Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Key to happiness is Florida weather, minus the hurricanes

Hopped onto a little train for the land portion of our Key West tour. SO awesome. Key West is just like I thought it would be and nothing like I thought it would be. So quaint and old fashioned, but at the same time buzzing with tourists. We learned a ton about Key West that we would have never discovered on our own.

After the land tour we had a little time to explore before the "sea" portion of the tour, so we wandered around and happened across a tiny shop called The Spice and Tea Exchange; the same shop we had originally discovered at Walt Disney World a few years ago and we had ordered from online many times; they have some spectacular stuff! What a bonus to find them here, we bought everything I was going to order anyway and saved on all the shipping fees. What a pleasant happenstance!

After a little wandering we hopped on our glass bottomed boat which took us out to a coral reef in the Atlantic Ocean; the third largest reef in the world, in fact, behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and one in one of our earlier destinations on the trip, Belize. It was a 45 minute boat ride to the reef and we loved every second of it, enjoying the sun and the breeze off the ocean. Oh, fun fact: in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, over 125 miles from Miami, I have perfect cell phone reception. Five bars. I can't get that sitting on my couch.

Our cruise ship in the background as we sit on top of the glass bottom boat ready to head out to the reef.

Once we got to the reef we all went down to the bottom level to view the fish, coral and other life forms that make up the reef. It was nice but not that spectacular as we didn't get to see too many different species of fish. Still, it was a beautiful day and we LOVED Key West; so much so that our next Florida trip is going to include a few days there. Time to make an addendum to the 2016 itinerary!!!!!

After the boat ride it was time to head back to the cruise ship for another buffet lunch and a little more RnR time on our last day. The level of customer service on this ship has been off the charts, from every waiter to the washy-washy people. I should probably explain that; every time we boarded the ship or went to a restaurant or most of the other areas of the ship, someone was there to spray our hands with antibacterial soap, always while saying "washy-washy, happy happy!". Some of the advanced staff members even threw "smiley smiley" on the end just to shake things up. As cheesy as that sounds, it's great that they take such care to cut down on the spread of germs.

Here is a good example of the great service we've received: Our waiter from the Summer Palace, where we had dinner a couple days ago, gave us terrific service while we were at the restaurant but it didn't stop there. The next day, in the buffet, he saw us and not only remembered my name, he remembered the wine we had at dinner the night before and commented on the fact that we were drinking a different wine for this meal. That's not all; he also was at the buffet today for our last lunch and still remembered our wine choices, and he also remembered that I had a Diet Coke at dinner a few days ago, and I had requested a cup with ice since my pop wasn't that cold; at lunch today I was drinking another one, and, without being asked, he went and brought me an empty glass filled with ice! That's some serious customer service; with thousands of guests on the ship, it's almost inconceivable that he could remember so much about me after just one dinner.

EVERYONE on the ship was incredibly friendly; it was impossible to walk 40 feet without a staff member saying "hello" or wishing us a good day. I can count the number of grumpy staff members on one hand and have a few fingers left over; and considering that one of their co-workers was murdered on an excursion less than a week earlier, I would have happily given them a pass on a bit of grumpiness.

After lunch we went back to the pool to relax a bit and get a bit more sun; most of our sunburns had healed to the point that it was OK spending a bit more time outdoors. When we got back to our room, we were delighted to see another plate of chocolate covered strawberries, sent to us by the "sous chef" according to the card. Don't know who that was, but don't care; they were a perfect way to end a pretty great vacation. We picked up another bottle of the Isabel Mondavi 2010 Pinot Noir to enjoy in our room while we packed and prepared to leave the ship the following morning.

Not too shabby.

Friday, April 18th

Up early to finish packing and hit the buffet for our final meal of the trip before disembarkation. Tracey told me that by the end of the cruise, she would definitely know where everything on the ship was. Well, she was only able to find ONE thing on a regular basis; the buffet. No judgement.

We have a reservation for a rental car around 9:30 so we have a bit of time before we have to get off the ship. We were told it could take some time to pass through final customs. Turns out it took about 2 minutes and we were off to the taxi stand to go to the rental car place.

Only problem was the address of the rental car place was actually a Marriott hotel that happened to have a Hertz kiosk in it; and the kiosk wasn't working. So back into another cab to go to the nearest Hertz outlet with actual human beings in it to get our car. After a short wait, we get our car and due to our inconvenience, they discounted our price by the amount of the second cab ride, and also gave us a courtesy upgrade.... to a Kia. An upgrade, to a KIA?? I wonder what they were originally going to give us; a 1978 Mercury Bobcat??

