Thursday, April 30, 2009
Though there are far more species present here than we will find later in the jungle’s ecosystem, clearly they have more important things to do than perform for us humans. We do find many termite nests - these provide food for the many birds that will be here later in the day when it is cooler (no fools they!).
After our ride, we walk through trails with our guide. She points out all sorts of plants that can, could or are being used medicinally (I’m not certain I understood her Spanish accent) and then take a walk thru the “Serpentarium” (not really my kind of place!) It was evidently feeding time and I think this little fellow has been invited for lunch!
There is an open air restaurant at the Visitor’s Center here and we are fed a typical Costa Rican lunch (rice, beans, watermelon, pineapple, papaya, chicken and sautéed plantains (okay these were much better than anything the kids did as an extra credit project for their Spanish classes!) and then it was back on the bus for a ride to the Guacalillo Estuary and our Jungle Cruise. While on the way we saw some macaws above us in a tree and the bus driver immediately pulled over so we could get a better look.
We drove thru a sleepy little village (at 1 pm it was most likely siesta time…do they still do that?) and finally arrived at what appeared to be a (seriously) small hacienda by the side of the road. This was the starting point for our “cruise” - we proceeded down a rickety path towards the water (and I’m already scanning for predators). The “manager” of the pier is trying to find a stick that he can wedge into the walkway so we’ll be able to use it without falling in (apparently that’s bad for business). Our guide tries it and pronounces it “bueno” - we should now feel free to cross, no more than two at a time though, take our time, but hurry (just the sort of thing you’re hoping to hear as you’re about to jump into a boat over the crocs!).
We board a boat that is awfully reminiscent of Disney’s Jungle Cruise and I expect Gerry to start his shtick any moment but it is apparently too hot for humor just now. And then we were off. It’s absolutely incredible - the variety and amount of wildlife we saw! There were many different herons, egrets, osprey, vultures, kingfishers, eagle, hawks, iguanas (both green and black varieties) and of course crocodiles.
Finally it was time to head back to our ship (which today is the tallest building in Costa Rica!) Heat tends to totally sap the strength right out of you (that plus the fact that we had dinner with three of the most “cruise jaded” couples we’ve ever come across) and so I can’t even manage to stay awake for “Movie Poster Trivia Night” (I think I could have done pretty well here).
Tomorrow: We tender off the boat at 6:20 AM! for San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua (who booked that?)
PS - For those of you hoping we (wouldn't) be bringing you home a little something special from Mexico this year, the Captain has advised us that we will be skipping that port this trip. (Ah...another exciting day at sea for the Weilers!)
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
As we are out to sea, Gerry & I decided to try something wilder and crazier than trivia (since we weren’t doing too well there anyway) and opted for “The Mud Risual” (no that’s not a misspelling) in the Lotus Spa.
Now I know that I’ve explained the “Thermal Suite” but I failed to mention that in order to be able to purchase this package you must first take a little tour of the entire Lotus Spa and see all that they have to offer. It is the typical assortment of massage (pronounced “MA sawge”), facials, beauty salon, etc. But they have two items that were particularly unique.
First this lovely young girl explained her specialty: Ionic-therapy. She starts off by listing all the things that this can be used for (anything from muscle toning to weight loss to improving international relationships) and that you can lose anywhere from 3-8 INCHES with just one procedure (but of course she recommends many, many more) and I’m already thinking I want to sign Gerry up and see if he can really lose 8” at his waist but then I spy her “equipment” station. There are dozens of wires and electrodes and I start looking around to see if there is a tall Indian in the corner passing out sticks of Juicyfruit. Okay, we’ll have to think some more about this one…
Then our hostess/guide asks me rather conspiratorily if I’ve ever heard of a “Seaweed Wrap” and I shake my head as I’m already beginning to conjure a visual image of this process. I’m wondering where would one get nouri that large? She takes us into a room and hands us a bowl of what appears to be The Barefoot Contessa’s Green Goddess Dressing (I swear I saw this list on the evening’s dinner menu). This is apparently the “seaweed” goop that they smear on you and then (and here my imagination went into hyper drive!) they wrap you in a MYLAR sheet! I’m thinking how big is this sheet? Because twin size isn’t going to do it…I’d want at least queen size and then I’m thinking…a strong wind and I become next year’s entry in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! No thanks!
But the one that intrigued us and so we opted to try today was the “Mud Risual” - it’s this room for couples where you can apply various creams, muds, etc. designed to exfoliate your skin and remove toxins. Okay whatever. They told us to arrive a bit early so they could explain the procedure and what order we should apply things because then we are basically locked in this room for an hour. We arrive and are given perhaps a 15 SECOND indoctrination - that’s it and she leaves, locking not one but two doors so that everyone will know we are here.
Naturally, we promptly forgot everything she told us and just started applying random things and then we were to go into the steam room for 10 minutes (it was on a timer she said…she failed to mention that the timer was set for 20 MINUTES). I won’t go into all the details but the entire thing reminded me a lot of the scene in “Future World” with the Russian general and his wife in the Roman Baths.
