Friday, June 29, 2018

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 – Philipsburg, Sint Maarten – Party Cloudy – 80F

For some reason not a good sleeping night.

We are back in Sint Maarten for the umpteenth time – yet, I never tire of coming here. 

The last time we were here – a few months after the hurricane hit – we were the only ship docked. Today, there is another cruise ships here.  From the deck, I watched the Freedom OTS maneuver to her docking area next to us.

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Freedom OTS Arriving

I took some pictures of the bay and island from the deck.  The vegetation has still not all grown back to its pre-hurricane lush green.  But it looks improved since our last visit.  Sun and rain will do the trick.

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St. Maarten from the Eclipse

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Celebrity Eclipse and Freedom OTS

Ellen is staying on board today and I have an appointment with the woman who runs the spa that we visit when we are here. Her nice place in town on Front Street was flattened by the Hurricane so she is working out of temporary quarters. She met me at her old place and escorted me to her temporary spa a couple of miles out of town via an island local bus ($1). As everyone got on the bus, they said “Good Morning” – this is a friendly island.  After the appointment, she  escorted me back the same way and I took a cab back to the ship. I was back on board at 11:30 AM.

We had lunch at the Spa Café (my food came partially from the Oceanview Café).

We tried the Solarium Pool – it was not exactly a Thalassotherapy pool – it was not as warm - but I did a few laps and it was nice being in the water.

Tonight’s dinner was in the Oceanview Café.  I had the chef whip me up some pasta a Oglio with veggies – very good. Crepes made to order was the dessert special.

Tonight is the second production show – “Rock City”. Since this is not our kind of music and it was advertised as being loud, we instead went to the ensemble lounge to hear Michael Redden and Passion Duo back to back. The Lounge was not as crowded as the night before and we had good seats right in front of the “stage”. Two good performances.

Then back to the room.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 – At Sea – Atlantic Ocean – Mild and Breezy – 70s

The earplugs are minimizing the hum and groan (still sounds like fan noise) in the room.

I was at the Oceanview Café when it opened and took a picture of the sea just after sunrise.

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View from the Oceanview Café 

After touching up my lecture for today, we both went to hear Eddy Jenkins at 11:15 AM in the Celebrity Theater.  Eddy’s talk is entitled  “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Music”. A rather sparse turnout for the cruise director. The presentation also had two numbers from Passion Duo – “Imagine” and “Hallelujah” (only three verses).  (Note:  These songs were repeated several times during the cruise).

I was on right after Eddy at noon in Celebrity Central – “The Search for the Unknown Titanic Child”. The crowd was SRO and standing two deep in the back. Even so, this would be a small crowd in the theater and minimize the audience connection so we’ll keep it in Celebrity Central unless someone complains. The talk ran 53 minutes.

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Search for the Unknown Titanic Child

The Oceanview Café was still crowded so I got my food and went to the Spa Café to join Ellen. The Spa Café is a more peaceful lunch venue than the buffet (and the breadsticks are delicious). 

After a relaxing and beautiful afternoon on deck,

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View from the Deck

Dinner was in the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room.  I was so thrilled because they offered tomato garbanzo soup. I bit into something I thought was tofu (?) but it turned out to be chicken. The Executive Sous Chef and the Asst Maître D all came by and apologized and I got a new bowl of soup. I was told it was an error by the garnish person who put the chicken in my soup post preparation.

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What’s that in my Soup

Entertainment tonight was provided by comedian Dan Grueter – very funny interaction with the audience guy. Not a lot of energy from the crowd.

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We also took in Michael Redden in the Ensemble Lounge.  Some of his material is a 10 on the melancholy scale – still the sofas are comfortable and the place is relatively quiet.

We purchased tickets for excursions in Antigua and St Lucia.  Looking forward to that.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Monday, March 5, 2018 – At Sea – Atlantic Ocean – Cool and Breezy – 70s

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At Sea

Slept OK – despite a mysterious hum in our cabin (there’s always a mysterious noise in our cabins).

