Archive for the ‘Cruising in General’ Category

Sibling Serenity Canal Day 15

June 8, 2012

Charleston

This is a truly historic city. It was taken by the British in the Revolutionary War. In the Civil War, Union forces repeatedly bombarded the city, causing vast damage

In 1865, Union troops moved into the city, and took control of many sites, including the United States Arsenal, which the Confederate Army had seized at the outbreak of the war. The War Department also confiscated the grounds and buildings of the Citadel Military Academy, and used this as a federal garrison for over seventeen years. But that wasn’t enough,

On August 31, 1886, Charleston was again nearly destroyed by an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. It was felt as far away as Boston to the north, Chicago and Milwaukee to the northwest, as far west as New Orleans, as far south as Cuba, and as far east as Bermuda. It severely damaged 2,000 buildings.

Today all is well. Historic buildings have been restored,

the economy is good, and tourists love the old section of town. One of the best ways to see it is on a wagon with guide.

Actually I think driving, at least for me, would be a problem…I’d be sitting at this cross street for a long time figuring out which green was mine.

Owen and I walked and were amazed as we saw the different burial sites; history below ground as well as above.

We checked out restaurant row as I had an appetite for Southern food. My days at Duke University in North Carolina came sneaking back. Oh, for some liver pudding.

OK, so we passed some upscale restaurants

which brought to mind this question. Why did we eat here?

The outside was not inviting and the inside was not much better, but whee hah, the food was great. I had “She Crab Blue Crab Roe with Sherry” soup followed with a stack of Fried Green Tomatoes.

And dessert:

After lunch, I learned a lesson. Always carry an extra charged battery for your camera. Mine went dead and for me the rest of Charleston will be in my memory, not that that’s fully charged these days.

We sailed for New York.

We’ll both miss Serenity. I’ll miss the lights in our cabin dimming as they are turned off. I’ll miss the crew, the production shows, and of course the best cruise director in the business, Gary Hunter.

Owen will miss, well

Disembarking was beautifully handled. Each guest received colored luggage tags to match airline departure. Mine was Pink 2. (Not there is anything wrong with that.) It was called and off the ship I went. I walked the pier passageway to an elevator where a man said, “Pink 2?” At my nod he said “Follow me.” He took me to the bus, got on and traveled with our Pink 2 group. At the airport he got attendants to help those who had trouble managing their luggage. This was still Crystal!!

The only problem I had was going through security at JFK. Since luggage is taken from the rooms in the evening, one must lay out the next day’s wardrobe. On travel day, I realized that the top button on my pants was missing. Not to worry, my belt would be tight enough to hold the pants up. At security, the TSA woman told me to take off my belt. I explained it is a frequent flyer belt with no metal.

“This system needs all belts off!” she said, pointing to one of those full body scanners.

Off came the belt. I got in the cubicle and she told me to raise my hands high in the air. No belt…no button… If I had been an underwear bomber, it would have been quite obvious. Not Crystal anymore.

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Sibling Serenity Canal Day 12

June 5, 2012

We are at sea heading to Fort Lauderdale. Not much to report. It’s a quiet day, but not for the chefs. Today the buffet was a major presentation in the Crystal Court. Like a lot of food!

I actually ate by the Neptune Pool and had a Funky Monkey. This is an alcoholic drink with 5 different bumps of booze (several I didn’t recognize). It’s served frozen and was good but probably dangerous to have two.

We ate at our assigned table for dinner. We had nice conversation back and forth; no politics. One couple is leaving in Ft. Lauderdale. He is retired from Nabisco. I asked him if that meant he tossed his cookies?

I had a Martini with dinner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when Serenity leaves NY it will be all inclusive. In other words booze will be included with no extra charge. Good thing. The Martini cost $10 plus 15% tip.

Under the heading “it’s a small world” or “some kind of separation degrees”, our Cruise Director, Gary Hunter, was eating at a table for two across from us. I went over to say hello. About five minutes later the other guy at his table came over and said I think you did an Infomercial with my mother in Florida. I did, about twenty years ago. The cool thing is he recognized me. After 20 years, I hardly recognize me.

The movie was Money Ball. Owen saw it and thought as I did, that it was a tour de force for, not only Brad Pitt, but each actor in every scene. We arrive in Lauderdale early morning tomorrow.

Sibling Serenity Canal Day 10

June 1, 2012

We are at sea for Grand Cayman. Weather is lovely. Some clouds and at last away from the 90 degree heat.

The pool area is active and the Neptune pool area is filled.

The food there seems to attract more than the Lido buffet. This buffet is the one area that could use some help. Everything else on Serenity is at the top of the cruise game, but comparing the buffet’s offerings with other cruise ships, this doesn’t measure up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I forgot to mention is the bed pillows. Mine are plumped with feathers and down; soft yet supporting. I’ll have to find out where they can be bought. Not quite satisfied with that, try the Side Sleeper if you sleep on your side, or the Back Sleeper if you sleep on your back, or the Stomach Pillow if you sleep on your stomach, or the Body Pillow, if, I suppose, you are missing someone.

