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.