Archive for the ‘Caribbean’ Category

Sibling Serenity Canal Day 8

May 29, 2012

Owen and I rolled out of bed at 6 AM to see us enter the first lock. Serenity has a perfect place to see it all on the upper deck forward.

As we watched the water raise our ship in the Miraflores locks, it was impossible to conceive that it will take 52,000,000 gallons of water to transit us to the Caribbean. That water comes from the Gatun Lake, and there have been some dry seasons when transit had to be limited.

It will cost us about $200,000 in cash (no credit cards) as our toll. A man swam the canal, it cost him 36 cents…..in cash. To me the strangest cargo to transit was the London Bridge.

The bridge was bought to be put in place as the showcase piece of Lake Havasu development on the river connecting California and Arizona. I walked across it on the opening of the development, the pathway strewn with roses. The rumor is Robert M. McCulloch thought he had bought the Tower Bridge. Buyer beware. No return without a receipt.

No matter the cost, and the widening, and the updating and technology, it’s two guys in a rowboat who tie the ships line to the “mules”.

The widening of the canal will be finished in about two years. At the moment there are huge piles of dirt everywhere,

but nothing disturbs the crocodiles.

Nor does anything disturb our wish to retire to this island and watch the world sail by.

For a look at the widening and the canal in operation, Google “panama canal cams live”.

It being casual night, Owen and I ate at Tastes next to the Neptune pool. Great service, “casual” food, and lovely atmosphere.

Our table mates had asked us to let them know when we were not going to eat at table 92, but as we usually didn’t plan ahead, we had no idea how to do that. As the sun set, the guilt faded.

We are now headed for Cartagena, Colombia and will arrive in the morning.

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Sibling Serenity Canal Day Six

May 24, 2012

by Geoff Edwards

We are anchored in the bay at Caldera, Costa Rica. It’s the costa for sure, but not rica in any sense. This apparently is a cargo pier, but they only have room for one ship at a time. Most passengers are taking the tour to San Jose, the Costa Rica capitol on the mountain top. It’s quite a haul from here. At one time there was an ancient train that made the climb. It no longer exists. I’m sure it simply rattled itself to scrap.

Reflections, the daily Crystal news sheet puts it this way:

“There are no facilities of interest within walking distance of the pier area.” Owen took a tender into port. A sign indicated what was there.

Although he saw a beautiful Flamingo and its hungry friend, he was back shortly.

Reflections confirmed.

The ships weather forecaster had us looking forward to a partly cloudy day. I told Owen it was going to rain. It did. Geoff confirmed.

After the rain shower, I took on the Promenade deck. One must walk counter clockwise.

Three times around is a mile. I’m sure that is wrong.

My visual calculation puts halfway as a mile. Geoff not being confirmed, sat down.

After a bit, I got back on my feet and went to deck 10 to hit a few golf balls into a net.

Next some long putts. I’m going to challenge Owen. If I lose to him, I’ll be the putz and you won’t read about it here.

We decided late in the day to see if there was room at Prego, the ship’s Italian restaurant.

There was. Owen greeted Bruno, the man who is in charge of Prego in Italian. Owen is fluent in Italian; he even reads books in Italian. Bruno then was a find. Someone he could chat with without me knowing what they were talking about. Owen spent some time talking about this and that as we waited for a table. A bit later Bruno pulled Owen aside and explained, sotto voce, that while he understood Italian he couldn’t speak it. Owen was disappointed, but two sips later and he put it all behind him

Dinner in Prego was excellent.

They serve a mushroom soup in a bread bowl that beats all soups anywhere. The gelato is freshly made by the chefs in the kitchen. Yum.

The production show dancers have lunch on the outside Lido deck. Sitting at a table were John Ellis (lead singer) and Shane Morley, dance captain. I finished lunch and although John had left, Shane was just finishing his. As I walked by, I told him I had seen what he ate, and that I’d be watching his feet next show to see if they were slowing down. He laughed. I then told him how great he was as both a dancer and a singer. And then my friends:

“Oh I’m not a dancer, I’m the sound man.”

“I just want to add,” I quickly said, “the sound is excellent, some of the best I’ve heard.”

Oh dear.

Tomorrow at sea heading for the Panama Canal.

Serenity Sibling Canal DAY THREE

May 20, 2012

This is the first of three days at sea heading to Caldera, Costa Rica. The weather today is a bit overcast with sun poking through, and the sea calm.

What makes Crystal Crystal? Well, not sure about others, but for Owen and me it is the friendliness of the crew. Servers in the Lido have fun with us as we do with them. Big smiles when we approach. We had dinner at Silk Road and our waitress was from Manila. Since Silk Road is a Japanese style restaurant. I spoke to her in Japanese. She answered. Her Japanese was, of course much better than mine, but her face lit up. Owen then made some droll remark and the next thing we knew we were all friends. She told us she had just broken up with her boyfriend two days past. Then we talked about how tough that must be with both on the same ship.