I kid, I kid, I know Kia has improved, and it was a half decent car. It had a reasonable amount of kick and certainly got us from A to B with no problems. Certainly didn't enjoy going around corners much but no huge deal. We originally pre-paid for the fuel as well, which was a dumbass thing to do for a one-day rental, but they ended up only charging us for what we actually used which was nice of them as they were not required to do that. That's what some companies don't get about customer service; with a couple little gestures, Hertz turned a negative experience into a positive one, to the point where I will specifically try to rent from Hertz in the future. They have bought a customer.

We had hours to kill before our flight so we headed to an Outlet Mall not too far from the Fort Lauderdale airport and did a little shopping before having lunch at PF Chang's. I ordered a glass of Tempranillo:

I wasn't familiar with this bottle but it was terrific; it also was a perfect bottle to further indicate the importance of food and wine pairing. Before I ate, this wine was fabulous. My lunch same with hot and sour soup, and after having a bit of soup, the wine was awful. The natural spiciness of the wine was dwarfed by the spiciness of the soup; it made the wine bitter. So I just waited to drink the rest of the wine after I was done the soup. Fabulous again.

On the opposite end of the customer service spectrum, Alaska Airlines......this is the first negative thing I have ever said about them, as we always love flying with them. One major fail this time though, we got to FLL quite early, and there wasn't even anyone there to take our bags. They didn't open their desk until 4 PM, only 2 hours before the flight took off; if you've ever been to FLL, there is NOTHING to do but sit and wait in rather uncomfortable chairs before going through security, so we had no choice but to wait a couple hours until they would take our bags. Unreal.

That was the last issue we had though, as the flight left early, was uneventful and pleasant, and arrived a half hour early too. They get a pass on this one thing, but I will be mentioning this to them. I realize that Florida is about as far away from Alaska as possible and our flight was the only one leaving FLL on Alaska all day, but they should still have someone there to take bags earlier than that. There were a TON of upset people.

After landing we stopped at Safeway to get some gas and pick up a few cases of pop that I like that we can't get in Canada. If you shop there, you know that Canada Safeway has discontinued their Club Card program, but US Safeway has not, so I needed my card (which I had already thrown away). After mentioning this to the cashier, he just used a phone number to get me the price discount on the pop. Why am I mentioning this seemingly unimportant detail? He was a fan of 80's music. The phone number he used was 867-5309.

He said he didn't know who's phone number that was, but it was the number he always used in similar circumstances, so if someone really has that number, they have an awful lot of gas loyalty points!!!

We found a very friendly guard at Canada Customs who got us through in just a few seconds and that was it; we arrive home around 2 AM this morning. So, what was my impression of my first cruise?

Mostly positive. Just about everything was positive in fact, except for a few details:

1. The ship moved more than I would have liked; I was told from some regular cruisers that our ship barely moved at all, and I would get used to it. I'll buy that.

2. Pop was not included in our cruise price; very odd. Milk, juices, coffee, tea, even iced tea were included, but not pop. Not that it would have mattered anyway, as Norwegian only serves Pepsi. To me, that is nearly unforgivable. It is almost enough to make me look for another cruise line next time.

3. The pools were not that impressive; they were OK, but I was expecting more. This is a bigger thing to Tracey than to me, but if *I* am noticing that the pools aren't spectacular, they clearly aren't that spectacular. Here is a pic:

The pool behind the veranda is the adults only pool; the closer pool is open to all ages and was, of course, full of kids all the time. There were four hot tubs, those were quite nice. There was also not nearly enough non-smoking area around the pool. It still stuns me that some people insist on killing themselves and are so inconsiderate that they will smoke in public so they can kill everyone else as well. It's disgusting.

4. No hottie waitresses at the pool! Ok this is a minor thing, just thought it was odd that every single pool employee was male. No females at all. Having said that, they were just as friendly and competent as all the other employees, but it did make me long for the pool at (insert any Vegas pool here).

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed the read and had a laugh or two!

Next vacation blog will be our driving trip to Napa Valley/Disneyland/Escondido in September!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

It's a Small World After All.....

I understand that it was recently the 50th Anniversary of the titular Disney attraction; but that has nothing to do with the title of this entry. Keep reading, you'll get it....

