Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean (coast of Mexico) – Sunny and pleasant - 70s

Smooth seas - beautiful day at sea.

The View from Cabin 7063 - The Promenade Railing

Here's the itinerary for this Grand Panama Canal Adventure Cruise

My first breakfast on the ship is in the Lido Café (Deck 11) – Grapefruit, Waffle, Cottage Cheese, Sour Cream (requested), Preserves.  I ate in the outside section – only one our there.  I probably will move inside starting tomorrow since I can't seem to get any coffee service out there (and it's going to get warmer in the morning as we make our way South).

At 10:00 AM, I went to hear a talk by Dick Morgan on the Panama Canal  (“The Land Divided, the World United”) in the Galaxy Lounge.  He spent a good deal of his career working at the Canal Authority before it was turned over to the Panamanians.  A somewhat different take on the building of the canal, including some very early history about Panama and Colombia.  Dick had a pretty good turnout.  I am not going to be lecturing in the theater but rather in the Starlite Lounge.  That's fine with me since I prefer the latter venue.

Ellen went to a needlepoint class instead of the lecture.

We both attended Jim Brochu's presentation on “Fred and Ginger” in the Galaxy Lounge at 11:00 AM.  Jim is one of the theme presenters (there are more than 25 of them on board) and he mainly used old film clips of Astaire and Rogers.  He also gave some biographical information on the two of them that I had not heard before.  Jim is a fan favorite.  He did have a lot of technical issues with his video clips which I am sure he will iron out before next time.

At 12:05 PM, we attended the Entertainment Staff Briefing hosted by CD Paul McFarland in the Hollywood Theater.  We were introduced to all of the other entertainment folks (the people on contracts must go through this at least every two weeks) and given the Dos and Don’ts rules and regs.  We were also told that there were only 440 passengers on this cruise along with 68 entertainment personnel.  The ship is really sailing light as she normally can accommodate 944 passengers.

We had lunch in the Lido Café Buffet – they have a great salad bar and I added a small portion of the pasta arabiata (freshly made).  "Sadly", they gave Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream on the ship so a small cone of “Chunky Monkey” finished off the lunch.

The afternoon was spent on the couches next to the Trident Grill.  The retractable roof was closed but the sunlight was bright and warm.   I’m reading “The Messenger” by Daniel Silva – in this book, master Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon, gets involved with the Vatican again and a vast terror network run by a super-terrorist.

At 2:30 PM, we went up one deck to watch a rare event – the close encounter with the Crystal Serenity (on its way to Los Angeles) – the two ships passed port to port separated by a few hundred yards. 

Close Encounter of the Serenity Type

This is the second time we have done something like this (The QE and QV passed each other in the Straits of Messina a few years ago).  Interesting.

Serenity Watching

At 5:00 PM, we went to the Galaxy Lounge for an afternoon cabaret session with Ilene Graff.  I didn’t recognize the name but I did know her from somewhere – she was the mom on Mr. Belvedere.  The plan was changed so instead of a concert she participated in a Q and A with Hollywood Maven, Glenn Rosenblum.  They were both entertaining and the session had numerous clips of Irene’s Broadway and TV career.  I was surprised that she came from a Jewish background.  She finished off the session with a song from “I Love My Wife” – “Love Revolutions” – which she did wonderfully.  She will be doing a Cabaret Show later on in the cruise – looking forward to it.

Tonight is Black Tie Optional. 

Pre-Dinner in the Crystal Plaza

We were fortunate to get table for two in the Crystal Dining Room.  I had the Red Cabbage Gazpacho (Modern Menu) (a purple cold soup with an interesting flavor); Captain’s Salad; Ellen had a beautiful fruit plate; we both had Herb Coated Halibut (OK) with mashed potatoes; a side order of Pasta Oglio with Peperoncini (very good); tiramisu and coffee.

We passed on Neil Lockwood’s Elton John Tribute (we have seen in a few times) and instead hung out in the Crystal Cove and then went up to the Palm Court to hear the Shoresounds Duo. 

