Thursday, May 31, 2018

February 11, 2018 – Rio de Janeiro Day 2 – hot and muggy – 96F

Continued hot today with very little breeze.

No tour today so we planned to go back to the terminal and take the tour of the H Stern Jewelry Factory located near Ipanema Beach. As soon as we got to the H Stern booth, we were led to a comfortable van and headed out. Our route took us through various parts of the city -–there were revelers wandering around and some of the streets had Carnival floats parked on them.

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More Carnival Folks

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Carnival Floats

Once you get out of the city center, Rio is very lush with vegetation – almost looks like a rainforest with the tree density on the hills. We passed the huge lake in the center of suburban Rio – Lagos Rodrigo de Freitas. The traffic was not bad and about a half hour later, we were at the H Stern World Headquarters in the Ipanema Beach neighborhood.

We were shown in – I’m sure security was high – and given visitor’s passes. We also got little audio units that would describe what we were seeing in the factory tour. The systems worked well and we saw how the stones go from rocks to jewelry. Although it was a National Holiday, there were plenty of workers and hostesses around for the customers.

There was even a samba couple there for us to take pictures of.

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Samba Dancers (H Stern)

The tour took only a few minutes and then we sat down with a rep for a few minutes – very low pressure selling and after downing a complimentary Coke Zero, we started off to Ipanema Beach. The H Stern Headquarters is in a very posh area – full of gated condos and trendy shops – like Rodeo Drive. Today, most places were closed.

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It was a very short walk to the beach – probably because of the competing Carnival activities, the beach was not overly crowded. I walked down to the water’s edge to get shots of the beach in both directions and also of Sugarloaf Mountain (FYI: Sugarloaf is a single granite monolith) in the distance. The beach was wide with legendary white sand – it was also clean.

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The Girl From Ipanema

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On the Beach

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Ipanema Beach, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Brazilianos

We walked through the streets of Ipanema for a while checking out the upscale condos and folks in their costumes.

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Ipanema Neighborhood

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Dash and the Incredibles

Because of the heat, we went back to H Stern for our ride back. We got there just as a shuttle was leaving. The ride back was a different story – heavy traffic, closed streets, crazy drivers. At one point, we were on the street where we could see our ship but the van did not go there. Instead, he drove through a miles long tunnel and had to take another 30 minutes to double back to the terminal. The whole ride took about over an hour – fortunately, the air conditioning worked.  One of the highlights was driving past a huge group of Carnival folks in front of a government building.

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We had a late lunch – the ship was pretty warm inside but we found a cool place on Deck 6 opposite the Explorer’s Lounge. A good place to read and needlepoint.

Dinner tonight was in the Dining Room. I had pre-ordered Kosher stuffed cabbage but when it arrived, I swapped it out for Fried Sole from the menu. Carrot Cake was a tasty dessert.

Showtime tonight was the 8:30 PM Second Show with Mark Merchant – he brought out his other character - Jose Diego Jones, Mexican Bald Eagle. It was a very political show sometimes cheered by the audience and sometimes not. But it was entertaining.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

February 10, 2019 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Mostly Sunny – HOT – 96F

Distance from Ilhabela to Rio de Janeiro: 139 Nautical Miles – average speed 11.6 knots

Background Information.  Rio de Janeiro, located on Guanabara Bay, is home to over 6.3 million Cariocas (that’s what Rio residents are called). Rio is known today as the home to samba, soccer, and Carnival. Although inhabited by indigenous peoples, Rio was founded by the Portuguese in 1565. The monetary unit is the Brazilian Real (BRL) – exchange rate – 3.3 BRL=$1.00. Sites around the city include Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer Statue (barely visible from the ship), and iconic beaches – Ipanema and Copacabana.

This is our first time in Rio and being here is the culmination of quite a process: Brazilian Visas, yellow fever shots (probably not necessary), Bermudan Seaman’s book (don’t ask).  But here we are.

