~~Happy Thanksgiving Day: Thursday, November 24th~~
Happy Thanksgiving Day from the Golden Princess, first day at sea on the way to Hawaii: a different way to celebrate turkey day! We departed San Pedro (Los Angeles) yesterday afternoon at 4 PM just a few minutes before a spectacular sunset. The Ports O'Call Restaurant again called out a "Bon Voyage" to us, using the PA system, answered by our ship's horn as we slowed moved down the channel, out of the harbor, and out to the open sea.
Last night after dinner there was an increase is sea motion, most probably from that storm moving south from the Gulf of Alaska, and all through the night there was considerable movement, disturbing my sleep. This morning I am a little groggy, still.
Bev and Brian, our cruise friends from Vancouver, BC, are again with us on this 14-day Hawaiian cruise RT from Los Angeles but, much to our regrets, Bob & Nida were forced to cancel due to Bob's recent eye surgery. The six of us have several times cruised together and call ourselves the "6-pack." This will be my fourth such Hawaii cruise and the fifth cruise with Bev & Brian. We all met on the famous "Hurricane Cruise" in September 2001 aboard the Sun Princess when we encountered Hurricane Juliette just off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, enduring the 40-foot waves and 80 mph winds for 36 hours: a real "bonding" experience.
Yesterday afternoon while waiting in our beautiful mini-suite stateroom E723 on Emerald Deck 8, there was a knock on the door, and it was Patric - my travel agent, and Lorin who had also booked this cruise, but kept it from me as a surprise. And it was a SURPRISE! I didn't have a clue that it was even being considered.
Contrary to earlier speculation, tonight will NOT be a formal night, but will be a special Thanksgiving Day Dinner, with lots of football on every available TV around the ship and also on their outside "MUTS" screen (Movies Under The Stars.) Tomorrow night will be our first formal night with dinner preceded by the Captain's Welcome Party in the Atrium, along with Princess' traditional Champagne Waterfall. On this cruise there will be three formal nights.
Right now there are large smooth swells gently moving the ship around with clouded skies threatening rain, so this will be a lazy day for me: finally unpacking and storing my clothes and organizing the room. At 11 AM our Cruise Critics group will have a "Meet & Greet" up in the Skywalker's Nightclub on Sky Deck 17 -- the "shopping cart handle." Jim, of course, is out and about trying to become involved with every ship's activity possible. He has already decorated our stateroom for Thanksgiving and will later decorate for Christmas with the voluminous supply of decorations he lugged aboard. Fortunately no flights were necessary for this cruise!
Enjoy your Thanksgiving Day, with lots to eat, lots of football and parades to watch on TV, and lots of family time together.
~~Second Day at Sea: Friday, November 25th~~
And it is a MUCH better day today aboard the Golden Princess, about a third of the way to Hawaii. The skies are now overcast - but not stormy, and the seas are smooth with a few large swells to provide a gentle rocking motion -- quite different than the "Rough" seas of yesterday and the night before. Rarely have I experienced such long and sustained extreme sea motion. Even though the skies were clear with a few clouds, the very strong winds (40 mph), supposedly associated with a storm in the Gulf of Alaska, created 7.5 to 12 feet waves, crested with white caps. At times a large wave would hit the ship causing it to shudder substantially. Fortunately evening brought a decrease in sea motion and I was able to achieve a full night of sleep.
Our Cruise Critics Meet & Greet was at 11 AM in the Skywalker's Nightclub which is at the absolute highest level on the ship, and the extreme sea motion there was the worst of any other ship location; the primary challenge was walking across the room to an available chair -- without falling - before the next wave hit, creating a "6.0 Earthquake" sensation. Ordinarily such a function consists of walking around with a drink, mingling with the others present; not yesterday! It was, grab a seat and talk with whomever is within earshot. Surprisingly there was a rather large turnout, despite the sea motion, and we all survived; the huge and tasty Bloody Mary helped me out a lot!
This morning has been another lazy one for me, with some remaining football games available on ESPN; yesterday presented several very good games: Green Bay vs. Detroit, Dallas vs. Miami, and then Texas vs. Texas A&M last night. All live telecasts. I am now watching an ATP tennis match between Berdych and Ferrer from London; earlier matches have included Djokovic, Tipsaravic, Federer, and Nadal.
Of course, yesterday being Thanksgiving Day, our dinner menu included traditional turkey, dressing with cranberry sauce, BUT given that choice from among lobster tails, halibut and New York Steak, it was not an easy decision! I chose the lobster tails (2) that were outstanding. Another delicious dessert soufflÃ© -- chocolate with vanilla sauce -- was also my choice; the evening before had offered a passion fruit soufflÃ©.
