Holland America Line Veendam
Canada/New England Cruise
5 July - 13 July 2013
Cast: Me (Eve aka Momma, 43) and Amina (DD, 16)
Seth (hubby) and Rhys (son) were taking a Boy Scout Northern Tier canoe expedition for 2 weeks and were not going to accompany us on this trip - it was our first "Girls Only" trip.
This report along with pictures are located on my blog: kidoctr.blogspot.com (that's why there are a bunch of lines between paragraphs). We are major FOODIES and there are a ton of food pictures on my blog and why there's such a focus on our meals during this trip. I'm used to writing Disney trip reports so that's the format of this review.
Thursday, 4 July 2013 and Friday, 5 July 2013 Dallas, Quebec City
The trip to Quebec City via Dallas was straight-forward enough. We actually left Enid on the 4th of July to drive to Dallas but only after I spent about half an hour checking us in on Delta online. Even though I had requested seats when I bought the tickets, we were seated apart on the flight from Dallas to JFK. I had our boarding passes sent to our phones but then went back and looked at getting us re-seated. $25 per bag to check in and then another $39 per person to upgrade to economy plus so we could be seated together. It was all kinda fishy to me - pretty scam-like, really.
Amina drove us down to Dallas, observing the speed limit EXACTLY all the way down. It took over 5 hours including a navigation mishap just a few miles from the exit to get to my sister's house. The problem in Dallas is when you miss an exit, you have to drive at least 10 more miles to try and get back to where you need to go. We finally arrived at my sister's house around 5 pm. I only had to say something about her driving maybe half a dozen times. That was the most highway driving she had ever done and there were still a good number of issues that came up simply because she didn't have the experience yet.
We went out to dinner a little bit early to Chuy's which wasn't crowded at all given the holiday. The Southwest enchiladas were great but I could only finish half of it and saved the rest for tomorrow's breakfast. We returned back to Dee and Jason's house and hung out until around 9. The girls got in Amina's Prius and drove to Lake Dallas - mostly because the twins wanted to be in the car with Amina driving - and vice versa. At just after 9, we piled into the car and drove just across I-35E to watch the fireworks from one of the subdivisions. It was a pretty good fireworks show, the evening was cool enough, and we weren't eaten up by bugs while sitting in the parking lot of a closed shop. The girls spent a good chunk of the night trying to learn the "cup song" from the movie "Pitch Perfect" - what a racket they made.
The next morning, we ate leftovers for breakfast and were out the door at 8 am to head for the airport. Jason dropped us off after telling me about the total solar eclipse in 2017 and how I needed to plan our trip to enjoy it. The eclipse will last for 20 minutes and will occur around 12:30 pm CST in the northern states. It sounds like the makings of a fun trip.
On the way to JFK, I purchased each of us a wifi pass on the airplane - $14 each for a one day pass. It was kinda fun having internet access while on the flight. The speed was pretty darned good. The flight left Dallas a little late. We were just getting our boarding passes scanned when they sent passengers back from the boarding ramp because of a "maintenance issue". We waited about half an hour before getting to board.
We arrived into JFK at around 4 pm and were disappointed to see that we had arrived into terminal 2 - not terminal E as I had looked up online. I had scoped out a place for us to eat in terminal E called the Shake Shack but the restaurants in terminal 2 were beyond pitiful. We were told by a security guard that we were on a "domestic" flight to Canada and not an "international" flight which I thought was really funny.
So, we left terminal 2 to go and look for something to eat since we had about 2.5 hours - found terminal 5 where the best rated restaurants (sushi, italian, and tapas) were located but were turned away because we weren't Jet Blue passengers. What?? The only decent places to eat in JFK and we couldn't get in? That's crazy. So we made our way back to terminal 2 and settled for Wendy's. The good thing about terminal 2, though, is the abundance of seating that had outlets and complimentary ipad stations. We ate our dinner while playing hangman on the ipad.
The flight out of JFK was also delayed. I'm not sure how long we sat at the gate and then on the tarmac because I fell asleep - it was at least an hour and a half - we didn't leave until around 7:30. The explanation we were given: there was some mix-up which resulted in a "missing passenger" and it took them a really long time to sort it out. It was past 9:30 pm when we finally arrived into Quebec City. Customs was a breeze - very fast and we collected our bags, caught a taxi and paid the flat $34.25 to get to the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Our taxi driver, from Morrocco, was very pleasant and had never been in the U.S. He told us his impression of the U.S. was of people who didn't work and had fun all the time. Ha!
My initial impression of Quebec City at night was a little surprising as we had been to Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto before. Quebec City is very different - the closest to being to a real foreign country while in Canada. As Toronto is like watching an English movie with French subtitles, Quebec City is like watching a French movie with English subtitles. There wasn't a single person we met who didn't speak at least some English but all of the stores, ads, signs, etc, were in French with very little English around. People were mostly friendly but there's definitely that distinct "snooty" French feel to the city.
We were dropped off in front of our hotel passing a ton of pedestrians along the way - apparently there was some sort of art festival going on right now and even though it was 10 pm, it was very crowded and alive with activity. We decided that even though it was late, we had to go out and walk around some after we checked in.
