Norwegian Jade - Panama Canal - February 2008
This is my ninth cruise and my second with Norwegian. I wanted to go through the Panama Canal in a forward facing balcony, and that is what I have.
Something that I started while on the NCL Star (my fifth cruise) was to write my review while I was on the ship. This means I am writing my review while things are fresh in my mind. This review is fairly long, about 28 type written pages.
Day one - Embarkation
I live in Los Angeles, so I normally drive to the port when leaving from San Pedro or Long Beach. However, this is not a round trip cruise. I will fly back into Burbank, which is about 45 miles from the port. So after checking taxi fares, I decide to hire a limo. The driver arrived a few minutes early and soon I was on my way to the port. As we approach the port I see that there are three ships in port today. The Diamond Princess will be heading to Hawaii. The NCL Jade will be going to Miami via the Panama Canal. The Golden Princess will be heading to Puerto Vallarta on its weekly Mexican Rivera cruise.
My plan was to arrive about one hour prior to the normal boarding time of noon. However, in this case there was nobody getting off the ship (this is the maiden cruise of the Jade, though it is not the maiden cruise for this ship, as it used to sail as the Pride of Hawaii) so people were boarding when I arrived at 10:50am. By 11:15 I was checked in and on the ship.
While waiting to check in I started speaking to the couple behind me. Turns out they have one of the two Garden Villas. I thought the Garden Villa residents got whisked through check in. I guess not. We both ended up exploring the ship at the same time, so we ran into each other in three different places on the ship.
While the outside says Norwegian Jade, the inside says Hawaii all over. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful ship. There are two pools on the pool deck, a good sized water slide plus a rather small kid's play area (that is two decks higher). Since this is a thirteen night cruise, during the school year, there are very few kids (looks like less than twenty).
I decide to have lunch at the Garden Cafe. I sample six things. The noodles were average, but the sandwich, corn, rice, chicken and meat loaf were all good. Nonetheless, I am really looking forward to the sail away BBQ chicken. As I recall from my Norwegian Star cruise, it is very good. In fact as I explore the ship I realize it is laid out very similarly to the Star (except the Star does not have the courtyard villas).
There one humorous situation during my exploration of the ship. As I walk along the deck 13, which is one deck above the pool deck, I approach the rear of the ship. I see another good sized pool, which does not seem to strange since the Star had a good sized kid's area on the aft. But this pool seems pretty big and there are what appear to be cabins over looking it. About the time I get really impressed by this I realize what I am looking at. The Diamond Princess and the NCL Jade are back to back. I'm looking at the aft pool on the Diamond Princess.
There are two other mental notes I make while exploring the ship. If you want to walk from front to rear on the public decks (seven and twelve) walk on the starboard (right) side. You cannot go from front to rear on the left side. If you are in one of the hallways were there are cabins, look down. If the dolphins are swimming in the same direction you are, you are headed forward. If not, you are headed aft.
Well, having explored the ship from end to end, on several decks, I decide to check out my cabin. I am in a forward facing penthouse suite. It is the forward facing balcony that I wanted. I'll have a front row seat for the Panama Canal that I will not have to fight for, nor will I lose it if I get up and go to the bathroom. The suite is about the size of mini or junior suite on most other ships. It has all the suite amenities however, including a tub/shower combination, suite status (butler & concierge), a DVD player, a large flat screen TV, plenty of drawer space (of which I am using less than half), two safes and a large closet (it is not a walk in closer, but you can walk through it, as it opens on both sides).
After exploring my cabin I decide to set up my computer and put away the things from my carry-on that should go in the safe (passport, cash, cell phone & water proof camera), since my luggage has not arrived yet. Normally I don't do the Internet while on vacation, but there is a lot of interest in this cruise and this ship, so I decide to take advantage of the $100 OBC my agent gave me (I have a wonderful agent - even without the gifts) and sign up for the 250 minute Internet plan. There is an Internet port in the cabin, and I have the proper cable. I go to the Internet Cafe and find out that sign up is done via the computer. About the time I sign up and check things out for 16 minutes, and answer one of the big questions (yes, there is self service laundry, the closest one for me is across from cabin 9088 - however, it will be removed while the ship is in dry dock in Spain), it is time for the muster drill.