From the port side of the ship, we can see Guanabara Bay with its two islands – Ilha Santa Barbara and Ilha das Enxadas. We can also see the long low bridge – Ponte Rio-Niteroi – that connects central Rio to Niteroi.  The bridge is just over eight miles long and carries about 140,000 cars a day.

Greater Rio de Janeiro Area

We did not have a tour today and were hoping to sleep a little later but the thrusters and azipods modified that plan. The Island Princess is docked at Pier Maua in the center of town near the Praca Maua. We are here today with the Fred. Olsen Balmoral (the ship that re-enacted the cruise of the Titanic in 2012 – except for the sinking), and the Costa Fasciosa. We would be joined in Rio by the Celebrity Infinity, an MSC Cruiser, and a Pulmantur Ship.  It is Carnival in Rio and the ships are floating hotels for those folks coming here for the celebrations.

From the ship, we could see a neighborhood situated on a hill (below).  The buildings looked in better shape than the storied favelas of Rio.  Way off in the distance behind this hill is the iconic statue of “Christ the Redeemer”.

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Rio Cruise Port

The buildings in the Terminal Complex are decorated with some very intricate paintings (below).

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A little research indicated that the safest way to get around Rio was the subway; buses had a history of bad hombres robbing passengers and taxi drivers were notorious for over charging customers.

We took the shuttle bus to the terminal (a short ride) and were greeted by tour companies willing to take us the same places as the ship’s operators. In addition to the vendors, at least two jewelry shores offered shuttles to their stores in the Ipanema area. We decided to take the subway into town – we got BRL180 from an ATM to tide us over for the next few days. But after chatting with some jewelry folks, we opted to go with the jewelry store option. We waited for a while in the terminal for the shuttles to arrive but were finally told that, due to Carnival, the streets were closed (to move the floats) and that no cars were able to get into the city (in fact, the people who got out early were not able to get back on the shuttles).

Plan B was again to take the Trolley – actually a very sleek subway train – to the city center where we could catch the subway to Ipanema (the Red Line). The trolley was free to anyone over 60 (although no one ever came into our cars to check tickets). We were packed into the trolley like sardines – it is first shove first in. We got off at the Metro stop but when we found the line, it was already queued up with a few hundred Carnival revelers. It would take us an hour to get through the line and more time to buy tickets.

Instead, we found shade and walked down the main street – full of revelers in various crazy costumes (lots of Wonder Women), police, and ordinary folk. It seemed that everyone had a beer in their hand. I tried to find a restroom at the usually reliable McD but there were three security guys in the store and the bathrooms were padlocked. I did get lucky at the Starbucks, where a security guy let me use the bathroom (not up to US Starbucks standards but this is Brazil).

I did get some nice picture of the downtown area

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Police Presence in Downtown Rio

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Sugarloaf Mountain in the Distance

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and some of the Carnival folks.

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While I was taking pictures of some of the buildings, one of the local guys said something to me (don’t know what) but it didn’t sound friendly so I retreated across the street.  Rio can be a scary place most of the year but at Carnival, even scarier.

It was very hot and we got back on the trolley (much less crowded this time) and headed to the port. We checked back in with the jewelry stores and no cars were able to get back to the city to take new customer out to the stores. We would try again tomorrow. By this time, it was after 1 PM so we had lunch in Horizon Court and searched for a cool and quiet place on the ship to read. That turned out to be hallway outside of the Wheelhouse Bar.

We changed for dinner and headed to the Dining Room.  The ship’s Atrium is decked out for Carnival.

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I pre-ordered Salisbury Steak but this time, the food was taken out of its airline packaging and put on to a real plate, where it was joined by French fries. It was actually very good. If I could find a valid bun, I could have had a hamburger. Ellen had a very good pasta (zucchini, garlic, and cream sauce) and a super chocolaty dessert. Winners all around.

After dinner, we went back out on the pier to see what the vendors had to offer.  The cruise area is pretty nice after dark.

