Walking beneath the walls of old San Juan

Former telegraph office, then tourist office and now rum outlet on the Bay of San Juan.

Arriving early in San Juan, Puerto Rico with no plan in mind, I  went to get a map from tourism office but it wasn’t open.  So I walked across the street where the old wall that once surrounded Old San Juan was visible.  The three-mile long wall, begun in 1630 and completed in 1790, completely encircled the city at that time.

An old telegraph office, La Casita, sits at the entrance of a lovely walkway and garden, the Paseo de La Princesa.  Here, outside the wall, once were docks and warehouses bringing troops and supplies for the thriving city.

Paseo de La Princesa

At first I thought the Garden of the Princess, constructed on the walkway in 2014, was in honor of a princess.  But as I reached the end of the garden, I found “La Princesa,” a temporary penitentiary built in 1837.  The building, which housed as many as 240 people, was used as the local jail until 1960.  It in turn, took its name from the walkway.  I never did learn who the princess was.

Across the water is the small fort San Juan de La Cruz.  Its cannon, with those in El Morro, the towering fort at the entrance to the bay, would place enemy ships in a cross fire.

Puerto Rico is the “rich port.”  At the end of the trade winds, it was the place to stop to resupply before going to the Americas.  It was the place to stop before taking the riches of the Americas back to Europe.   San Juan was named after St. John the Baptist.  From the 1500s through the 1800s, dignitaries, merchants and common people entered the old city through the San Juan Gate.  Cargo entered the city through another gate closer to La Princesa.

After passing the San Juan Gate, I walked along the Paseo Del Morro National Trail, constructed and maintained by the National Park Service.  The trail, now three-quarters of a mile long, is part of a planned set of trails which will eventually stretch to Capitol Plaza about a mile to the east of the current terminus.

Looking out at the water, my first instinct is to view it as an artist, to look at the patterns, the shapes, the color and to try to frame it in my eye.  But the signs along the way call to my imagination.  Imagine builders sweating in the heat for one hundred and sixty years to place those stones in the wall.  Imagine countless people of all types passing through that gate, most without thought to the gate but only to where they had been and where they were going.

Isla de Cabras [Island of Goats] holds fort San Juan de la Cruz and once was a leper colony.

Look at the water, the channel into to the natural harbor.  First Americans undoubtedly plied their canoes here.  Columbus sailed in the area, claimed the island for Spain and may have even anchored here.  Ponce de León , seeker of the Fountain of Youth,  who was wounded in battle in Florida not far from where I write this, was the first governor of Puerto Rico.  English explorer and privateer Francis Drake attacked the city here but was driven away by El Morro’s cannon.

Now cruise ships arrive full of people with thoughts of palm trees, rum and dancing.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The path beneath the wall

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Harmony of the Seas: That’s entertainment.

Sports Pool

This is the last in a three-part series on Harmony of the Seas. We sailed on it despite the fact we had been to the ports it was visiting.  Our thought was we would just enjoy being on the ship.  We didn’t imagine just how enjoyable it would be.  It is a floating resort.

For the health conscious, there is a fitness center, spa, jogging track and four swimming pools.  Two FlowRider® pools simulate surf allowing one to surf standing or on a Boogie board.  A skating rink is open for passengers to skate on  as well as being a venue for shows.

Entrance to the Abyss

Just for fun, I went down the ten-story Abyss sliding board and the Perfect Storm water slides.  I chose not to do the Zip-line because I thought it too short.

Believing in early to bed and early to rise and averse to loud music, I did not attend ‘RED: The Nightclub Experience,” “Harmony High 50’s & 60’s Dance Party” or “HUSH! Silent Disco” — at the latter, they dance to music from headphones.

Days at sea featured parades with costumed figures and acrobatic dancing: “Caribbean Street Party;” “Boardwalk Fiesta;” and “Totally Awesome 90’s Street Party.”  There were also photo ops with cartoon movie characters scattered throughout the program.

One day, the Captain and his staff took questions at the AquaTheater, an area at the back of the ship with a floor for dry activities that also sinks to become a 17.9 foot-deep pool.

We attended two shows at that AquaTheater, “The Fine Line Aqua Show” and the “Hideaway Heist.”   One doesn’t go to these productions for the drama but for spectacular acrobatics and diving.

Like its sister ships Oasis and Allure, Harmony offers Broadway shows. On our cruise, it was Grease.


