Virtual Cruise

Yesterday and today are sea days. Yesterday we met Sandra for breakfast – Sandra is full of life and good humor and good stories, and we ended up talking and laughing together until almost lunch time. She invited us to her cabin for drinks later, and I said I would bring some of my hard-won beer.

We went back to the cabin for a bit, and then to lunch. The lunch was a special lunch – Asian buffet in the Lido area. On our last Crystal cruise, I had actually found these specialty buffets annoying, because they closed down the other lunch options, so everybody came, so there were lines and noise and tumult and you couldn’t find a table – might as well be on Carnival. Thus, I entered the cafe area with trepidation, and almost bolted when it sounded louder than usual and there appeared to be a line. My sweetie made me stay, however, and it was fine – there wasn’t a line, and it was only a little louder than normal. There were all kinds of little Asian dishes in little cute bowls – I got a little bit of everything. Once we got to eating, though, we discovered that most of the fare was only mediocre – definitely my most disappointing dining experience on Crystal.

After lunch we went to the Trident Ice Cream bar for dessert – I got one scoop of Peanut Butter with Reese’s Pieces in a home-made waffle cone – delish!!

The afternoon was glorious – just lay about the cabin reading, dozing and listening to podcasts. The seas are a bit high, which means the ship has got a pretty good pitch going (I guess this is pretty common when sailing the Pacific Coast), which can make walking a little bit difficult, but makes lying in your bed divine – rocks you to sleep.

I did make a trip to the ship’s gym mid-afternoon to ride an exercise bike for a while. The gym on this ship is less impressive than most; it is small and dark and cramped-feeling, and the exercise bikes are just up against a wall – usually the treadmills and bikes and such look out on the ocean, but here only the treadmills do. Still, it was pleasant enough, and the staff are very nice.

We are heading north back to LA now, and our cabin is on the port (left, for you land lubbers) side of the ship, which means that we can watch the sunset from our balcony. Because of the swells, no one was out walking the promenade deck (directly below us), and because it was rather windy, no one was out on any adjacent balconies. And so, I was able to do my forward-bow-music-singing thing from my own balcony, rather than having to go up on deck. Lis had gone to a Yamaha music class (she’s such a joiner, my sweetie!), but got back just in time to watch the sun drop in to the ocean.

Note from Lis: The Yamaha class was fantastic. I am so excited now to get a keyboard and continue my musical education!

There was a Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party right before dinner. We timed it so that we arrived early enough to get some free booze, but too late to have to hear any speechifying – the whole thing broke up right as the waiter handed us our champagne. We took our drinks and headed to the main dining room.

This was our last night in the main dining room, as today we have reservations at Silk Road. Our waiter (Zoltan, from Thailand by way of Hungary) was particularly attentive, and our sommelier (Kremena, from Bulgaria, with whom I am now officially in love) (Lis: Hey now!) scolded us for bringing in our own wine. Zoltan has a helper (Juhan, from Estonia) who is new and inept and causing Zoltan much aggravation – but he (Juhan) is sweet and earnest and trying really hard and is very boyish and tall and has cute dimples, and I’m a little in love with him, too :) (Lis: Hmmmm.)

After dinner we went to Sandra’s room for drinks. I brought along my special beers for everybody. Now was the moment of truth – I had been worried that, after all this trouble, the beer wouldn’t be as good as I remembered. But, luckily, it was – Sandra and David were impressed. We had a lovely time, and then it was time for them to head to dinner (they are late-seating, we are early-seating).

Lis had read that the gym and women’s locker room were open until 10pm, so we made our way up there for a steam. The steam room is beautiful and the steam was divine. Then I took a shower in their special 5-way-jets shower, and then back to our room and to bed, to be rocked to sleep – it was a great end to a lovely sea day.

Yesterday we docked in Puerto Vallarta. I was hoping to be up early enough to watch us come in to port, but, alas; we had to set the clocks ahead the night before, and so I missed it – when I looked out the window, we were already tied up. But, I could tell we were in Mexico for real, by the giant Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club visible from our balcony…

Earlier we had thought that we might not even leave the ship in Puerto Vallarta, but since we had come up empty on our cerveza search in Cabo San Lucas, we thought that maybe we’d take another shot, and so set out in search of beer.

We stopped at the Information booth just outside the ship and asked where we might find Noche Buena cerveza. The first answer was Wal-Mart, which we found highly depressing (or I did, anyway – Lis said it would probably be great, because it wouldn’t be tourist-y; we’d be shopping with locals. Today at breakfast, Sandra confirmed Lis’s view). But then another tour guy said there was another store called Soriana just a short distance away, so we headed for that.

From a distance, the Soriana SuperMercado seemed easy to find, but as we got closer, it disappeared behind another building, and we kept having to stop and ask for directions. As before, we did this mostly in Spanish, and as before, were pleased to find that we knew enough Spanish to make our way. We also can read most all the signs we see.

We finally got our bearings, could see the store, and were about to set off, when a cabby drove up. We’d already been offered several tours (these previous cabbies and tour people are whom we’d been asking directions of), and were going to decline this guy’s, too, but then 2 things happened. One, he began speaking at length about all the different parts of town, and his spiel sounded less like generic ad copy than most. Two, I realized that we’d come a fair way and were about to buy a 12-pack of beer, and it might be nice to have a ride back to the ship. So we struck a deal – take us to the store for our cerveza, and then give us as much of a tour as our forty bucks cash will buy us.