The muster drill is at 3:30pm and we leave at 4:00pm. My muster station is inside the Stardust Theater. The drill doesn't last too long, and since I was one of the last to arrive (I had to log off the Internet first) I am in the back and only two floors below my cabin. So I get back to my cabin quickly. My luggage has arrived, and I start putting it away, always keeping one eye out the balcony door. I want to be on my balcony for the sail away. We are at berth 92 and facing the Lane Victory (a World War II Liberty ship). This means we will have to go under the bridge into the turning basin and then we will be on our way.
Finally I feel a little vibration and notice that my view of the Lane Victory seems to have changed a little. I go out to the balcony and soon meet all my neighbors. We slowly move into the turning basin and then I feel a small vibration again, as the side thrusters begin turning the ship. Soon we are facing the right way and we start to move forward. This is when I notice that the Golden Princess has also start to leave. While we were spinning the Golden Princess has backed out. So we have two cruise ships leaving at the same time. Welcome to rush hour in the harbor channel.
Little do I realize just how busy it was going to get. With these two ships looking to get out, there are two equally large cargo ships wanting to get in, and we all seemed to meet at the break water. Each ship managed to accomplish its goal without becoming part of a giant game of bumper boats.
Once out to sea I decide to head to the pool deck for my much anticipated BBQ chicken. Unfortunately there are no grills and thus no BBQ chicken. It is listed in Freestyle Daily - SAILAWAY PARTY & BBQ: Poolside is the place to be as we embark on a cruise vacation of a lifetime! ... I even ask one of the deck hands who says that usually there is a sail away BBQ, maybe tomorrow for lunch. Disappointed I head to Papa's Italian Kitchen (one of the free specialty restaurants). I ask if they can take someone without a reservation and in a few minutes I am seated. I had pasta with meat sauce and sausage. The food was good, but not as good as the BBQ chicken was on the Star 2 ½ years ago.
I come back and write this until it is time for the 8:00 SEA-N-N show taping. Say it out loud and you will see that this is a play on words (Sea N N - CNN). It stands for Sports, Entertainment & Activities Nightly Network. Basically the cruise director is taping something to play on the TV explaining what activities are available on the NCL Jade. Apparently they are having trouble with their new printer, and tomorrow's Freestyle Daily will be a half sized Special Cruise Notice (only two pages instead of four). I'm glad he told us, or I would not have realized what it was. Basically it is just a list of what is happening when.
Well, I like it cold, so I try an experiment by leaving both the balcony door and the bulkhead door (since it is a forward facing balcony there is both a door and a bulkhead door) open. Nothing much happens so then I go to the cabin door and open that. I expected a breeze, but I expected it to come in, not out. All this did was take warm air from the hallway and send it into the cabin. Okay, bad idea. Another problem is forward facing lights make it difficult for the people on the bridge to see, so we have to keep the curtains closed (or the cabin lights off). Though it is early, I am tired (I must have walked the entire length of the ship at least ten times - that is at least two miles). So it is off to bed I go.
Day two - day at sea
I really like days at sea because they are so relaxing. This one was a little more relaxing than I thought it would be. I woke up at 4:30am (which is good - I like to get sunrise photos) and went back to sleep. When I woke up again I figured it was 6:30am (a good time to get out of bed for catching a sunrise). However, I became suspicious when I saw all the light coming under the curtains. What time is it? 8:30am! Too late! That is it, for now on just the sheer curtain will cover the window. I'll keep the lights low.
