Thursday, 31 March 2016

Vacation Blog VI: The morning after the crying

Thursday, March 31st

9: 00 AM – Oh seriously, 4 hours sleep? No thanks.

10:45 AM – That’s a little better. We are up and headed to the buffet before they pull the breakfast options. I want my damn bacon.

11:30 AM – Back to the room to relax for a while and watch the thunderstorm roll in. I was sitting on the balcony typing the blog when the thunder hit, and it took me about .03 seconds to get my ass of the balcony and back into the room.

No plans for today except a little R&R until our dinner reservations at 5:30. Tonight is Moderno, the Brazilian Steakhouse. We ate here last cruise and really enjoyed it. There is an extra charge for this one, but it’s a flat rate and we paid it a while ago. It’s very different than all the other restaurants as they bring you big hunks of meat at the table and carve them to order.

Nappish Bear has come to say hello today so Tracey lays down to attend to her and I screw around on the computer for a while. We head back to the buffet for a small lunch to tide us over until dinner. When we get back to the room, Tracey heads outside to sit and read. An hour ago our balcony was being pelted by rain and was completely soaked, and now you can hardly tell any rain occurred. The lounge chairs are totally dry.

When we get back to the room reality hits us right in the face as all the disembarkation information has been delivered including our Customs forms. Can’t believe that tomorrow is our last full day on the cruise, it seems like it just began. What a way to end the cruise, though as we have something very special planned for the Bahamas.

5:30 PM – Dinner at Moderna restaurant, the Brazilian steakhouse. Meat, meat and more meat. Chicken legs covered in parmesan, chicken breasts wrapped in bacon, Filet Mignon wrapped in bacon, marinated flank steak, and some kind of high-end Brazilian sirloin, which was described to us as the “best meat there” (and it was). Oh, and one of the best pork sausages I’ve ever tasted and a nicely spiced pork loin. And that’s not even counting the two kinds of lamb because we don’t eat lamb. What a terrific meal, same as the last cruise. This is one we will do over again.

7:00 PM – We head to the Theatre where we have tickets (free of course) to a Broadway-style show called After Midnight. 75 minutes of high energy singing and dancing from the Roarin’ 20’s, in a jazz club known as the Cotton Club with music in the style of Duke Ellington. I’ll tell you, some of these performers were incredibly talented. I’m not sure how many actual performers there were, because, as we all know, all black people look alike.

Oops sorry that is quite politically incorrect of me. Let me try again.

All African-American people look alike.

There, now the political correctness police will be off my case.

(I highly doubt anyone reading this blog doesn't already know that I refuse to be politically correct and I was kidding about that last joke....but if you were offended by it, you might want to go read something else. And buy a sense of humor).

In all seriousness, there were about 30 individual performers if you count the band, and all of them were good and a few of them were great. It’s not really my style of music, but I was certainly never bored. Tracey loved it more than I did.

It makes you think of the magnitude of running a cruise ship like this and the reasons that cruises aren’t all that cheap. Think of the wages of just those 40 people. And then think of the waiters and busboys and room stewards and on and on and on. The logistics of handling a ship of this size, and all the entertainment and food, and scheduling of staff, etc……wow. Glad it’s my job only to sit and enjoy the fruits of their labour. It’s a little bit humbling.

9 PM – We stop and make reservations for dinner tomorrow at the Manhattan Room for 6 PM. This has become our favorite place to eat on this cruise and there is a 70’s tribute show playing as entertainment while we dine. Should be fun.

Back in the room, sitting on the patio typing up this blog entry and wondering how we are so lucky to be here. I cannot get enough of the view of the water against the lights of the ship and the moonlight. Earlier today we marveled at the colour of the water that didn’t seem to be natural. I tried to take a video but it didn’t really do it justice. The water directly behind the ship appeared almost to be a fluorescent baby blue. I know that’s not really possible but that’s what came to mind as we stood on the balcony and watched. Breathtaking.

Tomorrow around Noon we arrive in Nassau, the Bahamas, and if you think we’ve had a good cruise so far, you haven’t heard anything yet.

Vacation Blog VI: Today comes in with a bang and ends with me whimpering

Wednesday, March 30th

8:15 AM – I had a good sleep and am up and ready to attack the day.

Oh, it turns out that today we are in the British Virgin Islands, not the Isle of British Virgins. No Harry Potter-philes anywhere to be seen. Amazing what a difference a tiny bit of grammar can make.

I open the window to get a view of the island of Tortola. It’s beautiful, of course, but not all that much different than St. Thomas. Similar architecture and feel. We have nothing booked for today so I just have to wait for my wife to get up and get going.

She’s up!

And she’s down.

I think I sensed an appearance by Grumpy Bear there for a minute; but maybe it was my imagination. Could have been her lesser cousin, Discombobulated Bear. She can be a real pain until bobulation is achieved.

9:30 AM – The Bear is awakened and finally ready for breakfast. She says she slept well but I have to challenge that, as during the next few hours we get brief appearances from Grumpy Bear, Bitchy Bear, Cranky Bear, Sarcastic Bear, Bewildered Bear, Grouchy Bear, and finally, Happy Folksy Bear. I was almost going to send out for some Park Rangers to handle the wildlife problem.