So, off to the SuperMercado we went (I actually found wandering the store and then buying our beer the most fun part of our tour, as I think Lis did, too), and then through the streets of Puerto Vallarta. Our cabbie’s name was Carlos and he was great fun – took us around town, told us interesting stories, and was just generally a good time. His English is very good (he actually grew up around the Klamath Falls area (Southern Oregon), and much of his family is still there – he was excited to learn that we are from Portland) and he is very nice – I recommend him to anyone who wants to do a private tour by taxi (VIP Taxi Hire by the hour or day, Carlos Alexis Inda, Cell: 044 322 137 32 33, Email:

And so, around lunch time, we were dropped back off at the ship, having seen some of the town and, most importantly, with beer in hand!

After lunch we hung out in the room, then went up on deck for the sail away – the plan was to get some fruity drinks and be in position before the Louis Armstrong started (on Crystal, they play Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” whenever the ship leaves a port – we find it strangely moving, and try to always be on deck for it). Sadly, we blew it on our Cabo San Lucas stop – rushed to the deck and got there in time for the last three notes. As this was our only other chance, we were determined to get there on time, but still almost blew it – the drinks took longer than expected. But, happily, we just made it, and had a lovely sail away – Puerto Vallarta is beautiful from the sea, with mountains and greenery and curving bay – very nice.

I was already dressed for dinner, so stayed up on deck listening to music; Lis went back to the room. While on deck I saw 3 whale spouts and one dorsal fin, plus a couple dolphins/porpoises. Then I went to get Lis, and we headed for the dining room and our special-order Chateaubriande.

This was only the second time we’d eaten at our assigned table in the dining room, and our waiter and sommelier made a big deal of our finally being present. Our sommelier is a particularly beautiful young woman from some Eastern European country (I haven’t been able to make out her name tag, as that would require staring at her chest, which would be fun but inappropriate). I hadn’t been planning to have wine with dinner (I have beer chilling in my room, after all), but she made such a charming fuss over us that I had to :)

The waiter brought out a cart and carving knife and serving plate, and then the head waiter came over and, with some fanfare, carved up our Chateaubriande for us. It was very fun, and the meat, as always, was spectacular. I had planned my day so that, this time, I was able to eat most of it, too.

The head waiter said that he was doing his famous Bananas Foster for dessert. Since we were spending most of our room on the meat, we said we’d share a dessert; he nodded and brought it to us. But then our regular waiter came back and was appalled – “What, I leave for one minute and you are sharing dessert? If I am here to take care of you, this never would have happened!” And then our sommelier came by – “Cheaters! Cheaters! They are sharing dessert! Cheaters!” They are very cute. The shared dessert in question was delicious (though not as good as last night’s sorbet and prosecco).

After dinner I went to one of the bars and watched the first quarter of the Philly-Seattle game (Marshawn Lynch! Yeah, baby!!), while Lis went back to the room. Then we went to the theater and watched the evening movie, which was “The Help.” And then to bed – a very nice day :)

Yesterday was our second day in Cabo San Lucas, and we spent it puttering around the ship. I tend to get up earlier than Lis, and so I’ll take my netbook up to the pool deck and write the blog for the previous day. Yesterday morning, after posting the blog, I came back to the room, and noticed that Lis had put the “Do Not Disturb” sign out, which struck me as odd, but maybe she wanted to make sure she could sleep in. I attempted to open the door with my keycard, but it didn’t work. This is not unusual – the doors often take a few tries before they’ll open – so I tried again, oh, about A MILLION TIMES, before I finally noticed that I was at the wrong room. Oops!! :( About 5 minutes later, Lis and I walked by this room again on the way to breakfast – “Do Not Disturb” sign was gone and the little faux-newspaper had been taken in. You’re welcome, neighbor :)

After breakfast we lay around the pool for a while. Lis actually attempted to swim laps, and I think mostly succeeded in getting in a workout, but she had to contend with some rude and/or oblivious behavior from some of her poolmates.

(An aside: the 2 luxury lines we like are Regent and this line, Crystal – we’ve sailed both twice. And it’s interesting the differences between the 2 lines vis-a-vis passenger behavior. On Regent, everyone is nice but indifferent – no one is rude to you, but no one is especially friendly, either. On Crystal, most everyone is nice, a few people are really friendly, and a few people are really rude. All in all, I think I prefer the Regent way…)

We had lunch in the Lido buffet (we’ve been having most breakfasts and lunches in the Lido, and are quite happy with it. Often I find cruise ships’ buffets awful, but Crystal has very good food, and this extends to the buffet. My only complaint is that it can at times be a little clamorous if you don’t time it right) and then hung out in the room in the afternoon.

For dinner we had reservations at the other specialty restaurant, Prego. Lis had talked with the maitre d’ yesterday and so had already pre-ordered her meal so that they could make it dairy free. The head waiter came over and reviewed her order, and spent a lot of time talking with us and going over everything to make sure it was all OK – we was very attentive, and also rather handsome, which is always a nice little bonus.

Lis had the antipasti appetizer and the spaghetti pescatore for her entree. I very bravely ordered a scallop appetizer (I’m not a seafood fan in general), and found that I enjoyed it very much. For my main entree, I had a butternut squash risotto that was delicious but rich – couldn’t eat it all. For dessert we both had strawberry sorbet with prosecco, and it was DIVINE! Probably the best dessert I’ve had so far, and I have had some lovely desserts.