So, I figure I'll relax some more and I catch one of the movies on TV. Finally I get up and do what I normally do, eat breakfast on the balcony. Except this time it is going to be real easy. I've got a fruit basket, so I have a breakfast of fruit out on the balcony. As I said, I have a forward facing balcony. Actually I have a very large forward facing balcony. It is probably bigger than an inside cabin. The roof covers about six feet of the balcony, and there is probably another twelve feet of exposed balcony. The balcony is as wide as my cabin, which is wider than any standard cabin. So, even if it rains while we are going through the canal I'll still have a dry front row seat.
So, you are probably wondering about the wind. We are headed south at between 22 and 23 knots (25 ½ to 27 MPH). Yet there is little to no wind. How is that possible? Because we have a tail wind. Life is good! Also, I really do not notice much movement. The seas are slight (1.5 to 4 feet) so that might have something to do with that.
After breakfast I decide to go and explore the ship to see what I missed yesterday and to see things in action. It is kind of strange, but on a ship full of adults I find that the adults are doing all the things the kids usually do. They are playing ping pong, shuffle board, basketball and soccer. There is a full sized basketball court with soccer goals at each end. There is even four rows of stadium seating above the basketball court.
Finally I hear some high pitched voices and decide to see what is going on. There are three kids and three counselors in the kid's area throwing balls at each other. They are having a great time, and since none of the kids are mine, I stay only long enough to see what is up and leave. Another interesting find is the bridge viewing window. It is large and gives several people a great view of the bridge. Of course it sounds more interesting than it really is, since the ship is on auto pilot and everyone on the bridge is just looking out the window to make sure we don't bump into anything.
Well, it is getting on towards noon and there is no BBQ being set up in the pool area. So I grab a sausage hot dog (a sausage in a hot dog bun), a chicken leg and a pickle and decide to have lunch on the balcony. Because I spent ½ the morning in the cabin the poor cabin stewardess hasn't had the chance to clean the cabin yet, and now she sees me coming back with lunch. I tell her no problem; I'll be on the balcony. It's all good, even the chicken, but not as good as the BBQ chicken I remember from the Star.
Though I bought my shore excursions online, and the tickets were delivered to the cabin, I still have to sign a release. So I leave the cabin to the cabin stewardess and head for the shore excursion desk for the third time. This time the line is short and I sign my release and get my snuba ticket for Grand Cayman. Stingray City is my all time favorite shore excursion. However, through my research I could not find out the local time the ship would be in Grand Cayman (I know the ship's time - but I don't know what time zone the ship's time will be on when we get to Grand Cayman). I wanted to try an independent outfit, but without knowing the local time that we will be there, I decide to try something new and go with the ship's excursion. So snuba and a tour in Cartagena are the only ship's tours I am taking on this cruise. In all the ports in Mexico I'm going to do something on my own (since I've been to each one at least once before).
Well at 1:15pm there is a Latitudes reception. We get to meet the captain and the senior staff. I am wearing my NCL Star shirt and the door monitor asks me how many NCL cruises I've been on (this is my second). I mention that I missed the BBQ and she says I have to speak to the executive chef about that. Well, I'm not ready to take my case that high up yet. However, if I find the cruise director, I'll ask him. The captain mentioned that the highlight of this cruise for him will be going through the Panama Canal. That is probably true for most of the people on this ship, both passengers and crew.
After the reception I go back to the cabin to decide what to do next and the two free drinks I had at the Latitudes reception kick in. It's almost 4:00 when I regain consciousness and I decide to check out the pool. The pool is fresh water and warm enough (I took a short three night cruise to Ensenada in December and that water was cold).
Just before 5:00 I head back to the cabin and I am typing this while waiting for the captain's VIP reception at 7:00pm. This is another perk of the suite life. So here I am, sitting on my balcony typing my review and the door bell rings. It's the butler with a gift from the concierge. There are three chocolate covered strawberries and a VIP tender ticket (Cabo is a tender port). The poor butler has been trying hard to do something for me and I finally decide to ask him for a DVD. I'll watch it within 48 hours.
At any rate, the weather is great, there is no wind. I can hear the waves being made by the bow, and the only thing left is to figure out what am I going to do for dinner. I've already decided that dinner will come after the VIP reception. I want to try out one of the free restaurants, because there will be plenty of time to try out the extra cost restaurants later.
