Archive for December, 2006

Twice a year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention inspect cruise ships for sanitation. The most recent scores were released earlier this month, and the Regent Seven Seas Mariner became the only cruise ship ever to earn a perfect score of 100 three times in a row. (We love Regent, by the way, and the Mariner has excellent Alaska itineraries every summer.) Other ships that scored a perfect score:

Oceania Regatta – Oceania is another small ship cruise line that we’d like to try. We heard excellent things about it during our recent seminar on Crystal’s Serenity.

Princess: Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Tahitian Princess, Golden Princess

Royal Caribbean: Jewel of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas

NCL: Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Jewel

Costa’s Mediterranea

Carnival’s Miracle

Celebrity’s Millennium

P&O’s Aurora

You can look up the inspection scores for any ship you are thinking about sailing on here.

We’ve wanted to sail on Crystal for some time now, and we were very lucky to get space on a Seminar taking place on the Crystal Serenity December 15-22. We’re very excited about this cruise and plan to post to the blog live from the ship. We hope you’ll join us on the virtual cruise.

Our first port of call is Key West, Florida. Since most of the cruise is already heavily scheduled for us in advance, we’ve decided not to schedule any shore excursions in Key West – we’ll just go exploring on our own. We’re hoping to visit The Ernest Hemingway House and say hello to all the cats. We’re also interested in the Heritage House Museum which has a very large orchid collection.

Our second port of call is Grand Cayman where we have signed up to swim with stingrays. In Cozumel, we chose the Catamaran Sail, Snorkel & Beach Party excursion where they’re taking us to a beach with kayaks and hammocks. Finally, in Progreso we will take a wooden boat through mangroves and swim in a cenote.

We can’t wait to sail and hope that if you need a break during this hectic holiday season, you’ll take a few minutes and join us on the virtual cruise!

12-14-06 

On Wednesday we took the day off in order to get ready to go. We were packing and running errands and puttering around and at 4:00 it suddenly just popped into my head that our passports were in the safe deposit box at the bank which closed at 5:00. I really felt like there was someone out there watching out for us. If it had taken me another hour to remember, we wouldn’t have been able to get our passports before our plane left Thursday morning and there would have been no way to get to Miami in time for the cruise.

I also almost forgot to pack my cheap sparkly blouse I bought at Sears to wear on formal night. We’ve always avoided formal night before, but Mary wants to give it a shot. She has a lovely cheap sparkly dress from Sears and I think she looks better in it than me in my outfit – I’m not sure my stuff is dressy enough. So I probably almost forgot the blouse on purpose. It’s so cheap that it sheds sparkles all over everything. I figure once I wear it once or twice it will have no longer have any sparkles. I could have bought something I actually liked a little, but that would have involved shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I’d basically rather kill myself.

(Note from Mary: We are a little nervous about Formal night on Crystal, because we have read that Crystal cruises tend to be more formal in general than other cruises – that you’ll see people in evening wear even on non-formal nights, and that on formal nights you’ll see spectacular ensembles worthy of Hollywood awards shows. So we’re afraid that we might feel like (and, worse, perhaps be treated like) riff-raff in our Sears finery. We’ll keep you posted.)

We fly on Southwest a lot, and, since we can’t afford first or business class, we like Southwest. For what it is, it’s pretty good. Unfortunately, in addition to forgetting our passports, I also forgot to do online checkin for our flights until 12 hours in advance, so we ended up in the B group instead of the A group. Because of this, I insisted that we get to the airport earlier than usual – I was shooting for 5 am, which we didn’t quite make – and sit on the floor in the B line. We were very near the front, so we did fine in snaring seats. One time we flew (on Continental which has assigned seating unlike Southwest) when I had both a bad cold and pinkeye and I was wearing a mask so as not to infect other passengers. People looked at me very warily and I later realized I could turn this to my advantage on Southwest.

Southwest generally has three seats next to each other and Mary insists on having the aisle and I insist on sitting next to her, which leads to an open window seat. The best strategy is to loook for a skinny woman (she also can’t be wearing a lot of perfume and she can’t look like someone who’s lonely and needs to talk) in the window seat and then take the other two seats. But that hasn’t worked for us lately. On a flight in October, I tried coughing dramatically and waving a bottle of Airborne whenever anyone who didn’t fit my criteria eyed the seat. It worked until the very end but then we ended up a with a leg-spreader guy anyway. I NEVER want to sit next to a guy because they always sit down, spread their legs wide into my area and take up the entire arm rest also. It is a rare guy who is not a leg-spreader.

On yesterday’s flight we were very successful in the first leg of our 8 hour trip with 2 stops prior to Ft. Lauderdale. We had the row all to ourselves. For the second leg, I didn’t try the coughing/airborne trick (mainly because I couldn’t find my Airborne) and instead tried avoiding eye contact with everyone and loudly chomping carrots. (If you are ever boarding a Southwest flight looking for a seat and see someone being fairly disgusting, it’s probably me, trying to repel you unless I have marked you as a good seatmate and then I’m trying to quickly stop being disgusting and make eye contact so you’ll sit next to me. You can imagine how well that goes over. I just haven’t perfected this yet.) Anyway, I ended up with a leg-spreader who was otherwise fine, but I did have to battle his legs quite a bit. On the third leg, we moved to the only row on the plane with only 2 seats. That was quite lovely, except that since it was the last leg and we’d been traveling for hours, it seemed an interminable flight, even though it was only 45 minutes.