Our table for 8 includes Jim & me, Bev & Brian, and two couples including a brother and sister with their spouses -- also from California; the brother Russ is a physician with Kaiser Permanente. So far we all seem to get along well.
Tonight is the first of three formal nights to be preceded with the Captain's Welcome Party and Champagne Waterfall, so out will come the tuxedo; it has served me well. Earlier this morning I sat out on our balcony for a while and read some more from an e-book on my iPad; as we cruise farther south the temperatures will continue to increase from the 60s currently.
Two more days at sea will bring us to Hilo, on the Big Island, on Monday, the 28th. Tomorrow afternoon I will look forward to the Maitre D's Wine Club at 3 PM with the choice, select wine tasting with excellent accompanying canapÃ©s -- well worth the $25 charge.
~~Third Day at Sea: Saturday, November 26th~~
And it is another beautiful morning with flat seas and increasingly warm temperatures; there is a thin overcast but patches of blue are showing through. The predicted rain showers have yet to appear. Today is my dear sister-in-law Lenora's birthday; "Happy Birthday, Nora!"
Again it is a quiet, relaxing morning for me, the highlight thus far being the tennis match on TV from London between Rodger Federer and David Ferrer, Rodger ahead one set and now 5-3 in the second and deciding match. This - a semifinal match, the winner playing the winner of the other Berdych-Tsonga semifinal.
Later there is a "London Pub Lunch" in the Crown Grill Dining Room of which I plan to partake: Fish & Chips, Bangers & Mash, etc., with good English beers and ales available. This is the second such lunch this cruise that has become quite popular aboard Princess ships.
This afternoon at 3 PM is the special Maitre D' Wine Club which I always attend; the $25 charge for tasting 6 very excellent wines, accompanied by appropriate hors d'oeuvres: lobster, smoked salmon, caviar, ptÃ©, prosciutto ham, steak tartar, etc., is a good value. These used to be a bit more exclusive, with only 25 or so attending; now the popularity draws a much larger and less knowledgeable crowd. Some seem to be more comfortable drinking their wine from a box or from a brown paper bag.
Last evening was the first formal night with most passengers decked out in their finest: ladies in beautiful gowns and gentlemen in tuxedos or dark business suits. The ship's photographers were busy trying to drum up business by taking portrait-style photos -- primarily to the "newbie" passengers. We older veterans usually avoid this fruitless activity, with boxes already at home filled with such ship's photos from many past cruises. One of my strong objections is when one these inconsiderate, rude photographers interrupts our dining experience, trying to take their over-priced and seldom-purchased photos. I consistently decline in no uncertain terms.
Our dinner last evening was not one of the best; the previous evening's multiple, excellent selections were not offered. This is a dining trick, invented by Ted Arison, founder of Carnival; offer several of the premium menu items on the same evening, knowing full well that only one will probably be selected by the passengers, instead of offering only one premium menu item each night which would undoubtedly be selected by every passenger. Perhaps this is why son Mickey Arison, CEO of Carnival, is now worth over $8 billion.
Tomorrow will be the last of our 4 sea days in this direction and then it will be port, port, port and port before starting our return the mainland and the end of this cruise. So I try to fully enjoy the relaxing, non-structured days at sea as much as possible; port days with shore excursions demand a tight schedule.
By the way, Federer won the tennis match: 7-5, 6-3; he will now play the winner of the Berdych-Tsonga match, up next.
~~Sunday Morning at Sea: November 27th~~
The last day at sea before arriving in Hilo tomorrow and the start of our four-day tour of the Hawaiian Islands: Big Island, Oahu, Kaua'i and Maui. Tomorrow our tour of the day will again be to the Puna district with both ancient and new lava flows, and another wonderful lunch at the Puna Girl Farms (macadamia nuts). Bev and Brian will be joining us on this tour with each group at a maximum of 14. We enjoyed this tour so much on our last visit that it deserved repetition.
The skies are almost clear now, with many patches of blue, in contrast to the rough sea conditions, evidenced by white caps far out to the horizon. Last evening the Captain announced that we would be entering a region of high winds creating large swells -- up to 15 feet -- around midnight and that is what happened. Needless to say, there was little sleep for me after midnight until after sunrise this morning when the seas calmed somewhat. Now there is a rolling motion from left to right, here near the aft of Emerald Deck 8; I can just imagine the motion up in Skywalker's Night Club on Sky Deck 18, 10 decks directly above. Yesterday afternoon between 5 and 7 we were up there for the Elite/Platinum Cocktail Hour and it was pleasantly calm; I enjoyed two of the drink specials -- Mojitos -- for $3.99.
