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beachlover98

Summit Review 1/26/13-Old San Juan pre-cruise, cruise & ports of call (with pictures)

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My husband and I recently cruised on the Celebrity Summit, which sailed out of San Juan on January 26, 2013. I’m a veteran cruiser, having sailed with Celebrity, Princess, and Royal Caribbean, to the Bahamas, the western, eastern, and southern Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera, and the Mediterranean. This was my seventh cruise sailing from San Juan – it’s definitely one of my favorite embarkation ports.

 

I’ll start by saying I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad cruise. Okay, strike that. I’ve never sailed on Carnival, and I certainly have never experienced anything like what some have recently gone through on the Triumph, or a few years ago on the Splendor. I’ll admit those qualify as bad cruises. But the worst thing to happen to me was missing embarkation on a ship sailing from San Diego because of severe weather delays – we spent the next two days with a large contigent of 70- to 80-somethings trying to catch up with the ship in Cabo San Lucas. Nonetheless, we made lemonade from lemons, and the adventure turned it into one of our best cruises yet!

 

So, the following will be my take on our pre-cruise stay in Old San Juan, our week-long cruise aboard the Summit, and our five ports of call.

 

Our three-night pre-cruise stay was very relaxing. We had wonderful weather and enjoyed Old San Juan’s culture, architecture, music, and food – the colonial apartment we stayed in was in the heart of Old San Juan, central to everything.

 

 

Here is a view from our street level Juliet balcony:

 

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Here is one of the many resident cats in Old San Juan. They looked for any opportunity to jump the three feet to come visit us inside the apartment, again and again, but were actually very sweet!

 

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We spent a lot of time just walking around Old San Juan, often going down to the pier where the cruise ships dock.

 

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This is one of my favorite parks, near the El Convento Hotel and the Catedral de San Juan Bautista:

 

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The old wall that used to protect Old San Juan is still standing in many places, and I love how it mixes in with all the new structures

 

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Great review and pics! 3 weeks until we board her! Can't wait!

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One of our favorite places to walk is the Paseo del Morro. The walking path goes along the water out to the point where the fort El Morro sits, following the old wall.

 

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If you’re a cat person (as we are!), you’ll love this walk. A colony of resident cats lives on the Paseo del Morro as well as all around Old San Juan. They’re taken care of by a local organization called Save a Gato, which feeds them, keeps them healthy, and runs a spay/neuter program to manage the population. We have actually become involved in raising funds for this group.

 

Here’s what you might see on a typical walk:

 

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This is one of my favorites – we named her Princess:

 

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One new thing we did do on this pre-cruise stay was visit a nearby beach. We had been to the Condado/Ocean Park area before, but wanted to try something different in the three days we had. We found that Escambron Beach was only about a thirty minute walk from our apartment – it turned out to be fairly easy, and pretty scenic most of the way. Here are a few pictures of the walk to the beach:

 

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Escambron Beach is the one you see straight across:

 

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And, here we are at the beach. It wasn’t crowded at all, which was wonderful, but it was a Thursday. The water was very nice; the breakwater kept the waves from getting rough.

 

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Here is a view from the beach, looking back to where we started in Old San Juan, with a nice glimpse of both forts:

 

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We locked up the apartment and left around 11:15am that Saturday, and caught a cab over to the Pan American pier. We got there early enough that embarkation was a breeze – we were on the ship within minutes. The welcome champagne was a nice touch!

 

We had originally booked a veranda stateroom on deck 7. I don’t have any interest in the AquaClass or Concierge Class cabins (we wouldn’t use the amenities or perks to justify it). However, a couple of months prior to our cruise, I found that some of the aft family veranda cabins had become available. We decided to spend a little to upgrade to one of those, ending up in cabin 7201. We enjoyed the extra space inside, but more so the larger veranda, as we really only spend time in the room to sleep and shower. In contrast to many cruisers, we always choose the more port-intensive itineraries – the ship comes second to the ports of call.