Well it was actually at 6:50, not 6, that I woke up. Yee-ha.

After some lazy time and a leisurely breakfast, off to the pool. I had no intention of exposing my skin to any more sun this trip but luckily for me, there IS no sun today. I didn't know clouds were even allowed in the Caribbean. I always assumed when clouds rolled down from Florida that a magical portal transported them to the Pacific Northwest. Apparently that is not the case.

In fact it's so cloudy and cold that the hot tubs are only lukewarm tubs and there is not a single soul willing to brave the pool. We had lunch at the pool and headed back to the room to relax on our last sea day. Tracey actually went deep, deep, deep into the wardrobe and pulled out her wool socks!!

We hung out in our room until it was time for our dinner reservations at their signature steakhouse. We took the bottle of Robert Mondavi 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon that I had purchased before the cruise and we had intended to drink in our suite but never got around to it. It was terrific for the price, which was around $50 (so I'm guessing 30ish in a store) from the cruise line.

After an excellent dinner we decided for a little drinky-poo in one of the lounges. We started off with an Italian wine that was sour so we sent it back and changed to a 2010 Pinot Noir from the Mondavis again; this time Isabelle Mondavi. Very good; one of my favourite Napa Valley Pinots.

As we were sitting there up came the lounge singer to perform a couple of sets. One of us made a Justin Bieber joke which lead us to discover that she is in fact, Canadian. Small world.

Not only that, she's from Vancouver! Really small world.

Actually she's not from Vancouver, she just bought a condo in a little town outside of Vancouver called Chilliwack!!!!!! Holy f***ing small world, Batman!! Apparently when she's not on the ships she performs in a restaurant in Chilliwack so we can check that out in the summer. We are the first people she has ever run into from Chilliwack in her many years on the ships.

Oh, and I hope you all have that song in your head now. You're welcome.

After a couple of excellent sets, we close the joint down and get back to our room, only to find out that we have to be up in a few hours to go through US Customs and Immigration before we can depart the boat in Key West tomorrow. That would have been good information to have had a day or two ago so we could have gone to bed a bit earlier tonight!!!!!!!

Thursday April 17th

OMFG it's early but we are up for our 645 AM time to clear Customs. The lineup is already about a million guests deep, and the US officials are late arriving. It takes us about an hour and a half to get through the lineup and about 45 seconds once we get to our very friendly Customs Officer who looks at our passports, asks one question, and sends us on our way. At least we won't have to go through the same thing in Miami tomorrow.

The buffet is filled with everyone who has already passed through ahead of us so we grab some food and end up sitting outside by the pool to eat it. After a few minutes there it's starting to get too hot for me. Today is going to be a warm one.

Back up to the room where Tracey is going to try to sleep for another hour or so before our tour of Key West begins.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

My wife the fish eater

Tuesday April 15th

Up early and off to another buffet breakfast.  We have an hour or so until we have to convene with our tour consultants to take us off the ship and to another boat for transport to the mainland. Another place without a dock, but thankfully this time the boat ride will be very short. We can see Cozumel from our balcony.

We are greeted in the mainland by our tour guide, Juan Pablo (I am not making that name up), and whisked into a taxi for the 15 minute drive to the resort/water park where our cooking class is held. Fifteen minutes by Mexican taxi is the equivalent to 45 minutes by all other forms of ground transportation. Holy shit. There are marks in that Taxi from my fingernails. 

We arrive, incredibly, unscathed at Playa Mia, which I'm sure is Spanish for "60 dollars for that cheap bracelet, are you kidding me???", and are greeted shortly by our chef, Moises, who is going to lead us through a few Mexican traditional dishes. After the class they handed out recipes but I forgot our copy there so I can't really remember exactly the correct names of the dishes we cooked, but it was something like this:

Shrimp (chicken in Tracey's case) in a tomato cream sauce in a homemade tortilla bowl
Grouper with some kind of crazy Mexican sauce
Fried plantains with caramelized sugar in a chocolate sauce

After we finished making the dishes we prepared we ate them for lunch, and they were damn good! So good, in fact, that my wife ate fish for the first time in 30+ years! She didn't eat it all, but she ate some, and that's something. I'm so proud :)

This was the dessert, the chocolate plantains.