Okay - fast forward and our hour is up. We are (we think…I mean we’re not really good at this) properly exfoliated, showered and dressed and ready to vacate the premises. And that’s when it got really fun. Every other doorknob on every other door on this ship is exactly the same and we’re pretty good by now at getting thru doors. This one has a strange handle and a lock knob and we’re frantically trying to get out. Gerry’s got really strong hands and now I’m starting to panic that he’s going to wind up with the handle in hand and us stuck in there until somebody else wants in (which probably won’t even happen this cruise)! Banging on the door won’t really help since there are two doors and nobody’s going to hear anything thru the outer door. Why they not think of putting a phone in here? Or an intercom? Just as Gerry is seriously considering breaking the door on purpose we start looking around the place. Up above the door there is a button “door release” (15 seconds to explain all the creams and goops and she didn’t think to maybe let us know how the heck to get out of here?). Free at last, free at last!
We decided that was probably enough excitement for the day (exfoliation and exhilaration in one swoop) and opted for some reading in our cabin. Walking across the deck we were surprised to see nobody out and about and realized that we were traveling thru a bit of a rain squall - the first of our trip.
Formal night again and we chose to eat in the Bayou restaurant, followed by “romantic movie trivia” (I am determined to get a luggage tag!) and then Billy Vader (a really funny guy!)
Tomorrow: the jungles of Costa Rica!
- Terri’s Travel Tip: Don’t dismiss an Alaska cruise because it doesn’t enjoy the warm weather of a Caribbean cruise! It has advantages that can’t be overstated - on an Alaskan cruise one sight you will never see (or have to endure) is that of a 65-year-old “walking carpet” who has beached himself on a lounge chair near the pool wearing what I can only guess is his 4-year-old grandson’s Speedo suit, hitching it up at the thigh so he can get a bit more sun. YUK!
The Captain had told us the day before that we would be picking up our pilot at 5 am. Picking up the pilot typically takes place an hour or so before anything actually begins so I set our alarm for 5:30. As usual, I was up well before then and as it turns out I was one of the slackers! The ship was already abuzz by then as it seems a fair amount of our fellow passengers got up at that time to score front row seats in the Horizon Court buffet for the day, allowing them an unobstructed view of the front of the ship. Above them on Deck 15, others (mostly the really tall people from what I heard about the ship) had staked a claim on the standing room at the front of the ship to see the day’s proceedings.
From our balcony I could see lights directly off our port indicating another ship not too far away. Then in the distance ahead were many more lights and I thought perhaps that was Panama. Turns out it was really a flotilla of ships, either waiting their turn to proceed to the locks or just exiting the locks from the west. Again, there is a pecking order here: anybody who doesn’t want to pay what I’m sure is a rather exorbitant fee to bump them up in line goes whenever they get around to taking you, cargo ships that will pay the “upgrade” fee, cruise ships have reservations and priority (but I’m pretty sure they don’t get it for free) and of course, the US Navy probably trumps anybody.
Around 7 am we were apparently “green-lighted” to queue up to begin the process. Ships move under their own power into position and thru the locks but they are guided by tugboats and extremely powerful electric locomotives during the holding process to ensure that they maintain their exact position…there is no margin for error here. Coming from the east, we approach the first lock and we will transverse Panama from the Caribbean Sea on the northwest to the Pacific Ocean on the southeast. The canal comprises 6 locks in total: there are 3 chambers at the Gatun Locks, the Pedro Miguel Lock, and 2 chambers at the Miraflores Locks near the Pacific. Each lock chamber can only accommodate ships no larger than 965 ft. in length and 106 ft. in width, coincidentally the exact size of the Island Princess.
Once gated in position, each lock of the Gatun Locks will raise the boat approximately 10 meters before allowing passage to the next chamber or finally the Gatun “Lake”. This amazingly takes mere minutes - the chamber fills in something like 15 minutes - and that’s a lot of water! It is all done by gravity and has experienced very little change in the technology since it first opened in 1914. They did add lights for traveling thru the Gatun Lake or the rather narrow Galliard Cut in 1963, allowing the Canal to be used 24/7.
Knowing Gerry as you do, I’m sure you can imagine how he didn’t want anything to do with the mobs and crowds forming there so we decided instead to take the opportunity to have room service deliver our champagne breakfast. When it arrived (but not of course until after we had dismissed our server) we realized that it was only half there, so Gerry trekked up to the HC and was surprised to find nobody in line (they didn’t want to give up there seat…even for food!) and then we began to enjoy the process from the viewpoint of our balcony. Other than the Canal itself, there does not appear to be much activity at the Caribbean side of the locks but the workers wave and shout “Adios” as we pass by.
After breakfast we ventured out to see what the others were seeing, heading instead to the rear of the ship to watch the next ship follow us in. There are two lanes currently in operation thru the Canal and our understanding is that the US has plans to begin construction on a third lane (however, this is not a particularly new rumor - there is leftover building materials that evidence previous attempts by the US to begin a third lane thru the Canal).
