Archive for Caribbean

If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog – Chapter 3, Part II

Posted in Blog, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on Saturday, 23 July 2016, by Stan



We went to the Punchliner comedy club (¡Hola, Pablo!) just about every night it was open. Mark Hawkins and Just June were our favorites. We enjoyed both of them so much that we saw several of their shows, both the PG and adult versions. For some of the comedians, I think a 30-minute set is too short. How about giving them 45-minutes?

My wife and I were blown away by the Playlist production “Motor City”. I always enjoy hearing songs from Motown’s heyday. The set was unbelievable and the way the cast interacted with the set was amazing. If I tried to describe it here, I’m not sure I could do it justice. If you are on a ship that features this show and you like Motown or even just great set design, you absolutely have to see this production.

And it didn’t stop there. As the “Motor City” finale drew to a close, the after party seamlessly began out in the Colors lobby with the band Resting Beach Face picking up where the show left off. Our ever-present CD Eric hosted and even got in on the action. Have you ever seen anyone use a passenger elevator as part of the show? Eric did. “Shout” will never be the same.

It took a few cruises but I finally got to sail on a ship that has a Guy’s Burger Joint. Over the course of the cruise I think I ate at Guy’s at least four times. The burgers were delicious! For me, it was the combination of the beef used and the grilled buns that made it so good. Plus you get to add your own condiments. Unfortunately, the realization set in mid-cruise that I could not continue to eat there every day. Consequently, because I spent so much time at Guys’, I didn’t get to try BlueIguana Cantina. Guess that will have to wait until next cruise. Anyone else want Carnival to extend BlueIguana’s hours?

Another thing discussed on Facebook quite a bit is live music. I had just finished relaxing on the lounge chairs on probably the hottest day of the cruise and was walking back to the room when I heard the Caribbean duo playing. A live band playing with a real, live, steel drum! YES! This is how I remember my earlier cruises with Carnival. Great music, deep blue sea, no land or other ships in sight, puffy white clouds, a packed Lido deck, people dancing, swimming, smiling, eating, and just having one huge party! Simply iconic. And now this image will join the others in my memory. Thanks, beards, (and John), for bringing back live Caribbean music!

As far as shore excursions go, we took an excursion in every port. On Grand Cayman we took a bike excursion on our own because Carnival did not offer any. Still waiting to hear back from the beards regarding my shameless plug modest request to test out any cycling excursions Carnival adds to their itineraries. Our excursion gave us the opportunity to get away from the resorts and see some parts of the island most visitors don’t get to see. And we had a delicious lunch, too! Sure would be nice if Grand Cayman used some of fees from all that money they hold to build a pier. Well, it looks like they’re going to do just that. But along with the new pier will come admitted “significant and irreversible environmental damage”.

Our next destination was Mahogany Bay, Roatan. I can see why Mahogany Bay is a favorite port with cruisers. Here again we booked a tour with a different company. One of John’s policies here on the blog is honesty. In that spirit, here is my honest assessment. After reading the reviews of what activities/stops one of the excursions actually made, I’m glad we opted for the non-Carnival tour on Roatan. Why? The Carnival tour we considered is called Top 10 Best of Roatan. Time in port is only 8 hours but you have to allow time to get off the ship and to get back on board an hour before sail time. So figure 6, maybe 7 hours on the island. And in that 6-7 hours, we are scheduled to see 10 of the best things Roatan has to offer, and that is including time to relax on the beach. In my opinion, that’s not enough time to enjoy each of the scheduled activities.

In Belize, we took the Jaguar Cave Zipline and Tubing Combo excursion with Carnival. Skies were very dark grey and rain did fall while on the tender. Our tour ran into problems just 5 minutes out of port when the bus broke down. Since this was a Carnival excursion, the company Carnival contracted with was able to dispatch another bus fairly quick and we were able to continue on. By this time it was pouring rain on the way to the site but at least we were safe inside the bus.

We enjoyed the zip lining and the tubing. Our group seemed to get along quite well on the tour. Some even conquered their fear of heights…and zip lines. As we saw each other on the ship later in the cruise, we would stop and talk. Surprise of the tour? Cashew wine. I’ll let you ‘digest’ that for a minute. We were given a sample during lunch and promptly bought a bottle.

At the last port on the itinerary, Cozumel, we booked the Amazing Secret River tour. We almost took a different Carnival tour but I’m glad we chose this one. This excursion is aptly named. It was simply amazing! Apparently while we were exploring the underground river, we missed a heavy rain shower. But another cell dumped on us later, this time while on the ferry from the mainland back to Cozumel, and continued while waiting in line to re-board the ship. We had a little over an hour between the end of the excursion and the last ferry back to Cozumel. We spent the time walking around Quinita Avenida in Playa del Carmen. Too much to see and not enough time to see it all. I would like to come back and visit more of Cozumel and Playa del Carmen.

Writing John’s blog is fun. In 2012, my five-year horizon did not include any cruises. Then our PVP contacted us. That led to booking a Baltic cruise in 2013 on Carnival Legend and my first attempt at writing the blog. Since then, we have taken four more cruises. Coincidence?

I just got a message that because of my work on John’s blog, I am being given a personal escort by Security, per John’s specific orders, to the front of the line for debarkation, with a special gangplank reserved just for me. They want me to be ready in 15 minutes. Wow! John really does take care of his guests! Wait a minute. Today is a sea day…


If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog – Chapter 3, Part I

Posted in Blog, Travel with tags , , , , , , on Saturday, 23 July 2016, by Stan


Hello, my name is Stan. I am sitting here, fully clothed, writing John Heald’s blog today from our inside cabin aboard Carnival Glory. John is back in ex-EU England and will be joining the Carnival Splendor again in late July. I’ve sailed aboard Carnival Splendor twice with fond memories of both cruises. Thanks to Carnival Splendor, we found a new getaway destination: Cabo San Lucas.

