Thursday, April 2, 2020

January 17, 2020 – Manzanillo, Mexico – Sunny and Warm – 84F

Slept better last night – smooth seas.

Even though we requested a tour, there was a glitch and no escort tickets were issued.  In addition, there will be an all-crew training exercise this morning at 9:45 AM so we would have been the only people who could have escorted.

After my usual good breakfast, I grabbed some breakfast for Ellen and stopped by the Shorex Office.  Eduardo was there and I asked him about the tours for the day.  He checked availability and said we could get on a tour at 9:00 AM (about 90 minutes from now) and I said that would be great.  We didn’t have to help on the dispatch (nobody told us) and we just needed to meet out on the pier at 8:45 AM.

The tour – “Cuyutlan Turtle Sanctuary” – met at the end of the long pier and vendor area.  I could already tell that the temperature estimate was on the low side based on what we felt when we disembarked the ship.

I got an interesting picture of Ellen as she made her way down the pier, sun umbrella in hand, as well as pictures of the greater Manzanillo area.

We boarded a new bus (with nice seats, A/C, and USB chargers) and there were enough empty seats that we each had our own seat in the back.  

Our guide was Ramiro and our bus driver was Jesus.  We were the third and final bus to leave on this tour and we left just a few minutes late. The bus made a left turn out of the terminal area and passed through the old part of Manzanillo.  The streets were teaming with locals and there were quite a few cars on the road.  We passed by the commercial pier, which is one of the biggest in Mexico – evident by the sheer number of containers, some of which were stacked five high.  

We then hit the highway to Cuyutlan, our first destination.  Once we left Manzanillo, the countryside was a combination of various types of vegetation, including bananas and coconut groves.  We entered a stretch of highway that had actual speed bumps – the cars paid no attention to the bumps but our bus slowed to a crawl. 

We passed a large body of water – from what I could make out, some of this water, which is ocean water, is used to produce salt.  

On the shore of this estuary, there were some power plants.  We had one comfort stop at a gas station and then our first stop, the small town of Cuyutlan, home to “The Salt Museum”.  Before we got to the actual museum, we saw how the salt was (or maybe, still is) stored - in huge piles covered by all sorts of materials.  

The streets of the town were pretty much deserted now.

I don’t think salt manufacture is a big industry these days – salt was important in the past to preserve food and in the production of silver.  The museum was in a 100 year old building and our guide took us through and described the diorama depicting the salt production process.  

There was a local selling salt in small burlap bags ($5 each)

and some of the passengers brought them.  I don’t believe I could eat salt like that – unpurified and containing who knows what.

There was also the jaw bone of some kind of whale, that washed ashore some time ago.  Not sure what the skull had to do with salt, though.

Our next stop was the “Tortugario Ecological Center” in nearby Armeria.  

The center was established to protect the sea turtles that use this portion of the Mexican seashore as a nesting area.  Hunting turtles is a federal crime in Mexico but it is ignored by many.  The Center ensures that the eggs are protected and that the 70,000 baby turtles released back into the Ocean make it there OK.  The Center also protects the local species of Crocodile and Iguana.  We saw a brief video describing the situation with the turtles and then visited several pools containing various species of turtles and finally an aquarium containing just hatched babies. We also managed to take a decent selfie - a very rare occurrence.

We also saw the fenced in area where the eggs incubate.  

There are also mini-habitats for the crocodiles 

and iguanas.

I found it interesting that our Center Guide Lupita spoke no English and worked through Ramiro as an interpreter.  Also the signage was not bilingual.  The Center needs to think about those issues if they are going to host tours in the future.  It was about 95F and Ellen and I stayed mainly in the shade.  

We also walked to the nearby black sand beach, which on this day was practically deserted.   This is also where the baby turtles sprint, sort of, to the ocean to begin their lives.

Considering the heat, I think our stay at the Center was a little too long.  Also, no water was available and some of the guests looked like could use some water.