Southwest’s seats are fairly comfortable – certainly better than Continental and also a bit wider. But how does one entertain oneself on such a long journey? We pack our own lunch and we bring lots of DVDs and a laptop with two batteries. We watched 4.5 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

When we finally arrived in Ft. Lauderdale we rented a car from Dollar, which was one of only two agencies that would shuttle us to the Cruise terminal in Miami once we returned the car in Miami. We were very pleasantly surprised to see that the cheap 29.99 a day car we reserved turned out to be a red PT Cruiser. I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a PT Cruiser. Now that I’ve sat in one, I find the seats too narrow and the seatbelt has some safety thing that held me prisoner so I couldn’t move forward, so gone is that tiny little PT Cruiser craving. That’s a good thing.

Just like on our last cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, we stayed at The Sleep Inn in Dania. It seems to have gone downhill since we were here 2 years ago, but it was still quiet and comfortable and the Chinese restaurant across the street delivered food very quickly to our room. We’ve had a very lazy morning – just came back from Walgreen’s where, among other things, we bought waterproof cameras and 2 different kinds of aloe vera sunburn relief stuff. I am definitely NOT PLANNING on getting a sunburn – I have a sunblock shirt and some dermatologist recommended sunblock, but since I have never in my life swum in the ocean without getting sunburned, I might as well have some relief if it happens.

(Another note from Mary – with advance apologies to our friends from great state of Florida: I am a delicate flower when it comes to humidity. I grew up in Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho, where it is often hot but almost always dry. Then I moved to Portland, which, as you may know, is often not dry. To me, Portland is humid – however, whenever I complain about a warm humid day (because I have been known, on occasion, to whine when it’s warm and muggy), there is always someone who has experienced the South who will scoff and say “This isn’t humid – you don’t know from humid.”

Which is apparently true – I’ve now been in Ft Lauderdale on three separate days (the beginning and end of our March 2005 Regent Seven Seas cruise, and the beginning of this cruise), and on each day I’ve found the mugginess basically unbearable. And I’m not even here during peak humidity times. I probably still don’t know from humid, and yet I can’t wait to get out of here (last time it was much better once we got out on the open ocean. Update 12/16: when we got to the ship we found out that the temp was 75+ and the humidity was 89% – so maybe I do know from humid now). It definitely impedes my ability to fully appreciate the obviously cool stuff in the area. I’m hoping that I muster some fortitude when we do the little excursion to the Everglades we have planned for our return trip from Miami…)

Now we must make ourselves presentable and drive to Miami and board our luxury ship. On Wednesday I was working out and my trainer said, “You’re not going to wear those pants on the ship are you?” Those pants, being my old grey sweats with a big old patch on the butt. Mary says I was supposed to put the patch on the inside, not on the outside. Well, with that the fashion mavens get ready to board the Crystal Serenity and find out if we’re as classy as the rest of the passengers. :)

12-16-06 

This morning we are in Key West. It’s 8:25 am. I could have kept sleeping but Mary can never sleep on a cruise ship – she’s too excited – so I end up awake also. Unfortunately, it’s raining, which bums me out a little bit. I was hoping we would be leaving the rain for a week, but it’s been raining on and off ever since we stepped off the plane on Thursday.

Our plane flew into Ft. Lauderdale and the ship sailed out of Miami. We could have gotten a Super Shuttle from our hotel in Ft. Lauderdale to the Cruiseport in Miami, but I thought it would be more convenient to rent a car. We wouldn’t have to be on a schedule to leave the hotel and we’d have more freedom. (Plus, we love renting cars.) In hindsight, it probably would have been better to do the Super Shuttle. There were very heavy rains as we drove between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami – at times it was hard to see. At the rental car terminal (which it was a maze, through some fairly unpleasant areas to get to) we had to wait probably 20-30 minutes, in front of a shuttle bus with its engine running and emitting serious fumes, for the shuttle to the cruise port. By the time we got to the port, it was 2:30 (we didn’t leave the hotel until 12:30) and I was starving. I think if we’d taken the Super Shuttle, we’d probably have been on the ship by 1:15 or so.

There was no line to check in and we were on the ship immediately. We were escorted to our stateroom, which is lovely, and then we went to get some food. The only place that was open was the pool grill. I ordered a grilled minute steak which came with fries and the lettuce, tomato and pickle you would normally put on a hamburger. There was also fresh fruit and salsa and chips available. I was initially disappointed that this was our only choice for lunch, but I can tell you that the minute steak was DELICIOUS. They also had hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, tuna melts – and, I believe, grilled ham and cheese. Everyone I talked to later said everything they ordered at the pool grill was fantastic.