We will walk along and a crew member will smile and say, “Good to see you again.” I was looking for some shaving cream to buy and went into the Jewelry section of the ship’s stores. Instead of pointing in the right direction, the clerk had me follow him to where sundries were sold. He then presented me to the female helper and she took me to the shaving cream. Amazing attention to passengers. This is Crystal!

Lunch was Asian style on deck.

Good stuff, but what got me smiling and away from generalities was the Asian couple who only ate lettuce. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Captain made an announcement on the ship’s PA system. “Dolphins on the starboard side.” Indeed there were some twenty or so up for air then down for fish. They were kind of in a circle and had no interest in the ship grinding by.

I’ve talked about the smiles from all. All that is except one. She goes about her duties, picking up, putting down with lips pressed unhappily together. Owen and I came up with different scenarios about what was saddening her. I made it my goal to get her to smile. She did. But only for the camera. She smiled, but we never saw her show her teeth again. Maybe that’s the Austrian way.

Our room stewardess is always bubbly.

Our butler is a motorcycle enthusiast and he and Owen share stories. He is a butler, but not above betting with me as to which elevator will come to the floor first. So far I’ve won each time. Nothing, of course changes hands, but I have to quell the urge to immediately go to the Casino.

After dinner we walked by the movie theater. The feature was Sherlock Holmes; A Game Of Shadows. Owen said he had no interest. There is a more disguised entrance to the theater around the corner. As we passed that, Owen went in. He came out about an hour later. I asked him why he stayed when he wasn’t interested.

“I get captivated by film.* he said.

I thought for a while about all this and realized I too get captivated…..by naps. But I’m not alone in this.

Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam

February 28, 2012

My wife, Michael, and I are starting a trip from Fort Lauderdale into the Eastern Caribbean on the Nieuw Amsterdam. This is the newest of Holland America’s ships. We’ll join 2,106 other passengers.

We live in Los Angeles; the ship sails from Fort Lauderdale. For some reason, ubiquitous connections don’t exist.. Miami, no problem, but Fort Lauderdale? You’re sure you want to go there?? Actually, Virgin America makes it easy, but still to be sure to make the ship’s sailing, better plan for an overnight hotel stay.

Our Virgin America crew was friendly, although they only came down the aisle once with complimentary soft drinks plus booze to buy. Not that we had any spare change. $25 per bag, $8.00 to watch a movie. Food to order prices are displayed on the TV. Just press “eat”. No button on the screen says “Can I just have a peanut?”

“Never mind.”, as my Grandmother used to say.

On the plus side, the seat back screen received Dish Network and the ubiquitous moving flight map.

Make no mistake, there is a lot new on the Nieuw Amsterdam, but the cool thing about Holland America is, no matter how new things are, the ship always feels familiar. The bar you liked previously is still there in the same place. The lounge where they serve the goodies at night is a bit bigger, but still looks the same and it’s right where you left it.

Newish?

The flowers; at $10,000 weekly are gorgeous and sprinkled copiously around the ship.

And never mind the Art Auction, just let me take home what’s on the walls.

One noticeable change, prompted I’m sure by the tragic Concordia crash, is the addition to the Lifeboat drill.

“You are required to attend this drill. If you do not, you will not be allowed to sail with us.”

That means if your name doesn’t show up at roll call, believe me, they will seek you out. Don’t think this is an empty threat. Across the pier a passenger on the Westerdam who did not attend their drill was bid goodbye and left on the dock.

I think my idea is simpler. Each attendant at the drill gets a red ticket. No tickee, no eatee.

By the way, there are no muster stations on Nieuw Amsterdam, it’s direct to the lifeboats.

I always look up at the bottom of the boat we at our station are standing under. Then I look around at the group assigned to that boat.

Hard to believe we’ll all fit.

Our first meal on board was in the Manhattan Dining Room. This is a bit more colorful than previous HAL experience, but the red is cheerful.

The only downside, the color screens around the dining area.

They reminded me of a look inside something I don’t want to talk about.

Accompanying an awesome menu is a wait-staff offering attentive and friendly service. I had Cobia with lobster dumplings.

It was perfectly cooked; seared and crispy on the outside, soft and a touch mushy inside. It may have been the best fish I’ve had in a cruise ship dining room.

Nieuw Amsterdam is Chef oriented and their chefs value their reputation. Not to worry.