A full day.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sunday, April 30, 2017 – Los Angeles, CA – Sunny, Warm – 85F

After another breakfast of cereal and milk (getting to like this), my sister picked us up and in about 30 minutes we were at the Renaissance Hotel LAX.  There were several Crystal representatives tagging luggage and passing out colored tickets for the several busses that would take passengers to San Diego.  We were on the second bus leaving at about 11:00 AM or so.  We ran into Steve Friedman, another lecturer on the ship, who along with wife Brenda, were on the first bus out.

Crystal supplied water and snacks that would keep us for the two plus hour ride to San Diego.  The bus was comfortable and we were in the first seats behind the handicapped seats in the front of bus (to avoid car sickness).

Fortunately, it was a Sunday - had this been a weekday ride, it would have taken three times as long.  The ride was mostly freeway and even though it was a Sunday, there was still a lot of traffic.  The bus moved very slowly once we got to the San Diego Harbor area - I'm really not sure why since the traffic was not an issue. I survived the ride (I don’t really like bus washrooms).  Because people were arriving at different times, the check in process was not very long.  We checked in very quickly on board the Crystal Symphony. 

Now, we are official

It was late and we had a small lunch (red pepper gazpacho and tuna melt) at the Trident Grill on Deck 11. 

We signed up for several excursions with Shorex and also made two reservations at Prego.  Prego, the Italian Specialty Restaurant, is a good choice on the first night since seating in the Crystal Dining Room is still in flux.

We were assigned Cabin 7063 – an ocean view cabin on the Promenade Deck. 

Cabin 7063

We are usually on Deck 9 and I'm not so sure about this location.  Although the room is very nice, you can see the people who are walking the Promenade Deck.  This may not be an issue in the daytime due to the reflective surface on the windows but at night, you can indeed look into the rooms on this deck.

The Lifeboat Drill was held at around 4:30 PM.  On this ship, you need to wear your life jacket and assembled at your actual muster station next to your Lifeboat on Deck 7.  Everyone was signed in pretty quickly but it still took a little time to get through all the announcements from the bridge.  It was getting a bit chilly out on the deck by this time.  This was as close as you're going to get to a real lifeboat muster.  All the ships should carry out this kind of drill.

We explored the ship a bit to re-familiarize ourselves with the various important locales.

Port Side View of Lindberg Field (SAN)

San Diego from Deck 12

San Diego from Ship

Tonight is Crystal Casual dress (slacks, collared shirt, and jacket).  We did notice quite a few people without jackets and chalked this up to folks not getting their luggage yet.

At Prego, we ordered Caprese Salad, Cesar Salad, Mushroom Soup (the best), John Dory (a fish, I had to look up to make sure it was kosher), Fetuccini Pesto, and Lady Fingers for dessert.  The food was OK but the late lunch kind of spoiled the dinner. 

We watched the sail away from the Promenade Deck.  One interesting site was the huge Naval Base along the harbor.  One of the crew told us it was the biggest one in the US.  Sounds good to me.

We went to the Welcome Aboard Show hosted by Cruise Director, Paul McFarland.  It was the usual show featuring Chorus Line and Grand Hotel.  The lead female singer, Carina Karcher, was terrific but the best part of the show was the Latin Quartet (two couples from Hungary).  Synchronized dancing at its best. 

From the show, we went to Palm Court to listen to Shoresound Duo, a British girl (vocals) and guy (guitar and piano).  They were very pleasant to listen to.  They may be our go to lounge entertainment for this cruise.

When we got back to the room, I noticed that the room had a strong vibration - you could feel it in the walls (don’t know if this is normal but it is very intrusive – it woke me up at 3 AM).  To minimize the vibration, you need to move the pillows away from the wall and almost sleep sideways.

As far as actual noise, the room was quiet.

The clocks move forward one hour tonight in anticipation of a new time zone in the next couple of days.

Saturday, April 29, 2017 – Los Angeles, CA – Sunny, Warm – 85F

Another beautiful day in Los Angeles.
Cereal and milk plus our giant bagels for breakfast - really not bad.
We tried walking north on Western (a few blocks away) but the neighborhood just wasn't that interesting.  We did get some steps in but reading in an air conditioned hotel room worked out best.