After lunch we toured the ship. The xmas decorations all over the ship are really wonderful. There are life-sized old-world figures of Santa (one of him skiing) and snowmen all over the ship as well as xmas trees and a giant creche scene as well as one of the three wise men. There is a menorah outside the main dining room. I find it somewhat ironic that even though it is Chanukah throughout this week, the menorah is the only reference to Chanukah. The rest of the ship is Christmas. There did seem to be a lot of people at the Chanukah service last night. Anyway, the ship is gorgeous, especially the Palm Court which is where they serve tea daily. The library was also quite lovely with a great selection of books, dvds and cds.

We didn’t even have time to finish unpacking before it was time for the muster drill. It was the most thorough safety drill I’ve experienced on a cruise ship and I was impressed. As soon as the muster drill was over it was time for dinner. We have the 6:00 seating and we chose a table of eight. We sat with 5 other travel agents and mostly compared cruise ships and cruise lines throughout dinner.

One of the big factors for me in my happiness with a cruise line is how well they can handle a special diet – in my case I am lactose intolerant. I chose a coconut fried chicken breast stuffed with mango and banana, with curry sauce on the side. What I got was a broiled chicken breast with vegetables. However, the waiter was very apologetic and said in the future, they just need a day’s notice and then they can make me whatever I want. Even though it was plain, the chicken breast was very good and the vegetables were a nice assortment. After dinner was a reception for the travel agents participating in the seminar. This included free alcohol so I took a glass of champagne and drank very little of it. When the reception ended, I brought my champagne up to our room.

Sailaway was at 9 pm and we went out onto our balcony (me with my champagne) to watch the ship leave. This was definitely the most joyful part of the first day for me. It was beautiful as we left – many of the buildings and palm trees we passed were decked in xmas lights. They played Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” as we left – apparently Crystal does that everytime the ship pulls away – and a few more songs and then it was quiet. It was SO, wonderfully quiet. There were people out on their balconies on either side of us and a few people down below on deck, but, other than a few excited children, people spoke quietly. We didn’t have to listen to anyone’s loud cell phone conversations. (Our neighbors almost had to listen to Mary’s with her mother, but I pointed out how annoying that would be and she agreed and went inside.) Anyway, sailaway was so peaceful and beautiful, and eventually, dark, except for the light the ship cast on the water.

There was an interesting discussion at dinner about the merits of smaller ships vs. bigger ships, and Mary and I realized that we are just not typical cruisers. One woman was talking about Holland America and how no matter how they try, they mainly have an older clientele (this wasn’t true on the one-day cruise we took from vancouver to Seattle). To her, this was a negative. I said, “Well, I guess Mary and I are both about 30 years older than we look!” To us, an older clientele isn’t a minus, but a plus. Another agent said he couldn’t imagine being on a ship smaller than 50 tons because what activities would there be for him to do? Mary and I and one other woman agreed that spending a week reading and looking out on the sea is our idea of heaven.

Mary has already had breakfast in the main dining room this morning – she said it was just okay – and now she’s going to accompany me to the lido buffet. Then I guess we’ll wander the town of Key West in the rain. Tomorrow is a sea day and we’re in classes all day.

12-16-06 

Today after a lovely breakfast at the Lido buffet, we wandered the streets of Key West in torrential rain.  We had three destinations in mind – Heritage House museum which has an orchid garden, Hemingway’s house, which has a very large number of six-toed cats, and a restaurant I had read about in Frommer’s called Bahama Mama’s.  Mary was in a very bad mood and reminded me of myself on a previous cruise when I just wandered the streets of San Juan whining.  I guess it was payback time.  I found the Heritage House interesting and worth the $5 admission.  The garden would have been lovely to sit in if it wasn’t pouring rain.  The Hemingway House was $11 each and I was really only interested in the cats.  Also by then we were both very tired and hungry.  Bahama Mama’s was gone.  The whole shopping center it used to be in was up for sale, so that was a little disappointing.  I’m including a photo of one of Hemingway’s cats.  catI just love the roped off bed and the cat plunk in the middle of it grooming.

Since Bahama Mama’s didn’t seem to exist, we dragged ourselves back to the ship and had lunch at the lido buffet.  I was very pleasantly impressed.  They had a huge assortment of food.  The salad bar had three kinds of lettuce and nice sized shrimp.  I had a beef stir fry and salad and some delicious french fries and some pappadum.  A waiter also brought me a glass of pineapple juice, a glass of ice, and a bottle of perrier which I mixed together for my favorite “cocktail”.

We’re sitting here in our stateroom stealing internet from an unsecured wireless network, listening to steel drum music and a rooster crowing.  One thing we LOVED about Key West was all the roosters and hens just walking around all over the place.  Mary was quite negative about the whole place, saying that it was too touristy.  I really liked it and would have liked it a lot more if it wasn’t pouring.  I know we Oregonians aren’t supposed to complain about the rain, but I guess this wasn’t exactly how I was picturing our vacaton.