How did I get to write John’s blog, you ask? Well, I figured Jacinta might want to help me now that she has settled into her new job. Anything to make life easier for her boss, right? Jacinta started on Carnival Glory as a bar waitress and her life changed on this ship. Glory is her favorite ship, so I asked one of the bar staff there to call her.

My intent was to turn on the charm. I started by greeting her in her native Romanian language. “Bună,” I said. Over the phone, I could tell that she was smiling. She returned the greeting but was not much impressed. She’s much smarter than to be taken in by flattery. I then texted her a photo of yak patties and ground yak to show to John. She chuckled but still wouldn’t crack.

Next I offered to buy John’s hemorrhoid cream. That stopped her in her tracks. Something in her voice let me know I now had her full attention but would need to do better. I sweetened the pot: “Ok, a one month’s supply.”

“You are getting warmer,” she replied, “but it will take a bit more than that.”

“Oh, alright. A year’s supply, then.”


She quickly gave me short but explicit instructions on how to post the blog, then, um, ‘suggested’ that the preceding conversation never took place. Mulţumesc, Jacinta!

In my first attempt at writing John’s blog I forgot to give a huge shout-out to our servers in the MDR on Carnival Liberty. This was back in 2013. Our head waiter’s name was Ben, from Grenada, I think. We had another team member from the Philippines, and one from Croatia. I have since forgotten their names. But we had so much fun with them. They worked together well and took very good care of us. One night, some of the waiters dressed in costumes for a dance. I was wearing a polo shirt from Jamaica. Our Croatian waiter came out with a dreadlocks hat on. Needless to say, that sparked a lively conversation between us. Since that night, whenever I tell friends about that cruise, I mention my Croatian brother from another mother. I also tell them that talking with him is the main reason why I now want to visit Croatia.

Speaking of visiting (and this has nothing to do with cruising but since I am writing John’s blog, I’ll bring it up anyway), I wonder if John has any connection to the town of Healdsburg in Northern California. Was the town founded by his early relatives? Has he ever been to Healdsburg? Does he know that Healdsburg produces several award-winning wines?

I miss John’s Q&A that used to appear here in about this part of the blog. Since we have no Q&A this time, let’s get right to our cruise.

Carnival Glory is on a Western Caribbean itinerary, sailing from Miami, Florida. Embarkation in Miami was our first experience with the assigned check-in. My understanding was that the check-in time was the time you would be allowed to check in AND board. I, and most of the other guests in line learned that the assigned time was for check-in only. Actual boarding would take place later by assigned groups and was a separate process. I wish I had known that. Well, now I know. I guess the intent was to smooth out the flow so there was not a small group of people checking in at noon, followed by an ever-growing crush of guests arriving last minute at the 3:00 pm cut-off time. Not sure how much more Carnival can do to get 3,000 people checked in and boarded in a rather short amount of time. There are already crewmembers roaming the line making sure guests queue up when and where they are supposed to.

When we did get on board, our first stop was our cabin, oops, stateroom. We hung out in our room until time for the safety briefing. Following the briefing, we made a beeline for Pizza Pirate. Seems like a lot of other guests had the same idea but since we were among the first in line, it didn’t matter how long the line was behind us. Eating our pizza on Lido deck as we sailed out of the Port of Miami was a treat. Why? Because that gave us the opportunity to watch a behemoth like Carnival Glory perform a pirouette in a relatively small space in the port as she moved away from the dock and navigated along the canal and out into the open ocean.

Having pizza also allowed us to pass the time while waiting for our luggage to be delivered to our room. But when we eventually did go back down to the room, our luggage still hadn’t arrived. That’s when we met Michael, our stateroom steward. We let him know the situation and that we had reservations for the Emerald Room Steakhouse in a few minutes. Michael sprang into action. Five minutes later he arrived back at our door, breathless, but with our luggage in tow. I told Michael’s supervisor how he went above and beyond what was expected but also want to thank him here. Salamat, Michael!

Glory is a very long ship. I know this because our cab, stateroom is the very first one on our deck, right up by the bow. The Platinum dining room, where we are seated for dinner, is aft. Way aft. There were a couple of times where I stood outside our stateroom door and looked down the corridor. It seemed to go on forever. You think Glory looks big from the outside?

Some of the many benefits of reading John’s blog and his Facebook page are the helpful tips from readers. A couple of months ago, someone shared on Facebook how they solved the perpetual luggage tag problem. We took their advice and ordered a set of these tags. They worked perfectly! Would these be useful to you? Even the porter commented that our luggage was nicely labeled. And I’m sure those tags made it a little easier for Michael to find our bags.

Elevator crowding happened most often on embarkation day. People did rush onto the elevator regardless of whether it was headed up or down. My guess is that with several of the elevators being used by the crew to deliver our luggage, everyone was anxious to get their cruise on, get to their cabin, or to Lido to eat, and had to do so using the few remaining elevators. Elevator crowding didn’t seem to be a problem the rest of the cruise.

On the last few cruises, I’ve been paying more attention to the artwork on the ship. I noticed that the pictures in the stateroom coordinated with the artwork in the stairwells. The nautical theme in the dining areas on Lido deck also stood out. Miniature sails and riggings remind you that you are indeed on a ship, even when you could not see the ocean.

Since this is John’s blog, you know this subject had to come up. Me, personally, I enjoy dressing up for the steakhouse and Elegant Night. But another reason why more and more people are no longer dressing up has occurred to me: suits and dresses take up a lot of space in luggage. And with the weight restrictions and fees imposed by airlines on checked luggage, people are choosing to pack as light as possible to avoid those fees. Extra articles of clothing are among the first items to be left behind at home. So while I’d prefer to wear a suit, this time a nice shirt and tie will have to do. Tuxedos? It’s been more than a decade since I wore one on board, mainly because I see so few other men wearing them.