They also had their own production show, Columbus the Musical about Columbus’ lesser known brother Marvin.  Our imaginations were caught by his boat on a rotating section of the stage.  It was almost the size of the original Niña.  It takes a really big ship to have that on stage.

We also enjoyed going to the theater to see “The Edge Effect” an a cappella group, five guys from Orlando who do amazing things with their voices including a complete bass and rhythm backup to their songs.

1887: A Journey in Time – Ice Spectacular

We did not attend the art auction because I feel the “art” is mostly not worth the time, and those pieces that are have reserve prices above what one might pay elsewhere.

Nor did we attend the comedy club or jazz club or many other offerings.  It wasn’t that we didn’t want to see them; there just wasn’t time.

One day while having lunch at Johnny Rockets, we were amused when the waiters all broke into a dance.


“To each, his own” is an old phrase [witness it is not gender neutral].  But it is true; you might like things we rejected and vice versa.

Our personal favorites were the ice shows.  The rink is small, perhaps a third of a regulation hockey rink, but a skater was still able to get up enough speed to do a triple Axel.  1887: A Journey in Time Ice Spectacular had wonderful costumes and amazing lighting special effects.  At one point, the ice appears to break up and become part of a flowing river.  At another, one seems to be looking down into a lock with water rushing in to fill it before turning again into ice.


I suspect the costumes prevented the skaters from performing many jumps in that show, but another show, “ISkate Ice Show,” featured more traditional figure skating.  An interesting sidelight was one performer did all his elaborate skating on hockey skates.  To each, his own.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Next week my post will finally get off the ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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Commentary: Travel, Life and Death

A European once commented “Americans seem to think death is optional.”

I had lunch with my friend George, a licensed architect who worked on plans for a medical facility earlier this year.  His doctor told him a couple months ago cancer had spread throughout his bones and he had only a few months to live.  George doesn’t believe him and plans to get a second opinion.

George was a quartermaster on a World War II LST at the Salerno and Anzio landings in Italy and a helmsman on D-Day.  He celebrated his 93rd birthday this week.  I’m betting on George.

Some people die a bit each day of their lives.  Others live to the best of their ability every day until they die.

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Feeding “Harmony”

Main Dining Room

Someone announced at dinner on the Harmony of the Seas they would be serving 60,000 “plated meals” during the week.  We took that to be meals other than at the buffet, sandwiches, pizzas, etc.

Each of the 28 food serving areas including the dining room [even each of the three main dining room levels], snack bars and specialty restaurants operates independently and  has its own galley.  There are 20 chefs, 222 cooks, and 102 cleaning crew.

All breads and pastries are made onboard.  A machine makes 4000 rolls an hour.

Reading these posts, you can see I am attracted to statistics.  They gave me a list of 27 items and the quantities consumed in an average week.  I won’t bother you with them all, but if you are curious about something not listed below, ask.  In an average week, they go through: 15,600 pounds of beef, 16,000 pounds of chicken and 1800 pounds of lobster.  They use 86,400 eggs, 16,500 pounds of flour and 3500 pounds of sugar.  22.5 tons of fresh fruit and 31 tons of vegetables are consumed.  They generally go through 18,700 beers, 175 bottles of whiskey and 550 bottles of vodka.


Last week’s post referred to I-95, the corridor that runs from one end of the ship to the other on a deck below the passenger cabins. There we met the gentleman in charge of provisions.  All orders are placed three weeks in advance, so it is important that each of the chefs and managers accurately estimate what they are going to need.  For example, they adjust the menu for the season, and kids want different food.  During the five hours the ship is in its home port, all fresh provisions must be brought aboard and all waste taken off.

There are 21 store rooms.  We saw a cooler for fruits and vegetables and two freezers.  When we went into a freezer, a strong flowing air barrier helped keep it cold when open.

Considering the number of children aboard, we heard almost no sneezing or coughing.

In recent years, all cruise lines have increased their efforts to protect passenger and crew health.  On most ships, this means having hand-sanitizer at the entrance to each dining room.  On the Harmony, there was a washing station with sinks, soap, and towels at the entrance to buffet.  Sinks in the kitchen bore the sign “wash hands often.”  The entrance to the crew’s dining room had both sinks and a large sign.  “Stomach flu” or another ailment might make a cruise memorable but is not likely to make you want to return.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  Somehow they estimated the average weight gain on a cruise is 7 pounds.  Gone are the days when we felt we had to take advantage of everything, so we did not do our part on this cruise — someone else must have gained our share.