After lunch, we got into our swimsuits and went to the spa where we got locker keys for the women’s locker room.  Each locker had a robe and slippers in it and we put on the robes and went down to the pool.  I swam in the empty, lovely, long salt water pool.  (It was still raining.)  Then I joined Mary in the empty very hot lovely hot tub and then we went back to the locker room and showered.  The shower was lovely with Elemis Spa products.  I especially liked the lavender body wash.  Then we went into the sauna which had a huge window overlooking the sea.  It too was lovely.  It’s the cheap person’s spa day.  It’s 4:38 right now and there is a sailaway party at 5 or maybe it’s already started and that’s the music I’m hearing.  Anyway, there will be free rum punch and more Louis Armstrong.

We’ve been comparing this cruise with our last luxury cruise on Regent, and of course it’s only the second day, but so far we think the food is better on Crystal, the service better on Regent, and there are more friendly people on Crystal – on Regent people weren’t unfriendly, but everybody seemed to keep to themselves.  However, as a tradeoff for more friendly people, there are more snooty, haughty people too.  (Mary says not hotty in a good way too.  It took me a minute to get her joke – ok now, laugh.)  I think these people are actually very low-class.  Mary says the guy in front of her yesterday at the muster drill was spending the whole time pointing out to his wife people whom he didn’t approve of.  And we’ve encountered some fairly rude behavior from people who clearly think they’re better than us riff-raff.   But it’s okay, because we know the truth.

12-17-06 

We were up at 7 am this morning because we had a seminar at 8:30.  We had chosen our room-service breakfast the night before – to be delivered between 7:30 and 7:45 and it came at about 7:50.  Room service is not a highlight of Crystal.  They do not have a separate room service department so your cabin steward also has to deliver your food.  When it gets to you it is no longer hot.  It also delays the steward from doing her other work.  Our room was not made up this morning until after lunch, through no fault of our steward, Belita, who only got 30 minutes off this afternoon before she had to start her next shift.  (We know because we asked.)

As far as our room service breakfast, I was happy with my oatmeal which was quite tasty and came with its own individual jar of pure maple syrup.  Mary was not as happy with her breakfast.

The guy leading our seminar was confused about time and ended it one hour early, which we thought was great.  It took us a few minutes to realize it was 10:45 and not 11:45, and when we found we’d gained an hour, we went to the Berlitz Spanish class we thought we had missed.  The class was great!  The instructor, Juan Carlos, is from Mexico City, and he focused on how to speak Spanish in Mexico.  He was funny, funny, funny and a very good instructor.  We are also 99% sure that he is very gay. (Mary adds that she later saw him walking around the pool in his tight little shorts and is now 100% sure that he is VERY gay.)  Another guy from Mexico who didn’t speak much English sat at the side of the room and gazed lovingly at Juan Carlos throughout the class.  We thought they were adorable. 

For lunch there was a “Grand Asia buffet” around the indoor pool.  There were a lot of choices and the food was pretty good, but there was also a line which annoyed my girlfriend quite a bit.  We keep comparing Crystal and Regent Seven Seas and they both have strong points and weak points.  Crystal’s food is generally better – both in quality and selection – but it was annoying that the Asia Buffet was the only option other than the main dining room – they closed the Lido Cafe – which made it very crowded and clamourous.  Mealtimes were definitely quieter and more peaceful on the Seven Seas Navigator.

After lunch, I talked Mary into doing our laundry at the complimentary and empty launderette rather than attending the seminar, which she was quite happy to do.  We met in the lido cafe at 3 pm for an art class which involved us doing watercolors of a sunset over the ocean.  We do not seem to have natural artistic talent (or any artistic talent for that matter) which allowed us to assess that the teacher was not very good.  As she walked around the room looking at people’s work we could hear her exclaiming, “That’s beautiful!”  and “Wow, we have real artists here.”  When she came to us, she said “Oh,” like you might say if you come across some road kill.  Then she said, “Well, that’s a start.  You might try this…”  Invariably when we tried whatever she suggested, we made it worse.  Near the end of the class she said that she had matting and frames and that she would frame our paintings for us if we wished.  Mary sensibly decided not to take her up on this offer, but I wanted my artwork framed, lousy or not!  I took my painting of a flower (Mary says its a starfish – whatever) up to her.  She said, “And what do you have?”  I said, “It’s pathetic, but I want it framed anyway.”  She looked at it, was quiet for a minute, and then said, “You know, I have some gold pens and glitter if you’d like to work a little more on it.”  I said, “No, I’ll just make it worse,” to which she said, “Oh.”

After art we went back to the room.  I did yoga while looking out on the sea and then joined Mary on the balcony where we watched the ocean and the sun beginning to set.  It was sublime.  I forgot to mention that we saw the sun today for the first time.  It was partly cloudy, but there was sun.

At 5:15 we put on our cheap Sears formal night finery and our jewelry courtesy of Mary’s mother and our friend Marla, and headed to the Captain’s Reception.  We posed for a photo with the captain and drinks were on the house, so we had champagne.  There was live music and a fantastic sunset which caused me to sit with my back to Mary which caused a few waiters to stop and try to figure out why I was being so unsociable.  The way the sun set with the clouds, it looked like a smiley face – an orange ball with clouds for eyes and a smile.  Another sublime moment. 