After breakfast we walk off the ship onto Tortola and walk down the mail street to see the sights. There aren’t really that many of them honestly; eventually we find a little craft market with a bunch of vendors peddling the kinds of things you will find vendors peddling in this kind of place. Touristy crap, basically. But we support the local economy, Tracey gets a pool bag for $10 (haggled down from $12) and I get a super-cool shirt for $20 (haggled down from $20. Wait that doesn’t sound right…..I actually haggled it to $18 but I didn’t have exact change so I just let her keep it. I drive a hard bargain. I sure took advantage of that poor rube. As the saying goes, “There’s a sucker born every minute”).

Speaking of wildlife problems, this island has one of it’s own, these little suckers are EVERYWHERE.

Chickens! Everywhere!

That may explain why a mysterious stranger is trying to buy the island. They are hush hush on his identity, but apparently he goes by “Colonel”.

12:30 PM – Back to the ship after our sightseeing and we head up to the Irish pub for lunch just to shake it up a bit. I have nachos with bacon. BACON. Hmm, I don’t often frequent Irish pubs, is that an Irish thing? Or just a very bizarre thing?

As you can imagine, they were kinda tasty.

After lunch straight to the pool where we are delighted to find two of the best seats in the house. Right into the pool which is damn cold, but who cares……2 seconds after getting out of the pool we are warm again. It’s the Caribbean for goodness sake! After a short rest I leave the Bear behind at the pool in her natural habitat while I go back to the room to shower and relax out of the sun and heat for a little while. We are meeting for a couple games of Trivia around 4:30 and I’m in charge of getting there early to procure good seats and also of bringing the wine. I’m on it!!!

3:25 PM – Tracey returns from the pool as it has started to pour rain! But oh my it’s still so warm out. A beautiful tropical rainstorm, quite different than what we get at home. It’s beautiful. Of course all the stuff I had sitting on the balcony to dry is now considerably wetter than it started, but I guess the rain will stop eventually. This isn’t Vancouver, after all.

4:30 PM – down to the Atrium to relax with a nice bottle of wine and take in a couple of trivia games, the first one being 80’s music trivia. You would think this would be a slam dunk for us, and we did well getting 18/20, but we missed one that EVERONE missed and one that they played for a split second and we mistook for something else.

The one everyone missed was Together Forever by Rick Astley. Why would THAT be so tough, you ask? Because they played some sort of strange extended dance version. Nobody had a clue. The other one we missed was Hurts So Good from John Cougar Mellancamp. Yes, I feel much shame.

Next up was John Hughes movie trivia where they just put a picture of a Hughes movie up on the huge video screen and you just had to name the movie. Many were laughably easy, and some were so obscure I’ve never heard of them. We got 18/25 of those and weren’t even close to winning.

Off to dinner with another bottle of beautiful wine, the 2010 Brunello di Montalcino that we bought at Costco earlier. We went back to the Manhattan Room , the place where we had a great meal on the first night of our cruise. It’s another great meal this time, and if the great food wasn’t enough, we get live entertainment as well! First a Mowtown-themed band and then a piano guy. What a great experience.

After dinner, up to the wine bar to indulge once again, this time into a Washington State Gewurztraminer which was tasty. By the end of this Tracey was getting tired so she headed back to the room to read and relax and I went to play some poker. What a night of poker.

I had no great starting hands all night. In 6+ hours of poker I never saw a hand better than AJ or 88, but I used my skills and people reading ability (combined with my opponent’s horrible play) to absolutely run over the table, being up just over $500 as the night was coming to a close.

Oh, if I had only got up and left. As I was just minutes away from doing so, I pissed it all away by misplaying a hand so badly that I turned a nice win into a small loss. I’m not going to go into details as it’s too upsetting to think about, but it just goes to show how quickly things can turn with one poorly played hand. Focus is so important, and I lost mine for a second and got outplayed by a player who was drunk and stupid. I didn’t get unlucky, really, I just got outplayed by a buffoon. That’s going to hurt for a long time.

4:30 AM – Back to the room to sulk for a while and then finally sleep. In the grand scheme of things, the money I lost (even counting what I should have won) is going to have zero effect on our vacation and zero effect on our lives, but even though I’m going to be able to move on with a great trip tomorrow morning (or later this morning really), I am going to be living with this one hand for years, I’m sure. Such is the life of a poker player.

Tomorrow is a sea day as we head towards the Bahamas. It’s still been a pretty perfect trip save for the above, and I have nobody to blame for THAT but myself. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Vacation Blog Part VI: Continues and I am running out of interesting titles to use

Tuesday, March 29th

9:00 AM – We are up and on our way to the buffet for breakfast. We are in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands today, with a tour booked for this afternoon. We are planning to walk off the ship after breakfast and explore a bit of the island on our own.

After another satisfying meal we head off the ship and end up at an outdoor shopping mall very reminiscent of something you would find in Vegas. Lots of high-end designer shops, including the smallest Louis Vuitton store I’ve ever seen. You would be able to fit about 6 of these into the ones in Vegas.

This is a beautiful island, no question, with all kinds of different architecture. Some of it reminds me of Greece, some of it reminds me of anytown USA. I don’t claim to know a bunch about this area, but there is clearly some poverty here, and judging by the size and number of yachts in the harbour, a ridiculous amount of money too. I’m guessing poor locals and a lot of very, very rich expats. Boats as far as the eye can see.