Compared to the airport and customs, check-in at the world famous Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac was a different story. Our suitcases were immediately taken by a bell man and we walked into the lobby and found what looked like the front desk just off to the right. There were 2 queues - one that had a small sign for the Fairmont President's Club and another that was unmarked. We naturally got into the unmarked queue. There was a check-in desk on the left and the President's Club desk on the right. The check-in desk to the left was empty. There were 2 gentlemen at the President's Club desk busy with patrons who seemed to alternate between speaking English and French. We waited patiently for someone to show up at the unmarked check-in desk while the people in the other queue were helped by the gentlemen at the President's Club desk.
After about 5 minutes, another couple joined us in our queue and I asked them to make sure they were also trying to check in. I understand that it's a little late but nobody showed up to check us in. I finally asked the staff member who had come over to the check-in desk and was busily emptying the garbage bins when someone would be by to check us in. 10 minutes had passed. He directed us to the other desk to check in but there was a constant stream of people in the other "President's Club" queue. It was really weird. Finally, Amina hopped the rope and stood in the other queue while I stayed in my queue. The couple behind us did the same. We were tired of being passed by people in the other queue. Finally, it was our turn and we were checked in. The staff member, of course, never questioned whether we were club members.
When I had booked the hotel, it was really by accident. I was tossing around the idea of staying at this beautiful hotel but it was very exensive and we were getting in so late and would have to check out the following morning to embark. I was looking at a package and entered my CC information to see what the total would be and - VOILA - I was booked. Oops. So we collected our "free" gift which was a cute stuffed animal wearing a jacket that said Aquarium du Quebec and branded on the back with the Fairmont logo.
Our room had 2 beds and was a typical European type room. We were greeted with a plate that had pieces of delicious nougat and dried orange peels along with a small bottle of locally made honey.
We snacked while waiting for our bags to arrive. The room wasn't really special but the bathroom had a lot of marble and, though small, was very nice. Internet via wifi was an additional $15 for 24 hours.
We got our luggage some 15 minutes or so later and decided to go out for a quick walk maybe find something to snack on. We strolled by the large statue where a guy was doing a show in French and went over to the railing by the funicular to peek at the cruise terminal and were pleasantly surprised to see the Veendam was already docked. I had no idea that it was arriving the day before. We then walked around the block and had stopped at a restaurant serving some nice pizza but we were told that they didn't do to go so we abandoned that idea. I guess they didn't really want our business. We ended up getting some gelato at a small shop a block over from the hotel and made our way back to the hotel to turn in. I played some mafia wars for a little while and went to sleep. Amina skyped with Bryce until about 3 in the morning.
Saturday, 6 July, 2013 Quebec City
I was probably still on central time because, like clockwork, I woke up at 6 am and tried to go back to sleep for the next hour finally getting out of bed at 7. I showered and packed up my things, got on the internet for a little while to do my Mafia Wars chores, and then went out to walk around.
My first stop was the railing by the funicular because I wanted to get a picture of the Veendam.
I picked up a coffee at Starbucks (which was the one and only time I saw a business give a 1% discount for the exchange rate with USD) and then walked around the block in the other direction. The closest restaurant to the hotel was a crepe place and I was shocked to see some crepes priced as much as $24. I walked for about half an hour and then headed back to the hotel. The weather was pretty nice not hot at all. I think by later in the afternoon it probably reached the mid-80's.
I went back to our hotel but stopped by the front desk to ask about our aquarium passes that we were supposed to get as a part of our package. We hadn't received them with the stuffed animal and it wasn't in our room so the hotel staff guy gave me a voucher for the 2 of us to get into the aquarium. I asked about transportation and found out our options at the concierge desk the green line shuttle that would pick up near the hotel at 10:30 am and return from the aquarium at 2:25 pm for $5 round trip per person. I went back to the room and uploaded a bunch of pictures to our photo site, kidoctr.smugmug.com. I had gotten a little behind in uploading pictures so I got caught up again.
At around 11:30, I woke Amina up so we could get packed up, checked out and make our way to the cruise terminal. My original plan was to just walk to the terminal because it was so close but because the hotel was in the upper part of town with steep streets, stairs or the funicular (like a tram on tracks where we had seen them squeeze people in like sardines), I thought it was just easier to take a taxi with our luggage. We checked out via the television in the room and then made arrangements to visit the aquarium on Sunday through concierge but I was a little worried about how late the shuttle picked us up from the aquarium. The Veendam was to leave at 4 pm so I was thinking all aboard was probably going to be 3 or 3:30. Being picked up at the aquarium at 2:25, returning to the Fairmont, and then making our way back to the terminal was going to be tight.
We took a taxi to the cruise terminal and spent more on the wait to get into the terminal in the taxi than we did the actual ride from the hotel total was $15. Our taxi driver was pretty grumpy too.
I had attached baggage tags to our suitcases that morning it was very interesting the way HAL was doing it now. We never received our docs in the mail as we had for every other cruise we've ever been on. I pre-registered us online and printed out our embarkation information as well as the luggage tags. The tags were just folded up and wrapped around the suitcase handle and was to be either taped or stapled. Since we didn't have a stapler, I had borrowed some tape from Dee and Jason's house putting a couple strips of tape inside my file folder and then a couple of shorter pieces over those strips so I could peel them off to use. I filled out the tags with our cabin number and taped them on it was very low tech, but it worked just fine. The bell men whisked our suitcases away and we entered the terminal.
Up the escalator to the 2nd floor where we made a right turn and went around a couple of corners to the table where we filled out the typical health questionnaire: are you sick; have you been vomiting or having diarrhea; etc etc. We went through security check and didn't wait long at all before we were in front of an agent who checked our passports, my credit card, and issued us our key cards. It was a very quick process.
