Wednesday, February 9, 2022

January 7, 2022 – Miami FL – Mostly Cloudy – 79F

Disembarkation Day

Got into Miami very early – the pilot woke me up around 5 AM.  The wakeup call at 6:15 AM became academic.  We only have a short time to eat and get out.  The CafĂ© is open from 6:30 – 7:30 AM and we need to be out of our rooms by 8 AM.  It was dark and Miami was all lit up.

I went up first to get a table – fortunately at 6:30 PM, the masses had not yet arrived.  I had oatmeal and pancakes and eggs.  It was a little hectic but the food came and we were able to eat a civilized breakfast.

By that time, the sun was up and turning the skyline gold.  I also got a shot of Ellen and the Miami skyline.

We vacated our room at 7:45 AM so we could walk off and get on our Azamara Transfer to MIA.  It would be almost an hour until we were given the go ahead to leave the ship – there was a delay in getting all of the bags off the ship.  We found our bags right away (small ship) and got into the line for immigration; we were only asked where we were going so our pass through that was pretty fast.  We found our bus, had our bags loaded and after about a half hour, we were off to MIA.  The ride took about 25 minutes – our stop for United was at “Section 2”.  

We were dropped off at the lower level so we went to the top level and started our search for the United counter.  There are a lot of airlines operating out of Section 2 and United was near the end of the long stretch of counters.  Also, there were no washrooms along the way – we found United about 1000 steps later (literally).  The day before, I had purchased two checked bags ($30 with a $5 discount for early purchase).  We got our tags from the kiosk and waited in the wrong line because the tagged bag guy was not at his post.  He finally came and pulled the tagged bag folks out of the check in line and our bags were on their way to Chicago.

Another walk to the TSA line – not very crowded but one agent decided there was something in my bag that required a full look.  She took it all apart and gave it back to me.  I think the multiport USB charger and cords looked suspicious.  We walked another thousand steps to our gate, H17.  

Boarding was at 11:45 AM for UA2465 with a departure time of 12:25 PM.  We had about an hour or so until boarding.  As it got closer, it was clear that we would be delayed – there was no plane at the gate and UA App said that the flight took off late from Chicago and the delay would be about 30 minutes.  Weather was good at both ends so that was a plus for us.

I bought a Coke Zero for us to share ($3.41 – highway robbery) while eating lunch (lox, cream cheese, and brioches from the ship).  We stayed a distance away from H17 since it was getting crowded and I was charging my phone at one of the charging hubs.

The plane came in and we did board about a half an hour late.  

Boarding was pretty orderly – United has a blue lane for Groups 1 and 2 and a Green Lane for everyone else.  The plane is a 737-MAX-900, one of the planes grounded for almost two years for software and control surface issues.  Inside, the plane looked almost brand new.  We are in exit row seats, 20C and 20D (aisle across).  Plenty of leg room in these seats and the seats themselves are comfortable. 

The flight took off close to 1 PM local time.  The engine noise is different in this plane because the engines are different – they have “chevrons” at the exit ports, which reduces the noise and changes the sound from a roar to a whine of sorts.  I could tell right away because I have flown enough that all the plane’s sounds are familiar to me.  The takeoff was smooth but the flight itself was choppy most of the way.  I also liked that the 900 MAX had a restroom just before first class – it’s a long plane and a long walk to the back.  

The flight attendants were very good and one of them seemed to be in charge of mask compliance, reminding people several times to wear their mask over their nose.  What is wrong with people anyway?  Except for the reminder folks, guests were mask compliant and well behaved.  We landed just a few minutes late despite the delay. 

Our bags got there before we did (we have to cross under the tarmac to the other concourses).  I called the cab and we scored a small American Taxi Blue car.  Ellen told the driver that he would need to wear a mask – he said he had one in the car and he did wear it correctly all the way home.

In a few minutes, we were dragging our suitcases up the icy ramp to the condo.  I had put a hold on the mail but something went wrong and the mailbox was stuffed with a month’s worth of mail (usually it gets delivered in a basket to our door).  Hope that is a one-off thing and not a new system ordered by Louis DeJoy.  The condo was cold, and it took hours to warm up.

