Sunday, April 19, 2020

March 2, 2020 – Ft Lauderdale, FL – Partly Cloudy – 70sF

The ship arrived around 6 AM – I had set a wake-up call for 6:00 AM but beat it and cancelled so it wouldn’t wake Ellen.  

We had a nice breakfast (our only early breakfast together over the last two cruises).  I had all my usual stuff, which, even on disembarkation day, was really good.  The Oceanview Café was not that crowded so we had a reasonably relaxing breakfast.  We went back to the room to get the rest of our stuff and then joined our tour group in Celebrity Central at 8:15 AM. 

We disembarked pretty quickly and easily and zipped through immigration.  We found our bags in the terminal area - they were not in the correct tag group but they are pretty easy to find.  We grabbed our bags and exited the terminal joining hundreds of passengers in the bus loading area. The situation then became chaotic since there were many more busses than there were parking spots for those busses. It was just a zoo out there as people had their luggage, which also made the available space even less.  I felt for the Shorex folks assigned to help people find their busses.  The Shorex agent that sold us our tickets was out there and she did help us find out where our bus would be parking.  And that is where he headed to wait.

After about 40 minutes, our bus showed up where it was supposed to. We put our bags on the bus and took our small bags on board – the bus was not full so I could put my little computer bag on a seat.  Our guide, Laurie, who sounded like she might be from Texas originally, gave us an interesting tour of the city (some Ft. Lauderdale trivia about some famous locals) before heading to Sawgrass Mill, a huge – really huge – indoor/outdoor mall.  We noticed that the parking lot was not very crowded - it was a Monday but I thought there would be more cars. We had about two hours at the mall and there were plenty of high end stores and outlets to check out; from our location at Entrance 2, the closest shops were those at the Colonnade – an outdoor string of upscale outlets.  

After going in to nearly all the stores on our side of the street (the shady side), we started to think about lunch.  There are two food options at this mall.  There are very pricey restaurants where you can get lunch for about $30 or so per person; the other option is the more typical Food Court, one you find in almost any malls. We used a map to find our way to the Food Court – all the usual places (Subway, Chipotle, etc.) were there along with some very unusual places (a sushi assembly line).

After checking out the various options, we decided on Maoz Vegetarian, an Israeli run Kosher veggie food stand.  For about $12, we shared the Falafel Salad consisting of five falafel balls (yummy) and four or five salads of your choice (I really liked the marinated red onions), pita bread, plus a coke lite.  Plenty of food – we couldn’t finish all of it. 

After lunch, we decided to sit a bit (we were tired of walking, it was warm, and we were still pretty early for our meeting time).  We found a nice bench alongside some fancy stores across from the Colonnade.  We checked our emails and did some people watching.  We were startled by a loud crash and were amazed to find that a large coconut tree frond had landed just behind our bench.  We weren't in any danger because there was an overhang that would have deflected the branch.  Our guide had warned us about people being injured by falling coconuts.  I guess she was right.

We walked around a bit more and met our group at Entrance 2 near the “Gator Garden Display”.  

A local artist had installed gators of all types (like the Chicago Cows) in a nice little fountain park.  One in particular caught my eye – a gator decked out like Wonder Woman.  Very cool.

The bus dropped us off at FLL Terminal 1 for our flight on UA2386 (departing at 4:23 PM).  We printed boarding passes at the kiosk, zipped through TSA Pre-Check, and headed with our two wheelies and other bags to Gate C3.  We still had about two hours to wait.  We thought we had found the perfect seats - not too crowded and with plugs.  As it turned out, many of the plugs on several banks of seats were not plugged into the house current.  We did finally find a bench with working plugs.  That needs to be fixed.

Our plane arrived at the gate pretty much on time - the A320 was in retro livery even sporting the designation "Friend Ship", a term I hadn't seen on a plane in decades.  

When it got close to boarding time, the gate agent asked for anybody who didn’t need their bags on board to come up and get gratis gate check.  I ran up there and was the first person to get both bags gate checked – these bags will be on the carousel in Chicago (the smaller planes generally put them in the jetway).

We are in Economy Seats 7A and 7B (window and middle) on our A320 – I have found these bulkhead seats to be really comfortable and they were.  I took the window seat so I could get some pictures of the takeoff and landing.  The person on the aisle did not seem to encroach on Ellen's space so the middle seat seemed to work out.