We walked past the rows of chairs where there were a bunch of people sitting and using their various electronic gadgets taking advantage of the free wifi in the terminal. After the obligatory embarkation photos, we walked the long passageways leading to the ship.
Our cabin was #588, large oceanview we had been upgraded so our cabin was on the same deck as embarkation Main deck, 5. Unfortunately, we had to go all the way to the back of the ship and make a U-turn to reach our cabin because the doorway was blocked during embarkation. I was so happy that our cabin was ready but when we entered, I saw right away that they hadn't arranged our room correctly even though I had called them a few days before we left.
I had noticed on our embarkation papers that we had requested a single queen bed. When I called to have this changed, the gentleman informed me that when we were upgraded, the default choice was for the single queen and that he would change it to 2 separate beds. Amina's a kicker while she sleeps so I definitely didn't want to share a bed with her. Our stateroom attendant was nowhere to be found so we went up to the dining room for some lunch.
One of the luggage porters gave us directions to the Lido deck for the buffet but I knew that the Mariners had an embarkation lunch in the main dining room (MDR) so we headed there instead and were seated right away. We met Donna from Florida who was doing the back-to-back trip with her husband who was out in the city taking pictures (one-way from Boston to QC and then stay aboard for the return trip). She was a former English teacher and we had a wonderful conversation with her over lunch. I had made the decision to really try and avoid gaining the usual 5-8 pounds on this cruise so I just had water and a fruit plate (and a bit of Amina's hamburger and cole slaw). Later, I had a special K protein bar too. We had reservations at a really nice restaurant for dinner and I definitely didn't want to spoil my appetite. I was very excited to have gotten this reservation and it was going to be Amina's first time at a AAA 5 diamond restaurant.
By the time that we got back to our cabin, our luggage had arrived placed inside the cabin instead of outside the door which was very nice. We spent some time unpacking and our room steward dropped by so I asked him to change our sleeping arrangements. I called 88 on our phone to make dinner reservations.
We were open dining but I had heard that on HAL, this really didn't mean come by anytime to eat dining as it was on our other cruises. I had read that if you showed up without a reservation, it wasn't unusual to have to wait for a bit. I was told that we could only make dinner reservations up to 3 days in advance so I only made reservations for 7 pm on Sunday night and then 6:45 pm on Monday evening (our day at sea the first formal night). On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, we had reservations at the 3 specialty restaurants. I would have to call back on Tuesday to make dinner reservations for Friday night. I was a little disappointed to find out that the 2nd formal night was on Thursday instead of Friday the night that we had reservations at the Pinnacle Grill. Oh well. I didn't try to change our reservations. What a weird and sort of messed up open dining system.
We gathered our things and decided to do a quick tour of the ship so we went up to the top and made our way down. Our first stop was the Loft (teen club) which was deserted. There were activities that evening until very late in the Loft but we had 8 pm dinner reservations so Amina wasn't going to be able to make it. She wasn't really worried about trying to meet up with the other teens on board. We took a spa tour and signed up for the drawings, walked through the lido buffet, found the hamburger station as well as the pizza station, walked by the ample number of bars, and made it back to our cabin to pick up a few things before we headed out to the city. We found out that it was all aboard on Sunday at 3:30 so I thought we would have time to make it out to the aquarium and back.
I had planned for us to take the walking tour described in the Tom's Port Guides that I had downloaded but it proved to be too much of a hassle with my ipad and trying to figure out directions so we just wandered for the next couple of hours, found the touristy streets, the entrance to the funicular, the wall paintings, and wandered into a few interesting looking stores.
We sampled maple water which was really good low calorie with just a hint of maple taste and bought some. We had also walked into a store selling nougat and sampled the maple one and bought a bar. We picked up some chocolates from a chocolate shop that reminded me a great deal of the chocolate shop we were taken to during a tour of Paris. We also followed the sign to a small shop where we decided to try the beaver tail which was essentially like funnel cake, deep fried into the shape of a beaver's tail and you could choose from one of 9 toppings. We chose maple and it was quite good but the little shop was terribly hot even though we were able to pick up wifi in there.
We also wandered into a bakery and picked up a few macaroons.
A note on wifi and connectivity. Prior to leaving, I had purchased 50 international text messages on AT&T for each of our iphones as a precautionary measure ($10 per phone). International calling minutes weren't going to be worthwhile unless we planned to talk for more than 30 minutes. I also added data to my phone to use while in the Canadian ports ($120). Interestingly, in Quebec City, we were picking up free wifi right and left EXCEPT in the hotel.
It was getting really hot and we had been out for a couple of hours so we headed back to the terminal at around 4:30 pm and hung out there to get our internet fix. I even went back to our cabin to get my laptop and was pleasantly surprised at how fast the wifi was (after all, I had more Mafia Wars chores
to do). The terminal was freezing too and by the time we left, I was a popsicle. I was kinda kicking myself for not noticing that we had an extra day in port at QC we could have saved the $399 that I spent to stay at the Fairmont and arrived on the day of embarkation but I'm glad we didn't because we would have been arriving very late that night missing a day in the city and I noticed later that afternoon, the luggage porters were gone and people were embarking with all of their suitcases in tow. We snacked on our macaroons and drank our maple water while surfing the net. It was funny that after walking around in Quebec City, the only thing that we bought was food.
I headed back to our cabin at around 7 to get ready for dinner rinsed off in the shower and changed clothes. Amina was already wearing a skirt that she planned on wearing to dinner. I went back to the terminal to get her and we walked the 1.5 blocks to Restaurant L'Initiale which we had passed a couple of times on our way to and from the terminal.