The class was a lot of fun, and it came with a bonus: an open bar! We put down more than a few piña coladas, let me tell you. The cooking class was smart too, cutting up the ingredients for us so they didn't have to match "sharp knives" with "open bar".

After lunch we were supposed to have some beach time but the class ran a bit long so we shopped around the "buy my cheap crap" stores and then our taxi was ready to take us back to the cruise ship. This taxi driver was only half as crazy as the first guy.

Back on the ship and we are both wiped. Three days of activities in a row, we are looking forward to tomorrow's sea day where we can do whatever we want all day, 

Oh and despite the fact that I spent zero time in the sun today, I have some odd news to report. Dean has a sunburn, and quite a significant one. Dean does not gets sunburns. Dean holds grudges and likes spicy chicken, and sometimes refers to himself in the third person, but he does not get sunburns.

Tracey has one too, but if you know her that is hardly newsworthy. Her delicate alabaster skin can stand about 28 seconds in the sun before it turns bright red, and she spends hours outside by the pool, so you do the math.

No exciting dinner plans so off to the buffet which is serving Mexican food tonight. Of course we are in Mexico so an argument could be made they are just serving "food" but I digress.

After dinner up to one of the lounges which is featuring Movie Tune Trivia. I actually miss the themes from two movies I have never seen, Dr. Zhivago and The Bridge on the River Kwai, and am defeated by one point. I feel shame.

After my humiliating, life-altering embarrassment at trivia, we are up to the room to relax and recover from the last few days. Tomorrow we sleep until noon!! Yeah right I'll probably be up at 6 but here's hoping.......

Monday, 14 April 2014

Do you Belize in life after love?

The Brazilian steakhouse was quite an experience. They bring the food to your table on huge skewers and carve whatever you want right at your table. It's a meat lovers dream: chicken, steak, roast beef, sausages, lamb, ribs....and several different variations of each. We had everything but the lamb, and everything was good. Some of it was GREAT. It also came with assorted sides, dessert, and a full salad bar. Quite an excellent meal.

The best thing we ate, though, wasn't meat at all. It was pineapple. Yes, pineapple. Slow roasted pineapple crusted in cinnamon. Unreal. Now, I have previously made my love of pineapple known. To paraphrase George Steinbrenner, you could put pineapple on an old shoe and it would taste pretty good to me. However, my wife does not share my love of the tasty fruit, but she agreed with me that it was the best thing they served us.

And the wine....oh, the wine. 2008 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Simply astounding, as it has been each time we've had it. And this is their "crappy" one; can't wait to taste their Napa Valley offering on our trip down through Cali later this year.

After dinner we wandered around the ship, took in a few more tunes from our friendly neighbourhood lounge singer, and then headed to the 1100-seat theatre to see the Second City comedy troupe perform. Very funny show. Some sketch comedy, some improv. Improv is always hit or miss for me, it usually depends on the suggestions they get from the audience. In this instance, it was a story called The Goat Herder that they had to make up as they were pointed at. By the end of the story our protagonist Sheamus, a Riverdancing Broadway performing goat, had been killed by a stampeding herd of zebras while New York City was covered in goat cheese that fell from the moon. Well, they didn't promise us a happy ending I suppose.

At bedtime both of us noticed we did a pretty shitty job of applying sunscreen. I am burned across my belly, one half of my chest and one forearm. Tracey got it on half of her back and her nose. Rudolph, the red-nosed wifey. Going to make tomorrow's beach excursion in Belize an interesting challenge. Hope they have some shade or we will both be in trouble.

Monday, April 14

"I hate Mondays" - Garfield the Cat

Normally I concur with our lasagne eating feline friend, but today should be a good day. First to breakfast!

While eating we hear an announcement that they are not letting people off the ship yet, due to the windy conditions. There is no dock here, everyone has to be transported to Belize City in small boats and the waters are too rough. Looking out into the water, there are some small pleasure crafts being tossed around like rag dolls. Anyone on those boats right now is getting wetter than a boatload of schoolgirls at a One Direction concert.

During breakfast they announce that they are taking some guests ashore. Waters still look choppy to me. Anyway, hopefully the winds die down a bit as I am not going to enjoy the boat ride to the mainland in these conditions, and chances are anyone else on the boat within barfing distance won't either.