Each night our butler brings us appetizers. He lets us choose from what is offered in his area of deck 11. We’ve had wonderful ice cream scoops of caviar the last three nights.

Tonight it is lobster and shrimp.

The service on the Lido and everywhere else is beyond expectations. Bartenders pour a hefty drink, tables on Lido are bussed quickly and coffee, tea, whatever is brought to you. Refills come faster than you can empty your glass. This is Crystal!

Owen and I were excited to see the next production show scheduled for 8:30 PM. We had reservations at 7:30 in Prego, which we changed to 7. We wanted to get front row seats and people with the same idea start to line up before the doors open at 8.

Our order was taken quickly, but somehow it was 8:40 before I was finished with an incredible lemon-cello soufflé. Well, OK so no show, but the movie Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was in the theater. It had started, but we grabbed two seats anyway. I sat through one of the dumbest scenes I’ve ever experienced. I left. Owen boogied about 10 minutes later.

To the cabin to read to sleep.

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.

Sibling Serenity Canal Day Five

May 23, 2012

Our last day at sea before Caldera is pretty uneventful; lovely weather, smooth sea, and no pressure to do anything. Well, maybe some slight pressure to do laundry. The washers and dryers are just down the hall, i mean passageway, from us. There are six washers and six dryers. The washing machines add detergent with the press of a button. What button? Simple, right next to a sign is a small silver button. Not so simple, the sign says press silver button under the timer. The timer is on the top of the machine, the button on the bottom. O.K. it’s under the timer, but way under. Why, oh why, not just have the sign say “push this button”?

Vetala, our stewardess not only changes the sheets (not that they need it, you understand) every day, she also washes the glass to the balcony. How she keeps that cheery smile hour after hour is beyond me, but then this is Crystal.

Over the years I’ve learned not to argue with dinner companions, but I’m getting tested. I mentioned that Crystal Symphony is going for some sprucing up in June.

“No, it’s not! It just had that done”, both guys said at the same time.”

I smiled and said, “Oh.”

I mentioned that we met a travel agent who saw a video on TV about the Canal widening. She told us that work will cease in four days as that will be the beginning of the rainy season. Having been through the Canal about a week ago, i could see that rain would cause rivers of mud at the different construction sites.

Guy one said “Yes the rainy season started in January and is almost over.”

I smiled and said, “Oh.”

Actually, I am not sure who to believe. Talking with her further, I found out she is with a high end travel agency in San Diego. I mentioned something about the cruise business and she said I can’t talk about it.

“We are a luxury only cruise agency and know things we are not allowed to discuss with anyone.”

I smiled and said, “Oh.”

The Neptune Pool area had another special lunch today. I found my perfect meal. As many raw shrimp as I could get on a plate, and several different meringue desserts.

Most tables are taken quickly when these special luncheons are served, but Owen and I went to the rear Lido Deck. We only lost two pieces of lettuce to the wind today. There are a couple of birds circling the ship. They’ve been with us for two days. Now I know why.At breakfast there are two stations that do eggs and omelets. I go to the same one each morning. He does my “over easy” perfectly. As he is from Manila, I asked him how he was in Tagalog, Philippine’s national language.

He said, “Huh?”

I asked again and he still was puzzled. I then pointed to him and said, “Philippine”. Next I pointed to my mouth and said, “Tagalog”.

Once again I “how are you’ed” in Tagalog. He laughed and came back in Tagalog. English has just about become the native language of staff from the Philippines.

We were by ourselves at dinner. The group of four was dining in one of the other restaurants. Maybe they are tired of me and Owen. Two people at an adjoining table said they’d been watching us and would we like to join them for the rest of the cruise. I mean they are two feet away. What would we tell our table group?

“Oh, we are sorry, but we needed to sit a couple of feet closer to the window.”

Tomorrow Costa Rica

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

Carnival Splendor Sails Again

February 27, 2011

It was unexpected, and as it turns out, unprecedented. One of Splendor’s diesel generators caught fire and within seconds the heat melted the above wiring thought safe, behind heavy insulation. All electrical power . . .  gone. Ship motionless. 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members without air conditioning, hot food. A diesel generator catching fire was the last thing any sailor would expect.

A special committee has been formed to try to find out how something like this could happen, and how to make sure it never happens again. The committee has air conditioning.

Major repairs were done in SFO. Parts had to be manufactured. A 218,000 lb. generator, two 106,000 alternators, came by plane. Added to that, believe it or not, 110 MILES of electrical cable was installed. More than enough to get a green car to your job and back.

Workers were at it 24 hours a day for three months, trying to get Splendor back in service.

Well, she’s back. Splendor sails roundtrip to the Mexican Riviera visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. Oops, for the moment let’s make that two days in Cabo and none in Mazatlan. Just after Splendor left for the Riviera, a shooting occurred in the Gold Zone shopping district.