After dinner we just wandered around the ship, stopping to listen to music, browse the ship’s stores, look at the passenger photos from formal night – it was quite pleasant. And, I made a happy discovery. Often we like to sit and watch the ball room dancing after dinner, but by doing so you are likely to run afoul of the gentlemen hosts – older men who know how to dance, and who get reduced or free cruise fare in exchange for spending the evenings dancing with the lady passengers. If you are female and sitting in the vicinity of the dance floor, you are likely to be asked to dance at least once, and maybe more, by the various gentlemen hosts. And they don’t go down without a fight, either – “I can teach you! It’s easy!” But this trip, I’m still in my walking boot from my recent ankle sprain (tendon is healing slowly, and the physical therapist said to wear it for a few more weeks). So when the gentlemen host came, I smiled and said thank you and pointed to my boot, and he just WENT AWAY! I told Lis (she had gone to the dining room to talk about the next day’s menu) and she was jealous. But I think I’ve hit on something for next time – I’ll have an Ace bandage wrap on my ankle, and Lis can wear a sling, and we’ll be able to watch the dancing in safety :)

As we were walking back to our room, Lis said, “I have a surprise for you!” Previously we had been commiserating about how sad it was that we weren’t going to having the Chateaubriande again. But, my sweetie had special ordered it for us – we will be having Chateaubriande for Thursday’s dinner – can’t wait!!

Yesterday we arrived in Cabo San Lucas. we have two days here. Originally, we were supposed to be in Cabo San Lucas yesterday and Mazatlan today, but the Mazatlan stop was dropped due to safety concerns, and the Cabo stop was extended. We’ve never overnighted before, and it was nice to know that if we missed something, we could come back the next day – though, most likely, we will just stay on the ship today.

We didn’t actually reach Cabo San Lucas until about noon, which was great, because then we got to watch the ship come in to port, which usually happens around 6am and so I miss it. Lis and I went up to the bow to get a better view of El Arco, the arched rock formation at the very tip of the Baja peninsula, as we passed by it. There were some other people up there, but it wasn’t crowded, and we also saw a whale and a few porpoises/dolphins (I don’t know which) swimming along the ship and crossing under the bow – once they came head on toward us and then disappeared under the ship. It was pretty awesome.

Then we moved down a deck, to get out of the sun, and were standing with some people at the railing next to the golf net. After a few minutes, we started to hear “plunk…plunk…plunk.” We turned around – a 2 or 3 year old boy was in the golf net, picking up the golf balls and putting them back in the wooden container where they belong. His mother looked a little sheepish and said, “He likes to clean.” There was another ship in port (Carnival Splendor), and as we approached it, the boy (from inside the golf net still) shouted, “Daddy! Look at the big ship!” His dad said, “Yes, it’s really neat – come look at it.” “I’m straightening up.” “OK, when you’re done, then.”

All was quiet for a bit, then I heard his mother say, “No, honey, that stays there.” I turned around and saw that the boy was trying to lift up the astroturf mat that you hit the balls off of (which was bigger than he was), in preparation for folding it and putting it…I don’t know where. I don’t know if he knew, either, but he certainly knew that it didn’t belong just lying on the ground, because he gave his mother a VERY dubious look, and was clearly unconvinced. He stood there for some time, holding the mat, while she strove to persuade him that it really was OK to leave it where it was – yet another little boy having great trouble abandoning an obviously superior plan. I want him to come to MY house for an afternoon.

Normally we like to either arrange our own tours in a port, or just get off the ship and go to a beach or attraction that we’ve read about in Frommer’s. However, this being Mexico, and the security situation in Mexico being what it is, we decided that this wasn’t wise, and so booked an excursion through the ship.

The excursion we booked was called Eco-Kayaking. The brochure described paddling through the Sea of Cortez, viewing wildlife, to a pristine beach where we would snorkel. I wasn’t sure about the kayaking part, because I am not a strong kayaker, and figured 1) I would struggle to keep up, and 2) this would make me cranky. Lis thought it would all be fine, and convinced me to try it. And so we crammed in to a van with a bunch of other people and drove to a beach where the kayaks were. I turned out to be correct about the kayaking – we both struggled to keep up, which made us both cranky. Plus the wildlife we viewed was mostly the million tourists from the 3 cruise ships in port. But, it had its moments – at one point there was a sea lion swimming along about 30 yards away, and we saw a pelican skim along the surface of the water right in front of us, which was cool to see at water level. Plus, we kayaked out to El Arco, which was pretty neat.

The beach, as expected, was full of people, and the snorkeling was a couple rocks completely surrounded by swimmers with masks – I decided I didn’t want to join them, and so just floated around and watched the pelicans and frigate birds. The water felt lovely, though, and the birds were fun. Lis had abandoned swimming – she was having trouble with her mask, and having trouble with the large-ish swell that made getting in to an out of the water difficult. After a while, I joined her on the beach, and we agreed that these ship’s tours were just never worth the trouble, and we would cancel the one we were wait-listed for in Puerto Vallarta.

Soon it was time to kayak back (I thought my arms would fall off on that last paddle) and we were done. We walked around the tourist area for a little bit, trying to find this particular beer that we had had the last time we were on a cruise to Mexico 5 years ago. The beer is called Noche Buena, and it is a specialty Christmas beer that you can only get in Mexico, and then only during the months of November and December. We tried a couple shops that sold booze, but they only had Corona and Pacifico and Negra Modelo, all of which I can get in the States. The cool thing is that we conducted all our transactions in (probably bad) Spanish – we were very pleased with ourselves.

Back on ship, we headed straight to the pool grill for burgers and fries and a beer (Samual Adams, the only dark-ish non-stout beer available). It’s amazing how good food and drink tastes after an afternoon of exertion – the beer in particular really hit the spot (at times during the kayaking when I thought I might die, I kept myself going by imagining the burger and beer I was going to have back on the ship). Then we went back to the room to watch the sunset from our balcony.

