Monday, March 30, 2009

Mr. Griswold, meet Prince Rainier

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night. All through dinner last night, we watch as sheets of rain raced down the deck, the wind blowing mist and miscellany past the window. The foul weather continued throughout the night and, as the song says, “Rock and roll was here to stay.” The bow of the ship seemed to bounce more than the stern and the comic had some difficulties maintaining his balance during the late show. We, in turn, were rocked to sleep by the motion of the ship, grateful that our cabin is down low and mid-ship.

We have gained another hour [Lucky us!] because the rest of the world has caught up with Daylight time. We are now six hours ahead of WPB. We are hopeful that the next time change will be for a 25-hour day as we chug back to Florida, but we don’t know about time zones in the Black Sea.

The weather in Marseilles was better this morning although it was still very overcast and quite chilly. We were hoping the temperature would break into the 60s today and were grateful for the HAL jackets. We went ashore around 11:00.
Our original plan for today had been to spend time with our old friend Maria who now lives in the area part-time, but she returned today to London from a business trip. We changed gears when we found this out just before we sailed and decided to spend time walking around the old harbor and enjoying the view, the people and maybe a gelato or cappuccino. Although the weather did not cooperate, HAL did, sort of. We may have had the prime position at the Barcelona docks, but in Marseilles we were so far out of town we could walk to Monte Carlo. HAL ran a shuttle bus into town and the terminus was [ta da!] the old harbor. If we couldn’t have a pretty day, at least we didn’t have a long walk.

The bus ride was short, actually, but it would have been impossible to walk because of road construction, lack of sidewalks and a maze-like route. The bus took maybe 10 minutes. We were let out on the north side of the old harbor. The harbor itself is small, but it was crowded with sailboats and a few yachts. The road on the north side was chock-a-block with cafes, each with its outdoor section deserted because of the weather and the hour. There would be customers at some when we returned for the ride home.

We walked to the east side of the harbor, the closed end, along with just about everyone else on the bus and found ourselves in the middle of a throng of locals buying fresh fish from vendors who had set up little stands by the water. There were more than a dozen fishmongers most of whom were selling the same types of seafood. We could not identify all of them but think that “the ugliest fish in the world” was really a monk fish. The vendors were lopping off their ugly, toothy heads as they sold them. Ick! We also saw small squid; something that looked like small conch; and seahorses as well as just plain fish. There was also one lone vegetable stand with what appeared to be the world’s largest string beans along with more normally sized cucumbers, carrots, etc.

We were really pleased to find this market, especially on such a dreary day, because there was almost nothing else open except cafes and Mickey D’s. We have become fans of foreign markets ever since we saw the Morning Market last year in Hakodate, Japan. We followed that up with markets in Zhouzhaung [China], Ho Chi Minh City [Vietnam], Bangkok [Thailand] and Siem Reap and Pnom Penh [Cambodia]. Watching the people and seeing the differences and similarities in the offerings gives us a look into the cultures of the countries we are visiting.

We wandered a little more, found a carousel and another HAL couple, and then headed for the shuttle bus stop. Just as we approached, the bus pulled away from the curb, but the driver saw us waving and stopped for a red light and opened the door. We were aboard in a flash and started to thaw out. When we returned to the ship, by a route which would have stumped a lab rat, we looked in the tchotchkes stall set up by the ship. MA found some herbes de Provence which we bought to replace some we bought in 2001 and then gave to Jon and Briton.

As an aside, we have noticed that almost all automobile parking in Barcelona, Gibraltar and Cartagena has been underground. True, there are on-street, curb-side parking places, but most cars are taken to underground garages, unlike the US where so much of the surface of the cities is taken up with above-ground garages. We waste too much space through short-sighted decisions and a lack of long-term planning.

By now it was lunch time, so we went to the Lido, then back to the room, then off to trivia. We were bridesmaids again, so we don’t have to worry about packing more umbrellas. MA and D had the answer to the bonus question but the hand that held the pencil was sure, once again, that we were wrong. We may lead a palace revolution.

After trivia, we went for an iced latte for MA in the Java Bar. She carried it to the Queen’s Lounge where there was a special pre-dinner dance program. The performers were from a Provencal dance troupe, part of an ongoing series of cultural/folkloric programs we are seeing on the cruise. The instrumentation was interesting, especially compared to the flamenco show. In the earlier program, the dancers were accompanied by a large group of guitarists and singers. This afternoon, the four musicians played drums and penny whistles simultaneously. The drums hung by straps from their left elbows while the used their right lands to strike the drums and their left hands to do the figuring on the whistles. The whistles are probably descendents of reed whistles ages from ago. Anyway, there were several “courtly” dances and several courtship dances. It was easy to follow the plots of the latter as there was good deal of burlesque in the gestures and facial expressions. All of the dances, including one in which the company recruited audience members, were lively; most were large group dances [there were ten dancers altogether]; and we and the performers were exhausted when they were finished.

Dinner [pasta with mussels/prime rib] was quiet; we chatted with Mary as we usually do. Afterwards, MA sat in the Explorer’s Lounge and listened to the string trio while D made his nightly pilgrimage to the casino for 30 minutes or $20 worth of blackjack. So far he’s a little ahead but, unlike some of the high rollers, doesn’t keep track; that would take some of the fun out of it. Tonight’s featured performer was a vocalist who sang some opera and some pop as well as playing the piano. D thought it was a little over-produced with too much reverb and too loud drums. With the start of our tours tomorrow, we will not be seeing many of the evening shows for a while.

We are in the middle of a long stretch of port days. We’ve had Gibraltar, Cartagena, and Barcelona back-to-back-to back with Monte Carlo, Livorno [Pisa and Florence], Rome and Naples scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We are being met [we hope] by private guides in these last three, marking the real beginning of the trip in our eyes. Now we have to start getting up early so we can be on the dock as early as possible; in Rome and Athens, we hope to be outside as close to 7:30 as the captain will allow.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Griswold’s visited again today. We had no plans for Monte Carlo since we had been here before and taken the tour. It was a cold and blustery day with temps around 50 and leaden skies. After breakfast, MA did a load of wash and D took a tender into town. The Prinsendam is anchored just outside of the harbor so the larger Oosterdam can use the lone cruise ship pier; it’s much bigger so the local officials can collect more in port taxes.

The ride in was quick and uneventful. D walked around the harbor area, walking up and down a hillside on the south side path to take pictures. Once in town and back to sea-level, he continued to walk the west and then the north sides, going uphill again on the last leg. As he passed the Clinique Cardio Vascular, he thought he might have to stop in for a checkup.

Monte Carlo is built into a cliff and rises in levels with only selected roads traversing the up-and-down. There are tunnels through some of the rock and tunnels under buildings. From a distance, it looks like a solid wall of buildings, some low-rise mixed in with a few high-rises.

The Grimaldis have been the ruling family in Monaco for generations. They are known to Americans mostly because actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier several decades ago. The younger members of the Grimaldi family have gained their own notoriety in recent years.

At the “second level” sits The Casino which has been seen in James Bond films and others. The roadway D walked up ended at the Casino level, practically in front of the Casino itself. He took pictures of the area, as he had on the ascent and then entered the Café de Paris adjacent to the Casino. The Café included a restaurant, a newsstand and a smaller casino which featured “jeux Americain,” American games, which really means slot machines. He converted 5 euro in coin to a 5 euro bill and picked a machine at random. He ran his 5 euro up to 9 euro and cashed out, deciding that being a winner in Monte Carlo was worth some bragging rights.

D found a switchback stairway down to the harbor level and walked to a water taxi called the Bateau Bus [bateau means boat in French]. Although the posted schedule said the boat would appear at 12:20, it was almost 12:45 when it showed up. Five minutes later, he was on the other side of the harbor and waiting for a tender back to the ship. Two separate tour buses arrived just then, so the tender waited until as many passengers as possible had been crammed in before casting off. The five minute ride back stretched to 30 minutes as the pilot fought high seas, crashing waves and crosswinds. It was the bumpiest tender ride D had ever experienced and toward the end he was regretting the cup of hot chocolate he had had while waiting for the tender. Waves were crashing over the top of the tender and it was bobbing up and down like the proverbial cork. Wham! Slam! Slosh! Whee!

He was soaked when he finally got to the cabin, not so much from the high seas but from the combination of a heavy sweater, the HAL jacket and adrenaline. He changed his sopping shirt, rested a few minutes and then went in search of MA who was found eating her lunch in the Lido. We returned to the room where D rested while MA read and worked a crossword puzzle. We joined the TT group for a 3:30 match which we lost horribly [What 2 people who have nothing to do with baseball are in the Baseball Hall of Fame? What event has the highest percentage of postponed races?].

More reading and computing followed the rout. We have to be up for an 8:00 tour tomorrow, so we skipped the show and went to bed early. [Actually, D is writing this before dinner, but his powers of prediction are amazing].

Tomorrow – Pisa, Florence and Fabrizio

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Beautiful Barcelona

Friday, March 27, 2009
The Griswold’s adventures in transportation continued today, our first in Barcelona. As in trivia, over-thinking something can lead to near, if not total, disaster. Case in point:
D had researched the HO-HO bus in January; had printed out the instructions for ordering tickets; and had also printed the list of stops on the three Barcelona Turistic bus routes. When he and MA finally decided to try the HO-HO, it was Thursday morning, less than 24 hours until the ship was due to dock. Therefore, before going into Cartagena, he went back to the website and registered and paid for two-day passes because the instructions said that that was the only way to do it. The passes were 20 euros for one-day and 26 euro for two-day passes. We went with the two-day figuring the little difference in the price was worth the gamble that we would ride twice. Of course, there was a handling charge added.

