Wednesday, March 13, 2024

March 3, 2024 – Tampa, FL – Cloudy, Rainy, and Stormy – 70s

I slept so-so last night but was awaked early by lightning and thunder.  Hoping that passes by quickly.

Waited over an hour until the breakfast was open – it was not yet crowded and I had some raisin bran and frosted flakes (always good) and a waffle (very good) and buttermilk biscuit (tad underdone – if you drown it in gray (which I don’t) then it’s probably OK).  The breakfast was pretty good overall.

I went down again with Ellen for her breakfast.

At 11 AM, we vacated our room – a nice big room with a lot of repair and maintenance issues – Ellen grabbed the bar near the shower and it came out of the wall – she is not that strong. She reported that - along with photographic evidence - to the front desk.

Too early to to the airport – no bag check in for four hours before departure.  We warmed up yesterday’s pizza in the hotel microwave and had it for lunch along with another Mexican Coke.  The pizza travelled well and the lunch was very good.

A little after 12 PM, I called for an Uber to TPA. The ride is only 5.28 miles and took only 10 minutes – the total fare including the $2 tip came to $16.92.  I’m sure that’s a better deal than the hotel would offer (usually $10 pp).  Alberto dropped us off at the Blue Terminal – United. 

In TPA, the Kiosks are right at the bag drop area.  I checked us both in and the bags were tagged.  We went up one flight to TSA Precheck – the line was long but it moved very quickly.  We both had our picture taken while the agent checked out our passports (a new thing for us).  As I was going to the magnetometer, the bell went off. The TSA said it was a random double check – I went through the full body scan and then a brief pat down – the second time on this trip.  No problem.

We got our carry-on bags and then hopped the train from the Terminal to the Gates – a five minute ride. We are flying UAL2289 (737-800) today and it was parked at Gate C9.  

The TPA airport is really nice with lots of places to eat and very comfortable seats (just like the ones in the United Club, which TPA does not have).  They have chargers and a console to put your stuff. 

The flight boarded on time at 2:05 PM for a 2:50 departure.  We are in Economy Plus Seats (11A and 11B – middle and window – I really like the window) and Ellen is small enough to fit in the middle.  The legroom may have been a little better on this plane than on other United Jets. 

We didn’t push on time as two standby passengers were trying to find seats.  The flight attendants were all helpful and friendly and communicated very well over the PA.  The pilot, who referred to the cockpit as the “front office” could not be understood at all.  Spoke softly and mumbled.  We pushed and started our taxiing.  In a few minutes, the pilot said (and the flight attendant translated) that because of the storms in the area, the planes were being spaced out every five minutes – I think normally, they are 90 seconds apart – and that we were 20th in line. An hour and 40 minute delay.  Well, that delay turned into a two hour delay with several passengers destined to miss their connections in Chicago.  We moved up slowly every five minutes – the captain idled the engines between inching along - trying to save fuel. 

At the 2 hour mark, the captain said that the winds had shifted and he was directed to another runway.  As we made out way to the other runway, I could see the planes queued up for takeoff.

There were only three planes ahead of us at that runway and finally after two plus hours of waiting on the tarmac (with only one quick bathroom break allowed) we were off.   Finally, takeoff.  The flight attendants were told to sit in their seats until the air was smooth.  

On the plus side, which we were waiting to leave, the storms had passed through Tampa and there was a smooth corridor to the West. Our pilot used that vector to bypass a lot of the turbulence which made for a smoother ride. And indeed, the ride was pretty smooth all the way to Chicago – the head Flight Attendant spent a lot of time working out how to deal with missed connections.  

The sun was setting giving me a great shot from 36000 feet.

The flight attendants sat down early as we came over the lake – the plane was vectored straight into ORD (from the East) maybe due to the need to make those connections.  

The ride was bumpy on approach with the plane moving side to side and wings rotating a bit – the pilot did a good job of dealing with the winds until touchdown (we came in hot but the thrust reversers slowed the plane). The taxi to Gate C10 took about 10 – 15 minutes probably chewing up the time buffer with our direct landing. 