It comes time to board the shuttle boat and I can barely stand it, before we even take off. The 30 minute ride to the island is one of the worst half hours of my life. Although I wouldn't say I am fearful for our safety, I feel horribly sick and I think I'm going to make quite a mess of this boat at any second. That doesn't quite come to fruition thankfully, and we land on a beautiful private island. I can't get off that boat fast enough. We are there for 3 hours and it takes half of that time for my stomach to feel back to normal.

We are sharing the island with some cruisers from a Royal Caribbean ship that is anchored in the ocean not far from our ship, but the island is plenty big enough that there is lots of room. Finally lots of bikinis; not all of them are on women that should be wearing bikinis though. One woman walks by, reasonably attractive, wearing something that could be called a bikini only under the most generous of circumstances. If you took a couple of band-aids and attached them with dental floss, you'd have a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about. I was genuinely shocked, and I don't think I've been shocked by anything like that since they invented that Internet thing.

Shortly after we arrived on the Island they called everyone out of the water because of a shark sighting. Fan-tas-tic. Didn't last long though, maybe a false alarm, and everyone was back in the water soon after. The wind was intense, but it kept us ver comfortable so no complaints. Some girls were trying to play volleyball. I say "trying" because the wind was making it a bit of a challenge. You ever seen the YouTube video of the soccer goalie who scored on himself by kicking the ball into the wind, and it blew back behind him into his net? Yup, just like that. Check out the palm tree below.

As bad as the ride to the island was, the return voyage was twice as pleasant. The seas were barely rough at all, until we got right back to the ship. All in all, a very nice excursion.

For dinner we skipped the buffet and went into the main dining room for a sit down dinner. The waiter was terrific - in fact all the wait staff has been too notch on this cruise - but the food was just OK. Buffet quality at best and we were hoping for more. We actually ended back up at the buffet an hour later to have a snack and some ice cream before calling it a night. We are both exhausted; it's amazing how laying on a beach doing absolutely nothing can be so tiring!!!

Tomorrow back to Mexico; this time Cozumel, and our Mexican cooking class!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

My first time in Mexico, if you don't count Tijuana and nobody does

Dinner tonight at La Cucina, and it was excellent. We take along the last bottle of wine we bought in Miami, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags' Leap in Napa Valley. It was good, but a far cry from yesterday's exquisiteness. It was a bit young; probably would have benefited greatly from a few more years in the bottle.

We wandered around a bit and noticed the menu for the Brazilian steakhouse,which we had not originally paid much attention to. It looked good so we booked dinner for tomorrow. The Dolphin encounter is short, so we can be back on the ship in lots of time to relax and still make it to a nice dinner.

Back to the pool for a little while, for a bit of hot tubbing and watching the sunset. Beautiful. We are joined in the hot tub by a couple of very sweet and polite young girls. Canadian, of course. It occurs to me they are the two cutest girls I've seen on this trip. They are both eight. That's a totally different kind of cute than I was anticipating. Seriously, there has to be SOME eye candy on this cruise, right?? Other than my lovely wife of course (better get that in now before I get myself in deeper trouble than I already have). Earlier at the pool it looked like a leper colony. I was about the 579th fattest person there. Aye, carumba!!

No crazy after dinner parting tonight except that Tracey wanted to wander back through the buffet for some dessert she wanted to try. My opinion go the buffet went up a few notches when I noticed lobster tails!!! Mmmmmmm not that I was very hungry but I'm not stupid enough to pass up lobster!! It was not the greatest lobster I've ever had but it was still very good; something I've never seen at any buffet, anywhere.

People sure take advantage. We've all see people at Vegas buffets with a plate of crab legs liked to the ceiling; now imagine that with lobster tails, and imagine them taking them back to their room! Try THAT in Vegas, I dare you.

I made up the pull out couch so that we can both get some sleep tonight. Tracey is still sick and although I feel pretty good, I still haven't got rid of the last remnants go the cold. It's better that we don't continually wake each other up all night.

Oh, and those of you who told me I would never, ever get motion sickness on a cruise ship because it's so huge you can't even feel it moving, can go find a large lake to jump into. We certainly CAN feel it moving, easily. It's VERY windy. If I try to read anything like a menu or a book for more than a few seconds, I will be blowing chunks like that chick from Pitch Perfect.

Sunday April 13

The plan worked as we both slept well; we are both still quite stuffy but other than that it seems to be passing. Thankfully Tracey never did get quite as sick as I was early in the week.

Up to the buffet for breakfast and we both managed to eat before it closed this time which was a bonus.