I went up to the Oceanview Café at around 7 AM (when they open) and got a nice table at the very end of the room. I found my waffle and cottage cheese (no sour cream as yet). I also tried the scrambled eggs (good) and the oatmeal (OK). The coffee is supplied by LaVazza and is really good. Breakfast won’t be an issue on this ship.

Ellen ordered room service – why not?

My first talk of the cruise, “Forensics and History: The Mystery of the Romanovs” is scheduled for 12 Noon in Celebrity Central. There was a hair salon demonstration in the room when I got there. I beat the AV guy there so I set up my system (Celebrity Central uses a VGA cable so I used my HDMI adapter).

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Kristine and Me pre-talk

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Kristine Introduction

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Mystery of the Romanovs

Kristine introduced me and by the time I got started the venue was more than 90 percent plus full. The talk ran about 48 minutes and there was a travel talk after mine. I spoke with some passengers after and got some good feedback. Again, it’s a question of legs. Note on dress code: I wore a short sleeve button down shirt with dress slacks and a sports jacket. A bit warm but comfortable.

I changed my clothes and we went up to the Oceanview Café for lunch. The place was a zoo and we were lucky to find a seat in the middle of a table. I couldn’t even get close to the salad bar. I settled for some pizza and side salads.

We tried the outside deck (Deck 5 on this ship) – half the deck (Port) is for smokers so it’s a matter of where the Sun is. It was a bit windy out on the deck but I did get some reading done – I am still reading “Night Shift” – the new novel (with a new lead character) by Michael Connelly. The book is starting off slowly but I am going to give it a lot of room to get going.

The menu offerings in the Dining Room were not that enticing so we went up to the buffet. I had the pasta guy make me a veggie pasta, which was OK but I should have added garlic to the mix. I also got my salad. It is very peaceful up in the Café so that’s a good option for dinner.

Showtime tonight was the first production show – “Topper”. The show is a cirque type production loosely based on Alice in Wonderland. Some original songs (or songs I didn’t know) and some songs. Flashy costumes and unique choreography. It was a long show and featured all six singers and six dancers, as well as five aerialists.

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Eddy and the Captain Introduce the Show

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After the show, we tried the Ensemble Lounge for music but they had a string duo there. We also tried the Sky Lounge , which was playing Latin Music in the background.

So we headed back to the room for P and Q.

Hoping for a quiet night.

Sunday, March 4, 2018 – Miami, FL – Partly Cloudy – 70s

Embarkation Day

We are scheduled to take the Port Shuttle at 12:30 PM so we don’t have to rush this morning. Checkout is 12 Noon so the timing is perfect.

The breakfast again was very good – French Toast instead of pancakes today. I had the oatmeal, French Toast, and a mini-donut. All good.

We are all packed (actually, we didn’t unpack much) so the morning is spent getting this log up to date and posting some older logs.

At 11:45 AM, we went down to the lobby and were surprised to hear that the shuttle was leaving early for the port. We hopped on for the short ride and got off at the Celebrity Terminal. We tagged our bags and went through security. This time out, we were told to go to a special room for Guest Entertainers, where we got our Sea Pass Cards and registered our charge card. We got our pictures taken at the security kiosk on the ship and boarded. Very easy.

We took our champagne up to the Oceanview Café on Deck 14 and had lunch – very good pizza and salad (and dressings that tasted like their names).

We dropped our bags in our room – 3519 behind the door. I had a letter waiting for me from the Entertainment Manager, Kristine Gacula, indicating that she wanted to meet at 6:45 PM in the Entertainment Court (outside Celebrity Central).

We found out from Shorex that this ship doesn’t have escorts – bummer.

The person manning the computer at the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room re-explained the Select Dining (anytime) Dining option for us. We made “reservations” for 5:45 PM for tonight and 6:00 PM for tomorrow. You just come around 5:30 PM and you can get seated.

We went to the lifeboat drill at 3:00 PM in the Eclipse Theater.

