from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

USA Travel Dispatch: Southeast

Newton, Elise, Jake, Larissa and I all flew into Miami from New Jersey, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Denver. We walked out of our one-night hotel to find dinner, and happened upon a lively Cuban seafood place. The party atmosphere and the food were great, but what I really loved was the young Cuban couple from the next table jumping up to dance. She looked like a beautiful Cuban Daenerys (if you watch "Game of Thrones"), and he looked like the guy who could jump up and dance with anyone, his leading was so dead-on. He did, in fact, jump up and dance with our waitress a couple of times when she went by! The couple made poetry in motion and demonstrated, as the Third World often does, just what specifically the First World is short on.

Sailing out of Miami
The next morning was our cruise. It was called Norwegian Escape, but someone said it is an American line. We had fun, we sailed around the Caribbean, we saw a good Harlem-inspired musical, enjoyed amazing musicians on dueling pianos playing most any request, had some good meals, played some games. Cruises offer a means for us to get together with the kids willingly "on board," but then the trade-off is that I am not fond of cruises (first world problems!) Going to ports would be lovely, except for the duty-free shops in your face. If you wish to visit a beautiful beachy spot, the taxi's are ready for the hostages' ransom! The cruise tradition of great food has morphed into sketchier food and specialty restaurants for which you pay extra. But despite my complaints, I am always grateful for family time and the fun activities and games we played together. 

One of our favorite hang-outs was the beer bar with a lovely waiter from Grenada. Once he heard that Elise had been to Grenada, he became fast friends with us for the duration!

The kids enjoyed the pool areas and this 

Another favorite hang-out was this wine bar, especially the area out on the deck.

Salvatore & Newt
Our first stop in St. Martin/St Maarten (half French, half Dutch) was my favorite, as Newton's old French poker buddy from Natal, Salvatore, lives there now and picked up Newton, Elise and me for a personal tour. The island is small. We landed on a gorgeous beach with a good restaurant.

Elise, in pink, loving the water
A gang of pre-historic looking iguanas lurk in their own 'hood' on the island

Our family played the following games on the ship:

Crazy Eights card game

Chinese Checkers

Bocce ball

Miniature golf

Three Music Trivia games held in the beer bar: 'Motown;' 'One-hit Wonders' (I'm the only one who knew "Afternoon Delight"!); and 'Michael Jackson,' which we almost won!

Texas Hold'em - Jake & Newt
Newton, Jake & Larissa did the ropes course
Newton dangling though the zip-line portion...out over the water!
Jake & Larissa, before Larissa got way ahead!

Everyone but me defied the varying degrees of panic and tried out one or more of these crazy aquatic tube slides.

Our second stop was at St.Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

We rode a cable car up a good look-out hill

I found a view of the island without our cruise ship clobbering it!

Larissa as a piratess, Jake as Grumpy Cat - as a swashbuckling rum runner

We had two specialty dinners during the cruise, the first being Japanese. The Teppanyaki chef was funny and highly skilled with his knives! 
This is a photobomb, not just by the chef, but by Elise snapping the posted commercial photo surreptitiously that we were supposed to buy!

I fell in love with the extended family who shared our table, all from the same area in Queens, NY. The lovely widowed matriarch sat next to me with her children and darling grandchildren all around. "I made sure none of my children left home" she told me! 

Our family could all be found nightly at the "Howl at the Moon" dueling pianos. These guys could play - just required a tip or a shot!

Elise, Larissa and Jake got carried away with this "Bohemian Rhapsody" rendition:

Here are the kids pausing in the corridor where the "art" was for sale; some scary stuff.

Our third stop was at Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The approach promises such beauty, but it was a long haul to get past the intense shopping.

Again, how lovely Paradise Island looked as we sailed into Nassau, Bahamas. We didn't bother getting off the boat for the shopping traps. Jake & Larissa had recently been there for a poker tournament at the huge Atlantis resort.