We are planning to stay in for the next few days and then take an antigen test and PCR test before seeing family.

Still, after our COVID adventure, it was good to be home. 

January 6, 2022 – At Sea – Atlantic Ocean – near Bahamas – Sunny – 79F

Got up early and watched the sunrise.

I ordered room service today even though my eight talk, “Forensic Detectives: The Search for Jack the Ripper” was scheduled for 10 AM.  Just to make things exciting, I spilled my entire bowl of oatmeal on the floor and even on the mirror.  I could have reacted better - like Ellen did - but didn’t.  She told the room attendant and it was cleaned up when we got back later.

The pancakes and eggs were good and I wound up with plenty of time before my talk.  There was a mix up in the Insider with both a 9 and 10 AM start time for my talk.  A sign was put on the theater door to let people know.

The talk went well – about 45 or so attendees – and a second goodbye and more applause.

We had lunch on Deck 9 Aft – I had my last tuna/spinach wrap of the cruise accompanied by a Leffe Beer.  The wrap was delicious and I will miss it along with the perfect onion rings.  I also liked the salad bar on the ship with my favorite dressings being Blue Cheese and Ranch. 

As we get closer to Miami, we see more ships coming and going.

We spent the rest of the day on Deck 5 – I am just a bit over half through my book.

Because we had laundry privileges, almost all of our clothes were clean and already in the suitcases.  We put in our final laundry bag only to find it hanging on our door handle, unlaundered.  Our neighbor told us that the bag made its way into his room.  I suspect our attended accidentally left it there instead of taking it to the laundry and our neighbor hung it on our door.  We almost got all our clothes cleaned.

After a few discussions with Guest Services, I was able to get our luggage tags, which were also our transfer tickets for tomorrow.  It always gets so complicated at the end of the cruise.

We just couldn’t deal with the Dining Room tonight, so we ordered room service. I had a veggie burger and Ellen had Salmon.  I thought I would be getting a Beyond Burger but actually got a patty made from veggies (carrots, beans, all held together with potato).  It was weird but it tasted OK.  Ellen did not care from her Salmon and neither of us were impressed by the cheesecake we had for dessert (it was not cold).

We were all packed (thanks to Ellen's superpower) so we decided to see a little of Sasha and Dima’s second show. We also ran into Tanya and said our goodbyes then.

We didn’t stay for the whole show and headed down to the room.  I put the suitcases out and we were ready to disembark tomorrow. 

January 5, 2022 – At Sea – Atlantic Ocean – Mostly Sunny – 76 F

I was up early so I watched the sun rise in the Caribbean from our cabin.

With the exception of a few isolated tropical storms, it is a beautiful day at sea.  I captured one of those storms as I was having breakfast up in the Windows Cafe. 

Today’s talk is at 9:30 AM so they can “fog” the theater before the captain does his usual Q&A at 11:00 AM.  As far as anti-COVID mitigation, I am in the "control group". 😀

My talk, “Forensic Detectives: Identifying America’s Fallen Heroes”, pulled the usual audience of around 50 people including 4-5 Veterans.  It ran 43 minutes.  Good feedback from guests.  I thanked the audience for attending the Forensic Series and got a nice bit of applause. I cleared out quick so the sanitizing crew could do their thing.

I came back to listen to the captain and to learn anything new about the COVID situation on board.  He talked a lot about the new owners and the improvements they had made to the ships in the fleet.  He did level with us about the cases on board and how it was affecting our ability to visit ports.  He stressed masks still another time.  It was not his usual talk and it was informative.

At lunch in the Windows CafĂ©, we learned that the COVID Count for Guests was now 26 and for crew 27 positives – large numbers of crew are still in quarantine including our waiter, Tin.  We had word of this earlier because Armando, our waiter from Cruise 1 is now back serving our tables.  We both had some great items off the lunch buffet (very rare for me) – Teriyaki Salmon (better than the salmon downstairs) and pasta with creamy sauce plus a salad.  Diet Cokes made everything taste better.