So this might be a good time to explain Freestyle Dining. I count twelve restaurants. There are two main restaurants, one buffet, one cafe (fast food fare), two free specialty restaurants and six extra cost restaurants. The main restaurants, buffet and cafe are free and don't require reservations. The two free specialty restaurants do require reservations, but will take walk ins if there is room, and the extra cost restaurants require reservations and cost anywhere from $10 to $20. Most are open for dinner from 5:30pm to 10/30pm. With Freestyle Dining you pick the restaurant and the time. There is no set dinner time or place. Also, you can choose who you eat with. I'll comment more on this later in the cruise.
Yesterday I scanned the TV to see what was on, and instantly recognized my favorite channel from the Star as I soon as I see it. It is channel 22 and it provides the weather log, the captain's log and the navigator's log. I love this channel and I call it the travel channel. I have it on all the time. It is 6:30pm; we are 525 miles from Los Angeles and have 301 miles to go to Cabo. At 1:00pm today the captain made a general announcement said that we were on time. Channel 23 is the forward facing camera channel. Big deal, if I want to see what is in front of us I'll look out the window.
Well, I'm back from the VIP reception and dinner, and have some terrible news. I told the cruise director that I missed the BBQ chicken. He called someone over (apparently the person in charge of ordering supplies) and told him I was on the Star, I remembered the BBQ chicken, and I missed it. That is when I was informed that we would not be getting any BBQ chicken on this cruise. Seems he ordered five large BBQ units, and what he received was two thirteen inch grills. However, he assured me that he had plenty of charcoal. It is not going to ruin my cruise, but I am disappointed.
It had been only six hours since I last shook hands with the captain. So at the VIP reception I told him, "Long time no see." He got the joke and laughed. I was able to have a long conversation with the head of IT (Information Technology - basically the computers). He used to live in Las Vegas and when it got too big moved to Hilo. There he hung around for a while until he got bored. He then took a job with Norwegian sweeping floors. I asked how long he had been with Norwegian and he said four years. Amazed I asked, "You went from sweeping floors to the head of IT in four years?" He said he had done IT work for 20 years (in Las Vegas) and when he first started with Norwegian he did not tell Norwegian about his IT skills. Obviously Norwegian found out anyway.
I asked him about the crew's life. He explained that most crew works a split shift, so they all have a chance to spend time in the ports. He also said that many work on a rotating basis, meaning that one is on call while so the other can take time off. So the crew does get a chance to get off the ship on port days. My butler was at the VIP reception also. He told me he had requested a transfer to a state side ship. The reason is that Europe is so far away, he will not have the chance to call all home (the Philippines). I feel bad for people who have to spend so much time away from their families because of work. I hope he gets his wish. He is trying so hard to do something for me, and I am really more of a low maintenance type. I appreciate the effort, but he is going to have to trust me that if I need something I'll ask. Otherwise, I'm sitting out on my balcony listening to the bow of the ship as it moves through the water. It's very dark and I can't see a thing, but the temperature, while cool for most people is very much to my liking, I have been fully fed, and my biggest concern today was keeping out of the room steward's way. What else do I need (besides BBQ chicken) that the butler could provide (legally)?
I had dinner in the main restaurant (Grand Pacific). There are monitors on the wall giving the wait times. I just have not figured them out. I assume the longer bar means a long wait. However, the bar for Jasmine was very long, and when I walked past not only was there no line, but I saw empty tables. Nonetheless, it is an extra cost restaurant and I'll get to it later.