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Cruise Terminal Parkway at Dusk

Showtime tonight was a Rio de Janeiro Folkloric Show – Brazilian Carnival Group at 8:30 PM. The show started off with five or six musicians pounding on several drums.  I thought that this was the show so I was ready to go.  But then suddenly, six dancing samba girls in minimal Carnival costumes appeared, bumping and grinding to the beat. The show seemed to go on forever but the audience loved it (the girls danced and took pictures with the audience).

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After the show, we went up on the top deck to get a look at Rio at night.  It had cooled off a lot and it was very pleasant.  We got some nice pictures.

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The Ship’s Name in Lights

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Favelas at Night

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View Across the Bay

Quite a day in Rio and there are more to come.

Monday, May 28, 2018

February 9, 2018 – Ilhabela, Brazil – Mostly Sunny – 81F

Distance from Fortaleza to Ilhabela: 1596 Nautical Miles – average speed 18.7 knots


Our first time in Ilhabela, an island off the Southeast Coast of Brazil and part of the Ilha de Sao Sebastiao Archipelago. The island was discovered by Americo Vespucio (Amerigo Vespucci) in 1502. The island sits about four miles off the Brazil mainland and about 210 miles south of Rio de Janeiro (this means that the ship sailed past Rio yesterday and will double back to get there tomorrow). The village of Ilhabela was founded in 1806 and the current population of the island is about 29,000 people.

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Brazil Coast – Approaching Ilhabela

Ilhabela is a tender port, our first of this cruise.

Also anchored here today is the Celebrity Infinity – the ship we took from Santiago Chile through the Panama Canal in 2011.

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Celebrity Infinity at Anchor

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Ilhabela From the Ship

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Tenders Starting Their Runs

Breakfast in Horizon Court: Oatmeal (brown sugar and raisins), chocolate chip (3 chips) pancakes and one egg over medium.  All very good.

We went to the Provence Dining Room to pick up our tender tickets. We were told to come back in 45 minutes to catch the tender. We arrived back a little early to find the dining room packed. The tenders were running a bit late and there was also a medical emergency to contend with, also slowing the tenders. After another 30 minutes or so, our number was called. The good thing was that we didn’t wait in the stairway but walked right on to the boat. The bad thing was that it took at least 10 minutes to load the tender and the boat was hot and steamy.

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Ellen on Tender

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The Island Princess from the Tender

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On Our Way

The ride to the tender port was short.

The island lives up to its name – “Beautiful Island”. Lush and green with hills and mountains and nice beaches.

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Ilhabela Shoreline

The town was cute and crowded – they were setting up for Carnival – probably a parade down the main street.  There were lots of kids in the town coming in from the beaches probably.

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Carnival Preparations

The city center is home to the blue and white Nossa Senhora d’Ajuda church dating back to the 16th Century.

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Main Square and Church and Me

We checked out the little shops looking for some trinkets (mostly magnets).  We found a nice little courtyard outside one of the stores – perfect for a picture. 

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We even found a reasonable public restroom. 

After pretty much checking out the whole city, we found a little sidewalk bar. I ordered an Antarctic Beer for $2 – a 600 ml bottle of ice cold beer.

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That’s a Lot of Beer

The beer was fantastic and I finished the whole thing.

The heat got to us (it was actually about 87F and humid) so we again sat in a hot tender and made our way back to the ship.

Salad and pizza was lunch.

The deck was too hot and even the Lotus Pool was too warm (the AC was not working at efficiency). We both retreated to the cool confines of our room to figure out our dinner plans and entertainment for tonight.

We had dinner up in the Horizon Court – the pasta with salmon and vodka sauce was OK.

We went to the 8:30 PM show featuring Chris Watkins and Todd Adamson, who put together this show called “Duet”. The show was very entertaining – they are both good entertainers and Todd sang songs I liked – a huge voice. The show was a little loud but very good.

From there, it was back to the room – tired from the heat and ready for Rio.