Now that we’ve completed all three of the Gatun Locks, we proceed into the Gatun Lake. This lake was created by damning the small river here and those small “islands” that seem awfully close to our ship are in fact the remaining mountaintops. The entire Canal length is only 80 kilometers and it was take us 9 hours to transit completely. We arrive in the narrow channel of the Galliard Cut where we will cross the Continental Divide and approach the Pedro Miguel Lock and begin the process of being lowered back to sea level. Soon after we are at the Miraflores Locks and off our port-side we can see the large Panama Canal Visitors Center Building. There are many visitors waving to us and we exit the canal - shouting out to those who made signs (probably in a Princess Crafts@Sea class) “Adios Alabama!” or “Goodbye Alaska!”
Once we are back at sea level, it is not long until we can see Balboa to our left and behind it Panama City with all its skyscrapers. We pass under the “Bridge of the Americas” which connects North and South America and we believe is a connection of Hwy 93 which we have traveled often in Montana. As soon as we clear the “no wake zone” of the bay it is time to get the ship back up to speed and hit the open water.
From Terri's "What the Heck is Going On?" File: a) Jeff and An have a new address; b) Jenny & Travis will soon have a new address; c) the Mariners are still winning; d) Swine flu may force us to cancel our port call in Mexico; and e) ARLEN SPECTER IS A DEMOCRAT?!?!?
Tomorrow a relaxing day at sea and the Weilers try the mud-room.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Cartagena is a beautiful city on the Caribbean side of Colombia (the only South American country to have coasts on both the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean). It’s history dates back to Christopher Columbus’s first voyage in 1492 and was claimed by Spain as a region rich in gold and emeralds (my kind of town!) Once again Chris didn’t understand just how far east he had come (or rather hadn’t come) and so technically the name of this city is Cartagena de India.
The public education system here is really excellent and it is free (or in the case of the university nearly free, $75/6 months) as long as you have good grades (now there‘s an incentive we might want to try in the states!). If you can’t make the grade there are always private schools, many taught only in English by young teachers from America. Spanish is the native language, however, English is compulsory from kindergarten through college. If at the end of your college studies you cannot pass the English exam, then you simply do not receive a degree. (Of course if you can’t pass the exam after 17 years of study, I’m not sure you deserve a degree!)
Cartagena is divided into several sections which we visited: the Monastery, the old city, the new city and the fortress. While there is a certain affluence apparent in the mansions of the most wealthy (very small by comparison to those found in the Seattle area certainly), there is also abject poverty evident. On the winding road to the monastery, we found tiny “houses” constructed of corrugated sheet metal or bricks. Some had doors and windows still present and the lucky ones had doors that shut. Women sat in the doorway or in front of the house holding babies, trying to keep the small children from running in front of the frequent buses. Not very many people own or drive their own cars because Colombia exports nearly all its oil elsewhere and then buys it back for its own use (what kind of deal is that?). Our guide told us that gas is expensive - $3.00 US for a Canadian gallon (I don’t’ even know what a Canadian gallon is - do they actually use that? Given the number of Canadians traveling with us, I thought it best not to show my ignorance by asking!) Though employment seems to be available to those who want the work, the primary source of income in the areas we visited was achieved by the residents dressing in costume and shaking down the tourists for a buck or two for a photo op.
Our tour of Cartagena began at the pier in one of dozens of 25-30 passenger buses. Each passenger received a small receiver and the guide used a transmitter to keep track of his group. There was only one cruise ship in town that day and I can’t even imagine what it would have been like with a couple of more! Our first stop was the La Popa Monastery at the top of the hill overlooking Cartagena. It just celebrated its 400th anniversary last year. We became accustomed to being accosted at each stop by peddlers and their wares - some didn’t even wait for the bus to come to a complete stop (tapping on the windows and holding up the merchandise as we slowed down!)
From there we headed to the fortress. Here the commander would live in the “bonnet” while the soldiers would live across the bridge in what is now the old town (also fortified with a 14 ft. wall). If there was need, bells would sound summoning the soldiers to protect the fortress. There was a secret passage way throughout the fortress. Should the rather tall English find it, they would be forced to bend down to pass through. The soldiers would be lying in wait in the dark (though now accustomed to the darkness) and, so as not to alarm the English with the noise of gunfire, they would attack and kill them with knives. No wonder Cartagena did not fall to the British.
Then it was onto the old town of Cartagena and the handicraft stores. On the perimeter of this area is the old bull fighting ring. There are two “seasons” for bullfighting: December/January and June/July but it turns out that not even the Cartagenans care too much for it so they closed down the old ring and the new ring shares it facility with the soccer and baseball teams!
Our final stop was in the new city at their “shopping mall” - a one block affair with a number of stores (upstairs and down) mostly focused on getting you to make an emerald purchase. As with most cruise ports of call, the majority of these fabulous “jewelry” stores are wholly owned by the cruise lines and while I don’t think they are going to rip you off completely with some sort of “bait and switch” deal, if they are discounting the merchandise while you are standing there in the same sort of fashion as those hawking t-shirts and leather goods on the streets in front of the store, I can’t imagine that you are really going to “score” a gem of great worth here. It was interesting though, for me, to see all those beautiful green emeralds!
