Saturday, December 23, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Final Day

Saturday, New Orleans

I woke up early and looked out on the Mississippi. You could see houses and roads on the river bank. Because we were moving very slowly through relatively shallow water the wake is very dramatic. When I woke up again later we had docked and it was time for breakfast and departure. It was a sunny, but cold day in New Orleans and wet from heavy rains the night before.

Here are some statistics about the cruise from David Calabrese, Captain of the Golden Princess.

Distance sailed:
New Orleans to Montego Bay, 1039.2 nautical miles (average speed, 18.2 knots)
Montego Bay to Grand Cayman, 204.5 n.m. (17.7 knots)
Grand Cayman to Cozumel, 326.3 n.m. ( 21.5 knots)
Cozumel to New Orleans, 646.0 n.m. (20.4 knots)
for a total of 2,216 nautical miles

or 2550.1 statute miles or 4104 kilometers

Note: 1 nautical mile = 1.15 statute miles = 1.85 kilometers

Except for hand-carry items we had left all our bags outside the room last night for pick up. After breakfast got all our stuff and went to find a lounge to sit in while we waited for our departure number to be called. Actually it's a color and a number, our section of cabins was Light Blue 3 to match our debarkation luggage tags.

When they called us we went ashore to find our bags in the giant tent and then went out to wait for our transportation. I called Angel at Machu Picchu and he said he would send a van to pick us up. At that moment Jack looked up and saw one pulling into the parking lot. Great service.

We climbed aboard and soon were on the other side of the French Quarter. We got our car from the parking garage and by 9:30 we were heading out of New Orleans on our way home. Ready to host a Christmas party for 12 the next day. But no worries, it had all been planned for before we left.

Everything about the cruise, before, during and after went very smoothly. Better than we expected.

I'm afraid we didn't have very high expectations regarding embarkation and debarkation because this was Princess' first time at this port. And the port is just a slab of concrete. But Princess pulled it off brilliantly.

Friday, December 22, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 7

Friday, at sea

We are "at sea" all day and it's the final full day of the cruise. We went through some weather last night and there was a bit of jiggle now and then. Nothing serious. We didn't need to get out our sea sick patches.

Making the Soupe du JourThis morning at 10:30 there was a cooking demonstration in the Princess Theater. The MC was, of course, our Cruise Director, David Cole. Explaining the cookery were Executive Chef Paolo Merio and the Head Maitre d' Mario Propato.

After the cooking show was over we all got a backstage tour of the galley. It was filled with close to 200 cooks and helpers rushing around getting ready to serve several thousand beautifully prepared lunches.

Signing the cookbooks -- $28 -- $28 -- $28...At the end of the tour there was a chance to buy Princess Cruises' Cookbook with recipes by the fleet's chefs. It is signed by Chef Paolo and costs $28.

By the way, you pay for nothing on the ship with cash money or even your credit cards. You pay by using your Cruise Card. The running total gets taken off your credit card at the end of the trip. It is also your room key. We had the Purser punch a hole in our cards so we could each attach our card to a lanyard. It is so easy to keep track of that way. Especially at the pool.

Rubber duckyI don't think I mentioned before that Dave, our excellent Cruise Director, was Cruise Director on the Caribbean Princess when we were on it last May. He was sent over here to the Golden Princess just for the three New Orleans cruises. He is very funny and we enjoyed talking with him a couple times. Apparently he collects rubber ducks. And on his TV show every morning (announcing the day's events and activities) there are a dozen or more ducks on his desk.

Tonight we have to pack our large suitcases and put them in the hall, by 9:00 P.M. The rest of our bags we will carry ourselves.

We have had a wonderful time. So many things to see and do. Sadly there are several bars on board we still haven't visited. Next cruise, maybe.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 6

Thursday, Cozumel

Photo of Golden Princess from the front
Just as the ship's dress code on non-formal nights is "Smart Casual," the Christmas decorations could be described as "Light Elegant." They have not overdone the decorations but what they have put up is very nice and it looks like no expense was spared. The trees, garlands and twinkling lights were the kind you would see in a nice hotel at holiday time. Think Ritz-Carlton. There was also a small but tasteful Menorah for those celebrating Chanukah. It was way too early in the season to expect any Kwanzaa decor.

This Christmas season the Golden Princess has three, seven-day cusises out of New Orleans all with the same, Western Caribbean itinerary. Prior to this the ship spent the fall on the Mediterranean visiting Greek Isles. It got to New Orleans after a seventeen-day trip from Rome. After the New Orleans cruises it heads for Rio for South American tours during our winter. In May it heads for Seattle for summer Alaska cruises.

Today there were nine ships in Cozumel's harbor and room for only one to dock. Ours was not that lucky one. Visiting Cozumel today were Carnival's Inspiration, Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Legend of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas, Princess' Golden Princess and Grand Princess, Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Dawn and Radisson's Seven Seas Navigator.

Tender boat in CozumelEver since Cozumel's piers were damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, for safety reasons the cruise ships don't use their own life boats for tendering. The shore tenders are local boats, they even use the Fiesta Party Boat, and the whole process appeared to be much faster and more efficient than when the ships use their own tenders.

We stayed on board and enjoyed lunch in the Donatello Dining room followed by a nice nap.

Our next door neighbors were two young ladies in their early 20s -- perhaps sisters. They appeared to have family staying down the hall. Both of them loved to sit on the balcony and loudly discuss life. While using the most colorful language.

An example: after we left Cozumel she told her friend, and anyone else within a quarter mile, about her day ashore. "The guide book said it was one of the top ten restaurants in the whole f--king country," she commented. "It says it's got Mexican food but it was s--t you never heard of. And they brought us chips and three different salsas. I am so not into salsa so I asked for some queso dip and they didn't have any. They didn't know what I was talking about. Can you imagine a f--king Mexican restaurant that doesn't even have queso dip?"

I wanted to yell out, "Is it perhaps because they don't have any f--king Velveeta in Mexico?"

Shortly after 5:00 P.M. we set sail. Tomorrow is a day at sea (we love days at sea). Then we continue the 646 nautical mile trip from Cozumel to New Orleans, the last 100 miles of which is the very slow passage up the Mississippi River.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 5

Wednesday, Grand Cayman

Cayman Parrot (Official Bird of the Cayman Islands)When we woke up this morning the Golden Princess had anchored close to the shore of Grand Cayman Island. Our life boats were going into the water to serve as tenders. The process of lowering the boats off our ship is complicated and fun to watch.

As is often the case we had little interest in going ashore and taking part in "activities." Been there, did that. Or to be a little more precise: Been somewhere very much like there, did something very much like that. We stayed on the ship and had a wonderful time.

There were seven other reasons to stay on the ship. Other cruise ships in port were: Carnival's Imagination, Inspiration and Carnival Liberty, Celebrity's Constellation, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas and, of course, our own Golden Princess. That's a lot of tourists (at least 12,000) all trying to snorkel on the same beach. Yesterday the Golden Princess was the only cruise ship visiting Montego Bay.

In the weeks just before we left on our cruise there were reports of the Norwalk virus on several cruise ships. We decided to be extra safe and took Dial liquid soap, packets of Wet Ones, and bottles of Purell. The ship had dispensers of hand sanitizers at the entrances to all the eating areas and there were signs up on how to avoid contamination. Of course I am not sure how effective the anti-bacterial stuff is in fighting viruses, but washing your hands a lot can't hurt. We heard of no cases of illness on the ship.