Our final stop was the Bienvenidos Hotel for our snack and drink stop.  The drink process was quick and there was a good selection of drinks (beer, soft drinks).  I had a Corona and Ellen had a Coke Lite. The snack consisted of a hand-made (no gloves) tortilla with guacamole (2), wrapped and fried tortillas with potato filling (3).  We were assured by the head guide that everything was vegetarian including the oils used to fry things.  Everyone was eating and so we did, too.  We’ll see later how that worked out.  Both items were good but I traded my Corona for a Coke Lite.

After eating, Ellen and I checked out the Malecon 

and the vendors as well as the beach, which was again pretty much empty.  

We were told that a home along the beach might run about $150,000 USD.

From the hotel, it was a 45 minute ride back to the pier in Manzanillo.  As we got close to the pier, I was able to get a picture of Grand Princess docked as well as the boats in the nearby marina.

As we waited in the line for security access to the pier, we enjoyed the music performed by a female singer and her band.  Overall, a pretty nice day in Mexico - I guess timing is everything - and better than just staying on the ship.

We ordered an iced decaf latte and an iced chai latte to cool off and drank them in the Crooners Lounge.

Even though we did not make reservations tonight, we still got a nice table in the Michelangelo Dining Room.  I had the best dish they serve, “Trenette (flat noodles similar to fettuccini) with basil, potato, and haricot verts (aka green beans”.  I also had the Grilled Antipasto with Goat Cheese (OK) and the Tempura Veggie (OK). Ellen had the Orange Roughy (good) but her mushroom tartlet could not be made without the veal sauce (so scratch that dish).

We ate pretty fast and caught the first two songs by Tommy Proulx, Saxophonist.  We decided we needed a quieter place so we went to the Wheelhouse Bar to read and listen to Jay Gulbicki.

Then it was on the room because a day in the hot Mexican country side can wring a bit of the energy out of you.

Clocks move back one hour tonight (now MST).

I don’t think the seas will be smooth for the 300 nautical mile trip to Mazatlan, because when we used Deck 7 to get to our room, we were facing quite a headwind.

January 16, 2020 – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Mostly Sunny, Humid – warm – 78F

Managed to get some sleep, somehow.  Making some headway in the sleep deficit issue.

Even though this is a big excursion day (we are not going out as we have been here and seen the sights a few times), Horizon Court is busy but manageable.  I even got a scrambled omelet made when I saw there was no one in line.  They use pagers to let you know your omelet is ready, a nice workable system.  I also had my usual waffle combination and a biscuit – I am expecting to burn off some of this food today.

We are docked at the pier next to the brand new terminal (one year old we were told) and not the next pier over, our usual berth.  

So when you exit the ship and go through the new shops – the obligatory Diamonds International, a really nice restaurant, and a chocolate shop – you are right across the street from a U-shaped mall, the vendors and the spa we visit when we are in town.

I had texted the spa and made appointments for us at 10 AM.  We got there a little early and waited about 15 minutes for them to open.  Marta, the owner, is still there although every time I see her, she seems like a different person (I'm good with faces, so I wonder). She confirmed it was her, even though she spoke more Spanish to me than usual.  Ellen had a tech named Carmen.  We both had nice massages ($30 for an hour) and they really appreciated the tips.  In fact, we liked the sessions so much we made appointments at 4 PM (as it is such a short walk from the ship and the ship is not departing until 7:30 PM).

We had lunch in Horizon Court – I had pizza from Slice (not fresh, not good) and a salad.  It will do the trick until dinner.

We had originally planned to talk the bus to the Malecon but, after checking the temperature and humidity, decided to stay on the ship.  We wound up reading on the back deck near the railing on lounge chairs – very comfortable and nice and with a great view of the Bay of Banderas and the luxury condos across the inlet.  

We also noticed that the party boats didn’t start their runs until after lunch and that the Mexican Navy dispatched two ships – a cutter and cruiser – to stand watch in the Bay and to keep boats and ships away from Grand Princess.

I am making progress on the “English Spy” but I also spent some time catching up with the news back home (wish I hadn’t).  At least, we are not at war and the Stock Market has not crashed.