Later in the day, the company e-mailed a voucher which gave the address where we would have to actually collect the tickets. That wasn’t too bad, because it was “dead ahead” on the Rambla, a wide boulevard which stretched right to the cruise ship pier. Getting to the office would be a piece of cake.

We were pleased with our foresight until we walked off the ship this morning and found the bus – our bus! – sitting in front of the ship with employees selling tickets to every Tom, Dick and Harry who walked up. Although they had to pay either 21 or 27 euro for one- or two-day passes, they didn’t have to pay a stinking service fee. The nerve! To add insult to injury, we couldn’t get on the bus with our voucher. The first person we asked told us we still had to go the office; the second directed us to a Turistic kiosk about a half-mile away, opposite the Christopher Columbus monument.
We wended our way to the kiosk, waited patiently and were able to get tickets there, avoiding at least one complication. We joined the queue for the bus only to have everyone sort of push to the front when it arrived. Naturally, it was the same bus we had been denied boarding earlier. We were able to find seats only in the way, way back, over the rear tires. Head room was limited and so was our view because we were at the top edge of the line of windows. Needless to say, there were no seats on the top, open-air level. We were able, eventually, to snag a couple of seats in the front, but we had to ride facing backwards, so, although we had more legroom and better ventilation, we still couldn’t see anything being described through our headsets.
We were on the Blue Bus which begins its run driving parallel to the water and running past the former Olympic Village, now a trendy [and expensive] area of Barcelona. We drove past the Bari Gotic, an older section of town, and other neighborhoods as well. About one-fourth of the way through the Blue route, we came to Placa de Catalunya, the main square in town and the transfer point to the Red Bus. We exited there to transfer because the Red line goes to Sagrada Famillia, the Holy Family cathedral begun in the 1920s and only partly completed even today [more later].
We could have walked to Sagrada Famillia faster than the bus because we had to wait on line for about 40 minutes from the time we actually got to the line until we were able to get seats on a bus. We sat downstairs since we were going to exit in three stops. All in all, we spent almost two hours getting to the shrine. It was worth the hassle.
We had been to Sagrada Famillia in the Fall of 2001. On the HAL bus trip, we were not given the time to enter the church itself, just allowed to “ooh” and “aah” from the outside, mostly from across the street. The edifice is so massive that it cannot really be seen from close up. Near on, the individual parts are interesting, beautiful and mystical; from farther back, the whole project can be seen. It is almost like Walt Disney designed the cathedral while stoned. When we were there before, the completed portions looked like they had been made from melting wax. Much has been done in the past seven-plus years --much of the building is under wraps to protect it and much has been added.
Sagrada Famillia is being built with private funds, so the construction has been slow. In good times, work proceeds more quickly because there is more money available. We were glad to pay 10 euro apiece to enter the cathedral. The interior is mostly bare; however, the interior structure, the skeleton if you will, is very apparent. There was scaffolding everywhere and a few workers scattered around; we watched several plastering over a wooden frame but have no idea what the purpose was. [When we were waiting the bus on the way back, a gentleman ahead of us asked if we had seen anyone working, so D pulled out his camera to show a young girl plastering.]
We wandered around the perimeter of the nearly-abandoned church and into an exhibit showing how the architect, Antonio Gaudi, had incorporated Nature into the design. Much of what we had thought of earlier as “wax-like” was patterned after vines and foliage. Many animals showed up as decoration and rainspouts [like the gargoyles of Notre Dame de Paris]. Designs from plants and even rocks appear throughout the exterior and the spires. Knowing what to look for made our second look at the exterior even more interesting. Saints and sacred scenes had been added to the front since our last trip here and the façade now has “Sanctus” carved into the stone repeatedly above the front windows.
We took more photographs after we exited, mostly details from the front façade. Eventually, we read, there will be fourteen towers when the building is completed, each spire dedicated to a saint or other personage; the last one will be the tallest at more than 100 meters.
When we had gone into Gaudi overload [the cathedral is usually referred to as the Gaudi Cathedral], we went across the street for lunch at an outdoor café. We each had a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich and fries and the drink of the gods, real Coca Cola, not that sissy diet stuff. With a tip, we spent 22 euros, about $30 US. When in Rome….
After lunch, we tried to find the gift shop we had patronized seven years ago because MA wanted to buy another wooden box for her collection; we had bought them for D’s sister and niece last time but not for us. We found the store, but the boxes were no longer available. Something about the factory in Granada burning down. We’ll keep looking, either on the Rambla tomorrow or when we return to Spain on the way home in a few weeks.
As mentioned before, we returned to the queue for the Red bus. The line was short and the bus came shortly after we got to the stop. Maybe our luck had changed. We rode in the bottom again to avoid the wind of the open deck and meandered through the north of Barcelona until we returned to the square where we had waited so long this morning. From there it was only a short walk to La Rambla [often called the Ramblas]. We were almost home.
The Rambla is a wide boulevard with two lanes of traffic on either side of an extensive esplanade. Like Wenceslaus Square in Prague, which is also a boulevard with a pedestrian area in the middle, the Rambla was packed with people, mostly young, mostly locals. The walk down the hill to the ship was slow because of the crowd, but it provided non-stop entertainment. First, there are three distinct shopping area: birds [including roosters and canaries], flowers and artists. In each area, one can find a large number of merchants plying the trade. The artists well both finished works and made-to-order pictures, especially caricatures or informal portraits. There are also newsstand/souvenir shops scattered along the walkway and, toward the bottom of the hill, sidewalk cafes apparently run by restaurants on the street itself. There were also a dozen or so “living statues,” people posing motionless in various costumes who were hoping for tips.
By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, we were exhausted from the walking and the crowd. The Prinsendam loomed over us as we made our way past the Christopher Columbus monument once more, and then we were home.
MA was almost too tired to make it to dinner. A nap was out of the question; she was afraid she would sleep through dinner. It was Fiesta Night, and all of the waiters and bar men wore serapes, straw hats and/or rainbow suspenders. There were multi-color leis with little maracas on the tables. The best part of dinner, though, was the birthday cake the captain and staff sent to Mary, next door. We got to share the cake and ice cream even though we hadn’t planned on having dessert at all; we have fallen in love with the decaf cappuccino as dessert.

The show tonight was a Flamenco show arranged with local talent. It is an irony that flamenco is not typical of this area of Spain, Catalunya, but is normally found in Andalusia. However, the show was fun and the pictures blurry – those folks move real fast. After the show, D finished the journal for the day, checked e-mail and went to bed.
Tomorrow is another day in Barcelona, Scarlett.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The weather gods finally got their retribution today –overcast, chilly and intermittent rain. Yuck. MA’s back and knees were acting up because of the weather and yesterday’s standing, so she remained aboard while D explored some more.

After breakfast, he left the ship and right to the Barcelona Bus Turistic without any difficulty. There were only two others on the bus, both in the enclosed downstairs section where we sat yesterday when it was a choice; today it was an imperative. As we rolled along the southern route, the bus became more crowded and, eventually, passengers were using the unprotected upper deck. The ride was even more interesting today because he was seated by an unobscured window [one with not advertising on the outside], so he could see what was being described. The bus emptied out at Placa de Catalunya again.

The first stop on his walk was the Barcelona Hard Rock Café where he bought two shot glasses. One has the traditional Hard Rock logo and the other is unique to Barcelona, apparently done in Cataln, the local version of Spanish. Next, he went to CarreFour, a large European grocery chain, where he bought Laughing Cow cheese and crostini to have for early morning breakfasts when we are on tour. He wandered the store for a bit just looking; it was remarkably like any grocery store in the States.

Back across La Rambla’s esplanade to an ATM to purchase euros. The ship is still charging $1.45 per euro, so he wanted to see what a withdrawal from the checking account would cost. The final task was to find the HBMA. In Europe last spring, we had the HAMA, the Holy Apron of MA; now we have the Holy Box of MA. [Read yesterday’s entry for an explanation] None of the souvenir shops had any Spanish wooden boxes although one had several lovely boxes which had been made in India. Since she wanted a box from Spain, Indian boxes just wouldn’t do. Finally, he found something “different” in a tobacconist’s shop and bought it hoping that MA would like it. As mentioned before, we’ll be back in a few weeks, so we can look again then.

D returned to the ship, told MA about his adventures and then packed up the laptop to try to take advantage of the free wi-fi in the terminal building. He had mixed success. E-mail was accessible but he couldn’t get into Bank of America to find the cost of the euros. While waiting, he caught the journal up to date. All in all, it was a vain attempt and a waste of time.

When D left the ship this morning, he discovered that he had MA’s room key/ID card. The security people at the gangway didn’t care, but he got a funny look when he came back on board. MA thought it would have been funny if he had gotten back late – she would have been paged to call or report to the front desk. When HAL was sure she was on board, D would have been left in Barcelona.
Like many cities, Barcelona is a city of neighborhoods. The Bari Gotic is built on the remains of the original Roman garrison. The Olympic neighborhood is on the site of the housing built several years ago for the Olympics and Para-Olympics. They blend together easily. Most of the architecture is what we think of as European urban – mostly walk-up flats with store fronts at ground level, most with balconies which have wrought iron railings and a slight New Orleans flair. It is generally a low city; with the obvious exception of several more modern towers, the tallest buildings don’t seem to exceed ten stories. As a result, there is lots of sunshine [except today] on the wide boulevards and many public parks.