Unluckily, our neighbor decided that sunset was the perfect time to loudly conduct a business meeting via phone on HIS balcony. I get so annoyed when I find myself included in meetings – once in Chicago I was using the wifi in a hotel lobby and suddenly a job interview started right next to me. The meeting continued throughout the sunset, and it was a little hard to tune out, but we managed well enough, and the sunset was spectacular. We are at anchor with a view of the rock formations and El Arco, and the sun set behind them – gorgeous.

We stayed in this evening, and I rinsed out all our sandy clothes and did a load of laundry (we are right next to the free guest laundry for our deck – awesome!). We had been invited to a cocktail party by I’m not sure who – some travel-related something affiliated with Sandra’s agency, I think. Anyway, cocktal party = free booze, and Lis wanted a fruity drink, so she threw on a skirt and went. I was not going to get out of my jammies, and so stayed in the room.

Soon Lis was back, and it was time for bed. About this time, I noticed that my left arm was getting kind of sore. This also happens to be the arm on which I have a big ‘ol spider bite (it is about the size of a 50 cent piece). I figured that the soreness was due to the kayaking, but part of me was a little worried that the bite was more serious than I thought. We discussed calling the ship’s nurse, but decided against it and went to bed.

Around 1am I woke up with my arm really hurting – again, only the left one. I lay there, half asleep, trying to gather the energy to get up and take some Advil. Then Lis said, “What’s the matter? Are you OK?” Apparently, while the half-awake part of me was thinking about Advil, the half-asleep part of me was lying there moaning. I had pain and tingling from my shoulder to me hand. We were both a little alarmed, and Lis called the nurse. They said “It’s probably just a bite,” which doesn’t sound like a very helpful response, but actuallly helped us both to feel calmer. I took the Advil, Lis did a quick web search to rule out anything terrible, and we went back to sleep. This morning I feel absolutely fine – no pain at all. Amazing what a little freak-out can do :)

Yesterday was our first sea day. Sea days are our favorites – you’re just out on the ocean, with nothing in particular to do and nowhere in particular to be. Unless, of course, you’ve signed up for some of the ship’s activities, which usually are kind of stupid but on Crystal can be kind of fun.

We got up about 7:30 and headed to breakfast about 8:30. However, unbeknowst to us, it was actually about 9:30 – we knew we were going to have to move our clocks ahead one hour at some point, but we thought it wasn’t until Tuesday. We had breakfast in the Lido buffet, and our plan was to just get a little and go back for more if necessary. We had our leisurely breakfast out on the aft deck, and then Lis went back to get some bacon – but they were breaking it all down – it was 10:30, not 9:30, we discovered, and the Lido stops serving at 10:00. Ah, the beauty of a cruise – we just went to the pool area, where “Late Riser’s Breakfast” starts at 10:00, and had second breakfast.

We ran in to Sandra at second breakfast, and sat and chatted with her a bit. She asked us if we were doing the Free Slots Tournament at 2pm. We didn’t know what that was. She explained that it’s this tournament where the contestants get three minutes to wildly push the button (or pull the arm, if you are so inclined), and whoever ends up with the most points wins. Lis thought it sounded like fun and went to sign up. I had a manicure scheduled for 1:30 and so couldn’t do it.

(OK, an aside – I’m sitting out in the pool area as I type this, and the ship’s captain just strode by and said good morning to me. But he did it in such a strange pre-emptory manner – usually the staff say hello as they go by, but only if you are already making eye contact with them. The captain actually interrupted me and made me look up from what I was doing, and his whole manner was that of someone who thinks they’re making your day by talking to you. I was the only one on deck – he could have just walked on by. But apparently, when you’re captain, you can’t just walk the ship without making sure that everyone knows you’re the captain out walking the ship. (Nested aside – in case you’re wondering why we like to go on these cruises where people are so unpleasant; the vast majority of the passengers and staff on board are very lovely and friendly – we just make note of the exceptions because they make better stories.))

After second breakfast, we went to pick up a couple of free needlepoint kits that we read about in the daily schedule the night before – mine is a glasses case with a dragonfly on it, and Lis’ is a floral pattern coin purse. There was an associate needlepoint class later in the day, but I used to needlepoint as a kid, so we figured we could skip it. I’m looking forward to needlepointing out on the balcony on one of our upcoming sea days :)

After lunch I went up for my manicure. Sandra had procured for us $1,150 in cruise credit (as I said before, travel agent extraordinaire), and I had decided to spend part of mine on a manicure – I’ve never had one before, and thought it would be fun to have pretty hands for formal night. But it actually turned out to kind of bum me out. First, because sitting with my arms forward for so long started to make my shoulders hurt. But mostly, because it was depressing to imagine it from the workers’ perspective. I caught a glimpse of my manicurist’s schedule for the day – she was booked through 10pm that night, and I’m sure had been at it since the morning. I know that I benefit at the expense of exploited workers in everything from my clothes to my food, but I’m not used to actually seeing it up close. It was also slightly depressing/embarrassing to hear some of the things my fellow passengers were saying – a very sweet little old lady was asking the Romanian girl doing her hair questions about her life – she was particulary interested in where she got her cosmotology training – “Do they have beauty parlors in Romania?”

After my manicure I was heading back to the cabin when I happened to hear all this noise coming from the casino – it was the Slots Tournament. I wandered in to see how my sweetie was doing. It’s quite a sight to see a row of people madly pounding away on slot machines while a couple rows of spectators madly cheer them one. I found Lis – her turn was coming up. She did pretty well – made it to the final round, and ultimately won a “Crystal Casino” t-shirt.