We arrived at our gate at near 7 PM; we waited until the connecting passengers exited the plane.  We crossed under the tarmac to get to the baggage claim area and found our bags (after a while).  I called our pre-arranged American Taxi Cab.  He arrived in about 10 minutes in an unmarked car – Ellen asked him if this was a real cab. It turned out to be one and he got us home quickly and safely. FYI – there is a $6 evening surcharge, which is annoying but another way businesses can jack up prices.  This surcharge did not show up when I set up this ride. 

So it was a tradeoff at TPA – a takeoff on time through a sky of thunderstorms or a delay that avoided that and gave us a smooth flight.  It may have become a nightmare for connecting passengers but for us, while annoying, it made for a smoother flight.

The cruises themselves were fantastic – perhaps, the food was inconsistent but the rest of the trip, the lectures, the time outside, the entertainment was very good. 

March 2, 2024 – Tampa, FL – Cloudy and Rain – 60sF

Constellation arrived pre-dawn in Tampa.  

I was up in the Oceanview Café at 6:00 AM and had my usual pancakes plus cottage cheese (no sour cream today, my choice) and jams.  Cereal and scrambled eggs (mini portions) completed the breakfast. The place was crowded but I did get a window table right at the entrance so I was close to all of the food.  I didn’t stay up there very long.  I put together breakfast including hot tea for Ellen (no room service today).  We were both ready by 8:00 AM and we headed for the Concierge Departure Lounge in the San Marco Dining Room (Deck 5).  Tampa was waking up.

We are in the last group (#28) scheduled to disembark at 9:15 AM – while we waited, we were treated to coffee and sweet rolls.  We are going to do this on the next Celebrity cruise.  I also like the gold Sea Pass cards that go with Concierge Class.

We were finally the last people in the room and were told that all numbers were called. We said goodbye to Sue (I wasn’t sure she remembered me) as we scanned out.  We found our bags and Facial Recognition made immigration a snap.  We headed outside to call an Uber.

We were given conflicting information on where Ubers pick up so we did a lot of extra walking to get to the eventual correct location (our first driver gave up the ride).  Our second driver, Felix, met us at the end of Terminal 3 at the numbered poles.  The ride to our hotel was only 7 miles and took 19 minutes.  We got a $6.81 discount for using Uber “Comfort” (bigger cars) and the total fare including at $5.44 tip came to $26.44. 

We are staying at the Country Inn and Suites by Radisson, Tampa RJ Stadium.  RJ Stadium is the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The room rate was $182.86 including taxes – about $60 less than he hotel we stayed at coming into Tampa.  The hotel is down the street from Bucs Stadium and George Steinbrenner Stadium (Yankees Spring Training Stadium).  Aside from that, there is not much near the hotel (there’s a Potbelly Sandwich shop a few hundred feet away) – there are also a lot of adult businesses near the hotel so maybe not the best neighborhood.  The hotel itself looks OK and the front desk staff was incredibly friendly. 

There is a nice pond adjacent to the Hotel (separated by a fence from the pool area) with all sorts of waterfowl – Ibises, Muscovy Ducks, and an occasional Herron along with a lot other bird, inhabit the pond.  

Our room wasn’t ready so we stayed out in the pool area until we could get into our room, which was sooner than the 3 PM time quoted.  Our room on the highest (fourth) floor – Room 435 – is huge, maybe the biggest room in a hotel we’ve ever seen. 

We had sweets from the ship for lunch and stayed either outside (Ellen) or inside (me).  The couch had a lounger section, which was very comfortable for my back issues. 

