Sunday, July 21, 2019

October 8, 2018 – At Sea – Mediterranean Sea – Warm and Breezy – 70s

A beautiful day on our first day at sea.

The porthole helps me get up in the morning and supply some real light for the cabin.

I had breakfast in the Oceanview Café on Deck 10 aft (very easy to get to since the cabin in the aft section - just the nearest elevator ride up).  There was plenty of seating and I had the usual breakfast: Waffles, cottage, sour cream (I think) – everything was very good.  I don't recall whether the coffee was Lavazza but it was still good.

My first presentation, “Forensics and History: The Mystery of the Romanovs”, was scheduled in the Celebrity Theater at 10:15 AM.  The turnout was small – maybe 200 folks.  I was told by staff than on this particular cruise (Holy Land), there are factors affecting attendance.  Of the 2200 passengers, about 1500 are involved in individual (bible/religious) study groups in the morning.  This leaves a pool of about 700 remaining for the talks – I don’t know how many English speakers there are in this group.  The audience seemed to be receptive (no early departures).  The A/V sworked very well.

Working the morning, leaves the rest of the day open.  

We had lunch in the Ocean View Cafe and then the spend the remainder of the day in the very nice Solarium. 

We ate dinner in the San Marco Dining Room – Mushroom soup, green salad, and "always available" salmon. The meal was good and the service good as well.

Showtime tonight was “Rock City”, one of the production shows. We have seen it many times before so we attended the first 10 minutes – good costumes and the cast works very hard but the show is still above our noise tolerance.

Seas are smooth. Clocks move forward tonight.

October 7, 2018 – Civitavecchia, Italy – Sunny – 80s

Embarkation Day

Another quiet night and a better night's sleep.  

After breakfast - the same as yesterday but still pretty good, we checked out of the hotel – the hotel manager had told us earlier that, as returning guests, we would be able to get a special discount.  Our rooms came to 90 Euros/night instead of the 120 original per day rate.  That paid for the two dinners.  I guess we will be staying here the next time we are in Civitavecchia.

Getting to the ship was very easy compared to previous trips.  Instead of pulling our bags down the stairs to the entrance of the pier to catch the bus, we simply crossed the street by the hotel.  A new bus stop with seats and shade had been constructed.  The pier buses – all labeled with the ship name – came and went on a timely basis.  We found the one going to our ship – the wait on the bus was short - a good thing because it was hot - and we departed for the berth.  The bus always gives us a look at the other ships docked.  We were at the Celebrity Constellation "terminal" (actually a large tent) in about five minutes.

We had a cabin number so we checked our bags and headed inside.  After explaining who we were, we checked in with the pier coordinator and. in just a few minutes, we had our sea pass card and headed for the ship.

We had lunch in the Ocean View Café – the usual (salad and pizza) – and I snapped a picture of the other ships joining us today at Civitavecchia.

After lunch, we dropped our stuff off in Cabin 2357 (fourth cabin behind the door starboard aft). 

The room is pretty nice with two real night stands.  The bathroom is “cavernous” for a cruise ship.  What is missing is a couch and table to set stuff on.  We met our room steward, Mary Rose, who is friendly and nice.  I think she will take good care of us on this cruise.

We next visited with the Shorex people and were told that the Constellation does not utilize tour escorts - a disappointment but something we will work around.

The lifeboat drill was held at 4:30 PM in the Rendezvous Lounge – Deck 4 (the boat deck).  We were not subjected to the "007" safety film shown on the larger ships.  

Based on a letter in my cabin, I met with Sam (Samantha) Kelly (very nice Brit) – Activity Manager - in her office (the other side of Deck 4 behind the door) to go over the talks.  She indicated that all five talks would be in the morning in the theater.

At 6:00 PM, I filmed an interview with Cruise Director, Paul Baya in the back of the theater.  Paul seemed satisfied with the interview even though I always think I sound like a confused person.

Since I was already dressed for dinner, we ate in the San Marco Dining Room (I had signed us up for "Celebrity Select Dining") - we got a nice table for two and the dinner was very good.  