Slider In the Emerald Room Steakhouse we were very well taken care of by Artem, Goran, Anna Maria, Julia, and Myroslava, all from Russia and Belarus. This time we took John’s advice and spoke with the chef before dinner to see if we could come up with a vegetarian meal for my wife. Chef Rajendra came through with flying colors. He made an exceptionally delicious dish of grilled vegetables. It was so good that I could’ve skipped the steak myself and eaten just the vegetables he prepared. Also, compliments of the chef, was a microscopic slider. Tiny, but very tasty. For my meal I had the tuna tartare, Caesar salad, and spiced rubbed 18 oz. rib-eye. All were excellent, especially the rib-eye! I did notice that in the steakhouse, not one man was wearing a tie.

Surprisingly, I got up and out on the jogging track twice during the cruise. I really needed to run after that fantastic meal in the Emerald Room Steakhouse. It was nice to see arrows painted on the track so joggers/walkers knew in which direction to run. Another nice thing was not having people stop in the middle of the track.

In the Main Dining Room, we were seated at a table for four. We only saw our tablemates once. And then only once after that somewhere else on the ship. In effect, we had a table for two for the five nights we dined there. Which was just fine for us. One thing I want to know, though, is what happened to the bitter and blanc? It was not on the menu. Is it only served on certain ships?

Our wait staff was friendly and individually served us well. But for some reason, they didn’t seem to work together as a team. On previous cruises, there was much more interaction between our servers. That aside, our waiters do deserve a big thank you and a special mention to their supervisors. We were celebrating a special occasion one night. Apparently, unbeknownst to us, a special dessert had been prepared but we left a few minutes after the table was cleared and before they brought it out. They plated it and had it sent to our cabin, er, stateroom later in the evening. What a surprise to return to our room and find it waiting for us.

At the buffets on Lido deck, I saw again just how many people leave a LOT of food on their plates. I saw one plate – left out in the corridor outside of someone’s cabin – that had about 7 slices of different desserts from Lido – all untouched. I think a lot of it stems from people believing that it’s ok to leave food uneaten because they have already paid for it. My thought on that is their cruise would cost a lot less if so much food didn’t go to waste. Another reason might just be that their eyes are bigger than their stomachs.

Something John mentioned on Facebook not long ago was how he likes to walk down Promenade on Elegant Night and watch the guests having their pictures taken in the portrait studios. I didn’t think too much of it until I intentionally paid attention to it on the last Elegant Night. I have to admit; it was fun seeing everyone all dressed up. And everyone that we saw looked like they were truly enjoying themselves, smiling, posing away, creating one more memory of their cruise.


Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica 2013 Wall Calendar

Posted in Calendar, Photography, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on Saturday, 10 November 2012, by Stan

Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica 2013 Wall Calendar (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Announcing the release of the Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica 2013 calendar! This 12-month wall calendar features stunning images of Jamaica by photographer Stan Thomas. The calendar is printed on heavy card-stock paper and each one is individually shrink wrapped.

Order one for your home or office, or both!

Ready to order? Go to my Kanale Creations Calendar page and click the Add to Cart button.

Standard calendar: $17.95 each
Personalized calendar: $28.25 each

Domestic shipping: $2.70
International shipping: e-mail for rates

Tax: 8.75% California tax

If you are ordering a personalized calendar:

With the Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica calendar, you can add your own special dates. Want to add birthdays? Anniversaries? Events? No problem, mon.


February 3 – Joe’s Birthday

June 25 – Our 25th Anniversary

August 5 – Janet’s Baby Shower

October 15 – Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner

You can add as many dates as you wish up to a maximum of 25. You can order as many calendars as you wish. However, due to the ordering process they all must be designed the same way. If you want to create another calendar using different dates, you must place a separate order.

Your order will be shipped to you directly from the printer. Sorry, no refunds on personalized orders.

Caribbean Fantasy: Jamaica sample images. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

11 Days in Jamaica – Last Day

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , on Saturday, 25 August 2012, by Stan

Ocho Rios Sunset - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Sunday June 24, 2007

Today is our last day in Jamaica. After breakfast I decided to take a walk around Ochee. Since it was an early Sunday morning there were very few people out. It was nice and quiet. I had to force myself to slow down and really take everything in. For some reason I walked an extra block eastward toward A3 highway. I had never walked out on this street before during my previous trips here. Of course, everything was closed but I was still enjoying seeing all the businesses for the first time.

When I got to the highway, one of the newspaper persons was selling the Sunday Observer. I decided to buy a copy to read on the way back to the airport. It also gave me a chance to spend some of my Jamaican coinage.

Turning back northward, I walked up a street I had only driven by in the past. Everything seemed new to me although I knew all of it had always been there. I must have passed at least 3 churches on my short walk. Then I passed one in a tiny strip mall.

Why this particular church caught my attention, I do not know. Maybe God knew that the message from this one church is one I needed to hear. So I drew closer to the door.

The church was packed all the way to the back door. Although it was a typically hot Caribbean morning and a bit more humid than usual, it was still packed. There were four or five floor fans blowing full force. Parishioners fanned themselves with paper fans. I couldn’t help but think how many Americans are sitting in big, air-conditioned churches right now. Would they still come to church if it was 90 degrees/75% humidity outside with no air conditioning inside?

One of the ushers invited me inside. I thanked her, but declined, explaining that our group was leaving in about half an hour. Even though I was standing outside the door, I was not alone.

Inside the preacher was delivering his sermon, which could be heard from where I was standing. He was drenched in sweat, his clothes looking like he had just taken a shower in them. But he was undeterred by the heat. He was fervently preaching about love. “Love without action,” he said, “is deceitful.” He gave a few contemporary scenarios. Time had gone by so fast that I didn’t realize it was time to get back to the hotel already.

One of my regrets is that I had never been able to attend a church service while in Jamaica. We’ve always had to perform or leave on Sundays. Next year, if I am blessed enough to return to Ochee, I think I will try to attend a service at this church.

We loaded up the equipment truck and headed back to Mo Bay and the airport. I was glad see to that the stretch of road from Falmouth eastward was finished. It was good to ride on a smooth road for a change. We got to the airport, got our equipment and ourselves checked in, got through security, and waited for the boarding call.

