Sibling Serenity Canal Day 7

May 25, 2012

We’re at sea today. It’s a lovely morning although I didn’t see much of it.  I didn’t ask Owen, I’m sure Prego means garlic in Itlaian. Most of my morning was spent sleeping. This is such a boring allergy.

Lunch again at Lido. Numerous staff takes good care of all. Coffee is brought to the table as is anything else one might want. Refills, clearing, all done with a smile. I get a particular kick there as many of the guys call me by name. Not Mr. Edwards, but Geoff. Our favorite is Roxanna. She seems to be everywhere we are, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Owen and a waiter from Serbia talk about motorcycles and those who race them. Alessandro has Ducati everything; shirts, leathers, etc. but no Ducati. His wife won’t let him ride a motorcycle. Maybe this is why:

The internet on Serenity is fast. On many ships, it is a tedious task getting connected and then transmitting. I know I’m getting repetitious, but this is Crystal. Even the deck lights react to light and dark and turn on automatically. Last evening the lights went on as the clouds closed in. Yo, wait a minute. The sun popped through a hole in the overcast as it set. Lights off.

Do you remember the woman whose napkin flew overboard? I saw her in the food line today and walked up to her. I handed her a duplicate napkin and told her the folks on Deck 2 asked me to return it to her. She stared at me longer than I liked, and then burst into laughter.

There is music everywhere on Serenity. Piano players,

the small Serenity group with singer,

and sometimes the show band and they do sound good. The string quartette, four ladies from Russia, plays every night and Owen loves classical music.





Is it really the music?





Tomorrow, the Panama Canal



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.

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

Serenity Sibling Canal DAY FOUR

May 22, 2012

This is our second sea day heading for Caldera. Owen and I have our routine pretty well in hand. We both go to bed at about the same time. He gets up at 6:30 and goes to the gym. I struggle awake at 8:30 and gulp down the coffee he brings. We then go to the Lido for breakfast. We sit outside on the stern deck.

If there is a breeze it is more breezy there than by the pool. We are keeping a tally of what has been blown away from our table to either a lower deck or all the way to sea. So far:

2 napkins

part of a salad

two bacon strips

A woman seating at the table next to us had her napkin sail away. I told her she was supposed to yell “napkin overboard” and point. My wife will hate to read this, but I am carrying a napkin everywhere I go hoping to give it to her and say it was recovered and the Captain sends his thanks. Stay tuned.

I was sleepy during the day. I’m sure it was the Asian food. Owen tells me that garlic lowers the blood pressure. Thus I may have, not an allergy, but a super sensitivity. Or maybe some vampiresh DNA.

As I have mentioned the food on Serenity is good, good, good. The Bistro serves snacks, all styles of coffee, no charge. Each night our butler brings a special appetizer. Tonight it’s a large dollop of caviar with all the accouterments plus wonderful pâté.

This makes both Owen and I weight conscious. I got on the electronic scale in the gym. Depending on the wave motion I weigh between 172 and 182. I guess I’ll won’t check again until we’re  firmly at a pier.

We were surprised at dinner when our table group said they were having mussels for a starter. They had asked the maître d’ for them at noon the day before. Indeed, a hot cauldron of just cooked mussels with enough for all arrived. They were exceptionally good. Apparently, just about anything you want you can get. After all, this is Crystal.

My main course was Dover Sole. The most perfectly prepared I have had in any restaurant ever.

Tonight’s show showcases seldom heard Broadway songs. It’s Standing Room Only. Hard to believe I am actually looking forward to seeing a cruise ship show. I do wish one of these shows could be videoed for YouTube.

Again, the best I’ve seen on or off Broadway. John Ellis is peerless.

The choreography is intricate at times, but makes total sense.

This was the after dinner show, and those of us whose full tummies could squeeze out of their seats stood and bravo’s rang out.

No more going to the gym to weigh myself. Owen found a scale tucked away in our bathroom. He works out every morning, walks a mile every day, and has gained a few pounds. Just a few. I’ve lost a pound. Owen attributes my weight loss to aging. Whatever.