Right now I am watching the final tennis match between Rodger Federer and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, playing live from London; Federer has already won the first set and is looking very good. Being Sunday there will also be many football games available on TV -- some up on the upper deck on the giant "MUTS" screen: a little too cool there yet for me! So I am just relaxing, lazily here in our beautiful mini-suite, enjoying coffee, juices, fruit and melon, and Danishes -- my breakfast -- instead of elbowing my way around the crowded Horizon Court -- the "trough" - filled with ravenous, rude passengers with multiple plates piled high with food.
No special plans for the day; perhaps a nap this afternoon to make up for lost sleep last night, and a nice lunch in the dining room later. Yesterday I changed my plans to have the Pub Lunch in the Crown Grill when Patric told me that Ossobuco was on the lunch menu in the Donatello Dining Room; I love this delicious dish which Princess serves only once per cruise, and then at lunchtime. It was outstanding! There will be other Pub Lunches offered.
To recap, Federer has now won the first set and is ahead 5-4 in the second set; he is now serving for the match.
~~Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii: Monday, November 28th~~
It is now a quarter til 5 PM here on the balcony of our mini-suite E723 on Emerald Deck 8 and the sun is getting lower in the western sky, amid broken clouds. Mona Kea was visible this morning when we arrived at 9 AM, which was quite unusual; being the tallest mountain peak in Hawaii, it is usually covered from observation by clouds. There is some sunshine peeking through which enhances my experience of sitting here with my glass of cold pinot grigio, enjoying the silence, and contemplating the events of the day.
Our tour today was a repeat of the wonderful one we had last year in April; a trip to the Puna District and the Lava Trees National Park, a visit to Puna Girl Farms where we again enjoyed an outstanding lunch cooked on the grill by our tour guide Emma, the same guide as last year: barbequed chicken & ribs, served with grilled fresh corn, a tomato-cheese-onion-cucumber salad, and Cole slaw, preceded by wonderful free slices of papaya and pineapple, "star fruit" and, of course many samples of macadamia nuts grown right there on the Farms: chocolate-covered -- light and dark, honey-coated, and combinations of such. Also available was a machine with which to crack open a shelled-macadamia nut to retrieve the sumptuous and large nut inside. Yum yum! Again, it was an EXCELLENT lunch, served with tropical mimosas (champagne with tropical punch.
We also visited McKinsey Park where ancient lava flows created high vertical cliffs against which the large surf pounded, producing sprays of water reaching almost to the cliffs' tops. And the most BEAUTIFUL color of blue water you can imagine. If there were one location typifying the beauty and rugged coast of Hawaii, it would be this. Absolutely mesmerizing!
Another stop allowed us to walk over "new" lava flows, circa 1960, which had spilled into the ocean, moving the beach a considerable distance out, and creating one of Hawaii's famous Black Sands Beaches. Viewing nature's artwork, frozen in time in the cooling lava, now fractured and already supporting new plant life was a unique experience.
The highlight was yet another stop near the beach where a large lagoon had been created and filled with seawater heated by the volcanic activity below. Here we had the opportunity to swim in the bath-warm temperature water and enjoy nature's own heating method. Although the lagoon was quite shallow -- perhaps 3 feet, the sand and rock covered bottom was easy to walk on and to float lazily in the warm water. What unique pleasure, only in Hawaii!
So now I am back aboard ship which will depart shortly after the 5:30 PM "all aboard" and reluctant passengers return with their treasures -- purchases at the local Walmart! Unbelievable! Cruise 4 days to Hawaii and then rush to Walmart to shop! Ludicrous!
Tomorrow we have a very full day in Honolulu, departing only at 11 PM. I am expecting rather rough seas again tonight due to the recent storms in the Hawaii region of the Pacific, some from leftover hurricanes and some from storms coming down from the Gulf of Alaska.
The sun is now almost hidden behind the clouds and the sunshine has departed, so it seems a good time to bring this epistle to an end.
~~Honolulu, Oahu: Tuesday, November 29th~~
Taking a short break from today's touring, I am now sitting out on our balcony in the shadow of the Aloha Tower, enjoying a refreshing glass of cold pinot grigio. Our "Oahu's North Shore" tour returned a few minutes ago, around 3 PM, and we will rest for a while before venturing out again, probably up to Waikiki and a dinner ashore; the ship does not sail until 11 PM this evening, with 10:30 PM "all aboard." Tomorrow we will be in Kaua'i for the day -- provided the winds are not so strong as to prevent our entered Nawiliwili Harbor with it serpentine approach; this has never happened for me, but with the luck we have been having on this cruise, it just might.
