In part 4 of our cruise/road trip adventure, I review some of the things we did while we were in port and some fun before the cruise.
by vampirefan on April 27, 2012
Included in our cruise was a pre party concert located at Ft. Lauderdale’s Exit 66. If you’re looking for the place to partay in Ft. Lauderdale..this is the place to be. Since there were plenty of people coming from all over the country and the world and many would be in town the night before, the organizers decided to throw a pre party concert for us that included concerts with Van Halen tribute band, Atomic Punks, and Kix. The Club. The club is a massive 2 story complex that covers 6 rooms. It covers 20,000 feet. There are 6 bars inside. The stage is huge. This is the kind of stage major bands use, not some small corner of a bar like many other clubs. Ok, so maybe you couldn’t exactly fit Kiss’ risers in here, but the stage here is as big as the Verizon Amphitheatre stage here in Charlotte. The bottom level is multilevel. There is an actual stage floor here. It makes is easier to get a great view from the floor or the upper levels of the first floor. There is a DJ booth upstairs. Outside there is a tiki bar. At this particular event the outdoor bar was serving some kind of vodka concoction that cost $11 and came in a larges souvenir cup. Nick got one and that was all he needed and he couldn’t even finish it. They do have a swimming pool, though I never saw anyone using it when I was here. There is a smaller stage outside as well. I it gets to loud inside (and it will) guests can escape outside in the many comfortable sitting areas that allow you to have conversations that you can actually enjoy. I am not sure if this was just for our party or not, but when we were here they did have a grill going and had food for purchase. They do bathrooms both inside the club and outside but the one inside is located upstairs. The one outside was not as busy and didn’t require you to try to climb stairs and over people in 6" stiletto heels. The inside bar nearest the stage has to big brass poles (technically they are only stripper poles if it’s in a strip bar). At one time during Atomic Punks, two scantily dressed employees began dancing on the poles. It mainly garnered eye rolls from female patrons and very few male patrons even noticed. So that didn’t last long. There is very limited parking in front of the club. There is a paid lot right across from the club. There are several restaurants nearby. I would say there was between 2000-2500 people here and inside it was standing room only. It was originally only to be open for anyone on the cruise, but at the last minute the cruise organizers decided to open it to anyone. This is a really great club. Now when trying to find information on it I did notice in several reviews that it seems to be used quite often for parties before chartered concerts. I am not sure if this place holds metal concerts or not, but I wish we had a place this huge in the Charlotte area. Recommended: Very recommendedWebsite: www.itsbetteronthebeach.comThe concerts. Since this was an 80’s hairband metal cruise, then of course you want 80’s hairbands, or at least bands that will be playing such. So for this evening Atomic Punks would be entertaining us followed by headlining band Kix. Atomic Punks are a Van Halen tribute band. The band consists of singer Brian Gellar, guitarist Lance Turner, Bassist Joe Lester, and drummer Scott Patterson. The Pasadena CA band has been together since 1994 and have preformed all over the country. Joe and Scott are both original members. They have even had members of the band perform with them. The band is a great band for metal hungry fans. They look and sound like old Van Halen and Brian has all the sex appeal and charisma of old David Lee Roth (current Diamond Dave ain’t held up so well). They played for 45 minutes an include fan favorites like Hot For Teacher, Panama, and Beautiful Girls. Unfortunately they were not part of the cruise but the crowd was glad to have them at the pre party. Website: theatomicpunks.comThey are on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Youtube. The headlining act was KIX. I had not seen them in decades and had forgotten how great they were. Back in the day I remember driving to Atlanta to see them along with Accept and Helix (who would also be on the cruise). The band have seen around since the 80’s with such hits as Don’t Close Your Eyes, Girl Money, and Blow My Fuse. Maintaining all their original band members, they are still as high octane as ever. Steve Whitman still knows how to perform and is a great showman. They sang for over an hour and had the crowd going crazy and sang all their biggest hits. They would be one of the best bands on the cruise and are a fan favorite for major concert festivals like the upcoming M3. Website: www.kix-band.com