Tomorrow, third day at sea.

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… naps. But I’m not alone in this.

DAY TWO Crystal Serenity Canal

May 18, 2012

As we approached Cabo San Lucas, Owen and I stood on the upper deck. No matter how many times I approach from the North, I marvel at the beautiful white sand beaches. Some now are getting settled with homes.

Even though the water on the Pacific side is dangerous, (riptides, hi surf), it looks like a wonderful place to spend time. (Later in the cruise, I met a couple who actually lived there. They moved from Alaska.)

As we came into the bay, the security patrol was very evident.

This is the first time I have seen this in Cabo. I think that there is a tremendous effort to give cruise companies a sense of security in this part of Mexico. There are some ships that will only go to Cabo. Serenity is one. We’ll skip Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, with our next stop being in Costa Rica.

A couple of weeks ago, I promised Alejandro, a waiter at Señor Frogs, a bottle of the new Tabasco Habanero sauce. It’s not just HOT, it’s flavorful. We tested it against the regular Tabasco on chips.

I convinced Alejandro to match me and put more than just a few drops on a chip. Three or four bites and he ran for a beer.

I slurped most of my Diet Coke. My mouth burned for most of the rest of our walk into town.

We saw this yacht on our way. I wanted to go over to it and find out who’s it was and what they were doing in Cabo. Why do people with that much dinero come to Cabo? Then I thought about the many reasons someone with that kind of money might be in Mexico at all. I decided it was none of my business.

Owen and I went into Diamonds International where a few years ago I had purchased a lost wedding ring replacement. They negotiated and the final price was about 2/3s asking. As we browsed, I saw a case of Philip Stein watches. These watches are different styles, but each has an opening in the back that is supposed to emit something that makes one feel better, sleep better, be less tense. I want to try this, but really don’t come close to needing another watch. The lowest priced watch was $250. It was a nice watch and I offered $150. The manager came over and she gave me ten percent off. Now we were talking $225. I countered with $190. She said no and would not budge from $225. She then told me she had weekly headaches. She got a Philip Stein watch and the headaches went away. She then took it off and the headaches came back. This, she said, proved to her that the watch was worth every penny of $225. After all, she said, it’s only $35 we’re talking about. But wait, she was not wearing a watch of any brand. I started to get a headache. We left.

On the tender back to Serenity, we ran into Kathleen, who we had met the night before in the “leaving the theater line”.

She is in remission from stage 4 cancer. Two tumors in her throat put her in the hospital with a feeding tube for a year. With all that, she is lovely and smiling all the time. Remission being not a synonym for cure, she brought her daughter, and two grandchildren along. They were with her on the tender.

One of the women at our table is in a wheelchair and her husband has to help lift the water glass. And yet she is laughing at me and Owen, and very upbeat in conversation. I’m not sure what lesson to derive from them, but maybe it’s to understand life with loved ones is worth more than many of us may fully appreciate.

We ate at Tastes, casual dining by the Neptune pool. Good simple food and great service. The drink steward lives in Miami, but is from Brazil and we had a ball with him. Owen had a salmon dish and I had Pizza. Our guy took a photo of us, in his words showing an elite Owen, and a real man……

We passed on show time (not a production) read and then slept.


Sibling Serenity Canal

May 17, 2012

My brother says that I have a mad Magellanic need to circumnavigate the world. He is right and I’ve done that twice. Well close to twice, except for that reef off Egypt. “Going All The Way”, an EBook tells that story.

I have been cruising for many years and have been through the Panama Canal more times than I can remember. I write about those trips.

He is a former editor of Cosmopolitan, Parents, and a contributor to American Photographer, Smithsonian Magazine, and countless other publications. He is the author of several books, and a truly top writer. But, he has yet to set foot on a cruise ship, and the Canal is, in his mind, but a ditch. It’s time to make that right.

We are going together from Los Angeles to New York City on Crystal Cruises newly refurbished Serenity.