At 5:00 P.M. we were on our way to Cozumel, 326 nautical miles to the northwest.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 4

Tuesday, Montego Bay

Montego Bay looking westAt 7:00 A.M. the Golden Princess was starting to pull up to the dock next to the Montego Bay Cruise Ship Terminal. The shoreline is very nice looking and well developed. It reminded us a little of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, although the area around Montego Bay is less hilly.

As we finished docking I heard "One Love" playing over the outdoor speakers at the terminal. You hear Bob Marley's music all day here on the western-most tip of Jamaica.

We got off the ship for a few minutes and checked out the terminal building. The sign on the roof also says "Shopping Mall." But the shops were few, small, very hot and very humid. You could buy cases of Red Stripe Beer and many different rums.

Montego Bay looking eastAs for the famous Jamaican weed we didn't see or smell any. However, despite many posted warnings not to buy drugs and even more warnings to not bring them back on the ship, several shops were filled with bongs, pipes and other paraphernalia. Just like at home many were decorated in Rastafarian colors: red, gold, green and black. The shops had lots of humorous, often smutty, decor items to hang on your wall. They would have made nice joke gifts but cost too much for a joke. Cuban cigars were also available for purchase with warnings of "don't take them back to the U.S."

I wanted a copy of a local newspaper, perhaps The Gleaner, but none was available. The clerk I asked about a paper looked at me like I was a crazy and maybe she should call security. And there does seem to be lots of official-looking armed guards. To get back on the ship one has to go through airport style security.

Outside there were shuttle vans to take you to better shopping and restaurants but it was hot and we went back to the ship. It was deserted and for the afternoon it was our personal, seventeen story yacht.

Montego Bay was the only port on this cruise where we could dock. All the other stops need tenders to get passengers to and from the shore.

The food on the Golden Princess, as it was on our cruise last spring on the Caribbean Princess, was generally very good. Most days we had breakfast and lunch in the Horizon Court Buffet and dinner in the Donatello Dining Room with waiter service.

Starboard view from Prego Pizzeria, Lido Deck 14And if you're still hungry, from 10:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M., there's always free, freshly made pizza at Prego Pizzeria near Neptune's Reef & Pool. The pies have the New York City style, super thin crust. The kind of slices you buy in Penn Station.

Right beside the pizzeria is the Trident Grill with burgers, hot dogs and fries. And in between them is the Mermaid's Tail Bar serving beer and cocktails. The drinks are not free of charge but the prices are reasonable and the cocktail portions are generous.

At 5:00 P.M. we pulled away from the dock and headed for the Cayman Islands. The dress code for tonight, mentioned in today's Princess Patter, was not the usual "Smart Casual" but "Smart Casual/Tropical." This evening's entertainment was Caliente, a production show in the Princess Theater. The singing was very good, as were the dancers. The elaborate costumes tended to look silly and the set folded and unfolded like a transformer and was in the way most of the time. A good time was had by all.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Days 2 & 3

Sunday & Monday, at sea

High up on the Golden PrincessBoth Day 2 and Day 3 were at sea. It is 1040 nautical miles from New Orleans to Montego Bay making this the longest leg of our trip. The weather was pleasant and the sea was calm. We were heading southeast and the temperature was climbing as we got closer to the tropics. It was wonderful to have nothing to do and nowhere to be.

It was time to explore the ship. Last spring we cruised on the Caribbean Princess and like the Golden Princess it is in their Grand Class of ships (meaning very big). This ship is slightly smaller than the Caribbean Princess. They are nearly identical except the Caribbean Princess has one additional deck of staterooms. This means about 500 more passengers than the Golden Princess. You almost never notice the difference except the Horizon Court Buffet on this one is on Deck 14 instead of Deck 15.

The public spaces inside the Golden Princess, especially the atrium, are classier (a string quartet at cocktail time) and quieter during the day -- there are many great places to read a book and have a drink -- before going back to your cabin to have a nap. And then go eat.

Early morning on the Golden PrincessWe don't always travel during the Christmas holiday season. It can be good and bad. It certainly forces you to get all your Christmas shopping and chores done ahead of time. This year it meant wrapping it all up by December 15. So there's a little more pressure. But what a relief to get it all done ahead of time.

Sunday night was formal night, as opposed to smart casual at other times. Hell froze over and we took some dress up clothes this time so we could eat in the nice dining room on formal night. It didn't kill us.

Monday we went to see The Magic and Illusions of Gaetano in the Princess Theater. He is from Las Vegas and leaves the ship in Montego Bay on Tuesday to fly back to Las Vegas to perform there. It's a busy showbiz life he leads. The Princess Theater is an amazing performance space, very high tech and well done.

Here's what it looks like right now from the bridge of the Golden Princess.

If you want to check out other cruise ship bridge cams, and some ship-board wedding cams as well, then click on

Saturday, December 16, 2006

December 2006, Golden Princess Cruise -- Day 1

Saturday, New Orleans

On a Friday afternoon about a week before Christmas we drove to New Orleans to spend the night at the Hilton Garden Inn, in Kenner, before our cruise to the Caribbean aboard the Golden Princess. This was the first time Princess Cruises had sailed out of New Orleans. We expected a bit of chaos -- finding the parking garage, taking the shuttle to the dock and going through all the steps of getting on the ship. We were wrong, the whole process could not have gone more smoothly.

We thought the ship would be near the other cruise ships, a short distance up river from the Convention Center. But the the van from the parking garage, Machu Picchu Travel Services, took us the other way, through the narrow streets of the French Quarter and over to an old (unused for many years) dock down river. The port authority plans to put up a building there some day but for now there are huge white tents, big enough for the Greatest Show on Earth.

Soon after we arrived at the Poland Terrace Dock we were on the ship and in our cabin. On the starboard side of Baja Deck, eleven stories above the Mississippi River. Our cabin had a balcony and we had a great view of the New Orleans skyline, the French Quarter and the Crescent City Connection Bridge.

New Orleans Sundown from the Golden PrincessGetting the baggage on board, for 2600 passengers, was slower than expected. Probably because this was the first time for the crew at this location. So we were over an hour late setting sail. But no problem, we managed by opening an icy bottle of Mo√ęt et Chandon and watched the sun go down on New Orleans from our balcony.

As we started down the river it was getting dark but it was very interesting to see what we could of the mighty Mississippi. Although on a map it looks like New Orleans is practically on the Gulf of Mexico the distance by river as the Mississippi meanders through the delta is over 100 miles. The seven-hour trip to the end of the delta is a slow one and requires two different pilots. At 1:30 A.M. Sunday we were in the Gulf and heading for Montego Bay.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Joy of Pool

Polaris logoLast Monday I was doing some pool cleaning and working on the filters -- getting ready for winter. Although the pool has been too cold to swim in since the middle of September, it is pretty to look at when it's clean and sparkling. At one point I mishandled some chlorine pellets and I got my lungs full of the choking gas. I had to sit down for a few minutes. And until the next morning I had a tightness in my chest and the constant taste and smell of chlorine. Yuck. I will learn to be more careful.

While I was cleaning the pool the water level was high. Tuesday I noticed the level was down about an inch. Wednesday it was down four inches. Thursday it was down by four feet and obviously we had a leak. A bad one.

The pool people sent their man over to check it out and he said we needed a new vinyl liner. The pool and the liner are over ten years old. And a liner lasts about ten years, so our time had come. It will be fixed in a couple of weeks (for several thousand dollars). But we were expecting this to happen -- in a year or two maybe. Oh well.

Polaris 380 Pool CleanerLast night was very cold and there was a possibility of a freeze. So we had to bring the Polaris pool-cleaning robot in so it wouldn't freeze and crack open. It had to be in a warm place, so like a pet seal we put it in the bath tub for the night.