The takeoff was smooth and there wasn't much cloud cover so I got some great shots of Port Everglades and Ft. Lauderdale.  I don't know whether the ship in the picture is the Celebrity Reflection.  Many of the ships had already departed the port by the time we flew over.

We had what was dinner (lox and cream cheese sandwiches) plus a coke (didn’t get enough coke and the flight attendant never came back). 

The flight was pretty smooth and I did not have to leave the seat for the whole three hours of the flight (a new record for me). It was a clear night in Chicago and the city was all lit up.

Our bags were the first few to come off the carousel and the cap arrived soon after I called.

In 20 minutes were home and it wasn't snowing or cold.

I am glad to be home.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

March 1, 2020 – At Sea – Gulf of Mexico – Partly Cloudy – 70s

A fitful night – lots of things on my mind.

Pancakes, banana slices, chocolate syrup, and two fried eggs made up breakfast in the Oceanview Café. The noise drove me out of there before I could finish my second cup of coffee.

A quiet day at sea – we are all packed.  We purchased an excursion “Sightseeing and Sawgrass Mill Shopping” which will drop us at FLL at about 2 PM for our flight.

Dinner was in the Oceanview Café – we were lucky tonight as they finished up with Fish and Chips – the F and Cs are always pretty good on Celebrity Ships and this was a good batch.  We finished two of the remaining three cokes we purchased in New Orleans, which made it even better.

After dinner, we spent some last night quiet time in the Solarium.

I put our bags out at 10 PM and they were gone in five minutes - Leon took them from right by our door – in the past, we have put them on the other side of the "door" (in the passenger area) to make sure they got picked up.

February 29, 2020 – Cozumel Mexico – Partly Cloudy – 78F

Not too warm today in Quitana Roo, Mexico.

We are docked at the International Pier.

Today, we just took a short walk around the pier area. We both went to the same spa we visited last time but, after today's experience, we will not be visiting this spa again. 

The rest of the day was spent reading.

Miguel Washington, the headliner, had a personal problem and did not perform tonight.

I finished “The Last Widow”, an interesting book with a predictable plot, and lots of strange descriptive dialog.  That’s the way Karin Slaughter writes.  I liked the protagonist, Will Trent, better when he was first introduced and was struggling to deal with dyslexia. 

February 28, 2020 – Grand Cayman Island – Partly Cloudy – 83F

I could tell something was wrong when I went up to breakfast and the ship was still sailing and not at anchor.

While I was having my other standard breakfast of pancakes and eggs, Rich came on and indicated that we could not anchor at Georgetown due to high winds and rocky seas so we were going to anchor on the south side of the island (a 15 minute bus or taxi ride to Georgetown).  We purchased tours today, “Grand Cayman by Land and Sea”, so we are hoping that they figure out a way to run the tours anyhow.  In any event, we are going to see a different part of the island from our new anchorage.  Because of the rough seas, we will not be doing the “Sea” part of the tour on the Atlantis Submarine (the tour price will be readjusted).

We went to the Theater to pick up ticket 43 for this tour and then caught the local tender to port – the local tenders are huge, carrying at least twice the number of passengers that our life craft can carry.  

In addition, they employ a flexible ramp that extends from the pontoon to the boat so you don’t have to jump the gap between ships.  The tender is bobbing more than two feet so the ramp comes in handy.  On the way in, I could see the tender port along the shore.  I also got a picture of the Reflection anchored with one of the tenders near the ship.

The tender ride was very short and smooth and the tender port is small with very few facilities.  

The other ship here today is the MSC Armonia.  

Before leaving the tender port, I took a picture of Reflection out in the Caribbean.

MSC Armonia is also tendering and the two ships have their separate roped off lanes for disembarking and embarking. 

The shore line near the tender port is not a beach but rather interesting lava like formations.

Fortunately, the tender port did have decent facilities as there would be a wait until the groups would depart.  Everyone from Reflection was gathered in a group, some standing around and others in a tent sent up in the open area near the dock.  There were a few vendors there but we weren't sure we had time to check them out.