Dinner was, as might have predicted, problematic.  The hotel told us that there were no real pizza deliveries coming to this place.  Our options were limited as we needed to take Ubers to anyplace we were going to eat.  We settled on Applebee’s because it was close and it offered fish and chips along with a free appetizer (if you sign into their e-club).  We hired an Uber to take us to the Applebee’s and took the strangest route to the restaurant (favoring alleys to streets).  The restaurant was in a shopping center without a market and only a couple of other restaurants – Mexican and Chinese.  The restaurant itself was pretty uninviting and the hostess told us that they were short on servers and it might take a while to get our orders in.  As we waited and watched, it became clear that this restaurant was not our type of place.  We walked out and also decided that the other two restaurants were also not desirable.  Our final option was Pizza Hut, at the other end of the mall, for takeout. 

We ordered a hand tossed pizza with extra sauce ($13 approximately) and waited 10 minutes for it to be baked.  I then called an Uber to get us home.  Uber costs: $9.82 going and $9.92 coming home.  Turns out that the pizza was excellent – better than I remember Pizza Hut being.  We also had one of the Mexican Diet Cokes and that made for a perfect meal.

We watched “Titanic” on HBO until the iceberg hit and then it got to be too intense to watch. The movie has stood the test of time since it was launched in 1997.  Everyone looked so young and watching after researching my own Titanic saga also verified that the movie was accurate about almost everything about the disaster.

Earlier in the day, I had checked us both in and paid for a checked bag ($30 – a $10 discount for early purchase).  We were on different reservations so I couldn’t take advantage of Ellen’s credit card purchase which allows two bags. 

We are all set for tomorrow.

As we sat in the room, we started to hear music and party sounds coming from the Event Room at the hotel.  Ellen immediately called the front desk and told them that the noise was too much.  She convinced them to change our room to one on the other side of the hotel (still top floor).  We moved all of our stuff to Room 402, which was quieter.  It did have a noise coming from the pipes but earplugs would take of that. 

It was a tense evening overall but eventually, things worked out.

March 1, 2024 – At Sea – Gulf of Mexico – Warm Hazy – 75F

Constellation is making her way back to Tampa (it took two days to get back on the first cruise and she is doing in one day this time). 

I was up early (took my Cabin View Photo)

and got to the Café at 6:45 AM, and got a nice seat outside - It is still warm.

– I started off with a bowl of mixed cereals.  I went over to the pancake and waffle area a few minutes after it was supposed to open and it was not yet ready for business.  The guy behind the counter noticed me and without saying a word put two pancakes on a plate and handed it to me over the strap they use to keep people away before they open.  I guess I’m known here and at the cottage cheese and sour cream area.

I got a seat outside on the patio and put together my usual breakfast of pancakes plus along with some scrambled eggs (I shook things up a bit by putting some cheddar cheese on my eggs). The coffee was hot and the sunrise sky was amazing. I brought Ellen her usual Lox plate along with the banana bagel from the Spa Café. 

My final talk, “Forensics and History: The Search for Jack the Ripper”, was once again scheduled at 10 AM in the Theater.  When I got there, there were quite a few people already there.  I had to modify my talk a bit because the Captain is once again following me and I need to be done in 45 minutes.  I spent some time chatting with guests before getting up on stage to start. 

When I got up there, the entire audience started applauding – I was totally taken aback because that has never happened to me in 17 years of being on ships.  It was simply incredible. I thanked Christian and Jaime, my AV guys, as well as Sue and Bradley.

There were a lot of perfect attendees in this series as well.  By the way, Lizzie and Aaron both got a lot of votes.  

The talk ran 46 minutes and I got another nice round of applause when I finished.  I got off the stage fast so the Captain could set up.

As I was leaving the theater after this final talk, one passenger said something to me that I did not understand.  She told me that since I was half Polish, she was saying “thank you” in Polish (Dziekuje).  I told her that I don’t speak Polish but what an interesting gesture.  It was that kind of audience. 

On this cruise (and on the last one), I spent a lot of time speaking with guests before the talk.  I would venture up the stage right aisle greeting people and chatting.  On the next twin isle Celebrity cruise, I will also greet folks on the other aisle.  I also met people as they came into the theater.