After an hour of wandering around town we head back to the room to rest for a little while before lunch and our tour. We are getting on a Kon-Tiki boat and touring the harbour a little before stopping at a beach for some swimming and whatever the Hell else you do on a beach. The water here is simply stunning, blue and clear.

1:20 PM – We board our boat and head out onto the water, where we are entertained by a Steel Drum Calypso band as we make our way to the beach. We have an hour or so to spend on the beach, almost all of which we spend in the warm-but-not-tropically-so water. There are fish that swim right up to us while we are swimming.  It’s a really neat experience.

I find and try to eat whatever the heck this is. It fell from the trees above.

At the end of our time as we get back onto the boat, we notice something we hadn’t expected: A St. Thomas wedding. Casual dress only J

The best dressed person on the beach was the kid on the left with the bow tie.

5:20 PM – After returning to the ship, just 10 minutes before last call, we change clothes and then hit another one of the “free” dining rooms, called Savor, for another fantastic meal that doesn’t cost us a cent above our cruise fee. Tracey has a turkey dinner and I have prosciutto-wrapped jumbo prawns and both are just fabulous.

Other than having to continually avoid the clutches of Lady Death, this vacation has been just about perfect so far. The weather has been much better than the forecast called for every day but our first night in Miami. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

After dinner up to the pool to spend a little relaxation time in the hot tub. We meet a lovely mid-20’s couple from Wisconsin and spend hours trading stories of Wisconsin vs. Canada living. Long story short: we win. Big time. And that’s long before even considering a Trump presidency.

9:00 PM – We get back to the room and I ask Tracey what time it is, expecting to hear “Midnight”. Nope, just after 9 PM. I am so old.

But it WAS a pretty full day.

Tomorrow: an interesting diversion to our trip, a visit to an entire island filled with Ravenclaw-robe-wearing, pocket protector sporting, spectacled Harry Potter fanatics. It’s the Isle of British Virgins.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Vacation Blog, Part VI; I have encountered Death, and she be a very old lady in a scooter

Monday, March 28th

9:00 AM – Ah yes, this is what it feels like to be rested. I remember this feeling, back in Aught 8 I remember sleeping this well. Tracey jokes that I tried to fit a year’s worth of sleep into one day. Whatever works.

Back to the breakfast buffet and another round of really good quality food. This experience is sullied a bit by a family of 5 sitting next to us who’s kids are out of control. The mother is such a See-You-Next-Tuesday than when her husband sits down with a bowl of cream of wheat, she actually refuses to let him eat it. “Cream of wheat is what they serve to poor people in countries where they don’t have enough money for actual food” she tells him. I pity those three kids.

Oh and one big problem with the food in this country is their cheese. Memo to my American friends: your cheese tastes like the Grinch shoved a block of Velveeta up his ass. It’s so awful. Which is why, true story, we brought some cheese slices and three boxes of Kraft Dinner on this trip in our luggage. At the resort we are going to want a few cheap quick meals, and I’m not eating the Grinch’s leftovers.

No big plans for today, we are going to chill on the balcony for a while and then Tracey is going to go play Bingo at 11 AM.  

Noon: Bingo has come and gone, and my wife is a loser as always. She is the worst Bingo player alive I swear. Shame. I wonder if she knows how the game is actually supposed to work?

Lunch buffet time, and then up to the pool. The buffet goes swimmingly; the pool notsomuch, as we can’t even get close enough to see the pool, let alone swim in it. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to suffer and go back to our huge private balcony and relax there.

I swear I need another nap.

We crack open the 2013 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon we bought at Costco and relax by “our” pool, the ocean, as we rest and read and enjoy the wine and scenery. So far, this has been a pretty great trip and it’s only day 2. Or 3. I can’t even keep track.

5:30 PM – Dinner tonight is at La Cucina, the pay-a-la-carte Italian restaurant. When we took our first Norwegian cruise a few years ago, the “premium” restaurants were an extra charge, but a fixed charge; IIRC, La Cucina was $25/person for whatever we wanted. Today’s dinner costs us $55 including tip, so in the same ballpark, but I don’t think we’d ever go back. Why? Not the quality of the restaurant or the food, which was excellent; but it just wasn’t worth the $55 in comparison to the first two “free” restaurants that we’ve eaten in. They seem to have made their free restaurants so good that it doesn’t make sense to pay extra to eat the same quality food in comparable ambiance, IMO. So far this trip I’ve had free Filet Mignon, free Filet Mignon ($25 actually but only an extra charge because of the lobster tail that came with it), and $20 Filet Mignon (sans lobster). All were prepared differently but all were fantastic. Why pay for what you can get for nothing? Strange business plan, IMO.

Anyway no complaints, we had a great meal, which went very well with the 2011 Brunello di Montalcino that was recommended to us by the wine guy at Costco.

There is a lady we keep bumping into that is creeping me out big time. She seems pleasant enough, always smiling from her scooter, but secretly I suspect she is actually Grim Death. Every time I walk by her I am expecting her to tap me on the shoulder with her boney finger and call me home. Go away, Reaper, it’s not my time yet!!!! I have so much wine left to drink!

7:30 PM – After dinner we are back in the room to relax for a few minutes while we contemplate our next battle plan. In a couple hours there is Beatles trivia so we will be attending that shindig but for now, we have a little extra time.