By far the best part of our tour was…the traffic! I was totally mesmerized by watching our bus driver navigate his way around Cartagena. The larger roads in Cartagena will accommodate two buses across. On some of the newer paved roads you will find the dashed white lines which appear to be a suggestion of how one might divide the road into two lanes. As near as I can tell, all, REPEAT ALL, roads in Cartagena are one-way, if you are brave enough! Someone not going fast enough in front of you? No problem - just pull over to the left and pass them. Our driver didn’t even check or hesitate - EVEN IF THERE WAS A CAR COMING AGAINST US! Clearly there was a well-defined “pecking order” in place: the larger your vehicle, the more likely you were to have your own way. There were lots and lots of buses similar in size to ours - both public and private/tour buses. Then there were the small yellow cars (taxis) swarming like bees everywhere and they tried to steer clear of the buses. Once the buses and cars had claimed their space, all remaining roadway was filled in with the motorcycles. I’m not talking about those little scooters like we found in Italy. No, these are actually small motorcycles that were often found “white lining” it between the larger vehicles and filling in every other available space.
The final class of road traveler was the pedestrian. Unlike in the states where we are taught that “the pedestrian always has the right-of-way,” here in Cartagena the pedestrian has no “right-of-way.” I think there only purpose is extra points because our bus driver didn’t even flinch, let alone slow down, whenever someone stepped out in front of us. If the pedestrian was lucky, the driver might sound the horn a few times, but since horns were sounded all the time, I doubt that anyone walking would recognize this as a sign of impending danger. Bicycles seem to be just considered a fast form of walking and given the same respect (or lack thereof) as pedestrians.
And yet all this being said, there appeared to be few accidents and the cars and buses did not show the wear and tear and overall denting I would have imagined!
Back on board at 1:30 we were able to actually leave port a little ahead of schedule because for the first time I can recall, all passengers came back early (I think the heat played a major role in that factor! I don’t think I really could acclimate to this climate - nearly 90 with 100% humidity which meant that we could skip most of the steam rooms that afternoon!) We met up with our trivia teammates to once again suffer defeat although we did claim a bit of satisfaction in that we got the privilege of grading the winning team’s answers (next time I check to make sure there isn’t a MENSA convention on board!)
I convinced Gerry to come down and try our hands at “The Princess Pyramid” - works similar to the TV game show and it was too late to back out by the time he realized that each time was required to take their turn up on stage. We had new partners here (Phil & Linda from Port Orchard) and it wasn’t surprising to me that we would kick some trivia butt here! There is a definite upgrade in the prizes here and we now have two new tote bags to help us get our stuff home! Whoo hoo! We met up again with Phil & Linda and their friend for “The Jeopardized Trivia” game at night (Princess can’t use the exact copyrighted names of the games) and we came ever so close to winning another tote bag there.
Terri’s Travel Tip: Always agree to share your table at mealtimes. That way you’ll get to meet lots of people (veteran or rookie cruisers, those from abroad, etc.) This is the best way to learn about the “population” of your ship. If, as in our case this time, you have traveling with an high percentage of Canadians, I can guarantee you that any answer involving geography that you don’t absolutely know to be otherwise, the answer will be CANADA (learned that one the hard way!)
Tomorrow we transit the Panama Canal. We have a 5 am slot assigned to our ship so it will be an early morning!
Monday, April 27, 2009
Not only could I see the entire width of the island but virtually the entire island since Aruba is only 6 miles across and nearly flat (think pitcher’s mound. Well okay, there are three “mountains” the tallest of which is over 500 ft. - just high enough to remind you that it really was of volcanic origin.) It is always windy here (always) but despite the constant wind it is not usually clear enough to see the coast of Venezuela, only 17 miles away. There are four official languages which all schoolchildren are required to learn and depending on how well they do, the children are sorted at 12 years of age to either proceed to junior (followed by senior) high school or off they go to technical school to learn a trade. Aruba belongs to the Netherlands and Queen Beatrix makes an appearance every few years to check out the latest and greatest hotel here on the island (although if I were the Queen and I had Aruba had my disposal, I would probably find an excuse to visit it at least yearly. But then I’ve never been to the Netherlands - I’m sure the beaches there are just as lovely!)
I had just enough time to update the blog, snap a few photos, get dressed and head to breakfast for we had an early call ashore (7:20 am!) Not a lot of choice for breakfast on a morning like that so it was catch as catch can at the Horizon Court buffet and then down to the Plaza Deck for disembarkation.
And then back up to the room to fetch our photo IDs that were supposedly going to be required to re-board the ship (they weren’t) and then back down to the Plaza Deck for disembarkation.
And then back up to the room for a card I had already purchase Aruba stamps in order to mail (and naturally had already affixed same to the envelope) and of course we would return too late to make the mail if we waited until after our morning in Aruba. Oy! Finally back down to Plaza Deck, mail the card, and like good sheep, wait in line to disembark (golfers were chanting “Golfers First” in order to make their tee times!)