I had been wanting to visit the gardens for a while but never made it when I was in town. Since Nick and I didn’t care for any of the listed shore excursions, we decided to just go out and explore on our own. After returning from our island tour, and doing a little shopping, we grabbed a cab and headed towards the gardens. Since 1937, visitors and tourists alike have been enjoyed the Ardastra Gardens which featured the work of Jamaican horticulturist, Hedley Vivian Edwards. In the 1950’s the Bahamian government purchased flamingos in order to breed them since they had became rare in the area. In 1982 Norman Solomn purchased the gardens and added the zoo. Today there are about 300 species that call this place home. This 5 ½ acre paradise is most noted for their marching flamingos. No other zoo in the world has such a spectacle. Several times a day a flock of flamingos march out into the arena and marching on the drill masters orders. They entertain guests as well as allow guests to learn more about my favorite bird. Guest are even recruited from each section to participate. When they came to our side, the drill master didn’t even have to finish asking when my hand went up. We were told to stand like a flamingo and the flamingos would come to us, and sure enough they did. I was happily surrounded by flamingos and Nick managed to video it all. And I managed to erase it! One of the other things I love about this place is many of the critters here just roam freely. When we got to the flamingo arena, the flamingos and peacocks were just roaming around. Nick and I arrived about 1:45 giving us plenty of time before the 2:10 flamingo show. As we are strolling around, we notice several parrots and cockatoos just perched up where we could pet them. After spending time with the birdies we go over and find a baby goat and you know I just had to go snuggle this little guy. We continue to make our way to the arena enjoy smaller animals such a turtles and fish and enjoying the beautiful gardens. We find the area and enjoy the flamingos and peacocks that call this place home. These are my two favorite birds and a chance to get to photograph them in the same place is incredible. They even have white peacocks here. We still have a few minutes before the show starts so we go see what else we can find. We find more bird and pass by the lorry parrots cage where we are given slices of apple and allowed to hand feed these cuties. We have a great time as these babies land all over you and enjoy watching a family having fun as well. Then we make our way back to the arena and within a few minutes here come the flamingos. Everyone claps and oohhhs and aaahhs as the drill master put the birds through their paces. I have fun when I get to volunteer for audience participation. I love being surrounded by these pink beauties. After the show Nick and I head back towards the entrance since we will soon have to be back at the ship. As we get back to the parrots and cockatoos, an employee offers to take our pictures with several of their charges for a donation to the zoo. We happily agree. He pops the zoo keeper’s hat on my head and a parrot on the hat while Nick gets to hold a cockatoo. We give back the birds, give them a nice donation, and make our way to the front. While waiting for a cab we enjoy the gun toting police offer standing outside. Despite the massive size and the big guy he is a big teddy bear with that smile Bahamians are known for. The do have restrooms, a gift shop, and a concession stand. US$ are accepted here. Many of the cruise lines have an island tour that include the gardens and are generally timed so you get to see one of the flamingo shows. Most of the resorts offer an excursion here as well. It is a short walk from the pier or you can get a cab and when you are ready, someone will call a cab for you as well. Recommendation: Very highly recommended. Website: www.ardastra.comThey are on Facebook and Twitter. Check the website for current admission charges and to check the times for the flamingo shows. Price for my cruise to get me to Nassau: $439Admission to Ardastra Gardens: $ $16Being surrounding by my favorite birds: Priceless.And who says money can’t buy happiness?