We got good seats on Deck 5. Reading and Relaxing on Deck 5 was on the schedule for the afternoon.

We ate in the Discoveries Restaurant tonight – I had the Iceberg Lettuce Wedge with Blue Cheese (the best salad in the dining room) along with an Eggplant Cannelloni with pesto pasta – it was not cannelloni, but it was one of the best dishes on these two cruises. 

A nice meal complemented by a colorful sunset - viewed from out cabin (last minute packing).

We spent the rest of the evening in the Mosaic Café, which was sparsely occupied this evening.

While we were there, the captain said that he was not able to get a decision from Nassau, so he decided to bypass Nassau and make tomorrow another sea day.

Clocks move back one hour to put us on Miami Time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

January 4, 2022 – At Sea – Atlantic Ocean – Heading to who knows where – Caribbean Weather Mix – 79F

Our next scheduled stop is Key West FL but the situation is being monitored by the Captain and Miami Office.  In any event, today is an actual sea day and the weather does look good.

I went to the Ocean View CafĂ© for breakfast this morning – I again moved my table and chair (the first one on the port side window by the Coffee Stations) a little further away from the table behind me.  For some reason, with all the available tables, people still cluster (must be sociological explanation for that) so putting an extra two feet of distance between my table and the next is good.  Laterally, the tables are marked as unavailable so that’s good (unless it is crowded few people sit in the tables next to the walkway). 

I had my usual waffle, cottage cheese, and strawberry and marmalade breakfast – the man in charge up there asked me if I was ready for my sour cream (they are now fully trained).  The breakfast was very good and I will never tire of it.

I still had plenty of time to get ready for my next talk, “Forensic Detectives: Identifying the Famous and Infamous”, which this morning is scheduled for 10 AM.  This is how COVID on board can affect you – I actually wiped down my headset mike with sanitizer for the first time.  Who knows who used that last and it is really close to one’s mouth and face.  Can’t hurt.  The turnout was good with about 40-50 people present.  My delivery was OK and the talk ended in under 45 minutes. 

We had lunch on the back deck of the Windows Cafe.  The sky was spectacular during our lunch.

Reading, sometimes snoozing, and always relaxing was the order of the day.  We have been fortunate to find shady side loungers on Deck 5.  The breeze keeps everything cool and fresh and makes it more difficult for COVID to do its thing.  I’ve also noticed that some people are wearing their masks outside on Deck 5 – even when sleeping.  I believe these folks are either from Europe and are probably hoping to test negative so they can get home or people trying to be extra careful. 

Puerto Rico (of high positivity fame) was visible on the horizon.

At 4 PM, today, we went up to the Living Room to get a good seat for “Live Music Trivia with Tanya and Aleks” (pianist and band master).  To do so, we also were there for the daily “Pub Quiz”.  The activities on Quest do not award prizes but participation stamps which are redeemable for swag at the end of the cruise.  The music trivia category today is “Broadway Shows”.  Tanya and Alex did a great job of singing the first few lines of a song – it was like a mini concert of sorts.  I felt that Tanya’s best song was “Seasons of Love”.  This was quality entertainment in the afternoon and broke up the long day.  Quest and other cruise ships need this kind of entertainment to complement the evening shows.

We had dinner up in Windows on the back deck.  

We ordered special meals (braised Kosher ribs for Ellen and a Beyond Burger for me) and found a table away from other folks.  The meals were good, and we stayed for a while to have some coffee and tea.  The back deck has been the place to go to reduce risk and have a relaxing time.  And of course, the views and the stars.

We passed on Sasha and Dima’s first show (they were back after leaving the ship for a while – we ran into them in Windows and they told us that Dima had gone to Las Vegas (to work?) and Sasha had returned to Ukraine).  They are real jet setters.

We were back in the room early – the temperature control in the room has improved because Ellen has kept the window shades open to let the Sun warm up the cabin.  That has made a difference.

I got a call that Key West might not work out and I should be prepared to do an eight talk.  I said that would be OK.  This is getting pretty crazy.