Our tour this morning at 8:30 AM first took us up to Hwy 3 that passes through a tunnel into the eastern side of Oahu, near Kaneohe, and our first stop was at the fabled Buddhist Temple nestled in the foothills of the Pali Mountains. It is a most beautiful place with luxuriant gardens, ponds and fountains, and a highlight is to ring the huge gong with the suspended horizontal clapper -- for good health and luck. In the large pond in front of the temple, a pair of black swans was gracefully gliding around the surface, below which hundreds of exquisite Koi (carp) - some quite huge -- were swimming. Inside the temple is visible a gigantic statue of Buddha surrounded by burning incense that filled the air. This is a remarkably quiet and peaceful place and our short visit seemed way too brief.
There were several other stops as we proceeded up the Kamehameha Highway, encircling the Island, visited pristine beaches and parks, and a pass-by of the Polynesian Culture Center that this morning seemed totally vacant of tourists. Our lunch stop was just past Sunset Beach on the North Shore where we enjoyed fresh shrimp (et. al.) from the shrimp farms in that region; my menu choice was 8 or 10 very large peal-and-eat shrimp along with a good cocktail sauce, rice and small salad. We were served on picnic tables beneath an awning and the fresh air and balmy temperature added to the pleasure.
Our stop in Sunset Beach was at the location of the current surfing contest although today's less than spectacular surf had canceled today's competition. We also stopped briefly at Waimea Bay, another famous surfing location where monumental waves are often present during winter months; today's surf, not so.
Then on around to the small village of Haleiwa that seems to be the surfers' "capital" with many surf shops, bars, restaurants -- everything "Surf."
Our travel then proceeded down Hwy 99 through the central valley, past Schofield Barracks, the Army base famous from WWII's Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, then past Wheeler Air Force Base.
The last stop was the Dole Plantation where, besides shopping, we were given the opportunity to enjoy delicious pineapple flavored ice cream that I so fondly remember from my first visit here 30 years ago. Continuing on past Pearl Harbor and then the Airport, we came back to Pier 2 and our ship, the Golden Princess. It has been a full day so far, and it isn't over yet!
~~Kauai on Wednesday, November 30th~~
It is still quite early here aboard the Golden Princess as we approach Maui, our last port of call before heading back toward the mainland; this is the only tender port on this cruise so our tours will meet in the Princess Theater from which we are then dispatched ashore by tender. Our tour will be a repeat visit to the summit of Haleakala, the highest volcanic peak on Maui, and a nice lunch later on the way back to Lahaina at a flower farm in the central valley. No Mama's Fish House this time!
Yesterday in Kauai we also repeated the zip line tour that we so much enjoyed last year, and we were fortunate to again have Jamie, Polo and BJ from Kauai Outback Adventures conducting the tour, instructing us on the techniques required. And again it was an excellent experience with only a light rain and mist to add to cool morning. The location is in the very center of the Island, requiring a rather bumpy ride from their base station aboard vintage military personnel carriers with 6 wheels, and the valley where the 7 different zip lines stretch from side to side is absolutely beautiful: lush green with a rushing river at the bottom and a dramatic view of the mountains partially hidden by the ever-present clouds. I found that even this old dog could learn some new tricks - my zip lining techniques have much improved.
Back to the ship and a very necessary shower and change of clothes, I then ventured over to Dukes' Canoe Club, adjacent to the Marriott Hotel, my very favorite place in Maui for one -- or more -- of their delicious mai tais. Luckily I got a choice table from which the view of the Kalipaki Beach directly in front was just idyllic with surfers, boarders and outrigger canoes all enjoying the gentle breakers in the bay. The morning's moisture had departed and the afternoon could not have been more perfect. Another perfect day in Paradise!
By the way, our late afternoon Tuesday in Honolulu to Waikiki Beach by local bus #19 was fun with visits to shops and bars, and a spectacular sunset in the western sky, framed by palm trees, over the glittering breakers slowly making their approach to the beach. Our return back towards Aloha Tower and the ship was again aboard TheBus #19 after which we found a great restaurant in China Town, near Downtown, on Smith Street at the corner with Hotel Street. In this rather famous neighborhood, The Little Village of Noodles was an excellent choice and the food was very, very good. Then it was a few block's walk back to the ship, due to depart at 11 PM. Onboard there was an "Island Party" at 10 PM, which I chose to miss.
We are now at anchor, offshore of Lahaina, Maui, and our report time of 8 AM is fast approaching, so this will be it for now.