My sister had made dinner reservations at Ostero Buca – a popular place less than a block away from our hotel.  My sister and her husband, my brother, and us had pizza and pasta.  Very atmospheric and the pizza was not quite Chicago style but all in all a fun evening.
A short post but a relaxing day.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017 – Los Angeles, CA – Sunny, Warm – 85F

I think we slept pretty well. 
An absolutely beautiful day in Los Angeles – not a cloud in the sky.

View from Room 218

We had an interesting breakfast.  When I got up, I went across the street to the little bodega and bought some milk (we had brought along some little cereal boxes).  Along with the coffee in the room, that completed breakfast.  Simple but good.
We had plans to meet one of our cousins out in Redondo Beach for lunch, but before that, we decided to take a little walk up on Hollywood Blvd.  We parked the car on one of the side streets off Hollywood Blvd and Western (fortunately, the meters in LA take credit cards since I don't carry any quarters).  While we were walking, she called and made plans to meet for a late lunch.  Since we had some time, we drove up to the Griffith Park Observatory.  It was clear as we were heading for the summit that we were not the only ones doing that.  There were no empty parking spaces all the way to the top and, at the Observatory, there was a large crowd of people waiting to get in. 

LA From Griffith Park Observatory

Seeing this, we headed back down the hill and decided to go to Redondo Beach early and walk around before meeting up for lunch.  Just as we were about to get on the Freeway, we got a call canceling those plans.  We ended having lunch on in the Pico-Robertson Area – a wonderful kosher burrito (you don’t see that every day) at a place called Mexikosher (I was happy to see the workers wearing gloves).  The burrito was OK but, if I come here again, I'm going to change up the ingredients.  As I expected, the most expensive part of the meal was the diet coke.  As for the service - zero stars - I couldn't get the owner to take my money - he was too busy watching some video on his mobile and I had trouble getting his attention.  I probably could have walked away and he wouldn't have noticed. 

Kosher Burrito

Before we left Pico-Robertson, we bought some giant bagels in the Eilat Market for breakfast tomorrow.
From there, we went to Beverly Hills to immerse ourselves in the glow of the rich and no-so-famous.  Not quite the way the day was planned but it was still fun.  What made it more fun were the two hours of free parking in one of the City of Beverly Hills lots.  The lot even gave us a chance to get a great picture of Jed Clampett's neighborhood.
Beverly Hills from Parking Lot Rooftop
We stopped off in an art gallery featuring Pablo Picasso and his various muses.  Although, we were clearly not their usual customers, the staff was very polite.  We spent quite a bit of time checking out this most interesting exhibit.  The paintings on display were going for mid to high five figures so they must have been prints.  After the gallery, we walked up and down the various streets of Beverly Hills ending up at Rodeo Drive.  We struck a bargain with some girls to do reciprocal picture taking.  They did a pretty good job of capturing us in front of a floral advert backdrop.
Slumming on Rodeo Drive
After putting a few thousand steps on our pedometers, we returned the car to Sixt on La Cienega South of Wilshire.  The check in, done by a scanner in their parking lot, was quick.  We called for an Uber opting to go with a pool car (a first for us) to save some money.  The fare was calculated to be $13.29 and the car arrived in about five minutes.  There was a woman in the passenger seat.  Long story short, our 4.8 mile ride took us exactly 48 minutes (he dropped off the other passenger first at Wilshire and La Brea).  With a pre-existing $5 credit the total ride cost us $8.29 and since we were a few minutes late, I now have a $2 credit waiting for me.  FYI – because of the subway construction on Wilshire, it took us about 30 minutes to go one block on 6th Street.  I don’t see how anyone made any money on this ride.
My brother in law picked us up at our hotel.  Dinner was again at my sister’s place – barbecued chicken – very good.
Hoping to get some rest because, tomorrow, our plan is to do some more walking around our immediate neighborhood.