A bit later, the captain confirmed that Key West would not allow us to dock so he will be looking at Nassau Bahamas as our final port stop.  The ship has changed course in anticipation of that happening.  Negotiations with Nassau have begun.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

January 3, 2021 – Road Town, Tortola, BVI – Partly Cloudy – 78F

A beautiful day in an unplanned port of call.

Nice breakfast (the usual, of course) out on the open deck.  I captured a beautiful sunrise.

The huge P&O Azura was docked next to us.  I got this picture across our pool deck - Azura has quite a few more decks than Quest.

I downloaded Daniel Silva’s latest book, “The Cellist”, from the library and will try to finish it before we disembark (odds are low).  

We are eating all of our lunches on the open deck at Windows (a COVID precaution).  Today for lunch, I had two slices of pizza and a salad.  Last time, the pizza was under baked but this time, the slices were done right, and they were tasty.

We spent the whole day on Deck 5 in the shade.  I am making progress on my book.

Road Town, Tortola

I ordered spaghetti marinara for dinner and Ellen had sole without seafood.  Again, the spaghetti arrived as a tight ball of pasta.  It was quite good.  Ellen loved the sole.

We opted not to attend Tanya’s show this time round.  Instead, we spent the evening up in the Living Room.

January 2, 2022 – At Sea – Sailing to Antiqua – Partly Cloudy – 82F

There was something not right about my meal because the headache persisted – I got up early and waited until 7 AM to go to the Windows CafĂ©.  The veranda didn’t open for another 30 minutes so I moved my table – the first one on the port side away from my neighbor.  I had two pancakes and one egg over medium today.  They were good but I did not intend to stay up there any longer than needed.  Looks like COVID has gotten into my head.

The COVID rules in St John’s involve wearing a mask all the time.  We got off last time, but we decided not to this time around.  We had second thoughts about not getting off since we were docked at a different pier (Heritage South Pier) this time and the entrance to the shopping area looked a lot nicer.  The Seven Seas Splendor is docked across from us.

I have gotten behind a bit in logging this trip, but I can say that we did not go to the show tonight – “Jump Jive and Swing” – because the last time we saw it the band was just a bit loud.  Instead, we spent time up in the Living Room but away from people on the couches against the starboard windows.

The captain continues to give updates on COVID at dinner.  I think the communication is a good thing. We found out that our waiter, Tin, was in isolation.  Armando is once again handling our dinner needs.

We also got word that we would be stopping in Tortola BVI (instead of the long-gone San Juan PR, with a reported positivity rate of 27 percent). 

I got a very nice shot of the sail away from Antigua.

People signed up for Tortola excursions had to be tested for COVID before being allowed on the excursions.  We were up on Deck 9 sitting on seats near the pool when the testing crew and passengers showed up. 

We headed for the peaceful confines of our room.

Seas are calm.

January 1, 2022 – At Sea – Off the Coast of Martinique – Partly Cloudy – 76F

It's a new year but it hasn't started off that well - COVID cases (new variant) are skyrocketing, people still going at it about masks and vaccinations.  The virus must really be enjoying the human drama.

I probably had the best night’s sleep of the cruise last night – don’t know why but it will help with overall mental and physical health.

I had breakfast up in the Windows CafĂ© – the usual, of course, of waffles etc.  I did get my sour cream without asking.  I ate on the veranda away from people and the breeze certainly was a positive epidemiological factor.  I was up there just a bit after sunrise.

I am speaking at 10 AM today – “Forensics and History: The Lost Dauphin of France”.  I went back and forth about including the OJ Simpson stuff and finally decided to keep it in because two guests from the UK told me that Colin Pitchfork was back in prison for violating parole.  Sounds like a good way to bring in OJ.  The audience – about 30 folks or so – were very much into the talk (especially the OJ part).  In contrast, I tripped over some words, forgot key facts in the OJ story and didn’t quite have the rhythm during the main part of the talk.  I noticed Tanya in the back of the theater midway through perhaps checking out the attendance.  Anyhow, it was not my best effort even though some guests gave me positive feedback on the session.  I plan on doing better the next time.