I headed to the Grand Pacific restaurant and there was no line. I said I wanted to share and ended up sharing a table with three people in one of the Courtyard Villas. Apparently it was a couple and his mother. We compared suites, cruise experience (they had cruised before, but not with Norwegian) and the make up of the passengers (very few kids). While I like kids, and have never had a problem with kids on a cruise, even on ships with 800 of the little tykes running around, they clearly appreciated the lack of kids. Okay, to each their own. It does make for a different atmosphere. I'm not making a value judgment here, just noting that it is different. I mentioned my observation this morning that the adults were doing the things the kids were normally doing. The husband said that he went to the basketball court, found it empty, and shot baskets for a half hour. He had not gone down the water slide yet, but was willing to give it a try (I actually did see an adult go down the water slide, though for the most part it was the kids who were going down the water slide). I had the prime rib and it was good, which is an improvement over my experience in the main restaurant on the Star. My three table mates were very interesting and I am glad I had the chance to meet them. Perhaps we will bump into each other some more during the cruise.
Well, it is 11:00pm and we have to set our clock ahead one hour tonight. I only closed the sheer curtain and to my surprise the room stewardess did not close the main curtain (which I would have opened anyway). All the lights are off in the cabin except the TV (which I have on the travel channel) and one reading light. I checked and I am not casting a shadow on the balcony when I stand in the door, so I should be okay. Also, I have not received a call to turn off the lights or close the curtain, so I think I've got this all worked out. Good night - see you tomorrow in Cabo.
Day three - Cabo
I wake up to a gentle glow. It is 6:30am and sunrise is 6:50am. Sure enough the sun waits until it is time to rise and I snap off a few pictures. Then it is back to sleep, since we are still three hours from port (we arrive at 10:00am). I finally get up, shower and get dressed around 9:00am.
Last night I was thinking of leaving my door open. Finally, out of an abundance of caution (just in case there was a rouge wave) I decided not to. Good thing I didn't, because while there was no rouge wave, everything on the balcony was wet with dew. Had I left the door open, the inside of the cabin would have suffered the same fate.
We arrived in Cabo early. It is only 9:30am. I meet my butler on the balcony (he is on the neighbor's balcony) and we get to talking again. He says his best friend is on the Star (which is anchored next to us) and we get to talking about his family. He has an eight year old, a three year old and a six month old. He says when he goes back home they are all grown up. It is tough for people who are away from home for long periods of time. Children grow up fast.
There are two other ships in port, the HAL Oosterdam and the NCL Star. The Oosterdam is on is Mexican Riviera run and will go to Mazatlan next. The Star is also doing a Mexican Riviera cruise and this is its last stop. It will head to Los Angles when it leaves Cabo. We will meet up with the Golden Princess in PV tomorrow. I take some more photos and then have some more fruit for breakfast. Being in a suite I can have breakfast at Cagney's. It is free and sounds rather good (the people I had dinner with last night have eaten both breakfast and lunch at Cagney's. Only those in a suite can have breakfast and/or lunch at Cagney's.
My plan is to check out the town in the morning and rent a jet ski in the afternoon. At 10:00 I head for the tender and by 10:15 I'm on it. I get lucky, some Mexican officials came to the ship, and we get to take their boat back. It is an open air boat. The ship's tenders are not open air, and thus get a little stuffy when full of people.
Once on the dock I am greeted by the usual group of people you see at every Mexican port. Either someone has a great deal on whatever, or some kid is selling gum. My goal is to look for a place that rents jet skis and perhaps find a good view of the bay. I walk along the marina and see one place that rents jet skis. I get to the other end of the marina and decide to do some exploring. I am looking for a back entrance to the beach. I have been to Cabo twice before and always entered the beach next to the harbor entrance. This time I hope to find another way to the beach, and in the process see a part of town I had not seen before.
When I first came to Cabo on the Carnival Pride in May 2004 it was a charming place and my favorite port. About 1 ½ years later I came back on the NCL Star and the place had become so developed that it lost all of its charm. Now they are building all the way down to the beach. Whatever good views of the bay once existed, do not exist anymore. After much walking, I end up entering the beach at the harbor entrance. Well at least walking out to the edge of the breakwater allows for a good photo of the Jade and the other two ships anchored in the harbor. A few feet from the breakwater is someone who rents jet skis. It is a good location and a fair price ($45 for ½ hour or $80 for a full hour). Naturally he wants me to rent it now, but I am in street clothing and my camera is not water proof. I'll be back. I take a water taxi to the tender dock, buy a few souvenirs and tender back to the ship.