We’ll travel together for 17 days in a lovely cabin with a balcony. It’s dubbed a Penthouse Suite. This is, in cruise parlance, a luxury ship.

Truthfully, although we are good friends, we have never spent that long a time together. Certainly, not in “confined” quarters.

Herewith an inside look:

We boarded Crystal Serenity using Crystal’s entirely new boarding procedure. Upon entering the boarding area, hand luggage goes through the scanner and then it’s off to the ship. Once aboard, all the rest is taken care of; seapass, ID photo, and you are set. Quick, easy, and so superior to the mass mess that many other ship lines have to offer.

We have a cabin on Penthouse Deck. Serenity has just recently been through a $25,000,000 rejuvenation, and our cabin reflects money well spent.

A lovely update; not flashy; not overstated, but just warmly lovely. The entire ship is reminiscent of being in a classic French mansion. At least I think it is. I’ve never really been in one.

But as beautiful as Serenity is, the typical cruise problems still pop up. For instance on one page, Reflections, the ship’s daily news of events, etc., says that one needs a reservation for Nobu’s Sushi Bar. On another page it says “first come first served”. And we were set for a table for six at 6:30, the first dining seating. The time 6:30 is on the Crystal website. We were presented with a table for two at the second seating. No real problem, we went to the dining office and got changed to a table for six at 6:00. At last after all these years of cruising I am now accepting that all things may not be as preplanned. I now sleep better.

Last night was the welcome aboard show. I never attend this show on cruise ships…..mostly they are kind of boring. “Hi, are you all having fun???” And on from there.

Last night was different. It was wonderful. As you walked into the theater, there was a female dancer on stage stretching, another looking at a notebook. This went on until actual showtime. At that point, a couple of guys with backpacks came from the audience. Then another, and then it turned into “A Chorus Line”. Amazing dancers and singers. Really amazing. Then the Cruise Director took over.

Our cruise director is Gary Hunter. He is one of the best ventriloquists alive. I met Gary years (and years) ago and we became acquaintances. He has gone from performer on cruise ships to a Cruise Director for Crystal. Of course both of us have grown a bit older. His hair is completely white, but he can still read a book without moving his lips.

After his very energetic talk about the ship and activities, the chorus did a piece from Grand Hotel. Again, top Broadway fare. When the lights went up, the live band played Sing, Sing, Sing, a Benny Goodman piece that featured, at one time, Gene Krupa. It was the first drum solo I learned when I started playing. The drummer in this band was one of the best I’ve heard. I hated him.

Owen and I headed off to the cabin. He read a book in Italian…..I put in my earplugs, put on my eye cover, and off to sleep.

Day One Crystal Serenity Canal

We are at sea and heading for Cabo San Lucas. It is grey and a bit gloomy but I promised Owen that we’d get sun by 2 PM.

We are seven years apart which at younger ages is a big gap. When I was 17 and driving my car in my junior year in High School, he was 10 and we had little in common. We are much closer these days, but are still not the same model.

Both of us head to bed around ten or so at night. I put on the eye-shade and ear plugs. He puts on his cabin reading light (which could illuminate a dark street), and starts to read. Usually he is asleep before me, comfortable in the knowledge that a book is on his lap should he need it. No problem, of course, finding it, the light is still on. Sometime in the night he wakes and extinguishes the light and then himself.

In the morning he wakes at six and goes to the gym, then for a walk and then coffee. I wake at 8:30, sip the coffee he brings to the cabin, and then we both go to breakfast at the Lido. I have no plans to see the gym on this cruise.

We spent our first day checking out Serenity, getting our internet set, and our credit cards registered. At guest services, there is no line marked out by cloth strips. You go there and somehow you’re next. Very nice people behind the counter.

Tonight was formal; we were in dark suits. We headed to table 92 to have dinner and meet our table mates. It was the Captain’s Gala Welcome Aboard Dinner. I had checked out #92 earlier in the day and went right to it. Hmmm, it said #81. Ninety two was against a wall and empty. We sat and then a dining elf told us that this had been #92 at lunch, and our table was actually closer to the lovely view. It was also empty. Our table mates were still at the Captain’s Formal Reception.