Nieuw Amsterdam First Day At Sea

We slept past sunrise

(way past) so ordered our breakfast from room service. There was hardly a wait until the knock on the door. Croissants, coffee, and bran muffins on the sun swept balcony with HAL’s private Bahamian island in view made for a lingering morning.

We finally emerged and grabbed lunch at the Terrace Grill.

One of us (guess who) had a lamb burger. New one person poll shows lamb beats cow. Along with traditional treats, the grill also served salmon burgers.

It is interesting that on this big a ship, small improvements pop up.

Checkout the tear off daily schedule with 50 things to do,

and not cups, but coffee mugs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On deck, the music was harmonious not raucous. I loved the stealthy sounds that came from the Kettle Drum.

The pool area is also set up for those under 50 to enjoy.

Dinner was in Italian themed Canaletto. It was a bit tricky finding Canaletto. Basically it’s part of the Lido. It is separated by an adjacent space, but has no entry door.  The food was definitely worth the search. I had an incredible Penne Alla Vodka.

You must try this.

Suddenly, as we were getting ready to order dessert, a large green wisp appeared. Lemoncello cotton candy!

Before:

After:

Do not miss Canaletto.

Nieuw Amsterdam A Day At Sea

Most of the day we sailed along the south side of Cuba.

“The Culinary Arts Center program, presented by Food & Wine magazine, is a groundbreaking program that integrates guests’ love for fine food and wine with an unique and entertaining experience.”

Michael checked out “Three Chefs Demo” and also attended Caribbean Heat.

The Culinary Arts Center Program takes place in a large (200 plus seating) room with a stage, state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, plus multiple large screens providing close ups of the food preparation.

The classes I attended were only a sampling as there were sometimes three a day hosted by the chefs of the different dining rooms and Laurie, The Party Planner. Provided free of charge they lasted approximately one hour each.

Recipe cards were passed out and at times samples were available for tasting.

Fortunately, the recipes were in cups and ounces vs. grams and pints, except the hugely popular traditional Dutch “Bread Pudding” dessert recipe. But immediately upon arriving home, trusty “Google” at hand, I was able to translate and cook this dish with my granddaughters. I told their mother, with 19 egg yolks, it was healthy. The kids each had three helpings; their dad, two. I, on the other hand, had it every day for lunch aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.

On the second day of the cruise over 100 guests and I sat comfortably, while at least 4 large screens around the room showed close ups of the 3 chefs-Danny, Jason and Kim as they prepared their signature dishes from their restaurants: Canaletto, Tamarind and the Pinnacle Grill. Laurie, the party planner, acted as moderator while the chefs bantered entertainingly with each other. They must have been as much chosen for their personalities as their cooking skills!

The recipes revolved around 3 main courses: Veal Milanese from Canaletto; Penang Red Curry Coconut Chicken from Tamarind; and Filet Mignon and Shrimp, or famously “Land and Sea” from the Pinnacle Grill.

While 23 different ingredients already measured and chopped for the Curry and Veal dishes make the cooking look easy, someone has got to measure and chop behind the scenes.

That afternoon, I went back for more and watched as Kim, from the Pinnacle Grill, amazed us with Cubano Grilled Pork with Picadillo Olive Salsa.

It seems there is a magic number of over 23 ingredients or more that goes into making each demonstration entertaining, beautiful, delicious, and challenging.

“Best Ever Fish Tacos” cooking class:

Again, at least 25 ingredients necessary, but a smaller audience this time enabling us, with Laurie, the Party Planner, to gather around the cooking surface/work table, and ask questions during the process.

It is fun to see the demonstration unfold as if you are all in your own kitchen. Nothing is written in stone, and if there isn’t an ingredient available, it is either improvised or a substitution is supplied, and great tips learned!

I took a picture of the huge, five pound, bag of Crushed Chili Pepper flakes for Geoff to drool over; he likes it hotter than hot!

Only 2 teaspoons are required for the recipe, however! The ship has a lot of mouths to feed!

Caribbean Heat, “Sofrito Mashed Potatoes” cooking class:

The least amount of ingredients, only 15, but then it is mashed potatoes Since it includes vegetables of red and green bell peppers, sautéed with tomato sauce and cream, technically you don’t need another dish. Only two pans to clean, and looked delicious. I actually would try this at home!

Later, as the sun set, and the skies grayed,

Cuba receded, and we dressed for dinner.

Tonight’s dinner for us was in the Pinnacle Grill, a very upper end restaurant.

The lobster bisque had a slightly unfamiliar taste. It was laced gently with aged cognac.

No wonder it’s smiling.

Crab cakes were wonderful, but I’d hesitate to recommend the Chef’s favorite; lobster mac and cheese.

Each night when we get back to the cabin there is a towel animal displayed. They don’t have the ingenuity of the Carnival creatures; actually they are a bit lame.