We had selected the “Best of Aruba” excursion and our ticket said to wear our swimsuit (Really? Would I have booked something like that? Where was the cooking demo or pub crawl?), bring a towel, plenty of sunscreen (one man’s definition of “plenty” of sunscreen clearly differs from say, MINE) and water (well the ship certainly helped out here as there were many, many opportunities for you to purchase bottled water as you left the ship) and be in the terminal at 7:20 am. What with running up and down several times we were a) nearly overheated already; and b) nearly late. Turns out not late enough. Had we been just a tad later we would have been in the front of the last bus instead of having to trek to the very last seats (after each stop) and “he-who-won‘t-be-named-here-but-you-know-who-he-is” was, as you might suspect, not particularly excited about this. That is until he discovered that the seats at the very, very back of the bus have the most leg room and the best air-conditioning! Whoo hoo!
We blitzed through Main Street - it was Sunday and everything was closed (and most would probably remain closed the entire day given that this island is approximately 90% Catholic and they don’t work on Sunday here). That was one of the highlights of Aruba for me! We had spent 2 ½ days at sea and at least 2 channels on our stateroom TVs were dedicated to reviewing, describing, enticing, outlining ad nausea complete strategies of how to make the most of your shopping time while in Aruba. There were at least two enormously popular seminars held onboard during the days at sea and never - not once - did they ever mention that we would be hitting Aruba on Sunday and that most the stores aren’t open on Sunday (except of course for those wholly owned by the cruise lines and therefore absolutely obligated to ONLY be open whenever the ship is in port!) I loved it!!!!!
After whipping thru town (the main street is only about two or three blocks long and there was no traffic, this being Sunday and all) we passed the Orangestadt International Airport (3 buildings, one long runway) and the world’s second largest desalination plant and then headed for Casabari (a rock formation with steps…ooh/ahh) As it turns out it is one of the taller places on the island.
From there we were off to “The Natural Bridge” - well okay we couldn’t really see that since it collapsed in 2002 but we could see where it had been and look at instead (but not walk on since it was somewhat cracked during the other bridge’s collapse) “The Baby Bridge” (ooh/ahh). Then we toured the Aloe Balm Factory which probably was a lot more fascinating on any other weekday (including Saturday) because just like everything else in town, it’s closed on Sunday (but they still allowed us to experience a tour nonetheless: ‘Here is the room where we’d be cutting the leaves if it were any other day, here’s the room where we would be mixing the extract with other ingredients if it were any other day…you get the picture.)
The houses in Aruba are small single floored homes without basements (you don’t have to dig too far to find water below). Cactus is plentiful (wood is not) so the homes are built from cement blocks and the fences are made from “organ pipe” cactus. It definitely keeps nosy neighbors from leaning up on your fence! There are some homes still made the old-fashioned way (with walls 18” thick to maintain a cooler temperature). Though they refine gas on the island, the price of a gallon of gas is well over $4 still (it was almost $8 last year) so driving is done with small cars and not as frequently. Jobs are actually plentiful on Aruba and our guide told us if someone wasn’t working it was because they were just a lazy bum!
Our final stop before returning to the ship turned out to be the most beautiful beach in the world: Palm Beach, Aruba. Beautiful white sand and water that was easily 80+ degrees! While most of our fellow travelers opted to be taken back to town for a brief shopping trip (obviously not listening when the guide told them the town closes up on Sundays), we decided to spend our entire hour swimming in the Caribbean (with pictures to prove it!) It was worth every quart of sunscreen I had to put on just to be able to play for that hour at the beach!
As I was drying off in order to get back to the bus on time, I asked Gerry to snap a few photos of the local scenery. This is what he came up with - I'm pretty sure he knew this isn't what I meant!
Back on this ship in time to listen to the brief litany of those who hadn’t yet returned to the ship (please call 5000 from any phone NOW), have some lunch, a dip in the wave pool (not nearly as much fun without those four foot waves of the day before!) and then another round of trivia with our friends. We seem to be regressing - only 10 right this time (I mean seriously…who knew ‘Tia Maria’ came from Jamaica? Or that “Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon” was the highest grossing foreign-language film of all time? Because if you did, I’m putting you on my “Trivia Dream Team” now!)
- Terri’s Travel Tip: If you are on a cruise of more than 7 days, no matter who you are, assume you are one of the younger passengers aboard. Take extreme care to not, REPEAT NOT, position yourself between 5:00 and 5:30 pm between the dining room and the nearest bar. They might look timid and weak (because a lot of them are using walkers, wheelchairs and/or oxygen) but they will, at any cost, be first in line (all of them!) for dinner when the doors open at 5:30 pm. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Tomorrow: Cartagena (better lock and load before I head to bed!)tw
Sunday, April 26, 2009
The sea churned, the white caps evident everywhere. Hundreds had positioned themselves on lounge chairs on Deck 14 to watch and see what would happen. By mid-morning, the sound of the waves crashing signaled the constant pummeling of the water along the sides. The crescendo was deafening and each wave pounded louder and higher. People were weaving back and forth as they attempted to navigate the deck in search of someplace dry, spray flying everywhere. Finally, it crested nearly four feet over the sides on Deck 14, inundating the bar and ice cream shop areas - and that was just in the Lido Pool!