Also, based on Ellen feedback, I moved from Stage Left to Stage Right during these talks so I would see the whole audience and they would see me.  I talked as I changed position so that added a new wrinkle to the delivery.

We had lunch outside in the Café – along with a Mexican Coke, we were surprised when they offered Fish and Chips (not sure of the fish but it was good – I had it with Ranch Dressing). They also had pretzels on the buffet and I had a couple of those with Ranch Dressing also (they were really good).  We stayed out there after finishing until it got a bit noisy and then we went inside to the Rendezvous Lounge.

We also did not stay there long since the Symphony Duo was playing there.

We finished most of our packing before getting ready for dinner.  Our final dinner was at the Oceanview Café outside.

It was a little chilly out there but we were dressed for it.  The final dinner was Pasta Pesto again, a green salad (the only real lettuce left on board in romaine so I got mine from the Cesar Salad station).  I had the usual stuff on there and topped it with all three of my favorite dressings, Ranch, Bleu Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette.

As is our usual custom, we passed on the show, which we would have anyhow since it was “Rock City”. 

We went back to the room and finished packing.  I put the suitcases outside and we were settling down when we discovered that the toilet was not flushing – the flush button had no response. This, of course, would cause a problem in the morning.  I called Guest Relations and they said they would send a plumber out right away.  No one showed for about a half hour – I called Guest Relations back and told them not to call us with a status update.  Before lights went out I checked outside our room and I could see a hose coming down from the ceiling and some noise a little further away.

While I was trying to get to sleep, I heard our toilet flush twice on its own.  I tested it and it was working.  Crisis averted.

February 29, 2024 – Cozumel, Mexico – Sunny – Warm – 80F

Happy Leap Year

There are several ships here today at the three cruise terminals (according to the online pier information).  NCL Joy, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Jubilee, Enchantment OTS, Carnival Breeze, and Radiance OTS. 

Might have slept a little better last night.  

The Oceanview Café is open early again today which is strange since the ship doesn’t officially dock at Cozumel until 9 AM.  I was up there opening time and I was shocked to find that there were only two people up there including me.  I was able to order two eggs OM in a clean skillet. Even though it was supposed to be open the pancake area was not open – I managed to get a couple of pancakes from the server.

I got a nice seat outside – it was simply beautiful out on the deck and I got a pre-dawn photo which was postcard quality.  

My food was good and the coffee was hot once I found a coffee station open and ready.  I brought Ellen her lox, cream cheese, challah roll, fruits, hard boiled egg, and banana bread to go along with the tea from room service.

Caught some of the sail in from the Cabin window.

Constellation is once again docked at the International Pier next to the Enchantment OTS.

Ellen might be fighting a sinus infection (NOTE: she’s going to start Augmentin with dinner tonight - as it turned out she discontinued it after a few days - maybe not a sinus issue). Because she is not quite well, she is not going ashore.  I am still going to the spa in Mayan Plaza (about two blocks from the port). I disembarked about 10 AM and after going through the maze again, I got to the street.  I found the spa easily and once again negotiated the price with the ladies.  The spa has one room and I told them that I was hoping that it would be private.  They said it would be.  Greta, my therapist, was terrific – she didn’t speak a lot of English but when I need to tell her something, I was able to.  The massage bed is a little narrow for me but I managed not to fall off.  The session went a full hour and it costs $60 plus a $10 propino (tip).  They are all very nice at this spa – we will probably see them again the next time we're here and docked at this pier.

I asked the ladies where the nearest Mercado was (I was searching for whole bean coffee) and they said there were none nearby and the closest one was downtown.  I then asked about Cokes and they said the pharmacy across the plaza has soft drinks.  The large 600 mL Cokes in a bottle cost $2 instead of the $6 (for the smaller bottle) on the ship (without the package).  I picked up four diet Cokes but could not find Coffee Beans – one store in the shopping area adjacent to the pier was selling 200g of ground coffee for $11 (454 g in a pound).  So no coffee on this trip. 