We went back to the room to lie about and read. I attempted to check my email and post my last blog to Facebook, but the connection was slow and the blog was temporarily down, adding to my bummed-out-ed-ness – which was too bad; it had been such a lovely morning.

Around 4:45 Lis went to a Nordic pole walking class, and I gathered up my music and head phones and went up on deck. One of my favorite things in the whole world is to go up to the bow of a ship that is under way, listen to music, watch the sea and sing. It’s always windy at the bow, so most people don’t go there, plus the wind covers the noise, so you can sing off key with impunity. It is so awesome that sometimes it makes me cry. This time, at first, it wasn’t having the same effect – but eventually my bummed-ness wore off, and the old magic returned.

I stayed longer than I should have, and so had to rush to get cleaned up for formal night, but soon enough we were bedecked in our sparkly Sears finery and on our way. They showed us to our table – thankfully, we requested and got a table for two – neither of us felt up to making small talk with people we don’t know. We ordered the Chateaubriande, which we had had on our last cruise, and it did not disappoint – so tender I could literally cut it with my fork. Melted in your mouth – definitely the best bit of meat I’ve ever had anywhere. We couldn’t eat it all, and the idea of wasting it broke our hearts, so Lis asked about taking it back to our room. The (cute but slightly overly talkative) waiter gently but firmly denied our request, which was good, as I think toting around doggie bags on formal night is poor form.

At this point a group of five waiters gathered round our table and sang “Happy Birthday” to me. Then they placed a slice of birthday cake in front of me, and the head waiter kissed my cheek. Those of you who know my birthday is December 22nd might be wondering what gives. Well, when we booked the cruise, Sandra asked us if we were celebrating anything – Lis said, “Mary’s birthday is in December.” Somehow this got translated to yesterday (November 28) being my birthday. After the singing, our waiter brought us the dessert menu. There was a butterscotch pudding option that sounded lovely, but I already had my birthday cake. I was torn; the waiter said, “Have both – you only have a birthday once a year!” Who can argue with that – 2 desserts it was.

This is a jazz-themed cruise, so after dinner we went to one of the bars to listen to a jazz band for a while. It was very good, and they played actual classic jazz, as opposed to the Muzak that a ship’s regular “jazz band” usually plays. After that, Lis went back to the room and I went to the theater to watch Monday Night Football. New Orleans already had the game pretty well in hand (or seemed to – I haven’t checked the score today – maybe the Giants made a miracle comeback), so I only watched for about 15 minutes or so and then headed back to my room. The best thing about the game was watching football in formal wear. The worst was actually having to watch the commercials – it’s what led me to bail before the game was done.

All in all, a pretty successful sea day :)

Yesterday morning we asked the girl at the front desk of the hotel if she knew of a breakfast place with views of the bay (harbor? I’m not sure of the correct Long Beach lingo) and she recommended Claire’s, which is in the back of the Long Beach Museum of Art. We found the place, saw the umbrellas, and followed a guy and his kid back there – and in so doing, we learned later, basically cut in line and inconvenienced the restaurant staff – we were supposed to go in the main restaurant and check in with the hostess. They accommodated us without too much trouble, though, and then put up with us further as we insisted on rearranging the table to get some shade (I’m sure we were their favorites).

It was another gorgeous day – clear and warm, beautiful skies and seas, very little smog, very little wind; really spectacular – and breakfast was very pleasant. After breakfast, we decided to check out the museum a little, since we have reciprocal privileges there, due to our Walker Art Museum membership (faithful readers might remember that this is the membership we reverse engineered to get into the the Art Institute of Chicago). Even though our membership was only supposed to admit 2, the girls at the counter let us all in. The current show was a retrospective of video installations from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Video installations are not really my thing, but it was interesting enough, plus I was very pleased to have used our reciprocal privileges :)

Now it was time to check out of the hotel and head to the cruise port. Before we turn our attention to the cruise, though, I must take a moment to say how much I liked Long Beach. Maybe it was a function of the beautiful weather, but I thought it seemed a really cool town – I could definitely see coming back someday for a long weekend or something.

Vicki dropped us off at the cruise port (thanks for everything, Vicki! You’re a peach!), we gave our bags to the porter, and then headed over to the check in area. To my surprise, there were a bunch of people sitting in chairs, and we were given a ticket with the number 11 and told to sit and wait for our number to be called (they were on number 5). This surprised me because usually, on these smaller luxury ships, the embarkation process is pretty quick and there are very few lines – it’s part of what you’re paying the big bucks for. I groused about it a little, and then, to Lis’ horror and my own, I loudly announced “We wouldn’t have to wait like this on Regent!” – I mean LOUDLY – I practically shouted it. Lis shot me a look, and I said “I know, I know – I don’t know how that happened!” We were sitting kind of by ourselves, and I’m not sure that anybody heard me, but I still found it terrifying to contemplate that I might be becoming one of those old people who loudly blurt out whatever is in their heads…

(Speaking of old people, a digression: there are, as you may imagine, a large number of elderly people on the ship. Which means that there is also fair bit of the phenomenon of old, old people with young, young hair. This works well enough at a distance in low lighting. But up close in good lighting, the effect is NOT what the practitioner imagines. In fact, it is rather startling and mildly horrifying. The lesson to learn from this is, go ahead and dye your hair, but, really, let’s try to be realistic about it.)