The ship put together a New Year’s Poolside Brunch from 10 – Noon, so Ellen met me in the theater and after putting away my computer, we went up to check it out – this would serve as lunch today. 

It was the standard brunch of salads, eggs, fruit, etc.  We tried the quiche and scrambled eggs – they both could have been hotter.  The waffle maker broke down and fresh waffles could not be had (with fruit and whipped cream) so we settled for older and cold waffles.  We finished up and headed for seats on Deck 5.

The route that Quest was taking (and at very low speeds) was along the West coast of Martinique.  

Heading to Martinique

It took all afternoon to go the length of the island and it was only as dinner time approached, that the ship accelerated. 

The captain’s update was pretty much unchanged – 17 COVID passengers; 16 COVID Crew plus another 60 crew in quarantine.  Later, he came on and said that we would be bypassing St Kitts (St Kitts has a COVID positivity cutoff of 1 percent and we are running a bit over that) and would instead be stopping again at Antigua.  Shorex would have to put together some excursions pretty quickly and as we learned from our last time here, there will be a temp check at the pier as well as a mask requirement full time.

I am still trying to find a book – I checked out a Will Robie book from the library only to find I had started this book once and didn’t like it.  When I checked it out it was at the page that I left it at.  I will give book searching another go tomorrow.  My usual authors, Preston and Childs and David Baldacci have not written any new novels in the Pendergast and Atlee Pine or Memory Man series, respectively.

We had ordered veggie versions of dishes on the Discoveries Menu earlier.  I had the Conchiglie with Ricotta and Spinach – very rich but OK. Ellen had the Polenta (sans seafood) which was OK as well.  We both had green salads and we shared the Cherries Jubilee and NY Cheesecake desserts.  We did have coffee and tea in the restaurant but didn’t stay long.  I should note that the restaurant was not very crowded.

We went to see Jason Bird’s second of three shows today (a matinee).  Again, he was fumbling around a lot and his tricks were really well worn.  We’ll have to see how things work out for him on cruise ships.

I developed a slight headache and queasiness, so I wanted to go to the room, which to our surprise was not freezing.  Ellen had left the shades open and the sun had warmed the room throughout the afternoon.  I captured the sunset from the cabin.

There is a little shimmy but no big deal.

December 31, 2021 – Bridgetown, Barbados – Caribbean Mix – 82F

It's a beautiful day in Barbados, a port that still welcomes cruise ships (kind of; bubble tours only and only with COVID negative passengers).

Got a nice socially distant seat in the Windows CafĂ© – I actually rearranged my table to be further away from the table behind me.  I had a nice waffle with the fixings (one of the waiters said he would bring me sour cream every day for the rest of the cruise – he volunteered).  

Quest is joined here today by P&O Britannia (a big ship) 

and Crystal Serenity. 

I don't know how many passengers were onboard Serenity but I did not see much sign of life from our vantage point.

The captain told us that later on in the evening, the QM2 would be taking our berth and we would hang around the port until 10 PM or so and then depart.

After breakfast, I spoke to the head suit and asked him if we could order a special meal and have it on the veranda on Deck 9.  I ordered green salads and Fettuccine Alfredo and Salmon.

The captain made a morning announcement that more crew members had tested positive for COVID – the total was now 17 and that 60 close contacts were also being quarantined.  The working staff was really reduced, and we should expect some delays in some services.  The number of positive passengers was now 16 – all but two were asymptomatic and mild symptoms were in the remaining two folks.  Everyone was still in isolation (actually on Deck 4 Forward).  More reminders about masks and social distancing.  

Danny came on and indicated that the New Year’s Eve Party would follow his own show “Moving Through the Movies”.

(Based on the testing results new COVID protocols were put in place: Capacity limits in venues, limit on people in the elevators, and a barrier in front of the Guest Services desk.  The seats in the theater were still too close even though the nightly announcement said they were socially distanced.)

Tuna wraps for lunch (not so spicy today) and a new beer, Leffe from Belgium (recommended by Tin, our Croatian waiter) comprised my lunch up in the Windows Café.