Unlike last year, this time we had plenty of time after checking in. Some band members snoozed in the chairs downstairs while others shopped. I stopped in at Jamaica Farewell and bought my usual bottle of Sangster’s Rum Cream. Too bad you can’t get this stuff in the States. Well, actually you can, from a company called Jamaica Direct, but they charge a hefty shipping/courier fee. I went this route last year. Even with the shipping/courier fee, it was still worth it.

Jamaican Bobsled Cafe, Montego Bay - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsFour of us were hungry, so we headed off looking for something to eat. One of the members said an employee at the Jamaican Bobsled shop told him about the café upstairs. So that’s where we went, the Jamaican Bobsled Café. They have several restaurants on the island. Arguably, the most famous one is on Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay.

It was close to boarding time when we finished our lunch. We headed back to the terminal area. Once we found the gate, we found out that the plane was going to be delayed. Figures. So this edition of our Jamaica trip ends the same way it began, with a late plane.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 10

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , , , , on Thursday, 23 August 2012, by Stan

Beach at Negril Treehouse Resort - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Saturday June 23, 2007

Two years ago we were able to stay in Montego Bay overnight before leaving Jamaica. We took a side trip to Negril and watched some of the cliff divers at Pirate’s Cave. We had a time constraint so we didn’t get to stay very long. That meant even though I wanted to try it, I didn’t get to jump off the rocks.

This year was different. This year we had all day Saturday off. I was determined to get back to Negril. Early in the week I started talking up a possible excursion to Mo Bay and Negril around the band. By Saturday, Dave, Rory, and Robert committed to going with me. It was going to be a very long drive from Ocho Rios all the way to the west end of the island and around to Negril. Chris and Papa Wilson answered the call yet again to drive us.

It was a kicked-back day, no rush, no reason to hurry. It was a good time to enjoy not doing much of anything. All of us at one time or another dozed off for a while. Chris pointed out some places of interest to those who were awake. He commented on the noticeably increased police presence on the roads. We assumed it was to catch speeders. (I later found out from The Gleaner newspaper that the police were adapting to criminals’ tactics; bad guys from one parish would come and do their dirty work in another parish. But, to make it easier to slip past the constables, they would leave their weapons in the parish where they committed the crimes. That way if they were ever caught, they’d be clean as far as weapons go).

As we rounded the western end of the island just past Mo Bay, Chris directed our attention to a massive construction site along the ocean side of the road. We couldn’t tell what it was going to be but his guess was another mega-resort. It looked like a small city. He said that it would be good for the residents of the town in that it would provide much-needed jobs. By this time we had been on the road for almost three hours. We did endure one traffic jam in Montego Bay due to bridge construction.

Soon we pulled into Negril. Chris again went into tour guide mode, pointing out all the hotel properties we passed. Sandals, Beaches, Riu, Hedonism II, Swept Away, Couples, and on and on.

There’s a spot that Chris and Papa Wilson took us to in ’05, just beyond what I refer to as ‘hotel row’. It’s called the Negril Treehouse Resort. This is where we stopped for lunch. We piled out of the van, stretched our legs, then made a bee-line for you-know-where.

The circular, open-air restaurant surrounds a bar. It sits right on the beach. On occasion, a beach-goer will walk in, still dripping wet, and order a drink or three. Chris and Papa Wilson took a table near the hotel side of the restaurant while the four of us sat on the beach side. I ordered Jerk Chicken, expecting it to be similar to what most hotels serve, i.e. ‘watered down’ for the tourist palate. I asked the waitress how spicy it was. She replied that the chicken itself wasn’t spicy, but they could add extra sauce if needed. She asked how spicy I wanted it. “Very,” I said.

Our meal arrived promptly. Beverages? Of course, Red Stripe all around. A dark-colored sauce glazed the chicken and there was a generous portion on the side. Again, thinking this was the ‘lite’ version, I brushed on the extra sauce like I was painting a fence. Then I took my first bite. Whatever image you have in your mind now is probably close to what happened. My nose started running, the thermometer rose, the steam whistle blew, but my head did not explode. I was in heaven. Yeah! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout! That’s how I like my Jerk Chicken! But this was a new taste I had not experienced before. I thought I knew Jerk Chicken. Now I have to rethink everything I thought I knew.

After eating, Dave and Robert decided to go walk around and get a little sand and water between their toes. Rory and I stayed and just kicked back. I did take a few photographs meanwhile.

Robert and Dave came back to the table. We got up and walked over to the gift shop. Outside was a policewoman with a machine gun slung over her shoulder. Once I again, I wondered why this did not make me at all nervous. If policemen in the States walked around with machine guns, I’d be nervous, but not here.

Our next stop was Pirate’s Cave. It’s just up the road a bit from the Treehouse Resort. Along the way, it felt like we crossed over into a wholePirate's Cave - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations new world. You leave the commercialism/tourist part of Negril behind. This section of Negril looks more like a smaller Caribbean island like Grand Cayman than it does Jamaica. Dave commented that what we should have done was planned to stay the night and just be beach bums here all the next day. Next time we may do just that. The vibe is certainly laid back here.

One couple was eating lunch out on the patio at Pirate’s Cave when we arrived. I looked around and did not see the cliff divers. We walked along the edge of the rocks, taking in the view of the huts off to the left, and the azure Caribbean Sea 3 stories below. The cliff diver must have either seen or heard us come in.

Diver at Pirate's Cave - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsRobert and I were ready to jump. Rory and David said they’d be happy to just watch us. ‘Donovan’ – I’ll call him that because I forgot his name – gave us some instruction. Step out, no need to jump out very far. Keep your legs straight and your arms at your sides. Robert went in first. He came back up the stairs from the cave below. Looked easy enough, so I stepped up to the edge. I had come all this way just to do this. There was no turning back now. I looked out and jumped off. I picked up speed quickly and soon heard the rush of the air in my ears. Then I heard Donovan yell, “Tuck in your arms!” Obediently, I pinned them to my sides. I remember thinking, “I should have hit the water by now.” I finally did hit the water in what felt like an explosion. I had done it! What a rush!