The Captain on this cruise is Leonardos Palaiokrassas and the Cruise Director is Eddy Jenkins. The drill was different in that they showed a James Bond type mini-movie describing the safety issues on the ship. Different. Don’t know how effective the movie was.  I thought it was more entertaining than informative.

We met out stateroom attendant, Yulia (from Ukraine), who seemed very nice. A few minutes later, Yulia brought us our checked bags so no logoware on this cruise.

We went out on the open deck to check out the lounge chairs – they are the collapsing kind but they will do when combined with feet on the glass railing.

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Miami from Eclipse

We changed for dinner and went to the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room at 5:30 PM and were seated immediately at a table for two. We both had the mushroom soup and seared salmon and they were both delicious. Guava sorbet for dessert and we were done. A great first dinner on board.

I met with Kristine about my program – I will be doing a talk on each of the sea days with tomorrow’s session scheduled at Noon in Celebrity Central. We taped a brief description of my talks and I think  it came off OK.

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The video is generic and will be played throughout the cruise to remind folks of the series. I am the only speaker on board on this cruise.  We have never sailed with Kristine or Eddy previously but it has been a while.

We went up on deck to catch the “scenic” sail away.

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The Welcome Aboard Show“Hard Day’s Night”, features a Beatle’s Tribute band . They were pretty good and the guy posing as George Harrison was scary similar to the late great George. The audience was really into the performance.

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Hard Day’s Night

From there, it was off to the Ensemble Lounge to hear the musical acts – first up was a James Taylor type singer, Michael Redden (“Slow Jam” music), followed by a duo from Eastern Europe, Passion Duo (vocalist and guitar). They were both entertaining and muted enough not to cause sensory overload.

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Passion Duo

Next stop our room to get some rest – hope springs eternal that it will be a quiet room.

Saturday, March 3, 2018 – Miami, FL – Perfect Day – 80F

Not a cloud in the sky on this perfect South Florida day.

The room was quiet and morning came with the sound of A/C units being turned on.

I went down around 7 AM for breakfast (included). The breakfast was very good: cold cereals (I had Raisin Bran and Special K); pancakes, scrambled eggs (range free), mini-donuts, cottage cheese, and Seattle’s Best Coffee. Perfect.

The day was spent walking around the area a bit and lounging out by the pool. The wind kicked up later in the day but the temperatures were mild and the humidity low. An added bonus was watching the planes coming into MIA.

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Hyatt Place Pool

For lunch, I had the tuna salad on a roll – the tuna was delicious.

For dinner, I finished the tuna along with some bagels left from the flight meal.

A relaxing day as we planned.

There was nothing on TV – I get enough news pushed my way as it is, so I took the opportunity to catch up on my cruise and travel logs – I am only three cruises behind at this point.

We heard new neighbors arrive during the evening and are hoping that they are also quiet.

So far so good.

Celebrity Eclipse – Exotic Southern Caribbean Cruise – March 4-18, 2018

March 2, 2018 – Travel Day

It has been four and half years since I was last on a Celebrity Cruise (Europe and Transatlantic November 2013 – at least I went out with a bang with audiences that filled the theater). Now we are back on Celebrity and on the only Solstice Class ship we’ve not sailed on – Celebrity Eclipse. We are also going to spend a couple of days in Miami before the cruise.

We once again have an early flight – UAL1738 at 7:45 AM – so we called for a cab at the usual 6 AM time. He came on time and the early morning ride to the airport was very quick (fast driving and no traffic). We do not have status on this flight so we are not checking bags – we packed very light and are going to use the overheads. I still had premier status so, at least,, I will be boarding in Group 2, increasing my chances of getting an bin for our bags.