On my way away and from the pier, I got some nice shots of the other ships here today.

I went back to the ship and met Ellen in the Oceanview Café.  Salad and pizza for lunch.

The afternoon was spent on Deck 4 aft – we were shaded by the Enchantment OTS and there was an excellent breeze moving between the ships.  

We stayed there until almost dinner time.  We decided that we would not go to the Dining Room tonight (the special meal I ordered I guess was not to be). And instead we had very good pizza and salad (me) and Pesto Pasta (Ellen – not as good as yesterday). 

During dinner, we watched the Enchantment OTS depart Cozumel.

We passed on dessert and headed for the Theater.

We have seen the Headliner, Anne Martinez, before – four years ago on a Princess Ship.

She is a Las Vegas performer and has done numerous plays over the years.  She is great on stage – terrific voice and excellent stage presence.  She also has a BFA and a MFA degree.  She did almost the same song list she did four years ago: “Under the Sea”, “Bring on the Men” (probably, the least likable song from “Jekyll and Hyde”), “The Power of Love” (her mother’s favorite love song – she sang a different favorite song the last time – this song is perfect for her big voice), “Tennesee Whiskey”, and some other songs that I could not identify because she changes the pace and arrangement in such a way that makes it difficult to tell what the song is.  In any event, she is immensely entertaining and likeable (even though he stories are a bit too long and she does mumble a little). 

The new acoustic duo, “Bright Avenue”, was in the Grand Foyer tonight and we got great seats.  

They did a nice set including a very different version of “Hallelujah”.  

They are very entertaining and when they did “Hallelujah”, all the people in the bar stopped talking and listened to the song. 

Back to the Cabin.

February 28, 2024 – Belize City, Belize – Sunny – Warm – 80F

As always, we are at anchor off the coast of Belize City and the ship will be running local tenders back and forth all day.  

Beautiful day here - seas are calm (the view from the Cabin) - not like the rainy breezy stuff we had last cruise.

(the Captain told us later that he held off dropping the noisy anchor to avoid getting people up early.)

The Oceanview Café opened 30 minutes early today so people would be able to go on their excursions.  I was up there at 6:30 AM and there were lots of people there already.  I did manage to score an outside table so I got some nice views.

I started off with a waffle with the fixings but the waffle was not cooked all the way through so I transferred the fixings to some pancakes and that was breakfast.  I picked up an avocado bruschetta and banana bagel for Ellen from the Spa Café to go along with her room service hot tea.

Here with us today are the Carnival SpiritEnchantment OTS, and the MSC Divina (although I did not see her). 

I went to the Solarium to look for loungers and found the last two open loungers.  Just before the Café closed for late breakfast, one of the servers went to the tombs and brought me some herring (mini second breakfast).  The Constellation has really been good wrt customer service.

We stayed on these loungers with a break for lunch (salad and pizza today – I also gave the four cheese calzone another chance – reheated and served with marinara dip made it a very good option).

We went back to the loungers until the new age music and the need to change positions took us to our cabin. 

I had ordered a special meal for tonight at the San Marco Dining Room but Ellen was not feeling so good so I called the restaurant and asked them to have that meal ready tonight.  They said they would take care of it.

Instead, we went to the Oceanview Café and sat outside – it was quite warm and we had to move inside.  It was Turkish Night and I tried the Mirza, something like Shakshuka, with eggplant, tomatoes, and little bitty eggs (I didn’t want to know where they came from).  It was OK but the tomato sauce was a minor ingredient and the spices were odd.  I also had a very nice order of Pasta Pesto (this time with a little more sauce), which was very good.  Ellen had them grill some Tilapia that looked really good.

We watched the scenic sail away from the back deck.

The headliner tonight is Lenny Schmidt, a comedian that we were really looking forward to see.  