9:30 PM – We arrive for the Beatles Name That Tune, where we know we are going to ace the thing and take home the million dollar prize*

9:34 PM – They’ve now played four songs we’ve never heard in our lives, so we are clearly lesser Beatles fans than we thought.

We only get 12/20 correct. Oh man that’s ugly. In fairness, they went WAYYYYYY into the obscure Beatles catalogue for some of them. The winning team got 17/20 right and there must have been 40 teams playing, it was packed. Even after they told us the correct name of the songs there were 3-4 that meant nothing to us.

10:30 PM – Back to the room because we are old as F**K and it’s bedtime. The less sleep I get the better chance that Mother Reaper is going to catch up to me this trip.

*prize may not actually exist

Tomorrow:  a little tour of St. Thomas, on the US Virgin Islands

Vacation Blog VI continues as we take relaxation up a notch or two

Sunday, March 27th
Oh, one thing I forgot to post in yesterday’s blog is this short video of the nighttime view from our balcony. IMO, this would be in the dictionary under “relaxing”.

7:45 AM – After a decent if not world-class sleep, I’m up and looking for some water and the advil to counter last night’s wine-fest. I don’t really get “hangovers” like a lot of people do, I’m very very lucky. However, from time to time if I have over indulged the night before, I’ll wake up feeling just a tad dehydrated with a mild headache. That’s the case today. It will probably be gone in an hour.

8:45 AM – As I’m sitting here on our ridiculously huge balcony (seriously, there’s room for a roman orgy on this thing), the amount of peace and tranquility I am experiencing is almost disturbing. Just sitting here listening to the sound of the waves being created by the ship, looking back at where we have traveled and seeing absolutely nothing but miles of blue water is quite incredible. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere if I look for it. I’m too relaxed to bother looking.

9:30 AM – Tracey, who didn’t sleep well at all, is awake and ready to go have breakfast. We hit up the buffet, which is just as good for breakfast as it was at lunch yesterday. What a difference between this breakfast buffet and yesterday’s debacle.

10:30 AM – Next Tuesday we are having dinner once again at Victoria & Albert’s, the five star restaurant in the Grand Floridian Hotel. They called last night to confirm and to take care of any allergies, etc, but I missed the call so I called them back while sitting on our balcony. Since we have dined with them before they already knew about Tracey’s shellfish allergy and her lack of enthusiasm for all things that come out of the water (except Ariel and especially Prince Eric), so the call is fairly quick; which is a good thing, considering that I am on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and cell reception is pretty spotty. In fact we do get disconnected the first time but the second call goes through without a hitch.

11:00 AM – Tracey decides to lay down for a well-deserved nap while I continue to type up the blog while sitting here enjoying a pop and the peace of the beautiful water and the complete lack of anyone else around. If there are any guests in any of the neighboring suites, I can’t hear or see them. I feel completely alone on this enormous ship. Pretty freaking awesome.

I don’t even need my sunglasses now as we are heading into the sun, so the back of the ship is cool and pleasant. Humid? Yes. Muggy and gross? Not at all.

I am so relaxed right now I could easily fall asleep mid sent

2:15 PM – Awake from my rather generous nap and we are off to the buffet to grab lunch. Just a light snack as we have dinner reservations at 5:30.

3:00 PM – Back in the room and the sun is now pounding down on our balcony so Tracey is headed out there to read and catch some rays. She comes in a couple hours later to have a shower – the second one in about four hours – because it is, as she puts it, “hot yoga” hot on the balcony. Yikes.

Oh and I am waking up from my second nap of the day. QUIT LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT YOU JUDGEMENTAL BASTARDS. I’m on vacation.

5:30 PM – With one of those amazing Chardonnays in hand, we arrive at another one of the free dining rooms for dinner. This one is just as nice as last night’s, but different. The food is also very good, although probably not quite up to yesterday’s standards, but I did thoroughly enjoy the lobster. Everything was presented in a Michelin-star caliber fashion; I rarely take pictures of food, but I was tempted to tonight.

Sitting right behind Tracey was a guy who I swear was RGIII. At least I was sure it was him until I heard someone else say to him “I know you want to play football, but get your education first”. He was almost a dead ringer though.

7:00 PM – We get back to our room just in time to get a look at the sun setting into the cloudy horizon. It’s incredible how fast that happens. In minutes it’s gone.
(I'll upload a sunset pic later)

The rest of the evening we relax in our room, reading and enjoying the peace. That has to be the 18th time I’ve used the word “peace” in this blog, which is telling.

To bed at a nice early hour, aided by sleeping pills and some nighttime cough syrup, we are both hoping for a better sleep tonight.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Vacation Blog VI, first day at sea and I found some fish

Saturday, March 26th

8:30 AM – Up and packed and ready to go, basically. First downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. It is one of those “free with room” breakfast buffets that you get in a lot of these types of hotels, and the quality matches what you’d expect. It’s not very good. There is one catch: It’s not free at all, it’s a pretty awful $40 breakfast. At the very least the ‘make-your-own-waffle’ bar somewhat salvages the meal. Definitely the least impressive thing about our stay at this otherwise perfectly fine hotel.

9:45 AM – We get a call from the front desk telling us that our 10 AM shuttle is ready; they actually called 10 minutes ago to tell us there was NO 10 AM shuttle and asked if we wanted to catch the 11. After explaining that their front desk compadre was the one that told us there would be no problem with us taking a special shuttle at 10 AM (but apparently they didn’t check with the shuttle driver about it), the shuttle driver agreed.