But I loved this one.

                                                                                             I named him Ralph.

Georgetown Cayman Islands

This is a familiar stop for us. The US dollar in the Cayman Islands is worth 80 cents. Bargains are scarce. That being said, Nieuw Amsterdam offers tons of shore excursions.

We actually slept through the morning. Nothing lost. We read, wrote, emailed etc. A hint; wireless on all ships is slower than on shore, but leave your cabin door ajar and the speed nearly doubles.

The Pinnacle grill opened its doors to us once again; tonight was the Special Chef’s Dinner. Our seven course meal started with champagne dusted with a touch of Grand Marnier. This apparently smooths the inside of the glass. Something good then happens. I have no idea what, but no guessing that it was effervescent. A nice way to start the evening. And it didn’t count as a course. Those were next.

This is a dinner will take about three hours. When the Chef’s dinner concept began it was eleven courses. As the chefs began to have trouble fitting through the kitchen doors, it dropped to eight. The difficulty in getting Jenny Craig at sea dropped it to seven.

And then it started:

Check out the plates…..$250 each.

Lord knows what the napkin rings go for. I’m surprised the maître de doesn’t pat your pockets on the way out.

Here’s the menu, kind of:

Each course had its own assigned wine.

When we waddled back to our cabin, we both avoided the mirrors.

Nieuw Mahogany Bay

Until Carnival and Jerry Hynds came along to develop it, Mahogany Bay was but a house or two on a bay. Two years and $62,000,000 later it is a cluster of shops, restaurants,

and just a chair lift away,

beachfront.

$12.00 will get you back and forth as many times as you want.

Keeping an eye on all was a German cruise ship.

The stores are lovely, but prices are fixed. A pair of rubber flip flops ran over $50. Michael, shopping for bracelet charms, found the ones on board Nieuw Amsterdam less expensive and much the same or better quality.

What, the Pinnacle Grill again? Yup, but tonight it was New York, New York. The menu was that of one of New York’s most famous restaurants, Le Cirque. Believe me at $25.00 it’s cheaper than the Big Apple. It was incredible and you don’t have to take a taxi to get there.

Nieuw Costa Maya, Mexico

Costa Maya is on the Yucatan Península. What does Yucatan mean in Spanish? Well, nothing. When the Spanish conquistadors asked, “What is the name of this place?”, they of course spoke in Spanish. (Duh; which also means nothing.) The Mayans answered “uhuuthaan”. Which translated means “Listen to the strange way they are speaking.”

A bit ago I was on a ship heading for Costa Maya, Mexico. The windy weather forced an itinerary change. Even this trip the wind delayed our departure.

Oh, and it poured rain. We’ll try again another time. Never mind.

Dinner at Tamarind was a combination of Chinese and Japanese cuisine. I started with a Sushi Rainbow roll

followed by a SPICY chicken curry dish. Tamarind is $15.00.

Save room for dessert. In fact save a whole house. The Chocolate Extravaganza took up the whole pool area.

Micheal’s favorite apples on a stick.

Nieuw Last Day at Sea

The Costa Maya weather is still with us as we sail back to Fort Lauderdale. The ship’s store is having sales and the cruise director is holding his debarkation talk. He is particularly concerned that passengers leave clothes out to wear in the morning. You can’t believe, he says, how many show up at the main desk in their pajamas. Then the request to look to the right and look to the left. Now think about the fact that one in three doesn’t wear pajamas.

Once again I hit the Lido for breakfast. I am sure I will never see such an array of Eggs Benedict anywhere else.

This cruise was mesmerizing. The only way I could keep track of the days was to press the elevator button.

Going All The Way

October 22, 2011

On November 13th I’ll be reporting from Carnival Magic.

First a Gala Dinner to welcome Magic to Galveston, then 6 days to Mexico.

Late January it will be a second look at Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam.

Fast forward to April, and it’s through the Canal from Hollywood to New York on Crystal’s newly refurbished Serenity.

BUT FIRST

My new book; an inside look at two world cruises. The good, the bad, and the, well, strange. Available at all eBook sites

I took my first cruise from Los Angeles, through the Panama Canal, and around the Caribbean. The cruise ship was a small Greek ship called the Jason, but I must tell you, cruising then was entirely different than today. The cruise staff did most of the entertaining, most of the bands on ships had an accordion player, and customer service was a bit lax.

My cabin had a bunk on each wall with safety straps to keep you in bed in case of rough weather. The portholes had wooden covers that could be screwed on to keep that rough water out of the cabin. When I complained about the air conditioning in my cabin not working, the ship sent an engineer to check it out. A sturdy Greek woman with a hint of mustache appeared in full uniform. She had no command of English, and Greek was, well, Greek to me. Fortunately, we didn’t need much communication to get the job done. I held my hand to the vent and said, “Is warm!” She put her hand to the vent and said, “Is cold!” And that was that. As Aristotle once said, “It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.” Whatever.

