Tuesday, May 3, 2022

April 8, 2022 – Tampa, FL – Partly Cloudy - 82°F

We arrived in Tampa well ahead of the sunrise.  I got some very nice pictures of Tampa in the pre-dawn hours.  

We are in the last group to depart – so we do have some time to get breakfast.  The Oceanview Café was not crowded and we got two seats away from people.  The full breakfast menu was available so for me it was a waffle, cottage cheese, strawberry and marmalade jam (I switched earlier from compote), scrambled eggs, and biscuits. Even on disembarkation day, the food was good.

After breakfast, we waited in the room until our designated assembly time and headed to a less crowded area near the gangway.  It was just a few minutes until our group was called and we existed the ship – our sea pass cards still set off an alarm which made no sense since we were leaving.  We found our bags and got into a long but quickly moving line for passport control.  Our time with the agent was very brief and we were outside the terminal. 

After comparing the ship's shuttle, Uber, and taxis, we decided to look for an airport van (historically the most economical transport).  Even though TPA is a fair distance from the Cruise Terminal, the vans were still charging $10 a person; I spoke to one of the van drivers and made sure that they were leaving soon. I got a farewell picture of Constellation before the van's doors closed.  The van left pretty much right away we were at the American Terminal in about 30 minutes – we wore masks during the ride – others didn’t.  

Our flight – AA2920 -  wasn’t leaving until 2:04 PM so we had a lot of time at the airport.  We originally found seats near an Illy coffee shop.  I have liked Illy Coffee since I first had it in Europe so I ordered a white mocha plus a cup of ice – that’s how I make an iced mocha, which costs more than a regular mocha.  

The coffee was delicious.

The traffic around the coffee stand started to get to the point where we felt uncomfortable - I guess passengers were arriving for their flights and started to pack the place.  We moved to a more deserted area near our gate where we had some breathing room (pun intended).   The spot was perfect for taking a picture of TPA's runways.

Around noon, I bought the obligatory airport diet coke and we had the lox sandwiches Ellen had prepared from the stuff from the ship.   I also had jalapeno parmesan pretzels that we brought with us and didn't finish.  Perfect. 

Our plane arrived at the gate well before boarding.

We boarded on time but there was a mechanical issue and the departure was delayed making me regret the coffee I had purchased earlier.  While we were waiting, I asked the flight attendant if I could use the washrooms in First Class (they were closer) and she said OK.  I was in the bathroom when the plane pushed and started rolling – I’m sure that isn’t a good thing - and probably in violation of FAA regulations - but I was not the only passenger in that situation.  I got back to my seat and, after a further delay (I figured we had lost our takeoff slot due to our first delay), the plane finally took off – maybe 30 minutes late.  I had purchased Cabin Extra Seats 16C and 16D (exit rows) so the flight home would be more comfortable.  The coffee haunted me for the entire flight (I had to make another dash to the washroom while the plane was still making its way to cruising altitude).  Still, the coffee was delicious.

The flight was smooth for the most part and soon we were back in dreary Chicago arriving near the 4:02 Arrival Time.  Our cab took a little while to get to 3G and we were on our way home – the driver did wear a mask when he saw that we were wearing one.

Good to be home despite the cold and gray.

April 7, 2022 – At Sea – Gulf of Mexico – Off the Coast of Florida – Mostly Cloudy – 80°F

 I was at the Oceanview Café when it opened and had my usual breakfast.  A dreary morining with storms in the area.  Just rain - not chop.

I got to the Theater at 9:30 AM to set up for “The Search for Jack the Ripper”.  















Set up was quick with no issues.  The image is not as sharp on the screen as it is projected.  And I cannot wander around the stage because the projector is literally blinding – I have to stand over to one side when speaking.  The turnout was OK and the talk went well even though I did stumble over some words. 

I changed my clothes and went to the Rendezvous Lounge for my Q and A.  The Q and A, which was a last minute thing that I wasn't sure was actually going to take place, turned out to be the most fun time (enrichment related) of the cruise for me – the passengers (about 30 of them) had some very interesting questions and comments.  I also gave them some more information on the OJ case.  It was just a terrific 45 minutes (it ran over by 15 minutes).