Grand Panama Canal Cruise – Crystal Symphony – San Diego to New York – April 30 – May 19, 2017

We got an urgent email the day before we were due to fly to Los Angeles that the cruise would now embark in San Diego, CA.  To get passengers to the ship, Crystal was arranging shuttles to take people from the Renaissance Hotel LAX to the San Diego Pier on Sunday, April 30.  We indicated that we wanted to be included in the shuttle and were given a confirmation just before we left.

April 27, 2017 – Travel Day

We had a reasonable departure time on American Airlines 1571 (9:55AM – Arrive LAX 12:28 PM) but were seated in 18C/18D in the sardine seats (we might get lucky and get an upgrade per out request).  Our cab arrived a little early and our drive to the airport, check in via kiosk, and run through TSA Pre-Check set a new record.  We got to our gate H5, while the previous flight was in pre-boarding.  We did not get an upgrade - the list was long and it was a small plane.  I could not get a picture of the plane from our boarding lounge.
We took off on time and our flight was uneventful for the first three hours (I tried watching five movies on their nice entertainment system, but didn’t have the patience to get into any of them – maybe on the next flight or on cable). 

Getting there
About an hour from LA, there was an announcement asking for assistance from any medical personnel on board (“volunteer” your assistance).  Apparently, there was a medical emergency at the back of the plane – I could see a man kneeling helping someone assisted by two flight attendants.  We were in chop and the seat belt sign was on so I couldn’t see much.  I also needed the washroom – we had been in our seats over an hour.  I made a dash to the first class area and the flight attendant told me it was no problem to use the facilities.  In any event, the emergency couldn’t have been major because there was no ambulance meeting the plane and no one was taken off early.  A problem handled well.  No Facebook posts on this one.
The flight landed pretty much on time.
We got our bags quickly and took the shuttle to Sixt Car Rental (never heard of them but they had a drop off location in Beverly Hills, which we needed to return the car for the weekend).  The rental facility was quite different from the other off-airport locations - it had a little lounge with complementary bottled water.  Instead of queuing up to a long desk with several computers, the office had separate islands (people still needed to line up but it felt quicker).  The paperwork process was pretty fast and efficient.
We got a very nice Toyota Corolla and drove from LAX to the Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles to visit our parents and friends there.  The traffic wasn't bad and Google Nav got us there OK.  After staying a while at the cemetery we drove through light traffic to our hotel – the Hollywood Historic Hotel on the corner of Melrose and Wilton.  It’s a quaint restored hotel from the Golden Days of Hollywood.  There is a lot of memorabilia scattered all through the hotel.  The hotel has a fancy restaurant but there isn't much on the menu for us. 
Wall Decorations
Our room, 218, was pretty small (no phone – you called the desk from your mobile phone - a first for us).  The bathroom was OK – remodeled.  There was no breakfast but we had a great room rate (negotiated by Ellen at $80 per night).  We paid $18 to park our car overnight.  We will shop for our food.
We had a great dinner at my sister’s place – a few blocks away – attended by my brother and my other brother’s two daughters. We hadn't seen my nieces in quite a while so it was nice to get together.
We got back to the hotel early in the evening to rest from the long day. 
The hotel was a little noisy but earplugs combined with fatigue might result in some sleep.

Friday, March 10, 2017 – Miami, FL – Sunny - 80F

Distance from Cozumel to Miami, FL: 526 Nautical Miles

Total Distance Sailed: 4,370 Nautical Miles

A beautiful day in Miami.

Skyline From Quest

After a pretty uncrowded and very good breakfast (yes, the same breakfast embellished with some scrambled eggs), we waited for our group to be called and headed for the terminal.  We found our bags easily, and went through immigration quickly. 

We decided to take an airport van ($20) - they are usually parked across the street from the terminal.  This time the process did not go smoothly.  While we and another couple were there and ready to go, we sat in the van while the driver waiting for a late arriving party (they must have reserved the ride).  The van was hot - the other couple gave up - and I debated with the driver (who was trying to be nice) about why we had to wait.  He said his boss wouldn't let him go - I wound up talking to the boss who said the same thing.  We were just about to give up on our van when the last group (a bunch of foreign ladies - origin unknown) finally arrived.  They yakked the whole way to the airport, which just made the situation all that more annoying.  Some people - no class.