9:55 AM – We are in the shuttle and ready to take the 15 or so minute drive to the Port….

9:57 AM – …….we arrive at the Port. Apparently the shuttle driver had another appointment or something. Holy shit.

We are actually scheduled to check in between 10:30 and 11 AM (hence why the 11 AM shuttle wasn’t much good to us) and our cruise documents state that anyone showing up early will be turned away until their designated check-in time. That turns out not to be the case, however, as we breeze through security and check-in in minutes and now it’s time to wait until it’s time to board the ship, which is supposed to be around Noon. We are given a paddle that says we are in “Group 6” to check-in. Not too much longer after we get there it starts to get very crowded and we notice that people are now getting Group 20. Sometimes it’s nice to be early.

11:45 AM – They start calling groups to board. It takes 45 minutes or so for them to get to us but I’m still glad we got here when we did and aren’t sitting there with “Group 20” in our hands.

The staterooms are closed off when we get on the ship, so we take our carry on bags with us to the buffet for lunch. The food is really terrific, much better than your average buffet fare (and 100X better than the buffet on the Princess cruise we took to Alaska last year). One thing I notice that seems odd, though, is that despite the enormousness of this vessel, the buffet seems much smaller that I expected.

…..except that it’s actually HUGE, we just only found half of it on our first journey here. Wow, just massive.
Near the end of our meal they announce that the staterooms are ready. Off to our “Aft-facing mini-suite with large balcony”, one of only two such staterooms on the ship. Are they exaggerating the size of the balcony?


The entire room is huge. It’s more like a hotel room than a cruise ship stateroom. We are going to be SO comfortable here for the week. This room is actually completely handicapped-accessible; which means nothing to us, of course, except for the huge amount of space. You could roll two wheelchairs around in this room; which might be us by the end of this cruise if we keep eating at that buffet.

3:30 PM – Time for the mandatory muster. Tracey says “mmmmmmm mustard”. That’s my wife. Hands off guys, she’s all mine.

We head up to the Manhattan dining room where, coincidentally, we are booked for dinner in a couple hours, for the muster and life jacket demonstration. After they finally manage to get all the guests accounted for and quiet (they have to shush the group about 20 times), the demonstrations takes about 3 minutes and we are on our way back to our suite to await our luggage which hasn’t arrived yet.

4:15 PM – Our luggage still isn’t here, but most of the rooms around us have theirs so we are confident it will be here soon. We decide to go and check out a bit of the ship, including the HUGE casino and the Michael Mondavi wine bar where we expect we may spend a wee bit o’ time this week.
5:15 PM – Back to the room to find our luggage has arrived and the mini-bar items that we requested be taken away are gone. We need room in the fridge for our white wine, bottled water and pop! No room for tiny bottles of crap we aren’t going to drink anyway.

5:30 PM – Up for our dinner at the Manhattan Room, one of the dining rooms that is free with the price of the cruise. They do have a few premium offerings for dinner with an extra charge if you want them, including an entire Maine lobster for $20. We both order an appetizer, main course and dessert and the whole thing costs us exactly zero dollars above what we’ve already spent on the cruise, and that always feels good. This is not your average dining room either, it’s VERY nice, the staff is friendly and attentive and the food, all of it, was fantastic. My appetizer of shrimp risotto was one of the 3-4 best risottos I’ve ever had.

To celebrate our first night on this nearly new ship (I’m not sure if I even mentioned this before, but this is the Norwegian Escape, their fleet’s newest offering, which just took it’s maiden voyage in October, 2015), we brought along one of the Pinots that we got from Hartford. I’ll have full reviews of that bottle, along with all the other wine we consume on this trip, on my wine blog when I have time to update and upload it. A sneak preview: the review of this Pinot is going to be spectacularly positive.

7:00 PM – After dinner up to the brew pub they have on the ship for a rousing game of “Name That Tune Trivia”. It turns out to be all about TV Theme Songs. Clearly we watch too much TV as we got 16/20 questions correct. But clearly we don’t watch enough TV, as someone else got 17. Assclowns.

They don’t have any good wine in this pub (it’s a brew pub, after all) so I order a Dos Equis, because although I don’t usually drink beer, when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Actually this is the first time I’ve ever had it. I’m probably not even spelling it correctly.

After we flame out like a couple of TV Theme Song losers (Jesus we missed Taxi. TAXI!! That was so obvious….gotta give the Devi her due, though, Tracey nailed a couple of really tough ones, Fantasy Island and Dynasty), it’s time for the wine bar. Again I’ll have more specific details on the wine on my wine blog at a later date, but suffice it to say we had a good time and perhaps slightly overindulged. Our waiter knew his wine and made some good recommendations, and we tried a wine flight of pretty decent stuff which actually included a wine from Uruguay of all places. I didn’t even know they made wine in Uruguay.

Actually, after tasting that one, I’m still not sure they make wine in Uruguay.