It is a city of art, too. The parks all have some sort of art either traditional or modern. Different neighborhoods effect different styles. The local artist most honored is Antonio Gaudi, designer of the Sagrada Famillia, who designed buildings and parks throughout the city. The Parc Guell, named for Gaudi’s patron, is at the top of a hill we chose not to climb. It is filled with representations of all kinds of animals, familiar yet not total reproductions. We hope to get there if there is a next time. Other buildings, such as the Pedrera, were pointed out on the Turistic bus.

Barcelona is filled with squares and traffic circles, also filled with assorted statuary. Avenues lead in every direction as people scurry hither and yon. Even on a dismal Saturday like today, the Rambla was busy, just not as busy as yesterday afternoon. And while this is a major cruise port and tourism center, the visible activity is mostly the people of this beautiful city just living their lives.

Summing up the rest of the day – we lost in trivia, skipped the show and looked forward with anticipation because we are in Marseilles, France, tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spanish Steps in Spain

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

We were in Gibraltar today, albeit for only 6 hours or so. We ate breakfast in the main dining room and watched the harbor slide by as the ship slowly came to the cruise terminal pier. Gibraltar holds a strategic position at the mouth of the Mediterranean and was an important military installation during both World Wars. Think of The Guns of Navaronne without the big explosion at the end.

We watched from our cabin as a refueling barge came alongside. It was actually almost balletic, the barge moving gracefully into position without so much as a nudge. It stayed there until we were ready to cast off just before 5:00 this evening. Incidentally, we are now five hours ahead of the US East Coast. During “standard” time, we would be six hours ahead, but the US starts DST much earlier than the civilized world.

We have been to Gibraltar before, along with several of the upcoming ports [and, of course, the Canary Islands], so we didn’t feel there was any need to taking another tour of “the Rock.” In 2001, we were on a minibus tour which took us all around although we didn’t go into any of the tunnels or caves. We accepted that they were there and had been important in the defense of Gibraltar and the Free World. BTW, Gibraltar is not an island but is physically attached to Spain which would like to re-claim it from the British. One peculiarity of the topography is that the road which connects Gibraltar and Spain, the border so to speak, runs across the main runway of the local airport; traffic has to stop whenever a plane lands or takes off.

On the earlier visit, we also saw where the face of the Rock had been smoothed on one side to facilitate the collection of rain water. At the bottom of this [obviously] slanted hillside there is a trough where the water collects and then is stored to form a primary source of fresh water here. Since this a really just a big rock, there is very little bare earth to absorb rain and provide ground water, aquifers, etc. We have also been entertained and terrorized by the Barbary apes, Europe’s only native monkeys, and felt once was enough.

Instead of taking a tour, then, we walked into town. There is a large pedestrian shopping area about a mile or so from the dock, filled with jewelry stores, electronics shops, alcohol merchants and tobacconists. There are also clothing stores, tchotchke shops and cafes. As one enters through the main gate, there is a large open plaza filled with the milling throng and perhaps a dozen outdoor cafes, each with its own seating area. The whole place reminded us of Old Town Prague without the history, churches or charm; the crowds, of course, were the same.
We wandered around just looking at the people and the displays. We saw a number of our CC members and even bought corn pads for a CCer who had not seen any when she was shopping. In fact that was our only purchase, 3 euros worth of Dr. Scholl’s corn pads. We hope the government of Gibraltar wasn’t counting on us to rescue them! [Actually, we saw a lot of new construction ongoing as we walked to town, apparently more housing, so someone’s economy is still okay.]

We walked back to the ship as the wind picked up and we were a little chilly by the time we arrived. Lunch in the Lido led to the Ocean Bar for afternoon trivia. While MA chatted with Kay and Norm, our partners, D went to the ship’s computers to reconfirm several of the upcoming tours; we have added four CC members to form a new group for the tour out of Lisbon at the end of the Mediterranean section of the cruise after losing Bill and Sharon through miscommunication. Of course with six people going, we will pay less than with just four, so there is a silver lining in the mix-up.

Scott and Karen were off on a wine-tasting so we allowed another trivia player to join us. We didn’t have as good a time as we would have without her, so have vowed “No more Mr. [or Mrs.] Nice Guy” for the rest of the trip. Oh, and we were bridesmaids again. But, it was only luggage tags today, so we didn’t care.

At dinner tonight, we continued last night’s conversation with Toro, our waiter. Toro is from Bali and we were talking about our week on that most beautiful island. We mentioned having eaten at Ku De Ta, a trendy restaurant on the beach, when Toro said, “Oh, my former employer!” Apparently, Toro and his family live about five minutes from the restaurant. We couldn’t remember the names of the other eateries we patronized, so D looked them up on the journal he kept on MA’s laptop. When we mentioned La Lucciola, where we had eaten twice, Toro reminded us that he had mentioned it last night. We told him we had also gone to Mykonos and Trattoria Pizza as well as getting lost looking for the Bali Deli.

We have started a new habit – cappuccino for dessert. It’s just as satisfying and better for us than the usual dessert offerings and is free with dinner. This makes us feel better about the cookies and ice cream at lunch.

After dinner, MA read until lights out; D went to the casino where he lost all of 50 cents at blackjack and tossed away another two dollars in a slot machine. We miss Garfield and Jeannie. D checked for e-mail responses about shore excursions, then he, too, read.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Today we docked, briefly, at Cartagena [Kar-tuh-HAY-nuh], Spain. The operative word is briefly since we docked at 10 a.m. and sailed off before 3 o’clock.

We had no plans for today, again resting up for the field trip onslaught which is fast approaching. We started out for town around 10:15 and were in the pedestrian shopping area by 10:30. We stopped along the way to take pictures: this part of Cartagena is filled with statues and sculptures. Of special interest were two almost life-like figures in bronze[?], one of a sailor struggling to carry his duffel bag down the pedestrian walkway; and the other of an old man sitting on a park bench. They reminded us of works by George Segal [not the actor!] who used to make realistic human figures in papier mache.

We passed lots of sailboats on the way to town; cafes; even a Burger King. It was pleasant walk. We had on long sleeves because it was only 60 F when we got up this morning, but by the time we were halfway through our visit we were so hot that MA had tied her jacket around her waist and D had taken off his sweater. The shopping area itself was far superior to those in Lanzarotte or Gibraltar. Prices were high, we were told by other passengers, but the area was extensive, clean and busy, mostly with locals. The HAL visitors were noticeable, of course, but this was not a tourist area per se like Gibraltar’s. There were quite a few banking and finance offices as well as several real estate offices and several developers, judging from the scale models of apartment blocks in their windows. Of course, there were a few tchotchke shops, but only a few.

There were a number of cafes as well, many with outdoor seating, although the thought of beer at 10:30 didn’t appeal to us. We had a narrow escape from a bakery/café, but emerged unscathed. At one point, MA sat and waited while D took pictures of the local Arsenal; the heavily armed naval policeman at the entrance would not allow him to take any pictures through or beyond the gates. We also stopped at a Catholic church on the way back, having passed it earlier on our walk. MA sat in the pews while D took photos of the interior; the exterior was too close to the opposite side of the walkway to take exterior shots, and it wasn’t very attractive anyway. Still, the church was billed as a 17th Century church and parts may have dated back that far. We were especially taken with the side chapel dedicated to St. Rita.

We wandered back to the ship, talking with other passengers along the way. It seems that everywhere we look, we find CCers. It’s amazing how 25 – 30 people can be in so many places at one time.

Lunch and trivia followed [we got whupped good today] and then a trip to check e-mail. D went on line this morning to reserve HO-HO [Hop On -- Hop Off bus] tickets for tomorrow and Saturday and needed to see if there had been any response. In fact, there had, and he spent time filing in even more on-line forms and charging the tickets; now all we have to do is find the hop on point tomorrow. Yes, getting there is half the fun.

We skipped the show again tonight. The performers were the Nat King Cole singer and the whorehouse piano player, an interesting combination, to be sure. Instead, MA read and D played a little blackjack, checked for HOHO follow-up e-mail and posted the blog.

And to all, a guten nacht.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Between The Rock and a Hard Place

Monday, March 23, 2009

Yesterday, while we were doing the laundry, we struck up a conversation with the other inmates. As is the custom, we swapped “Where are you from” questions and discovered that they were from Butler, Pennsylvania. When I told them where Susie lived, on Wallula, they knew exactly where it was, the name of the nearby hospital, etc. We actually had trouble escaping once they started talking. For better or worse, they did not know any of the relatives; if they had, we would probably still be in the laundry room.

Today, we are in Lanzarotte, another of the Canary Islands. We were here in 2001 and had a great time touring the island. [Flashback….] We went with then-new friends Richard and Rosie to find a cab driver who spoke better English than we did Spanish. When we found one, we all piled in and asked him to show us the sights, which he did. Lanzarotte is basically a volcanic cinder sitting in the Atlantic. The dirt is degraded lava, turned to soil by wind and rain. Yet there is a grape and wine industry here: the grape shoots are planted in the dark lava in holes dug asymmetrically so that there is a high side. This high side protects the plants from the prevailing wind. After visiting a vineyard, we went to a winery for samples. Whee! Free drinks!