As the Jason exited the canal into the Caribbean, we were pounded by some very rough seas, and she bounced around enough so that those straps and porthole covers came into play. I sat in the center of the ship on the Promenade deck, and, as advised, kept my eyes on the horizon. I wasn’t sick, but neither was I feeling well, and worse, I was hungry. They told us to eat dry chicken sandwiches which for some reason might stay in place after swallowed. On the Jason, everything was ordered from a desk just inside and off the main deck. I went up to the crewman on desk duty and asked for a dry chicken sandwich. He looked at me, said, “Please wait a moment.” He then opened a drawer, and from a height of about three feet, put most, if not all, of his stomach in the drawer. I passed on the sandwich.

That experience aside, a big attraction of cruising is the food. And there is lots, and lots of good food. With all that largess waiting, a good many passengers are wary of eating too much and gaining weight. I sat with one woman who looked at the menu and asked me what “grouper” was. I told her it was a whitefish that sometimes got as big as three hundred pounds. “Oh,” she said, “I’m really not that hungry.” Another tablemate ate a huge plate of pasta. After she finished, she was upset with the waiter. “I told him,” she said, “to give me a small portion.” “Well”, I countered, “there was a small portion in there.”

Today’s cruise guest has access to food 24 hours a day. Room service is always prompt, and the air conditioner will be adjusted to your liking. Nevertheless, no matter how luxurious the ships, most people who cruise share one single desire. One day, they want to cruise around the world!

I have been twice blessed in that regard, and what you are about to read is a diary of both of those blessings. Some of what I wrote will be a bit dated. For instance, all cruise ships now have access to the Internet operating 24 hours a day. Today’s passengers don’t have to seek out an Internet café at every port, and on a world cruise there are a lot of ports. But, you know, I think they’re missing something; that chance to interact with the locals and other travelers.

So hop aboard, have some laughs, and watch out for that reef off Egypt

Galveston 2

February 8, 2008

I’ve never seen so many miles of empty beach except along the coast of Baja.

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Maybe it’s empty because it’s a climb to get back to the road.

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I’m sure when the season starts, things will get busier. Spring Break brings thousands of kids here. Most go to the public beach at the end of town where you can drive on the sand and alcohol is permitted. As you leave that beach there is a sign that says, “Drive Safely”. Just underneath that sign is another that says, in bigger letters, “DRIVE SAFELY”. Now I figure if you’re drunk the size of the letters won’t make any difference. It should say “DDRRIIVVEE SSAAFFEELLYY”. That way the driver’s blurred vision could decode the message.

Galveston used to pretty wide open with the Balinese Room at the end of a long pier, the liquor and gambling place to be. Bob Hope, Tony Bennett, and Sinatra performed there, among others. Every night the slots and tables were busy. But, why that long hall to get to the happenings?

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Here’s the way it worked. When the troopers made a raid, the doorman would push a buzzer letting them in and notifying the band that visitors were on their way. The band would burst into “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You”. When the music played, the slots disappeared into the walls, the tables became dining tables and all was cool. And that is the answer to the long hall. The troopers had to run down the hall and never made it it to the main room in time.

I’m sure The Balinese Room looked better back then.img_2998.JPG

I can’t imagine Sinatra in the place as it now stands. By the way, it’s for sale.

I am with a press group and we had a busy day. We were only in one place, but it’s a big place. It’s called the Moody Gardens and has three pyramids.img_3023.JPG

One housing an aquarium,img_3019.JPG

another a rain forest,img_3027.JPG

and the third, a 4D Imax experience featuring dinosaurs. I asked what the fourth dimension was, and apparently it’s smell. “How do dinosaurs smell?” I asked. “Rotten”, our guide sniffed.

a trainer opened a door to the penguin place, and the first penguin that felt like taking a walk could come with her .

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On the second floor is an exhibition of the sinking of the Titanic.

img_3024.JPGAs you can see, I can’t show you anything, but this is more impressive than the one in Ireland at the site of the doomed ship’s departure.

There also is a huge water park, and a 5 diamond hotel. Great place for kids. Imagine being able to go back to school and being able to tell everyone how dinosaurs smell.

My favorite spot was the flight museum.

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You can actually get flights in a B-25 ($375), a B-17 ($425) and my favorite, an open cockpit Stearman ($225).