Once our group was called (we waited about half an hour), we saw that the reason for the delay was that one of the metal detectors was out of order. If it had been working, we would have had our normal check in – so Crystal was off the hook. We went quickly through security, and were on the ship and checked in in just a few minutes.

We had lunch at the pool grill, and it was good, but not quite as great as we remembered from before; I suspect that we will find several things not as good as we remembered, since we have built Crystal up as practically the greatest food on earth since our last sailing, 5 years ago.

We wandered around a bit, and encountered this odd elevator behavior that we have run in to only on Crystal – people who refuse to make way when you are trying to get on. This man and woman were standing at the very front when the elevator doors opened, didn’t budge an inch, and then gave us the stinkeye as we were forced to push past them to board. It’s very strange. We wondered if it was some sort of rich person thing, but we’ve hung out with rich people on Regent and at the Four Seasons, and we’ve never seen anything like it, except on our last Crystal cruise. Go figure.

We went back to our room so we could be on our balcony to watch the ship sail away from port (one of my favorite parts of any cruise is sailing in to or out of port) and then got ready for dinner.

For dinner we had reservations at Silk Road, which is the Asian restaurant on board, affiliated with Nobu in Los Angeles. We had made a date to meet Sandra, travel agent extraordinaire, and her son David, and we had a really great time – especially since Sandra brought a bottle of wine for the table and told the waiter to keep the rock shrimp coming (I’m not much of a seafood person in general, but the rock shrimp were really, really good). Sandra’s wine, in addition to the Pinot Noir (from Oregon!) I had already ordered, and the champagne I’d had when we boarded the ship, meant that I’d had about 3 times the amount of wine I normally have, so I was feeling pretty good:)

After dinner Lis checked out the casino a bit (she wanted to see if they have penny slots – they do) and I walked around on deck a bit, and then it was time to turn in.

(Author’s note: no links in the next few posts, as the ship’s internet connection is just too dang slow for it…)

We are off on a 7 night Mexican Riviera cruise on the Crystal Symphony tomorrow (yay!!), and so flew in to LA today. Originally we were just going to stay at the Embassy Suites at LAX and then take a shuttle to the cruise port in San Pedro. Luckily, though, Lis’ college pal Vicki lives in the LA area, and proposed a plan – she would pick us up at the airport, we would all go stay somewhere fun, and then she would take us to the cruise port the next day.

Lis and Vicki did a lot of planning, and settled on Long Beach as the place to stay. I do not know the thinking behind this decision (I don’t think Long Beach is usually first on people’s itineraries), but I thought it sounded like fun – especially after Vicki suggested that we have brunch on the Queen Mary (permanently docked in Long Beach) on Sunday before going to the cruise port.

Our flight was on Alaska. While we were waiting at the gate, they announced that there were some first class seats available for a $50 upgrade – we pounced on them as quickly as possible, and found ourselves in first class, a very welcome little surprise. I had been a little cranky earlier (woke up with a headache), but this cheered me right up!

As everyone was boarding, a little boy and his mother started past us. The boy stopped in front of the still-empty first class seats across the aisle from us and said “I want to sit in front, momma.” She laughed and said “Me, too. But we need to keep going.” He had a very hard time accepting this – here were these perfectly nice seats, and they were just going to walk on by? She had to do quite a bit of cajoling to get him to move on back to coach. Poor boy – it’s hard when you run smack in to the world and its confusing ways…

Our flight was lovely, we arrived on time, and soon we were on the road to Long Beach with Vicki. It was a beautiful day – warm and clear and gorgeous. We checked in to our hotel – a boutique hotel in downtown called The Varden Hotel. It is a renovated 1920’s property, which means it is cool and tiny and neato and loud – the kind of place where you really couldn’t stay for more than one night.

After checking in, we headed out to look at the harbor. We drove down to the marina area, and sat on a bench for quite a while, looking out on the Queen Mary and watching the pelicans fish. I’ve seen pelicans many times before, but have never seen them hunt – they make these straight-down dives in to the water – very impressive.

After this we drove around the Naples Island area of Long Beach for a bit (it is one of Vicki’s favorite places) and then went to Parker’s Lighthouse restaurant for dinner. We sat outside and watched the sun go down, and then a crescent moon go down, and the Queen Mary was all lit up, and it was really great.

After dinner Lis and Vicki went to see The Muppets. I wanted to see it, too, but my energy, while greatly improved, is still pretty precarious, and I didn’t want to push things. They both enjoyed it very much – Lis says 2 thumbs up!

We decided against the Queen Mary for brunch after all (for a variety of reasons), and I was at first a little disappointed. But then I read on Wikipedia that she has been gutted and re-gutted since her retirement in 1967 – it doesn’t sound like there’s all that much of the original left (though I guess there are some restoration efforts underway), so I’m glad we’re not going. I think I’ll be happier with the images in my head from the Queen Mary book I read while on the Queen Mary II.

And so we’re off to bed, excited to spend some more time with Vicki tomorrow and then board our ship!

Link to photos

[This is a sample blog post for a trip we took on the Queen Mary II in December 2008.  The rest of the blog for this trip is collected in a Kindle ebook called Travel With Us on the Queen Mary II.  See our Travel With Us page for more information.]

Our dear, dear friend Marla, who has been reading along with our blog (thus demonstrating her discerning taste and overall intelligence), mentioned in an email today that “you guys seem like you’re going to be glad when the cruise is done.” Which was basically true when I got up this morning; the fun but ultimately unsatisfying tour in St Lucia, followed by the unsatisfying outing to the beach in St Kitts, had left me feeling sort of demoralized and just wanting the cruise to be over. This morning, as we got ready for our snorkeling excursion (one of the ship’s offerings), I didn’t even really feel like going – just wanted to get it over with so I could pack up my snorkel gear.