While those passengers still in attendance scurried to protect…their books (seriously I don’t think I’ve ever traveled with a more literate group. Dona you should really apply to be a librarian aboard one of these cruise ships - or maybe we could open a bookstore here) others enjoyed the spectacle of the one lone swimmer in the pool vainly trying to complete a solitary lap without being carried on the next wave over the edge of the pool onto some unsuspecting…reader (no, really, of the 1900 passengers on board I think I counted over 1200 with a book in hand just on my way to lunch!) Certainly someone with my, shall we say, natural LACK of buoyancy would remain contained within the boundaries of the pool, however I’m sure that one good wave would have caused Jenny to sail over the sides of the pool where she would no doubt manage a perfect 10.0 landing on a nearby lounge chair and have her order taken by an ever vigilant crewmember!
Other than the wave action of the pool, the sea is relatively steady (4 - 7.5 ft. waves) so we are enjoying the ride. The temperature today is in the high seventies/low eighties with 100% humidity. That plus the salt water and wind is doing nice things to my hair (for a visual image…because nobody is actually capturing this look on film or electronics!…envision Isaac, the bartender, from the Love Boat and make him Irish…and extremely pale and you have some idea of the impression I’m making these days!)
Lunch was a fun affair - it was “English Pub Lunch” day. Gerry actually had “bangers & mash” and I enjoyed a “Ploughman’s Lunch” (ham, cheese, a crusty roll and pate - I didn’t know the Brits did pate but since I really do like liverwurst this was a treat for me!)
Then it was time for a dip in the pool and off to the Maitre d’ Wine Club (again this is backwards from other cruises - typically they whet your whistle with the ordinary wines and then “graduate” you to the Wine Club where you sample not only much, MUCH better wines but also pair them with food (oddly enough NOT the cruise’s best food choices) and they can charge you a bit more. This was a bit of a disappointment - I think the guys giving the presentation were still learning their “shtick” and it went on and on… Usually this is the event where they suggest which wine works well with a particular food type and give us a sampler of delicacies - something to try with each wine served. This time they just put the plates on the table and told us to eat whatever we wanted with whatever wine was being served at the time. No matter to me - I wasn't having any of it! (Seriously - there is NO wine that goes well with caviar. At least none that I would actually pay for...including Two Buck Chuck!)
We nearly missed out on Trivia with our “group” (Judy & Marv from Bend, Oregon and Mike and Kathy from Ottawa and occasionally Katie & John from Stockton). We did really well - a score of 19 - and still got beat by some veteran cruisers who no doubt have memorized every Trivial Pursuit card. On my “dream team” I would certainly enjoy having my sister (Dona), my niece (Beth) and friend (Tom W). I could open my own luggage tag shoppe!
Dinner was enjoyed with 4 other couples - all rabid golfers (we were the proverbial fish out of water here)! But curiously cheap. There is a beautiful golf course in Aruba tomorrow and instead they are opting to spend only $30 to play on the ship’s simulator. Once again I tell myself I will never understand golfers!
All in all though a leisurely day at sea!
- Terri’s Travel Tip: The surest way to become ill at sea is by touching things. Avoid all handrails and as much as possible doorknobs. If the weather is choppy, use the elevator (I’ve never actually seen one get stuck - I’ll let you know more about that today since that’s usually how the jinx works!). Avoid stairs during rough weather because you’ll recover much quicker from a horizontal fall than you will from a vertical one!
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
The ship sets quite a bit lower in the water though. Typically we’ve had staterooms on Emerald (Deck 8) Promenade (Deck 7) is the deck with the outer walkway that circumnavigates the ship. On this ship, 2.8 times around makes a mile and I fully intended to walk at least one mile every day. But because on this ship Deck 7 is so close to the water line on days like today when we are out to sea and therefore moving quite fast, the deck gets a lot of “wave action” - ones splashing up over the side - and so the deck is quite wet. The Exercise Gods smile upon me once again - I didn’t bring rain gear so I guess I will have to do my walking elsewhere (which I suppose is why the Navigation Gods have arranged for me not to be able to locate my cabin - that’s apparently how I’ll be getting my walking instead!)
Upon arrival in our stateroom yesterday we were greeted with the first part of our anniversary package: champagne, roses and beautifully decorated chocolate-covered strawberries. A festive send off which we enjoyed as we were pulling out of Ft. Lauderdale. I suppose the best part of living here (if you’re a sun worshiper!) is having a home (aka “mansion”) with waterfront beach area. At least until the cruise ships leave port (our ship’s whistle as we are leaving port isn’t nearly as charming as that of Disney’s ships but what it lacks in charm it more than makes up for in volume!)