And there, under it all, was a Ford from 1941

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As I remember, automobiles were not manufactured until after the war. The “A” on the windshield rationed the monthly amount of gas one could buy. Now the letters are replaced by the $ sign. Check it out at www.LSFM.org.

Also check out http://www.Galveston.com . Scroll towards the bottom of the page and you’ll see webcams. Take a look at who’s on the beach, which cruise ships are in port, and who’s doing what in the Galvez Hotel lobby.

Dinner was at Sky Steak and Sushi.

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Great sushi rolls and the hottest wasabi I’ve ever had to extinguish.

The group then went across the street to a performance in The Grand Old Opera House built in 1894. I’d like to see the theater, but “Menopause, The Musical” may not be my thing, as they say. I heard it really doesn’t get started until after intermission. (And if you get that obscure reference, I salute you.)

I opted for Jazz here at the hotel. These guys have been around a long time. The trio was piano, electric bass plus a guy who banged a tambourine on his knee, and played the tenor sax — ..badly. When he hit the right notes, which was seldom, he was way out of tune. I guess the difference was, I wear hearing aids and so could pick up the nuances. If he wore hearing aids he’d stick to the tambourine.

Tomorrow we’ll see some of the historical homes, view the great storm video, and then board Ecstasy.

Almost Home

January 18, 2008

We are in the first of two sea days heading to Miami.

 

The Great American Buffet was the feature today. These gala food presentations take place by one of the pools, and attract many passengers. This is the only place we’ve found any lines on Symphony.p1010876.JPG According to the daily Reflections, American cuisine is immigrant cooking; a blend of peoples from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. There were over 50 “treats” from the culinary regions of the US. The favorite; BBQ ribs, img_2960.JPGand Michael recorded it all. img_2957.JPG

 

With all that food, there were decisions, decisions.

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The rest of the day was spent sunning and reading.

 

We’ll have dinner en suite tonight forgoing the chance to once again put on formal wear. We have a DVD to watch, and of course the politicians making up the truth.

 

Tomorrow, packing. Arrgh.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

January 18, 2008

I really didn’t think I’d have much to write about San Juan, as Michael and I were here about a month ago. I guess we’ll know soon if I was right. The transatlantic blog has details of our previous trip.

 

First we had to pass immigration to get off the ship. It’s hard to think in terms of being in the US, but for all intents and purposes we are.img_2908.JPG There’s a ton of construction here; new condos, new hotels, vacant land disappearing quickly.

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When we debarked at the entrance to the Cruise Terminal, while asking directions from a policewoman, a tall Puerto Rican came up and said, “Welcome to my country.”

 

“It’s my country too.” I said, but he was too interested in getting us on a one hour tour than to acknowledge my lack of diplomacy.

 

“Take my one hour tour” he said. “If you don’t like it, it’s free.”

 

“Good, I said, “I don’t like it, so let’s go.”

 

He ha ha’ed and said $20 each for an hour. This was the first time in Puerto Rico for our friends Jerry and Donna, so we decided to do the tour. One caveat, we, correction Michael and Donna, had to spend 15 minutes of that time at the Coach outlet.

 

We headed to his van, which turned out to be some one else’s cab.

 

“Too small,” I said, “We are four.”

 

“So,” he said, three in the back and one in front.” and started to herd us toward the cab, the driver of which had, for some reason, opened the trunk.

 

“No,” I said, “this is not going to work.”

 

“Then what about this van?” he said, speaking rapid Spanish to another driver down the line. At that, I realized that he was a taxi pimp; just grabbing what was in line to get us going, and his commission coming.

 

We walked away, he followed, and this time I was emphatic.

 

“NO!”

 

We continued walking and moments later a driver with a van made a deal with us for $10 per person. He spoke English well, and there was lots of room for us all.

 

We drove up towards Old Town and once again were reminded of the horrible traffic. Most everyone drives large cars on cobblestone streets built for a horse and carriage. Stop signs mean nothing, because if you strictly obeyed them you would sit for hours before an opening appeared. So the unwritten rule is every other car as if they were 4-way stop streets. Police are on most corners and direct traffic by talking to each other as they drink coffee. Those who are alone stand on the sidewalk and kind of zone out. By the way, sidewalks are built for one person only.

 

The traffic was especially heavy as preparations were being made for the festival of San Sebastian, a 4 day celebration that started that night. Most of the streets in Old Town would be jammed with people.

 

We finally got to Coach, and I went across the street to Polo. It seems they had the only men’s room within blocks. Oops, look at that jacket. Oops, it fits perfectly. Oops, it cost $350. Wait there’s a sign that says sale. Be careful, Geoff.

Yes, it’s now hanging in the closet. I got it for $79.99…all by myself. I ran back across the street to grab Michael before she bought anything.

