Friday, March 21, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014 – Miami, FL – Partly Cloudy – 74F

Distance from Key West to Miami, FL: 160 Nautical Miles

Total Voyage II: 2699 Nautical Miles

Total Voyage I: 2,665 Nautical Miles

Grand Total: 5364 Nautical Miles (6187 Land Miles)

The Azamara Quest has completed its grand voyage….

There is no express walk-off on this ship – also, we are the only ship at this terminal today.  Our tag is for the 9:30 AM disembarkation.  From our cabin window, I noticed a very interesting truck parked next to the ship – “Miami Diving – Underwater Ship Maintenance”.

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What Are These Guys Up to?

After a pretty quiet breakfast up in the Window’s Cafe (spent some time with friends we had met on the ship).  We went back to the room to wait for our tag to be called.  Before leaving the ship, I was able to get pictures of the beautiful Miami skyline.

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Miami Skyline

Getting off the ship was pretty quick (no Immigration, we just handed in our Customs Declaration Form.  Our bags were in the terminal and we shared a van to the airport with other passengers ($10 a person so we saved some money by not taking the ship’s transfer). 

The ride to MIA was short – about 15 minutes.  We were both “TSA Pre-Check” on this flight so the time in Security was minimal.  Our flight – AA1346 – is scheduled to depart at 3:30 PM and we arrived at our Gate D-1 (yes, the last gate in the Terminal) at about 10:30.  We would have plenty of time to read and relax.  Unfortunately, the terminal was crowded and noisy (lots of kids – Spring Breakers?) but on the positive side, there were plenty of chargers for phones and computers.  The chargers, provided by Verizon, were a bit problematic as plugs were loose while in the chargers.  Eventually, we got our plugs to work and we were power heavy.

We had home made cheese sandwiches for lunch accompanied by $3 cokes and a bag of chips (also $3). 

Ellen read some books and I worked on this blog while waiting for our time to board.

Today, we are in First Class so we board first – this time I took the window seat so I could snap pictures of the takeoff and flight.  The plane pushed pretty much on time and soon we were on the active runway.  The takeoff over Miami was pretty cool.

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A Big Turn Brings the Airport into View

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Miami and the Port Area

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Another Turn and There’s Miami

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Above the First Layer of Clouds

The climb out was relatively smooth but as we made out way to our cruising altitude, there was nothing but chop – not bad chop because the flight attendants were still moving around.  The pilot came on and said that although we were at cruising altitude, the chop would continue (we were right at the cloud tops, which always means bumpy air) until we got a bit further north and he could get to a higher altitude.  That never happened; the seat belt sign was only off for about five minutes on this 2 hr 45 min flight and that was to let people take their chances and hit the washrooms. 

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It looks calm in the photo above but it was choppy.  On the positive side, I had two excellent Bloody Mary’s along with my mixed nuts.  There was no Veggie Option for Lunch so we both ate salads and rolls.  The chocolate chip cookie helped a bit but I will have to contact American about their options for Lunch.

The flight went quickly and soon we were on our initial approach to Chicago (we were about 30 minutes ahead of schedule). 

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A River as We Got Closer to Chicago

The airport below might be Midway as we are about 20 minutes out from ORD.

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Final Approach to ORD

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On Glide Path

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Smooth as Silk Landing

Although we landed more than 30 minutes early, we did have a gate so no penalty box today.  We got our luggage – our bags were not on our carousel but two carousels away already neatly placed on the floor.  I wonder if they somehow got on one of the earlier flights and arrived here hours before we did.  Fortunately, we have unusual looking bags so Ellen was able to spot them even from a distance.

No taxi today as we got picked up – a nice way to end a long day. 

A long but enjoyable cruise on the beautiful Azamara Quest…

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014 – Key West, FL – Mostly Sunny – 76F

Distance from New Orleans to Key West, FL: 506 Nautical Miles

Local Information.  Key West is located 150 miles from Miami and just 90 miles from Cuba.  The island was originally called Bone Key (Cayo Hueso became “Key West”).  Since the 1930s, Key West has been a go to destination for the rich and famous, including Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams.  John James Audubon painted birds of the area here and Harry Truman set up a vacation White House on Key West.  Key West is a nice but expensive place to live.

A beautiful day in Key West.  Spring Break is on and St. Patty’s day is coming up (OK to start early).

We are here today docked next to the Disney Wonder and the HAL Nieuwe Amsterdam. 