~~Rainy Friday at Sea, December 2nd~~
Our first day at sea since departing Lahaina, Maui, last evening, it has seen slight to moderate seas resulting in a rather continuous rocking back and forth motion -- nothing terrible -- and now it is raining outside; apparently we are passing through a storm system. The sun was shining brightly earlier but now it is overcast, or course.
Today will be a particularly lazy day for me, with nothing of great import scheduled; later I want to partake of the Pub Lunch in the Crown Grill and then the next activity will be our Captain's Circle Party at 7 PM preceding dinner at 8 PM. This is our second formal evening with one more to come before we reach Ensenada, Mexico, on Tuesday; I think now that I will schedule our Champagne Balcony Breakfast -- gift from Patric, our travel agent -- for that morning since we don't arrive there until 4 PM. Then we have a shortened winery tour from 4:10 until 7:10 PM, visiting only one winery, L.A. Cetto, this time. Another repeat!
Yesterday in Maui we chose to repeat the ship's excursion up to the summit of Haleakala, or at least to the visitor's center at 9740 feet, with an included lunch at the Maui Tropical Plantation on our way back to the tender port in Lahaina; we took this same tour a few years ago in 2008, and yesterday's was equally enjoyable.
Again we were MOST fortunate to have an exceptionally clear day on the Mountain and our bus ride up along the many switchbacks gave spectacular views of Maui's Central Valley, the town of Kahului on the north shore, the airport, as well as the shoreline on the south shore leading to Lahaina. The warm sunshine at the visitor's center made our jackets almost unnecessary. Excellent views of the Mauna Kea and the Mauna Loa volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii were clearly in sight.
A further hike or ride up to the very summit is possible but not in our large tour buses. Once when here years ago I had rented a car and drove all the way to the very top, but my arrival then was greeted with a thick cloud cover; so yesterday we were MOST fortunate.
The Maui Tropical Plantation is in the foothills of the Central Valley, near Kahului, and is a really beautiful location with many lush gardens, lawns, pools and fountains. Ducks swim happily on a pond just visible from the large dining area, and birds seem most happy in their home here. A buffet lunch included DELICIOUS barbeque chicken along with excellent Ono fish, accompanied by a green salad, grilled potato slices, and many fresh fruits: pineapple, papaya, etc. It was a substantial lunch that was thoroughly enjoyed, and fortunately we were given an hour and a half to eat and then wander around the grounds. Also capping off the lunch was ice cream purchased at the nearby gift center, my choice being Pineapple; it was SINFULLY good!
Then it was back on our nice bus, driven by our guide Bobby who gave a most entertaining and informative narration throughout our tour. Born and raised on Maui he provided much private and local information about his life as well as that there in the Central Valley of Maui. Excellent tour!
Our arrival back at the tender dock was a few minutes before 3:30 PM, giving another hour and a half before the last tender back to the ship at 5 PM. So I walked back up to one of my favorite bars, BJ's Pizza on Main Street, on a second level balcony overlooking the street and waterfront, for a mai tai or two; I didn't find it: BJ's is now named the Lahaina Pizza Company, with the same location, ownership, management, etc. so I still enjoyed my TWO mai tais before returning to the tender dock to join the other 1,000 passengers in line. The mai tais were EXTRA good, made with Grand Marnier, Myers Rum, Myers Dark Rum, tropical fruit juices and liqueurs -- AND only $7.50! AND quite strong!
Finally seats on a tender were available and we returned to the ship where, after many minutes, the new driver was able to correctly pull the tender up next to the ship's fold-down tender dock, allowing all of us to disembark. It was well after 5 when I entered our stateroom -- and very ready for a nice glass of cold pinot grigio; the mai tais are, of course, on the sweet side. The end of my afternoon was "well-oiled" to say the least! Our departure was right on schedule at 6 PM.
Last evening my menu choice was medium rare Chateaubriand that was undoubtedly the VERY BEST I have EVER tasted! The best beef I have had thus far on this cruise. I really enjoyed every bite! Following dinner, and a time change for our clocks one hour back, it was to bed for me and I slept quite well until 7 AM this morning, despite the sea motion that started after we rounded the end of Maui and set course to the east and northeast for Ensenada, Mexico.
Now I need to get ready for my Pub Lunch of "Bangers and Mash" in the Crown Grill; should be different and good, along with a London Pride Ale, I hope. Sunday evening the six of us are having dinner in the Crown Grill, which requires a $25 surcharge, but the steaks, lobster, etc. are exceptional!
~~Saturday at Sea, December 3rd~~
It is just after noon here aboard the Golden Princess on our second day at sea since leaving Maui, Hawaii, night before last. The skies are lightly clouded with occasional breaks of sunshine and the temperature is still balmy and pleasant. However, the continuous strong winds are still creating a somewhat bumpy ride. Our mini-suite E723 on Emerald Deck 8 Aft experiences some left and right motion as well as some rolling motion, but not too bad now that I am becoming accustomed to it.
