placed their helmets on them. The helmets are not attached in any way; the weight of the helmet plus two skin diving weights hold them on but you can’t bend over.
Chris and Nathan descended and then it was our turn. Although there is glass on three sides of the helmet the view is limited. The water came up to my chin but no higher. It encouraged me to stand straight and not look down. When we reached the bottom Greg led us to a hunk of PVC pipe which Chris and Nathan were already holding. After the four remaining people in our group arrived he gestured for us to kneel while he fed some of his pet fish. Among them was a very large grunt that was quite tame.
After a bit he moved us to a coral head where he played with some more fish. Then it was time to go back up. We were down about 20 to 30 minutes. While the next group was in the water a heavy rain storm swept over the boat. It was an interesting experience however I have no need to repeat it.
The three older Fergusons took a snorkeling excursion which they enjoyed. Ryan likes snorkeling. Donna and Natalie took care of Weston while we were all out. Donna had hoped to take a horse-drawn carriage ride, but none were available. Jodie and I explored Fort Hamilton and a local grocery store. The store was the more interesting of the two.
The ship left Hamilton shortly after 6 am and arrived at St. Georges around 8. It followed a well marked channel through the coral. The entrance to the St. Georges harbor was at a right angle to the channel so the ship made a 360o turn to port to get lined up. Since it was Sunday most of the stores were closed. Other than a public dunking of the town gossip, there was little reason for the visit. There was a nice glass-blower shop that eventually opened late in the morning.
The Fergusons learned of a good swimming beach from our head waiter, Victor, and walked across the island to it. It is about a 15-minute walk to Tobacco Cove beach. Although they were soaked by thunder storms both going and coming they had an enjoyable morning there.
That evening we all went to the Seven Seas Society cocktail party. This was the only one of four invitations we received that we attended. (Between the two liters of complementary alcohol provided in our cabins, the champagne gifts, and the wine included with dinner, it was difficult to consume it all.) The whole group usually gathered in our room for cocktails before entering the dining room when it opened at 6:30.
This was another day at sea taking us back to Norfolk. There was little to distract from packing.
We were alongside by 7 and passengers started leaving the ship a little after 8. When we got off we found that Radisson had made no arrangements for our transportation. (Actually we knew this when we received our debarking instructions on the 4th.) Chris called the Radisson hotel and they picked us up and took us to the airport.
Although we were flying with Continental tickets it was a Delta flight. The service was abysmal. If you wanted a snack you had to buy it. Delta has a low cost alternate called Song. I can’t imagine how they could create a service that is lower than Delta’s standard service. Perhaps they charge to use the toilets or maybe they don’t have any.
This was a fun trip only because the whole family was together. Radisson provides a nice hotel but, with the exception of the New York tour that we booked independently, the on-shore activities were poor. Bermuda is a nice place to live but I wouldn’t want to visit again.