We then enjoyed our first visit to the “Aroma Thermal Suite” (which will become a daily ritual while onboard). Gerry was hoping that they could somehow put one of those hot stone beds in our stateroom - it’s hard to remember to limit your stay to only 10 minutes. No doubt the description (a stone bed?) sounds extremely uncomfortable but actually it is very cozy. Then we tried all the various steam rooms - the Aromatherapy steam (wonderful if you are a bit stuffed up and Gerry is hoping it will completely cure him of his cold but it’s obviously going to take several sessions for that to occur!); what I will call the “Baby Bear” steam room (not a lot of steam but you can really burn sensitive areas of your body by sitting on the benches unprepared - OY! That’s hot!!!); the “Mama Bear” room - quite a bit more steam (they recommend 10 minutes here - I’d be lucky to make it 5!); and finally, the “Papa Bear” (or “Hell - Table for One”) room - again a recommended time is 10 minutes but I’m sure you’d be dead (but fully exfoliated). We pretty much walk in, try taking on breath without choking and walk back out. But the best part of the room (particularly after being blanched by the Papa Bear steam room) is the Rainforest Shower. It really is like showering in a cloud and perfectly caps off your visit to this suite.
Dinner was enjoyed as a group with 3 other couples (as we didn’t really want to wait another 45 minutes or so for a table by ourselves): Glen and Edith from Calgary, Alberta; Gary and Carolyn from Queensland, Australia; John and Katie from Stockton, California. Gary is quite the car collector (he’s got many from the US which he then has to reconfigure to drive on the right side of the road for use in Australia) and we all shared stories about cars, cops, unmarked cars and (this one surprised me) the fact that in Calgary they now have “green light” cameras - if you speed up during a green light just to get thru the intersection you get sent a ticket. They also have “yellow light” cameras - if you enter a yellow light and speed up to make it thru the intersection, you get TWO tickets! Gerry’s convinced that within 5 years the GPS device in our cars will just send us a ticket for every infraction (making cops trying to get their quotas a total thing of the past!)
- Terri’s Travel Tip: When cruising thru the Panama Canal east to west, select a cabin on the starboard side of the ship (and conversely if traveling from the west to the east, select a portside cabin). Did we? No. That’s not a sad thing - just means we’ll have to do it again!
Well it’s off to trivia we go!
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
While we were completely full leaving Seattle, things did open up once we got to Chicago. Southwest must figure that the people of the Northwest just plain don't get enough warm weather and so to accommodate their passengers they keep the cabin temp at 78 degrees. It's been awhile since I was a microbiology major (for about a month) but I think that's the exact temperature you want to keep a petri dish when trying to cultivate germs. Things improved immensely when we weren't packed quite so tightly - until I "baptized" Gerry with a glass of ice water. Didn't really mean to (and boy was I glad that no one else was sitting in our row!) At first it was a bit shocking, then it actually felt kind of refreshing and finally it felt just plain wet. No worries - with the cabin temp that high, drying out completely did not take long.
And then we were here - Ft. Lauderdale, FL. It actually seems quite beautiful but I'm left wondering how they get those stunningly beautiful exterior shots for CSI: Miami - it's quite hazy. Since our hotel has neither bar nor pool and is almost 3 miles from the beach, we didn't find any students on spring break. We finally ventured out for dinner around 7 pm (local time - which meant we weren't actually all the hungry) hopefully to find some local color. 'Shipwrecked' seemed good - within walking distance of the hotel, 23 beers on tap, $1 beer all day long and lots of fun (sounding anyway) food. Yeah - closed. Then there was a small Cafe (authentic tex-mex they claimed). Yeah - closed. There are lots and lots of pizzerias and the usual fast food places (if Chris were here he'd have made a run for the border right out the door of the hotel). We finally came across an Outback Steakhouse.
Now Gerry & I are quite used to lowering the average age (dramatically) whenever we cruise (particularly anything over 7 days in length), but seriously folks. I was surprised when we got in there that a) the place was overrun by the "silver set" and b) they apparently eat so close to what I'm sure must be their bedtime! I have no doubt that many of them will probably be headed for our ship tomorrow and given that our ears are so plugged from the flight no doubt we will be indistinguishable from the rest of them (huh? what did you say?)
No matter. Those of you who know me know that the anticipation of the trip is nearly as much fun as the actual trip itself. I'm very excited to know that soon I will be embarking on yet another adventure with my most favorite travelling companion seeing new and exotic places. (Of course knowing that there are approximately 1300 crewmembers aboard most of whose job it is to see to my every whim doesn't hurt!)
- Terri's Travel Tip: Before embarking on your cruise, take a moment to repack your carry-on bag. Your luggage will be taken from you at check-in and will be delivered directly to your stateroom but that might take 4+ hours. Anything you had with you for the flight (like those comfy neck pillows) you won't be needing so tuck them into your luggage. But there's only so long you can hang out at the buffet aboard ship before you'll want to be exploring, particularly if you have kids travelling with you. Make sure you put your swimsuit, sunglasses, etc. into your carry-on and you'll be set!