 

 

Traffic and Coach had taken up some time so we asked Jose, our driver, for another hour. It was a great tour. at the fort Michael saw two Iguanas. They were one on top of the other. That would not do for a photo, so she yelled at them and interrupted them.

img_2911.JPG

We saw Ocean Park, “where the rich people live”. Jose told us there was no crime in Ocean Park. Maybe because any thief would rip his pants on the barbed wire, be uncomfortable sitting atop the spiked walls, and then have to deal with the barred windows. The beaches were lovely.

 img_2928.JPG

We also took a look at the Four Seasons Hotel.

img_2923.JPG 

 And then went to the place known as a family outing on weekends.

 img_2925.JPG

It cost $14 entrance fee, and the minimum bet is $100. A $10,000 loss is uncommon, but happens. As you have beer, sodas and food, you’ll see 25 to 30 fights. I couldn’t help but wonder if they served chicken sandwiches. Jose’s brother owned a bunch of roosters and was a regular.

 

Michael and I have been to Puerto Rico a number of times, but this is the first time we’ve seen this much of the area. We all agreed it was a perfect day. If you are going to be in San Juan you can reach Jose in his van at 1 787 923 7335

 

The ship hosted a sail away party on deck with complimentary Margaritas. Then, on to dinner and caviar. I might be the only person in the modern world who piled both turkey and frog’s legs on the same plate.

img_2946.JPG 

By Crepe Suzette time, it was non fat yogurt for me.

 

Michael expected the “Suzettes” to be made at our table. But, no. insurance regulations now call for them to be made, not table to table, but in a separate area. The head waiter, our waiter, and his assistant all showed up, pulled out her chair, and escorted her to the bubbling liquid floating the crepes.img_2950.JPG

 

Next, at sea heading for Miami.

    

San Juan, Puerto Rico

January 18, 2008

I really didn’t think I’d have much to write about San Juan, as Michael and I were here about a month ago. I guess we’ll know soon if I was right. The transatlantic blog has details of our previous trip.

 

First we had to pass immigration to get off the ship. It’s hard to think in terms of being in the US, but for all intents and purposes we are.img_2908.JPG There’s a ton of construction here; new condos, new hotels, vacant land disappearing quickly.

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When we debarked at the entrance to the Cruise Terminal, while asking directions from a policewoman, a tall Puerto Rican came up and said, “Welcome to my country.”

 

“It’s my country too.” I said, but he was too interested in getting us on a one hour tour than to acknowledge my lack of diplomacy.

 

“Take my one hour tour” he said. “If you don’t like it, it’s free.”

 

“Good, I said, “I don’t like it, so let’s go.”

 

He ha ha’ed and said $20 each for an hour. This was the first time in Puerto Rico for our friends Jerry and Donna, so we decided to do the tour. One caveat, we, correction Michael and Donna, had to spend 15 minutes of that time at the Coach outlet.

 

We headed to his van, which turned out to be some one else’s cab.

 

“Too small,” I said, “We are four.”

 

“So,” he said, three in the back and one in front.” and started to herd us toward the cab, the driver of which had, for some reason, opened the trunk.

 

“No,” I said, “this is not going to work.”

 

“Then what about this van?” he said, speaking rapid Spanish to another driver down the line. At that, I realized that he was a taxi pimp; just grabbing what was in line to get us going, and his commission coming.

 

We walked away, he followed, and this time I was emphatic.

 

“NO!”

 

We continued walking and moments later a driver with a van made a deal with us for $10 per person. He spoke English well, and there was lots of room for us all.

 

We drove up towards Old Town and once again were reminded of the horrible traffic. Most everyone drives large cars on cobblestone streets built for a horse and carriage. Stop signs mean nothing, because if you strictly obeyed them you would sit for hours before an opening appeared. So the unwritten rule is every other car as if they were 4-way stop streets. Police are on most corners and direct traffic by talking to each other as they drink coffee. Those who are alone stand on the sidewalk and kind of zone out. By the way, sidewalks are built for one person only.

 

The traffic was especially heavy as preparations were being made for the festival of San Sebastian, a 4 day celebration that started that night. Most of the streets in Old Town would be jammed with people.

 

We finally got to Coach, and I went across the street to Polo. It seems they had the only men’s room within blocks. Oops, look at that jacket. Oops, it fits perfectly. Oops, it cost $350. Wait there’s a sign that says sale. Be careful, Geoff.

Yes, it’s now hanging in the closet. I got it for $79.99…all by myself. I ran back across the street to grab Michael before she bought anything.