But then we ended up having a seriously excellent tour, which completely restored my equilibrium and enjoyment of the cruise. I was sad to rinse out my snorkel gear for the last time, and, while I look forward to going home, I don’t have that same white-knuckle-through-the-last-two-days feeling I had before. Funny how that works.

Our tour was called “Sea Turtle Snorkel” – they loaded us up on a catamaran and took us out to a place called Turtle Bay. We were on the morning excursion, which left at 8:30am. As we came off the ship it started raining, and then it started pouring. By the time they walked us over to the catamaran, it had mostly stopped, though the sky didn’t really look like it was done. However, there were 41 people on the tour, and they all squished themselves under the covered part of the catamaran, and we decided that we couldn’t bear to squish in with them and would risk the rain – we went and sat by ourselves in the uncovered forward part of the boat (one other intrepid couple sat on the other side). About halfway to our snorkel location it poured rain again, but it was a warm rain, and felt kind of good pelting on my legs (my head and upper body were covered by a hat and towel – Lis’ too). It was actually a pretty fun ride, and nice to have the whole forward area of the boat to ourselves. Just as we were pulling up to the snorkel location, the sun came out for good, and we had a lovely sunny morning for our snorkel. The water was nice and warm, too.

At Turtle Bay they gave us a lecture on safety, etc, and stressed that we needed to be respectful of the turtles. The guide said that about every 10 to 15 minutes the turtles need to come up for air, and that when they do we need to be completely still so as not to spook them – they feel most vulnerable when they come up for air, he said.

Lis and I were among the first in the water because we were willing to jump off the side, rather than wait for the ladder at the front. Because of this, we were able to spend about 10, 15 minutes viewing turtles in peace. Then, just as a turtle we were watching started to come up for air, a huge mass of people came surging in to watch, swimming around to get in position and definitely not following the “dead man’s float” instructions. We were bummed about this, but both decided we’d rather miss the turtles than deal with the tour participants en masse. We swam off in a different direction, and at first didn’t see anything, but then found a little reef with lots and lots of fish, many of them quite colorful – plus the ubiquitous school of sergeant majors swimming right along with you (I LOVE the sergeant majors). We were able to enjoy the reef pretty much by ourselves for another 15 minutes, and then it was discovered by the crowd. But, we established a pattern that worked (for the most part) for the rest of our snorkel time – when the crowd was looking at turtles, we’d snorkel the reef, and when the crowd was snorkeling the reef, we’d look at the turtles.

The only really frustrating part was that there was always somebody breaking the “respect the turtles” rule. This one time, Lis and I and one other guy were floating above a turtle, watching him feed on turtle grass and waiting to watch him surface. The guide had said that if you are really still, sometimes they swim right up to you as they surface. The turtle started to come up, and headed straight for the guy, who had waited with his camera in position and was now perfectly still and about to have the turtle swim within two feet of him. And just then this asshole guy came swimming in and actually started chasing the turtle, trying to touch it. The turtle swam off and the guys on the boat screamed at Asshole Guy to stop touching the turtles, and I had to turn away, I was hating Asshole Guy so much. But imagine how Well Behaved Guy must have felt, being so close to such a great shot. I hope he got at least one good photo before Asshole Guy barged in. Note from Lis: Asshole Guy, who had a big hairy belly, seemed to be following Mary and me around. We’d swim away from the crowd as fast as we could and be somewhere enjoying fish, and then suddenly instead of looking at fish, I’d be looking at this big hairy belly through my mask… oh I hated him.

But, even though the other people, as usual, were difficult at times, it was a really great snorkel, and we got to stay there for about 1 ½ hours, which we’ve discovered is about how much we want at a time – 1 ½ to 2 hours. On the catamaran trip back, they drove fairly slowly and served rum punch (Painkillers) and chips and salsa, and played “party music.” Usually we don’t like these “booze and cruise” type deals, but it was actually very fun – we stayed at the front, so the people were behind us, so we didn’t have to really see anybody – it just sounded festive. Plus the sun was out, and the Painkillers were good – all was right with the world on the way back. It was really one of the most pleasant 45 minute boat rides I’ve ever done (I will say here that I think I’ve seen enough old men in Speedos to last a lifetime, though). Note from Lis: The Painkillers were really good and I hated everyone much less after 1.5 Painkillers, and also really enjoyed the music on the ride back to the port. With my very low tolerance for alcohol, I was also quite tipsy, and I stumbled back to the ship and then fell asleep on the bed until Mary said we must go to lunch.

Back on the ship we had lunch, and then had our tie-breaker darts game in the pub (Lis won), and then went back out to the cruise terminal to check in with our housesitter and make arrangements for our kitties in case the entire city of Portland continues to be snowed in on Thursday and Friday. (With T-Mobile, the calls in St. Thomas were free as long as we were off the ship). While we were on the phone we noticed some kind of lizard sunning itself on the rocks of the harborside, and then another, and then another, so we walked over to see – there were about 7-10 lizards (iguanas, maybe?) on the rocks. Then someone from a local shop brought out lettuce for them, and they ate it, and a bunch of us took their pictures – it was really fun.