We sat on the deck in the shade and with a nice breeze until 3:45 PM, when I left the ship for my second appointment.  Another nice session with Marta and she told me to text her the next time we are in Puerto Vallarta for an appointment.  The two sessions in one day are a rare event which probably won't be repeated.  The next time we are here, we should try to get an excursion for at least part of the day.

After showering off the layers of oil, we went to dinner in the Michelangelo Dining Room – two cups of gazpacho, Cesar Salad, and Tilapia – apple strudel a la mode and two cups of coffee.  Ellen had the Tilapia also.  Everything on the dinner tonight was good.

We passed on the Folkloric Show tonight and the Blues Brothers Tribute – just not our thing.

The rest of the evening was spent reading in a quiet and act-less Crooners Lounge.  Silence is golden.

Good day for walking as the pedometer spit out 9550 steps.

We had good seats for the sail out – the path to the open sea was short as the ship was docked at the pier closest to the breakwater.  Still, the views of the condos against a clear blue sky was great.

Seas are smooth.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

January 15, 2020 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean – Mostly Cloudy – 70F

Did not sleep at all last night – or, at least, I don’t think I did.  Perfectly smooth ride, quiet room, and good room temp.  Going to be a long day today.

“Up” at 6:30 AM and off to Horizon Court.  It is finally warm enough to sit in the Solarium Annex for breakfast.  I also had a chance to ask a “Suit” why we had to listen to the screaming lady in the morning.  He said it was in the PA system (I didn't know that) but he would check on it.

Standard breakfast – everything was good.

Now in the room – all caught up.

Lots of pressure today since the talk was advertised on the front page of the Patter. 

I picked up an iced latte to drink in the theater while I waited to get started but I got there too early (and it was cold) so I went back to the International Café and drank half of it there.

The talk – “Forensic Detectives: Identifying America’s Fallen Heroes” – is at 10:00 AM in the Princess Theater.  Another very good turnout – more than half full.  Nice feedback from a small group of folks who stayed after (until they kicked us out) to chat. 

Lunch was in the Horizon Buffet – the usual fare - mostly salad bar.

We spent the afternoon up on Deck 15 Aft – very nice today – warm and a prevailing breeze that kept the smoke away from us.  This kind of weather called for another iconic picture of Ellen on the back deck.

Still making my way through “The English Spy”, which is an unusual book in that it again has both Gabriel Allon and his pre-MI6 partner, Christopher Keller not battling Middle East terrorist but IRA terrorists (I have to admit that I did not think the IRA was still a factor in Northern Ireland).  The book has spent a lot of time explaining the story of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and the clashes with the British government. 

A very pleasant afternoon.  The coast of Mexico is visible from Deck 15 Aft.

We had dinner in the Michelangelo Dining Room – Ellen had another favorite dish – “Sole Colbert” – and I made do with just the salmon and Fettuccini Alfredo (no salad or soup and no dessert).

Managed to catch a beautiful sunset before the show.

We went to the early show – 6:30 AM – featuring Amy Jo Slater and her “Evening with Adele” tribute show.  Amy Jo looks a lot like Adele – at least from the cheap seats – and does an excellent job of channeling the singer.  In fact, in my opinion, she is a better singer than Adele.  She did all of the Adele songs I like and the volume was fine.  She also had some nice visual effects that complemented the music.  She was a little tentative in her banter but I don’t know how long she has been doing this.

The seas are smooth and tomorrow we will be in Puerto Vallarta.

January 14, 2020 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean – Cloudy – Cool – 54F

Global Warming – not here – still cool outside.

Slept a little better last night but I have to skip the coffee tonight – might be the culprit.

The Pacific Ocean looks a little bit more friendly this early in the morning.

Breakfast was inside Horizon Court – still too cold outside even though the quiet would have been nice.

The waffle issue has been solved and the waffles this morning were good. Only had waffles, cottage cheese, sour cream, and jams this morning along with a tablespoon of scrambled eggs. The coffee was hot and I got to read a few pages of EW this morning.  Not much to see as it was dark the whole time.  I put together a breakfast plate for Ellen and headed back to the room.