Monday, April 20, 2009
After 17 hours of cooking for the 300+ group we were back at home in Redmond getting things ready for Sunday's Pancake Breakfast at church. We had reserved Sunday afternoon for our marathon packing session to getting ready for our cruise but devoted a better portion of the time to napping instead.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Not that I think that we humans were going to be invited back anytime real soon, but the fact that the corner of the planet that scholars consider to be the actual 'Garden of Eden' is suffering a horrific drought seems to be somewhat rather biblical in its implication.
Of course, it's helpful to remember that this drought (like a lot of our weather-related problems these days) was definitely helped along by man (well, one man in particular - Saddam Hussein).
Monday, April 13, 2009
This Easter holiday we found ourselves contemplating a holiday by ourselves. Not that we don't enjoy having a houseful for any and all occasions but with the hectic month we've had (getting Sarah packed up and moved to Sweden, having Jenny visit, me coming down with the flu and trying to get ready for the cruise), arranging for a big celebration just didn't seem to be in the cards.
We were delighted when Gerry's sister (Cathy) invited us to their place in Ballard for Easter dinner. We were happy to bring not only our "assigned" foods for the table (and of course Easter treats for the nephews!), but also a box of books for the newest voracious reader of the family (Nicholas). He is in a "devour" phase and keeping him in reading material is a bit of a challenger. Uncle Gerry to the rescue! Gerry was only too happy to introduce Nicholas to the books and favorite authors of his childhood (Edgar Rice Burroughs and Anne McCaffrey today).
Dinner was wonderful and cozy, conversation lively if occasionally punctuated by the rambunctious nephews who had obviously been cooped up a little too long by rainy weather. Magically after dinner, the sun appeared and the boys were able to burn off some of the post-Easter basket sugar rush energy outside. The evening was capped with another one of Dan's famous (and fabulous!) cheesecakes.
Happy Easter to all!
- "Passenger Lands Plane in Florida After Pilot Dies" http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30190350/ Just wanted you to know - I'm checking all your resumes next week as Gerry & I fly to Florida for our cruise. I'm hoping there are additional pilots on the plane!
- A true "duh" moment: "Woman Jumps in Polar Bear Pool, Gets Bitten" http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30190318/ Need I say more?
- And locally (well, at least in Washington state) "Local Woman Says She See Image of 'Easter Bunny' on Potato Chip" http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30183308/ Reminds me of the woman on the Carson show years ago when Johnny started munching a bowl of chips while the little old lady was describing the various things she'd "found" on potato chips. I don't get it - who has the time to actually look at the chips? I'm apparently way too busy munching them!
Just doing my job to keep you up-to-speed on all the really important events taking place all around us...
Sunday, April 12, 2009
We are all very delighted with this news ; it is a one-year position and will be followed by his Captain course (also at Ft. Leonard Wood) and this means that Travis will not be deploying during this time. Of course, it's also a great position for Travis and means that he will get to serve in a rather unique capacity which enables him to see and learn much more about the military (helping him decide where he'd like to be stationed next, whether the military is a career-choice, etc.) All very good things - but of course some of us are just glad to know that he will be stationed stateside for another 1+ year.
Unfortunately it does mean that we don't get a trip to Texas in October to visit the soon-to-be-newest member of the family and help them move to Missouri since they will most likely already be in St. Roberts by the time we return from our cruise. I guess the helping them move excuse will be gone - we'll just have to show up in Missouri instead.
But there are some news items just too good to pass up. Today's lesson:
Wash. Soldier Dead After Accidental Shooting (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30180915/)
Apparently this soldier and his wife spent time out with friends yesterday and at some point after they returned (apparently in the wee hours of Easter Sunday), he decided that his wife needed to know how to handle a gun properly. (I can't help but think this decision was made "under the influence" of something other than pure air.)
Now I admit, I'm not the sharpest shooter on the range, but I see several problems inherent in this decision:
- Spouses do not generally make for the best teachers for each other (and I'm just guessing here, but I'm thinking especially when it comes to dangerous weaponry instruction).
- 1:30 am? Seriously? There's probably a reason why most all regular educational forums schedule their classes during the day and NOT at 1:30 am!
- This soldier was scheduled to deploy soon. If this couple's intent was to keep him possibly getting killed overseas, somebody goofed..
It is certainly another tragic situation and I do feel sorry for his family, but "accident"? - there's nothing that here that even remotely says this was an accident (an unintentional, unforeseen occurrence). This was just plain stupid and as Forrest's mama would say "stupid is as stupid does" - you can't be surprised when something stupid happens as the result of your own stupidity. And as Gerry said, "There's no such thing as an accidental shooting at 1:30 in the morning."
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Meanwhile, we ladies held a baby shower for the new mom-to-be (Jenny). Margo & family made the trek over from Spokane and Jenny's BFF (Amy) flew in from Colorado and Sarah (master MC) kept us entertained with games - we "diapered" balloons, made "babies" (or something...Tessa had a totally different take on the instructions!) from Play-Doh, and played Baby Jeopardy:
So everyone is back now where they belong and I'm already thinking about our upcoming cruise (a VERY cheerful thought!) I can't believe we will be on the ship exactly two weeks from today!