We fit in just fine with our Sears sparkly wear – though I had to shower afterwards because there were so many sparkles all over me.  Dinner was fantastic.  We both had Chateaubriande which was tender and delicious.  Now Mary is off to the show which is some tribute to Hollywood musicals.  Aren’t all cruise ship shows tributes to something?  I really can’t bear them, but Mary loves them.  I’m happy to hang out in the room which is very quiet.  We have never heard our neighbors on either side of us, which is great for me, AND hardly anyone on this ship smokes.  We’ve only run into two smokers the entire cruise and there are no smokers on the balconies on either side of us, which was one thing I was worried about.  That is one giant plus for Crystal – their clients tend to be more health-conscious and active, and, while they allow smoking in certain areas of the ship, there just aren’t a lot of smokers.  The other thing about this particular cruise is that the ride has been so smooth that we barely feel like we’re moving.  I miss being rocked to sleep, but it’s nice that there’s been no chance of getting seasick so far.

Tomorrow is our snorkle expedition to Stingray City in Grand Cayman.  We are very excited to try out our new masks and snorkles.  There is also a Mozart Tea in the afternoon, and in the evening a Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and then, in the movie theater, The Illusionist is playing which I am hoping I will have the energy to attend after all this activity, activity, activity.

12-18-06

This morning we took a shore excursion to Stingray City, which I had always thought was a tourist attraction along the lines of Seaworld or something.  I didn’t realize it is just a spot in the ocean.  The description of the shore excursion read like this:  “Board your air-conditioned motor coach for a brief transfer from the ship to your specially designed snorkel boat.”  We tendered to the shore and then walked over to a parking lot full of air-conditioned vans and one rickety old school bus.  We were surprised to find that the rickety school bus (air conditioned by the windows we opened) was our transportation.  During the 10 minute drive to our “specially designed snorkel boat” our Caymanian driver entertained us with his extremely defensive driving, singing, and most excellent harmonica playing.  It really is quite an adventure to be driven through the streets of a Caribbean Island by a crazy driver playing Silent Night on his harmonica and steering with the other hand.

Last time we swam with stingrays, in Grand Turk, there was one stingray.  Here there were so many it felt overwhelming to me.  I couldn’t really swim because the water was only waist high, but the swells were about 4 feet high, so we were picked up off our feet a lot, and I was a little afraid I was going to accidentally land on a stingray.  They were very friendly and sociable and swished about against our legs.  The experience was very much like having cats casually rub up against you as they walk past, except these were velvety stingrays which I was just the tiniest bit afraid of.

We spent the afternoon mostly lounging on our balcony but we did go to the Mozart tea, which was lovely, and then, after dinner, to the tree-lighting ceremony.  This was great fun, with Christmas Carols followed by 30 minutes of excellent Dixieland jazz.  We found out today our scheduled shore excursion for Progreso has been cancelled, due to “severe lack of participation.”  Mary is very disappointed as she was really looking forward to swimming in a cenote.  Maybe we can figure out some other way to swim in a cenote.  Anyway, tomorrow morning we are up early again for a “Catamaran Sail, snorkel and Beach Party”.

12-19-06 

We are in Progreso, Mexico this morning, tied up at the world’s longest dock. We’ve had a lovely leisurely morning – we slept in a little and then had breakfast in the dining room and now we are gathering up our energy to explore Progreso a bit – perhaps find a place to swim.

Yesterday we did a shore excursion called “Catamaran sail, snorkel, and beach party” that involved snorkeling and then time on a “private beach”. There were 38 of us on a catamaran that can hold up to 130 people – more on this later – and we sailed for about 45 minutes to a spot in the ocean where we had exactly 40 minutes to snorkle. We had great fun, though it was a bit crowded with people – the time was way too short. I love to just float so that the fish think you’re one of them and they swim right in front of you. One of them pooped right in front of Mary’s face. She also saw a stingray and a barracuda. I missed both of those things – I spent a lot of time trying to get away from the crowd because I was worried about getting kicked. Consequently I never seemed to be where there were many fish to see. After our very short snorkle we went to the “private beach” which was very crowded with people. When we arrived there were two other catamarans there. While we were there, two others arrived. These had the full 130 people completely jammed on board standing elbow to elbow and made me once again appreciate the pleasures of not being on a huge mass-market ship (there were 6 other cruiseships in Cozumel with us, including Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, the world’s largest cruiseship holding upwards of 4,000 passengers).

I found the “private beach” unpleasantly crowded. I spent most of my time swimming and floating, but the salt water started to bother my eyes so we went next to our catamaran and just sat in the surf. I threw our sunblock behind me in the sand and in less than 5 minutes someone had stolen it. I was quite appalled. Later at dinner I told this story to a tablemate who explained that “you can’t leave anything anywhere around here because these people will steal it.” I’m often a little slow to pick up on veiled prejudicial remarks and at first I thought she meant Crystal passengers and then I realized she meant Mexicans.