We take the last glass of wine to go and do a little light duty free shopping and then back to the casino where I notice the poker table is empty, but there are a couple people wanting to play, so I sit down and get the game started. I don’t play for too long as Tracey is bored watching me, of course. Shortly before I get up, the following hand comes up (blinds are 2/5):

I am in the small blind with AQ offsuit. Two limpers, button raises to $20, I call, big blind and the limpers call. Flop is Qxx with two hearts (I don’t have a heart). One of the pre-flop limpers bets $10 (WTF???), button raises to $30, I shove my $135 into the pot. The next limper snap calls the $130 cold. I look to Tracey and shake my head, this guy obviously has a set and I’m drawing next to dead. The other two fold, the turn and river bring nothing interesting, and I table my AQ and start to get up to leave, when the other guy turns up Qh3h for top pair and busted flush draw. Wow, that, ladies and gentlemen, is when I would destroy this game if I had hours to sit and play in it. That guy put $130 into a pot of about $250 with really nothing but a flush draw; he cannot POSSIBLY be ahead at this point with his pair of queens. If he knows anything about poker, which he clearly doesn’t, he knows I am three-bet bluffing here less often than I cheer for the Seahawks, meaning he is not getting anywhere near the odds he needs to draw at his flush or two pair. Crazy poker. Good for me, though, as this was literally the only pot I won in the time I sat down and ended up breaking even thanks to his poor play.

11:15 PM – Back up to the room to hit the hay. This was a pretty big day for embarkation day, and we have 2 more days to relax at sea before we get to our first shore day.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Vacation Blog VI, Part 3, subsection A, sub-part III, partsubsectionsubpart Q, note 9, take 91.

Interesting note about Miami since we've been here, they seem to have gone out of their way to make us feel at home; the weather is basically exactly what we left in Chilliwack. Cloudy and a chance of meh.

OK except for the fact that it's 30 degrees warmer and 1942% more humid.

Friday, April 25th

8:20 AM: I wake up and check my Email to find that our wine is on a FedEx truck for delivery. Fingers crossed, if it doesn't get here today we are pretty much screwed, we will just have to buy our wine on the ship. Oh the horror.

Oh yeah, the ship has a wine bar. A WINE BAR. This is going to be a problem. But a good one.

10:00 AM - Tracey sleeps a bit longer which seems fair since she didn't get to sleep until around 4 AM (which I know because she woke me up around that time with the death cough).

11:00 AM - The Bear is awake!! And not nearly as grouchy as one might expect given the tough night of sleep. Could have something to do with the fact that we are getting on a cruise ship tomorrow I suppose.

Up and at 'em and we are headed down to Costco to check out their wine selection and see if there is anything we can add to the wine that is hopefully going to arrive today for the cruise. The cruise ship has a decent selection of wine but it's nice to have more variety (granted we don't know how much variety the wine bar will have, this is the first Norwegian ship to feature a wine bar), not to mention save a buck or two. Having said that, Norwegian's wine prices are really pretty reasonable. They have Opus One for less than we could buy it from the winery. I have told Tracey that she is allowed no more than two bottles. We'll see how that goes.

We find lots of good stuff at Costco and resist the urge to buy 4 cases of wine....but we pick up a couple nice Brunello di Montalcinos, a Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sauvignon Blanc from Duckhorn which we are planning to drink tonight. One of the Brunellos is a big and bold one from 2010 which is known as the 'vintage of the century' so we may actually send that one home....or let's face it, we'll get drunk and open it on the ship. But it's nice to dream that we'll put it in the cellar for a while :)

So we get to the cashier with our goodies and my credit card is declined. That's a bit concerning. Oh well we'll use Tracey's. Declined. Hmm this is not a good thing. I call BMO (both of our USD Mastercards are with them) and find out it's a 15-20 minute wait to talk to someone; at this point I'm assuming they are blocking our cards because they are worried about fraud?? But it's odd because my card worked at the hotel in the same city last night. So since I'm not going to stand there and wait that long, we just pay with debit and bend over to take it hard with the exchange rate we are going to have to put up with. As we are paying, it occurs to me to ask them if they actually take Mastercard! Nope, AMEX only still in the US. They are switching over in a month or so, but they are switching to VISA, and they still won't be taking Mastercard. LOL. I'm such an idiot. Guess there is no need to call BMO and figure out the problem :)

After Costco we head to Publix to pick up some bottled water and pop for the cruise (seriously, the only thing that drives me nuts about Norwegian is that it's a Pepsi BARF ship and the pop isn't included anyway). We couldn't get that stuff at Costco because we really didn't need 35 cans of pop or 48 bottles of water.

1:30 PM - Back to the hotel with our purchases and I get an Email indicating that FedEx has delivered our wine, thank goodness, so that's taken care of. MMMM that is gonna be quite a treat on the cruise.

The Chardonnays are a longtime favorite, readers of my wine blog may remember it...reviewed here.

The Pinot Noirs are new releases but both just received spectacular scores of 96 from renowned wine critic Robert Parker, and we've had many great Pinots from these guys in the past, so we are eagerly anticipating these as well.

3:30 PM - Time to return the rental car so I take it back to the nearest Hertz dealer, which is basically right at the Port. Talk about great customer service. When I drop the car off, the guy writes "7/8" on my form indicating that I dropped it off with slightly less than a full gas tank. Fair enough. I get into line, and I'm about 5th in line. The shuttle driver comes up to me and asks me if I'm a gold member. I say 'yes', and he tells me that I don't have to wait in line, just give him my paperwork and be on my way. He takes the paperwork, changes the 7/8 to 8/8 so I don't have to pay, and then asks me where I am headed; when I tell him where my hotel is, he says it's well out of his normal shuttle range but if I don't mind waiting for him to drop a couple people off at the port first, he will take me back to my hotel. Probably saved me a $25 cab ride.