I went through Pre-Check quickly but Ellen was the proud recipient of a random pat down. We are at gate C17 so we wheeled ourselves over to Concourse C. We were there with about a 15 minute cushion until boarding. The plane, a B737-800, was there and we boarding right on time at 7:10 AM. I got both of our bags into a big – side by side – and put my computer bag (also a different bag than usual) under the seat in front of me (it barely fit). We had just flown on a United 737-800 but this jet was very cramped – my knees were tight against the seat back in front. We are across the aisle in 31C and D.

My seatmate would not head the “airplane mode on” instructions and so as we taxied I reminded him and he “thanked” me for telling him. I think he would have texted and emailed the whole way. Fortunately and unfortunately, he made a comment to his seat mate and the two of them talked the whole flight without stopping – amazing.  Ain’t flying grand?

The flight was very smooth and we had our usual lunch of bagels, lox, and cream cheese. United has very good coffee and their orange juice is good.

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MIA Approach

The flight landed about 20 minutes early but we had a gate and our bags so we went outside the terminal to catch our free airport shuttle to the Hyatt Place Airport West Doral. The prices in Miami Beach were sky high due to impending Spring Break (and who wants to be there during Spring Break) so we opted for a hotel near the airport.

Our shuttle arrived as promised in about 30 minutes and it was just a short ride to the hotel. The hotel is relatively new and in an area loaded with shops and restaurants (so we were told when we checked in).

Our room, 502, is a great room – it looks like a suite with a separate, large sectional couch opposite the TV. It also has a microwave, fridge, wet bar area, and work desk. There is no bathtub but the shower is enormous. The bed is huge and the room has a large window overlooking the parking lot and the main street.

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Room 502 – Wonderful Space

We originally thought about going to an early dinner/late lunch at Zak’s Bakery and Deli but after resting a little while, it was too late to go there.

Instead, we decided to go Wynwood, an art and cultural neighborhood. I called an Uber and the fare was $18.01 – the ride took us through some dodgy areas of Miami. The driver told us that Wynwood was one of the worst parts of town until it underwent a transformation into an area of art galleries, restaurants, and shops. It is still an oasis in the middle of a scary desert.

Our driver dropped us off at the Wynwood Walls.

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The best way to describe this is a park with painted walls – the walls have been turned into works of art by various artists and the subject matter varies widely (examples are below).

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Ellen and a beautiful Cityscape

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Baby Hulk – Maybe

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It was a perfect day to wander through the exhibits. I should note that there was security everywhere and Miami-Dade Police Cars patrolling. The park was full of visitors and the streets were teeming with people visiting the area. We stopped in at a couple of galleries – one that claimed to have items from the Taj Mahal and another fantastic gallery full of amazing art pieces. No one seemed to mind people taking pictures of the art.

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Communicating with Home under Great Art

After Wynwood Walls, we walked a few streets in the neighborhood.  Lots of traffic and not a lot of respect for pedestrians.  There were words of wisdom carved into the sidewalk – one in particular caught my eye.


We looked at some of the restaurants as possible dinner places but they were $$$ and everything was a la carte. It was warm so we stopped in one of the restaurants and called an Uber – this time the fare was $28 and it was an Uber Pool car. The ride back was long and in traffic – fortunately, our Uber mate was sort of on the way. The driver was an ex-Chicago college student, who gave us a non-stop narrative on Miami, the police, and bad drivers (amen to that last one).

I had looked up markets earlier and I knew there was a Fresh Market near the Hyatt. The driver said it would be no problem to drop us there – he also said the market was in a great new shopping and eating area called City Place.

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Fountain at City Place

He was right. City Place was full of new restaurants and shops – it was only about three or four blocks long but sported all kinds of restaurants. We settled on a Mediterranean Restaurant for dinner – Ellen’s Salmon was good but my falafel plate was just Ok as was my glass of imported Spanish beer. I also ordered a salad, which, after we got the dressings issue resolved, was pretty good.  Not planning a return trip to this restaurant should be stay here in the future.

We stopped at the Market and bought some tuna salad, a roll, and a six-pack of Dasani water. We were set for tomorrow.

We just rested the remainder of the evening – the room was quiet and we were hoping it would stay that way.