Time to meet our guide for the Dolphin swim. After a lot of instruction, we finally got to hop into the water with our dolphin, Eros. There isn't much I can say about this adventure other than "WOW". I'll let the pictures tell the story.

Afterwards we went to check out the pictures and buy some of them (our cameras were not allowed), only to find out they were quite a bit more than I anticipated. I had not brought my credit card or much cash off the boat; which worked out really well for us, because I was able to haggle the price down to exactly what I had! Really, they had little choice other than to let us walk with nothing and they had already prepared the pictures so they had little to lose by taking everything we had. The regular price was posted at around 150USD, we ended up paying about 86. Haggling has never been so easy. I'll try that next time I go by a car. "I know the sticker price says $40,000, but all I have is $18,176.97 in my account. Take it or leave it!!"

 Since we now didn't have a peso to our name, little option but to go back to the ship which was our intention anyway. Right up to the buffet for lunch and then right to the pool. With so many guests in Mexico there is no problem getting prime real estate by the pool now. The pool is perfect temperature and it's salt water which is buoyant enough to even keep my buffet-laden ass afloat. Accompanying the pool time is some kind of frosty beverage served inside a hollowed out pineapple. I don't know what was in it nor do I give a damn. You could serve me just about anything inside a pineapple and I think it would probably taste pretty damn good.

A lady and her two daughters sit directly next to us; we get to chatting and find out they are from Rochester. We mention we are from Vancouver and the lady makes a comment about how, after the winter we have all had, we deserve a tropical vacation. I didn't have the heart to mention that we had snow for about 30 seconds this winter. But I did anyway.

There was still snow on the ground in Rochester when they left for this vacation last week. Ouch.

The waiter comes by and tells her about the pineapple drink and she orders three. Her daughters are, I'm estimating, 13 and 14. Not that I'm judging, I don't really care, but I have to ask her how they get away with that; we are in Mexican waters, so their drinking age must apply, no? Turns out one girl is 18 and the other one is 17, and although the legal age in Mexico is 18, apparently it's rarely enforced, so I guess the Norwegian staff doesn't care either. She says all her girls look really young, she has a 24-year old who looks around 12. Wow, I guess there are worse family traits to possess.

The 17 year old tells me they offered her wine at dinner last night; and when they went for lunch at Señor Frogs in Mexico today, a waiter who had a button that said "I love big tips" touched her on the arm while he "mistakenly" said "tits" instead of "tips". He is now known as "creepy Mexican waiter".

I suspect he has a lot of amigos in that department.

She DID have really big tips, though.

I go down to the room to relax for a while, I hit my quota of sunny pool time, and the wife stays behind for another hour or so before coming back to shower and get ready to go out. She has a spa appointment at 5 to have her eyebrows done. Of all the spa treatments to choose, she went with eyebrows. Alrighty then.

As I'm sitting here writing this, I have to take breaks from looking at the screen or I will get sick. Even while we are docked the wind is whipping the ship around like a 3 year-old's bathtub rubber ducky.

Up to the Brazilian steakhouse for dinner.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Cruise begins!

Our shuttle to the Port was uneventful, as was the boarding process. Quick, easy and efficient. The only small delay occurred when they took our wine out of our bag so they could register the corkage fee that we knew we would have to pay so no huge deal.

The trip started out on a somber note as we were informed that one of our ship's crew members had been murdered 5 days earlier in Roatan, Honduras; as a result, our itinerary had changed and we were no longer going to Roatan. I wasn't upset that we were skipping the murder capital of the world, except that we had booked a Dolphin encounter that we were looking forward to. Luckily we were able to book a shorter, but comparable, encounter in our new destination of Costa Maya, Mexico. Under the circumstances, a small inconvenience at best.

We get to our suite and are pleasantly surprised by the amount of room we have. By cruise ship standards it's big; by normal human standards, it's a closet. However they have made excellent use of the space with well placed shelves and drawers and we are not cramped in the least. I had pre-ordered a nice bottle of wine which was here when we arrived; the chocolate covered strawberries followed closely behind.

We unpacked and headed out to have lunch at the buffet and explore the ship. The buffet was of pretty good quality. How to describe it so my regular readers can Vegas terms, it most closely resembles the Planet Hollywood buffet. Good, but a notch to two behind the "big boys" at Caesar's, Bellagio and the Wynn. The best thing about a cruise ship buffet, of course, is there is no pressure to get our "money's worth" as we can come here 10 times a day if we like.