We stayed in the tent for a few minutes before being escorted to our Bus #6, driven and narrated by Delray.  It is a small bus holding about 20 passengers and we are in the last two seats in the back (the only ones left when we got on).  Hoping for a smooth ride. 

For the first few minutes, Delray was not using a mic and we thought we would hear nothing on this tour.  He then turned on the mic but it helped only a little since he had a heavy “island” brogue.  We headed through a commercial area, with all of the fast food places, nail salons, and other shops. This was all new to us since we usually explore only central Georgetown on foot. There are very few STOP signs and traffic is managed by roundabouts, which are everywhere.  We passed the Georgetown Airport, with its squadron of private jets. 

Our first stop was the Cayman Turtle Center

where we were guided to ponds containing Green Turtles 

snapping turtles, baby turtles,

and a lone crocodile.  The CTC was a very nice facility which also featured swimming ponds where I guess you could swim with sea creatures (although, we didn’t see any creatures).  

We also had some free time so we stopped in at the restaurant and I had a local beer, Caybrew

that ran $6 a can.  Not a bad beer but a can?  

While I drank my beer and we watched kids and adults swimming in the little lake, other people in the restaurant were having full meals (pricey - this is Grand Cayman).  I am not sure what the food was but it did look good.

We bought some stuff in the gift shop a, a process that was slow and tedious, and boarded the bus for our next stop just on time – our total time here 60 minutes.

Our next stop, about five minutes away was the Tortugula Rum Factory, which is not a factory but just a place that sells the island specialty, rum cake.  I tried a microscopic piece of cake and a taste of chocolate rum.  To get to the water, you had to cross a semi-busy highway.  After crossing, we did get some nice pictures of the angry sea, 

which changed all the plans for today.  Now that we were on this side of the street we tried mini pieces of two kinds of rum cake from another cake factory.  A 15 minute stop of low value.

Our final stop is the geological site, “Hell”, which was less than five minutes from the rum factories.  

Hell is an interesting limestone formation that has been modified by the elements to looks like an otherworldly place.  The big attraction here is the post office that, for a buck, will sell you a stamped postcard postmarked “Hell”.  Another low value stop of about 15 minutes.  Every other joke from Delray during this tour involved "going to hell" - it did not live up to its hype.

However, I did get a nice panoramic shot of the formation.  I seem to remember it being bigger the last time we were here.

From there, it was a quick 30 minute ride to the tender port.  There were long lines for both ships but people got on the boats quickly because of their capacity.  The two queues for the tenders (one for each ship) were right next to each other, again separated by a rope.  This is the first time we have seen MSC crew - they were all decked out in very spiffy dark blue and light blue shirts and short combos.  

We were back on Reflection in about 20 minutes.

We had lunch in the Oceanview Café – green salad plus some tuna and egg salad.

Ellen spent her day on Deck 5, which was too windy for me so I was up in the Solarium, which for some reason, was deserted.  I am 70 percent through “The Last Widow” and hope to finish it in the next day of so.

We had dinner in the Opus Dining Room – I had the Tuscan Minestrone (OK) and the Tilapia Putanesca (I liked it) and Ellen had the Spinach Turnover, the Asian Salad, and the Broiled Salmon.  We both had Apple Pie without ice cream for dessert.

Showtime tonight was “All McCartney Live”

a kind of tribute band to the Music of Sir Paul.  The lead singer, Ian Garcia, played Paul McCartney in “RAIN”, a tribute to Paul on Broadway.  They were good musicians, and Ian Garcia displayed some of the tics and moves of Paul McCartney but they were loud.  We stayed, however, for all but the last song.  It was interesting to note that Ian Garcia had a McCartney accent until he told everyone that the band was from Canada and the accent disappeared.  They were entertaining but loud.

After a few minutes in the Solarium, the only quiet spot on the ship, we retired to our cabin.

Friday, April 17, 2020

February 27, 2020 – At Sea – Gulf of Mexico – Party Cloudy then Cloudy – 70s

Got up real early and got to the Oceanview Café as they were opening - I am continuing my streak of great breakfasts on board (the time tested waffles plus fixings and scrambled eggs).  I didn't have much time to check out the ocean this morning as I had to get ready to work the early shift.

At breakfast, I got this picture of the sea in the early morning.