Oh, and if that's not enough....during the ride he asks if I'm renting from Hertz again after the cruise. I say that I couldn't because they didn't have any convertibles available and I wanted a convertible for our 2 weeks in Orlando; he says that if I see him or one of the other Hertz shuttle drivers after the cruise, to flag them down and they will be happy to take me to the pickup point where I am picking up my rental car FROM THEIR COMPETITION. Seriously, Hertz rules. Their customer service is second to none.

6:30 PM - Relaxing in the room, we are packed up and ready to go in the morning. The hotel has three defined shuttle times, but we need to go a bit earlier than that so they arrange the shuttle to take us on a special trip at 10 AM. More awesome customer service.

7:20 PM - The Sauvignon Blanc was just OK but whatever, I suspect we are going to get our fill of great wine in the next 3 weeks.

While sitting here typing this blog, three pizza flyers have been shoved under our door. Two from the same place. I guess they really want to sell us some shitty pizza.

Tomorrow: the cruise begins! Can't wait.

Vacation Blog Part VI continues

Thursday, April 24th

3:50 AM - Oh it is so freaking early. Thank Christ we got ourselves somewhat prepared for the time change.

6:00 AM - After a fairly uneventful check in and security (although I was randomly selected to be anally probed, er, I mean subjected to extra screening), our flight takes off. Well it doesn't really "take off" per se, it taxis to the runway. For eight minutes. Eight minutes isn't a big deal, you say? Perhaps, but this is a 29 minute flight. I'm not sure I'm crazy about the taxi-to-flight ratio here.

6:30 AM - At SeaTac waiting for an hour or so for our next flight so we sit down at the only non-fast food restaurant open, which is a Seahawks themed restaurant where all the waitresses are wearing Seahawks gear. The food is fine, although it tastes like steroids and rulebreaking.

8:30 AM - Our flight to Fort Lauderdale takes off slightly late and we are also told that there is no tailwind as there normally is so the flight will be longer than normal. Terrific. Oh, and there are three babies on the flight, all within 6 feet of us. The hits just keep on comin'.

5:30 PM - Eastern time now as the flight is about as pleasant as spending 6 hours in an enclosed metal capsule surrounded by infants can possibly be. One of the babies is a dream and doesn't make a peep the entire flight. The other two, notsomuch....although we've seen worse. They didn't much like takeoff and landing; but to be fair, neither did I.

We find the Hertz rental counter and stand in line for 10 minutes just to find out we didn't have to stand in line; we are actually Hertz Gold members so all we had to do was go to our car (which we could find because our name was on the big board telling us where to go) and drive away. A quick 10 second stop at the gate to prove we are who we say we are and we are off to Miami.

7:00 PM - We have little trouble finding our hotel in Miami, the Best Western that we stayed in last time. It's a good hotel, not too far from the Port and a reasonable price. The staff is excellent too, always willing to help.

Before we left I placed an order with one of our favorite California wineries, Hartford Court, for four bottles of some great wine. We arranged to have it shipped here and the winery made the appropriate arrangements for the wine to be here when we arrived. Nope. Apparently there was some confusion at the winery and FedEx didn't get the package in time for the 2-day shipping we arranged for on Tuesday. No big deal, the winery was happy to change it to overnight shipping and the concierge of the wine club delivered the wine to FedEx personally. But it STILL didn't get here today. The concierge called me and told me she was still tracking it and it was stuck in Memphis but she expected it to still be delivered tomorrow, which is perfectly fine with us but I didn't expect FedEx to be delivering on Good Friday....but as long as I get my wine before the cruise, I couldn't care less.

8:00 PM - Down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. This hotel is right in the heart of "Little Havana", so Tracey and I naturally ordered the traditional Cuban dish....fajitas. No judgement.

While trying to read the menu I inadvertently spill some candle wax on the table. And myself. And the menus. The waitress spends the rest of the night taunting me for being "a child". I thought she was going to offer to cut my meat for me.

After dinner up to the room to relax a bit and try to get some rest. Both of us have been sick for a while...not really sick, just a mild cold, but it has come with a bitch of a persistent cough which is a bit of a challenge. I'm sure our plane-mates enjoyed it. Neither of us really feels that bad but it rears it's ugly head big time tonight as Tracey sounds like she is about to hack up a fur ball most of the night. Not a spectacular night of sleep for either of us.

Tomorrow, a little pre-cruise shopping and whatever else the day may bring, we have no specific plans.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Vacation Blog Part VI: The Undiscovered Country

Boy that's a lame title.....but try to find the 6th movie in a series that doesn't absolutely suck. And we are going to a few countries we haven't been to so "Undiscovered Country" makes a bit of sense. It's just too bad that it's the title of a totally forgettable entry in the original Star Trek series. Could be worse, I guess, at least it's not the one with the freaking whales.


Wednesday, April 23

4:00 AM - I arrive at work. That is not a typo. I normally start at 7 but this week I'm trying to acclimate myself to Eastern time so I started at 6 on Monday, 5 yesterday and 4 today. Holy shit it's early. Having said that, it's working, I'm not as tired as I'd expect at 4 AM...and lemme tell you, this is the time to be commuting to work!!