The Welcome Aboard show starred Jon Courtenay – very funny, vocalist and pianist.  He put on a very long show but was very very good.

The other speakers on board are Biblical Archeologist Michael Fuller (wife Neathery) and Scott Gottschalk (spiritual guy).  Paul asked us to sit in the front row of the second show so he could call us up for a preview of what we going to talk about – again, I sounded like I was blathering.

The stateroom is a bit noisy as it is right below Q-Sine, the Specialty Restaurant – moving of chairs and dishes clattering, etc.  We explained the situation to the chef in Q-Sine and he said they close at 10:00 PM and the noise should slowly stop.  It doesn’t look like it will be an issue and earplugs will help.

This is where we are headed on this wonderful itinerary.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

October 5 – 6, 2018 – Civitavecchia, Italy – Mostly Cloudy – Rain Showers – Mid 70s

As always, a fever dream type of night.

On the plus side, the room was comfortable and quiet. That has generally been the case when we stay at this hotel.

Also, it is a bit cloudy but a very nice day in the Port of Rome.

We went down for breakfast around 8 AM.  Breakfast was OK but not wonderful (the spread might have been better in the past).  I had the Special K type cereal with milk along with a roll and butter and some sweets.  Some of the sweets were individually wrapped - a positive for food safety but not really good for the homemade vibe.  The best part of breakfast was the waitress taking coffee orders.  I ordered a latte.  There is no decaf over here and the coffee was super strong. All in all the breakfast was fine. 

After breakfast, we spent more time walking around the town. This time, our destination was the beach.  Even though it was a really nice day, there were very few locals at the beach.  Like a lot of Civitavecchia, the beach area was in need of some maintenance.  Sidewalk tiles were cracked, for example.  We sat at the beach for quite a while - and took some very nice pictures (including a terrific panorama) -

before heading back to the hotel.  

On our way back, we stopped off at the shopping area that runs along the beach - there are several shops and restaurants densely packed on that street (in the past, we used to look for stray, open WiFi along this street).  As we walked along, the sun turned to rain as an isolated storm passed through.  We were lucky enough to find an awning to take shelter.  

The rain didn't last long and we headed back to the hotel.

We stayed in our cool and quiet room until dinner time.  For dinner tonight, we walked over to the ritzy part of town – a shopping and restaurant heavy section a few blocks from the hotel.  We wanted a view of the water so we chose a restaurant – La Ghiacciaia - with a kind of view.  Along the beach, the town has built a wall – almost like that on a fort.  So you can see the water through the spaces in the wall.

We ordered another Pizza Margherita and beer but also shared an Insalata Mista.  There was certainly enough food - and it was very good - for a total bill of 19 Euros. For dessert, we stopped off at the Mickey D on the main corner in town.  The place is a study in chaos but eventually, everyone gets their order.  We got milkshakes for 1 Euro.  They were worth every Euro penny.

There were plenty of people around as we returned to our hotel in the dark.  Some reading completed the day.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Celebrity Constellation – Mediterranean and Israel plus France and Spain - October 7 – November 1, 2018

October 4, 2018 – Travel Day

Our flight today on United Airlines (UAL 970) is at an unusual time – 3:50 PM – so I scheduled our taxi at 1:30 PM.  The cab came right on time (he texted that he was here) and because we had no traffic, we were at the airport before 2:00 PM.  We checked in at the kiosk (very fast) and zipped through TSA Pre-Check.  We crossed over to Concourse C to our gate C11.  Our plane was not there yet even though the United App said that the plane arrived from AMS some hours ago.  The plane was in a hangar near the International Terminal.  At about 3:00 PM, our plane was towed in to our gate – amazing that the little tow truck can lug such a huge plane – a 767-300 – so easily.

Even though the plane arrived just a little late, boarding took place on time and went very smoothly – we were in Priority Group 2, which got us on the plane early enough to score an overhead bin.  Because UAL charges so much for its extra-legroom seats, I didn’t get any of those (besides they were all sold out).  Instead we are in 39K and 39L – three rows from the back of the plane on the starboard side.  Although the seats are in the rear of the aircraft, they are far enough away from the lavatories to avoid the gathering problem.  Also, these rows only have two seats and not three across (something I will need to remembeer the next time we fly one of these models).