We had dinner at Le Bistro, the high-end French restaurant. It was very good, but Tracey described it perfectly: it's a high-end French restaurant for people who haven't experienced a truly high-end French restaurant. Not that either if us would profess to be experts in French cuisine, but we have dined at Monsieur Paul's at Epcot, the Eiffel Tower at Paris LV, and this doesn't quite measure up to those. The wine we brought, though, was sublime. We had picked it up at Publix the other day; a 2007 Meritage-style blend called Col Solare, from Washington State. I had googled some reviews of it as it was pricey for the kind of wine you find in grocery stores ($61), but the excellent reviews were right on the money. It made the entire meal even better.

After dinner we had a cocktail and listened to some live music; a singer who was perfectly good but you knew cruise ships were the highest she was going on the musical scale. I ordered a glass of Beringer White Zinfandel, as a friend had recommend it recently and I had never tried a white Zin before. It wasn't really white, more of a blush, but it was terrific. Very fruity and mildly sweet. I'll be watching out for it.

Back to the room to open up our champagne and enjoy the strawberries. I confess that the champagne didn't wow me like it had at Victoria & Albert's last year. It was good, but nothing I'd go crazy over, and Tracey agreed. Even so, a pretty damn good ending to a great day.

Saturday April 12

And while attempting to sleep in the same bed as my wife, neither of us managed a lick of sleep AND I have passed my cold to her. F***ing fabulous. She doesn't seem to be quite as sick as I was so fingers crossed that she licks it faster as well. I'm feeling pretty good at this point but not close to 100% yet. Phlegm is my new claim to fame. Ick.

Up for breakfast at the buffet and while Tracey is getting her food, I wait at our table and they CLOSE THE MOTHER DOWN while she's in there. They are switching to Lunch and that takes them a half hour so I get a couple pieces of bacon from Tracey's plate for breakfast today. Grr. We head off to an art auction where lots of beautiful paintings are way out of my price range (there are Picassos. I shit you not. Pablo Picasso). Back to the buffet for lunch and then up to the pool for a hour or so. We are going to a comedy wine show, yes, comedy and wine at the same time..... So we don't have much time at the pool today. The pools are pretty small, and crowded. A bit disappointing but nice.

The comedy show is pretty funny, and we get to taste 6 different wines while it is going on. None of them great but a wide array of quality: from 72 to 86 on the Dean scale.

So much to do on the ship that it's almost overwhelming, and we haven't even been to port yet. Tomorrow we are swimming with dolphins in Mexico. I am bringing a large bag as I anticipate trying to smuggle one home. Hope he enjoys a few days in our suite's bathtub.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Cruisin' part deux

Actually forgot where I am for a minute.

Cruisin' part dos.


So IIRC I left off yesterday morning, the Process (TM) well underway. After a decent visit to IHOP we went up to Publix to pick up some supplies for the cruise; the stuff that's not included with our cruise price, like pop and water. Ok of course we could get free water on the cruise but we want some bottled stuff for our room, just to be safe.
We also picked up three nice bottles of wine. The ship has a descent wine list and I know we will partake in some of it, but their markup is rather significant so it saves a few bucks buying some and bringing it on board, even with the $15 corkage fee. One of the bottles was the same champagne that we had at our amazing dinner at Victoria & Albert's during our last appearance in the Sunshine State, so we are excited to pop that baby open to celebrate the beginning of our cruise.

After Publix we took a cab down to the Miracle Mile, a street of shopping and dining that is so named because of course it's a mile long. That is complete bullshit of course, it's just over half a mile, but I guess there is no cachet in directing people down to the Miracle .58Mile. Just goes to show there is no truth in advertising anymore.

It is the best shopping area on Earth as long as you are looking for a wedding dress. For anything else, notsomuch. Tons of dining options though, and we had a nice dinner at a little French bistro. We ordered a bottle of Napa Cab Sauvignon and sent it back, only the second time I've ever done that. It was steadily declining; I heard the owner grumbling about it a bit but he took it in the back and tasted it, only to come to the table and apologize as he agreed with us. Our wine palates have sure developed, I doubt we would have noticed that a year ago. The replacement bottle was much better; not quite of the quality we are expecting to have on the ship, but perfectly fine nonetheless.

One thing I've noticed here is that pedestrians are on their own. The drivers here don't give a flying carajo about walk signs or lights. If you are in their way, you better get out of their way. And quickly.