Tonight is Formal Night so I made reservations for the Michelangelo Dining Room (it will be crowded).

On Ellen’s advice (always good these last five decades), I purchased a Specialty Coffee Drink Package ($31 dollars for 15 drinks) because the barista said the card would work for my iced lattes.  We’ll be drinking coffee day and night for this cruise but the cost per drink is quite a bit lower than I paid for the last cruise.

The ship is refurbing or repairing the seating area near the Coffee Bar so seating is at a premium.  That area has been blocked off by temporary walls.

In the Pizzeria now and just finished going over my talk for today.

"Forensics and History: The Search for the Unknown Titanic Child" 

is scheduled to follow a talk on Shore Excursions today at 11:00 AM in the Princess Theater.  Another good crowd – somewhat larger than yesterday.  For some reason, the talk ran 58 minutes or 10 minutes longer than on the previous cruise.  Don’t know why.  In any event, only three or four people left to go to another event and the crowd seemed to appreciate the talk.

We had lunch in the Da Vinci Dining Room because they featured Ellen’s favorite dish – pan fried sole.  They also featured one of my favorite items – gazpacho – and, of course, I had two bowls.  Along with the salad, I once again tried the veggie burger, which, was once again, mashed potatoes with veggies fried (kind of).  The Maitre D’ – Ms. Ionica came by and asked about our meals and I gave her my opinion on the veggie burgers on Princess.  I told her that other cruise lines offered real veggie burgers.  She listened and wrote something down but we told her we were guest entertainers and didn’t want to log an official criticism.  She understood.  Maybe she will take some steps to banish the faux veggie burger.

It was warm enough to sit on the couches on Deck 15 Aft – I am making good progress on “The Last Mile” (Book Two in the Memory Man series by David Baldacci).  The story is all over the place and Amos has had no need to use his perfect memory superpower much but the detective work is interesting and he is now working with a team at the FBI.

I went out on Deck 7 to take a picture of a very nice sunset.

Tonight is formal night, but we opted to eat in the buffet.  There wasn’t much there but we talked to the chef and he made us some pasta pesto without the chicken.  The pasta was a little light on the sauce but it was OK.

We once again saw “Stardust” in the Theater – we went primarily to see the new cast, which came on board in San Francisco.  There were high and low points in the performance, which will no doubt improve as time goes by.

We went to the room to unwind.

The clocks move forward one hour tonight putting us on CST.

Seas are perfectly smooth and the room is not creaking.  Might not need earplugs tonight.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

January 13, 2020 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean – Mostly Sunny – Cool – 50F

What a difference wind direction and force make – very smooth seas.

Smooth seas do not always make for good sleep – I am thinking someone slipped me a “caffeine mickey” at dinner last night.  Woke up with a hangover that I didn’t earn.

Walked quickly from the cabin to the aft end of the ship along Deck 7 and caught a beautiful sunrise.

Still too cold to eat in the Solarium Annex so I ate inside Horizon Court.  There I had to deal with the screaming lady and some day 1 glitches.  There were no waffles – reason: no batter and/or no conditioning spray.  So pancakes, oatmeal, cottage cheese, and some eggs (none of which was totally eaten) served as backup. 

My first talk – “Forensics and History: The Mystery of the Romanovs” – was scheduled at 10:00 AM in the Princess Theater.  I had low expectations as I always do and I had to chuckle when the PA announced the talk as “The Mystery of the Romans”.  I thought CD Steve would come by and introduce me but he was probably busy so I introduced myself.  However, I am of little faith as the theater was more than 40 percent full and only a couple left for another event late in the session.  While I did get a good response from the attendees, I found myself rushing at the end so I am going to edit the talk and remove the less important slides and information.

We went straight to the Crown Grill for the Pub Lunch – I had a Bass Ale along with my Fish and Chips, which were very good.  The mushy peas were not mushy but crunchy – and I like that texture better.  Too much food for lunch.

