Thankfully, the heat wave has broken, and the temperature has dropped a dozen degrees.
Today is the last of our three sea days, which as I mentioned before is a relatively small number for a voyage of this length. But something else occurred to me concerning our three sea days. On each of our days at sea we have cruised by a scenic opportunity close enough to bring most of us out of our cabins, away from the casino and off of our Lido Deck loungers. On the first sea day we cruised through the straits of Messina between Sicily and the tip of the boot of Italy; on the second, as described, we flowed through the narrowing channel of the Dardanelles. Today we would curve our course slightly to have a close encounter with Stromboli, a volcanic island.
Fortunately, my balcony cabin was on the same side of the ship facing Stromboli. This allowed for a private, uncrowded railing to lean on, not to mention the conviviality of chatting with my neighbors (on their adjacent balcony) as we slowly approached the island. Stromboli is a nearly symmetrical conical shape thrusting out of the sea. Beginning about an hour before our closest approach, the island appeared shrouded in mist on the horizon, but even that far away, the steam clouds at the summit were easily discernable.
As we got closer we could clearly see that these clouds were emanating from within the mountain, as their movement was vertical, not horizontal. And as we moved in further we could see the main village of the island sitting at the foot of the volcano. I couldn't help but think of the late residents of Herculaneum in the shadow of Vesuvius. On closer examination, however, it was clear to see that the paths of lava flows were on the opposite flanks of the cone.
But then something amazing happened. As we made our closest approach to the island it was as if Captain Massimo Marino had flipped a switch in the bridge, as all of a sudden, amid the clouds of steam, Stromboli belched out a mushroom cloud of dark smoke and (presumably) ash. Later, I was conversing with the bartender at Bar Nouveau and asking him how often such "puffs" occurred. He told me with a rueful bittersweet grin that he had missed it -- he was covering for one of the other bartenders -- but in all the times he had passed Stromboli, he had never seen anything during daylight hours like what we saw today. We truly were lucky.
Because of all the excitement, John Heald's debarkation talk was postponed slightly till Stromboli had drifted to the horizon behind us. Having not had much opportunity to enjoy reclining around the pool (mainly because of the heat), I decided to stake out a chaise and watch the debarkation talk on the giant Seaside Theater screen. It was an uncrowded and comfortable way to get this bit of debarkation business out of the way. I also have noted, in my travels back and forth across the Lido Deck, that there always seems to be a decent number of available lounges, even though John Heald, in his onboard blog, says that hogging of lounges is the number one complaint people e-mail him.
I was close to the grill station, so I decided to hang around the pool for lunch as well. In addition to the typical hot dogs and hamburgers, Freedom's grill station also serves up delicious steak sandwiches, one of which I enjoyed with a side of crispy French fries fresh out of the deep fryer. Before I returned to my stateroom I stuck around the pool for a game of "Famous Faces Trivia," played on the Seaside Theater screen.
True to the pattern of scheduling production shows on sea days, tonight's entertainment offering would be the final presentation, a tribute to the Beatles titled "Ticket to Ride." On most such evenings Carnival Freedom schedules the show time for late seating diners first (show at 7 p.m.) and the early seating diners second (show at 9 p.m.). I like this arrangement because it wraps up the entertainment fairly early for both seatings, and leaves the 10:45 p.m. slot open for shipboard activities, so that everyone onboard can participate regardless of dining preference. It also allows those who wish to retire early the opportunity to see the entertainment, which appealed to me since tomorrow we would be calling at Livorno, where we'd face a long touring day with early morning departures for most.
I have already been impressed by one show this cruise, but tonight's performance was something truly special, and I would not be overstating the case to say that I was totally blown away. The sets, scripting, choreography, musical performances and stagecraft were fantastic. The special effects included a laser light show and a surprising combination of computer animation and live action on stage that I won't describe in detail to protect the surprise factor. At the finale the entire audience -- a majority of whom, I daresay, came of age during the era of the Beatles -- were on their feet waving light sticks in the air.
This is a show not to be missed.