Often when people make these sorts of veiled racist, classist or homphobic remarks I just sit uncomfortably by and don’t say anything, partly because they’re spoken in code so I’m not sure if I’ve heard what I think I’ve heard, and partly because they’re not blatantly hateful so I’m not sure how to confront them. Then later I think of what I should have said, and feel bad for not saying anything. This time, however, (partly because, unfortunately, our tablemates have made enough such remarks that we’re more in practice now in recognizing them) I surprised myself by rising to the occasion and insisting that it was a cruise ship passenger who stole my sunscreen, not a Mexican. I had to defend this thesis – no, there were no Mexicans selling anything, no, all the catamaran’s staff were on the catamaran, but I finally convinced her.

We were torn about what to do after dinner – there was a classical piano concert that I really wanted to hear, but there was also a “Friends of Dorothy” party. “Friends of Dorothy” is code for “meeting of all the gay and lesbians on board.” The name comes from the stereotypical gay men’s love of Judy Garland. Many cruise ships have a “Friends of Dorothy” party once per sailing, but we had never been on a ship that had one. I felt that it was a business requirement that we go, and so we did. When we walked up we saw about 10 men and were worried that perhaps lesbians are not friends of Dorothy, but we were warmly welcomed and eventually saw two women who were very happy to learn that they are not the only lesbians on board. All the men were extremely friendly, and came forward to introduce themselves. They included two of the ship’s entertainers and two of the ship’s officers and perhaps one of the gentleman hosts, though I’m not positive about that.

We had ordered non-alcoholic drinks when we came in the room and after meeting all the men we sat with the two women. I noticed that Mary had ordered a second drink so I said, “Mary are you ordering a second drink because you found out the alcohol is free?” When she confirmed, I, too, ordered a glass of wine. The two women we were talking with were, I’m sure, impressed with our classiness! We had a nice chat with them. They have sailed Crystal many times and we asked them about how having this big group of travel agents aboard had changed the feeling around the ship. In particular, we had run into some haughty people and we were wondering if these might be travel agents. Our new friends told us that there are normally MORE haughty people onboard (“you guys have bumped some snotty people off”,) but, they both said about the haughty people, “They’re just SO fun!” I loved their attitude. They also told us that Crystal makes a point of having a Friends of Dorothy party on every sailing and that it always includes hosted drinks and h’ors douerves. (sp?)  I really liked that there was such a genuine effort to welcome us.

Our women friends had to leave for dinner so we stood up too, but ended up talking for some time to a couple of men from Texas whom we really liked. This was their first cruise ever and they were a bit nervous about the movement of the ship. Yesterday was the first day there was really any perceptible movement on the ship. I was glad for it because I like the rocking, but I imagine it must be a shock if you’ve never been on a cruise ship before and you’ve been sailing for 4.5 days without any movement.

There was a show that I actually wanted to attend. It was a Tony-award nominated vocalist accompanied on piano by his wife. On Monday night during the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony I had noticed them on the staircase. I thought they were just passengers but they were the most adorable couple and they seemed to be having so much fun that I spent a lot of time watching them. When we got back to our room I learned they were the headline entertainment for Tuesday evening, but we ended up being too tired to go. Instead we went back to our room and were asleep by 10.

12-20-06 

Progreso is a fairly new cruise port and the main reason cruise ships stop there is because the ruins of Chichen Itza are about an hour and a half away. Like most cruise ports, if you don’t venture away from the port it is mainly a bunch of cheap stuff for sale. Our shore excursion of kayaking through mangroves and swimming in a cenote had been cancelled due to lack of interest and when we asked at the shore excursion desk they said there was not really anywhere we could swim in a cenote (We found out later they just didn’t know what they were talking about.) So we opted to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast in the main restaurant – they made me a delicious asparagus and mushroom omlette and I developed over the week a great love for Crystal’s oatmeal.

After breakfast we took a complimentary bus into town – basically to the end of the 8 km pier – and went to take a look at the beach. The water was very murky and there was no place to put our stuff while we were swimming so we opted to go back to the ship. I did stop and buy some “pearls” for $8.00. I put it in quotation marks because I have no idea whether or not they are really pearls and, for the price, it seems likely they are not. But I love them all the same.

I went upstairs to the gym to workout and then did yoga on the balcony. That was perhaps one of the best times of the cruise for me. At one point I looked up and there were two black frigate birds flying above me – a passenger had pointed out to us earlier that you can recognize them by their forked tails – and it was a wonderful moment. Dinner was French themed, which did not appeal to either of us, so we managed to secure a second reservation at Silk Road, the Japanase restaurant where we had sushi and miso soup and rock prawns and I had the most tender delicious steak I have ever had. The waiter told me it was the same grade as kobe beef. Mary got to have sushi for the first time in her life. She hates seaweed and I asked our first night in Silk Road if they had anything without seaweed. The waiter said they could make it with soy paper instead of seaweed and she was very happy with that and pleased that she could join the sushi nation.