When Nick and I took the taxi tour part of the deal was 45 minutes at Atlantis. Nick loved to gamble so I think that is what won him over! The casino. The casino covers 7 acres of gaming fun. They host 100 tables that include Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Baccarat, and mini baccarat. The casino is the largest in the Bahamas and offer 750 slot machines as well. If you prefer betting on games, the Pegasus Race and Sports Book will be glad to take your donation! If you are really good at this stuff then you may want to check out on of their tournaments. They host a number of them through out the year including poker tournaments or slots championships. High rollers and rated players get the special treatment here. They get one of 41 VIP luxury suites located throughout the property. Cain at the cove is the ultimate luxury in paradise deal. It features poolside cabanas with a butler and top notch amenities. VIPS also receive special access to live performances at the Atlantis Live. If you are staying at the Cove, Cain at the Cove offers craps, blackjack, and mini baccarat. The Seaglass offers blackjack and roulette tables. You also have access to a casino host. If you go to their website they have several offers on the website. You can even download a credit application so you are ready when you arrive. You can take a 3D tour of the casino. They also list any up coming tournaments or gaming events. Chihuly at the Atlantis. After Nick and I ran to the bathrooms and grabbed some snack. We took pictures at the massive sculpture that resides in the entranceway. Then Nick went on to the Blackjack table, while a gorgeous chandelier caught my attention. I inquire with the employee if the chandelier is a Chihuly. He gets a big smile across his face and tells me yes it as and compliments me on knowing my art. He starts to walk me towards the chandelier and is telling me about the instillation. When we get there he looks at my camera and tells me that I am welcome to take as many pictures of the art as I would like. He also tells me there is a book on the installations at the gift shop. He leaves me to enjoy the art. In 1998 Sol Kerzner contacted him with the idea of the Temple of the Sun and the Moon. Dale normally does not work with themes but agreed to work with his request anyway. Over a 9 month period Sol would go back and forth between the Bahamas and Chihuly’s studio in Seattle. 3 weeks before the unveiling Sol contacts Dale to come down to Atlantis. Sol was unhappy with how everything looked and knew something else would be needed. Dale spent the day drawing up and conceiving the Atlantis Chandelier. He agreed to have it by opening night. It would mean that Dale would have to stay and worked in Atlantis. Sol agreed and even worked with Dale on the Chandelier. There were 4 instillations at a cost of $1 million each. Each of the structures were made of free blown glass on steel armature. The Crystal Gate was made from crystal glass. It contains 3100 pieces. It is 8 feet high and 9 feet wide.It weighs in at 2200 pounds. Temple of the Sun mixes vibrant reds. It reminds me of the installation that is now at the Columbia Museum of Art. It contains 2300 pieces. It is 17 feet across. It weighs 11,200 pounds. Temple of the Moon infused blue and white pieces that are similar to Dales Seafoams pieces. It contains 900 pieces and is a 23 foot globe. It weighs 9000 pounds. The Atlantis Chandelier is a brilliant white crystal piece. It contains 900 pieces. It is 12 feet across and weighs 2500 pounds. There are also 2 smaller pieces of Dale’s work located at the chandelier. I enjoy admiring these beauties and the other art work that adorns the wall. Then I head out a back door that will take you to the pools of Atlantis. If you do not have a pass or a guest, you have very limited. Space to enjoy and take pictures. They give you enough of a glimpse to entice you to come visit so you can explore further. On the way back I decide to take a picture of the carpet. I love the colors and design. An employee gives me a funny look. I tell her I was told I could take pictures of the art and I didn’t think anyone would mind a picture of the carpet. She laughs and tells me it was fine that she had never seen anyone take a picture of the carpet. I go back to the blackjack table and see if Nick is about ready. He goes to cash out and I run by the gift shop to check out the book. It is $50 so I leave it and go on out to the van, running into Faster Pussycat singer, Tamie Down, on the way out! It looks like by pictures I have seen that the Crystal Gate should have been in the rotunda at the public entrance outside the hallway to the shops and the casino. There is an Egyptian dog statue there now. And according to the book it says it is located at the public entrance to the casino. There is no mention of the piece on their website. So I have no idea where the thing is and the employee said they had 3 pieces. I also came home and went onto the Amazon website and obtained a copy of Chihuly Atlantis "used" for $3.24. When it arrived it was still wrapped in its packaging! Again the public are welcome to enjoy the shops, restaurants, and casino here at Atlantis. The main casino is open 24/7. Websites: www.atlantis.comwww.chihuly.comReference. Chihuly…Atlantis. 1999. Dale Chihuly. Portland Press.