My cold is much better but I'm still a little lethargic, and after dinner I had no energy for anything but rest back at the hotel. Watched some TV and slept until....

Second day in a row I am still asleep and Tracey is up, showered, and In Process. I know it drives her nuts that I sleep for another half hour, get up, and am still ready to go before she finishes.

Off to IHOP for another round of breakfast goodness and back to the room where I update the blog while she finishes packing. I'm already packed you see, I did that while The Process was in its final stages earlier.

In mere minutes we are heading down to check out and hop our shuttle to the Port. Cruise, here we come!!!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dean's Vacation Blog and the Goblet of Fire

Hey don't bust my balls about the title; YOU try coming up with a movie reference where the fourth entry doesn't absolutely suck!!

This blog will be a bit different than other vacation blogs sice I won't have much internet access on the ship. Internet is available but is ridiculously expensive and probably not that reliable either.

Monday morning, one day before the vacation began, I woke up with a cold. A bitch of a cold. Excellent timing. By Tuesday it had moved down into my chest a bit, which caused some coughing (I'm sure my fellow air travellers were quite pleased with me) but I was feeling a tad better; the big problem is that although my nose was less stuffy, my olfactory senses were completely gone! I couldn't smell or taste a damn thing. On the way down we had dinner at Olive Garden and I had something that looked like Fettuccini Alfredo and tasted like Rubber Bands in A Flavourless Cream Sauce (not a favourite recipe). For breakfast before the flight I was served something that appeared to be bacon and eggs, but what was, in fact, tofu and more tofu. Gross.

A pleasant-ish, uneventful flight brought us to Fort Lauderdale. I was 'lucky' enough to be seated next to the female equivalent of Del Griffith, who I could tell wanted to engage me in conversation from the second she sat down. I am not usually that interested in conversing with a total stranger, but generally I will make polite chit-chat if necessary; but feeling as I was, there was no chance in Hell I was going to let this looney disturb me all flight, so I put the headphones on and went into fake-sleep mode. It worked until it was time to put the electronics away and land, when she then took the opportunity to squeeze 5.5 hours of conversation into 20 minutes. I literally started reading the vomit bag but she didn't take the hint.

Anyway, we landed exactly on time and our limo driver was waiting for us as promised. Not really a limo per se, but a Mercedes. Could have booked a stretch for almost the same price but seemed a tad grotesque for two people, but this was incredibly comfortable and a very pleasant way to get to our hotel in Miami. It wasn't much more money than a cab would have been either so I'd highly recommend it to anyone wanting to go from FLL to Miami.

The hotels that were recommended to us near the Port were obscenely expensive (And when I say obscene, I am not talking just profane, I am talking really offensive) so I booked us into a Best Western in the heart of Miami. Still not cheap, but at least I didn't have to sell a kidney to pay for it. I'll admit I was a little nervous when we pulled up. Not that the hotel wasn't nice, but the neighborhood reminded me a little too much of the slums of LA. Our limo driver (who was Cuban) said it was a Cuban neighborhood and was much safer than it appeared, even going so far as to suggest we would be safe walking the streets at night. I was skeptical.

We walked down the street a couple blocks to Pizza Hut for dinner. I figured I would have to be able to taste the greasy-tomato-sauced-cheese-laden-meat-slathered pizza. I was right, sort of. It didn't taste quite right but at least it tasted like SOMETHING. A good start,

Oh and we noticed that the laws on distracted driving haven't made it this far South yet. Everyone was driving on their cell phone. EVERYONE.

After getting back to the hotel and settling in, I remembered that I had forgotten to pack solution for my contact lenses. Seemed like I was about to find out if our driver was full of shit or not, as it was now dark and I was going to have to wander the streets looking for some.

I confess I didn't feel very safe at first, but I soon noticed lots of people on the streets and not a whiff of trouble. Families out walking, older couples together, women walking by themselves.... I felt pretty silly being concerned. Either the driver was right and this neighborhood was very safe, or there were about to be a record number of robberies and murders in this six block radius of Little Cuba tonight. I'll go with the former.

As I'm writing this it is Thursday morning around 9 AM and Tracey is already out of the shower. You read that right. The process has begun and it's still morning!!! We have no definite plans yet (although IHOP is calling right now) for the day, just going to do a little shopping and relax before the cruise begins tomorrow.