The plane must have been a newer aircraft - it looked fresh and the wings had huge winglets (maybe on later versions or aircraft).  Our seats were new and comfortable and roomier than I expected (I was able to cross my legs with minimal efforts – my test for roominess).  On UAL, you can watch movies on your tablets and phones but the screen on the seat back is so good that, along with good headphones, the viewing is perfect.

Departure was pretty much on time and the climbout through the broken clouds was smooth.

Our kosher meals were delicious – meatballs on pasta with some kind of tomato sauce.  One of the best meals we’ve had in a long time.  Gone was the inedible cole slaw and in its place was a garbanzo bean salad that was OK.  Some kind of pudding finished off the meal.

After checking out the options available on in-house entertainment, I watched “Jurassic World – Lost Kingdom” (same old, same old), “Annihilation” (boring and confusing especially the crazy ending), and “Justice League” again (I still liked it even though I fast forwarded through the slower parts). 

The flight over the Atlantic was pretty smooth with only one period of rock and roll – I tried to watch movies or read but the screen kept moving on me so I quit and just rode it out.

October 5, 2018 – In the Air over the UK

We were flying into the Sunrise and over France you could just see the first few minutes of dawn.

About an hour out, the flight attendants served breakfast – in addition to our usually strange kosher snack, we also managed two regular meals (yogurt and croissant).  The coffee was really good.  At this point, we were over the coast of Italy.

The approach to FCO was nice and smooth.

After touching down, the pilot told us that we were assigned a remote gate – a "technical term" for no gate but a tarmac direct exit (like we last did in Rekjavik).  Again, I like the tarmac exits (as long as the weather is OK). 

We deplaned and boarded buses that took us to the terminal.  The ride was short and the passport control process was quick – FCO now has a semi-automated system.  You scan your passport at a kiosk and have your picture taken.  By the time you actually see an agent, you’ve been run through their databases.  It seemed to make the process go faster.  

Our bags came out quickly and after a little wandering around, we located the train terminal.  We bought two tickets to Civitavecchia (11 Euros/pp).  We found our train track (and used the lifts when available) – validated our tickets and, after not being sure of the train, hopped on.  It was seven stops to the transfer point, Trastevere, and this time we used the lifts to get to the other side.  We waited about 30 minutes for the train and about an hour later, we arrived at the end of the line in Civitavecchia.

After checking around, we found a bus that would take us within a few meters of the Hotel Traghetto – the fare was 10 Euros for both of us (much less than a cab).
We basically walked across the street to the hotel and checked in (because we were repeat customers, the clerk eventually gave us a 20 percent discount on our room rate, taking it down to 100 Euros per night (including breakfast).  The staff has always been very nice here.

The lift is tiny - just big enough to hold two people and their bags - we took it to the third "piano" (ground floor is "0") to Room 202.  I'm sure we stayed in this room before - it has a nice view of the greenery across the street.  This hotel has a history of being quiet and we are hoping the tradition continues.

After the inevitable short nap in the room, we took a short walk around Civitavecchia.  The town had changed a bit since our last visit – for one thing, there used to be two nice Spas within a few blocks of the hotel – they were now gone.  The clerk tried to find us a decent spa in the area for a de-jet lag massage but found only one back to back appointment later in the afternoon.  We passed.

The pedestrian walkway that goes down the hill from our hotel to the main part of town was decked out with a number of interesting installations - a blue egg with a bird on top and a bunch of pencils.

For dinner, we chose a restaurant – Ristorante Da Vitale - on the main drag across the street from the beach.  We ordered a Pizza Margherita (8 Euros) and a large local beer on tap (4 Euros) – total 13 Euros.  It was enough food for both of us and pretty good.  We ate outside so it was a great people watching opportunity.  A very nice first evening in Italy.

We managed to stay up until past 10 PM.