Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our Holiday Cruise That Was...

Greetings once again from along the road in Quartzsite, AZ. We're a few weeks late and just back from our incredible Cruise Vacation and Birthday & Anniversary Celebration, but thought you might still enjoy our musings and photos from our trip from LosAngeles to Ft.Lauderdale, FL via the Panama Canal. We'll share some of our early reflections from emails and notes Nancy wrote early on the trip:

"Where to start? How many ways can one say "beyond our wildest imaginings" without it sounding overblown? But, honestly, that is the plain truth. No wonder people like to go on cruises!

First, the ship is absolutely beautiful, and much larger than it appears in pictures; a true First Class hotel of the sea, plus a whole lot more. Fine dining, really great entertainment.....we've gone to a Las Vegas type dance revue, a great singer and impressionist who "became" everyone from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash to Joe Cocker......then last night we went to a performance of a Las Vegas hypnotist who just came from a stint at the Riviera, and she was absolutely incredible and Vegas-style revues and musical shows.

Sailing has been quite smooth until last evening at dinner, when they announced that we would be crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec (you may remember, that is just below where we lived in Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico), There were strong winds out of the north, coming across the Gulf of Mexico and across the isthmus of Mexico, with winds in excess of 60 knots (a knot is 1 1/8 mi) hitting us obliquely on our port side, during the early hours and into the morning as we crossed the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Oh, dear.......hadn't felt the least bit seasick before, but was starting to worry.........

The captain said that in an effort to minimize discomfort in the passengers, he would be changing our heading and moving in close to shore in order to reduce the impact of the winds and the waves, but that outside access to the decks would be restricted for some hours during the night and early morning, and rooms on the port side of the ship should be very careful as balconies on that area would be very windy. SO.....I was quite worried,especially since we are on the port side, but I turned out to be a better sailor than I thought I would be, given my tendency to carsickness. I just kept telling my mind and body that it was just being in the rig on a very stormy and windy night, or driving down the road, and I guess my mind and body believed me (It helped to see the hypnotist and see what power mind had over body)

Here's a GREAT thing, though......normally, we have been cruising pretty much out of sight of land, although when we came down toward the end of Baja CA, we could see a line of mountains, and we could see where Baja CA ended, but of mainland Mexico, it was way too distant. BUT, to avoid the worst of the winds the change in course, bringing us close to shore meant that late last night, while we were still awake, we passed Puerto Escondido, then were just outside the 12 mile limit, plenty close enough in to see the lights of the towns, etc., and guess what we saw? Yep, the faro (lighthouse) at Puerto Angel, just around the headland from where we lived, and then the lights of Puerto Angel! We were sure of it, because that is the only lighthouse on that whole strip of coast, right there on the point of land that is Puerto Angel, that marks the point where mainland Mexico takes that big jog east. It felt really, really cool, to be passing our old hometown area of Puerto Angel so closely .

By the time we woke up this morning, seas were up, it was really windy, we could feel quite a bit of motion even in our stateroom which is in the very most stable part of the ship, (the middle or midships) but nothing more than one might feel going down the road in the motorhome, or sitting in the desert in the winter on a dark and windy night. We hadn't ordered room service for this morning, since we were up so late last night, we didn't want to be awakened by it, and the sea and wind were enough that Tom thought I should stay in the stateroom rather than try to go to the restaurant or buffet for breakfast, as they are all in the front of the ship on various decks and more motion is felt there.

As a longtime RVer with an exquisite sense of "level", I could tell that the ship was definitely leaning a little away from the winds, and pouring a bit of my tea onto the plate confirmed that as the tea pooled onto one side of the plate quickly.