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to find a warm place to sit and read (sound familiar).  We didn’t want to go to Deck 7 because there is too much people traffic and chatter going on. So we tried the couches on Deck 15 aft (too chilly) and then Club One5, which was also cold but not bronchitis inducing cold.  I had the hardest time reading and staying awake – because of the cold – so we went to Horizon Court to bask in the warm sun and thaw out.  That did help but eventually, the default condition took over and we went to the comfort and warmth of 7115.

Dinner was in the Michelangelo Dining Room – tonight, Cesar Salad, Baked Potato Soup, and Pad Thai (not as good as last cruise); Ellen had the soup and grilled salmon on a Cesar Salad.

We went to the Vista Lounge to hear Liam Stewart and his tribute to Elton John.  He did nine songs most of which are faves and he sounds quite a bit like Sir Elton and is a terrific pianist.  This is the first time we have seen him because he is on at 9:30 PM in the Crooners Lounge and we are usually done for the night by that time.  We will catch him at least once on this cruise.

We then made our way to the Theater to catch comedian Scott Wyler (our neighbor). Steve said this was Scott’s second show but there was no evidence of that in the Patter or Program schedule I had.  Another Twilight Zone moment.  Scott is pretty low intensity and the jokes are non-stop but they seemed a bit familiar – no doubt we have seen Scott somewhere before.  His show was long for Princess (about 50 minutes).  Update – we spoke to Scott later and he told us he was a last minute fill in because the drummer was unable to perform for Tommy Proulx’s show.  It was announced on the PA system but we and certainly others didn’t hear it.

I was out of gas so we went to the room.

Clocks move forward one hour tonight (now MST) and the seas are smooth.

January 12, 2020 – San Francisco, CA – Partly Cloudy – 54F

A hellish night of bounce, shimmy, and shudder but somehow, we both got some sleep.  I was up before dawn and was happy that we had actually arrived in San Francisco.  We weren’t quite there but at around 6:30 AM, the bow thruster confirmed our arrival.

I had breakfast up in Horizon Court.  A little more hectic than usual but I did get all my usual menu items – no lox today for Ellen.

At around 9:00 AM, we grabbed our Passports, old sea pass cards, and our new sea pass cards and scanned off the ship (the old cards were now cancelled). 

It was chilly but clear in the Bay Area today and we needed to find a store to get a new curling iron – Ellen’s had stopped functioning a week ago.  We walked up the street to Bay St. crossed and walked a few blocks to the North Pointe Shopping MallSafeway had no curling irons but we did buy a six pack of spring water.  Our next stop was Ross, where we did find a curling iron.  I also bought a clearance hoodie (from Phat Store - it was an S but it fit) to combat the wintry condition on the ship.  Two wins.

We walked back - made all the more difficult by my schlepping six pounds of water - and had to wait a few minutes for the ship to clear.

Our cabin would not be cleaned and straightened up today because everyone was involved in readying the ship for the new crowd. We did drop off our purchases.

We had lunch today in the Da Vinci Dining Room – a very good Tuscan Bean Soup, a salad, and a pasta (didn’t like it as it was too sweet).

After lunch, I did a load of laundry in the Guest Laundry on Deck 8 Aft.  When I got there, the doors were locked. The folks readying the rooms didn’t have a key so I called Guest Services (6000) and told them and they said the laundry wouldn’t open until the guests embarked.  I was on my way back to the room (about a 1000 steps), when two guys in the white sailor type outfits stopped me and asked me if I was going to do the laundry and they said they would unlock the door for me (I am guessing the Guest Services told them).  They did open the door and I used my sea pass card to purchase a wash and dry (each $3) and a detergent box ($1.50).  The wash cycle was 25 minutes (just enough time to go the room and then turn around and come back).  The dry cycle was 30 minutes.  The clothes were mostly dry and we hung up the moist items in the room.  The laundry worked well but it was clearly a bit pricey.  Next time, we bring our own detergent.

By this time, I had about 11,000 steps on my pedometer.

We went out on Deck 7 to check out the view and to continue my iconic picture series.