The Polaris attaches to the pool pump by a long hose and it slowly rolls along the bottom and sides of the pool vacuuming up sand and leaves. Its movements are quite life-like and fun to watch. Especially if it's a warm sunny afternoon and you have had a few drinks.

My lungs have recovered, the Polaris had a warm night and soon the new, deep blue liner will be installed and we will have 22,500 fresh gallons of clear, clean water in the pool. That's a lot of water, and for those of you in the rest of the world it's about 85,000 liters.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Off We Go to Biloxi

Room key, Isle of Capri Hotel & Casino, Biloxi, MississippiWe took a quick overnight trip to the Biloxi casinos. The Isle of Capri Hotel & Casino's IsleOne member card (which is also your room key) has a cheery logo but the experience this time was not completely cheery for the customers. And quality control on the hotel side seems to be slipping a bit. I think we have stayed there once too often.

Up the street at Harrah's Grand Casino Biloxi the staff was friendly and went out of their way to make their guests feel welcome. Hooray for Harrah's. We enjoyed their wonderful breakfast buffet.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Finding Country Food on the Road

On the trip to Maine we soon got tired of the usual roadside joints -- The Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, Ruby Tuesday, Denny's, etc. Then we remembered what Rachael Ray always says on TV, "When you are traveling and want a good meal -- ask the locals."

We were passing through Bristol, Tennessee and saw a sign on Interstate 81 telling us the Virginia Welcome Center and Rest Area was coming up. And since we needed both we stopped. In Bristol, Virginia. Yes indeed, the city of Bristol is in two states and the state line runs right through the middle of downtown.

State Street, in Downtown Bristol, Virginia (left) and Bristol, Tennessee (right)State Street, in the photo above, is the main street of Bristol. The center line of State Street is the state line with Virginia on the left and Tennessee on the right.

There was a lovely southern lady at the counter in the Welcome Center and when I asked about a place for lunch that served hearty local food she immediately said, "Bonnie's." She also said we better not be suffering from any coronary conditions...

We loved the directions to Bonnie's Family Restaurant -- cross over the interstate and look for a trailer park on the right. Bonnie's is in the strip shopping mall just past the trailer park. Bonnie's was just what the hungry traveler needed. Meat, two sides and rolls or cornbread for around $6.00. We were the only tourists there that day. Perhaps the only tourists ever to eat there. I had country ham, coleslaw and corn bread salad. Jack had country fried steak with corn and homemade mashed potatoes. The rolls looked home made and wonderful. We chose the cornbread.

The food was great and the cornbread salad was unusual to say the least. I had heard that such a thing existed but had never seen it on a menu. It was crumbled up, yesterday's I'm sure, cornbread mixed with corn, peas, and finely chopped onion, celery and bell pepper, all held together with a mild dressing -- perhaps mayonnaise and sour cream. Gooey and wonderful. As for the cornbread itself, every region has its own style and texture. This was dry, sweet and made with white cornmeal, not the familiar (to us) yellow cornmeal. We didn't like it much. Too sweet. However, just as with crab cakes, I always order cornbread when it's on a menu because when it's good it is worth all those indifferent crab cakes and cornbreads eaten in the quest for perfection.

Back on the road, full of country food and ready to drive to the Roanoke/Salem area where we spent the night after a terrible meal in a Mexican restaurant there, of which I will say no more.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

On the Road [never] Again

Maine lobsterA few posts ago I promised you a report on the Road Trip to Maine. Now that we are back I think I am safe in saying -- "You don't want to know." But let me tell you a little about it anyway.

Early in November we left northern Florida on a Monday and drove over 400 miles to Chattanooga and stayed in a horrible motel. For the rest of the trip the motels were better, but the weather turned on us. The first day was mostly gray skies, but the next day the rain and fog started and never let up. Twelve days -- and we had maybe three days without rain, totally overcast skies but no rain. And two sunny afternoons.

We missed seeing any of the beautiful, I am told, Shenandoah Valley, both ways.

We got to Maine on Friday after stops in Roanoke, Virginia; Wilkes-Barre, Pensylvania and Auburn, Massachusetts. Lunch was in Kennebunkport, Maine, at a wonderful restaurant in the heart of town, Alisson's, lobster rolls and chowder. Then on to central Maine.

My parents, both in their late-80s, were fine as was my sister and her family. On Saturday we drove to my sister's house -- about 90 miles away -- and had a turkey dinner. There were ten of us. Not only was I there but all her children could come up and most of them couldn't on Thanksgiving Day. So we did it early. Everybody had a good time. Everybody except Jack who stayed at the motel, feeling poorly. The long car trip was taking its toll on him. It appeared that he hadn't had time to recover from his hospital visit, and surgery, a few weeks before.

The next day was Sunday and we had plans to drive to the Maine coast for the scenery but the cold rain and lack of visibility made that a bad idea. So we went to The Weathervane, a nearby seafood restaurant, and had seashore food at least, but without a view of the sea. Although The Weathervane is part of a chain, it is a small chain and a local one, so the food is good. Very good.

By late Sunday afternoon the rain and wind was getting heavy. And the wet roads were beginning to freeze. Because of that, coupled with forecasts of worsening weather and Jack's continued illness, we decided to head south a day early. We left on Monday morning driving through a heavy storm that lasted for the next three days -- with overnights in Fishkill, New York; Chambersburg, Virginia; Max Meadows, Tennessee and Fort Payne, Alabama. We moved right along. The rain plus thick fog is nasty to drive through but we needed to get home ASAP.

If you find yourself in Staunton, Virginia, even in the rain, don't miss a meal at Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant And don't leave without a jar of her apple butter.

We got home on Friday afternoon -- 3536 miles, 12 days and 13 states: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

Looking on the bright side:
We had a good, however brief, visit with my family. We got home, lame and tired, but safe and fairly sound. The cats were well fed and happy to see us.

PS How did we get to Maine and back? Here's the story of the car...

Although both of our cars are capable of such a long trip they are light-weight, compact cars. We knew that something a bit heavier would make for a more comfortable ride, especially one that's going to be well over 3,000 miles long. And although both cars are in good condition they are not new cars. The last thing we would want is car trouble on some far away Interstate highway with winter coming on.

So, it would be a good idea to rent a big, heavy car for the trip. It would be comfortable with a nice smooth ride. If there were any problems, all of the rental cars companies have branch offices along the way. Plus I had a coupon from American Airlines for a rental car upgrade. Standard to full size or full to a premium class car.

We decided to reserve a full size and hope for an upgrade, they said it would be something like a Grand Marquis (whatever that is). The afternoon before we started out I went to the car place and the person at the desk said he was sorry but they were out of premium class cars. But because of my membership in American Airlines' Gold Club, he could give us a double upgrade and I drove away in a light tan Lincoln Town Car with 140 miles on it.

The ultimate big ol' retired peoples' car.

I couldn't fit it into the garage. It was huge, but it rode like a dream and had features I had always scoffed at, like heated seats. Well, living in Florida a heated seat may not mean all that much but on a frosty morning in Maine, or even Virginia, in November it was very, very nice.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Welcome to Maine (but watch the snacking, Lardass!)

Welcome to Maine, Visitor Center, Kittery Maine
The bottom blue sign is enlarged below
Snack Wisely!
Watch out, the snack police are watching those vending machines.