After just a bit of a language issue (my reservation was written as Stewart instead of Switzer) we were taken to our table in the corner. The restaurant was nice enough nothing really fancy and it wasn't terribly crowded. We both ordered the Grand Menu ($129 pp) and I also got the wine pairing ($79).
I've been to a good number of AAA five diamond restaurants it's on my bucket list to visit every single one in the world (there's around 50 of them in the US, Canada, Mexico, and a few other international destinations) we've knocked about half a dozen off the list so far in Las Vegas (3), Florida (1), and Oahu (1). Our most favorite AAA five diamond restaurant so far is at Disneyworld in Florida (Victoria and Alberts) but the one in Oahu is a very close second (La Mer) in my opinion. This one in Quebec City was good but there were a few things about the restaurant that I was a little surprised at given the five diamond rating.
After an okay amuse bouche of tomatoes and cucumber with an arugula sauce that was really strong, the flounder was delicious but after I had taken a few bites, I realized that I hadn't been served the wine pairing. Come to find out that they did not do a pairing with this appetizer. Odd.
The roasted Cepes mushrooms with Jerusalem artichoke, nougatine, and chicken broth was very good although the nougat pieces were just a little too sweet in my opinion and the dish would have stood well just on its own without the candy. The wine pairing was good.
The red tuna with eggplant and pepper was actually a 2-in-1 with some gently seared pieces of tuna as well as a tuna tartare. It was also very good and paired well with the white wine but I was surprised that they poured the same wine with the next course, the lobster with fennel. It did not pair as well with the lobster.
At this point I had to use the bathroom and went downstairs briefly and returned to find that our next course, the seared foie gras, had already been served. Also odd. The foie gras was absolutely wonderful and, of course, my favorite paired with a sweet wine that went well.
Amina commented that she was getting pretty full by now and I had to agree. The next course was the main course: veal loin with sweetbreads. We joked a lot about the sweetbreads and the fact that Amina had recently dissected a sheep's brain in her University of Georgia brain, intelligence, and creativity summer studies class. The veal was ok definitely not my favorite and neither were the sweetbreads. I had to take a 2nd picture of the sweetbreads because it was easy to see the sulci and gyri at this angle. I can't remember the wine pairing it was probably also just ok.
The cheese course was next and the hard cheese (I forgot what kind it was) was very good but the soft cheese sitting on top of the rhubarb wasn't as good. The rhubarb was just too tart. For dessert, we have chocolate flan with a cocoa bread, cherries topped with raw almonds and a side of caramel ice cream. I'm not a fan of chocolate nor of mousse this dessert more closely resembled a mousse than a flan. I also can't remember the wine except that I liked it because it was sweet.
Our last course were strawberries with parfait cormier it was good but there was no pairing with this last course. The final odd thing of the night.
We finished at just short of 11 pm and were given some Madelines to take home with us. Overall, I like this restaurant, the service was attentive, the food good not a ton of creativity points. Maybe just a smidge disappointed given the price because 2 courses were not paired with wine, 2 were paired with the same wine, and being served a course while I wasn't at the table is a bit of a faux pas. (Yes, I'm that picky). We walked back to the ship and went immediately to bed.
Sunday, 7 July 2013 Quebec City
I got up early again, stopped at the Lido buffet to get coffee (I had brought my own travel mug) and took my laptop back out to the terminal to do my Mafia Wars chores, upload pictures, and update my Facebook. I was going to miss the wifi in the terminal - it was more than decently fast.
When I returned to the cabin, I had forgotten that Amina had ordered room service for breakfast to be delivered between 8 and 8:30. She had finished her breakfast of cereal and yogurt and had gotten back in bed again we didn't have to leave until around 9:45 to be back at the Fairmont by 10:15. I ate some fruit and put the box of granola cereal into my backpack to take with us to the aquarium.
We walked back into QC and found the funicular, paid the $5 per person and boarded immediately. It must have been relatively early because the funicular wasn't nearly as crowded as we had seen it before.
After the brief ride up to the top, we went into the Fairmont to the tour desk and paid the $5 per person fee for the green line shuttle to the Aquarium that we had reserved the day before we were given green wristbands for the ride. After a bathroom stop and buying a drink at Starbuck's for Amina, we sat outside of Starbuck's for a little bit until the green line shuttle arrived. When the passengers got off the shuttle, the driver told us it would be a little bit before he left (10:30 am) so we had a seat on the bench and Amina noticed that the red double decker tour bus in front of our shuttle had free wifi so we both connected and I was actually able to upload some photos to Facebook while we waited.
The shuttle took an AWFULLY long time to get to the aquarium I was watching the clock because I was a little worried about making it back to the Fairmont in time to walk back and re-embark before sail away at 4. When we finally arrived at the aquarium (after stopping at one hotel twice and dropping some women off at the shopping mall), it had been almost 45 minutes! I asked the shuttle driver what time he thought the next shuttle (2:25 pm) would arrive back at the Fairmont. 3:10 pm he said. I really didn't think that was going to work for us we would have to find alternate transportation back to the ship. We waited in a pretty long line at the aquarium only 2 windows of 7 were open. It was also getting pretty warm standing in the sun.