We got to the airport with time to spare.  We were booked on UAL330 departing at 12:30 PM (Airbus A320).

UAL330 - Loading Luggage

The plane took off pretty much on time.  No pictures in our 3X3 seat configuration.  The flight was pretty smooth and we arrived in Chicago on time.

This combination of cruises - Sea of Cortez and Panama Canal - was the best combo that I can recall.  The cruise was pretty much perfect (with the exception of a lack of excursions and some pretty warm temperatures).

It was fun.

Thursday, March 9, 2017 – At Sea – Caribbean Sea – North of Cuba – Partly Cloudy - 85F

Still warm on our way to Florida.

A little bumpy coming out of Cozumel but the seas are smooth now. 

Our course is taking us past the north coast of Cuba on our starboard side.

Coast of Cuba

Continued nice breakfasts on the Windows Café back deck (a few days ago, sour cream appeared on the buffet near the lox and cream cheese – my doing).  There's never a line at the omelet station (and I have tried an omelet along the way) but the waffles/pancake with cottage cheese etc. seems to be the "breakfast of this champion".

Spent the morning with an iced latte and my last talk - trimmed and ready to go.  I just wanted to make sure I had my Richard III information correct and stored.

We had lunch in the Windows Café – standard – Salad Bar (with garbanzos and pepper rings with Ranch Dressing) – a pretzel – and well done seared tuna wrap – all good.  Our last lunch of this cruise and it was perfect.

My final talk - "Forensic Detectives:  Identifying the Famous and Infamous" -  was at my usual 2:00 PM slot (thanks to Russ and Lee for letting me have that time).  There was a little drop off in the audience – about 90 percent full.  Apparently, there was a conflict not in the Pursuit – one passenger told me she had another event to go to (maybe an elite event).  Nice round of applause at the end and lots of positive comments from passengers.  The series was very successful on this cruise.

Identifying the Famous and Infamous

The conditions out on the open deck were perfect so spent the last couple of afternoon hours out there.

We had our final dinner in the Discoveries Dining Room.  Ellen had the Sole Special.  I opted again for the Veggie Onion Soup – this version was the best because it did not contain the little spices (little stems that are not edible).  It was just onions and soluble spices.  I also had a Cesar Salad and the Salmon with crushed potatoes in sauce.  A great final dinner by the culinary staff.

We went up to Windows for dessert – my food luck continued to hold as they offered a very good mini-cherry pie.

Farewell Showtime was at 9:00 PM – a single show by Bruce Smirnoff – seen him many times – he was supposed to get on in Cartagena.  Much of his act we have heard – a few little differences.  Funny, nevertheless.

We said our goodbyes and thanks to Russ and Lee after the show.

We were packed (Ellen did the packing) and had our bags out in time.

Tomorrow, Miami.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – Cozumel, Mexico – Partly Cloudy - 82F

Distance from Fuerte Amador to Cozumel, Mexico:  799 Nautical Miles

For me, a bonus, a pleasant full day in the Cozumel.  Quest is docked at the main terminal just a short walk into the center of town.

Quest Docked

From the deck, I could see the other pier miles away from town - we were fortunate to get this berth.

The Other Ships Here Today

After breakfast, we planned to walk into town, check out what is new in Cozumel and, later on, find a reasonable spa. 

It wouldn't be Mexico, if there weren't a sign telling you where you were.

We couldn't resist taking of picture of a kind of mutant shark (?) along the boardwalk.  The stores were bustling with tourists, most likely from the ships visiting.

What is that?

The Main Square in Cozumel

Our walk was very comfortable since it was cool with a breeze – we even ran into the local Chabad, which featured a kosher restaurant on the premises – $14 for a hamburger.  Maybe next time.

Chabad - Cozumel

As for spas, there certainly are a few of them in town considering that this is a resort destination. I researched business in Cozumel so instead of wandering around, we had some options and directions.  Unfortunately, with fame (being on Google) comes high prices.  On our walkabout, we did find a spa not on Google (final price after negotiation – $30).  Nice sessions and friendly folk.