Swimming back to the cave took a bit of effort because the water kept rising and falling. I climbed up the stairs and reported back to the guys. I was ready to try a dive now. Donovan had cautioned me earlier about diving and recommended that I jump first to see what it was like. He did two dives to show me how to do it right. I told him I was ready. I stepped to the edge again and…… “Man, that’s a long way down.” All the things that could go wrong started running through my head. What if I over-rotate? What if I don’t position my hands the right way? We didn’t have any more gigs to play so Lee couldn’t get too mad if I did get hurt. Ooh, getting hurt might hurt. So I backed down. The guys told me that was a smart choice. Still, I wanted to jump in again. I convinced Donovan to do a tandem; he dove while I jumped. Chris got it on film. Check one more thing off the bucket list.

Much has been said about Rick’s Café. All the hotels feature a trip to Rick’s where you can have dinner, see the famous cliff divers, and watch “the most beautiful sunset in Jamaica.” I asked Chris to drive us by there just to see what this Rick’s Café was all about. Rick’s was less than five minutes further up the road. We turned into the driveway. In the parking lot were 15 or more big tour busses and tour vans. Security guards were directing traffic. We looked at each other and told Chris to keep right on going. After the relaxing day we’d been having, the crowd here would have ruined it completely. Personally, I think Pirate’s Cave is much better place.

Chris drove out of the driveway and headed back the way we came. Robert turns to me and says, “So, Stan, where are we going next?” It made me feel good to know that everyone enjoyed the day. Chris and Papa Wilson deserve the credit for turning me on to Pirate’s Cave and the Treehouse Resort two years ago. Maybe I should start working on another trip for next year now.

Darkness had long since settled over the island by the time we got back to the hotel. Long excursion, a lot of driving, but a good time was had by all.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 8

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , on Saturday, 18 August 2012, by Stan

Cool Cool Runnings - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Thursday June 21, 2007

Each year we visit Jamaica, Lee likes to charter one of the party boats for the band. It’s a chance to get everyone together and have a good time. The boat is a catamaran. We normally book it during one of the off days when the cruise ships are not in port.

We normally head out just after noon. On the way to the dock, my friend Tony came seemingly from out of nowhere to say “W’apning”. Tony runs the powered water sports. He’s got jet skis, parasailing, glass bottomed boats, etc.

On board the boat, the crew introduces themselves. Standard safety instructions follow as we cast off. We sail slowly around the shoreline and anchor near a reef. It’s time for snorkeling. Some of the guys swim way out past the reef. The first-timers always comment on the different types of fish they see underwater.

This year, one of the enterprising locals had some of his crafts loaded onto a kayak and paddled out to our boat. He had the usual conch shells, beads, and carved art. His ingenuity paid off; several people bought items from him. Too bad for his land-bound colleagues.

After snorkeling and swimming around in the waters of the Caribbean Sea, we pull up anchor. Slowly we head for another spot to anchor for lunch. Our crew cranks up the music and really gets the party started. People on the shoreline hotels come out to watch. Local kids start dancing. One of the hotel guards even threw down, doing a dance that can only be described as “The Jamaican Stomp”. All the attention we attract is good business for the crew; the name of the boat, “Cool Cool Runnings” (its big sister is named “Cool Runnings”) is written in large, bold, blue letters on both outer hulls. Party-minded guests are thinking, “I wanna be on THAT boat!”

Lunch is usually jerk chicken, rice and peas, salad, and dinner rolls. Free-flowing fruit punch and Red Stripe beer is provided to quench our thirst. I never get tired of jerk chicken. While we eat, we chat with the crew.

Following lunch, the crew stows the empty containers. The DJ turns up the music again. We head out toward sea into the wind. The deckhands unfurl the main sail. The waves get bigger. The boat starts pitching. The crew starts inviting everyone to dance. Of course, it’s Soca dancing. While all this is going on, one of the crew shows off her jumping skills. As the boat pitches upward, she jumps an instant before it reaches the wave’s crest, launched by its upward momentum. She is headed upward as the boat rides down toward the trough. When this is done right, you get some serious air. She certainly did it right. We tried too. It only took a couple of good waves to get the hang of it.

‘Round about this time, the flying fish leap out of the water and begin their legendary glide. There must have been a big school nearby because they came up a dozen or more at a time. No wonder this is one of the highlights of the trip.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. We slowly headed back to the dock. Our cruise was nearly over, but the music kept pumping. Hotel guests got one more chance to envy us. We reached the dock and tied up. Some people still had their sea legs when they stood up to get off the boat. We said goodbye to the crew. Hopefully, we’ll see them again next year.

One of the band members had made dinner reservations for ten of us at La Diva, the hotel’s Italian restaurant. This is the most popular restaurant in the hotel. We all showed up at the appointed 8:30pm time slot but had to wait almost half an hour.

The meal itself was very good. I had the rack of lamb with mint jelly. In fact, everyone in our group was pleased. During the meal, we toasted to Lee’s wedding anniversary, and to our bass trombone player, Dennis’ anniversary. One lady at another table brought her 5-year-old son by our table. He sang an anniversary song to Lee. The mom said it was the kid’s idea.

It took quite a while before each course was served. Since were a large group having a good time, we kind of overlooked it. But it was growing late. The place actually closed while we were there. In fact, the freezer had been locked up by the time we ordered dessert so they had to go find someone with the key to open it again. It was 11:30pm by the time we finally left. Even with the wait, I will come back to La Diva next time we stay here.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 7

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , , , on Friday, 17 August 2012, by Stan


Wednesday June 20, 2007

This is a day I always look forward to when I return to Jamaica; the day when I get to hang out with Lancelot. We’re usually gone all day long. Today he said he would show me the center of the island and the town of Mandeville.