When it was finally our turn, we presented our voucher and had our hands stamped and went into the aquarium. I was looking for the information center to make transportation arrangements but the door signage was confusing. It probably would've helped if we had spoken French. The gift shop/guest services door said exit on them and I took that to mean that we needed to find the entrance so we went around to the other side of the building and walked in but it turned out to be the jelly fish and sea horse exhibit.
This exhibit was VERY interesting and the highlight of our aquarium trip, in my opinion. They had so many different types of jelly fish in very cool tall displays some reminiscent of Finding Nemo and some with tentacles longer than I was tall. Jellyfish have no brains and are, well, beautiful but just plain creepy. One display was particularly interesting comparing how poisonous a type of jellyfish was compared to the cobra and other poisonous animals. The jellyfish won handily. The last part of the jellyfish exhibit was a huge wall of jellyfish with alternating colored lights it was just gorgeous and, well, creepy.
The sea horse exhibit was fun with some of the most beautiful sea horses that I've ever seen. I learned that it's the male sea horses that carry the babies.
We made our way to the other large building which held the fish and sharks. I stopped at the information booth to ask about alternate transportation arrangements and was told to have the guest service center just call for a taxi. The highlights of this building included a very close up look at an octopus (they just look nothing like how they are depicted in cartoons and stuffed animals), a particularly pesky sting ray that seemed to beg to be touched, a blue lobster, and an underwater fish viewing tunnel.
We left that building and went outside for a little bit it was probably in the mid 80's by now not too bad in the shade but just a bit uncomfortable in the sun. We hopped (ok, walked) some lily pads in the small garden pond and then made our way over to see the seals, walruses and polar bears.
At the conclusion of this portion of the aquarium, we were pretty much done and it was around 1 pm. We went back to the fish building to check out the cafe but nothing really appealed to us so we decided to call a cab and go back to the ship to have something to eat.
We went back to the gift shop/guest services center and went in the door that said exit, asked the lady at the register to call a cab, looked around a bit then went outside to snack on granola cereal and wait for the taxi. It wasn't but 10 minutes when the taxi arrived and took us back to the ship the fare was about $25. The taxi driver was very friendly pointing out a large pile of salt that they use on the roads when it snows and told us that the record was in 2008 when they received 17 FEET of snow. We don't even get 17 inches in Oklahoma let alone 17 feet.
We arrived back to the cruise terminal and after enjoying the free wifi for the last time briefly, we got back on the ship and decided to try the grill on the lido deck where they offered different types of burgers (beef, lamb, turkey, vegetarian) as well as hot dogs (beef and turkey). The line moved very slowly with just one cook in the grill filling orders and cooking the food. While we were waiting in line, we met Tatiana and her family she recognized us and introduced herself and her daughter Alex as well as her 2 younger children. We had met on Cruise Critic and had texted each other prior to the cruise having a lot in common. We enjoyed our food (beef hotdog for me and turkey burger for Amina) and then went our separate ways for the life boat drill. I think this was the first drill that I've been to where they didn't make us bring our life jackets from the cabin. Eons ago, they used to make everyone wear the life jackets and then more recently, they just had you bring them with you and now they just have you report in for the drill. It was a little disorganized. I think part of the problem was that deck 6 really isn't wide enough to accommodate everyone along with the fact that there were a bunch of people who arrived late. The life boat drill captain repeated missing cabin numbers several times and eventually, everyone was accounted for in our group. They gave the usual speech about using the life jackets, etc and then made a final announcement daring the missing passengers to report in for a "special drill" later.
We then headed to the Crow's Nest for the Cruise Critic meet and greet. We weren't there very long but did meet up with John and Leslie who would be with us on a couple of our privately booked shore excursions. We left the party a little bit early to go to the spa and attend the drawing for free services but we didn't win anything. I had some time before dinner at 7 so I went back to the cabin and put on my workout clothes, returned to the gym, and got on the treadmill to run 3 miles.
After showering and changing, we headed to the Main Dining Room (MDR) for our first dinner on the ship. There were 2 lines at the MDR on deck 7 (people with assigned seating were on deck 8): one for those with reservations and one for those without. There was a pretty good group of people loitering around waiting for their pagers to go off.
The selection was really good we actually had trouble deciding on what to get and agreed to order different things and split so we could try a few things. I ordered the goat cheese with red onion jam and Amina got the salt cod and lobster cake. Both were very good.
Amina then had the chilled cranberry soup which she described as melted ice cream I had to agree. I got the New England clam chowder which was good but a little too much like soup than a chowder for Amina. As we were enjoying our soup, the older couple seated next to us raved about the lemon turkey spinach barley soup so we asked the waiter to bring us an additional cup of soup. Amina ordered the bay scallops and clams over noodles while I got the Seafood Pot Pie. Both were good as was the turkey spinach barley soup. For dessert, we tried the banana chocolate tart and whoopie pie.
When we returned to the cabin, there was a stingray waiting for us on my bed.
Amina went to meet some of the other kids at the Loft so I went to see the comedian by myself. He was really good and did a lot of improv and audience heckling. I was so tired after the show that I went straight to bed and Amina followed not too soon afterward.
Monday, 8 July 2013 Sea Day
We both slept in this morning but had received an invitation the night before to the Mariners' Brunch in the dining room at 11 am. Our clocks also went forward an hour. I got Amina up and we went to the brunch where I had the most delicious warm salmon on a salad. The braised beef short ribs were very good.