Sorry about the low quality photos. It was a dark and rainy afternoon and all I had was a cell phone to snap the pictures.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What's for Dinner? (Number 5 in the series)

Menu Log #5 -- January through June 2009

IN-N-OUT Perhaps the world's greatest burger. Sadly it's available only in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. In-n-Out is also famed for their fabulous T-shirts, with a new design every year, And the secret menu -- it's not posted anywhere but everybody knows about it. Oh, and a bumper sticker that high school boys turn into a smutty slogan on their pickup trucks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Road Trip -- Mississippi Gulf Coast Casinos

Isle of Capri Hotel & Casino, Biloxi, MississippiWhen Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast last summer, all of the casinos and hotels were out of business -- either seriously damaged or completely destroyed. The rebuilding is still under way but many of the resorts have reopened. And more will reopen soon, including the sad case of the Hard Rock Casino. Its grand opening was scheduled for the day after Katrina destroyed it

Recently we went for a visit to check out the casinos and to give them a chance to get some of our money. In many cases the hotels suffered less damage than the casinos did. The casino games have been moved into what used to be hotel lobbies and ballrooms while the fancy new (or rebuilt) casinos are going up. There's lots of construction underway everywhere.

Most of the reopened properties are in the city of Biloxi -- seven so far -- with two more in nearby Gulfport and Bay St. Louis. And more to come in Waveland and D'Iberville.

We visited, played some slots and video poker and left plenty of money at the Palace, the IP (formerly the Imperial Palace Casino), the Grand Biloxi and the Isle of Capri. The bottom of the photo of the casino sign (above) is hard to read but in keeping with the tropical, Caribbean island theme at the Isle of Capri their current slot promotion is 'Jamaican Me Rich.'

The Isle of Capri has come back the best with lots of Las Vegas-style flash and noise in the casino. Their hotel is colorful and fun with tropical decor and very, very quiet guest rooms. The Grand is classy, but a bit dull and nothing like the wonderful pre-Katrina version, sadly. The free drinks, however, are plentiful, huge and in nice big glasses.

In case you aren't quite sure where the Mississippi Gulf Coast is, below is a map. This is the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico, home of the best shrimp in the world.

Map from
Although the map looks like there's been an earthquake on the coast between New Orleans and Mobile it's just showing the distances to the heart of the casino coast.

Coming soon more travel news. There's a long car trip to Maine to see my family and another Princess Cruise adventure this time to, you guessed it, Jamaica. Tune in here for details as they happen.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Natural History of Candy Corn

Candy Corn: Your Friend and Mine, this is the title of's fact filled tribute to candy corn. Check it out and be sure to look for the way cool candy corn animation.

Where did it come from, how do they make it? from eNotes. The essay ends with this notable quote: "Candy corn that is somehow misshapen or considered inferior may be melted down and reused. Of course, any candy that falls on the floor is never reused." That's because the dog gets it first.

Award-winning leader in the Candy Corn industry, Zachary Confections, has a site worth exploring.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Six Degrees of Candy Corn

Candy Corn
Indian Corn
Reindeer Corn
Cupid Corn
Bunny Corn
Patriot Corn
But no St. Patrick's Day Corn? What's up with that?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Gossip Links

Minnie Pearl
"I never repeat gossip, so you better listen real good when I tell you the first time."
Minnie Pearl
American Comedian
1912 - 1995

Here is a list of some important gossip (what I mean is -- celebrity news) links. If your favorite is not listed here please let me know and, if it is tasteful and newsy, I will add it. (Ok, one or the other will be enough. It doesn't have to be both.)

15 Minutes Magazine
Access Hollywood
Celebrity Babylon
Cindy Adams
Befuddle (UK)
Ted Casablanca
Daily Blabber
Drudge Report
E! Online
Entertainment Tonight
Entertainment Weekly
Fame Tracker
Fashion Weekly Daily
Karen Feld
Fishbowl DC
Fishbowl NY
Gossip Central
The Gossip Times
Inside Edition
The Insider
Live Daily
Media Bistro
Michael Musto
NY Daily News Daily Dish
New York Post Page Six
New York Social Diary
Notable Names Database
People Magazine
Perez Hilton
Premiere Magazine
Sky News (UK)
Liz Smith
The Smoking Gun
Tube Gossip (UK)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

P & O Pacific Sun Cruise Diary

P & O Pacifis SunSince so many of you read the posts I wrote about the Caribbean Princess cruise we took last spring -- although no one (except Da Nator) left a comment -- here's a link to another cruiser's blogpost.

It's by Manny from Melbourne, Australia. He and his mate Andrew sailed on the P&O Pacific Sun's cruise of the South Pacific in June 2006. Many different tropical islands and apparently even more tropical drinks.

By the way, both the P&O and the Princess cruise lines are owned by Carnival Cruise Lines. And the P&O Pacific Sun was the Carnival Jubilee from the time it was launched in 1986 until it was re-christened for the Australian market in 2005.Carnival also owns Holland America Line, Cunard Line, Seabourn Cruise Line, Costa Cruises and Windstar Cruises.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Web Cams At Sea -- Cruise Cams

The images aren't always very sharp, but when you go to you can see live views from the Bridge Cams of 73 different cruise ships. The shot below is the view earlier this afternoon from the bridge of the Diamond Princess. And sometimes there are pics from the Wedding Chapels, too.

Cruise Cam.

The site also lists the basic stats of each ship and shows the views of PortCams from around the world or at least the part of the world where cruise ships go.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday, June 30, 2006


Links to Favorite UK Sites & Blogs

The Greenwich WheelThe Greenwich Wheel, Official Web Site
Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
The Greenwich Phantom, An intimate guide to life in Greenwich
The O2, Greenwich's Millennium Dome Today

Friday, May 12, 2006

Our Review of the May 2006 Cruise

The following review and many more, for many other ships, are on the Cruise Critic website along with other information about planning a cruise.

Here's our review.

The Cruise Critic reviews were very helpful to us as first-time cruisers so here are our observations and a few things we wish we had known before our trip. Hope they will be helpful.

We sailed on the Caribbean Princess from Ft. Lauderdale on the Eastern Caribbean route, a seven night cruise, Spring 2006.

Embarkation -- The email from Princess said don't arrive before 2:00 P.M. but we got there just before 1:00. The line looked long but it moved very fast, so fast it was hard to fill out the brief health survey the CDC wanted from us. Before we knew it we were on the way to the ship and got to the room by 1:45. Four of the five pieces of luggage arrived quickly and the fifth item was delivered about an hour later.

The Ship -- The Caribbean Princess is a beautiful, elegantly designed and decorated ship. We were impressed by how well it has been maintained and how clean it was.

Food -- Generally we were pleased with the food. It was good to very good most of the time. We took our own little coffee maker for our convenience - and the New Orleans blend we like - but the ship's coffee was fine despite the negative reviews online. We chose "Personal Choice Dining" and never had more than a two-minute wait for a table for two, except at the Sterling Steak House - and that cost $15 extra per person. On Saturday shortly after boarding, we reserved for Monday evening at Sterling's, we asked for 7:00. The manager said only 6:30 or 7:30 was available. We arrived at 7:30 that evening and the place was nearly empty and there was no one at the reception desk. Without going into all the details of the disorganization and listless service, we had to wait for the manager -- after being asked for our names three times. We got a table we didn't like and asked to be moved. They promptly moved us and then the food took a long, long time. When it finally arrived, it wasn't very good and didn't really match the descriptions on the menu. Save the $15 each! Get your steak at the Palm or Coral Dining Rooms. The quality is just as good, it's available every night and there's no extra charge.