I tender back to the shore, take a water taxi to the beach, and rent the Jet Ski. First I ask if I have ridden a jet ski before (yes - once). The proprietor explains the rules to me. Not too hard to understand. Don't hit anything, don't run over anyone and don't get to close to the cruise ships. Then he asks if I know how to operate it. I say yes, add power to turn (there is no rudder; the only way to turn is to force a turn by adding power). He laughs and I am off.
I am no daredevil. I just want a good advantage point for taking pictures (and yes, I brought a water proof camera with me). I first head out to the seals (which are near El Arco). But there are too many small boats there. So I grab a few pictures of El Arco. The camera just has a small screen, no view finder. Fine when under water, but in bright light the screen is very hard to see. Nonetheless I get some good photos. Then I check out the seals. Still too crowded, so I head over to the cruise ships. I get a few good photos and then head back to the seals. Now it is less crowded and I am able to get some good photos. Then back to the cruise ships for a different angle. A few more shots of El Arco and then I head back in.
With three ships in port there are lots of boats going in and out of the harbor. Looks kind of like rush hour. Add to that a few jet skiers who are daredevils and one has to be careful. It is amazing how easy it is not to see some of the smaller boats. Add to that the noise the Jet Ski makes and I could not hear the boat that was over taking me to my left. With another one coming at me, moving to the left seems I good idea. Fortunately I look behind me and realize moving to my left is not an option. Unlike when driving a car, you cannot anticipate where the other boats and/or jet skiers will come from. Add to that that fact that jet skis have no brakes and no reverse and if you are not careful you can find yourself in trouble real quickly.
However, jet skis do have two advantages that can be used to keep one out of trouble. One, they are small and maneuverable. Two, they are quick and fast. Sometimes I just put myself halfway between the two things I was trying to avoid. Being small I still had enough of a comfort zone. Other times I just simply hit the power and got out of the way before anything could get close enough to bother me.
My waiting to the afternoon had one disadvantage. The wind picked up in the afternoon and what was slight when we came in (1 ½ to 4 feet) was now moderate (4 to 7 feet). The one thing I did not want to do was become air born. Flying doesn't bother me, but the landings do. After what I thought was pretty close to one hour of picture taking and exploring I head in. The owner tells me I've got ten more minutes and sends me back out. A little more exploring and finally I come in. Since I was a customer, I get a free ride on a water taxi back to the tender dock.
I walked completely around the marina in the morning. It cost me $3 for a water taxi from the beach to the tender dock. $7 for a water taxi from the tender dock back to the beach and free from the beach back to the tender dock (they would have charged me $2 otherwise). So there is room to negotiate the water taxi prices.
Back on the ship I decide to do a little swimming in the fresh water pool. So I try out the other pool this time and much to my surprise it is salt water. I could tell before I reached the bottom step because salt water is denser than fresh water, and thus people, including me, float better in salt water. Standing straight up I float about 8-9 inches higher in salt water compared to fresh water. I could feel the water supporting me before my feet reached the bottom of the pool. Oh well, I was already in the water. I swam a few laps and then headed to the other pool which is fresh water. The forward pool is fresh water and the adults only. The aft pool is salt water and open to everybody.
I decide to attend the early show and make reservations for Cagney's at 9:00pm. The entertainment tonight is an opera singer (a tenor). I'm not really an opera person, but this guy is pretty good. So was the 24 oz porterhouse steak at Cagney's. When ordering I ask if I can have one or two sides. The waiter tells me I can have three or four. I forgot, only the steak is limited, everything else, just like in the main restaurant, is unlimited. I have fries and corn.
For some unknown reason the meal is half price. I leave a little extra tip and go downstairs to check on the photographs. There are no new photographs to view, so I go back to the cabin. We have to move the clocks ahead again tonight, so there goes another hour of sleep.