 

Here are a few pictures of our stateroom, veranda, and the views:

 

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As I mentioned, for us, the ship is not the focal point of the vacation. That’s not to say we don’t want a great cruise experience, but perhaps our perspective is a little different. I wonder sometimes if maybe my expectations aren’t high enough, so this review may be quite different from others. I’ve read reviews almost detailing “white glove tests” of the staterooms. I’m the first one to say I want a clean and comfortable place to live for a week, but I’m also realistic, and this trip was no different. Was the room clean? Yeah, pretty clean. Is the bathroom grout new and perfect? No, but did it ruin my vacation? No. Was the upholstery on my sofa perfectly stain-free? No, but did it ruin my week-long stay? Of course not. I always look past the little things – sure, I notice them, but compared to the rest of the trip they’re hardly important. I’m a mom of four, so anytime I don’t have to plan meals, cook, clean kitchens and bathrooms, and make beds, I’m happy!

 

All that said, the customer service by the Celebrity staff during the week was absolutely fantastic! Our stateroom attendant was an adorable girl from the Philippines; she did a wonderful job, always cleaning our room well and in a timely manner, and cheerfully and immediately fulfilled the few special requests we had. She even caught us in the hallway once to let us know that she had found my husband’s wedding ring mixed up in the bed sheets – he had taken it off and forgotten it on the bed before we left for the day, and she had found it before it got lost or sent to the laundry! She was always cheerful, with a quick “Hello” and “How was your day?”

 

We ate in the main dining room each night except the first – we always love to watch the ship sail away from San Juan, so we got dinner a little earlier. Our waiter and assistant waiter were some of the best we’ve had; they were very personable, and got to know our preferences right away (I’m always impressed by how well the serving staff manages that!). We never had empty water glasses, courses were brought and cleared in a timely fashion, and not once did they get an order wrong, even the details. It also came to be a running joke with the waiter how I never looked at the dessert menu, and he never had to ask – crème brûlée every night, no exceptions, although on two occasions I did order two desserts (it’s vacation, right?). Regarding the food in the main dining room, I know there is a lot of debate on whether it’s good or bad, improving or declining. I think it’s just fine. Sometimes good, sometimes excellent, sometimes fabulous, and, admittedly, sometimes not so great. I think, though, that that’s more of my personal preferences rather than the actual quality of the food – there were a couple of appetizers or soups that I ordered that I didn’t care for too much (again, just my taste), but never have I gotten something, on this cruise or any, that I would actually call awful. Overall, my husband and I thought the main dining room was very good – the atmosphere was nice, and we love the formal nights (we do appreciate when people dress up just a little even on casual nights). Our tablemates were fantastic, and that’s one of the best parts of the main dining room. We love to get to know new people and spend time together swapping stories.

 

 

Regarding other dining venues on the ship, well, you just can’t go hungry on a cruise! We hit the buffet for breakfast every day and brought it back down to have on our balcony. There was certainly enough variety that we could find enough we liked, so no complaints here (again, we’re not “foodies,” so it was just fine). We also had burgers, fries, and pizza from the grill several times for a casual meal – all delicious.

 

I’m not terribly picky regarding the entertainment factor of a ship, but the entertainment on the Summit was okay. We only went to a couple of shows in the main theater – we loved the comedian, the jaw-dropping comedy juggler, and the final show, which was a very enjoyable combination of the cruise director, ship a cappella group, and comedy juggler. I’ve never been a fan of the productions involving the ship’s professional singers and dancers, so we didn’t go to see those shows. We do, however, love a cappella groups, and loved the group on the Summit. We made sure to see them whenever they performed – I only wish they did so for longer! None of the other assorted acts aboard the ship really stood out to us, but they were all good.

 

As an overall cruise experience, I would rate our time on the Summit as excellent. Celebrity is definitely our preferred cruise line – I am already booked for next January on the alternate itinerary out of San Juan!

 

Next up are the ports of call – by far the reason I pick a particular cruise....

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Loving your review so far, and not just because of the cats! (okay, I admit the kitties sucked me in...definitely going to check out the Save a Gato website; homeless kitties make me sad). We were on the Summit last September on a cruise to Bermuda. Loved the cruise, loved the ship (our first ever X cruise) so definitely looking forward to your experiences on her for a Caribbean voyage!