Soon they appeared. Two very nice couples; one from Florida and one from Seattle.

They are World Cruisers who have extended through NYC to Iceland, Greenland, and then the Mediterranean. It is so interesting to see how the conversation goes back and forth. They were fascinated by Owen’s Gentleman’s Quarterly writings and experiences. There is a professor on board who lectures on Alfred Hitchcock and he is a favorite of the couples. Owen used to work for George Lucas and has some inside stuff on Hitchcock. Believe me when I tell you they really paid attention to his musings. No one seemed particularly interested in the fact that I played tennis with Clint Eastwood.

Our waiters are excellent. Antoneo from Goa is taking care of my garlic allergy. After I ordered stuffed baby quail, he nodded affirmatively. After a bit, he came back; the chef had told him there was a bit of garlic in the stuffing. I had a very tasty Halibut. On other ships I have asked to avoid garlic, but this the first time it’s really been paid attention to. And, then surprise, surprise, the man on my left also had the same allergy.

Showtime again. Tonight it was Movie Music.

GREAT!! The talent is unbelievably good. All the dancers sing as is usual, however the best dancer didn’t seem to be that into vocalizing. You know how singers in a chorus open their mouths fairly wide to get the best sound. Well this guy didn’t open his mouth very wide and sometimes didn’t seem to try. I found out why. He was born and raised in Siberia. He was a leading dancer in the Academic State Ensemble of the Red Army, then joined the Academic State Folk Dance Company, then got into jazz and hip-hop choreography.

OK, so now here he is and he’s learning English, and trying hard to replace Boris with Dolly when he sings “hello”.

Tara Khaler and John Ellis, the lead singers, are simply the best I’ve seen and heard. Brett Bullock, Crystal’s executive Producer has outdone himself. He has no equal in the cruise entertainment business.

Time for bed and guess what, I miss my wife Michael. Of course because I love her, I miss her, but I can’t find my eye shade. She can always find everything.

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.


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!



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,


$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.


November 20, 2011

Ahhh, the Prime Steakhouse. How do you want your meat cooked? The chefs are exact.

You say rare, and they do it rare.

The atmosphere is quite intimate, but the lighting is not photogenic.

I started with ahi tartare, then Lamb Chops, and THEN chocolate.

A morning pull of the drapes and we are in Cozumel.

Seven ships are in port today, and those only the ones I can see.

Figure from 15 to 20 thousand passengers hitting the shops. For most wants, the pier stores will provide. If you go into town, the merchants will be more persuasive and may get on your nerves. Most tourists think with the amount of people buying, negotiating will be a wasted effort. Not so. Remember, at the moment you are the customer; the merchant wants an on the spot sale like now. Bargain!

I have no idea how many VW taxis are in Cozumel, there must be hundreds, but this is must more fun.

On Magic, inspection is an every day duty.

By the way, talking about inspection this ship got 100% perfect before we sailed.

Not all left the ship for town. The splash area still dumped water on one and all.

There is a lookout stationed at the bottom of the slides. He radios when the slider splashes down to let the top sentry know the next can get in the tube.

Deck service is prompt

and the Carnival marketing team has come up with a unique drink container.

Some caught up on the news and weather on the big screen which features movies at night.

One thing I’ve noticed is a number of people paste or hang things on their cabin door. It’s kind of fun to see what’s along the hall,

never the less, I wonder if it’s not so much a want for decoration, but a way of locating where they live.

I’ve tried hard to find something to whine about on Magic. It’s the sovereign duty of a travel writer to tell about the bad as well as the good. I finally did.

At the beginning of each cruise, Carnival provides tooth paste, body wash, deodorant, etc. all are samples of retail products. On Magic there are about 8 or 9 different items. Included is a small plastic envelope of Q-tips; not a retail sample. They are not full size and “Q” is probably too far along in the alphabet to properly describe them.