We had lunch in the Café and I found some Asian items on the line that were really good.  The stir fried vegetables along with the fried rice was tasty and great.  No pizza today.

The rest of the day was spent in the Solarium.  I finished “The Drifter” and liked it so much that I will be looking for the second book in the Peter Ash series when I get home.

We had dinner tonight with Gary – we ate on the back deck – I had another pasta prepared for me (combo of marinara and spinach cream sauce – not as good as with Alfredo).  The conversation with Gary was pleasant but we headed to the Theater for tonight’s Showtime.

The headliner tonight was Brazilian Singer, Camila Andrade, who sang both in Portuguese and English.  She was a little hard to understand because of her accent but she sang and moved on the stage like the pro she is.  I enjoyed her show (she was not too loud).  The crowd was small.  Before her performance, Mike did “Mr. Bojangles” accompanied by one of the more flexible male dancers.  Mike did a find job.

After the show, we went back to the room to pack.

Ellen did her usual magic and the suitcases were in the hall by 10:00 P.M.

Monday, May 2, 2022

April 6, 2022 – At Sea – Off the coast of Cuba – mostly Sunny – 82°F

Another beautiful morning – up early and breakfast at the Oceanview Café. I just never get tired of this breakfast because the food has been good and the views priceless, especially the sunrise.

At 10:00 AM, I went to the Celebrity Theater to hear Gary talk about what went wrong with the OJ Simpson case.  He had an extremely good turnout – who doesn’t want to hear what really went on with the OJ case.  I was disappointed to not find out anything new about the case.  In addition, Gary spent a lot of time showing films of OJ running (both at USC and at Buffalo).  That simply filled time and didn’t help with understanding the case.  He also had photos from the court proceeding including those of the attorneys.  I was hoping for forensics that I was not aware of.

At 11:00AM, Gary had a Q and A session in the Rendezvous Lounge that I attended.  I was hoping to find out more information on the OJ Case but the questions did not get into that too much.  Just a lot of general chat.  Gary did have a good turnout and OJ was quite a running back.

After our usual lunch in the Oceanview Café, I got ready for my next talk – “Forensic Detectives: Identifying the Famous and Infamous” at 2:30 PM in the Reflections Lounge

I had a very nice turnout and the audience was with me all the way.  I like the Reflections Lounge because it allows for better interaction with the audience.









After the talk, we found two loungers in the Solarium.  I decided to share a picture of the statue of the woman at the far end of the pool.  She may have forgotten her suit but she looks like she is having fun and certainly her share of food.  I found out later that there is an identical statue in one of the countries we have visited - perhaps Colombia.  

We stayed in the Solarium until dinner time – I had the pasta chef make me Pasta a Oglio again but it was not quite a good as the last time – it needed a bit more oil.  It was OK.  The pasta station on Constellation is the best option for me on this ship.  Always fresh and tasty.  The sunset on Deck 10 was a bonus.

Showtime tonight was the Production Show, “Soundtrack”.  It was billed as music from the movies but only a few songs were recognizable.  We had seen this show years ago and only “Over the Rainbow” and “Singing in the Rain” were familiar.  The singers really belted out their numbers but the decibel level was bearable.  I think the show needs more standard movie songs – I’ve seen a lot of movies and I had no idea was 80 percent of the songs were.  

Adding to the show were the acrobatic specialty dancers, who swung around the theater during some of the numbers (above).

We hustled from the Theater to the Rendezvous Lounge to hear a jam session with Roy Tan and some of the other entertainers on board.  Roy accompanied Bailamos in “I’m Feeling Good”, the tall Diva on “I Can’t Make You Love Me if You Don’t”, Ruby (Diva) on “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, and one of the Bailamos Guys on “Bring Him Home”.  The jam session was fun and entertaining.