Since our cruise ship didn’t offer much in the way of shore excursions, Nick and I decide to wing it and explore on our own to see what this capitol city offers. When we woke up we were still pulling into port so Nick and I decided go eat breakfast while we were waiting to embark. As we come up on the massive windows I was greeted by the Paradise Island (Hog Island) lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1817 and remains an aid to navigation. It isn’t open to the public but it looked like you could walk out and enjoy it from Atlantis. But you get great views from the cruise ships and from the Ski doo tours that go by. After a nice breakfast we disembark and make our way into the city. We stroll through the visitor’s center and grab a couple of sodas. When we arrive outside a gentleman offers to take us on an island tour for $20 for 2 hours. Seeing as we didn’t have anything else and included a stop at the Atlantis casino, we handed over our $40 and climbed in the mini van. Since we were the last 2 guests, Richard shut the door and off we went. Nick put me by the window so I could take pictures. We would be driven all through town with stops in Atlantis and at Ft. Fincastle. We go through the main part of town enjoying the sites and listing to Richard giving us a history of this beautiful island. We pass by historical buildings, gardens, surrey carriages, colorful buildings, and we pass by the oldest cotton tree on the island which is now protected and is over 100 years old. Then we arrive at the Ft. Fincastle area. We pile out of the van and are given 30 minutes to enjoy the area. Nick goes and purchases our tickets and we go and enjoy exploring. The castle was built on Bennet Hill overlooking the island in 1793. Built by Lord Dunsmore It was named after his second title, Viscount Fincastle. Today guests can get breathtaking views of the island and the cruise ships docked in the harbor. Nick and I check out the prisons and get our picture taken behind bars. Then we climb up top so I can get some great shots of the island. In 1928 a concentrate water tower was added. You can take an elevator to the top for an amazing view (thought I did not know that at the time!). It is an aid to navigation but more for airplanes than ships. Afterwards Nick goes and grabs us a couple more sodas and gets some t-shirts from one of the vendors that are in the area. Then we head back down the hill and pass by the Queens Staircase. Richard offers to stop if anyone is interested, but nobody takes him up on his offer. I wanted to but didn’t want everyone waiting on me. We pass by more colorful houses and we see the houses that represent the lower, middle, and upper classes. There is a beautiful vibrate pink house that belongs to a lawyer. I love all the beautiful flowers outside the houses. Then we make a quick stop at a harbor and enjoy the views. I get out and take several pictures. We pass by churches and then we head up the bridge headed towards Atlantis resort. We have 45 minutes here to enjoy some shopping, the casino, or dining. The resort was built in 1998 by South African hotel magnet Sol Kerzner. The hotel features on of the worlds most expensive suits at $25,000 a night! Just about every cruise line out there offers an excursion to Atlantis which usually includes their water park. At one time you could purchase a pass to the water park, but that is no longer available. The folks at Atlantis will gladly let you visit anywhere you can spend money. So restaurants, concert venues, shopping, and the casino are always open to the public. We get out of the van and have our pictures taken in front of the beautiful statue located at the font of the resort. We enjoy the walk to the casino and stop along the way and enjoy the sites and take pictures. We walk into the casino and when we get to the entrance of the casino we head towards the left for the bathrooms and to pick up some snacks. We come back and take pictures of the statue in the hallway. Then Nick goes towards the blackjack table while I roam the casino enjoying the art and enjoying the Chihuly instillations (separate journal on that). Nick end up winning $80 so that paid for our tour and tickets to the gardens.! Then we are in the van headed back towards the visitor’s center and our tour ends. We thank Richard, give him a nice tip, and say by to our fellow tour mates. The taxis (which are mini vans) line up at the visitors center and you can always find someone who will take you on a tour of this lovely island. After our tour we head back into town to do some souvenir shopping. Then we go into a local café where we grab a couple of dessert and Nick gets a Bahamian beer. After my little incident in Arizonian with the empty booze bottles, I now take label removers in my purse. I pull mine out and remove the label as our bartender watches me and then laughs as I am the first patron to do such! We finish our desserts and drinks and go grab a cab and head to the Ardastra Garden (separate review on that as well). After enjoying our time in the gardens we head back towards our ship. Just another day in paradise. English is the official language here and US$ are accepted everywhere. www.nassauparadiseisland.com is the official website of Nassau. They are on Facebook and Twitter.