The major tourist attraction has to be Timanfiya Park, a lunar landscape comprised of hardened lava flows. The taxi driver took us to the top of the park where we had to board special buses for a drive through the twisting mountain side. The views were eerie. Once back at the top, we witnessed several demonstrations designed to illustrate the heat still being generated by the currently-dormant volcano. A guide threw straw into a small opening in the soil and the straw burst into flame. When water was poured in, it turned to steam in an instant. Finally, the restaurant at the top of the park uses the heat from the volcano to cook food; we saw the grates, loaded with chicken and beef, which had been placed over an opening in the ground. We got close enough that we could feel the heat, too.

The last stop that we remember was a museum which had been created in a very modern house. The building was interesting, but the most fascinating part came outside. There was a grotto there which was home to tiny white crabs which were completely blind. The [pre-digital] pictures we took then did not do the crabs justice.

Well, because we had seen so much last time, we didn’t want to ruin the memories, so after breakfast, we took HAL’s shuttle into town and wandered around. On the way, we passed an Ikea store. We thought about asking if they delivered but decided not to press our luck. We were so busy last time we were here that we never really saw the town. We didn’t miss much. The shuttle bus left us off near the center of town and it was an easy 10 minute walk to the pedestrian shopping area. It reminded us of Calle Florida in Buenos Aries but much smaller. This was only 3 or 4 blocks of retail stores whereas Florida reportedly stretched for a mile, maybe more. Another difference was that there were no McDonald’s or Starbucks to be seen. [We met our good friends Don and Beryl in the Mickey’s on Calle Florida in 2004.]

We watched people since this was a real shopping “center” rather than a tourist trap and went shopping in the local grocery store. Many, but not all, of the brands on the shelves were the same as in the US, and the products were basically the same. Large displays of snack foods, crackers and yogurt, for example, looked strikingly familiar even when we couldn’t read the ingredients or descriptions. There were full display cases of fresh fish, meat and sausages; one case held only varieties of chorizo, the Spanish sausage. Another case held more traditional cold cuts. We bought two packages of Kellogg’s snack bars as a hedge against late delivery of room-service breakfast on tour days. We may do a bit more shopping in Gibraltar where the signs should be in English.

On the way back, D crossed the main road to take pictures of an old fort [which might find their way into this journal when we get home] while MA sat and waited for him. He was surprised to hear his name called but returned the greeting from Dylan, the casino manager. The other HAL staffers who were with Dylan all called D by name, sort of like everyone shouting “Norm!” when George Wendt appeared at the bar in Cheers. He returned their greetings, thinking that this was one of the benefits of a small ship and a Grand Cruise, not to mention an empty casino.

Still, the staffers are all learning our names. We are used to bar waiters learning them early in the cruise, but they, the dining room wait staff and even the dining room captains call us by name. Yesterday, the dining room captain saw us on our way to the Lido for breakfast and asked where we had been because we hadn’t eaten in the dining room in several days [we had been getting up too late to get to the dining room before it closed]. Today we made a point of having breakfast in the dining room. The Cruise Staff also know our names, but that may be because we have attracted their attention with foolishness during trivia. Nonetheless, it adds to the enjoyment and makes this cruise both different and special.

Speaking of trivia, we were bridesmaids again today. Scott has agreed to change the team name to Bridesmaids from his choice, No Guts, No Glory, which really has no pizzazz. Of course, we still like HAL 9000 but Scott controls the pencil [Are you with us Roxanne and Ed?]

Tonight there was a barbecue on the Lido but we skipped it in favor of the dining room [vegetable strudel & chicken Marsala]. Afterwards, the evening’s entertainment was a local folkloric show. There were about fifteen dancers and an equal number of guitar players and singers. The musicians were all male, but the dancers were both male and female. The performers, Agrupacion Folklorica Los Campesinos, were all dressed in traditional Lanzarotte costumes. The men had blue trousers, white pullover broadcloth shirts, black bandanas at their throats and black pork pie hats. The women had colorful full skirts, contrasting 2-pocket patterned shirts, aprons and scarves tied over their heads so that only a triangle of face showed. The performers were not young; we estimated their average age to be in the forties with a few exceptions in either direction.

The dances seemed mostly to be harvest or agriculturally-oriented. In one dance, two large woven baskets were used as the people held them up and then danced around them sort of like a dance around a Maypole. In another, the men held wooden farm implements. It reminded us of Succot, the harvest holiday. The remaining dances were more formal; these brought pictures of dancing at the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, at least as presented in the movies –very formal, very stylized and very serious. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire performance. Thom says there will be other local entertainment as we progress hither and yon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For a sea day, today was just action-packed. We were up earlier than expected when the room service tray showed up at 6:55 this morning. What were we thinking? D dressed and went in search of information about today’s Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure, a HAL staple now. When he finally found the group assembling on the back of Deck 7, he asked Thom about making a contribution without actually walking. Thom said D should go to the Front Desk and the staff there would complete the paperwork, adding a $15 charge to our account. This is probably the best purchase we will make on the trip. Thom added, though, that D should stick around for the ribbon-cutting and picture, so there D is in the exact center of the picture even though he didn’t walk more than 50 yards of a 14 lap walk on the deck.

By the time he returned to the cabin, it was time to go to the Crow’s Nest for our second Cruise Critic meeting. Of course, we were the first ones there; we have, somehow, become the public face of CC and no one else has shown any interest in doing any organizing. Twenty-five of the twenty-nine who came two weeks ago came back for more. D started the meeting by saying, “Hi, I’m D and I’m a Cruise Critic addict. It’s been 14 days since I last signed in.” Most people understood and responded, “Hi, D!” D made a few announcements including extending greetings to Jerry [Grumpy1] from Roxanne [Arzz] who is following both his and our blogs. He also related this morning’s picture incident and the one yesterday when the entire casino staff called to him in Lanzarotte.

Scott started the joke-telling, encouraged by MA, and then others just jumped in. Around 10:30, Marvin [worldroamer] made a brief presentation about Medicare. Most people stayed until 11:00, even the Canadians who just wanted to feel superior. We still have not had an officer appear to greet us [other than the Beverage Manager, Roger], so D is going to send a note to Capt.
Gunderson inviting him to our next meeting in April.

We hurried to trivia for the 11:30 start. Scott did, indeed, rename us as the Bridesmaids today and, in an irony of massive proportion, we were the winners. Mugs! We finally got the hallowed “P” mug to bring our collection up to date. No more key chains for us; we have seen the light. [What weapon was Tirpitz responsible for developing in the early 1940s?]

After chatting with Scott and Karen for a while, we took the mugs to the room and then went to lunch. MA had a 2:00 nail appointment and D had a 2:00 meeting with Bill [sk8teacher] to go over the itinerary and the cost; they discovered that D thought Bill and Sharon had agreed to a tour out of Lisbon and Bill didn’t remember it. Bill had made other arrangements for that day. They got the finances cleared and D went to audition for the blackjack tournament.

The casino in the Prinsendam is small and the crowds, non-existent. Although D had the lowest score on the qualifying list, he still made the finals because only seven people tried for the seven seats in the final. Once again, he didn’t win, but he was essentially the last eliminated – that is, he made it to the final hand and then lost big time. Still, there is another deck of second-hand playing cards in the room now in case we want to play double solitaire.

Tonight was formal night again [the third so far], so we were duded up for dinner [couscous and veggies/grilled shrimp. The performers tonight were a repeat of an act we didn’t see the first time they appeared, so we went to the cabin and read before going to sleep.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Canary in a Cathouse [piano]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Busy, busy, busy. We were up early this morning, at least for us. After breakfast in the dining room, we returned to the room to plan out day and somehow missed a morning coffee chat with a married couple who are now registered gemologists but who were doctors in their previous lives. We were interested in finding out how their love of antique furniture morphed into gems and jewelry, but we will have to watch the rerun on the ship’s TV station. [We did, before dinner, and found them boring and condescending.]

At ten, though, we were in the perfect position [i.e., the Queen’s Lounge] to hear Port Lecturer talk about Livorno, Pisa, Lucca and Florence. [We watched most of his talk on Barcelona on the telly yesterday while getting ready for dinner.] We have a private tour set for Livorno which will take us to both Pisa and Florence. While we were not so interested in Pisa, the rest in the group wanted to see it and take pictures. As Ed says, if we don’t have pictures, we weren’t really there.

We opted out of reserving tickets to the Ufizzi gallery in Florence, so Fabrizio, our guide, will lead us elsewhere. Certainly, there plenty of other places to see. Even seeing nothing is fun in Florence. We still talk about the first/last time we were there when we sat in the outdoor section of a café and had a coffee near the Duomo; watching people is fun. Anyway, Frank talked about a plethora of churches and museums in town and out. Weather permitting, it should be a fabulous day, but it is a long way off still.

We got schmeared in trivia today. Too many correct answers crossed our lips but never made it to the answer sheet. If they had, we still would have lost by one point. As we say, “The hand that holds the pencil, rules the world.” For us, it is Scott, who is very precise in his writing. The interesting thing about the TT on this trip is that no one or two teams seem to be dominating, although the high scorers appear to be consistent.

We lost another hour at lunchtime today. Noon became one o’clock and the old people are just as confused today as they were earlier in the week. At least, when we sail back and gain the hour, it will be at night. They will still be confused but well-rested.