"I Can't Make You Love Me"









Found out I am in the Theater tomorrow morning, so back to the room.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

April 5, 2022 – At Sea – Caribbean Sea – Mostly Sunny – 82°F

I'm up early because I want to go to a presentation at 10 AM.  Another beautiful sunrise captured from Cabin 3020.  Some interesting clouds and a little chop in the seas but otherwise another day in paradise.








Breakfast continues to be in the Oceanview Café – still a chore to get cottage cheese but the suit in charge gets it for me.  So a waffle with cottage cheese – scrambled eggs and a buttermilk biscuit again rounds out my breakfast.  The scrambled eggs on this ship are for the most part the best since those on Celebrity Edge and Apex.

At 10 AM I went to the Theater to hear Gary speak about Jon Benet Ramsey.  I was hoping to learn something new but the information was generally what I knew.  One thing I had not seen was the crazy ransom note that had to be written by an inept individual as evidenced by all of the odd syntax and word usage.  I don’t see the Ramseys writing such a bizarre note. Anyhow, I did not get any new insight into the murder.

We had lunch in the Oceanview Café – the usual fare – salad bar – tuna salad and egg salad.  This combination has turned out to be a winner for lunch - plenty of protein and usually very tasty.  Today, I went all out and sprung for a beer for lunch - Leffe Beer - recommended by our waiter from Quest, Tin (I hope he has totally recovered from his COVID experience).

During lunch, I also got some nice pictures of the Caribbean.

The weather conditions were perfect to create another iconic picture of Ellen at the railing.

In the afternoon, we went to the Reflection’s Lounge to watch “Deal or No Deal” – we had never seen this game before and it turned out to be quite entertaining (RoXstar always makes his sessions funny).  One contestant won $412 and the other $0.25.  You have to buy into this game – I don’t know the ticket price but I’m sure it was more than 25 cents.

The rest of the day was spent in the Solarium.  We found loungers with a view of the water and far away enough to be fairly safe.

After dinner in the Oceanview Café, we attended Showtime with CW Soloist/Guitarist Antonio Larosa.  

He had a nice voice but the sound was amped up and when the guitar solos started we headed for the doors.

We wound up in the Rendezvous Lounge listening to the soft sounds of “Dancing Town”.  This group is very similar to many Filipino groups we have seen in the past – a female lead singer and three backup guys.  I asked the lead singer to do "Hallelujah" and she did - only three verses or so but still a nice arrangement.

I had a discussion earlier with Mike, the Cruise Director, who indicated that he might want to add “Jack the Ripper” to the program on the final day of the cruise (substituting Gary’s talk).  He said he would let me know.

My back was still bothering me so we headed to the room.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

April 4, 2022 – Willemstad, Curacao, Netherland Antilles – Mostly Cloudy – Windy – 82F

The cocktail of drugs did help and I was able to sleep a little and regain most of my ability to walk without pain.

Google revealed our ship's location in Curacao. I could identify some of the landmarks from my vantage point in the Solarium.  I clearly remember the Renaissance Hotel but I can't recall the Starbucks.  The synagogue we have visited a number of times during our trips here was also on the map (top).















I ate breakfast in the Oceanview Café – the crowd was smaller than expected – I guess people had eaten early to get ready for their day in Willemstad.  I had a blueberry and a plain pancake with cottage cheese and strawberry compote.  A smidge of scrambled eggs completed the breakfast.  It was all good and I also managed to get two cups of hot coffee.  Getting hot coffee is not easy on this ship and I don’t know why.

We spent the entire day in the Solarium, which had open seats galore because most of the passengers were off ship.  We found one lounger and an adjoining circular bed on the side of the ship that faced Curacao.  I spent most of the time reading “The Drifter”.  I find that reading on my Kindle is a better sleep aid than drugs.

The harbor had brought out some dancing girls to greet the ship and entertain the passengers.  The terminal area is shown in the pictures below along with shots of the shoreline of Willemstad and Curacao.

