When they were used up, I asked my room steward Ovi for a replacement envelope.

“I can’t give them to you. You have to buy them at the store.”

OK, I tried that and couldn’t find any Q-Tips.

As we docked in Cozumel, I asked Ovi again, making it clear, that I really wanted them and he should get them for me.

“You get them first day and no more.” Ovi emphasized.

I went off a bit and doubted that Carnival was so frugal that they couldn’t part with another envelope of 6 mini-tips.

Ovi, scowling, pulled out his phone.

“I’ll have to make a call.”

When I returned to my cleaned cabin there was a tray of goods,

but no Q-tips.

Oh no, here I had been overly stern with Ovi, and it was a miscommunication. I found him, apologized profusely, and explained to him what I meant. I gestured showing cotton at two ends connected by a skinny thingy.

“Yes”, Ovi said, “Q-tips. They won’t let me have any.”

OK, I mean, with the amount Carnival buys, those must cost a few pennies. But factor this in. A Margarita on the rocks costs $10.06. But, of course, that includes salt.

Finally I got a chance to get to the Punchliner comedy club. It was the early show, open to all, including children. Out came John Wesley Austin and blew me away.

Charming, funny, kids and parents and me laughing. Except for the woman next to me. Not even a smile. She probably thought it was supposed to be the art auction.

The Carnival Magic is an amazing ship. Next is the Destiny, amazing plus. When you compare cruise prices, and what you get for your money, there is an easy choice. Carnival Magic.

Tomorrow we dock in Galveston. At 7 AM the ship starts to empty. By 10 AM all will be heading home, except for one. He’s gong to keep cruising, no matter how long it takes, until he hits the Jackpot.

Magic Happened

November 18, 2011

My colleagues know that I am not a ship show enthusiast, but last night’s poles apart performance is better than any show I’ve seen on any ship. It’s called “Illusions”. The photo above is moments after a puff of smoke and an entire helicopter appeared. The old “saw the woman in half” was kind of basic, but then the bottom half of the woman walked around the stage. Nothing I write will begin to illuminate the magic of what happened on that stage last night.

A hint; the doors to the theater open at 10 PM. To get a good seat be at the door at 9:45. There will be a short line. The doors open, and in you go for that good seat, but, what to do for the half hour until Showtime. If you have an eReader, take it with you to pass the time. It works.

Not an illusion in any sense, but strangely mesmerizing to me is what I call the tub dump. The yellow tub fills and then about every minute it dumps!

I love the whole idea of this, and it just keeps on keepin’ on.

The whole water area is a kid’s haven. Carnival for years has had a wonderful children’s program but this takes the top award.

Amazingly, kids who hate to take a bath at home can’t be dragged away.

Adults have the spa.

Never mind a Jacuzzi, the effervescent pool works just fine, thank you.

Ok, children are all around, music playing, people dancing, water splashing, so where to hide? Look for this sign.

This may be the coolest warm spot on the ship.

Just think while you are unwinding, others are working hard to generate the power

for the bubbles in the tub.

Want water and some company. Dangle your feet.

Or stand in a pool.

Or if you really want to get soaked.

Also there’s Texas hold em, and then there’s Texas touch them

As you may guess, a ride down the big slide may well leave you dizzy and not sure which way to go. No hay problemo…just read.

Last night I had dinner in Cucina del Capitano.

This is a lovely restaurant with some great Italian food, plus some of “Grandma’s Recipes”. Our server was from Romania and smiled as she eased me through avoiding garlic. (weird allergy). I would pick what I wanted and she’d go to the chef and check. She then would come back with suggestions. Back to the chef. Suggestions narrowing down. Hooray for salmon and buttered pasta.

The Italian wine was in lovely bottles,

but poured from a barrel.

I think it’s important to have a fair amount of wine so you’ll be prepared when the staff sings and dances to “That’s Amore”.

But no pictures please.

We now leave Progreso for Cozumel. The question on many passengers minds is did the thruster that pushes us away from the dock get fixed. We report, you decide.

Night, night.