After brunch, Amina went off to meet some friends and I went to do a longer workout in the gym before my appointment for a deep tissue massage. I ran 5 miles on the treadmill but it took a really long time because I was trying to observe the 20 minute rule and kept taking breaks to make sure nobody was waiting to use the treadmills. I watched Zero Dark Thirty on my iPad as the tv monitor on several of the treadmills were broken, including mine. When I finally got done with my workout, it was about 1 pm and my massage appointment was at 2 so I checked in at the spa, was given a locker with a robe and slippers and went to take a shower. Unfortunately, there was no hair dryer or other bathroom products in the spa (eg lotion).
I went to the relaxation area and almost finished watching my movie when my massage therapist a gentleman from Yugoslavia came to get me for my deep tissue massage. He was pleasant enough and had what sounded like a Russian accent. We talked for a bit before, during, and after my massage he had previously worked on Carnival and found HAL to be a bit boring because of the older passengers on board. He did get a day off a week and had been on board for about 3 months. He was looking forward to the next cruise because they were changing their itinerary the Veendam was also going to Hawaii soon. He did a reasonably good job with my massage but was mostly fairly light pressure for being a deep tissue massage. I passed him up on the product sales portion of the treatment and thanked him then returned to the cabin to get ready for dinner. We had a reservation at 6:45 in the MDR it was our first formal night.
For dinner we had the prosciutto, genoa salami, melon and figs as an appetizer, the chicken and corn soup, and the filet of beef wellington. It was all pretty good but I did have to send my beef wellington back because the pastry was undercooked and there was still batter/dough on the inside even though the beef was well done. The 2nd plate I received was much better and I particularly enjoyed the duck foie gras that was sandwiched between the pastry and the beef. For dessert, the black forest cake was very good because I really love cherries.
I was so tired that night I decided to skip the show (some broadway like musical) and the movie (Safe Haven) to turn in a little bit early. This evening , we had a squid waiting in our cabin.
Tuesday, 9 July 2013 Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
We arrived into Charlottetown a bit after 8 am and were among some of the first to disembark from deck 3. We were to meet our tour guide from Duncan's Island Tours at 8:30 so we stopped off in the terminal building to take advantage of the wifi for a few minutes. I had received a few phone calls and had a couple of voicemails someone from Topor Boston tours had called to ask if I was still interested in the Chinatown market tour they had another couple that were interested, and if we still wanted to go, they would open the tour up for Saturday. I called them back and left a voicemail that we were still interested.
We walked to the far end of the terminal building and easily found our tour guide, Terry, who walked us across the parking lot to his very nice mercedes benz SUV. He showed us a map of PEI about 150 miles from tip to tip of the island. We were at the southern part of the middle of the island and would be going north up to see the Anne of Green Gables house then around towards the east and back down south to Charlottetown.
Now, neither Amina nor I have read the Anne of Green Gables series of books and really didn't know a thing about her or the author. I had booked this private tour but after speaking with Terry for a bit on our drive, we let him know that we were probably more interested in doing a culinary tour of PEI
moreso than about Anne of Green Gables or Lucy Montgomery.
Our first stop was a beautiful lookout to a typical fishing village across one of the many small lakes in the area.
We did make a stop at Silver Bush where Lucy Maud Montgomery lived with her aunt and uncle and wrote her stories about Anne. We walked into the house and looked around briefly but there was a tour bus there and the house was crowded. We decided to forego the tour of the house, walked around a bit then got back in the car to get some ice cream the best ice cream in the world per Terry.
Terry was full of great information and pointed out all sorts of things to us and answered my questions about PEI. He spent 4 months of the year at his house in Florida and grew up near Halifax before moving to PEI. He also managed a semi-pro football team in PEI.
We stopped at Cow's Ice Cream and had a scoop of their Gooey Mooey ice cream on sprinkle cones. The ice cream really was very good but I'm no expert. According to Reader's Digest, though, it was the best ice cream in Canada and according to Tauck World Discovery Tours, it was rated the world's best ice cream.
The Cavendish beach was nearby and Amina had mentioned to Terry that she really wanted to visit a beach so we headed over. We walked for a while on the beach - there were a lot of families there but nobody was in the water - it was too cold. We enjoyed a walk along the beach out to the rocky end and back then put our shoes back on and headed back to the car.
At this point, Terry gave us the option of going to a seafood place or to a preserve store. I had mentioned to him that HAL recommended Lobster on the Wharf for lunch but Terry told us there were definitely better places that he recommended which is what I had suspected. We elected to go for lunch at the seafood place that he recommended. Before we got to the beach, Terry had mentioned that the largest native animal on PEI was the fox and just after we left the beach parking lot, he spotted one by the side of the road and pulled over. As if on cue, the fox crossed in front of the car and came over to our side as we rolled our windows down. It seemed to check us out briefly and since we weren't offering it any food, it moved on.
Terry made one additional stop along the way to take a closer look at a lobster trap. I really knew nothing at all about lobster fishing. Terry had told us earlier that lobster used to be the "poor man's" food. If a child was sent to school with a lobster sandwich, they were considered to be poor and that lobsters were so abundant that they were oftentimes tossed into the garden to act as fertilizer. A typical native of PEI could go to a grocery store and buy a 1 pound lobster for around $7. He highly recommended the lobster dinners that were offered throughout PEI but we weren't staying overnight in Charlottetown this evening. For about $36, you got a 1 pound lobster and all-you-can-eat mussels, clams, etc. The lobster fishing season had just ended a couple of weeks ago
A typical lobster trap had 2 parts. On one side, there were holes that a lobster could "walk" into which means that they backed up into the hole to get food (usually some type of fish) and dropped down a few inches into what was called the "kitchen". The lobsters couldn't back out of the trap. On the other end of the trap was a net that allowed the lobster to "walk" again and drop again into another section called the "parlor" where the lobster could hang out (leaving room for more lobsters to enter the "kitchen") until the trap was pulled up. The design was simple and clever.