We went to the Lido Deck straight from trivia to check out the 75% off sale on logo apparel. All of it was Panama-oriented because the last Prinsendam cruise was around South America and through the Canal. Had there been anything that said ‘Antarctica,” we might have been tempted. Lunch on the rear deck of the Lido brought us to 2:00 p.m. and the Whale Races.

Whale races are like shipboard horse races except with wooden orcas. When we first saw horse racing on a ship, we formed a syndicate to promote Lucky Lou. We shared the cost with D’s sister and brother-in-law, then sold shares to other passengers. It was like The Producers; if we had won, we may have owed the backers more than we made on the race. Emily and D sold the shares; Emily and cousins Sam and Lizzy performed a rap song about Lucky Lou; and Emily was our [losing] jockey.

The whale races today had cruise staff riding the whales as passengers rolled dice to see which whales would advance. Passengers grouped themselves around their favorite jockey’s assigned area. Everyone received “dam dollars” for participating and the winning jockey’s supporters received five “dam dollars.” With three races, passengers could, at least theoretically, win fifteen of the dollars which can be exchanged for sports tchotchkes at the end of the cruise. We lost all three races, so we have six dollars which may be donated to the more athletically inclined. It’s our own little charity.

It was almost time for a special presentation by the comic from the other night. On the way to the Queen’s Lounge, we stopped for a specialty coffee for MA, then found seats. The comic, Mike Goddard, has lived in Spain for a number of years including ten years in Barcelona itself and, more recently, the outskirts. Because of his knowledge and passengers’ curiosity, he agreed to talk about bull fighting.

He maintains, first, that the term “bull fighting” is already a misnomer because the corrida, as it is known, is considered an art form, not a sport. Matadors, in turn are treated to the respect given to artists and are usually referred to as maestro. The corrida is more pageant than fight and is laden with religious overtones. The matadors are dressed in red and gold reminiscent of the vestments of the priest; the bulls are large, dark, cloven-hoofed and horned like Satan; and the sword, once imbedded in the bull, shows only its handle, a cross. As if this were not enough, Goddard makes the point that it is popular only in majority-Catholic countries – Spain, France, Argentina, etc.

Another reason he says that it isn’t a sport is that the outcome is never in doubt. Good, in the body of the matador, will always win and evil, the bull, will always lose. Matadors may “fight” six days a week, but the bull only gets one performance before he is retired to the abattoir. People come for the spectacle, if not the religious imagery, knowing the eventual outcome. They are interested in technique, not result, and fans have their favorite matadors just as they have their favorite soccer teams. The top tier matadors earn up to a million dollars a week! Anyway, Goddard told stories about the corrida based on his own experiences and both entertained and informed a rapt audience.

By now, it was read/rest/compute/nap time so we could be on time and duded up for the Captain’s reception before dinner. Whee! Free drinks!

The reception was fine but crowded. We don’t know the criteria for invitations, but there were over 200 people present out of only 625 aboard. The ship tilted slightly forward. The captain made a gracious and humorous speech, people drank and ate – it was a real nice clambake.

After dinner [shrimp for her, chicken for him], we went to the show. The featured artist did a tribute to Nat “King” Cole which everyone enjoyed. The audience was really looking forward to a good show since the crowd was about twice that for the violinist. Unforgettable, Straighten Up and Fly Right, Walking My Baby Back Home and L-O-V-E were just a few of the standards he sang. It was a great show.

Speaking of great, the weather continued to be perfect. The skies were clear and the water almost mirror-like in its smoothness. As we ate lunch on the Lido back deck, it was easy to see why earlier people believed the world was flat; no matter which direction we looked, there was nothing but two shades of blue separated by a perfectly straight line, the horizon. Cruising doesn’t get any easier than this. Wind is predicted for tomorrow and, with it, some increased swell and motion. Since Capt. Gunderson has been speeding up during the good weather, he will be able to slow tomorrow if needed to help stabilize the ship. It will be a good day regardless.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Speaking of presents, so far we have received the previously mentioned cruise journals; matching business card holders; and the promised jackets. As Scott and Karen predicted, these are polyester polar-tec type jackets with detachable sleeves so they can be used as vests, also. Of course, they have a HAL logo, so we will be readily identifiable to the gendarmes should we be the victims of foul play. Actually, these beauties should get a lot of use since the temperatures have dropped aboard the ship and temperatures in our destination ports are currently in the mid-50’s. The downside [no pun intended] will be in packing them to come home. There is no telling what else will find its way to the cabin over the next six weeks, but luggage space will be precious and Dominique’s car will already be packed to the rooftop. We have yet to decide on canceling the driver and renting a car [with more room for less money].

Friday was anything but frantic. We attended the coffee chat with the 24-year-old violinist who performed the other night. She is not a good conversationalist but will get better as she matures. Trivia was exciting but futile -- we were third today in the race to the “P” mugs. There was another time change at mid-day, so we left trivia at what became 1:00 and went to the theater to secure seats for the 2:00 showing of Slumdog Millionaire. We missed the normal lunch hour and got pizza in the Lido after the show. We finished around 5:00 and took a little rest before supper.

The show tonight was a melange of the comedian and the contortionist/illusionists which we skipped, opting instead to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Although it is 7:00 p.m. ship’s time, the East Coast registers only 3:00 p.m. Yes, indeed, another 23-hour day today. The oldsters are spinning their wheelchairs in confusion.

Today we learned that there is no place to hide on the little ship. At trivia today, one of the questions was, “What did Yankee Doodle call his feather?” The room was dead quiet as answers were written and, in the quiet, a voice was heard. “I know that!” And D said loud enough for those in our area, “Lady, we all know that!” Corey, the TT ‘host’ became hysterical; we laughed so much we were almost crying; and someone in the team behind us said, “Lasagna.” At least we are having fun even if we are the perpetual bridesmaid – our 20 points was second to another team’s 21. At lunch later, Corey walked by MA at the table and said simply, “I know that” and continued walking. We fear our reputation has been made.

After lunch we went to hear what Frank the port lecturer had to say about Teneriffe and Lanzarotte, our ports tomorrow and Monday. We almost fell asleep listening to him, so we left before he was through and went for our nap a bit early.

After dinner, we went to the Explorer’s Lounge and listened to the trio which plays there every night, then went to the Queen’s Lounge for the show. Tonight’s performer was a pianist who was long on enthusiasm but a little short on skill. She hammered out an assortment of pop and classical tunes and was a real showman [show-woman?], but she noticeably fat-fingered a lot of the notes, so the performance wasn’t all it should have been; actually, she played mostly bad whorehouse piano. Still, the seniors gave her a standing ovation based on her energy level and skin-tight red sequined dress. As the salesmen said in the opening number of The Music Man, “You gotta know the territory.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Land! We docked at Santa Cruz de Teneriffe, Spain, early this morning. The weather was overcast but was supposed to clear off later in the morning. Temperatures were approaching 70. There are two ships in port today, ours and a Costa ship.

Teneriffe is one of the Canary Islands, named after wild dogs which inhabited the islands centuries ago. They and any hint of the original inhabitants are long gone by now. The Canaries are important because they are off the coast of North Africa and have provided a strategic location for centuries. Most recently, they served as a refueling stop for the Allies during WWII. The city of Santa Cruz is modern in appearance with a number of skyscrapers in the downtown area. When we were here in 2001, we found it to be a bustling city; the parts of the island we saw were busy with automobile traffic and tourists.

We made no plans for either stop in the Canaries, having seen them before. None of the tours sounded particularly interesting nor did the thought of another HAL bus. We stayed aboard and did laundry and read. At least on the Pequod the self-service laundry is free. We thought about walking from the pier to a large public park about a half-mile [or more] from the ship, but decided to skip it because of the overcast and the hill we would have to walk up. There will be enough walking and enough hills once we begin our private tours in ten days.

The ship is a little more than two-thirds filled for this segment of the cruise with about 625 passengers. So many of them have taken shore excursions or walked into town that the ship feels like the Flying Dutchman, the ghost ship of legend and Wagnerian opera. It is very quiet and there were no lines at lunch [or for the washers and dryers] yet all of the ship’s services are available. It’s quite lovely, actually.

Most people were back in time for trivia and the Ocean Bar was full again. And, again, we were in second place by one point. It is starting to feel like Twenty Seven Dresses around our table.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Like Seinfeld, a Blog about Nothing

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sailing! Sailing, over the bounding Main…the Spanish Main, that is. And we bounded, or at least bounced, a bit overnight. The seas have been mostly smooth today although it has been cloudy and windy all afternoon. The Captain says that there is big storm system north of us in the Bermuda area and we are hoping that it brought rain to South Florida. The wetlands near our house now resemble the Serengeti. We expect to see hyenas and zebras any day.

We were up early and ate breakfast with 6 total strangers, a sort of involuntary socialization foisted on us by the dining room captain. In fact, we like meeting new people and enjoyed talking to several of them but not all. We were in the Ocean Bar very early for TT because it is a comfortable place to read. We not only read but we also worked on crossword puzzles and the Daily Quiz. [We were just ever-so-slightly off on several answers again today] Our team was assembled by the 11:30 start time and we charged head on into minutiae. We did better than we expected which is to say that our 14 correct tied for first place.