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Great review and pics! 3 weeks until we board her! Can't wait!

 

Haha, C&F, just noticed your profile pic! Fellow Bon Jovi fan here! Saw them 3 times last week - 2X in Toronto (Feb 17-18) and Buffalo on Feb 24th. Currently going thru withdrawls till they swing back around this way in the fall. Hope you get to see a few shows this tour! (because you can? lol)

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Loving your review so far, and not just because of the cats! (okay, I admit the kitties sucked me in...definitely going to check out the Save a Gato website; homeless kitties make me sad). We were on the Summit last September on a cruise to Bermuda. Loved the cruise, loved the ship (our first ever X cruise) so definitely looking forward to your experiences on her for a Caribbean voyage!

 

Thanks for reading my review! Thanks also for your compassion for the kitties. We are huge animal lovers here at my house, my kids included. Please do check out the Save a Gato website. They really do care so much about the cat population in Old San Juan.

 

I've taken my youngest son (13 yrs old) on 2 cruises out of San Juan in the past couple years. He has absolutely fallen in love with the cats there. He is currently working on fundraisers to help the organization. He and I, along with my oldest daughter, will be cruising on the Summit out of San Juan next January. His goal is to raise as much money as possible and be able to bring the money and make his donation in person. They are SO appreciative of tourists who have a heart for the cats and can help out! My hope in including the cats in my review is to help raise awareness of the cat colony in Old San Juan and their need for help.

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Thank you, we shall be on Summit in one week, makes me think I should have booked an aft balcony, looks fantastic.

 

The Family Veranda Stateroom was really nice! I understand they hold those for families of 4 or 5 but when they don't sell them they will release those cabins when the cruise date gets closer. I saw a few of them released a couple months out from our cruise date so we decided to upgrade. Again, the larger stateroom was not that big a deal, especially since there was just 2 of us. It was the balcony that was nice. Still more space than we really needed, but who would complain about that? The aft views are kind of fun, too. Something different.

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Love the idea of staying in an apartment in OSJ. How did you go about finding your apartment? A group of 6 so far will be traveling there for a Summit cruise in October. Any info would be great.

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I've been to San Juan twice on Celebrity but have never sailed from there. You're making me want to do it pronto. I'm loving your review and especially the cat pictures. (One of our cats is sitting on my lap and trying to interfere with my typing.) Please -- keep it coming!

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Really love your review. Cats and cruising, 2 of my favorite things. I will be certain to take this walk on my next trip to SJU. Glad you enjoyed Summit.

 

Anne

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Really love your review. Cats and cruising, 2 of my favorite things. I will be certain to take this walk on my next trip to SJU. Glad you enjoyed Summit.

 

Anne

 

Hi Anne! Same here. We always enjoyed the cats in SJ - wished we could bring one home!! Didn't see as many cats last trip when we visited Fort San Cristobal. .

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Love the idea of staying in an apartment in OSJ. How did you go about finding your apartment? A group of 6 so far will be traveling there for a Summit cruise in October. Any info would be great.

 

We love renting an apartment in Old San Juan! Have stayed in several hotels in the past but the apartment is so much better. Much more space, a balcony, full kitchen, sometimes a washer/dryer, wi-fi. We've rented 2 different apartments in the last 2 years. I found them both on vrbo.com (vacation rental by owner). It lists properties, their location, details of the property, price, pictures, contact info. and oftentimes a calendar showing availability. Both apartments were fantastic! The price was good and the owners who were renting them out were awesome. We had no problems and the apartments were just as advertised. We definitely have had positive experiences.

 

The only drawback is that I think many of the rentals are for a minimum of 3 or more days. The last couple years we've done a 3 night pre-cruise stay so it worked out perfectly renting an apartment but I know that's not always possible for everyone.

 

If you have any other questions, please ask! I'll help if I can. Enjoy your upcoming cruise!

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Just love your mindset - you are a true "glass half-full" person, which is a terrific way to go through life - life is good... we are on a cruise, for pete's sake! Thanks for writing a tremendous review. We were in your very cabin the last time we sailed on Summit (and I heartily recommend that room to anyone considering an M-class cabin - the veranda really is spectacular and far enough down that it just out the most and is the farthest from the aft dining area from the buffet.). We sail on her again in 5 weeks - couldn't snag a FV for this sailing, but we will enjoy another aft cabin... and can't wait.