Even a huge difference in the traffic between yesterday when I left home at 4:30 and this morning when I left at 3:30. Huge.

Another reason to be here so early is that I have a ton to get done and am leaving early to finish up some stuff before we head to the Airport. We fly out tomorrow morning but we are staying at the Fairmont at YVR tonight and want to get an early sleep to say on "Eastern" time. Our flight is at 6 AM.

4:30 PM - We arrive at the Fairmont and WOW what a gorgeous hotel. Not a huge surprise I suppose. Staff is first class and it's pretty nice to be sleeping right above the check in desk.

We head down to Vino Volo, our new favorite airport hangout, and have a nice plate of charcuterie and 3 wine flights. Not bad to get to taste 9 different wines and some food pairing all for about $60.

After dinner and some time in the hot tub......not the same Hah-tub as at the prestigious Welshly Arms of course......

.....but pretty darn good nonetheless.....we headed up to the room to try to get to sleep nice and early in preparation for another early day, flying to Fort Lauderdale via Seattle.

It's been years since we flew from YVR; we always fly out of Bellingham or Seattle. Why did we do it this time?

I have no idea.

I honestly can't remember what prompted me to book this. It honestly makes more sense to drive to Seattle, stay at a hotel near to SeaTac and fly direct from Seattle to FLL. I booked this about a year ago and I can't for the life of me remember why.

Don't get me wrong, we've had a great start to the trip and this hotel is fabulous, but getting up that early to hop on a plane for half an hour just to change planes in Seattle and wait another hour or so for the flight to FLL seems weird. I guess we'll see. I always wondered what kind of lunatics would fly from YVR to SeaTac. I guess now I'm one of them. I feel shame.

As if that isn't enough, we have to fly COACH tomorrow. COACH. F'n First Class was full. We were able to upgrade to an exit row so at least we'll have a little more leg room, but I have seriously been spoiled by First Class. Thankfully we are flying FC home.

Saturday, 5 March 2016


Her name was Madeline but she was just "Maddie Mad" to us, and she brought so much joy and happiness into our lives.

Around a decade ago we were looking for another cat to add to our family, and Tracey found Madeline's picture on the Chilliwack SPCA website. We were hooked before we even met her. After work we went to get her, and while Tracey was in the office doing some paperwork, I went into the huge communal cage to spend a few minutes with her and try to bond a bit. It wasn't tough to bond with this cat. She had been in the cage for a few months and had already become one of their favorites. What a sweetheart.

In addition to the decade of wonderful companionship she brought us, she also brought us something just as valuable: Jackie Chiles.

Jackie and Madeline were close in the cage and he made it pretty clear that we weren't taking Maddy without taking him one point I'm pretty sure he reached into my pocket and took my car our family of three became five. In a way, Maddie has brought us more than a decade of companionship, as we expect many more years of wonderful from Jackie, who has turned into the sweetest boy imaginable.....and he's about 6 years younger than Maddie.

At some point we decided that Jackie was French, and Maddie was a proper British lady. Both Tracey and I can do a pretty decent French accent, but neither of us can do British at about the only thing Maddie ever said was "tally ho". Not sure why, it's just the only British phrase we knew, I guess.

Madeline left us today at the generous age of 16. We had her for 10 of those years and although we don't know much about what her life was like before she came to us, we did all we could to make it wonderful once she arrived in our clan. We were mostly successful, we think, although MY GOD did she ever get fat. And sick. The most sickly cat we've ever had. Mostly minor things; chronic congestion, polyps on her throat, nothing that would do more than cause her some discomfort. But around a year ago, she developed a thyroid problem and started losing weight at a concerning rate. Our vet put her on a medicine that is known to help that problem, and it actually did....but it came at quite a cost. You see, the medicine causes liver failure in 1.5% of cats. ONE POINT FIVE PERCENT. We always knew Maddie was extraordinary.

So not much to do but take her off the medication to fix the liver failure, which would have killed her long ago, and take her home for as long as she could live with the thyroid problem. That came to a head recently, when we decided that she had wasted away to the point where she HAD to be suffering, even though she would never show it. The happiest cat you could imagine, even as her body betrayed her positive spirit. You've never heard a cat purr as loud as this one. It was actually quite distracting at times.

So this morning we gave her the only thing we had to give her, which was rest. Freedom from the nagging problems, and freedom from suffering any further.

It's always odd to see how the dynamic of a house changes when a new cat comes or one leaves. It's been a few hours since we came home without Maddie and it's already noticeable. Sidra, who I would have described as being by FAR the least close to Maddie, has been wandering around the house looking for her. She's been standing at the top of the stairs, where Maddie used to lay, as if she's expecting Maddie to come through the door and take her rightful spot as head of the household.

Jackie and Ashley both seem confused and are extra affectionate today. I expect this to be really hard on Jackie as time goes on and he realizes that his longtime buddy is gone; but you never know with cats. Maybe he will really thrive in her absence. Cats are weird like that.

So life goes on, as it always does, and we are still blessed with three wonderful fur babies who we love to death. Our daily routine won't likely change much, except that every day I get home from work there will be nobody at the top of the stairs to greet me, as Maddie has been doing every day for weeks. Walking in the door after work on Monday is going to be tough.

Rest well, Madeline, and say hello to all of your siblings who have gone to The Farm before you. And try to keep Newman in line, if you can.

Tally ho, Maddie Mad. Tally ho.