We took advantage of the pleasant conditions in Barbados and spent the entire afternoon on Deck 5 with a view of the two other ships.  I finished my book – all of the action happened in the last few pages.  Too many words and explanations leading up to that climax.  Also, my favorite character was killed off rather early, which was annoying.  It was an early Reacher Book so maybe it was different from the others, which I have read.

We also had a chance to watch an interesting lifeboat drill carried out by the Britannia.  All her lifeboats were lowered and they formed a circle and sailed in this circle for several minutes.  Not sure of the purpose but it was amusing to watch.

We went to the Windows Cafe for Dinner and our meals were indeed there.  The pastas were disappointing (not creamy Alfredo but something a lot thinner).  We ate some of it and stayed up on deck in the open air to drink our coffee and tea.  Another terrific sunset.

I had been tracking the locations of all the ships in Barbados and I knew that QM2 and Queen Victoria were both offshore.  At around 8 PM, Quest departed her berth.

As we pulled into open waters off Barbados, we could see the other ships still docked.

In a short while, we watched the huge QM2, all lit up and COVID loaded, pull into the port. You can see the iconic red Cunard stack.

The Queen Victoria could be spotted offshore, where she was anchored. We, predictably, could not stay up until Midnight so we missed the New Year's Eve Party as well as the fireworks show put on by Barbados.  

I did take a picture of Barbados all lit up at night.

It has not been a good year and it ended appropriately.

December 30, 2021 – At Sea (unplanned) – Partly Cloudy – 81F

An unplanned day at sea.  We have no port to go to today so Quest will be in a holding pattern off the coast of St Lucia.  We are going to have a scenic tour of this Caribbean Island with emphasis, of course, on Castries and Le Pitons.

Saw the sunrise from the Cabin and you can tell from the waves that we are traveling very fast.

The day was pretty routine – slept better (fewer engines, less vibration), had breakfast (pancakes and eggs today) up in Windows CafĂ© and got ready for my extra lecture.

I had pretty good attendance at my 10 AM talk, “DNA Testing: Cold Cases Solved”.  I estimated about 25 people in the audience.  The talk ran 35 minutes – I had edited out some slides because Super Bingo was on after me and I never want that to start late.

Pretty standard lunch of tuna salad and salad in Windows CafĂ©. I ran into the guy from UCLA that we chatted with on the beach in St. Maarten and got a nice picture.

I did try something different today - I found out that the Cafe could put together a plate of Nachos and Cheese so I gave that a try - it was OK but not an item I would get on a regular basis.  I did send a picture of this dish to Noah because he is a big fan of nachos.

I am getting close to finishing “Without Fail” – we spent the whole day on the open deck – this has become a health priority now that COVID is on the ship.  The ship, at one time, was not moving, 

and then took a course parallel to the St Lucia shoreline heading away from Les Pitons.  Quest then turned around (see below) and headed toward Les Pitons. The ship passed by Castries (there was another cruise ship docked) and then came as close to Les Pitons as we have ever been.  It made for great pictures but overall, it got to be a bit tiresome.

After our closeup look at these volcanic "plugs" (pitons in English) the ship moved away from St Lucia and headed to our next port.  I did get the super panoramic picture that summed up the day's journey.

We have been looking forward to “British” night in the Windows CafĂ© since we inadvertently missed it on the last cruise.  We got nice seats out on the veranda and ordered fish and chips.  I guess you have to manage expectations – the fish was undercooked, but the batter was very good.  The fries were good.  I am assuming that the fish is deep fried fresh – it just didn’t turn out that good.  I didn’t really care for the bread pudding dessert.  Expectations.

It was nice, however, to sit out on the back deck - fresh air, distanced, and I even got another nice post sunset shot.

After dinner, we went to see magician Jason Bird in the Cabaret Lounge.  

Because of flight disruptions, he had been traveling for days to meet the ship.  He seemed a bit tired and disorganized, and his magic was not that impressive. He said he was going to do another show in a few days.  We’ll see how he does with a little rest.

It was back to the room for the night.  Our room continues to be cold when we get back from the show.  Then the room slowly warms up overnight and is comfortable in the morning.  Not sure what is going on.