Had our Canadian teammates known when Canada became a country, we would now be the proud owners of more HAL mugs. We need some from this trip so we can spell some new words. We already have N, R, A, S and M [and left V and W in Baltimore when we moved], so the addition of the P for Prinsendam would allow us to spell “snap,” “pans,” “maps,” etc. There are 45 days left, so we are not worried.

We sat and chatted with Scott and Karen after TT, then went for an early lunch, at least early by our standards. From there we went to the casino where MA raced through her money on the slots while D was breaking about even at the tables. D entered today’s blackjack tournament and was the point leader through the first round. By the time the finalists were named, he was number six, but at least he was in the final. Actually, everyone who had any points after the qualifying rounds was a finalist. Only about eight people tried out and the top seven made it to the final round. Bold betting and lousy luck forced him out ahead of everyone else. Such an honor, paving the way for the rest of the players!

Meanwhile, MA spent time reading and then talking with another CCer, Barbara [worldroamer], who winters near us. After the tournament, the three of us talked about cruising, naturally. Then it was back to the room to read and update before dinner [and maybe just a little nap?]. Dinner itself was adequate but not outstanding – vegetarian [of course] and duck. The show was interesting, though. The performers combined acrobatic lifts a la pairs skating with illusions, although not simultaneously. The acrobatic aspects were quite unusual with the female dancer almost contorting her body while in the air. The illusions were pretty run-of-the-mill disappearances from an assortment of boxes. The highlight came when a man in a sport coat had it removed while he was tied up only to appear being worn by the lovely assistant. For reasons not being explained here, we thought of Ed.

We heard back from Yasar in Istanbul yesterday. We had exchanged messages about the logistics of a dinner program the first day we are there. His dinner tour turned out to be a dinner and folkloric show for 50 euros rather than a dinner cruise. Even his plan would have been a possibility until he stated that the dinner and show ran from 8:00 to 11:30 p.m. We wrote back that that schedule was not acceptable because we have to be on the dock by 8:30 the next morning. Maybe the next time we are Istanbul we can cruise between Asia and Europe while eating local delicacies.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Faith and begorrah! ‘Tis St. Patrick’s Day and there green decorations everywhere. Most of the passengers have green on them; many of the staff are in hats; the cruise staff is arrayed in green polo shirts; and tonight, as part of formal night, is the Green and White Ball. Sure and it is.

The day began normally enough with “the usual routine.” We tied for first again in trivia and again lost the tie-breaker question, so we didn’t take home the HAL umbrellas; we already have some anyway. We returned to our cabin before lunch and found an order form for jackets which will be left in our rooms on Thursday, courtesy of HAL. It may not count as one of Roxanne’s pillow gifts, but it should come in handy as we sail through the Mediterranean and Black Sea ports. We discussed bring our matching yellow windbreakers from Florida but decided we would rough it with layers of clothing. Besdies, we were out of space to pack them.

After lunch, MA read while D worked on the “accounts” for the shore excursions [and won another $5 at blackjack], then we went to the movies. We were a few minutes late, but it wasn’t hard to pick up the story line of W, Oliver Stone’s jaundiced film about George W. Bush’s background and presidency. By the time the movie ended, it was 5:00 and time to get ready for dinner because our show tonight is scheduled for 6:30, before dinner, so the Green and White Ball can take place in the theater.

We changed time zones today. Normally, on cruises, we are told to set our watches ahead [or back] before retiring for the night. Thom, the Cruise Director, had a novel idea – we all set our watches and the ship’s clocks ahead at noon. In this way, no one loses an hour’s sleep even though we lose the hour during the day. It seemed to go smoothly and we presume the same procedure will be followed during the remainder of the time changes.

Dinner tonight found the dining room and wait staff all decked out in green. Each table setting had either a St. Patty’s tiara or cardboard top hat, green of course. D wore his hat throughout dinner, but MA had more restraint and put it on for just a minute. FLASH! MA had pasta tonight because the veggie entrée was tofu. Gack! We also had wine with dinner since it was special occasion. We had found three bottles of sparkling wine when we arrived and were told by Ralph, the Beverage Manager, we could trade them for “real” wine on a one-for-one basis. Last night, we carried one of the bottles as far as the Ocean Bar in anticipation of talking to the wine steward. Ralph saw us and came over, thinking perhaps that we wanted the bottle served right then. When he discovered that the “champagne” was warm, we explained about the switch and he said he would take care of it. Sure enough, there was a bottle of chilled Sauvignon blanc waiting for us when we got to the table. It is drier than MA thought it would be and should last several more evenings.

After dinner we headed for the casino. MA lost her $5 in the slots and D played table games, first blackjack and then some weird poker variation. He broke about even for the day. We’ll talk no more about it. The show tonight showcased a British comedian who lives now in Barcelona. He was a good story teller and avoided the kind of insult and sarcastic humor which too often marks comics today. He was inoffensive but funny and did not tell the same old cruise ship jokes.

Off to bed to rest up for another day of team trivia and laziness. It’s very tiring, you know.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Seas have remained calm for another day as we sail between two stormier areas as indicated by the ship’s radar. The Cruise Director, Thom, referred to our skipper as Captain Moses last night, as if the Atlantic had parted to let us through.

Trivia was not as good as the weather. We had 15 correct, but it took 19 of 23 to win. Even with the ultimately right answers we didn’t use, we wouldn’t have been victorious. The team nearest to us exchanges papers with us every day. Most days we get different questions wrong, but we have had the same total for about 4 days in a row. If we could have teams of 12, we would be unstoppable.

We have reached the mid-point in our crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. To commemorate the event, Thom organized a “swim across the Atlantic” festivity. He and much of his staff were joined by passengers of little common sense in a dip in the mid-ship pool. We sat outside and watched them. The temperature was not too bad, probably low 70’s, but the wind was so strong that we finally went inside before they were finished videotaping the polar bears who went in. Thom, naturally, wore a tuxedo jacket with his swim trunks. A brief, albeit unsuccessful stop in the casino preceded our return to the cabin to warm up a bit and read. And nap, of course.

After dinner [escargots and veggie for her, coq au vin for him], we went to the casino for a bit. MA raced through her $5 again and went for a specialty coffee while D continued to play. He ended up ahead again, but, after all, the stakes are low, a $3 minimum at night. We went to the show which featured a young [24 years old] violinist who was quite good. She played everything from Rachmaninoff to Gershwin to Irish reels, and all of it barefoot. She said that playing in heels on dry land is tough enough; playing in heels on a moving ship would be suicidal.

And so to bed to rest up for another jam-packed day of relaxation.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saints and Sinners, part II

Time is money when you use the internet aboard a cruise ship, so we won’t be posting every day until we get to the mainland again. We will continue to check e-mail on the ship’s computers which work faster than our laptop. Alas, we can’t post the blog from their machines.

We will report our trivia results, menu choices and other exciting news next Saturday before we get to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and again Tuesday after we leave the Canaries. The reason is simple: there will be nothing to report except the shipboard routine. By now, it should be obvious what that routine is. Sleep late, have breakfast in the dining room and then read until TT time which is 11:30 on sea days. Hang around with the team chatting, then read until lunch. Read in the afternoon until nap time. Shower and dress for dinner, then visit the casino after dessert. See the show if it sounds really exciting. Go to bed. Repeat for the next five days. And that’s Monday through Saturday of this week.

Today, however, we were in port on St. Lucia, another southern Caribbean island. Pretty and green, it looks like lots of other islands. We had thought about taking the water taxi from the dock to town, but the taxi wasn’t operating because it is Sunday, the owner’s day of rest. Or, as someone on the dock said, “He is a Christian,” which made at least one of us wonder about the rest of the islanders. Voodo, perhaps?

We did get off the ship to visit the retail shops on the pier. It reminded us of a poor man’s St. Thomas where many of the ritzy-glitzy stores have outlets at the pier. This one was kind of sad, though some passengers still found ways to spends dollars. The best bargain there may have been two bottles of beer for $3US. We didn’t spend very much time ashore and returned to read on the stern deck again. It was still windy even though the Prinsendam was anchored and eventually we went inside and got lunch.
From there it was off to the Ocean Bar for a Coke Zero from our stash and then TT where we tied for second again, missing out on magnificent HAL picture frames by just one point. We weren’t too disappointed and we continue to have fun as a group. Oh, did I mention that Coke Zero is the new drink of the gods.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and wrestling with the Sunday NYT crossword. So far, it is winning. At dinner, we continued our nightly conversation with our next-door neighbor. For the foodies out there, MA had the vegetarian curry and D had the fish. After dinner, we checked the answers to the Daily Quiz in the library. We look at it every day but don’t turn it in; usually the winning entry has been submitted before we even see it in the morning. Some of the more competitive types use the library and internet to research the answers. That takes the “trivia” aspect out of it. We figure we either know it or we don’t. Frequently, we don’t.
MA decided to finish reading her book before bed, so D took the laptop to finish today’s journal entry. Once again, he was seduced by the blackjack table where he parlayed his $40 into $65. He was so grateful that he left a $5 chip as a tip for the dealers. Maybe they’ll lend it back to him at the end of the cruise.
And so to bed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saints and Sinners

The Prinsendam is making a short stop in St. Barths today. Technically, the island is St. Barthelemy [bar-TA-la-me], named, of course, after St. Bartholomew. It is a quiet island with a small, three-sided harbor at the town of Gustavia. Even though our ship is very small compared to most cruise liners, it is still too big to dock, so we had to use tenders to go ashore.