Thanks again.

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Our first port of call was sunny Barbados! Barbados is one of my favorite islands – I absolutely love the sea turtles, and go see them every chance I get.

 

The ship arrived on time, and disembarking was quick and painless, as it was at all our ports of call – we never had problems getting off on time or dealing with crowds. We always book independent shore excursions, so it’s important that the ship docks on time and we’re able to get off efficiently to get to the meeting point.

 

We booked the full day catamaran sail with Calabaza. This was my third year in a row sailing with them, and they do a great job. Gina is a sweetheart, and so easy to work with when booking this sail online. Her son Danny captains the boat and is a lot of fun. Chad, a local who works on the boat is a great guy. He's always been working the day we've sailed with Calabaza and he is awesome! He loves the sea turtles (and has a tattoo to prove it!), and they love him right back. He's always the one who goes in the water with us and feeds the turtles so they hang around.

 

We had fabulous weather that day and the sailing was fantastic! The water was a little churned up due to recent storms, so the clarity wasn’t ideal, but the turtles always make an appearance:

 

 

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Chad and "Timmy":

 

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Besides the stop to swim with the turtles there was another snorkel stop over a shipwreck. Mark and I just stayed on the catamaran and relaxed. We get to snorkel plenty and it was just so relaxing on the catamaran with the beautiful water and a rum punch in hand. We were content.

 

The full day sail with Calabaza includes an open bar all day, snacks and a delicious lunch that Gina prepares. She is a fabulous cook! Lunch was delicious. We felt so pampered all day, as we always do when we sail with them.

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We will be on the Summit in 33 days. Those photos are so wonderful. The color of the water is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

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Fantastic pics and review! Keep it coming! Thanks!!

 

We're on her in 20 days in an aft AQ. Can't wait!!

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Our next stop was St. Lucia; this was one of our favorite days out of the whole cruise. They were all fantastic, but here we were lucky enough to do something a little different than your typical tourist-y island tour or snorkeling trip. I had visited St. Lucia several times previously, but this was my husband, Mark’s, first visit. That being the case, I figured we should go straight to the top – that is, the top of Gros Piton. I had seen the island and its classic mountains many times, but never from a bird’s eye view! I knew there were guided hikes up the mountain, but had never gotten around to doing it before. I figured that with us both being about 50, myself just a little shy and Mark at 52, now would be as good a time as any. We booked through Spencer Ambrose; he was very easy to work with getting the tour set up, and they were right on time at the pier to pick us up.

 

The boat ride down to the base of the Pitons was pretty wild, but fun – there’s always lots to see!

 

Here are some local fishermen throwing their nets out:

 

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And here is the crystal clear water just off the beach at a resort, where we dropped off a few people who were just doing a beach day:

 

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And our first glimpse of the Pitons! The one in the background is the one we planned to hike; it is taller than the Petit Piton in the foreground, though it looks shorter from the angle:

 

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Here we approach the beach near the trailhead where we’ll start the hike:

 

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On the beach we met our local guide, ready to start the 2619 ft. climb!

 

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Here we met our local guide, Mark. He led our group of eight, with one of the guys from Spencer’s tour, Terry, bringing up the rear. Mark was fascinating to talk to – we spent a good part of the climb chatting with him and hearing all about everything we were seeing on our way up. I even found out we have the same birthday – I have a feeling I’ll think of him each time my birthday comes around now! He made the climb much more fun. (Hey Mark, “zoom zoom!”)

 

Overall, I think the hike was easier than we were led to believe. Don’t get me wrong, it was plenty of work, but you don’t need to be an elite athlete to make it. I felt my husband and I are in reasonably good shape, and we had no problems at all. I worried about the effects of the heat, as we live in Minnesota and aren’t used to it, but we didn’t notice it much at all. It was probably in the 80’s, a good deal of the trail was shaded, and we felt nice breezes on occasion. I was expecting a grueling day, but it was actually really enjoyable! The views along the way, as well as from the summit, were spectacular – so well worth it!