My third talk – “Forensic Detectives: Identifying America’s Fallen Heroes”

 – started right at 9 AM following a brief intro by Rich.  The crowd as expected was tiny, maybe 200 people spread out in the theater (lots of folks up in the balcony). 

I was followed by Bill Cashell, who also had a small crowd.

After the talk, we went to the Aqua Spa Café to get some coffee and get a comfy bucket chair to watch the sea and read in the Solarium. 

We wound up having lunch with Gary and Carol (a couple we met years ago on Azamara and who have been attending all my talks so far).  I executed my usual plan: Ordered a veggie burger from the Mast Grill, put together a salad from the Oceanview Café, grabbed the burger, and met Ellen at the Aqua Spa Café.  The plan worked well but it seems that the ship has indeed run out of veggie burgers and is now serving potato patty burgers a la Princess.  I did manage to eat the potato burger (weird but tasty) but I just picked at the very nice salad I’d constructed.  I have trouble eating and talking to people at the same time.

While waiting for my ersatz burger at the Mast Grill, I took this picture.

We relocated from the Solarium to the lounge chairs on Deck 4 Port Side Forward.  I am about half way through “The Last Widow”.  The book almost seems to be happening in real time and there is a lot of conversation.  I guess, at this point, I have to finish it to see if Sarah Linton makes it out of her hostage situation.

The view from Deck 4 - I even spotted a Carnival ship in the distance.

Today, there was another matinee performance starring, Magician James Cielen.  We opted to keep watching the ocean instead.

We stayed out on Deck 5 for the rest of the day and, because it was Evening Chic tonight, we went Resort Casual and had dinner up in the Oceanview Café.  I tried the stir fry for the first time but my mixture of sauces, hoisin, teriyaki, soy, and peanut sauce turned into a strange witches brew that I only ate part of.  I had a slice of pizza and a desert waffle, which was really good, to round out the bizarre dinner.  So my day was bookended by waffles.

We were disappointed the last time we saw “Broken Strings” on this cruise, so we instead went to hear Nikia Camp in the Ensemble Lounge.  

She sounded OK and did Hallelujah, but the noise in the place (lots of people) drove us to our cabin.

The best part of the day was the time spent on Deck 4.

February 26, 2020 – At Sea – Gulf of Mexico – Cloudy – 60sF

A cloudy gray day in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lots of whitecaps but the ship is smooth.

Not working today – got a message late yesterday from Will.

I had a nice breakfast in the Oceanview Café – not very crowded today.  Waffles and fixings plus scrambled eggs.

Ellen got up late and had breakfast in the Aqua Spa Café – I joined her and had a bowl of cornflakes/Special K plus strawberries and blueberries – pretty good.

The morning was spent in the Solarium – everyone is indoors due to the weather so the Solarium and all public places are crowded.  I am back to reading “The Last Widow” and am making good progress.

We shook things up at lunch by going to the Opus Dining Room – I had the cold potato soup (good), salad with avocados and cucumbers (OK).  When my veggie burger arrived, I knew right away that it was a real hamburger.  My waitress confirmed this and said she would get a veggie burger right away.  She came back and said they were out of them.  I couldn’t think of anything else I might want so we left and I wound up having two slices of pizza in the Solarium as there were no seats in either the Oceanview Café or the Aqua Spa Café. 

We went to see Tom Franek at this Matinee Show (he had a full house) – he was in bright yellow today and did some of the same stuff he did the other night.  Still, a great show.

Back in the room now for some quiet before dinner.

Dinner was in the Oceanview Café – I had some potato soup (good) along with my usual Pasta Pesto (also good but becoming a habit).  Not many other choices for me besides pizza - I don't really care for the fish on the buffet.

Tonight’s entertainer was Domenick Allen, singer guitarist clarinet and sax player.  He has worked with the big boys – Frank Sinatra and Liberace – and toured with Foreigner.  He was energetic and had a good enough voice but the electric guitar eventually drove us from the theater. 

When I got to the room, I saw that my talk tomorrow would not be at 1:15 PM (as indicated on the app) but at 9:00 AM.  This would be a change of schedule for tomorrow morning.

To complicate matters, the clocks are moved forward this evening to put us on EST.