After dinner Mary attempted to go out on deck for her cruise tradition of standing at the front of the ship in the dark and singing along with her IRiver mp3 player, but it was too windy and scary. At 8:30 we went to the movie theater and saw Little Miss Sunshine which we both realy liked. I feel very bad that I was rude to the the poor guy who was standing in the theater handing out popcorn. He handed me one and I asked if it was buttered and he said yes so then I handed it back and said, “Oh, I don’t need that then,” and then walked away annoyed. The poor guy kept looking at me and clearly didn’t know what he should be doing and I felt very bad that I was taking out my annoyance on him. The last time I went to a movie it was on Holland America and they just had little bags of popcorn sitting there that you could go get throughout and even after the movie. On Crystal they made this poor guy stand there with the popcorn and then he left so you couldn’t get more if you wanted. It annoyed me that they made that poor guy stand there holding popcorn. It was also certainly inappropriate of me to take ou my annoyance on the poor guy. The movie experience is better on Holland America. It was either the screen or the projector on Crystal, but the whole picture was broken up into visible little squares. After a while I forgot about them but at first it took some getting used to.

The next day was a sea day and we had seminars to attend in the morning and afternoon. At the morning seminar we were supposed to discuss something in groups and some guy sitting in front of us said that he couldn’t leave his seat for some reason which I didn’t catch. Mary gave me a look and then wrote me a note that said, “‘I’m on quarantine’ and he’s HERE?!!” Once I caught what the jerk had said I couldn’t stop watching him. We both watched as he went and handled the juices and touched his face and touched just about every surface in the room. At the break we went back to our room and each took an Airborne. After the break he moved to the other side of the room (equal opportunity infection) and later in the afternoon we saw him in the hot tub. We were appalled. This was a travel agent, no less! The poor women who sat next to him in the morning were at our table that evening and they said he later told them he had just been released from quarantine which is not as bad, but he was still incredibly poorly behaved. Mary watched him go up to the refreshment area, pick up a tea bag and then put it back. It’s no wonder there is more Norwalk virus on the bigger ships. There are just larger numbers of people which basically increases the chances that some rude person is going to feel that is is more important for them to get their money’s worth on the cruise than to not infect their fellow passengers.

After our seminars we went to the Spanish class. At first we were the only two people there, and for that Juan Carlos gave us a bottle of Mexican Christmas beer that is in Mary’s suitcase and perhaps we will enjoy it on Christmas day. He told us about what he and his partner Cesar, did in Progreso. They signed up for a tour in town when they got off the ship. They were the only two people on the tour and for $40 got a six hour tour that included some ruins, the town of Merida, and swimming in a cenote. We were a bit jealous. A few other women showed up to the class and we all had to give speeches to the class in which we said our name and our marital status and how many pets we had. At the end he held a graduation ceremony for us where he had one of the Yamaha keyboards play pomp and circumstance and then he called out our name and had us come get our diplomas. The Spanish class was definitely one of the highlights of the cruise.

After Spanish I went upstairs to the art class to get my framed artwork. When I get a chance I will add a photo of it to this blog so you can see how talented I am. They had an open house of the ship between 1 and 6 so that people could see other categories of staterooms so we went to check out the penthouses and also the rooms without a verandah. At 5:30 we met George and Helen Litterst, the Yamaha teacher and his wife, in the bistro. Mary and I had met Helen at the Mozart tea a few days earlier and really enjoyed talking to her. She thought we would enjoy talking to George also and we had a nice chat.

We had our farewell dinner – we found we had really come to enjoy the group of people we were seated with – and then we went to the farewell show which we both found disappointing because they didn’t do a farewell to crew as they’ve done on every other cruise we’ve been on. They have the whole crew come out on stage and we get to applaud them. This show consisted of some fairly bad “ballet”, some opera singing and then a comedian who was pretty funny. He came out dressed as a Norwegian stewardess named Tuna who, among other things, talked about how she was being sexually harrassed by the ship’s captain. The other part of the show was the headline singer, Michel Bell, whom I had wanted to see a few night’s earlier. He was good, but a little too dramatic for both of our tastes.

Mary was very well-organized and packed. I was tired and basically just threw things into suitcases – thus the repack the next day in Ft. Lauderdale. We had the most movement of the entire cruise the last night and I was rocked to sleep like like a baby.

12-22-06 

The roughest night at sea is always the night after we get off the ship. At least that has been our experience both times we’ve sailed for seven days out of Florida. Yesterday we got off the ship at about 10 am. It was a very civilized disembarkation. Two nights before, they had given us our luggage tags and disembarkation times and we were not required to vacate our staterooms until it was time for us to vacate the ship. That allowed us to have a fairly relaxed morning. We showered and had breakfast in the dining room and then made our way to the Galaxy Lounge where we waited a few minutes and then left the ship.

Immediately we were surrounded by swarming porters trying to grab our bags for a tip. As I was telling Mary, “We don’t need a porter; just say no to any porters,” an attractive female porter came to ask us if we needed help and I said, “Sure, thank you very much!” Mary completely understood my change of heart and didn’t even question me. We had reserved a Hertz rental car and it seemed like it was actually quite good that we had a porter because she led us to where we should wait for the Hertz shuttle. There was one other man waiting also.