Since our cruise ship didn’t offer much in the way of shore excursions in Key West, Nick’s friend and local Wendy met us and took us around this amazing city. Originally I had planned on doing a few more things in Key West since I thought our departure time was at 5. But the idiots who arranged the Monsters of Rock cruise decided to have a meet and greet with the band at 1. And the bands on the meet and greet would not be the same ones that would be at the meet and greet in the evening. And that is what I was here ..to meet the bands. So our time in Kew West would be cut considerably. We got off the ship and headed in towards town while Nick was calling Wendy. Right as we got off the ship is the Museum of Art and History at the Customs House. The historical building is stunning and open to the public to tour. We stop and take pictures of the sculptures they have outside and head on towards Duvall St. to meet Wendy. As we wait for our hostess, we do some window shopping making note of what we want to come back and see. Soon Wendy arrives and asks us what we absolutely want to see. Nick leaves planning up to me. So myself and our roommate Paul tell her we want to see the Southern Most point and the lighthouse. We head down Duvall towards the buoy that marks the southern most point. Our first stop so everyone can have a drink is the Bull and Whistle (www.bullkeywest.com) located on Duvall and Caroline. The bar is housed in a beautiful old 2 story building and it is one of the few remaining open air bars. We belly up to bar and get a round of drinks (of course I keep with my soda) and I also collect a few souvenirs (coasters and match books) for my memory box and scrap pages when we return. They have an Elvis impersonator and Nick has to go have his pictures taken with him. There are beautiful murals painted on the walls. Guests can enjoy their favorite beverage at the bar and still enjoy the views outside. We pay our tab and head back out to our pre determined destination. We decide to take a cab down to the buoy since we are on a time crunch. As the driver drops us off we notice there is a line to get your picture taken. This is one of the most popular attractions in Key West and everybody wants to have their picture taken here. Originally the spot was marked by a sign. But souvenir hounds kept taking the signs so the city erected the buoy in 1983. Thought the buoy is actually an old sewer junction that was dug up and to heavy to move anywhere. So it was painted up to mark the point. But the point is actually not the Sothern most point on the island, just the point that is accessible to the public. An area on the Truman property is technically the southern most point, but it is owned by the Navy and not open to the public. And in actuality it is 94 miles to Cuba, not 90. It was just rounded off. After getting our picture taken, we head back into town so we can get back to the ship by 1. We take our time walking back enjoying the flowers and beautiful that we pass along the way. We see people on bikes, motorcycles, scooters, and golf carts. Chickens are roosters freely roam the streets of this laid back city. We stop in for lunch at the Hard Rock Key West (review to follow in another journal). Then we climb the 88 steps to the top of the Key West lighthouse. We stop for a minute at the Courthouse Deli and rest on the bench which has it’s on Facebook page. At one point in the road we come to where on one side of the street the Florida Keys Scenic Highway 1 begins and on the other side is where it ends. We pass by the brilliant blue Cinema Tropic and stop and take pictures with the Marilyn Monroe statue outside. We see beautiful churches and well know bars. We stop in at the smallest bar in Key West and one of the smallest in the world and grab a quick drink. We go back to several stores for some shopping including one where everything is $5 and load up on clothing for Nick and I. We cut though Mallory Square where is celebrated nightly with a major party. Sadly we soon were back at our ship and our time in Key West has come to an end and we must return to our ship. This was my second time in Key West and the city remains one of my favorite places to visit. It is a beautiful old city that maintains a funky and carefree vibe. If Jimmy Buffet owned a city..it would be Key West. If Nick and I get married on the next Monsters of Rock cruise, then Key West will be where we honeymoon. The city is a favorite port of call on cruise ships as well as a popular land based vacation destination. If Key West is your land destination you can either fly directly into Key West our drive in from Miami over the A1A highway which is a stunning 3 hour drive over water. If it is your destination by ship, you can explore the city by guided tours often arranged through the ship or just explore on your own. www.fla-keys.comYou can find then on Facebook or TwitterThey have a free download phone app. Visiting Key West should be on every travelers bucket list. The city welcomes everyone to come, soak up the sun, kick back with a margarita, and celebrate as the sun sets.