My final talk is at 10:30 AM prior to our arrival in Key West.  The talk, a new one on ships, is “Identifying American’s Fallen Heroes”.  One of my regular attendees told me before the talk that she would be leaving during the WTC portion of the talk.  The attendance on a late port arrival day is good with little drop-off from the 150 or so passengers.  The talk went very well and I got some very nice comments from folks when it was over.

All in all, a successful series on this cruise.

Our plan today is to walk around Key West and see the historical sites and other points of interest. 

The port area looks brand new and our walk off the ship is short and right into the city.

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Azamara Quest Docked in Key West

As we made our way out of the port and deeper into the city, I couldn’t resist taking pictures of Ellen in a diving helmet and with a FL Pirate.  I didn’t try the diving helmet because summoning the KWFD to cut me out of the helmet just didn’t seem like a good way to spend the day.

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No Leagues Under the Sea

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A Local Pirate

It didn’t take long to run into something we didn’t see last time we were here - “The Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden”. 

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The park honors individuals with a historic connection to Key West.  Among those individuals would be President Harry Truman,who spent a lot of time down here.

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Bust of President Harry S.Truman

The most amazing sculpture in the garden is “The Wreckers” by James Mastin.  Wreckers are workers that salvage the goods and people of ships that have tangled with the reefs in the area.  It was a major industry in Key West during the 19th century and made Key West the richest city (per capita) in the country.

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“The Wreckers”

Proceeding down the street we came across “The Audubon House”.  This is where John James Audubon painted birds as part of his collection (when he was not posing as the “King of France”).

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The Audubon House

Using a map (yes), we found one of our target sites, Truman’s “Little White House”.  In 1946, President Truman began using this house as his Winter White House. Today, it is a museum but you can walk the grounds and take pictures.

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Truman Little White House

Key West is overrun by chickens. 

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Hen and Chicks

The original chickens were brought to Key West by Cubans for fighting purposes.  When cockfighting was outlawed in the 1970s, the chickens were allowed to run free.  They since have bred with local domestic chickens but they are still everywhere and protected.

The point is that the bird below is not a chicken.

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Ernest Hemingway was one of Key West’s most famous residents.  His house is a museum and is difficult to photograph from the street.

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Hemingway House

The Key West Lighthouse was just a few steps from the Hemingway House.

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Key West Lighthouse

We decided to walk back on Duval Street, the main drag on Key West.

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There are lots of restaurants and shops on Duval Street.  One interesting eatery is a “Classic” Denny’s.  Very retro.

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  We also saw a theater repurposed as a Walgreens.

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Walgreens Cinema

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Iconic Sloppy Joe’s Bar on Duval Street

Since it was Spring Break and the day of the “Duval Pub Crawl”, the streets were wall to wall with green clad (for St. Patty’s Day) revelers.  There were all behaving themselves although some of the costumes were indescribable.  I can only imagine what Duval Street will look like after dark.

We headed back to the ship and I got a nice shot of the Quest.

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We stayed out on Deck 5 and watched the port transform into a kind of circus with all kinds of acts (acrobats, singers, dancers, fortune tellers)

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It’s All Happening at the Pier

The HAL ship departed before we got back and the Disney Wonder had sounded its very cool whistle –“When You Wish Upon a Star”, and soon it was pushing.

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The Disney Wonder Departing

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Sunset Key from the Port Deck

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Ellen Watching the Pier Come Alive

We stayed so long on the deck that we came about an hour late to dinner.  After dinner, we went to the “Farewell Show”, which featured Bruce Smirnoff (still very funny) and Minda Larsen, who put on a great show including singing a song called “I Love Sailing” backed up by great videos.

Ellen did her usual great job of packing and our bags are outside our door.

Friday, March 14, 2014 – At Sea – Gulf of Mexico – Partly Cloudy – 60s

A cool and somewhat bumpy day at sea…

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Poseidon is angry again

My fourth presentation - “Life and Death of Pharaohs” – is at 10 AM.  I attended Jim’s talk on the History of the Caribbean at 9:00 AM and I was pleased to see that the center screen is available today (I have Nigel Marven to thank for that).  This talk would have been very difficult to see on the side screens alone – the center screen will make all the difference.

My attendance is good at 150 passengers and I felt that I really connected with them this time even though this is one of the more complicated presentations.

Nigel is on after me presenting  – “It shouldn’t happen to a wildlife presenter”.  He showed clips of some of his TV appearances including a very funny one on Leno (and even funnier one on of the Brit Talk Shows).  He also showed a clip from “Prehistoric Park”, a TV series I used to watch with the kids.  The talk was very funny.