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Controlling “Harmony”

Control Room

We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas at the end of June.  It is the largest cruise ship in the world and carries nearly nine thousand passengers and crew.  To put it simply, it is a floating city.  As such, it has its own utilities: electric, sewer and water.  It has a sophisticated recycling and garbage disposal system.  But the city is also a hotel with air conditioning and laundry, and employees to manage, house and feed.  Finally the city is still a ship to be powered and steered.

I descended below the passenger decks with a small group to learn a little more.  Although we all went through a security check boarding the ship, we had to be checked again before we were allowed it enter the control room.

There, a young Polish woman officer, explained a dizzying display of computers and video screens.  The control room can monitor all the systems on the ship, not just the two separate engine rooms.  If necessary, the control room can even steer the ship.

Three Azipods, propeller systems powered by 60 MW motors [80,500 horsepower] hanging below the ship, can move it in any direction, backwards, forwards, sideways or even in circles.  Six generators produce 92 megawatts each.  The ship can reach a speed of 25.1 knots.  We were told they never turn at full speed – it would flip the guests out of the swimming pools.

At full speed, these powerful systems consume a gallon of fuel for every 45 feet the ship moves.  It consumes 16 metric tons of fuel per hour.

I-95 — American Environmental Officer on right.

“I-95,” named after the long East Coast U.S. interstate highway, runs from one end of the ship to the other.  It was a busy place, but the traffic gets particularly heavy when the ship is in port.

The crew has rooms off I-95.  Most are in 2-person cabins; some have singles; married couples are allowed and accommodated.  A typical employee “contract” is six months, and most crew relationships do not last beyond a contract.

There is an on-board human relations department.  Crew members often work 12-hour days, are paid every other week and have some benefits such as a 401(k) plan to save for retirement.  The crew came from an estimated 60 different countries.  Language training is available on computers.  The crew has their own dining room, gym, laundry and three bars.  A bulletin board has job posting and training.  We were told it is the company policy to hire from within and train for upward mobility.

Another bulletin board listed “activities” for the crew including use of the water slides and 10-story sliding board Abyss on port days. They can also rent bikes to use in port.

Garbage room – 1 ton bags of crushed glass in the back

A rare American officer [most seem to be Greek or Scandinavian], the Environmental Officer, took us on a tour of her area.  She is responsible for water production, heating and air conditioning, plumbing and waste treatment.

A desalinization plant can produce 4100 tons of fresh water in 24 hours. On average, 2350 tons of water are consumed each day. There are 150 miles of piping, 3300 miles of electrical cables and 1,614,586 square feet under air.

There is one garbage room that operates 24/7.  Magnets pull metal like tableware out of food waste, but otherwise, everything is sorted by hand.  The goal is to eliminate or recycle 100% of the waste.

Food waste is pulped and discharged in international waters. [She said fish follow the ship.]  Similarly, “black water,” sewage, is discharged, but gray water [from showers, etc.] is purified in an AWC bioreactor and tested by both on-board technicians and outside inspectors.

That which can be burned is put in incinerators.  The rest of the waste is compacted and sold to recyclers in port.  Glass, sorted by color, is crushed and stored in one-ton plastic bags.  One to two bags are filled each day.  The Crew Welfare Fund gets all money from recycling thus creating an incentive to recycle.

We then descended even further into the ship by narrow steel staircases  [a ladder to you who served] to the laundry.  We saw 4 washers and 5 driers but it was not clear to me if there were more.  There was an interesting machine to fold sheets and gray-blue bins for dirty laundry and white for clean.  They have their own steam generator.

A spacious bridge

Climbing back up the stairs, we took an elevator to the twelfth deck and yet another security check before going onto the Bridge.  They must be able to look more than one hundred and eighty degrees so the bridge extends from beyond one side to beyond the other.  The actual control systems, however, take up little space.  There was plenty of room for a set of chairs and sofas to conduct staff meetings without leaving the bridge.

Despite sophisticated radar systems, there is always one person with binoculars on lookout duty.  There are backup computers for everything.  Electronic charts [maps] are updated weekly.