The ship is ice cold because the doors are open for embarking passengers.  One5 had a wedding going on and it was too cold outside on Deck 15.  We wound up back in the room until we attended the lifeboat drill at 3:20 PM – All aboard was 3:30 PM and soon we were making a daytime departure.

We had dinner in the Michelangelo Dining Room – very good Veggie Spring Rolls (double order), a strange iceberg type salad, cold Pina Colada Soup (surprising good) and the same sweet tomato sauce based pasta, which I didn’t eat. A nice ice cream sundae for dessert. Ellen had the quiche for dinner (it was OK).  My new hoodie prevented me from getting frostbite.

We wanted to hear Jan Gulbicki in the Wheelhouse Bar but he didn’t show up for his show.  The background music there was so loud that some guests complained and the waiter told me they were trying to turn it down.

We listed to The Supersonics for a while sitting outside the Explorers Lounge. 

They went from soft and nice to loud and unlistenable so we departed for the cabin.

We watched the passage through the Golden Gate Bridge through the window in our stateroom.

This is our new itinerary for the next cruise to Mexico.

The seas are smooth tonight - at least, so far.

January 11, 2020 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean – Mostly Cloudy – 54F

Another very rocky night – little, if any, sleep to be had.  Still bucking a strong oncoming wind and oncoming swells.

I was up early again and headed to breakfast in the Horizon Café.  It was a very cool morning - just around sunrise - 

but the windbreaker helped.  I decided that I would walk the length of the open deck (it's a ways as you can see here)

despite the temperature and enjoy the brisk ocean air.  The sea didn't look that choppy but you can't feel the waves on the open deck.

Even though this is our last day on this cruise, the breakfast was just as good.  I haven't tired of the same breakfast every morning.  The food's good so why experiment.  

Not working today either.  I spent my coffee time organizing the talks for the next leg of this back to back itinerary.

We had lunch in the International Café. A tuna sandwich (the tuna is always good but again I needed to use tuna from two sandwiches) and some watermelon Caprese salad did the trick.

Deck 15 Aft was too cold and One5 was too noisy so we spent a lot of time searching for a venue to read.  I started and read quite a bit of book called “In the Woods” by Tana French, whose main characters are Detectives Andy Ryan and Cassie Maddox, working in Ireland.  I feel I have read this book before but I read over a hundred pages until I was able to confirm this.  I don’t remember how it turned out and I’m not going to go and read the end again.  I didn’t delete the book so who knows.

Not sure what we did for dinner but I do know it was fast.  I also know that it was an icebox up in Horizon Court – with all the doors open and a headwind, you needed winter clothing to eat in there so I’m not sure we stayed.

While we were trying to straighten out our bill at Guest Services, the Captain came on again with a caution about the ship’s motion and to use handrails.  He said he was going to slow down to reduce the chop but that we would get to San Francisco on time.

At 6:30 PM, we saw Anne Martinez perform her second show in the Vista Lounge.  We sat in the bar area so we could see.  She did some soft ballads (“The Sweetest Thing” - her mother's favorite song) and a couple of louder upbeat songs.  She said she was in a Las Vegas Musical called “Baz”, based on Director Baz Lerman’s movies (e.g. Moulin Rouge).  She sang a song from “The Great Gatsby” that I didn’t recognize even though she said it was nominated for an Academy Award.  Enjoyable show.

We hustled – though we didn’t really need to – to the Princess Theater to catch headliner comedian, Kevin Jordan, do his early show.  I am pretty sure we saw him earlier – ex LAPD, uses a police flashlight to point people out in the audience.  He did a lot of stuff with some kids on board that was only marginally funny.  He was funny enough but I do remember him being funnier the other time we saw him.

After the show, we headed to the quiet and warmth of the room.

To my amazement, our in-transit envelopes were delivered along with my packet from Lee.

The Captain was indeed correct – the room was literally rising and falling and every fall was associated with at least two huge bangs (from waves hitting the bow).  At times, the shudder was a little scary as it was accompanied by the rise and fall and booms.  We could barely deal with the motion now – sleep would be interesting.