We put on quite a few steps before returning to the ship for lunch.

Tonight we had dinner in the Discoveries Dining Room – I was drawn there by the Gazpacho Soup (so-so) and Seared Asian Tuna (very good).  The service in the Dining Room continues to be excellent.  We decided not to eat at the deck party later because the veggie options are limited and it's pretty crowded. 

After dinner, we spent a little time on Deck 5 - very pleasant.  From the deck, we got a nice shot of Cozumel at night.

Deck 5 in the Evening

Tonight is White Nights Party.  We got the best seats in the house again - a couch on Deck 10 in the back.  Again, from here you can see everything but you don't have to deal with the barbecue smoke.

Russ announced that there would be no folkloric show tonight (a usual warm up to White Nights) because the authorities would not let them into the port.  So, there was a lot of dead air, so to speak, to fill.  Simon played a bit and people just chatted.  While we didn't have dinner here, we did grab some very tasty desserts on the buffet.

Also, during the afternoon sometime, we picked up a next door neighbor - a Regent Seven Seas cruiser (don't know which one).

Then the party got under way.

The song list may have been the same but the energy was all new.  Russ and the crew did a great job of making the party hum including leading a Conga Line.

At the end, Captain Jose introduced the crew members.

At about 10:30 PM, the party was over for us.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017 – At Sea – Pacific Ocean – Coast of Mexico – Mostly Sunny - 85F

Perhaps an unscheduled, but beautiful day at sea.

I don't have the morning off today because I am scheduled for 11:00 AM.  “Forensic Detectives:  The Search for Jack the Ripper” drew a full house.  And the AV continues to work without a hitch.  No pictures of this lecture.

The afternoon was spent on Deck 5 reading and what not.

Well, you know about lunch and dinner by now.

Tonight, DeAna Earl is doing her one person show in the Cabaret Lounge.  Her show was entertaining but the big surprise of the evening was the appearance of Sasha and Dima's not so svelte siblings, Svetlana and Boris.  Even though a diet might be in order for these two, they were pretty light on their feet.  Funny stuff.  We had never seen this done before (we've been on cruises with Sasha and Dima several times), so either this is something new or improvised for the show.

DeAna Earl

Svetlana and Boris

Monday, March 6, 2017 – At Sea – Caribbean Sea – Along the Mexican Coast – Warm–80s

A beautiful day at Sea.

We are not heading along the South American coastline on our way to Cartagena, Colombia.

Instead, the Quest is hugging the Mexican coast.  The Captain explained last night that because of a huge low pressure system in the Caribbean, we would have to change our course.  We could get to Cartagena but because of the storm system, we would not be able to make our way to Florida.  Instead, Quest is on her way to Cozumel, Mexico.  The Jones Act situation is confusing (is Cartagena a Jones Port?  Is Cozumel a Jones Port?  Who knows).  We did get word that Quest would pick up a fine by not going to Cartagena - the ship was unable to get a waiver.  Hats off to Azamara for putting passenger safety and comfort ahead of bucks on this one.  That being said, I like Cozumel so much more than Cartagena.

After a beautiful morning on Deck 5 and breakfast and lunch in the Windows Café (the usual still hasn't gotten boring), I am scheduled for my next presentation this afternoon at 2 PM.  I have always thought that “Forensic Detectives:  The Life and Death of Pharaohs" was my most confusing talk what with all the STR tables.  The attendance was very good considering that I was competing with a beautiful day outside.  About 270 passengers attended and the feedback I got was positive (not as confusing a talk as I thought). 

Life and Death of Pharaohs

We had dinner in the Windows Café so we could enjoy the fine weather on the back deck.

View from Dinner on Back Deck - Priceless

Showtime tonight was the production show - "Stage Door to Dreams".  Although we have seen this one several times, the different casts always make the show seem new.  Of course, my favorite number is "You Can't Stop the Beat" from "Hairspray".  Russ made a great Mrs. Turnblad.

Luck Be a Lady

Marry Me a Little

All I Care About is Love

You Can't Stop the Beat

A few minutes with Simon in the Living Room provided the quiet needed to call this a day.