A modern cruise ship captain has to be schooled in public relations as well as the handling of a ship.  He has a “hotel director” to manage the guest areas, but in the end, everything is his responsibility.  We have often watched pilots board ships when we entered new ports, so I was interested to learn the pilot does not take charge of the ship; he still is simply an advisor to the Captain.  The only exception is passage through the Panama Canal.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Next week I will describe feeding more than 8500 people every day.

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Big, Bigger, Biggest – Harmony of the Seas

Harmony of the Seas

Last minute choices for a cruise were limited.  We reluctantly chose the largest cruise ship in the world, the Harmony of the Seas.  We don’t like noise, crowds and waiting in long lines.  But we wanted a minimal effort vacation.  They did a marvelous job, and we would go again.

Harmony is 1,188.1 feet long, just over a foot longer than its sister ships the Allure and the Oasis.  It displaces 227,000 gross tons.    Officially, It can hold 6780 guests [with more than two people in a room] and 2100 crew.  We were told there were 6441 passengers on our cruise, about 3800 of

Looking forward. Central Park has live trees and plants.

whom were on their first cruise, and 2185 crew.  In comparison, the Pacific Princess which we took to Longyearbyen last year was 30,277 tons and carries a total of 1045 passengers and crew.

They divided the ship into seven “neighborhoods.”  The most impressive to us was “Central Park” which soars from the 8th deck to the sky and boasts live plants and trees.  It is surrounded by restaurants and bars.  We also enjoyed the AquaTheater shows in “Boardwalk.”  The pool depth can be adjusted to accommodate divers plunging from 55 feet above.  At its deepest, it is 17.7 feet deep.   The Boardwalk also has a carousel and arcade.

Lots of fun for kids

The ship has two FlowRider® surf simulators, two 43-foot high rock-climbing walls, three water slides, an ice skating rink, a mini-golf course and a zip line as well as the Abyss, two helix-shaped ten-story sliding boards. [Yes, I went down the water slides and Abyss.]

We once were on a ship where the average age was 82 [that’s what the crew told us].  On this June cruise, we were the old folks; at one show, the entertainer had to explain to younger members in the audience who the Beatles were.

There is the usual casino, dancing,  youth programs, fitness and spa area and jogging track.  A “Bionic Bar” has robot bartenders which create beverages from a broad menu.

Riding the carousel in Boardwalk

They claim to have the “fastest Internet on the sea.”  I wonder if Navy ships might be faster, but it was certainly fast enough.

Alie likes a balcony if we can get it.  The room was very well designed but not the biggest we have had.  On the other hand, there are two-story “loft suites” available.  There are also rooms with balconies looking over Central Park and Boardwalk.  I didn’t see one, but perhaps the most interesting offer to me was for inside rooms with “virtual balconies” which give the illusion one is looking outside.

The largest cruise ship in the world requires more than I care to write or you care to read in one post.  Future posts will discuss the engineering systems and how they feed and entertain all those people.

In the meantime, as always, click on the photos to enlarge.

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The last time we were in St. Maarten…

The last time we were in St. Maarten, I said the next time I was going to sail on a former America’s Cup boat.  We went back.  I did.

The America’s Cup was first awarded in 1851 when the cup, the trophy, was awarded to the schooner America by the Royal Yacht Squadron for winning a race around the Isle of Wright.

The race is held when another yacht club challenges the current holder of the cup.  Over the next 132 years, a yacht from the New York Yacht Club always won.

Dennis Conner was captain of the winning boat in 1974 and 1980.  But he lost in 1983 when the Australians challenged with a boat with a winged keel.  The Australian boat was much faster, but Connor’s skillful seamanship was acknowledged by the Australian builder: “even when we did win, we were using a rifle against a club and Dennis Conner still almost beat us.”

Nonetheless, the New York Yacht Club rejected Connor’s request to challenge again.  So Connor formed his own syndicate to finance another challenge, and racing for the San Diego Yacht Club he won in 1987 sailing the Stars and Stripes.

Today, rather than sitting in a museum somewhere, the Stars and Stripes still races against the Canada II and other boats in St. Maarten for the benefit of tourists.

We were assigned our boats by our guide.  In June 2017, the boat I was on came in second.  But I didn’t care.  I sailed on the Stars and Stripes.

Connor’s autograph after he won again in 1988, 1992 and 1995. He also won again in 2000 and 2003.

Click on photos to enlarge.


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