Back to the tropics
The Netherlands to Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), November 2017

Just like last year, we decided to take a ship to cross the Atlantic to the Americas. And like last year, we take a cruise ship of Royal Caribbean that makes the crossing from Rome, in order to sail the European winter season in the Caribbean. There is, however, one big difference with last year; the parents of Edwin travel with us for the first three weeks. The journey starts with the flight with Ryanair from Eindhoven to Rome where we spend a few days to get used to the idea that we are on the road again. The parents of Edwin visit Rome for the first time, so we spend two full days to see the main attractions of this beautiful city. We walk a lot and regularly we sit down on one of the many picturesque terraces for a coffee, because that’s also a major attraction of Rome. They forecasted a lot of rain for these days, but we are lucky. Ultimately, we had to hide only once. Or maybe this isn’t just luck. Maybe we are rewarded for the fact that the first place we visited in Rome was the St Peter’s Square in the Vatican. God only knows.

On November 6th, immediately after breakfast, we take the local train from the centrally located Termini station to Civitavecchia, Rome’s port city that is just more than an hour by train away from the centre of Rome. This is the place where the cruise ships dock when they say they are visiting Rome. Just after noon we arrive at the cruise ship, called the Jewel of the Seas. The check-in process is well-organised and within an hour we put our feet for the first time on board. This ship will be our home for the next 14 days. The cabins are not ready yet, but the huge buffet restaurant is already open, so we can fill our hungry stomachs right away. At half past five there is the mandatory rescue drill, after which the huge ship leaves the harbour at exactly five o'clock in the afternoon. Our first destination is Valencia in Spain. The captain has already announced that he will not sail to Valencia via the shortest route (the route between the islands of Sardinia and Corsica), because the high waves could make the crossing uncomfortable. And that’s not what he has in mind for us during the first night on the ship. He prefers the route north of Corsica and then along the French and Catalan Riviera.

Coffee in Rome

We use the first day to get familiar with the 13 decks on board. Orientation is not always easy. After our visit to Valencia we sail via the Strait of Gibraltar to Lisbon. The ship moors in the centre of the city, just a ten-minute walk from Praca do Comercio. You really do not have a lot of time when you visit a destination during a cruise. Usually the ship will moor in the morning and you have to be on board again at around five o'clock. So, you usually do not have much more than an hour or six, but it is sufficient to stretch your legs again and get a quick impression of the destination. From Lisbon we sail to the west, with Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores, as our next destination. Here too we only have one day to spend, so we decide to rent a taxi that drove us to the most important sights of the island of Sao Miguel. The real Atlantic crossing starts after the Azores. From here it is six full days at sea before the ship arrives in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. The crossing is calm and we fill our days with food, drinks, reading, and especially more food and drinks. There is something for everyone on board. There is a theatre, a cinema, a climbing wall, a fitness centre, a casino, a miniature golf course and there are many many organized activities. For example, available courses include salsa dancing, bridge and even towel folding. Quizzes are also organized and there are lectures about a various number of subjects. And if that is still not enough, you can go sunbathing on one of the many sun loungers along the open-air swimming pool.

On day 14 we arrive early in the morning in San Juan. Since Puerto Rico has been hit hard by hurricane Irma, who hit the island a few months ago, we do not know what exactly to expect. Large parts of the island still have no electricity is what they told us. And that is shocking when you know that Puerto Rico is a piece of the USA. Apparently, Trump has his hands full of other domestic affairs. We have visited Puerto Rico last year and have therefore decided to skip the island this year and to fly directly to neighbouring Dominican Republic. After clearance of the ship and the immigration activities, we take the bus from the port of San Juan to the airport, and at the end of the morning we fly in 40 minutes time to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Also here the hurricane season has just ended, but fortunately the Dominicans have suffered little from the hurricanes Irma and Maria. The parents of Edwin stay with us for another week before they fly back to the Netherlands. We have chosen to stay in Santo Domingo for four days, and spend the other four days in Punta Cana, the beach destination in the east of the country.

What is a better place to eat pizza than Rome?

We have booked a hotel in the heart of the old colonial centre of Santo Domingo. This is also the safest part of the city, and if you want to go out on foot in the evening, it is wise to stay in this part of the city. There is sufficient police presence here to call it safe. The Dominican Republic is not really a dangerous destination, but that does not mean that you have to be on your guard. We are regularly approached in the city by local people who warn us to keep an eye on our bags. The Dominican Republic is a poor country and there are some security risks, but in our opinion, it is no reason to avoid the country. These risks are unfortunately the reality for almost all destinations in the Caribbean and Central America, and a little common sense lowers the risk of a negative experience to very acceptable level.

On day four of our visit to the Dominican Republic we travel by bus to the most eastern part of the country. That sounds far, but is only three hours away. We are dropped off at the airport of Punta Cana where we pick up our rental car. Well, rental car? You better call it a rental van. Not many people rent a car in the Dominican Republic, so the choice in cars is not that big. We eventually drive away in a Nissan Urvan, which can accommodate 12 passengers. The vast majority of tourists who come to the Dominican Republic stay in an all-inclusive resort, with all facilities within four walls. Often, they only come outside the resort to travel to and from the airport. Many of these resorts are located in the east of the Dominican Republic, and this part of the country has been specially developed to accommodate the huge number of tourists. They even built a special airport (Punta Cana) where one after the other flight arrives from and departs to Canada, the US and Europe. We do not stay in an all-inclusive resort, but have rented a small apartment, a few hundred meters from the beach. With our van we explore the east of the Dominican Republic for four days and after three weeks we have said goodbye to the parents of Edwin, who flew from Punta Cana to Brussels in Belgium. We stayed one more night in Punta Cana, after which we went back to Santo Domingo, ready to explore the rest of the Dominican Republic.

Selfie in Rome's Chiesa di Sant' Ignazio di Loyola
Us in front of the Jewel of the Seas just before departure in Civitavecchia
Enjoying the sun on the Mediterranean

Mooring in the city cntre of Lisbon

Pizza and beer in Santo Domingo

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