At 3:00 PM, we went up to the Looking Glass Lounge for High Tea.  I did have some decaf and we listened to Max play.  It was a very pleasant way to spend an indoor afternoon.

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Max Playing at High Tea

Nigel and some of his crew were also at High Tea so Ellen had a picture taken of the three of us.  I told Nigel that I had seen just about every episode of Prehistoric Park and he gave us a little history of what had been doing over the past few years and about the program aboard Azamara.  It was a pleasant chat. Oh, yes, he liked my Crocs – coming from a “croc” expert, quite a compliment.

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Nigel Marven and us

After dinner, we passed on the final production show - “Stage Door to Dreams” and instead sat in an empty Club Luxe reading.  I finished “Tyrannosaur Canyon” and it didn’t disappoint.  I was able to download Pendergast 11 and 12 using a new app I found but I just couldn’t get started.  I did start another Harry Bosch novel - “City of Bones” – but I didn’t get very far.

Tomorrow – Key West and warmer weather.  Hope the seas calm down.

Wednesday – Thursday, March 12-13, 2014 – New Orleans, LA – Partly Cloudy and Sunny - 66F and 64F

Distance from Puerto Limon to New Orleans, LA: 1312 Nautical Miles

The Azamara Quest arrives in New Orleans in the pre-dawn hours.

Local Information.  Native Americans settled in what is today New Orleans about 1300 years ago.  New Orleans was founded by the French in 1718.  The city was rebuilt after a hurricane on what is now the French Quarter (higher ground).  France ceded the area to Spain in the 1760s.  France reclaimed the city but sold it to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  New Orleans was captured but not destroyed by the Union Army.  Hurricane Katrina damaged much of the city sparing the Garden District and French Quarter. 

March 12, 2014

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Feeling a bit better this morning so I am hoping that the triple therapy is starting to kick in.

After our Room Service Breakfast, we plan to walk around the city, especially the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. 

Before we can do that, we had to go through Immigration.  It took a little while but we got our passports stamped and then went back to the ship to stow our passports and get ready to head out.

The ship is supplying shuttles to Landry’s Sea Food Restaurant, which is at the corner of Conti and North Peters.  This is close to Jackson Square and the French Quarter. 

We hop on the shuttle bus and take the really bumpy ride (someone fix the streets in NOLA) to the drop point.

Although we are wearing jackets and it is overcast, it soon becomes warm enough to wear that jacket around my waist.  The sun is trying to break through the clouds.  It will be nice later.

Right across the street is a nice little park containing a statue of the founder of New Orleans – Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville.

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De Bienville Monument –

Bourbon Street has its share of street performers – I am not exactly sure what the fellow is up to in the picture below but he was so patriotic looking, I thought I should capture the moment.

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Walking a “Dog”

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Bourbon Street

One of my goals as I walked around the city was to get pictures of some voodoo stuff.  On this walk, I could only find some skulls to shoot – not sure they are voodoo related but they do look cool.

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Pick a skull, any skull

I started to run out of gas so we decided to take the shuttle back to the ship.  Ellen went back out to the terminal to WiFi in some books and I stayed on the sunny side of Deck 5.  On her way back, she got this picture of me from the pier.

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As part of the New Orleans experience, the ship brought on a Dixieland Band.  We were sitting in the Club Luxe when we heard the music so we hustled over to get a picture.

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Dixieland Band in the Discoveries Restaurant

Because of the weather, Alex moved his Michael Buble show indoors to the Looking Glass Lounge.  He changed his show a bit – threw in some new songs and new banter.  Still, it was a highly enjoyable evening – maybe even better than the first show.

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Alex Mac Performing in the Looking Glass Lounge

Won’t be heading out to Bourbon Street tonight as Alex suggested.  Instead, resting up for a big day tomorrow in New Orleans

March 13, 2014

Feeling so much better today…

While chowing down on our wonderful room service breakfast, I noticed an old friend, the Carnival Elation, backing in behind us at the pier.

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Carnival Elation parallel parking

We also got up early enough to witness a wonderful sunrise with the Mississippi River in the foreground.

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Sunrise on the Mississippi

We once again took the shuttle bus to the city and started our walk.  We were hoping to stop in at the Cafe Du Monde for some chicory flavored coffee and cardiac bending beignets but the line to get a seat snaked across both sides of the restaurant.  Instead, we had to settle for a photo in front of the famed coffee shop.