Although no tourist was involved, the Gold Zone is a magnet for tourists. Great beaches, first-class hotels, good restaurants, and everyone speaks English. Jewelry shops are omnipresent. I had a lovely ring made there, but have second thoughts about going again. Nevertheless, the spectacular bargains in silver have my wife thinking about getting  a flack vest for our next trip.

Will Carnival decide to visit Mazatlan again? No se.

But visit or not there is nothing like a Carnival ship.

Splendor is aptly named.

Prior to her sailing, I had a dinner in one of her “standard” restaurants. Raves from the table. For most it was the best pasta carbonarra ever ingested. I had roast duck breast . . . unsurpassed. And the soup on any Carnival ship gets a top slurp award. Not to mention the hot lava chocolate fudge cake!

Even if Splendor just roamed around at sea, you would be getting the best value afloat. Just think how much you’ll save so you’ll be able to frolic at Senor Frogs.

Crystal Symphony 2010 Puerto Vallarta

January 7, 2011

For years Puerto Vallarta was a sleepy little village, and grew at an easy pace. Then John Huston showed up with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The growth then reminded me of the way I like eggs; over easy. Now it reminds me of Miami.

Condos are popping up fertilized by Taylor and Burton, who, while they are no longer here, started it all. One of my favorite stories about the two stars is about the home they had (now a simple museum) on one side of the street and the home on the other side which was mostly converted into pool. Burton put up a high wall to keep prying paparazzi at bay. BUT, they had to cross the street to get that swim. Cameras ready 24 hours a day, the Canon creeps kept clicking away. What to do??

Mildly inebriated, but with tons of pesos, Richard built a bridge over the street. Now, no photos unless from a helicopter.

It’s a treat to look out at the lovely and gracefully ageing city.

Oops, wrong side of the ship.

Oops that side doesn’t work either.

And more going up…manana.

The only place now left with a fading shadow of the way “lo estaba”, is old town in the northern section. It’s worth the cab ride.

We are now heading back to Los Angeles

with monster storms awaiting us. Those who now join Symphony for her 14 day roundtrip to Hawaii can put their umbrellas away.

Ahead of Christmas Eve, I have to plug up my chimney. Afraid of rain? Nope, it’s so this dude doesn’t slide down.

Crystal Symphony 2010 Topolobampo

January 5, 2011

We are in Topolobampo. The reason we made this inaugural stop is to so those who want to transit the Copper Canyon by train can put another notch in their “I’ve been everywhere” belt. It’s almost an 18 hour trip. A 4 hour round trip bus transfer added to an 11 hour round trip train ride with a buffet lunch at the top and dinner on the train heading home. I hope it doesn’t rain.

To me, more fascinating than Copper Canyon, are the indigenous Tarahumara, some of whom still live in the canyon in caves, beneath rock outcroppings on cliffs, or in unpretentious cabins. These settlements are separated by harsh terrain. Today there are cell phones and texting, but before these tech goodies the only way villages could communicate was by messenger.

The Taramumara could literally run for days and I’m told it wasn’t unusual for one of these dudes to run 435 miles in one go. I find that hard to believe, but I understand that the way Tarahumara would hunt their prey was to chase them until their quarry quit, exhausted. Think how green it would be to hire them to deliver pizza. By the way, the rumor that their food staple was snails is yet to be confirmed.

Off in the distance was a town, maybe Topo, maybe not,

but I stayed on the ship to assess some of the refurbs on Symphony.

After 40 days of dry dock in Boston, a new Symphony surfaced. The Neptune pool disappeared and a lovely and comfortable lounging deck took its place. The Jacuzzis were melded into one big one.

That’s not me. I got in later, but didn’t know how to make it bubble. (The controls are in the end of the rectangle.) Be aware it is hot.

I love the couches

and 180 degree chairs.

Two women were in the Chair next to me and a bee that had been buzzing around my Joop shaving cologne decided their suntan oil was a better bet. I have never seen two bathing suited adults jump, and squeal, and leap, and duck, and hand flap with such abandon during their seat to pool scurry.

The Lido

has been pushed out and some of the outdoor space was taken. The tables left are set to accommodate four.

I have adopted a “please sir” face as I carry my plate and slowly walk amongst the twos. More often than not I’m invited to sit and join them. I’ve met some nice people.

My cabin is on Penthouse Deck 10. All penthouse cabins have been beautifully redone; change of layout, carpet, bathroom, etc.

Mine is kept perfectly by Jessica from Chile.

My dining room steward is Jose; wine steward Ana.

They make this a fun table and ease the boredom of eating alone.

In the evening, Nick Lewin, a wonderful sleight of hand magician and maybe the only magician funny enough to make the hoary three ropes into one entertaining,

gave us a peek into the mind of a magician. As his time on stage came close to ending, he checked his watch to see how much longer he had to go. With a HUGE effort I swallowed the urge to yell, *That’s my watch.” You see he had disappeared someone’s watch when he did his major show. Oh well.

Tomorrow Loreto and another production show, “The Envelope Please”.

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