There is much to do ( or not).....entertainment, live music, Scholarship at Sea lectures about the various ports we'll be visiting and other stuff, and everything from wine tastings, to demonstrations by the chef, the list of stuff going on takes up several pages, and you could never do it all, which makes it very hard for Tom to choose, as when you choose one thing, several others are being missed, hahahahaha.......the food is wonderful, and although we've pretty much stayed out of the buffet for meals and have eaten in the dining room, which is more the "French" way of eating, elegant food, with courses served slowly, food exquisite, but not large portions, conversation with your dinner partners (you can choose a table by yourself, or choose to share....we've chosen to share with either a table for 4 or for 6 and have met some incredibly interesting people.)

It's a very international crowd, with lots of Europeans, Asians, a fair number of folks from Canada and Australia, a smattering of South Americans, and of course a fair number of Americans. I've heard there are 200 children on board, but they aren't all that noticeable, both because Princess has a huge number of activities for them, they have a deck with special areas and activities for them, and you often don't see them except at the pool or movies, but also because they are mostly those types of kids who have been well socialized to behave, so aren't running amuck, which is nice. They were having live music in the atrium while we were sitting before supper in the espresso and pastry bar there, and when the musicians took a break, a lovely little eight year old girl stepped up to the piano and played flawlessly, for about fifteen minutes......I'm sure her grandparents who were there were bursting their buttons, she was really good.

Not only is the food wonderful, the desserts to die for, but everytime you sit down in a public area in one of the many comfortable armchairs, etc., to read your Kindle or just people watch, some spiffy attendant in a stiffly starched uniform will appear carrying a tray of tiny little tea sandwiches, or miniature pastries, or sushi, or at 3 p.m., warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies and milk, little arrangements of cheeses and homemade breads and crackers, to offer you....the list goes on and on. Other than in your room, there are no trash cans. You finish something, sit it down on the table beside you and an attendant whisks it away........

So....I'm fighting the good fight on the weight program, doing the best I can.....have fallen prey to afternoon tea one day which is served in the dining room from 3:30 to 4:30, and is a steady round of tiny little tea sandwiches of everything from salami and cheese on tiny little croissants, to rare roast beef on tiny little rye rolls, with horseradish, and the biggest collection of little homemade scones with clotted cream and preserves to put on them, everything in the world that can be made from chocolate, little tiny fruit tarts with this incredible vanilla filling (my downfall....they DO, after all, have slices of fresh fruit on top so should be healthy, right?) You sit there and a steady round of attendants comes around with tray after tray of goodies, with the everpresent tongs to transfer some delicacy to your plate...

On our anniversary, (32 years with this year's winter solstice), we woke up to balloons and a poster on our door, and a nice card from Princess.......for your birthday, when you have dinner, of course, crew appears and sings happy birthday to you, and there is a lovely, small chocolate cake for you to share with your tablemates of the evening. (We sat at a table with a birthday girl the other night, so I saw what to expect tomorrow), when I will pretty painlessly turn 70!

The ship is decorated beautifully for Christmas, I understand that Santa is going to fill stockings for us, Christmas carolers abound, Santa is coming tonight......the crew on the ship are from all over the world, every one dressed in spotless, starched uniforms, with big smiles, and you are never more than a few feet away from someone who is looking to make your experience ever more wonderful. I really begin to see that it might be really nice to be rich, since I expect this is how people like royalty live on an everyday basis.

We're really looking forward to the various ports of call, and have been attending lectures and presentations of what to see, etc. at each one, and we've booked several tours, something at each stop, from a visit to a coffee plantation, etc., in Costa Rica, plus some wandering around on our own in Puntarenas, to a visit to a rainforest preserve and tram ride with aerial views of the Panama Canal from the tram at Fuerte Amador, Panama near the entrance to the Canal, to a short tour of Colonial Cartagena, Columbia, plus several hours of wandering around on our own there, to finally, in Aruba, where we'll do things separately, as Tom is going to do a National Park hike and nature preserve, and I'm going to do a boat trip in a glass bottomed boat over a reef and a famous shipwreck located less than 50 ft. below the surface, and home to many reef fish......."

So keep in touch and we'll post another installment in a few days as we take in some of the ports and the canal crossing. We re still trying to sort out the photos and the memories.
Happy trails for now