The "Personal Choice" dining rooms, the Palm and the Coral, have excellent waiter service with good food and lots of choices. It is a relaxing change from the hassle of the buffets. The Horizon Court buffet was open for breakfast and lunch and was better than expected. For breakfast there was excellent smoked salmon along with other smoked fish and meats. And all the trimmings - bagels, capers, cream cheese, chopped onions. The chef was making omelets to order and the trays of sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs were generally hot and fresh. Sometime there were eggs specialties like eggs Benedict or Florentine. Catch these as they put them out and you'll get the yolks still runny. Breads, rolls and pastries are fresh and very good. Breakfast potatoes are different each morning and all were terrible, as were the baked potatoes at dinner.

For dinner the Cafe Caribe buffet food quality was uneven. It was best to stick to standard dishes. Their Caribbean fare was bumpy, often over-cooked and worse, over-salted. The soups ranged from great to inedible-salty. Favorite chilled soups included gazpacho, Pina Colada, and tamarind cream. We had read in some reviews that cocktails aboard were very expensive and watered down. We didn't think so at all. Certainly the prices and quality were what you would expect at a major hotel. And the portions were huge.

We also did Afternoon Tea one day. Delightful small sandwiches, scones and cream and excellent tea. It's fun. Don't miss it.

Ports -- We liked the ship best on port days - it was like having a huge yacht to ourselves. We ventured out to the marketplace in St. Thomas and bought some great bargain liquor. We had planned to do some sightseeing on St. Martin but because it was raining hard and the port was hosting four huge cruise ships, we really didn't do much -- mammoth crowds of people and heavy rain. The line waiting to board the water taxi appeared to be at least an hour long. Standing in the rain to wait for it wasn't appealing. We also passed on Princess Cays, again thoroughly enjoying the almost-empty ship.

Dress codes -- A lot of the men in dark suits must be confused when they see that other men don't need jackets or neckties to get seated on formal night. As long as you have long pants that aren't blue jeans and wear a long sleeve shirt, buttoned at the cuffs you are considered formal enough for the Maitre d's on the Caribbean Princess. We called the concierge about the dress code for the Coral Dining Room at lunch and were told men must wear long pants and no t-shirts were allowed. Of course half the men sitting there were wearing shorts and t-shirts. Is it that they wish people would dress up, but won't enforce it? Needless to say we wore shorts at lunch from then on.

Cabin -- We had a balcony room starboard and slightly aft on the Baja Deck. It was wonderfully quiet, far from the noise of nightclubs, pools and jogging tracks. If you like peace and quiet, when booking consider a stateroom on a deck sandwiched between other decks that only have staterooms - no discos and gyms! The balcony was bigger than expected. We were very glad we paid attention to the reviews and didn't book one of the mini-suites. We could look down on them. They are completely uncovered - no shade, no protection from rain and no privacy at all. The bath is small but well designed and, yes, the shower is tiny but you get used to it. Cris, our room steward, was personable, friendly and did a great job of looking after our needs. We had learned from reading these reviews to ask for the egg-crate mattress covers. Glad we did. They made a lot of difference in comfort. Kudos to Princess for attention to detail on the cabin's curtains - they were designed to fully overlap each other when closed, giving the cabin the pitch-black effect that we prefer for sleeping.

Debarkation -- Lots of crowds, all those people you saw when you got on a week earlier, but the lines moved quickly. The whole process was surprisingly fast.

Staff -- Excellent appearance, friendly, always spoke to you and smiled.

Entertainment -- We went to one show in the Princess Theater, Piano Man. Very well done and lots of flash. As theater lovers, we also took the informative free tour of the Princess Theater on Thursday afternoon. We greatly enjoyed seeing all of their state-of-the-art stagecraft up close. The musical combos that played around the ship sounded good and there were a wide variety of styles. During the day MUTS (Movies Under the Stars -- a giant LED TV screen above one of the pools) blared constantly. The sound system is loud and heavy on the treble. Why people on a cruise want to watch TV at the pool is beyond me. I thought it would be on at night only.

Other -- Do take a lanyard and have the customer service desk punch a hole in your key card. You will need it to buy stuff and it is so convenient to have it around your neck. The Internet Cafe is very good much more peaceful than using your own computer in the Atrium WiFi area.

Overall impression -- Certainly on a scale of 1 to 10 the Caribbean Princess gets a 9 at least. It was our first cruise and less than two weeks later we had booked another Princess cruise, the Golden Princess, visiting the Western Caribbean, out of New Orleans in December.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A reply from Senator Martinez

Yesterday, May 9, I got a reply from Mel Martinez. The letter was dated April 18. I received it more than ten weeks after my letter to him and six weeks later than the replies from Senator Nelson and Representative Miller.

In a long-winded way Senator Martinez said next to nothing and took no stand at all. But he did admit to a strange accomodation of business interests over our national security.

In describing the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS), the very one that approved Dubai's operating several U.S. ports, he said something very interesting. And most revealing. " a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I believe we should focus on ensuring that the CFIUS process reaches an appropriate balance between national security and economic concerns."

Say what? A balance? There is an accomodation between national security and corporate profits -- and he supports it?

Heaven help the State of Florida.

You can read the letter by clicking here.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Final Day

Saturday, back in Port Everglades

Distance sailed:
Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, 1131 nautical miles
St. Thomas to St. Maarten, 115 n.m.
St. Maarten to Princess Cays, 844 n.m.
Princess Cays to Fort Lauderdale, 276 n.m.
for a total of 2366 nautical miles
(or 2723 statute miles/4382 kilometers)

By the time we got up, the Caribbean Princess was at the dock. They have a very short turnaround to get everything ready for another 3100 passengers who will begin arriving at noon. And we mustn't forget food, water, linens and other items for the 1200 crew members.

Being on the starboard side of the ship meant we could sit on the balcony and watch the unloading and loading. There was military-like precision all over the dock with lots of trucks, skip loaders and people pushing things. There were many near-misses, but nobody crashed into anybody else. It was fun to watch. You cannot believe how much lettuce they take on during the loading.

We had our breakfast and cleared out the cabin. Then we went to find a place to sit while we waited for them to call our group to disembark. The color of the luggage tags we got on Friday is our group color. Each color represents about 200 passengers.

At last, after about an hour of waiting our color was called and we slowly left the ship with our group. After we passed through customs we came to a room as big as a airplane hanger with huge clusters of bags sorted by the tag color. It was mass confusion, but at least our pile of bags was limited to the 200 other people who shared our color.

Soon we found our bags, called the parking lot van to pick us up and were in our car and on the way home.

If you have gotten this far in the story of our cruise don't miss the next post. It is the review we wrote for

Friday, May 05, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 7

Friday, Princess Cays, Eleuthera

Distance sailed so far:
Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, 1131 nautical miles
St. Thomas to St. Maarten, 115 n.m.
St. Maarten to Princess Cays, 844 n.m.
for a total of 2090 n.m.

Eleuthera Island We didn't arrive at Princess Cays until mid-morning. It's a private beach on Eleuthera, an island in the Bahamas. There is no place to land there, so you get to the shore by tender.

Shortly after we anchored we were sitting on the balcony and heard strange whirring sounds. I looked down and saw that the life boats were being hoisted up and out from the ship from four decks below us. It hadn't occurred to either of us that the ship would use its own life boats as the tenders. Of course it makes good sense to make sure the boats are always in working order. By using them frequently.

We had thought about going ashore but what with the all the comforts of the ship and the discovery of the ultimate cruise feature (for us at least) -- an adults-only pool with a bar and waiter service -- we never made it to Princess Cays. But I did get a nice photo of it with my cell phone. I was on Emerald Deck 14, at the very front of the Caribbean Princess. You can see the Cays and the beach in the distance. There's a photo of the ship at the bottom of this post, the red dot shows where I stood to take the picture of Princess Cays.