His background also lists him as a actor and he looked familiar to me (maybe because he has been on many of the TV shows that I watch).  He was lukewarm funny with few original jokes and mostly interacting with the audience.  I don’t find those kind of comics that funny. He was very loud and at times difficult to understand.

After the show, we went to Cellar Masters for some quiet but the Classical Duo (strings) were in there so we didn’t stay long.  We had no choice but to go to the room for peace and quiet.

The clocks move forward tonight to put us on EST or Tampa Time. 

February 27, 2024 – Roatan, Honduras, CA – Mostly Sunny – 79F

Another beautiful sunrise from Cabin 3118.

The Oceanview Café opened a half hour earlier this morning and even though I was up there at 6:30 AM, I couldn’t get a table outside.  I did get a nice table on the side opposite most of the food and still got a good view.

A couple of pancakes plus the usual dairy products plus some scrambled egg (and a starter of corn flakes and Rice Krispies) constituted my consistently good breakfast.  The coffee was nice and hot today and the coffee lady brought me an additional hot cup.  Ellen had her breakfast delivered by her personal attendant.

There are three other ships here today - Carnival Jubilee (5700 passengers) is docked at Mahogany Bay in the distance; NCL Prima – 3500 passengers – is along side of us and a bit offset and the Enchantment of the Seas is anchored offshore (very close) and the tenders are dropping passengers at a port next to us.  

Coxen Hole, Roatan, which has 5000 inhabitants will be pick up a few thousand additional folks today.   

Around 10 AM, we got off and wandered around the Shopping Complex – we were just here so the only thing that changed was progress on the construction we saw earlier. There were hundreds of workers dressed in orange jumpsuits working on a new area which looks like it will be a “Margaritaville” type entertainment facility.

We went through the gate into Coxen Hole and we didn’t get very far until we decided to turn around and go back to the ship. The smell of cooking meat as well as other interesting smells was all it took to change our plans.  The only photo on shore was at the Duty Free Shop where I had to get a picture of a giant Oreo.

We cut through the parking lot for the Complex to get to the ship - a lot shorter way.

Once back on the ship, I found out that if you take a cab a little further down the main street you will come to a more pleasant part of town complete with restaurants, salons, and a shopping mall.  We might check that out next time.

Even though we got up there early, there were no seats on the back deck so we had lunch in the back section of the Café. I had a nice salad (blue cheese dressing may be the best of the dressings) and a tuna sandwich plus some egg salad. Ice cream did the job for dessert. That kind of eating will stop when we get home.

We spent some time up in the Reflections Lounge but the ship was cleaning the windows and the machinery screeched so bad, we had to leave for the quiet bliss of our cabin.  Before we left, I got a picture of the Carnival Jubilee docked at Mahogany Bay in the distance, as well as picture of a jet landing at Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport. 

We were going to eat in the San Marco Dining Room tonight and got there early so we could eat and still see the show.  We waited about 15 minutes until the doors opened at about 5:50 PM.  I had the Chop Chop Deconstructed Salad (from the Veggie Menu) and the Sauteed Tilapia (Putanesca [olives and stuff] style) off the regular menu.  The salad was so so (not really a chopped salad) even with the Blue Cheese Dressing but the Tilapia was really good – perfectly grilled in a tasty sauce with pasta.  Ellen had the Butternut Farrotto (off the Veggie Menu with no duck).  She liked it but I thought it was overly sweet.  Dinner still took a while and we passed on dessert and headed to the theater.  

On our way there, I captured the Sunset.

Tonight, Josh Christina, Rock and Roll Pianist is putting on his second show of the cruise. 

The songs were similar to those in his first show.  We stayed for about three songs and then went to Cellar Masters to hear Acoustic Guitarist, Gaston.  This was our first time taking in his show and his stuff is pretty mellow – he sang one song in Spanish and only one song I recognized.  I should mention that Bradley was the host tonight.

We stayed put for a while and then went to the room.

Legs are hurting a bit probably due to the 9338 steps taken today.  No pain no gain. And sometimes, just pain.