I slept well last night but still have been lazy this morning, having already watched one football game: University of Houston vs. Southern Mississippi, with the big upset result of 49-28, Southern Mississippi, ending Houston's perfect record. Now Baylor is battling Texas and leading by two touchdowns. My late breakfast of melon and pineapple, with a couple of Danish and a cappuccino coffee will suffice for now.
A wine tasting is scheduled for this afternoon at 3 PM, not yesterday as was previous reported; error in information. This is the one "for the masses" costing only $10.95 -- up from the $9.95 price it has been for years. (Do I smell the "Stench of Carnival" at work?) We Elite members of the Captain's Circle enjoy this wine tasting for free, and although the wines are not the "premium" ones as they were for the Maitre D' Wine Club - and there are fewer samples, the last is a sweet dessert wine served in a logo shot glass which is free to be taken by participants; I have a shelf-full of these by now.
Last evening was the second of the three formal nights with one of the four Captain's Circle Parties at 7 PM in the Vista Lounge on Promenade Deck 7 Aft, directly beneath our stateroom on Emerald Deck 8; with over 2,000 Captain's Circle members aboard, 4 such parties are now necessary. Dressed in our finest -- tuxedos, gowns, etc. - we are greeted at the door by the Captain, Ronald Wilson of Scotland, and then offered complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Recognition is then made to those in the Gold category, Platinum category, and the Elite category (us). The three "most-traveled passengers" aboard are recognized and gifted, a couple with over 1,000 days at sea coming in first. At only 284 days I have a long way to go.
Dinner last evening in the Donatello Dining Room was extra special and very enjoyable. Afterwards at 10:15 PM we attended another production show, "Caliente," in the Princess Theater with the wonderfully gifted singers and dancers performing VERY lively calypso-style music and dance, much to the unanimous approval of the audience. So it was another late night for me, but no requirement NOT to sleep in this morning.
Tomorrow evening 6 of us are dining in the Crown Grill: Bev & Brian, Patric & Lorin, Jim & Me. There is a surcharge of $25 pp but the menu items are spectacular: lobster, porterhouse steaks, fillet mignon, etc. Too bad that "doggy bags" are not appropriate. We have twice before done this specialty dining room and once the Sabatini's Italian Dining Room; both offer an over abundance of outstanding food, served leisurely over a lengthy period. The Crown Grill at one time was called the Sterling Steakhouse in honor of Lord Sterling, once the CEO of P&O that included Princess Cruises. Since Carnival has now taken over, any reference to Lord Sterling has now been eliminated; thanks again, Carnival!
I am now sitting on a banquet sofa just outside of the Vista Lounge while our cabin steward has a chance to service our stateroom. Then I will probably return there to view the rest of the Baylor-Texas football game until it is time for the 3 PM wine tasting. Life is really tough on a cruise ship!
~~NFL at Sea: Sunday, December 4th~~
Another day at sea with nothing better to do than watch football! Not being a fan of Bingo, Trivia, Karaoke, etc., it is nice to sit here in the "living room" of our mini-suite and watch a good NFL football game without cigarette smoke, cruise complaining, and rude passengers. Right now it is in the second half of the Green Bay -- NY Giants game with Green Bay leading 28-24. Earlier I watched Cincinnati -- Pittsburgh, the later easily winning 45-7.
Aboard only some of the games are piped to staterooms, some being only available in the Players Bar (smoking!), the Casino Bar (non-smoking? Yea, right!), and up on Sun Deck 15 on the giant MUTS screen -- out in the strong wind and cool temperatures, of course. So right here in Emerald 723 is just fine with me. Fortunately the Green Bay game was among those piped to stateroom TVs.
The sea continues to be "Slight" (1.5 -- 4 feet) to "Moderate" (4 -- 7 feet) resulting in considerable movement, back and forth and a little up and down, due mainly to the consistently strong winds we have had all the way from Hawaii, averaging 20 -- 30 knots per hour. With only partly clouded skies -- sometimes allowing sunshine to break through, no storm is involved; just these strong winds from the north.
Yesterday's wine tasting at 3 PM "for the masses" and priced at $9.50 -- complimentary for us Elite members -- was typical of others I have attended; everyone talking, no one listening, guzzling the 5 wine samples as soon as they are poured and even before being discussed... It was a class-less group to say the least; quite different from the more educated and interested group at the Maitre D' Wine Club last week -- which cost $25, of course. The lower the price, the lower the class.