Princess Cays fron the ship

The adults-only Terrace Pool is in the far back of the ship on Riviera Deck 14, a few steps down from the Lido Deck's Horizon Terrace and the Outrigger Bar. The water is cold but it never gets very crowded, maybe because the water is so cold. From the pool and bar there is a great view of the ship's wake -- fourteen decks below. And one of the ship's officers is always there by the rail watching for jumpers.

Tommorrow we leave and we need to have our baggage in the hall outside our cabin before we go to dinner tonight. They gave us special color-coded tags to help us find our bags when we get to shore.

The red dot marks the spot.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 6

Thursday, at sea

We have a whole day at sea as the Caribbean Princess heads to the Bahamas and tomorrow's day of fun 'n' sun at Princess Cays, Princess Cruise's private beach. With just one more day after this there are some things to do that we don't want to miss, like the backstage tour of the Princess Theater and afternoon tea with scones and strawberries.

We had already seen a show in the Princess Theater so it was great fun to go backstage and see the lighting, sound, props and costume areas. The tour guide was the lead dancer and he was well informed and liked to chat. We were surprised with how many people took the tour. There was quite a crowd with lots of questions.

I wanted to take some of the other tours like the ones of the bridge and the kitchens. The bridge is off limits for security reasons. And I found out later you don't see much of the food prep areas on the kitchen tour, mostly they are trying to sell you the Princess Cruises Cookbook.

The tea service was fun and there were lots of little sandwiches and pastries and yes, scones with heavy cream and strawberries. Next cruise we will do tea every afternoon.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 5

Wednesday, St. Maarten

Distance sailed so far:
Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, 1131 nautical miles
St. Thomas to St. Maarten, 115 n.m.
for a total of 1246 n.m.

Map of St. Maarten & St. MartinWhen we woke up at 7:00 A.M. we were already slowly finishing our docking in the tiny bi-national island of St. Maarten -- the bottom half belongs to the Netherlands, the top half, St. Martin, is part of France. The whole island is about seven miles across. The sky was gray and it looked like it might rain any minute. The view of the waterfront here isn't as pretty as in St. Thomas -- some shabby warehouses and a container port facility.

We left the Caribbean Princess mid-morning and walked up the dock to take a water taxi into the town of Philipsburg. It started to rain and I went ahead to the shopping area to get some postcards to send out. We got the right stamps at the Customer Service desk on board. By the time I got the cards and got back to the ship I was soaked -- but it was a warm rain. Later I went back to mail the cards and took an umbrella this time.

At the end of the dock there are several shops and cafes. Very nicely done. I could see the entrance to the water taxi and the line of people, wet people, was about five city blocks long. Our ship was one of four that docked about the same time, so there were at least 10,000 passengers total. And it looked like half of them were trying to take the water taxi into town at the same time.

We had planned to go into town and shop for Dutch things and have lunch there. Or perhaps go to the French side of the island for lunch, but it wasn't the right weather for sightseeing.

We stayed on the ship and had a great lunch in the Coral Dining Room. Despite the wind and rain many passengers were off exploring the tiny island. So there were few diners and very attentive service. Their complicated salads, like Salade Nicoise, are limp and gooey but they always have wonderful burgers, soups and green salads. And all the desserts you might want.

It was a good afternoon to read, nap or watch the giant cranes in the container port load, unload and reposition those big shipping containers.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 4

Tuesday, St. Thomas, USVI

"Land at last, land at last!" from Sail Away, a 1961 Broadway musical by Noel Coward

Distance sailed so far:
Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, 1131 nautical miles (that's 1302 statute miles)

There is a nautical chart on the wall on Lido Deck 15. That's the deck where the big pools are and the two buffets, Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe. The chart shows the route of the Caribbean Princess and it gets updated every day by somebody from the bridge. The published distance is actually only 981 nautical miles but because of the rough seas we went 150 n.m. out of our way on Saturday night for a smoother ride.

A big shipHere's a photo of the ship at the dock so you can see how big it really is.

We arrived at dawn in St. Thomas and at 7:00 A.M. we were slowly pulling into the dock. I expected the view to be ugly warehouses with oil tanks and typical rusting waterfront sheds. What we saw however were steep green hillsides with lovely houses. I guess you could call them villas. It looked like the French Riviera. And best of all -- a U.S. based cell phone works from the balcony!

Havensight Shopping Mall signDirectly across the street from the dock is a shopping mall just for us tourists. In the photo on the left you can see our ship behind the shopping mall sign. Those life boats are on the ship's Deck 7.

If you don't need to shop for jewelry you'll have time to buy liquor and cigarettes. Not only is the liquor cheap there is an extra bonus for U.S. citizens. Oh, the knowledge one picks up when traveling...

In several possessions of the United States there are special duty free regulations, and the U.S. Virgin Islands is one of them. You can buy and take home, completely tax and duty free, five liters of liquor as long as one liter is made locally. In this case made in the U.S. Virgin Islands -- and obviously this means rum. No, you cannot open it on the ship. They won't even give it to you until just before you disembark.

Balcony viewHere's the view from our balcony, looking down toward the mouth of Charlotte Amalie Harbor.

Click here to see the current view from the bridge of the Caribbean Princess.

Monday, May 01, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 3

Monday, at sea

Still at sea -- until early Tuesday morning. It is fun being lazy and having almost nothing to do. Between reading and naps we sit on the balcony of the Caribbean Princess and watch for whales. So far we have seen none. If we do see one it will break our all-time record.

Today's Princess Patter had dozens of activities for us to ignore, but actually we scheduled two events. We went to see a production show, a matinee of Piano Man, in the Princess Theater, Fiesta Deck 6. The show was good and the production values fabulous. The theater is sleek with all the up-to-date lighting sound and special effects you expect in a Las Vegas show. Costumes were modest however. If the performers had any skin at all, we didn't see it. The cast of four singers and eight dancers did a great job and there was an excellent live band.

To get to and from the main entrance of the Princess Theater you have to walk through the Grand Casino. So, after the show it was time to spend some of the afternoon there playing video poker.

The other activity we planned was dinner in the Sterling Steakhouse on Promenade Deck 7. It is one of two cozy specialty restaurants on board that charge extra for the extra service they claim to provide the guests. In this case it was $15.00 per person. We thought the steaks in the regular dining rooms were just as good. Very good in fact.

When I finish these daily accounts I will post the review we wrote for the ships' review page. It has more of our opinions about the food and drink on board. And lots more.

If you are planning a cruise the Cruise Critic site,, has dozens, maybe actually hundreds, of reviews written by happy and sometimes unhappy customers. Plus lots of things to know about taking a cruise, especially for the first-time cruiser.

Tomorrow we arrive in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 2

Sunday, at sea

We got up early and had our coffee on our balcony. We had planned to sleep late but all that fresh sea air wakes you up. It's sunny and calm and you can't see any land at all. A blip on the far horizon turned out to be a huge barge pulled by a tug. The Caribbean Princess is moving right along. The TV channel from the bridge says we are doing 18 knots.

We brought our own coffee and a little coffeemaker -- and mugs and filters. We love New Orleans blend coffee and chicory, roasted dark. Before the cruise we had read that the coffee on board was not good at all, unless you wanted to buy gourmet coffee at the Patisserie down on Plaza Deck 5. In our opinion the rumors were not true at all. The coffee served in the dining rooms was fine as was that on tap to serve yourself in the buffets.