Our next stop was Richard's eatery - a definite local hangout. We placed our order: a lobster roll and chips (fries) for Amina, a scallop burger for me, and an order of steamed mussels for us to share. We got our pager and made our way upstairs to sit on the rooftop and watch the local kids jump off the bridge into the river. Amina decided there to add "jumping off bridge into river" to her bucket list.
Our food was absolutely amazing. Amina's lobster roll was delicious with HUGE chunks of lobster. My scallop burger was actually half a dozen medium sized scallops that were coated in a panko-like crust and then deep fried and placed on a hamburger bun. Even though the scallops had been deep fried and the coating was light and crispy, the inside of the scallops were PERFECT - not overcooked and stringy. The steamed mussels were just amazing - delicious and I think Seth (the shell-fish hater) would have even liked it. The day was perfect sitting on that rooftop with a nice breeze and enjoying the sun.
Terry drove us back to the ship terminal after pointing out a few more interesting historical sites and other places to eat. One thing that I wanted to try but we didn't have time to were "Malpeque oysters". Terry pointed out a couple of oyster bars not too far from the terminal where we could probably get those.
I went to the ship to get my laptop and went back to the terminal to use the wifi but it was VERY slow bogged down by a ton of other passengers getting their internet fixes too. We shopped briefly in the terminal and then re-boarded the ship. I had just enough time for a couple of miles on the treadmill before dinner.
Our reservation this evening was at Canaletto's. This restaurant was a bit interesting. When we boarded the ship, we were given 2 "invitations" in our stateroom - one for Pinnacle Grill and one for Evening at Le Cirque. We didn't get one for Canaletto which I thought was weird because we were paying the extra surcharge to eat there. We had walked by Canaletto a bunch of times but never realized it was there because it's tucked away in one corner of the lido deck right next to the buffet. You have to walk right by it to get to the buffet if you are coming from one side of the ship (aft or forward, can't remember which). When we got up to the lido buffet, we walked around a bit because I couldn't quite remember where I had seen it and finally asked for directions from a nice ship's officer who just happened to ask us if we needed help finding something. LOL.
We were seated promptly and examined the menu and placed our order.
We started with the antipasto service which was delicious - a choice of different meats, olives, roasted veggies, fresh mozzarella. Amina also noticed that the balsalmic vinegar on the table that we could use to dip our bread in was the thick, syrupy kind - it was also delicious and the kind of balsalmic that you would pour over ice cream - high grade.
None of the first courses on the menu had appealed to me so I opted for the Edigiana Maccioni special which was the Italian herb sausage and Canelloni beans with creamy polenta. This was VERY good. The sausage wasn't very strong or spicy and the polenta was creamy and delicious.
For the 2nd course, I wanted to try the veal osso bucco with potato gnocchi which is normally one of my favorites. The veal shank was HUGE and, unfortunately, pretty tough. Now, we'd had a very large lunch and I was getting really full anyways so I barely ate 1/2 of the osso bucco. I do have to compliment the wait staff on the Veendam - they are well trained to observe whether or not you cleaned your plate. If you left much food on your plate, they always asked to make sure that you were happy with your food.
For dessert, I had the trio of tiramisu which included espresso, lemon, and amaretto flavored tiramisu in small glasses. Again, if I hadn't been so full, I would have finished all of it - this dessert was very good. I really liked the way that none of the flavors were overpowering in each of the tiramisu.
That evening, we went to the 10 pm movie and saw Mud with Matthew McConaghey. I liked the movie even though it was a little slow paced. There was a towel lobster on the bed when we made it back to the cabin that night.
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 Sydney, Nova Scotia
We got to sleep in just a bit this morning as we weren't meeting until 10 for our tour with Tartan to Fortress Louisbourg. We went up to the Lido buffet for breakfast for the first time and then made our way off the ship to the terminal. There was also wifi in the terminal but it seemed a little slow. I had gone into the terminal earlier this morning just after 8 am when Amina was still sleeping to check it out and had run into Tatiana and Alex who were going on the tour with us. They thought we were meeting at 8 instead of 10. I walked briefly around the little shopping area and then went back to wake Amina up. When we came back down to the terminal, Amina found some earrings that she wanted to go back and buy after our tour was over.
Our tour guide actually arrived a bit early. We all gathered in the terminal (Me, Amina, Tatiana, Alex, John, and Leslie) and then went out to meet our tour guide. The van that we climbed into seemed nice from the outside but as soon as I climbed into the back seat, I was not happy. The van reeked of cigarette smoke. The ladies had a nice conversation on the way to the fortress and we soon arrived at the visitors' center. Our driver told us to meet back at 2 pm. It was just before 11 am. At first, I thought it was a little chilly in Sydney but by the time we arrived at the fortress, it had warmed up a good deal and was probably in the 70's and sunny while we were there.
There was a decent sized line in the visitors' center and we waited to purchase our tickets. There was also decent wifi in the visitors' center. We had just missed the bus so we went downstairs and took a few pictures before boarding the next bus. You ride the bus to the actual entrance to the fortress. While on the bus - you should sit on the left side to get a view of the fortress beyond the water.