While a meet and greet with the bands left us short on time, I know I had to go climb the Key West lighthouse while we were here. After 1819 when the United States purchased Florida and its keys from the Spanish, it became a major port and salvage city. In 1825 the city built a 65 foot brick lighthouse on Whitehead Point to assist the constant flow of ships that would pull into the harbor. The first light keeper was Michael Mabry and he died in 1832. His wife, Barbara, would then sever as the keeper for 32 years. During the hurricane Barbara survived but 14 people who hid out in the lighthouse including 7 members of her family did not. Nearby Sand Key Lighthouse also sustained 8 causalities including its keeper, Rebecca Flaherty, who was also a lighthouse widow. In 1846 a massive hurricane swallowed up the keys. It would mean even more business in Key West, but at the same time much of the island including the lighthouse had been destroyed. So a new lighthouse needed to be built as soon as possible. The Honey was purchased and outfitted to serve as a lightship until the new lighthouse could be built. The following year a new light was built but this time it was moved back further from the water. In 1872 a third order Fresnel lenses was added to make the range ever stronger. And then in 1892 25 more feet was added to the tower. Today the tower stands 85 feet tall and guests can climb the 88 steps to the top. In 1969 the light was decommission. But by 1972 it was recommissioned as private aid to navigation and it remains so today. Even in the day of modern day technology, if it doesn’t work you need something to rely on. So lighthouses even today still help guide boats safely through the waters. When it was decommissioned it was given to Monroe County. They in turned leased it to the Key West Arts and Historical Society. It is the 15th oldest lighthouse in the country. Today guests who climb the 88 steps to the top are awarded with a stunning bird’s eye view of this tourist mecca. Guests may also enjoy touring the restored keepers quarters which is on the property. As you leave the guest house on your way to the lighthouse, you can see the Fresnel lens that was once in Sombrero Key Lighthouse. The building is currently up for consideration on the national registry as well as for a national historic landmark. In addition to the lighthouse the society also runs the Museum of Art at History at the Customs House and the Fort East Martello Museum and Gardens. Some cruise ships will include a stop here on their islands tour. Mine cruise ship offered very little in the way of shore excursions in Key West. But as you can guess you can certainly tour on your own. I was able to get Nick to climb to the top for a brief moment here as well and once again he left me and our cruise roommate John to enjoy the views from the top. Here I was able to get an incredible view of our cruise ship. Recommendation: Very highly recommendedWebsite: www.kwahs.comThey are on Facebook. Here are some great lighthouse websites: www.floridalighthouses.org. Info on lighthouses and you can help preserve these beautieswww.lhdigest.com. Listing of all lighthouses as well as the bi monthly magazine Lighthouse Digest, and all sorts of lighthouse items. Book: American Lighthouses. Bruce Roberts/Ray Jones. 1998. The Globe Pequot Press. In on of my favorite cities on the planet, you will find one of my favorite places to visit..the Key West Lighthouse. The grounds here are stunning, I love the lighthouse, and it gives you amazing views of my favorite city. So what’s not to love?
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