Tuesday, February 14, 2012

West Palm Beach : Where the living is easy.
26th November – 23rd December 2011
November 26th saw us drop anchor once again in West Palm Beach, Florida, it was great to be back.
However, as our USA visas would  expire at midnight, December 1st, we were intent on using our limited time to stock up with food and drinks for the Bahamas, collect and install the boat parts that we’d previously ordered, buy more spares (last chance really), sort out a couple financial matters on the internet, catch up with some Florida friends, take in a few sports bars and restaurants and be ready to leave the USA in 6 days time….yeah right! But you know what? We actually nearly made it. With just a few days to go before our visa deadline, the weather systems for the 50 mile Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas were not cooperating and it quickly became very evident we could not safely leave by the 1st. There was only one thing to do, so off we went to visit the local customs/immigration office to request, aka plead, for an extension, we were thinking that 2 weeks should be long enough. After some to and fro discussions between the uniformed officer on the front desk and his superior behind closed doors, we were told it wasn’t going to happen, definitely no extension, bugger! However, the officer did come up with a great suggestion - catch an overnight cruise ship to the Bahamas and return 2 days later, this would make us eligible for a another 6 month visa.The choices were, either set sail in GWTW in lousy weather and big seas or board the Bahamas Celebration cruise ship for a whirlwind trip to Nassau…it only took a nano-second to decide….where do we buy the tickets? One quick phone call and it was all arranged before we left the car park at the immigration office. We were booked on the ship departing the following evening, December 1st, at 6pm, Nassau here we come!
As this was our first “cruise” we were really quite excited and looking forward to it. The Bahamas Celebration is not a big ship by cruise ship standards, but she handled the rough seas way better than GWTW would have, and to think we were very nearly out there and sailing on that same, rough ocean!  The ship can accommodate 1,000 guests and has a compliment of around 500 staff, all of whom were very friendly and helpful. The cabin we chose, the $160 each, all meals included package, was very cosy, perhaps a little too cozy, you couldn’t swing a cat, but it worked fine as we really only slept there. Dining aboard was a treat, the food was excellent and there were lashings of it if you were so inclined, and many were.There was up market dining, the dress up for dinner type, pool side dining, pub style and trattoria dining, the choices were plenty.
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And entertainment was provided each evening with singers, comedians and acrobats strutting their stuff. There was an onboard casino, deck games, karaoke, bingo and movies, there was never a dull moment and we had a fun time.
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The ship berthed around 7am in Nassau and we ambled ashore a couple of hours later. The docks were teeming with tourists as four very large cruise liners were also in port, spilling out around 4000 people from each. Apart from indulging in a little duty free shopping, I’m not real sure just what you see and do in Nassau, other than visiting the mega hotel/casino/water park complex called Atlantis (we didn’t), but we did make like a regular tourist and enjoyed  strolling the streets, stopping for a cool beverage and generally having a pleasant time people-watching.
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After checking out a few overpriced menus we decided to have lunch on the ship, so Liam headed back to sit by the pool and Annie wondered off to check out the  town and partake in a little retail therapy, and that pretty much sums up our time in Nassau. The Bahamas Celebration dropped her lines and left port at 6pm, arriving  back in West Palm Beach just after dawn. What a fast holiday that was!
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After passing through all the barriers, we were greeted by a friendly immigration officer who stamped our passports and said  a cheery “welcome home”, and that’s exactly how the USA felt to us, it was home. So now we were good for another 6 months, with no frantic rush anymore the sense of relief was incredible. Now we could relax a little, take our time and enjoy everything that the city of West Palm Beach had to offer and head off to the Bahamas when we were perfectly ready to, it was a wonderful feeling, believe me. We hired a car and went down to Fort Lauderdale for a couple of days to do some boat-part shopping and to stay  two nights with some cruising friends  we’d met while in Corsica, Steve and Karen off Threshold, it was great to see them again and we made the most of their kind hospitality, particularly their bathtub! .