I have been trying to print a Vancouver BC Weather Forecast for Bev & Brian from my laptop computer here in the room over the wireless network to the ship's printer in the Internet Center, printing which I have successfully done before. So around noontime I went down to see if it had printed as my computer had indicated; it had not, but the many blank pieces of paper there indicated to me that the printer might have been out of toner, or something. I'll try again tomorrow.
While down on Plaza Deck 5 I decided to check the length of the line waiting for the Pub Lunch at the Crown Grill and, finding none, decided to again enjoy the "Bangers and Mash" - only to find out that it was not on today's menu; I settled for fried prawns and "chips" along with another Bass Ale. Also good!
Tonight at 6:30 PM we are dining in the specialty restaurant, The Crown Grill, where exceptional menu items are offered for a surcharge of $25 pp: lobster, choice NY steaks, fillet mignon, etc. It should be very nice and worth the price for just a once-per-cruise extravagance. I will let you know tomorrow.
Well, back to football; Green Bay is now one point ahead but little time remains. I am rooting for Green Bay.
~~At Last! Smooth Seas on Monday, December 5th~~
After a rather rough night with lots of bumps and motion, this morning is remarkably smooth -- finally! None of our other Hawaii cruises have experienced such a long string of rough sea days -- even the one in December 2008. Tomorrow we arrive in Ensenada, Mexico, at 4 PM for a 4-hour port call so I have scheduled our Champagne Balcony Breakfast for 10 AM in the morning. It is always good! Its description will be in tomorrow's email.
Our dinner last evening in the Crown Grill was outstanding! My selections were a Tiger Prawn hors d'oeuvre and a tossed salad with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and avocado, topped with balsamic vinegar dressing. I skipped the soup selection.
My medium-rare fillet mignon was perfectly prepared and was exceptionally delicious - accompanied by three 4-ounce lobster tails with drawn butter: a great combination! Side dishes were served family-style on the table: sautÃ©ed mushrooms, grilled asparagus spears, creamed spinach, scalloped potatoes, etc. Mine was a FULL plate! NOTHING was left on it!
Fortunately, the leisurely dining period allowed for the enjoyment of each food item, along with a large glass of pinot noir wine for me. My dessert choice was a "Molten Dutch Chocolate" soufflÃ© along with a small serving of chocolate ice cream; the triple-chocolate was wonderful! After all of that, a nice cup of excellent brewed coffee really hit the spot. Our dining took almost 3 hours! Well worth the $25 surcharge!
Last night saw our second and final time change, now back to Pacific Standard Time; these time changes on days at sea are easily accommodated.
Today is another leisurely sea day with our third and last formal evening tonight, preceded at 7:15 PM by the Captain's Farewell Party in the Atrium: complimentary drinks! Tomorrow will be busy with our breakfast and then later a short visit in Ensenada with an abbreviated winery tour, required by our 8 PM departure. And then there is that PACKING! Ugh! The very worst part of any cruise! Fortunately we are not flying home so no concern need be expended on weighty luggage, etc. We will just hire a taxi for the short ride to Jim's Long Beach apartment.
Of course, this morning the front desk is besieged by angry, rude and inconsiderate passengers contesting charges on their shipboard account: "I don't remember buying THAT!" Etc., etc. This is my 22nd Princess cruise and on only one or two occasions have I EVER found an error in my shipboard account! They are just that good!
So I will be with you again tomorrow!
~~Champagne Balcony Breakfast: Tuesday, December 6th~~
What a spectacular morning! Absolutely cloudless with bright sunshine streaming onto our balcony -- starboard, facing south. My choice of this morning for our Champagne Balcony Breakfast was a good one!
Promptly at 10 AM, room server Marcelo of Santiago, Chile, knocked on our door with our lavish Champagne Balcony Breakfast; it took several trips from the hallway for him to bring all 7 covered plates, coffee pot, champagne bucket of ice and the half champagne bottle, orange juice, coffee cups, cream and sugar. He moved our inside table -- covered with a tablecloth - out onto the balcony alongside the patio table there and loaded BOTH tables. Here is what we had:
- Cold Smoked Salmon: 2 plates, each with Dill Cream Cheese Balls on Endive Spears and Toasted Lemon Brioche; (slices of salmon rolled into a "rose" centered on the plate with fresh lemon wedges)
- Quiche Lorraine: 2 plates, each with a Baked Tomato topped with melted Fontina Cheese Gratin, accompanied by a tossed greens salad
- Medley of Fresh Fruits and Forest Berries in a Cantaloupe Half with Clover Honey Chantilly CrÃ¨me
- Oven Fresh Breakfast Pastries
- Nicolas Feuillate Brut Champagne, Chilled Half Bottle
- Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice and Carafe of Fresh Brewed Coffee
It was quite a feast! On most recent cruises we have been so gifted by Patric, my travel agent and friend; it is QUITE an onboard gift, thoroughly enjoyed by yours truly!