We walked through a small building with a few park interpreters and then walked the dirt road to the entrance of the fortress.
We were stopped just in front of the bridge and given instructions such as park closure, not climbing on the walls, etc and then made our way across the bridge and into the fort.
Tatiana had been told by her ticket agent that there was a cannon demonstration at 11:45 so we made our way in that general direction making a few stops along the way to see a blacksmith and bakery where we bought a small loaf of "soldiers' bread" for $2.50 just to get a taste of what the soldiers ate. Not surprisingly, the bread was heavy and not terribly tasty.
We climbed the hill towards the building where the cannon demonstration was going to be and saw a good sized crowd headed the same way. To the immediate left there was a church and the park interpreter stopped us to ask where we were from and then proceeded to explain about the church and the various objects in the room. He obviously really enjoyed his job and did a great job telling us what he knew about the church.
I asked him where the bathroom was and he was very sweet to walk us to the where the bathrooms were. When we were done it was getting close to 11:45 so we found an open space in the grass and sat down.
The same park interpreter came back, found us, and told us that we were not sitting in the best spot and proceeded to take us to a much better location to see the cannon fire. He then explained to us what to expect....the soldiers and band would march out to the lower grass courtyard, do a short demonstration and then fire their muskets. Then they would march up towards the cannon and the muskets would fire in turn followed by the cannon. He was so helpful and we thanked him for the information.
The demonstration was interesting - the soldiers actually loaded their muskets with gunpowder and fired them. When they marched up towards the cannon - 2 of the muskets misfired which one of the interpeters standing near us commented that this happened from time to time. She said that it wasn't unusual for the cannon to misfire as well.
We explored the governor's compound for a bit and then made our way down into the "village" and stopped to see a few exhibits including a very interesting demonstration of lace weaving. Weaving lace by hand is extremely tedious but the result was beautiful. The woman interpeter told us that it took about an hour to weave one inch of lace.
We eventually made it down to the 2 restaurants that were available to dine in. I had read that one was for the "upper class" (officers, etc) and the other was for the "lower class" (soldiers, workers, etc). The wait of the upper class dining was 15 minutes and they served a 3 course meal. We examined the menu of the "lower class" restaurant and decided to eat there.
We were squeezed in between 2 other couples at what looked like a picnic table and were told that sharing 8 to a table was required. The guy on one end of the table grumbled about having to share the table with us. We were each given a very large piece of cloth to use as a napkin and a spoon. Amina ordered fish soup and we shared the mussels as well as some canadian white cheddar cheese. We chatted with the couple at the other end of the table who were from British Columbia and were visiting all of the maritime islands. The man sitting next to me ordered the French Toast and when he asked the waitress for something to eat it with, she directed him to use his spoon. It was really funny and he took it all in good spirit. The food was really pretty good and not too heavy.
When we finished, it was almost 1:30 so we decided to take the bus back to the visitors' center. As we were leaving the fortress, the same park interpreter who had talked to us before, found us again and pointed out that the draw bridge entrance to the fort was a weighted lever so that just one soldier could draw the bridge up himself.
Back at the visitors' center, we peeked into the gift shop where I bought a little something for Rhys (a candy stick that you could tear open with your teeth like a packet of musket gun powder and pour the "powder" and gum ball into your mouth to enjoy). We met up with our driver and got back into the smoke-laden van and he took us to a vantage point with a lighthouse where we got out and took some pictures and the girls found some jellyfish. We seemed to take a different route back to the cruise terminal and our driver really never said a thing to us. I had already made a decision back at the fortress that this "tour" was definitely not worthy of any sort of tip. We paid the exact tour fare and went back into the terminal.
We stopped first for Amina to get the earrings that she had looked at but wanted to make the 3 pm Indonesian tea service and we were a bit late so we headed straight for the dining room where they did accommodate us at a table for 8. Amina got a spiced tea and I got a jasmine - hers smelled better than mine. We were offered several savory and sweet items including some smoked salmon on toast, steamed cake, and rice balls. They were all good and we enjoyed talking with our table mates. One couple was from Grove, OK - just northeast of where we lived.
I went to the gym and did a really quick couple of miles then returned to the cabin to shower and get ready for our dinner at the Pinnacle Grill for their "Evening at Le Cirque" dinner. Seth and I love to eat at the Le Cirque in Las Vegas at the Bellagio hotel. It's probably in our top 10 favorite restaurants of all time - we've eaten there at least half a dozen times.
The amuse bouche was a creamy foie gras pate on top of a mildly fruity jam. I liked it but Amina didn't care much for it.
Amina ordered the caesar salad which was very interesting in the way it was prepared/presented.
I had the trio of salmon, caviar, and foie gras pate which was pretty good but I did notice how sloppy the presentation was - something you would NEVER see at the real Le Cirque.
Our next course was the butternut squash soup with huckleberries which was very good - I liked the contrast of the smooth sweet soup and the tart huckleberries.
For the main course, I had the seared alaskan black cod which was absolutely delicious and my favorite part of the meal. The cod was very nicely cooked but I was a little surprised that there were bones in it. It was a very generously sized piece of cod.
I had the famous Le Cirque creme brulee for dessert and was happy to find the recipe for the dessert printed at the bottom of the ramekin so I simply had to finish all of the dessert so I could take a picture of the recipe.
I wasn't interested in the show or the movie this evening so I went back to the cabin to catch up on my blog post for a bit then went to bed. There was a towel crab on my bed this evening.