We even ate in the Solarium.  I got a salad and veggie burger from the Café and brought them to the Aqua Spa Café.  Ellen had the Spa Café’s tuna and salmon along with Caprese Salad.  I had a few of their breadsticks.  The only issue with the Spa Café is that they don’t always have iced tea in their dispensers.

While getting my lunch, I was able to take a nice picture of the party band, "Dancing Town", on the pool deck.









We changed our clothes and went to dinner in the San Marco Dining Room – a check of the menu indicated that there would be food options for us.  I should mention that the Hostess has given us a table for four (but for two) near the aft section of the restaurant.  We have no neighbors so it's a bit safer.  Also, it's a great place to get some nice sunset pictures (if only the windows were cleaner).















Service was again slow (reasons unclear).  I had the Eggplant Caviar (aka Baba Ganoush) (good) and the Spinach Turnover in Cheese Sauce (good).  I also had the Tuscan Minestrone (hot and OK).  Our main dishes got confused – I wanted the Tilapia Putanesca with creamed spinach.  Instead I got plain fish with creamed green beans (the kitchen was out of spinach).  Our waiter, Limon, quickly rustled up the putanesca version – I wound up combining the plain grilled fish and the sauce (the fish that came with it wasn’t as good).  What saved the day for me was the surprisingly good Gnocchi con Quattro Fromaggi.  Ellen had the plain fish with mushrooms and polenta fries (the setup for another entrée).  She was suspicious of the mushrooms, which were very dark.

We didn’t stay for dessert and instead headed for the theater for Showtime. Tonight’s headliner was Daniel Cielan, award winning magician.  He did have some nice tricks but we had seen all of these in the past.  He always had a long lead up to his magic trick -  maybe a little too long.  He had a pleasant personality but his show seemed too familiar.

We stopped off at the Rendezvous Lounge to hear a little bit of the "No Name Duo".  After a while, we didn’t really care for their style and decided to go the room.  My back was stating to act up so the timing was right.

All aboard was 7:30 PM – again, we did not hear the bow thrusters during the push.  Based on our location on the ship, we should have heard them (like we have on other ships).

Our tour of the ABC Islands is over and now we are heading back to Tampa.


April 3, 2022 – Oranjestad, Aruba, Netherland Antilles – Mostly Cloudy – 82F

My back is a little stiff this morning but manageable. 

I was up early enough to catch the sunrise from the cabin as we approached Aruba.

Sunrise near Aruba








Last night, we received a letter in our room that we were scheduled for COVID antigen testing at 9:30 AM.  This would conflict with our planned excursion, so we called Guest Relations and got the testing rescheduled for 8:00 AM.  The Oceanview Café opens at 7 AM so instead we ordered Room Service for 7:00 AM – breakfast arrived 10 minutes early and we were done in plenty of time to get to our testing venue – Conference Room Beta on Deck 3 forward. 

When we go to the Conference Room, there was no one there.  Next door, there were some people from Eurofins getting ready for the testing.  One of the nurses took us next door and swabbed our noses.  The whole thing, which changed our entire morning routine, took less than a minute.  Things went this fast because I had registered both of us on the Eurofins website.  I thought this would be ship wide testing, but it was only contractors and guest entertainers – maybe a list of 15 people.  So, we will not know if COVID is cruising with us or not.  In less than a half hour, my results came back as NEGATIVE.  Ellen never got her results but I can safely assume she was NEGATIVE also as positive results are dealt with immediately. 

Based on our experience in Nassau, we cancelled our excursion tomorrow in Curacao.  We do, however, have another beach excursion today – “De Palm Island with Lunch”.  As we checked out of the ship, our sea pass cards were flagged and we had to produce our excursion tickets.  That’s because Guest Entertainers cannot go ashore unless on a Celebrity Excursion.  That makes sense – a sick entertainer is of little use to the ship.

We met our tour at 9:45 AM and walked to our bus – we wore our masks on the bus as it was pretty full.  

The ride, about 20 minutes, took us through downtown Oranjestad, then out to the highway.  One of the more interesting sites we saw was the island’s desalination plant, which is the biggest in the Caribbean and the second largest in the world (Israel no. 1, maybe).  