The car also allowed us to shop at leisure and we topped up on items we were certain would be hard to find where we were heading. And as the football season was winding up Liam, and Bob off Scaramouche, frequented  one of the best sports bars around, Duffy’s, where they had about 20 BIG TV screens covering every game being played. We even dusted off the golf clubs and smacked a bucket of balls up at the Country Club’s driving range, we were a tad rusty and it wasn’t  a pretty sight but we both needed the exercise.
For those of you not exactly sure of where West Palm Beach is, it’s located around 60 miles north of Miami and is basically a winter holiday spot for those who have an ability to afford the finer things in life. Most of the apartment blocks are empty a good part of the year and, as the holiday season approaches, you suddenly notice more and more lights coming on in the evenings. West Palm also has a number of prestige car dealerships, the most outstanding being the Aston Martin dealer. Maybe it was just for Christmas, who knows, but there were around a dozen brand new AM’s on the showroom floor, all gift wrapped with bows just waiting for a buyer, and we suspect there were quite a few people in the market for that very special present.
The city’s local council is very active when it comes to organising community events. We were anchored right in front of the main street, Clematis Street, and it’s adjoining waterfront park area where every Thursday evening a band would perform. Seating and tables were  provided and food and beverage tents were erected, it was a real family-style event with some  people relaxing under the stars with their dogs while others, kids and adults, kicked a ball on the grass or were up and dancing to the beat of the band.
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During our extended stay we watched the Palm Beach Marathon, the runners filing past just a few yards from GWTW, and one Sunday the  annual horse-fest equestrian event was held in the park just across the road from us, there was a small ice skating rink installed in a local shopping centre with fake snow flowing from palm trees, it sounds corny and probably was, but it was neat to see the kids having so much fun.There was  also an  amazing sand sculpture exhibition with the works of these artists scattered around town in shop windows and on the streets corners.
America was now in full swing for Christmas and the holiday season and everywhere you looked , on TV, house fronts and  in the shops and the malls it was plainly evident that no one does Christmas quite like the USA.
Every Saturday morning  an excellent “farmers market” was set up, again right on our doorstep, we were especially partial to the lobster bisque and clam chowder, it came in pint containers and needless to say we bought quite a few containers to freeze for a rainy day, so to speak. Overall, there was something on every weekend and when you throw in a good selection of restaurants, bars, shops and great supermarkets  all within walking distance from the boat, you can understand why we were in no real hurry to leave town.
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For a couple of weeks we were also joined in the anchorage by Remi De, with Bruce, Toni, Remi and their dog Ollie, it was great to see them again. They had plans for some extensive additions to their boat that would keep them in port long after we headed off to the Bahamas, so we made the most of our time together catching up for the odd meal or coffee and to celebrate Annie’s birthday, which was made even better with them bringing along a surprise birthday cake and boy, was that one delicious chocolate cake. 
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They would be spending Christmas with friends up in Orlando, so we all got together  the day before they drove off and had our own mini Christmas in advance. Remi got lots of prezzies and really took centre stage, it’s always nice to see kids excited over what Santa, and in this case what his GWTW elves, had brought. It was a great evening and with more than a little sadness, we waved farewell  to our good friends and  to the USA the next morning, December 23rd, and pointed our bows east towards the aqua waters of the Bahamas.
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Cruising Notes: Formalities. Call Lake Worth CBP on arrival on #5618486922, open  M – F 0800-1600. Anchorage & Dinghy Dock: Anchor opposite or between the town dock pontoons. You can tie up at the docks between 0700 & 2300. Water is available from the water pipe under the docks. Trash receptacles are on the docks or in the waterfront park area. Dinghies can be left at the dock day or night.  Fuel: Fuel and water are available from the Palm Harbor Marina, to the right of the town docks. Supermarket: Publix is located on Rosemary St, 15 min walk or 5 min free trolley ride from the town dock. City Place: Shopping area and restaurants/cafes  also on Rosemary St, past Publix. Clematis St: This is the main restaurant Street, great variety including Cuban, Italian, Thai, Mexican and pub food.

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