Lee wanted to play some more quartets this morning after breakfast. I had to call Lancelot and ask if we could leave half an hour later. He said it was not a problem.

The quartet session went well. We played most of the same charts as last time and one different piece that was even more challenging than the others. I had to leave the group a bit early to go meet Lancelot.

I went back up to the room to drop off my horn and change clothes. As I walked down the hotel’s driveway, Lancelot pulled up. It’s always good to see him. He’s full of wisdom, sayings, and is a wealth of knowledge about Jamaica.

We headed out. I did ask if we could stop off at  Walkerswood. They make the seasoning I use when I make jerk chicken at home. They have grown enormously in the past couple of years and now have a big factory. Their product line has grown, too, and is now readily available in the States.

Next we drove through the town of Moneague. We drove by Moneague College and through some of the side streets before heading back to the highway. Once we got back on the highway, Lancelot stopped at a small roadside fruit stand for some pineapple. He knew the Roadside fruit stand in Jamaica - (c) Stan Thomasproprietors and talked with them for a moment. It seems like he knows everyone on the island. He offered me a slice of pineapple, confidently saying that it was “so good, it will put Hawaiian pineapple to shame.” Jamaican pineapple is good; more orange in color than the Hawaiian variety, but I have to say nothing tastes as good as fresh pineapple from Hawaii.

While watching television, I remembered a conglomerate company called Lasco made several public service announcements about the shortage of milk on the island and their attempt to resolve the crisis. I asked Lancelot about this. He said that a few years ago, there were more dairy farmers on the island but they weren’t being paid enough for their product. So they stopped raising dairy cows and went into other crops that paid more. As a result, Jamaica now has to import most of its milk products. Sad because according to Lanceleot, all the government had to do was buy the milk and supply it to the school children. That way the dairy farmers could stay in business and there would be enough milk on the island.

As we drove over some of the many hills on the island, Lancelot pointed out the thin pipes that supplied water to the residents. Pipes which frequently broke. Pipes which are woefully inadequate to supply the growing population. Many residents have water tanks in which to store water. These are sometimes filled by water trucks. Since the government does not take a proactive approach to upgrading the water infrastructure, residents are forced to take drastic measures to get action. When the pipes break and are not repaired in a reasonable amount of time, and the water trucks don’t come, residents will block the roads. NO traffic gets through. That means commerce is virtually halted. Alternate routes are available but involve driving hours out of the way.

Linstead has developed quite a reputation. The crime rate is high. Lancelot pointed out one store that he says had been robbed 20 times already. He explained the reason for most of the crime is because there are few jobs. Several of the factories that used to be on the island have shut down and gone to other islands like Trinidad. Of course, that leaves nothing for the youth to do. And, as one of Lancelot’s sayings goes, “the devil will find work for idle hands.” Coincidentally,  The Gleaner, one of Jamaica’s newspapers, ran a story that Sunday about one of the candidates running for office campaigning to clean up the horrid conditions in Linstead’s marketplaces.

Each large town we drove through had a franchise or two of the ubiquitous Burger King or KFC. As we came into Spanish Town, I remarked to Lancelot that I hadn’t seen any McDonald’s. He replied that there were no Mickey D’s on Jamaica. What?! A country where there is no McDonald’s? He said the last one closed in 2005. We covered a large part of the island during the day and sure enough, no golden arches to be found.

What happened? I found out after we got back to the states that the golden arches had been under a black cloud since they first tried to come to Jamaica’s shores back in ’94. Apparently the international fast-food Goliath lost a court battle against a local David and McDonald’s was prevented from doing business on the island for a few years.

When they were allowed back on the island, Mickey D’s was late to market – believe it or not – and never did establish a foothold. Jamaicans had by then already pledged allegiance to Burger King and KFC, in addition to their own home-grown chain called Island Grill.  According to this commentary, not only was McDonald’s late to market, they didn’t even research the market.

Rejoining one of the main highways not far from Spanish Town, Lancelot abruptly pulled over next to a roadside coconut stand. He bought two coconuts, one for each of us. He asked me if I had ever had coconut water before. I told him the hotel served it on occasion. He told the proprietor to cut the coconut so I could drink the water. One skillful chop from his machete and I was drinking fresh coconut water. I drank as much as I could, all the while thinking about what Tom Hanks’ character, Chuck Nolan, told Wilson about coconuts in the movie “Castaway”.

While Lancelot talked with the proprietors, he started using part of the coconut to scrape the ‘meat’ out of the inside and was eating it. Once again, the proprietor picked up his machete. Whack. Whack. Chop. Soon, I was scraping the inside of the coconut and eating the meat, too. It dawned on me right there how many people you see here walking around with machetes. They are used to cut down fruit, chop down trees, clear vines and brush. They are used to cut open fruit, trim hedges, cut grass, and chop meat. And I never for one moment felt uncomfortable about how prevalent machetes are in Jamaica.

Over his lifetime, Lancelot has lived in all 14 of Jamaica’s parishes. Out of all the towns in all the parishes, he says he wants to live in Mandeville. He was practically beaming as we drove into the town. Mandeville sits on a hill and offers an excellent view in many places. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco.

Driving through the town, we passed a military installation. As we passed by, a large helicopter flew in and landed. We passed quite a few upscale homes and many gated communities. Then, Lancelot turned up a narrow street, which led to a building resembling a plantation house. This was our destination. It was called Bloomfield Great House.

Bloomfield Great House actually was a working coffee plantation back in the 1800’s. The main building has been converted into a restaurant. Inside was a beautifully-decorated restaurant with indoor and veranda dining areas, private dining sections, and a big dining area for large groups. On the walls hung many works of art by Jamaican artists. The tables were covered by primary-colored tablecloths. Long streamers of sheer fabric were draped from the ceiling. Use of these vivid colors created a very vibrant atmosphere inside.