Back on the ship, Lis stayed in the room and read, and I went up on deck to watch our final sail away – it was a beautiful afternoon, and I got some nice pictures of the harbor. Then on to our formal night dinner, which was good but not great. After a great initial job, they’ve been struggling with Lis’ diet over the last couple days, mostly just taking things away, so her meals have been getting more and more basic – plus we’re usually bored with cruise food by the end of a cruise anyway. After dinner we had an invitation to a cocktail party where the booze was free, so we put in an appearance, got some champagne, and then went to the ballroom to watch the ballroom dancers – mostly gentlemen hosts and their partners from among the passengers. This is always a somewhat dangerous activity, as the gentlemen hosts will sometimes see two “single” ladies and come over and ask us to dance. At one point this particularly smarmy looking gentlemen (not sure if he was an official gentleman host or not) got up and started toward our side of the ballroom with this weird on-the-make expression, and Lis’ eyes widened and she said “I’m scared – let’s get out of here” – but we were not his target. Still, the damage was done – I couldn’t get her to stay in the ballroom any longer. We headed back to the room and went to bed.

[This is the introductory blog post for a trip we took on the Queen Mary II in December 2008.  The rest of the blog for this trip is collected in a Kindle ebook called Travel With Us on the Queen Mary II.  See our Travel With Us page for more information.]

What a great week – on Tuesday Obama wins the election, and on Wednesday we “win” a free cruise to the Caribbean on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2!! Needless to say, we had a bit of trouble focusing for the rest of the week – Mary had to obsessively read all the election post-mortem, and Lis had to obsessively plan airfare and shore excursions.

So, how did this come about? Some time ago, Lis took Cunard’s Commodore Training Course, which included a free Graduation Cruise for her and a companion upon completion of the program. But, whenever graduation cruises were offered, they were always 1) in about 2-3 weeks and 2) snapped up before we could decide whether to do it.

On Wednesday, however, what with all the Post-Election excitement (and the after-effects of the Election Night champagne), our normal check-and-double-check-before-making-a-decision instincts were blunted. Lis got an email about some Graduation cruises and called out “Do you want to go to the Caribbean on the Queen Mary on December 9?” Mary responded, “Sure,” Lis called Cunard, and it was done.

Afterward, our instincts kicked in and we thought maybe we shouldn’t have done it – Lis was actually saying “maybe we should cancel” when her dad happened to call. She told him about it, and her reservations. He said, “OK, let me get this straight. It’s 10 nights, you only have to pay for airfare, all the food is free, and you’re thinking of not doing it?” Well, when you put it that way…

So, we’re very excited, pouring over travel books and Cruise Critic posts, trying to determine what we’re going to do in each port. Later we’ll post our itinerary and ideas for excursions.


Not on the ship yet, but we’ve made it to Vancouver. We got up bright and early today, and were packed and ready for the cab in plenty of time (the cats recognized the suitcases and were sulking, though our Sweet Orange Boy did come and curl up on Lis’ chest while we sat waiting for the cab). The cab took us to Portland’s Union Station, where we were to catch the Amtrak Cascade to Seattle, and then change to a motor coach for the remainder of the journey to Vancouver. Union Station is a lovely little station – it dates to around 1910 or so, and has been preserved in pretty much its original form. I loved starting my journey there.

The train ride between Portland and Seattle is very pretty. From Portland to Olympia there aren’t that many sweeping views, but you’re surrounded by lush green foliage and pastoral scenes. Then, somewhere past Olympia, the view opens up on Puget Sound, and you travel along on the edge of the Sound all the way to Tacoma – very beautiful. From Tacoma to Seattle it was inland, and there were a few bleak, broken down urban scenes as we got closer to Seattle, but I was listening to Gillian Welch through this part, so it worked pretty well.

Seattle’s King Street Station looks like it was once also a lovely station, but it suffered some “urban renewal” in the 60’s, and is much the worse for it – drab dropped ceiling obscuring a beautifully worked ceiling, dull walling obscuring marble walls, etc. It’s hard to believe that anyone could have thought that was a good idea. They’re trying to restore it, but it’s slow going – it doesn’t look any different than it did when we were there a year or two ago.

Once we transferred from the train to the motor coach, things deteriorated rapidly. There was a very loud woman on the bus, who first had a serious of loud cell phone conversations, and then a loud, sustained conversation with her seat mates. And in addition to volume, she had few boundaries. Here’s what we know about her:

  • Her father has a restraining order against him (“don’t contact her – you need to keep yourself safe”)
  • She recently ended a nine year relationship (“I raised his children”)
  • She’s returning from a trip that included a business conference and a 3-day wedding (“I met the most amazing people at the wedding”)
  • She’s traveling to Greece soon
  • She’s a psychologist

At a certain point, I just put on my headphones and kept them there until the bus stopped. (On a side note, who inflicts a 3-day wedding on friends and loved ones…?)

We decided, since we’re just going to be in town overnight, and we’d be arriving around 6pm, we didn’t want to spend much on a room, and booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express on East Hastings. We had stayed here once before, and found it an adequate place to stay for one-night-before-a-cruise purposes. Its biggest draw is that it’s got a free shuttle that was going to pick us up at the train station today, and take us to the cruiseport tomorrow. However, when we arrived, we found that the shuttle is out of action. The hotel itself is much louder than we remembered. We’ll definitely stay somewhere else next time.

So it’s getting close to bedtime. Tomorrow we board the ship – can’t wait!!

Lis adds: Thank goodness I have earplugs. Also Mary neglected to mention the practically inedible meal we had across the street from the hotel at the “Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese” restaurant. I should have followed my rule to never eat in a restaurant that claims to provide food from three different countries, but I was hungry and hopeful. I will say that the Jr. Whopper I bought across the street at Burger King after dinner felt positively gourmet in comparison. I’m REALLY looking forward to the Mariner.

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