Our arrival in Ensenada this afternoon at 4 PM will be immediately followed by our winery tour, up to the 1500 feet high Guadalupe Valley where we will visit the L.A. Cetto Winery; we have previously been to this winery and it is very nice with excellent wines. Unfortunately, their output is not sufficient for export and their wines are not available to us in California. There are now over 30 wineries in this beautiful valley high above the port city of Ensenada; quite a change from my first visit many years ago.
The remainder of today will be devoted to that wonderful task of PACKING! Ugh! Our two weeks to Paradise is almost at its end, and then it will be back to everyday life. I'm not sure what I'll do without the over abundance of fine foods, fresh towels twice a day, room service, and vistas out over the waves of the Pacific Ocean. But I'll try!
~~Ensenada Winery Tour: Tuesday, December 6th~~
Since our time in port on this cruise had been reduced to 4 hours, our winery tour was also shortened, allowing for a visit to only one winery, L.A. Cetto. Also, the time of day for our tour departure -- 4:15 PM -- meant that sunset would occur during our 45-minute journey from the dock up to the high valley of Guadalupe. Indeed it was dark when we arrived at the winery, and our visit there did not include a tour of the winery facilities but only the tasting room, which was just fine with most of us. Having been there on previous occasions during the daytime, I was already familiar with the working areas of the winery.
Our group was rather small, perhaps a dozen, so we had been loaded into a small bus for our trip. With only about 15 minutes to go until our arrival at the winery, there was a loud bang followed by loud flapping noises from the rear of the bus; we had thrown a tire tread! Being in a very remote area with no repair facilities nearby, our driver very slowly proceeded the rest of the way to L.A. Cetto, and our guide telephoned for a replacement bus to return us to the ship after our tour.
Even after the delay due to the tire failure, we were still given a lengthy visit in the tasting room with generous samples of 6 or 8 different white and red wines, all very good. I chose for purchase two bottles, a "Blanc de Blanc" white wine and a choice Nebbiolo red wine, similar to a pinot noir. These I carried off the ship the next morning on arrival in Los Angeles.
The trip back to the ship was uneventful and everyone soon forgot the earlier difficulties, having been "soothed" by our wine tasting. Arrival at the dock permitted only a few minutes of shopping in the terminal shops before reboarding the Golden Princess for the last time. My favorite bar in the terminal, serving outstanding margaritas made from scratch with fresh limes, was no longer there, so I joined the line of passengers passing through security and was soon back in our stateroom on Emerald Deck 8 well before the "all aboard" announcement at 7:30 PM. Dinner was scheduled at 8 PM.
As has become the custom on Princess cruises, the last evening celebrates the cadre of chefs with a parade of them all around the dining room with the diners waving their napkins high above their heads. Then another parade of the assistant waiters in the darkened dining room each displaying a Baked Alaska topped with LED "candles" culminated our last dining experience. My menu choice was again a slice of excellent prime rib, medium rare.
Following our late dinner was a combined passenger talent show preceding the passenger hula dancers accompanied by the ukulele band, which was an unfortunate combination because of the excessive length; it was MUCH too long, and most interest was in the last performance by the hula dancers and the ukulele players. The choice of the Vista Lounge was also unfortunate because of the packed, over-flowing crowd; not an empty seat and few places to stand! The Princess Theater would have been much better.
I finally gave up and left, retreating to my stateroom where my packing was only in its beginning stages. Finishing off a bottle of wine I didn't want to haul back home, the unpleasant job was eventually done and our four pieces of luggage were placed outside the door in the hallway for collection around midnight. I also noticed that ours were not the only ones to have been put out so late. By 2 AM they were all gone.
~~Disembarkation: Wednesday, December 7th~~
We had been requested to vacate our stateroom by 8 AM, which we did, and then went to have breakfast in one of the dining rooms, our disembarkation time being among the last. Little by little, the group of waiting passengers in the Elite Lounge diminished as their baggage tag colors was called, and right on schedule our color was called shortly before 9:30 AM.
Departing the ship, routinely passing through Passport Control and easily locating our uniquely marked luggage (fluorescent orange, yellow and lime green duct tape strips) in the large baggage holding area, we summoned a steward with a big cart who took us through Customs and out of the terminal to the taxi stand where shortly we got a taxi for the 30-minute ride back to Jim's Long Beach apartment.
Our trip was over.