From the bus we hopped on a very basis boat to get to De Palm Island.  The island is a huge water park, with a water slide, beach area, flamingos, snorkeling, food pavilion, and open bar.  There were COVID protocols in place but the only masks were those worn poorly by park employees.  We were on our own to find two loungers in the shade.  Most of the loungers were under thatched umbrellas or trees.  We moved around several times to get the best loungers.  We did get some with a view of the beach area.










Being under the trees turned out to be problematic as some foreign material (bird poop?) fell from the trees and got on our clothes.  The biggest problem for me was getting out of those loungers, which were only six inches or so off the ground.  The combination of being low and in very soft sand made it hard to get enough purchase to safely stand.  This was taking a toll on my already tricky lower back. We made sure to get pictures of the flamingos before their habitat closing time of 2 PM.









There was an open bar but everything was on tap.  I tried the only beer manufactured on the island, Balashi Beer, and was not impressed.  It might have been better in a long neck bottle.  We certainly did not take advantage of the open bar.

At 11:30 AM, we walked over to the food pavilion.  The people density was high – no masks – and the line was long but moving along at a good pace.  The other thing is that we were one of the few folks that spoke English – most everyone else was speaking Spanish and no one was speaking Dutch.  There was a little papiamento here and there.  Despite the rustic appearance of the food pavilion, the food was plentiful and good. We started off at the salad bar. I had a bowl of potato leak group followed by a green salad with a runny but delicious ranch and thousand island dressing, onions, beans, pasta salad, and potato salad.  From the hot line, I tried the pasta provencal and grouper fillets.  I liked all of it including the grouper which was seasoned with island spices I had never tasted before.  We ate at outside table.  Again, everything was great.  Who knew?

Even though we were in the shade – at times dodging bird poop – it was difficult to read on my Kindle because of the oblique sunlight.  The noise level in the barely distanced chairs was a bit much so we moved to one of the tables near the food pavilion.  There was no island muzak playing there and the chair were easier on my back than the beach loungers.  Besides, there were iguanas wandering by.









At 3:30 PM, we went to the meeting place and caught a boat to the mainland and then we found our bus.  In a few minutes, we were at the pier. 

Returning to the Pier

 







While, cleaning the sand and who knows what else off my crocs, my back went into warp factor 10 spasms.  I could barely make to the bed to lie down (major ouch) and stretch out.  I took a medical grade anti-inflammatory plus a muscle relaxant and lay motionless for nearly an hour.  There wasn’t much improvement but I was hungry so I quasimodoed to the Ocean View Café, where I had pasta a oglio prepared for me (molto bene) – a couple of slices of pizza finished off the dinner.

Along with Constellation, a small cruise ship was docked here as well – “Fairwinds”.  









It is not a cruise ship per se (although it was one for a while).  It was the first cruise ship built in Finland; in the late 60s, the ship was sold to the Church of Scientology and has been used for their training and other activities.  There were people on board as well as crew and I found out that the ship does do small cruises around the Caribbean – around the lower Dutch Antilles.  It was there all day and Constellation was blocking its exit from the pier and we weren’t leaving until 10:30 PM.  An interesting ship.

While we were walking (at least Ellen was), I took a picture of her with one of the statues scattered about the ship.

I hobbled my way to the theater so see “Divas 3”, who put on a fantastic show for us on the Edge a few months ago.  Two of the singers were the same (Ruby from Kentucky and the leader of the group from Nebraska) and a new singer from New Jersey joined them.  They did exactly the same song list but this time around, solos were now either duets or trios.  Also, in my opinion, the sound level was too high.  Combined with the fact that the girls scream out their songs, some of the sound was distorted and they didn’t sound as sharp as in their last show.  Still cute and entertaining.  The 7 PM show set a record for attendance as maybe 70 to 100 people showed up.  Some pictures from the show.
























After the show, I went right to the room and stretched out on the bed and tried to mitigate the spasms.  The pain only got slightly better.

I took an Advil right before bed hoping that that would help things in the morning.