It was wonderful to have coffee in the room or on the balcony as soon as we got up and not have to wait for room service or a trip way upstairs to the Horizon Court buffet.

Fearing that two whole days at sea might turn out to be a little boring we looked for things to do while we read the morning's Princess Patter and had our coffee. There were a lot of shipboard events to choose from.

First of all there was the guided tour of the ship at 9:45 A.M. starting high up at the back of the ship at Skywalkers Nightclub on Sky Deck 19. We would have to miss the 10:00 A.M., non-denominational church service in Explorer's Lounge on Lido Deck 7. The collection plate money is donated "to Seaman's Charities world wide."

Later we could miss the daily bingo games, art auctions and pool-side talent shows but being avid fans of the website Cruise Critic we considered going to their "Meet & Greet," 10:30 in Crooner's Bar on the Lido Deck. I had read that often the CC members dress up for these meeting and wear nautical attire -- lots of pirates. All you need is an eye patch, arrgh.

Of course aside from going to breakfast and lunch and dinner, we totally forgot to go to any of these social events. We did have a fine time reading on our balcony, walking around, dipping in the pools and having drinks in wonderful outdoor lounges. Having nothing to do was a treat.

The Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party is tonight and, no coinsidence, the evening's dress code is Formal. And Thursday night, too. Before we left we decided not to do Formal Night, but we didn't want to spoil things for those who want to dress up so we ate in the buffet. Or we could have done room service. In the hallways we noticed a number of men wearing dark suits or sports coats but nobody was wearing a tux. As whipped as these guys were, I guess wearing a tux would have been going overboard, so to speak.

Apparently the dining room maitres d' let you in however you are dressed. The offical word is, "Shorts and T-Shirts are NOT permitted in the Dining Rooms. No Short Sleeves allowed on Formal Night." Certainly the short sleeves warning is for the gentlemen only. We did see many men wearing long-sleeved dark, open collared shirts alongside their much more formally dressed women. What is the world coming to?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 1, Continued

Saturday Night

Map of our itineraryThe map shows our stops on this cruise of the Eastern Caribbean. We are at sea all day Sunday and Monday, arriving in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Tuesday morning. Then the Caribbean Princess has stops at St. Maarten on Wednesday and Princess Cays on Friday.

We decided that this is a tropical vacation and we were not about to dress up. So we chose the less formal "Anytime Dining" option -- there is no set time to eat, no assigned tables, no strangers to eat with.

It's all the same food anyway. In the formal venue, the Island Dining Room, the dining experience is much more structured. You are assigned a specific meal service that's the same time every evening -- either 6:00 or 8:15 -- at the same table, served by the same waiters and you sit with the same dinner companions. And at some point during the cruise you get your picture taken with the captain. You can buy a copy of this photo if you wish.

The evening dress code in all the dining rooms (but not for the buffet) is "Smart Casual," except on formal nights. I think the intention is to have no one wearing bathing suits, shorts, tank tops or flip-flops. We decided to blend in and wore long pants and Hawaiian shirts for our dress up clothes. Apparently it worked, the waiters treated us fine. And brought us more food than we asked for.

There are two dining rooms for us "Anytime Dining" folks, the Palm and the Coral, on Fiesta Deck 6. Both have lovely decor, waiter service and table linens and you can eat whenever you want to during normal evening meal hours -- 5:30 to 10:00. You just walk in and ask for a table. One time we had to wait a few minutes to get a table for two, no problem. Also there are a couple of buffets -- one is open 24/7. Plus burgers, hot dogs and pizzas by one of the pools. Except for two speciality restaurants that charge an extra fee, all the meals and snacks are included in the price of the cruise. Drinks (beer, cocktails, fancy coffees and soft drinks) cost extra. Free, unlimited coffee, tea, iced tea and ice water are always available in the buffet, 24/7.

The boat was going through some rough waters and I knew I couldn't manage the buffet with my bad knee so we ate in the Palm Dining Room and the food and service was very good. During the meal the ship was rocking a lot more, we assumed it's like that, that's the way it is. It's a boat -- there are waves.

When we left the dining room I was having trouble walking and almost needed to steady myself by grabbing the heads of diners as we headed for the exit. I didn't. Later we found out it was really quite rough, unusually so, and the captain had taken us on a wide detour to avoid the worst of the choppy seas.

The ship's daily paper, Princess PatterThen we explored the ship a little to see it after dark. It is all quite beautiful and well maintained. When we got back to the room -- not tempted at all to join the "Ja'maican Me Crazy" Sailaway Party -- we read the ship's daily newspaper Princess Patter. It lists the events for the next day and is full of ads for the on-board shops. Lots o' sales and bargains!

The rocking motion of the ship was wonderful for sleeping and although we had no problems with being seasick we both took some mild motion sickness pills anyway. And slept well.

May 2006, Caribbean Princess Cruise -- Day 1


Caribbean PrincessA few weeks ago we went on a cruise. It was a first time for us and we really wondered if we would like the experience. After a lot of research, mostly online, and after getting countless brochures in the mail we decided to take a seven-night cruise on the Caribbean Princess.

It was a round trip out of Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades, Saturday to Saturday. We could have parked at the cruise terminal but chose to park at a nearby long-term parking lot at the airport. Port Everglades is about 25 miles north of the Port of Miami and it serves almost 20 cruise lines.

Port EvergladesThe parking lot's van took us to the ship where there were huge lines at 12:15 P.M. We had disregarded instructions from Princess Cruises that told us to arrive at 2:00 P.M. for the shortest lines. However, the embarkation process was so efficient (and well staffed) that in less than an hour we were in our cabin -- meeting our steward, Cris. He kept our cabin ship-shape for the whole trip.

We had a room with balcony on Deck 11, the Baja Deck -- that's the 11th floor -- in what is essentially a huge, 19-story high, self-contained floating hotel. The Caribbean Princess was launched in 2004 as the largest passenger ship afloat, with room for 3,110 passengers and 1,200 crew.

Caribbean Princess off shoreWe took off at 5:00 P.M. and slowly left the port. We watched from our, surprisingly roomy, balcony as the resort hotels and condos of North Miami Beach faded away. Our cabin was on the starboard side so we looked south as we departed. Below us were the balconies of passengers who had suites and mini-suites.

We had originally booked a mini-suite for a little more room and a larger balcony, but we heard there was little privacy on the balconies on these decks. The folks online at Cruise Critic were right, although we had great privacy on our balcony, we could look right down into all the balconies below us and to the right and left.

Soon we were in the open ocean and put on some speed. The TV in the cabin said we were going 18 knots. That's almost 21 miles per hour. It seemed quite fast, especially if you looked down at the water rushing past the side of the ship.

All you could see was sky and ocean. The sun was setting and it was time for cocktails on our balcony.

NOTE -- NAUTICAL MILE is a unit of length used in marine navigation that is equal to a minute of arc of a great circle on a sphere. One international nautical mile is equivalent to 1852 meters, 6077 feet or 1.151 statute miles.

A KNOT is a unit of measure for speed. If you are traveling at a speed of 1 nautical mile per hour, you are traveling at a speed of 1 knot. During this account I will sometimes convert nautical miles to statute miles but as we are Americans you will have to figure the meters out for yourself. We don't do metric.

Monday, April 24, 2006

While I was gone from the blog...

...I planted an herb garden.

At the local K-Mart I bought a Kentucky whisky barrel, or actually half of one, to plant things in.