 

 

Some interesting vegetation on the way:

 

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Following right behind our guide, Mark:

 

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About a quarter of the way up:

 

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This is what the trail looked like for parts of the hike. These were the easy parts, with reasonable “steps,” as much of the hike had larger steps or was a lot rockier. Some of the larger rocks were tougher for those of us on the shorter side – it was a good workout!

 

 

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Stunning view from the halfway point!

 

 

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We finally reached the summit! Some more spectacular views:

 

 

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My husband, Mark, and I at the top, hopefully looking none the less for wear!

 

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And here we are with our guide, Mark:

 

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We enjoyed the summit for a while, taking plenty of pictures and enjoying the fabulous view. The hike down was uneventful – quicker, but just as picturesque. In some ways it was more difficult – we could definitely feel it in our quads taking those larger steps down! We also knew we’d be feeling it for a few days, but it was so worth it. We had plenty of time back at the beach for a leisurely swim while we waited for the rest of the group. I do wish we had had more time to enjoy the beach and swim – the water was wonderful!

 

All in all, the tour by Spencer Ambrose, “Heavenward Bound – Gros Piton Climb” was a blast. We only wish we could have had a private guide so we could have gone at our own pace – it would have been nice to do the climb a little faster so we could have had more time at the beach and for lunch. We had to try to eat it in the boat going back, which wasn’t easy. Still, this was a fantastic day.

 

 

Oh, and our reward after the climb when we got back to the boat!

 

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Just spectacular! How long did this take?

 

The actual hike was probably about 2 hours going up and maybe an hour and 15 minutes or so coming down. I wasn't really paying attention but it had to be pretty close to that. We weren't going at a really fast past as we were with a group that had to stay together somewhat. We would have preferred to go at a little quicker pace just so we could have spent a little more time swimming and relaxing on the beach (and enjoying the lunch that was provided). As it was, since we were the first ones down, we did have time to swim while we waited for the rest of the group but not as much as we would have liked. After that workout, the water felt positively heavenly!

 

I think the entire tour that we did through Spencer Ambrose was something like 7 hours, including the boat trip down the coast to get to the base of the Pitons and then back. The boat trip back was a little more leisurely as they pointed out some of the sights along the way.

 

All in all, it was a fantastic day! I will definitely do it again the next time I'm in St. Lucia.

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Love your pics! We are doing this sailing in a month, including the trip Calabaza. Can't wait to see what your next excursions are as we are looking for some guidance on two of the ports.

 

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SGH-I747 using Tapatalk 2

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Stopping in San Juan on a March cruise. Can you walk from where the ship

docks to the Paseo del Morro walk?

 

Absolutely! It would not take long at all to get there. Old San Juan is very picturesque and there is lots to see along the way. The best thing to do is to get a good map of Old San Juan. I'm sure they're in most guide books or just find one on the internet and print it out. The Paseo del Morro basically starts at "the Puerta de San Juan" (San Juan Gate). Any detailed map of the streets and attractions in Old San Juan will show where this is. If you see where the Paseo de la Princesa is (very near the pier area), this is basically a continuation.

 

I think the walk from the San Juan Gate to where it dead-ends out at the entrance to San Juan Bay is about a mile and a half. You then have to re-trace your steps back. When we were just there a month ago, however, they had it blocked about 2/3 of the way out as there had been some erosion that was dangerously near the walkway. I have no idea how long it will take them to fix, so not sure if/when you can go all the way out to the point. Still a worthwhile walk, even if you can't go the whole way.

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If you don't get a good map before you get to San Juan, just swing in to the tourist info office and grab one there. I think there are signs from the pier .... but you just head left out of the pier area .... it is right along the way on your right (past CVS, the Ralph Lauren store and Don Q Rum).

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Great review and great pics. We are taking this cruise in November so I appreciate all the info.

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Thanks for the pics of your climb of the pitons. Have always thought that would be great to do, but I can see it is beyond my abilities now. Looks wonderful.

 

Anne

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Great review and great pics. We are taking this cruise in November so I appreciate all the info.

 

When in Nov.? We are going the 30th.

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