Our handsome couple, who celebrated their second anniversary on the ship!
On our last night we enjoyed our second specialty dinner, Italian. It was a perfect evening out on the deck. Elise was the photographer!

We all spent the next three days in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami. The entire neighborhood is lined with pristine Art Deco buildings and palms...just stunning. We liked our hotel, the Kimpton Surfcomber.

Cabanas lined the pool

A gorgeous beach was just beyond the pool area. Elise's toes!

More ping-pong

More pool fun

I couldn't get over these stunning textiles in the cabanas

Here I am like tropical royalty in my flip-flops!
Our wonderful longtime friend, Pierre LaBelle, met up with us from Fort Lauderdale, where he lives. He is a native of Montreal, but we know him from years spent together in New York. In-between he graduated from the California Culinary Academy and served as a chef to the glitterati of Beverly Hills! He lived in South Beach for five years as a personal chef, and is now an astute dealer in antiques and the finest treasures.
First Pierre showered each of us with some of those rare treasures he comes across in his professional scavenging. It was like Christmas morning in August! Scarves, jewelry, leather, ties, exquisite boxes, even a Florida flamingo Christmas ornament! There were too many gifts to name, but all were wrapped and labeled for the five of us - a monumental effort alone - and all of such interest and quality.

On our way to lunch, Pierre led us into the neighboring Delano Hotel. It is owned by Ian Schrager, Steve Rubell's old partner from Studio 54 days. Philippe Starck designed it. We marched though the sleek, avant-garde lobby as if we owned the place, then trespassed into the elegant pool area. Quite the place.

We went around the corner for a delicious lunch at Yuca, a chic Cuban restaurant. Note the fine turquoise, coral and silver ring on my finger...just received from Pierre! Guess who sneaked out to nab the waiter and pay the whole bill...just when we really owed him lunch!

This restaurant makes these amazing green mojitos.
Pierre walked us around his old neighborhood along the beach.

It had been far too many years since we had been together. Never such a long spell again, our Great Love, Pierre! See you in Brazil next time. (Elise has already seen him again in LA!)

Back on our own, the five of us had a couple of good meals: we recommend the Greek restaurant, Poseidon, as well as Rosa for Mexican food. 

Being true Trekkies, we all went to see the new "Star Trek Beyond." It's got some humor! 

Elise and I had a long walk through the Art Deco residential neighborhood. We ended up on Ocean Drive, where we returned that night to celebrate Elise's upcoming birthday.

Elise's local friend Christy, who worked with her in New York some years ago, joined us for the festivities. 

Newton and I said good-bye to Jake and Larissa - planning a trip to California, and to Elise - visiting Christy in Miami for a few days before returning to LA; we rented a car and we headed off to Key West. We thought we'd have a short road trip without any set plans before returning to Brazil.

Once we arrived and found this marvelous hotel, aptly named "Eden" and its perfectly delicious partner restaurant, Azur, next door, we decided we really wanted to just stay put in Key West! 

Azur had a lunch special: your choice of four appetizers from a long list...for $8.00. If you were staying at Eden, there was a 20% discount. They had a great pale French rosé by the glass. Just sayin'.

The New York Pasta Garden outdoors in Duval Square is another good place to eat in Key West. They have macaws!

We went on a snorkeling boat trip, explored the town, had a sunset wine tasting sail, and walked plenty.

This snorkeling day trip was with Sebago Water Sports. We highly recommend that company - the cost is much more reasonable, but there is no clear reason why. Excellent!

The wine tasting sail was with the oddly-named Danger company. They had some very good wines to sample.

Our last night we ordered pizza and ate it in our big bed while watching the Olympics! We were traveled out.

Time to head home.


1 comment:

  1. Quite a travelogue across this country. I'm not sure I could leave home for that extended time. I'm too much of a homebody. But your experiences are now recorded. Do you print your blogs? You should so that they don't get lost in the technology leap that may make them so obsolete they can't be found later. Remember 8 track recordings?



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