 

 

Traffic and Coach had taken up some time so we asked Jose, our driver, for another hour. It was a great tour. at the fort Michael saw two Iguanas. They were one on top of the other. That would not do for a photo, so she yelled at them and interrupted them.

img_2911.JPG

We saw Ocean Park, “where the rich people live”. Jose told us there was no crime in Ocean Park. Maybe because any thief would rip his pants on the barbed wire, be uncomfortable sitting atop the spiked walls, and then have to deal with the barred windows. The beaches were lovely.

 img_2928.JPG

We also took a look at the Four Seasons Hotel.

img_2923.JPG 

 And then went to the place known as a family outing on weekends.

 img_2925.JPG

It cost $14 entrance fee, and the minimum bet is $100. A $10,000 loss is uncommon, but happens. As you have beer, sodas and food, you’ll see 25 to 30 fights. I couldn’t help but wonder if they served chicken sandwiches. Jose’s brother owned a bunch of roosters and was a regular.

 

Michael and I have been to Puerto Rico a number of times, but this is the first time we’ve seen this much of the area. We all agreed it was a perfect day. If you are going to be in San Juan you can reach Jose in his van at 1 787 923 7335

 

The ship hosted a sail away party on deck with complimentary Margaritas. Then, on to dinner and caviar. I might be the only person in the modern world who piled both turkey and frog’s legs on the same plate.

img_2946.JPG 

By Crepe Suzette time, it was non fat yogurt for me.

 

Michael expected the “Suzettes” to be made at our table. But, no. insurance regulations now call for them to be made, not table to table, but in a separate area. The head waiter, our waiter, and his assistant all showed up, pulled out her chair, and escorted her to the bubbling liquid floating the crepes.img_2950.JPG

 

Next, at sea heading for Miami.

    

St. Kitts and Nevis

January 16, 2008

dsc00483.JPGYesterday at sea, the chefs put on an incredible buffet. The desserts alone were more than some could easily contemplate.dsc00484.JPG People were loading plates with the hope that they could lose weight just by carrying pounds of food from one room to another. For some reason, I’m uncomfortable at these kinds of happenings so I grabbed some sushi and headed up to the Lido.

 

We’ve become friends with Jeffrey, Jonathon, and Carmelo, three Phillipino servers, and whenever we come in the Lido, they get us a table on the outside deck, have ice tea ready for us, and take great care of us. No matter where we are, nor to what member of the crew we speak, the smiles are genuine, and the service is way beyond expectations.

 

We also found out that anyone who takes more than 100 cruises on Crystal gets their name on a Plaque. There are more than a few names.

 

We watched the returns from Michigan last night and it occurred to me that the ship ought to take its own political poll. Then they could put red and blue tablecloths and you could pick your political place setting.

 

Before dinner the Captain had a gathering in his quarters. It was weird to see the officers with their hands behind their backs greeting guests at the door. When I met the Captain, I stuck out my elbow. He smiled and we elbowed hello. I got a chance to talk with Paul McFarland who was the Cruise Director on The Royal Viking Sun when we hit that reef in the Gulf of Aqaba. He has a DVD of the singers on stage all knocked down by the impact.img_2883.JPG He told me I could borrow it. I hope that works out as it will be quite a sight.

 

Today we are docked at St. Kitts, a small volcanic island next to Nevis, a smaller island with a bigger volcano. The town of Basseterre, with about 20,000, img_2905.JPGhas one tourist shopping area, and beyond, the working part of town.

There are two ships here, ours and the Empress of The Seas.img_2899.JPG Empress was the ship we took some years ago,leading a group from Palm Springs to Alaska. Déjà vu vu.

 

St. Kitts was fought over and claimed by France, Spain, and ultimately ended up as a British Colony. It now is a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth and English is the official language. I don’t know what part of this upset the natives, but I gave smiles and got glares. Tourism is the primary industry, and apparently this freaks out those who aren’t selling jewelry or rum. Give us tourism, that’s cool; just don’t package people with it.

 

It was a complete reverse of native Arubans. Everyone there speaks English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento, and smiles in all four languages.

 

With two ships in town, the shopping area was mostly empty. img_2898.JPGMichael finally found the earrings she was searching for, and I picked up a man’s bracelet made of titanium. It is a thing of beauty to watch Michael do her bargaining. I am her helper.

 

The guy in the jewelry store said, “You might get the bracelet free.”

 

“Really,” I said.

 

“Yes, he said, “you just have to pay for the box.”

 

I made him bring out the box; cardboard and no cotton in it. I argued that it wasn’t worth more than a dollar. Rather than negotiate for the box, he got down to business on the bracelet. We ended at 40% off.

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 Michael and I double teamed for the earrings and made the deal for 60% off.

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 Watch out Nordstrom, here we come.

 

Sometimes, sad to say, there is no deal to be made.

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Tomorrow Puerto Vallarta.