Now I say “seemed” because it took a very long time for the shuttle to come and when it did, it came across the street. We had to run across the street with our bags and then the driver tried to tell us that the shuttle was too full. These are the times I summon up my loud, offended personality and I said, “We were here before these other people and we were told to wait across the street.” He said, “Well this is for people with reservations only.” I said, “We have a reservation.” He said, “At the downtown office?” I didn’t know where my reservation was, only that it included pickup at the cruise terminal. I showed him my reservation and he jammed all our luggage into the van and the poor guy who had been waiting with us across the street had to hold some of our luggage in his lap. It was a long drive – probably over 20 minutes to the downtown Hertz Local Edition office where we all piled in and waited at least another 30 minutes in line.

When we finally received our car, a guy brought it out up front and parked it in heavy traffic and yelled at us to hurry and get our luggage in the car – he didn’t help, he did not provide a map or help us with directions. We got in the car, which stunk of cigarette smoke even though we had reserved non-smoking, and drove off, depending on Mary’s instincts to get us to Ft. Lauderdale. We left behind us one of the couples that had ridden over in the shuttle with us. They had reserved a mid-sized car and were given a Mustang convertible. They were very unhappy with this and asked to speak with the manager. The obviously bored, couldn’t care less man they were dealing with said he was the manager and shrugged his shoulders. Now, we, on the other hand, had reserved an economy car and they gave us an SUV. The obvious solution would have been to switch the two cars, but customer service was not on the agenda at the downtown Miami Hertz agency. We didn’t even know we had an SUV until they brought it to us outside. We chose Hertz because they generally have the best selection of cars and they were also one of only a few agencies that has cruise port pickup. We usually use Budget, which does not charge extra for a domestic partner to be an additional driver. Hertz would have charged us $10 so Mary was the sole driver.

We managed to get to our hotel in Ft. Lauderdale by Mary finding the freeway and then me pulling up my MapPoint software on my laptop and navigating. We are staying at The Pillars which is a lovely luxury haven within the craziness that is Ft. Lauderdale 2 days before Christmas. Even though we arrived early, they had a room ready for us and we got settled and then drove to our favorite restaurant from our last time in Ft. Lauderdale, Galanga Thai. It was not as good as last time we were there and the waitress was completely indifferent. Mary ordered panang curry and asked if it came with bell peppers. The waitress said, “Whatever it says on the menu,” and Mary said, “Well if it comes with peppers, I don’t want any.” Her curry came loaded with bell peppers to the point where she couldn’t eat it.

We then stopped at Walgreen’s to return the sunburn solutions that I never had to use on the cruise. Yay! I wanted to exchange them for a birthday card and some other items for Mary. I went to a cash register, where there was a “Code Six to the Front!” in progress. When it was my turn, I told the woman I wanted to do an exchange. She rolled her eyes at me and then yelled, “Code Five to the Front!” She then directed me to go away and someone would come somewhere eventually to help me. As I waited, whatever the next customer said was responded to with a “Code Six to the Front!” Apparently they have been watching too much ER at this particular Walgreens.

Next we stopped at Whole Foods to get some food for the plane today. This was horribly crowded and we were definitely ready to get back to the hotel, especially with the friendly South Florida driving that includes speeding up whenever you see anyone attempting to move into your lane.

At the hotel, Mary slept and I repacked my suitcases which I had basically just thrown everything into on Thursday night. I actually really enjoyed repacking – it was a bit like solving a jigsaw puzzle – and I gained a great deal of space. Next we ventured out to find an ATM. The closest ATM was at a Marriott hotel and shopping center next door. We saw a booth with a sign that said “Information” and foolishly stopped. When we asked where an ATM was the guy said, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe in the back near the restrooms. Are you visiting here for the weekend?” I said, “We’re on our way home. Where are the restrooms?” He said, “Are you spending the night tonight?” I’m a little faster than Mary at noticing a sales pitch so I said, “No,” at the same time she said, “Yes.” This led him to launch into a sales pitch for something Marriott and we walked away still without any clue where to find an ATM. We finally found one and went back to our hotel where they kindly lent us a plate and some silverwear so we could have our dinner – mine was my leftovers from lunch, Mary’s a salad from Whole Foods. Then we walked outside our door to the pier and hailed the Water Taxi to take a nighttime cruise through the canals of Ft. Lauderdale. There were not nearly as many xmas lights as I had expected, but it was still lovely. We got back to the hotel about 8 and were asleep soon after. I don’t know if the water taxi, which we have done both times we were in Ft. Lauderdale, has contributed to the sea legs, but it was definitely a rough swaying night here in our room at the Pillars and even as I type right now I am experiencing very rough seas.

Well, we have to leave here in 45 minutes to get to the airport for what I anticipate will not be a pleasant day, so I will post this and get into the shower. Later I will cover the last two days of our cruise.