Sounds easy but the barrels are very big and very dirty. And falling apart. This one was from the Maker's Mark Distillery and was dated March 1996. As for the "whisky" vs. "whiskey" spelling debate click here for some background information from Wiki.

The inside is burned until it's like charcoal, the staves are all loose and the rings are heavily rusted. It does have a nice aroma of Bourbon whisky though.

After I got it home I filled it with a huge amount of dirt and planted, counter-clockwise fron the front center: Greek Oregano, Serrano Pepper (medium hot), Thyme, Genovese Sweet Basil, Cilantro and Giant Marconi Pepper (not hot). After watering the plants for a week the moisture made the barrel staves swell up and it is now water-tight and much more stable.

The picture is three weeks later and everything has doubled in size. The peppers are in bloom and there are several baby peppers growing already. Salsa, anyone?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Letters from our congressmen -- another reply

Last Friday I heard from Senator Bill Nelson (D) replying to my letters of early March. His reply was much more to the point than that of Jeff Miller (R), see below, and it was certainly full of details. You can read it by clicking here.

I am still waiting to hear from Senator Martinez (R). Please take a stand, Senator! As it is right now you are making everyone unhappy with you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Letters to our congressmen -- one reply so far

A few weeks ago I wrote a couple letters to each of my congressmen. Both letters are posted here. Yesterday I got a nice reply from Jeff Miller (R), our member of the House of Representatives for Florida's first district. Thank you, Jeff!

I have not heard a word yet from either Senator Nelson (D) or Senator Martinez (R).

Click here to read Jeff Miller's reply to my letter.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Take Destin, please.

Today the Pensacola News Journal printed a wonderful letter to the editor from Mary Brockett. She responded to an article from earlier this month that asked why Pensacola can't be more like Destin -- sleek, trendy, congested...

She closed with, "The only thing Destin hasn't been stupid enough to do is spend millions putting a baseball field next door to a sewage treatment plant in a floodplain."

As much as I want to see the Community Maritime Park built, and soon, I have to agree. The sewer treatment plant is a much more urgent matter. A new one is vital to the survival of Pensacola. We need the new plant built now, on the new site, even if we have to pay for it.

You can read the whole letter by clicking here. When you get there you will have to scroll down five or six letters but it is worth it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Downtown Pensacola Dining Guide 2006

The new dining guide is available now online. It's on the Downtown Improvement Board's site.

The DIB site has a variety of useful information. And promises to have more, someday -- a lot of pages say "coming in August." Do they mean August 2005 or August 2006?

And on the subject of Downtown Pensacola, here's a site that's sure to help you keep on top of the positive news about the Community Maritime Park.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Remember this?

Remember when the Pensacola Beach sign was intact and looked like this postcard shot?

A few weeks ago there was a note in the Pensacola News Journal that some company has been hired to restore the sign. When? As of yesterday the wreck of a sign has not been touched.

Why doesn't the City of Gulf Breeze get the mess torn down? The eyesore is in their town after all. Are they waiting for the next hurricane to blow the sign away?

It is time to take it down. It is a disgrace. And it says way too much about local pride, or the lack thereof.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The voters speak -- several of them

Version 1. Yesterday Pensacola voted to continue the one cent local option sales tax. It passed by a huge 64 percent of the voters.

Version 2. Yesterday a tiny percentage of registered voters, less than 13 percent, passed a tax that everybody has to pay.

Strangely both versions are true. That huge 64 percent came from the 20 percent of registered voters who bothered to vote this time.

So, that's about one in eight -- 12.8 percent of the registered voters. I would like those who did not vote and yet gripe about the tax to pay double.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

You can now subscribe to this blog

My study of RSS in a Dummies book has worked for me. Today I created my first Web feeds, also called news feeds.

If you blog much at all you have seen the little orange or blue stickers that say RSS or XML or ATOM. Both Atom and RSS are syndication formats and are XML files. Actually I ended up using Atom instead of RSS. Mostly because that's what wants. And it works. Had enough techno babble already?

What all this means you can easily check to see if I have added any new posts. And you won't need to log on to this blog to find out. All you need is an aggregator, that's a Web feed collector and reader. Don't worry they are easy and free.

A good one to start with is NewsGator. (News + aggregator, get it?)

You will need to register and create a password.

Then click on 'add feeds' and just type in or cut and paste this -- -- and follow the screen prompts.

While you are at it go ahead and add feeds to other favorite blogs from NewsGator's huge directory.

If this works for you, or if you have any problems, leave a comment and I will get back to you.

Pensacola's Blogosphere

I've added a new category in the links section -- Pensacola blogs. Look in the sidebar to the right and scroll down.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The first blog post

Among the first web logs was probably the one started by Tim Berners-Lee in 1992. He's the founder/inventor of the World Wide Web (sorry, Al Gore). Berners-Lee posted regular updates on the early development of the Internet.

But it wasn't until January 10, 1996 when Justin Hall began a personal daily web log at You can read his first post. It was still a web log until Jorn Barger coined the term 'blog' in 1997.

This information comes from Ellen Finkelstein in her book Syndicating Web Sites with RSS Feeds, for Dummies. Yes, I am learning RSS from a 'Dummies' book.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Another letter to my Congressmen

Here's the text of a letter I just sent to my U.S. Representative (R) and my Senators (D) and (R). If I get any answers I will post them.

Dear Congressperson:

Please don't let any foreign government control our ports, especially a government that is currently an active enemy of Israel.

There is a US law that bars firms from complying with or cooperating with the boycott of Israel by Arab governments. The Dubai government is one of the participants in the boycott.

The Dubai Customs Department enforces the boycott. Its staff members are paid employees of the Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation (PCZC). This is the same Dubai government-owned entity that runs Dubai Ports World.

In the recent past the U.S. government has fined companies millions of dollars for participating in the boycott. Is our law now meaningless? What will happen to Israel? And to us?

Please help prevent this sale. I follow the news closely every day and want to see that you are taking a stand against this.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

RSS -- SFSG (so far so good)

I am plugging along with my RSS tutorial and managed to get something working. I am now subscribed to three feeds on two different readers -- NewsGator and My Yahoo. I like both OK but the NewsGator screen is so ugly to look at.

Just two more chapters and I will have to try making my own feeds for the world to see. Turns out this isn't as hard as CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) was.

Will Atom be next for me?

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Letter to Washington, DC

The following is the text of a letter I just sent to my elected officials in the U.S. Congress: a Senator in the Democratic Party, a Senator and a Represenatative in the Republican Party. If I get any answers I will post them.

Dear Congressperson:

As I know you are aware, there is great opposition to the proposed sale of U.S. ports to a foreign government. This issue has unified our country in a unique way.

At the supermarket, the barbershop and over the backyard fence everyone I talk with, whether a conservative, liberal or a moderate, thinks this is a dangerous, bad idea for the United States.

I see on the news that now there will be more time to consider the sale. Why do we need more time? What is there to consider? It will still be bad for America—next week, next month, next year.

Please do what you can to keep the sale from happening.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

I am back at the blog

After nearly two months I am back blogging and this time with a mission.

I am going to learn as much as I can about this whole extended blog thing. And RSS. And maybe Podcasts, too. All the techies in the Blogosphere appear to know everything about every buzz-filled niblet of web and blog jargon. And act like they always did.


To start with I am finding lot of great information and help right here on the web. And in other blogs. So check in now and then. Perhaps you are also still learning.

On the sidebar I will collect helpful blogs about blogging. To start with here's a really good one, Bloggers Blog, "Blogging the Blogosphere: reporting on blogging news and trends." Bye for now I am going to go and check it out.