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Ellen at the Cafe Du Monde

We continued our walk down Peters Street looking for the French Market.  We found a nice little shopping mall with a very interesting fountain – in the jazz motif, of course.

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The Jazz Fountain

The mall had a path that led to the Mississippi River.  The shore had a jogging path and seats – a real nice touch.  We could see the Algiers bridge in distance along with the Quest and Elation.  What a nice view.

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Along the banks of the Mississippi

Back on Decatur St, we came across the gilded bronze statue of Joan of Arc located in the Place de France park.  The statue – a replica of the statue in Paris - was given to the city of New Orleans by France in 1958.  It was moved from its original spot near Harrah’s Casino to its current location on Decatur Street in 1999.

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Joan of Arc – Place de France

The statue of Joan of Arc is located across the street from the French Market.  Everything is sold here including some food that I can’t believe people would eat.

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The French Market

From the French Market we turned toward the center of the French Quarter looking for Bourbon Street.  The street we were on was very residential lined with very well kept up homes and very few businesses.  As we got closer to the shops and restaurants, we came across some very interesting establishments.

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LPK – The Name Sounds Familiar

If you are going to sell Pharaoh’s stuff, please spell his name correctly.

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We finally reached famed Bourbon Street (not spelled quite the same way).

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Bourbon Street Sign

On Bourbon Street, I finally found my Voodoo Shop – I didn’t go in but I did get a good shot through the door.

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Voodoo Paraphernalia

From Bourbon Street we headed back toward the River to find Jackson Square.  We knew we were there because a huge statue of Old Hickory was the centerpiece of the square.  The square was teeming with walking tours, musicians, and tourists.  It’s a fabulous greenspace in the otherwise dense French Quarter.

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Andrew Jackson

Across the street from Jackson Square is the Saint Louis Cathedral of New Orleans.  This cathedral, founded in 1720, is the oldest cathedral in North America.

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Saint Louis Cathedral of New Orleans

Continuing our walk along Bourbon Street, we came across Music Legends Park, a coffee shop complete with music and statues of New Orleans Jazz Greats.

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Music Legends Park

As we turned down St. Peter Street, we came across the famed Pat O’Briens’s Bar and Restaurant – home of the deadly “Hurricane”.  I have been here before and checked out the Hurricane but today, it is all about just getting a picture.  The place wasn’t open yet and I got stopped at the entrance by some feisty employees who said I couldn’t shoot the place (insurance reasons).  Undaunted,I took a picture anyway.  Not the best customer service.

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Courtyard – Pat O’Brien’s Bar

We found the bus pickup spot and rode back to the ship.

We were in the Mosaic Cafe when we heard a loud calliope knocking out some music.  We got out on the open deck just in time to see a paddle wheeler go by.  A great shot.

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We leave New Orleans early today and the afternoon is full of programs.  Nigel Marven is on first with “Up Close and Personal” with some swamp and river critters.  First up was a Conger Eel, a very long eel, that appeared to get away from Nigel and scattered passengers in the first couple of rows.  Perhaps, it was just “good TV” as Nigel puts it.

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Nigel Wrestles a Conger Eel

Nigel then pulled an alligator out of a gym bag and showed him off to the crowd.  Ellen actually petted the gator.

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A Gator Meets the Crowd

The final animal to make an appearance was a Snapping Turtle.  Nigel had a little trouble getting the turtle out of his tub and wound up spilling turtle water and who knows what all over the Cabaret Lounge floor. 

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Nigel and the Snapping Turtle

I was scheduled to talk after Nigel.  The turtle stuff had been cleaned up and I had a good turnout for my third talk - “The Lost Dauphin of France”.  My talk coincided with our pushing so as soon as I started to speak, the bow thrusters came on full (to counter the current in the river).  Well, I saw my feet blur with the vibrations and I couldn’t be heard so I waited a bit for them to stop.  They did and I went on.  The turnout was good – again about 150 people.

Before we went to dinner, we watched the Elation depart (from our cabin).

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Because of the sun, we asked to be seated on the port side of the Discoveries Dining Room.  This gave us an excellent view of the Mississippi River transit (a 10.5 hour trip) while having our dinner.  I don’t recall what we had but the view was everything.

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Having Dinner watching the Levees Go By

Showtime tonight starred Minda Larsen – crossover singer (opera and pop).  I immediately liked her – she had good stage presence and introduced her songs in a clear pleasant way.

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Minda Larsen

Spent some time with Max before calling it a day.

Tomorrow, a relaxing day at sea.