We were seated on the veranda. From here you have a commanding view of Mandeville and large part of the center of Jamaica. It was breath taking. There was a slight breeze blowing. I ordered a combo lunch, which came with shrimp and chicken, vegetables, and of course, rice and peas. Lancelot had a club sandwich with fries. We talked a bit while we ate but I spent most of the time just being absorbed in the view. So this was Mandeville. I think I could live here, too.

On the way back we took a slightly different route to connect back to the highway. Lancelot showed me some one of the places he used to live. We stopped at another place that offered a scenic view of the interior of the island. Then we headed back to Ochee.

Lancelot stopped at the Oasis petrol station to fill up the tank. One of my side ‘projects’ on this trip was to photograph some of the billboards and other signs in Jamaica. I hopped out of the car, camera in hand, and quickly snapped a couple of pictures of the station’s sign. Upon returning to the car, a gentleman, who I assumed to be the manager, came trotting over. He anxiously but politely asked if I “would care to disclose why you photographed the sign.” I blurted out my best “no problem, I’m just taking pictures of signs” speech. Understanding what I should have said, Lancelot instantly came to my rescue, telling him, simply, “He’s a tourist.” At first I was offended. Because Jamaica has become a second home to me, I don’t think of myself as a tourist. Then I realized that the manager thought I was a local.

Our trip took us through the parishes of Saint Ann, Saint Catherine, Clarendon, and Manchester. In addition to the towns mentioned earlier, we visited Ewarton, May Pen, and a host of others. Our last stop was at Faith’s Pen for some jerk chicken and pork. It was dark by this time. In my haste to get back to the car, I took a shortcut behind a building and ran into a barbed wire fence. Incredibly it was only a couple of strands high where I hit it. Thank God it only left three superficial scratches.

We arrived back at the hotel and I bid Lancelot farewell. Some of the band members were sitting in the courtyard. Since I had been gone all day, they wanted to know where I had been. I told them about Mandeville. While we chatted, more members of the band walked by. I was very hungry by this point and the aroma of the food from Faith’s Pen was making me even hungrier. I offered some of it to Leroy, then excused myself to the poolside grill and ate the rest.

Later on that night I ran into Lee. He told us that we are scheduled to be the opening act at the first Wine and Jazz Festival in Palmdale. This is going to be a big gig for us. Jeff Golub, The Rippingtons, and Richard Elliot will be performing. I’m really looking forward to this one.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 6

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , on Thursday, 16 August 2012, by Stan

Blue Mountains - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Tuesday June 19, 2007

Today was the day for the Blue Mountain bike tour. I had booked the tour at the same time I made the reservation for The Ruins at the Falls. It started kind of early but they would be providing a small breakfast on the trip.

Earlier in the week I called Lancelot to let him know we were back on the island. I met Lancelot in ’02 on my first trip to Jamaica. He gave me a tour of Ocho Rios that you will not find in any brochure. Since then, each year I come back, I look for him and he takes me someplace new.

This year I told him I wanted to visit Port Antonio. He said that I wouldn’t want to go there because, “the roads are atrocious.” Now if a Jamaican tells you the roads are bad, believe him. The roads around the island are perpetually under construction but for him to single out this road is really saying something.

As our tour van left the last hotel picking up the tour-takers, the roads along the north coast deteriorated. The highway was torn up for interminable stretches. Man, was Lancelot ever right! I could see why he talked me out of going to Port Antoinio – which we ended up passing through on this tour anyway. We bounced along through town after town until we came to Jasmine’s Seafood Restaurant, Jasmine's Seafood Restaurant - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creationsour first rest stop. Our driver, Cleve, told us – jokingly, I hope – that when it is time to go and you are not in the van, “Cleve will leave.” Everyone got back to the van on time.

Leaving town, we headed up the winding roads into the famous Blue Mountains. The roads narrow down to one lane. If you meet an on-coming vehicle, one of you must back up until you reach a part of the road wide enough to allow you to pass. Often this is done with one vehicle in the bushes, an inch or two away from the rocky mountainside, or a hair’s breadth from the edge of a steep drop-off. The space between the passing vehicles is virtually non-existent.

Up the twisting road we went. Cleve told jokes and called out points of interest. Then he told everyone to look toward the left, toward the mountainside, for a “pink rooster”. So all the passengers obediently craned their necks hoping to see this alleged pink rooster. Turns out that at that very spot, the mountain on the right side drops off very steeply, and the road is barely wide enough for the van to travel. Most of the passengers fell for the pink rooster bit on the way up, but there was no way to distract us coming back.

At the café, we stopped for a small breakfast of fruit, toast, eggs and juice. Here we met our guides, got fitted for our helmets and pads, and got a brief overview of the day’s ride. We were to take the van higher up into the mountains while our cruiser-type bikes followed behind on a trailer. Then we would mount the bikes and leisurely ride down. Lunch would be waiting for us back here at the café. We were to continue on down the mountain and end up at a waterfall/pool for a refreshing dip.

Robert, the guide - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsThe brochure says that this is one of the most scenic bike rides in the world. Can’t argue there. It certainly was beautiful. We stopped many times while our guide, Robert, pointed out various things like plants and the different types of things they are used for. We stopped at scenic vistas. We stopped to see actual coffee plants and coffee plantations. We stopped to see crayfish traps. We stopped to let the slower people catch up. Since it was all downhill, we didn’t need to pedal hardly at all.

Lunch was, of course, jerk chicken. The guides gave a demonstration showing how coffee goes from berry to brew. The smell of roasting coffee wafted through the café. Packaged coffee was available to purchase but only a couple of people bought any.Berry to brew - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Mounting our bikes again, we continued down the mountain. School had just let out and we saw several schoolchildren walking up the hill. They stuck out their hands enticing us to high-five them as we rode by. I will remember the smiles on their faces forever. Who’d of thought that a simple high five could make a kid so happy?

One of the more interesting things Robert pointed out was a beautifully designed building known colloquially as “The Stab House”. It was secluded, far off in the distance. It is said that men would bring women who were, ahem, not their wives, up here for a romantic weekend.