The morning was lazy; we slept in and were among the last people to be served in the dining room. We waited to go ashore until after the Shore Excursions were well away. They didn’t start to disembark until 10, so we waited until after 11 to leave. In the meantime, we worked on crossword puzzles and checked our e-mail from the room. Scott was correct when he said that the internet signal is stronger in the room if the cabin door is open.

St. Barths, like the other Caribbean islands, is volcanic, the remains of some prehistoric eruption. Around the harbor are smaller volcanic “piles” which are mini-islands. It reminded D a little of the rocks seen as one passes Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. There is little to distinguish St. Barth’s from any other volcanic isle here or in the Pacific. The trees and ground cover would come naturally, there are plenty of artificially quaint restaurants and bars. We could be in St. Thomas or Cozumel; the only difference is in scope, not substance.

By time we got tender tickets, boarded the tender and rode the waves to town, it was almost noon. We wandered around a bit, took a few pictures and bought MA a souvenir t-shirt. Like the Prinsendam, it was a cute little place.

The Prinsendam is a small ship by modern standards. At a time when cruise ships now hold 3500 to 5000 passengers, the Prinsendam hold fewer than 900 when fully sold. Currently, we have 624 passengers, according to the captain. That number will change when we reach Athens because some folks will depart and others will begin their voyage. Prior to our departure, D found through researching Travelocity that there were almost 50 cabins still available for the full voyage. As a result, no venue is crowded and soon enough everyone looks familiar.

The scale of the ship means that the cabins are small, too, but very livable, especially compared to the “upgrade” we received last Fall. We have a walk-in closet which is crammed to capacity; a refrigerator for all of the Coke Zero; and a loveseat and a chair. We can actually sit in them, too, unlike last year when there was no legroom in front of the sofa. The bathroom is so small that Congressman Larry Craig could not have assumed his famous “wide stance” even if he removed the toilet paper holder. There is no electrical outlet in the bathroom either, a real challenge for men who use an electric shaver [D doesn’t]. In fact, there are only two outlets in the room, a 220-line for the hair dryer and a 110-line for everything else. Fortunately, HAL lends multi-outlet strips so the tuned-in, turned-on generation can charge cell phones, cameras, computers and MP3 players. Of course, the nest of cables leading to the strip looks like a snake pit.

Meanwhile, back at the narrative: After wandering for a little while, we returned to the tender pick-up point and then the ship. We were aboard by noon. We read the NYT before lunch, then claimed our table for TT. We also spoke with both Scott and Bill about a dinner cruise in Istanbul. We had e-mailed the tour operator declining the tour but now think we will take it if we get back by 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. After TT, Bill and Sharon came to our table and said that they were willing to take the dinner cruise, so D e-mailed the operator in Istanbul and changed our collective mind. We hope to hear from “Yasar” tomorrow. Speaking of TT, we scored a paltry 14 of 23 today; the winner had 17 of 23. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
We left weighed anchor around 4:00 p.m., heading to St. Lucia, tomorrow’s port of call. The captain says we will have smoother seas than we did on the way south, but we didn’t think it was very rough. It did occur to us, however, that a drunk is the only person who can walk a straight line on a rolling ship.

It’s Pirate Night tonight! Arghh! The dining room staff all were dressed in some semblance of pirate costume as were many of the passengers. Each place-setting included a paper pirate hat; ours will go the grandsons when we see them this summer.

We continued chatting with the lady at the next table especially since she will be on board for entire 50 days. We spoke to a couple before dinner who are going only as far as Barcelona and saw others in the dining room tonight trying to find their tables. We are assuming that for some reason they began their cruise today. We don’t know how many segments HAL finally broke the trip into. We know that the Grand Asia last Fall started as 2 segments and ended up being sold in 13 different legs.

After dinner we went to the casino for a little while. MA played a slot machine unsuccessfully, but D did well percentage-wise at blackjack. When you are only betting $3 per hand, you look at profit ratios, not net profits. D was surprised by the low table stakes, but on the cruises dominated by people one step removed from death, action in the casino is as likely to mean a broken hip as a crowded table. The low limits are designed to bring in the customers.

We went to the Explorers’ Lounge for a bit to listen to the piano-violin-cello trio playing there. The comparable group on the Amsterdam played rather melancholy classical music, but here the music is more contemporary. For example, we heard Over the Rainbow and a medley from West Side Story. Even these sounded mournful. And so to bed. MA was left in the room to read whilst D finished the blog from a new location. He had been using the Stuyvesant Room near the cabin but discovered a desk by the theater which had a 110 outlet strip. This will become his new hideaway late at night.

Tomorrow we are docking at St. Lucia before starting our voyage across the Atlantic. Are we there yet?

Goofs and Gifts

Friday, March 13, 2009
After D fixed the traverse drapes last night, the room stayed darker this morning. We were still up by 7:30, leisurely when one considers the future when we will have to be on the dock at that time. We had breakfast in the main dining room, alone at a table for 6. At 9:30, there was coffee and conversation with Thom, the Cruise Director, and Ian Finkle, the xylophonist from last night. It was a lively conversation – Finkle shows a good sense of humor and a strong Brooklyn accent; he reminded us of both Garry Marshall and Gilbert Gottfried in his delivery.

Before going to TT, D stopped to straighten out some confusion over a “free” dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, the ship’s steak house. Because we complained about our cabin on the last cruise, HAL offered us credit toward a meal in the Grille on the next cruise, but it didn’t show up on our initial statement. There was no difficulty – all we have to do is present our letter when we make a reservation. There was no credit on the account because the charge varies depending on whether there is a “special” event scheduled; we will be covered for any evening regardless of the cost.

We went to the Ocean Bar for TT and met with the Beverage Manager who is taking charge of arranging the CC meetings. We discussed dates for four more get-togethers and he said that he would send an advance copy of the invitations in case we wanted to edit them; he will also have the invitations delivered to the fifteen cabins involved.

Trivia found us living down to the expectations borne of an overwhelming opening day win. We finished with 16 points but there were a half-dozen teams which did better. We had a good time and did not lament the luggage tags we didn’t win. One interesting note is that Casey, the TT staffer in charge, brought printed copies of the questions to our table as he read them so that Kay, who has a hearing problem, could read the questions. This really made her a part of the team and she did not have to use special earphones to try to hear them as they were read.

We wandered for a bit before settling in the casino where MA won $5 on the slots and D won just $1 at blackjack. On other machines, MA won another bazillion bucks while we can all predict what happened to D’s $5. Say bye-bye, buckeroos. Off to lunch at the Lido buffet and then onto the fantail of Deck 8 to work on crosswords and a trivia quiz. When the spray from the Deck 9 pool became too bothersome, we went back to the casino [where MA won again] and then to the Ocean Bar to read and begin the journal.

Time for a couple of asides:

[1] Grand Voyages are not like regular cruises, even long ones. The staff is making a concerted effort to learn the names of new passengers and amazingly remember names of many of the returning passengers. There are a lot of those, making us feel, once again, like cruise virgins, at least regarding the Prinsendam. In addition, there are special lecturers, guest chefs and other special activities. Even better, guests receive what our friend Roxanne calls “pillow” gifts even though they are at the foot of the bed. Last evening we discovered not one, but two wonderful journals to keep track of our voyage; we have used these before although we now keep our journal on the laptop. Still, we saw one of the CCers on the back deck writing in hers this afternoon. We are hoping for a gift on each of the formal nights, the first of which is tonight. On the Amsterdam last Fall, we received cruise-specific stationery, totebags and travel purses; sweat shirts, umbrellas and specially-created china; there were other things we missed because we only took the first half. We are anxious to see what appears in our cabin this year.
[2] On Wednesday, just to add to our fun, we had to rush through lunch to attend the mandatory boat drill. HAL usually takes these seriously since they have had occasion to evacuate ships. We were standing in line listening to the usual instructions when the passengers closest to the ship’s windows started getting wet. There is an water discharge system which automatically [and accidentally] started to spray water down the windows. At first we thought it was a window-washing mechanism but were told later that the water is aimed at the windows simply to help cool them; rinsing them, to HAL’s thinking, was just a serendipitous bonus. Needless to say, the mood was broken; although our spirits were not dampened, just our shoes.

Tonight was “formal” night, so we got duded up in our glad rags. D still looks like a Swiss banker when he wears his tuxedo but if he gains any weight on this cruise he won’t be able to wear it by the time we disembark. We ate at our newest table, just the two of us at a table for four. We struck up a conversation with the woman at the next table and the three of us had a pleasant evening. We think we will abandon our plan to try a different table each night for fifty days. We skipped the Alaskan king crab [imagine melted butter on formal wear], and had the vegetarian and rack of lamb, respectively.

Because we couldn’t enter the show venue until 9:45, we spent some time and money in the casino proving that the slots are rigged in favor of the house. Then it was off to the Queen’s Lounge for staff introductions, hand-shaking and a toast. The captain is quite affable and well respected by staff and passengers alike, so this will be a good cruise. The full-cast production show followed, a musical salute to assorted European countries in song and dance. It was interesting watching the dancers on the bouncing sage since the ship was rolling a bit.

We returned to our cabin at 11:15 to discover that the cabin steward had not straightened the room, turned down the beds or cleaned the bathroom. D went to the Front Desk to alert them, but there was nothing to be done that late at night. If Harry, the steward, expects an extra tip at the end of the voyage, he had better improve the service. At any rate, MA read and went to sleep while D finished this journal entry which he had started earlier in the afternoon.

Tomorrow, we are in St. Barts, our first-ever port in the Southern Caribbean. We plan on wandering through the town just to do something.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Our first full day at sea was not nearly as action-packed or adventurous as yesterday. For starters, we did not go back to West Palm Beach although we are already getting a lot of mileage out of the story.

After breakfast in the Lido restaurant, site of the buffet service, we returned to the room to gather goodies for the Cruise Critic meet-and-greet which was scheduled for 10:00. We arrived at the Crow’s Nest bar at 9:25 to discover that there were folks already there. D spoke with the staff members to make some final arrangements [i.e., large serving bowls instead of soup bowls, etc.] and found the staff to be very personable and professional.

Once the appropriate serving pieces were delivered, both D and MA began arranging Berger Cookies and Goetze’s Caramel Creams for people to eat later. Other members arrived with their offerings and we were able to find room among the HAL cookies for chocolate covered peanuts, NY baseball-oriented items and Florida goodies. D had suggested on the CC message board [chat room] for this cruise that participants bring something representative of their home cities. Nothing says Baltimore like Berger’s and Geotze’s. D also unloaded Bra!nchild pens as souvenirs and another couple had small pill containers which were perfect for this crowd.

A word of explanation may be in order: Cruise Critic is a website devoted, obviously, to cruise ship passengers and wannabes. In addition to general cruise news, it also provides what are essentially chat rooms so people who are on the same trip can meet each other, albeit anonymously. We all have screen names; some post their pictures; countdown calendars showing their next cruise; or even pithy sayings. We first discovered CC prior to a 2007 Mediterranean voyage which we canceled. CCers exchange information, tips and complaints. We found our friends Ed and Roxanne via CC last year and enjoyed many wonderful field trips with them. This year, we are teaming up with Scott and Karen, as mentioned yesterday, and Bill and Sharon whom we met on line. We have become our own little Facebook.

Once everyone seemed settled, D started the meeting off by having everyone introduce and tell a little about themselves. It was interesting to find so many retired teachers in the group as well as a surprising number of former engineering/science professionals. Several were relative newlyweds who had met on line. All in all, it was a very compatible group. Once everyone had spoken, we just broke into little knots of conversation before everyone drifted away around 11. Although there are no firm plans yet, we anticipate several more meetings. One member who works in elder law has even volunteered to give a presentation to the group. Sadly, we certainly all qualify!

Karen left ahead of the rest of our little group to stake out a table for Team Trivia, hereinafter called TT. As mentioned before, she and Scott are holdovers from the ship’s last cruise and knew that the Ocean Bar would be crowded for TT. It was. We had invited another CC couple [Kay and Norm] to join us and were able to defeat all of the other teams by scoring 22 of 23 possible points. Although we won cheap ship stuff [try saying that fast three times], we fear that we have only one direction to go now.

We went to lunch just before the dining room closed at 1:00 [chicken Caesar salads, Jon] and then ran some errands at the front desk. We spent the rest of the awake portion of the afternoon struggling with the New York Times crossword puzzle. It tired out so much that we had to take a long nap. Dinner was at 8:00, as usual, so we went for a drink first.

Yesterday, we thought we had solved our dinner dilemma by ourselves, but today, as predicted, we received a new table assignment. We became the 6th and 7th members of a table for 8. We decided to see if yesterday’s table for two was still available, but it had been assigned to someone else. The maitre d’ found us an empty table for 4, so we will, hopefully, be able to invite new friends either occasionally or even permanently unless they send someone to us unannounced.
The entertainment tonight was Ian Finkle who played [tortured?] the xylophone. He was really good and included both classical, semi-classical, pop, rock and other genres in his performance. He worked hard for the money, as they say. He comes from a performing family; his father is Fyvush Finkle who has had recurring roles in several TV shows and who won an Emmy some years ago. He has a recognizable face even if his name may not be familiar. Then it was time for bed and journal writing.
Tomorrow is more TT and a lecture by Frank Buckingham, the port expert. Since there is an overlap, we may have to watch him on the televised rerun; it is our turn to get the TT table ahead of the crowd.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And Away We Go

Which quote to use? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times? Or how about Getting there is half the fun? Or just Are we there yet? You choose.

Embarkation day started well enough. Our regular driver, Dominique, called to say he was sending someone with a van because he knew we had too much luggage to fit in his limo. That was an understatement. Once again, we looked like Commodore and Mrs. Vanderbilt with our seven pieces of luggage – five matching suitcases plus two carry-on bags. We were to pay the replacement driver $65 because his car was bigger. So far, so good. William showed up early and loaded his minivan while we closed up the house. Away we went.

As we were driving out of the community, William asked how we normally drove to the airport. We explained that we were taking a cruise from Port Everglades, not leaving from the local airport. This prompted a call to Dominique who said that the rate was $130 to the port. We had little choice at this point. Away we went.

When we pulled into Port Everglades and parked in front of the m.s. Prinsendam, William took the luggage out of the van. One. Two. Three. Four. He had left the fifth bag, the smallest in the set, in the garage. There were some angry words passed back and forth about how it was or wasn’t his fault; the bottom line was that all of D’s long-sleeved shirts were in West Palm Beach while we were in Fort Lauderdale. We paid William and away he went. It should be mentioned here, before William disappears forever from our lives, that on top of forgetting the small bag, he drove like a maniac. He maintained a steady 80 mph on Florida’s Turnpike and on I-595 which connects to the port. And he wove in and out of traffic, often wandering across lane markers even when he wasn’t changing lanes. So away he went at high speed.

As we pulled up, we saw Scott and Karen whom we had met on last Fall’s trip. They are joining us on most of our field trips and are part of our trivia team [or we are part of theirs]. They told us they had been able to get us assigned to their table for dinner while they were on the cruise just prior to this one [on the Prinsendam]. That was very considerate of them. Unfortunately, we prefer late dinner and they were eating at 5:30. We discovered later that we had been erroneously assigned to early seating, too. We thanked them but explained the problem and they were quite understanding.

We entered the shed where the Holland America staffers were checking passengers in and took our turn doing the embarkation dance. While we were doing this, we were carrying [well, D was carrying] both carry-on bags and dragging another small suitcase. Why didn’t he check that one at the curb, you ask? Because it was filled with 54 cans of Coke Zero, MA’s new fave. We didn’t want it thrown around for fear of leaking cans or, just as bad, carbonation bombs when we opened them. Talk about heavy, this was worse than carrying the nine liters of olive oil around Florence in 2001.

We had no trouble boarding, though. There were no lines to speak of; the hardest part was dragging that soda up the ramp to the ship. We were able to stow all three bags at the Front Desk for future pickup, so we weren’t saddled with them all day. Our first stop was the dining room to change our assigned time from 5:30 to 8:00. Since more of the geezers want to eat early, we will have no problem. Actually, we may have solved it ourselves. Another couple had been assigned to the late seating but needed to eat early for medical reasons. We simply switched tables and times with them tonight. They ate at Scott and Karen’s table and we had a table for two by the rear window. We will probably get a new assignment tomorrow.

MA told D he should just buy new shirts for the trip, but D thought that would be outrageously expensive to do on board the ship. So we went back on shore and caught a cab to the airport so we could rent a car to drive home to get the bag. Away we went.

The cabbie was pleasant and we thought he was joking when he charged $18 to go the two miles to the airport. Anyone who has been to both places knows how close they are. Again, what choice did we have? We ended up at Thrifty Car Rental because theirs was the shortest line. Paperwork signed, D asked about a shuttle to the port when we returned. There is none from FLL [the airport], but another location not far away did provide shuttle service to the port. Good. Away we went.

Even though it was a tiny Ford Focus, we still were charged $60 for our three-hour tour [Sounds like Gilligan’s Island, doesn’t it?]. We raced up I-95 to West Palm Beach; drove to the house; got the bag from the garage; and sped back to Ft. Lauderdale. Away we went.

Once back in Ft. Lauderdale, we had trouble finding the Thrifty agency. The counter agent had given D the wrong intersection and we finally asked for help. There was no listing in the yellow pages at the first store, but D found someone in another store who Googled it and got a phone number. We got directions and hustled to return the car. There was, indeed, a shuttle because the agency was adjacent to the port property, albeit on the opposite end; they were literally by an entrance. All together now: Away we went.

We finally were back on board, tired and hungry, a little past 3:30. Remember, we had arrived originally at 11:30. The welcome-aboard buffet was being taken down at 3:45 when we arrived so we foraged on fruit and cheese. We finished in barely enough time to attend the mandatory lifeboat drill at 4:15.

Things settled down after that. We were able to unpack most of our clothes, including the shirts[!], but the hanging bag hadn’t been delivered by the time we went for a drink before dinner. We enjoyed a quiet meal [MA had her usual vegetarian entrée and D had the fish] highlighted by apple strudel for dessert; no one does apples like Holland America. After dinner, we went on deck to see if we could spot the space shuttle launch but weren’t sure of the launch time or which direction to look in. We saw nothing but a beautiful night. From there, it was back to the room to unpack the hanging bag. MA did some crossword puzzles while D went to write the journal. He admits he was enticed to play a few hands of blackjack, but he left with the same amount he had at the outset.

Tomorrow, we have our Cruise Critic meet-and-greet and the first day of team trivia. Stay tuned for the excitement.