Suddenly our guide turned off the main road – if you can call it that – onto a dirt road. We had to walk our bikes a few yards until we stoppedWaterfall in Blue Mountains - (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations near the main road again. Our ride ended here. Refreshments had been set out in anticipation of our arrival. Our guides told us that we could go swimming here if we liked. From where we were standing, it didn’t look like much. Robert led us down a trail, past some boulders, and lo and behold, there was the waterfall!

I brought my swim trunks but didn’t go in. Most of the others did jump in. A few of the locals were swimming around. Soon they began diving off the head of the waterfall. I got a couple of good action shots of them, but the sun was directly in front, killing the photo.

Cleve retraced our route back to the same restaurant we stopped at in the morning. Once again, Cleve did not have to leave anyone when it was time to go.

Since the bike ride was so laid back, I wasn’t at all tired but the heat made me sleepy. I tried to catch a few winks but the condition of the road made it impossible. My daily commute back home can range from four to as much as six hours. Much longer than this trip. Yet I was losing patience with this highway fast. Somebody get me off this road. Please!

Meeting John from Scotland and Kelly from England did make bouncing along this road a bit more bearable. We talked for a while. Turned out they were staying in the same hotel as we were. They invited me out for a beer but I needed to get something substantial on my stomach first so I had to take a rain check.

If you are not very athletic and want a nice, easy ride, then this is an excellent excursion for you. You actually get to get out and walk around the famous Blue Mountains. You get to see this area from eye-level as opposed to bus-level. I, on the other hand, was expecting a more vigorous ride. All in all, you cannot beat the scenery on this tour.

11 Days in Jamaica – Day 3

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , on Saturday, 11 August 2012, by Stan

Saturday June 16, 2007

Lazy day today. Had a big breakfast, ran my 10 flights of stairs and went back to the room.

During breakfast, Lee asked me to play in a saxophone quartet. This is a different format for me. I haven’t played Classical since college. And never on baritone.

Our quartet consisted of our two alto players, Lee on tenor sax, and myself on bari sax. These guys have played around the globe, recorded extensively, and worked with some of the best musicians in the world. And here I was getting a chance to play with them. Lee whipped out a chart and away we went.

I felt like I had been thrown into the deep end. But I swam. The format forces you to use all of your skills. Most importantly, you gotta count. Everything else is based on that. All the nice harmony, tight unison, solos, and counter-melodies mean nothing if you can’t find ‘one’. We played a little over an hour in styles ranging from Classical to Jazz. What an experience!

After playing the quartets, I went back up to my room again. A cricket match was on. Cricket is very big here. On my previous visits I would watch it but could never figure out how this strange game was played. With no plans for the day and a whole room to myself, I vowed to learn cricket. West Indies was playing. Since we are in the West Indies, I rooted for them.

Just as I was learning about bowlers and fielders and targets, I heard the sound of a key card being slid into the lock and the door opened. Two ladies with their luggage were standing in the doorway. Apparently they had been assigned the room. A quick call to the front desk got things straightened out. But I had a funny feeling my time flying solo in this room would soon be over.

My suspicions were confirmed at dinner. Something told me to try the key card before closing the door. Sure enough, the light showed red, meaning the key no longer worked.

On the way to dinner I stopped at the front desk to see what was up. We ended up bringing Lee to the desk to get to the bottom of things. They got it taken care of and I got booted out of my room. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted. Now I’m sharing a room with two other guys. Fortunately it’s the two alto sax players. Eb in the house!

Snoozing and Losing

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on Friday, 17 June 2011, by Stan

Caribbean Travel + Life magazine

Normally at this time of year, the Friday before Father’s Day, we’d be on a plane winging our way to Jamaica. Things didn’t work out as planned this year so we are sitting on the sidelines until next year.

Aside from the everyday places like home, school, work, and friends and relatives, I have spent more time in Jamaica than I have anywhere else. But it’s been 3 years since I was last there and I feel homesick. During the time I’ve spent there, I’ve been introduced to quite a few places most visitors to the island have never heard of. These places are a joy to visit, mainly because they are off the beaten path and not frequented by tourists.

Over the years, I was planning to submit articles on Greenwood Great House and Scotchie’s to Caribbean Travel + Life"" magazine. But I procrastinated. Same with photographs of Faith’s Pen and a few other places. Then the May issue of CT+L showed up in my mailbox with “Jamaica Like You’ve Never Seen It” boldly spread across the cover as one of the featured articles. Obviously, that got my attention. I flipped to the story and there it was; my secret Jamaican places revealed for all the world to see.

After I stopped kicking myself, I read the article. It shows the reader two alternatives in each of several categories such as history, food, art,Dunn's River Fall's (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations falls, rum (of course), and more. The first is an ‘enthusiast’ spot. These are places that are found in a travel brochure that you’d pick up at the hotel or cruise ship excursion desk. Someplace that is more than just a barbecue on the beach. These are suggestions for first-timers. Dunn’s River Falls is an ‘enthusiast’ spot. The second is the ‘expert’ location – or what could be called insider information – that only locals and frequent visitors to the Jewel of the Caribbean know about. Faith’s Pen is an ‘expert’ location; a place for, as the article says, “die-hard Jamaicaphiles.”

Faith's Pen (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale CreationsBefore you get the wrong impression, let me emphatically tell you I LOVE Caribbean Travel + Life magazine, precisely because they are familiar with and divulge such secrets as they did in the May issue. If you like the Caribbean or just want to learn more about the Caribbean than what you see in a brochure, CT+L is indispensable.

That age-old saying, “you snooze, you lose” is true. Hang on to an idea too long and not only will someone else come up with it, they will follow through with it. In my case, I lost the chance to sell three articles on the ‘secret’ Jamaica and the photographs to accompany them. It took me seven years to find these places. Read the CT+L article and you will learn about them in about seven minutes.

Note to self: Turn off the television and write!

Disclaimer: I subscribe to CT+L. By clicking the CT+L link"" and subscribing to the magazine you can help keep this blog going.