Day four - Puerto Vallarta
We keep moving the clocks ahead, so the sunrises are getting later and later. I look outside and there is nothing but clouds, so I figure no sunrise this morning. However, some of the clouds clear and I get a few good sunrise photos. Then I check out the travel channel, as we are scheduled to arrive in Puerto Vallarta at 8:30am. Hopefully we will dock. Last time I was here they were building a new dock. I know the Golden Princess will be there waiting and docked (because it snuck ahead of us while we were in the turning basin in San Pedro).
Sure enough as we approach PV the Golden Princess is already docked. As we pull in (good, we are docking) I see PV can now dock three large ships. Once again I get to meet all my neighbors on the balcony this morning. We are all going to have a great time when we go through the canal. One of my neighbors is going golfing today. I mention that the web cam must be just above their cabin and they confirm that they actually got in the picture, so the camera angle was moved.
I am taking it easy today. I'll leave around 10:00am, take a taxi to downtown and just walk around. And that is what I do. First I head uphill. I get about 300 feet above sea level and then head back down. I walk along the water front, buy a few key rings and then check out the island in the middle of the river. By the time I do all of this it is 2:00pm and I decide to head back (as we have to be on board by 3:30pm).
I am dead tired from all the walking and I am looking forward to some hot tub time before the 4:00pm departure, when I want to be back on my balcony. Little do I realize what I am in for. The first thing I find wrong is the bathroom light doesn't work. I am not sure who to call, so I call the concierge. She'll send an electrician. Then I think about it. There are three lights in the bathroom and none of them work. It is very unlikely that all three would fail at the same time, so I try more switches and discover that about half the lights in the cabin don't work. Okay, it must be a circuit breaker or fuse. I call the concierge and tell her the problem is even worse. She agrees it must be the circuit breaker. She tells me to call her if no one shows up in ½ hour. No one shows up, so I call again. She gets someone on it. Finally I think I hear someone at the door, so I try to open it, and I find that I am locked in (and here I thought no BBQ chicken was bad).
Now this is a safety issue so I call the concierge again. Meanwhile I am wondering what else could be wrong. Then I realize that the door has some electronics in it, and that this could all be related. Still, this is a safety issue and the door should open from the inside no mater what. Finally the concierge opens the door (it works fine from the outside, but not from the inside - which is easy to demonstrate). She apologizes for taking so long to get to me, as she was on the other side of the ship (I wasn't worried). She explains the door is the carpenter's responsibility, and he is currently on standby because we are leaving the dock. She is clearly embarrassed and stays at the door until both the electrician and the carpenter show up. Me, I'm on the balcony where I planned to be, the only difference is that my bathing suit is dry.
The electrician is the first to solve his problem. All the lights work. The carpenters have removed the entire lock mechanism and we are backing out. We are not just backing out of the dock; we are backing out of the harbor. I guess with the Golden Princess still docked the captain does not believe there is enough room to safely turn around, and back we go, right out of the harbor and half way into the bay. The crew recreation area (crew sun deck and pool) are right below my cabin. So I yell out that it looks like ware going to back all the way to Acapulco. The crew plays along and says they want to make sure I get the full experience. So I respond that great, now I can see where we have been. This gets a laugh out of the crew on the bow. The crew standing next to my door is clearly embarrassed. So, the worst thing that happened is I have to go to the hot tub after we leave and not before - big deal. Missing out on the BBQ chicken is still worse. The captain must have backed the ship a full half mile. That must have been a sight to see for those out on deck on the Golden Princess.
After the hot tub I come back and change for the show. I finish changing in time for some great sunset photos. If I had known the sunset was going to be this great I would have gone on deck. The sun set to the right of the ship, so my photos have part of the forward section of the ship in the photos. This sunset deserved an unobstructed view. However, the sunset only lasts two minutes, so I had to remain on my balcony.
After what I have been through, those $2.00 peanuts are starting to look pretty good. The suite comes with a fairly well stocked bar. Perhaps instead of having drinks on the deck I'll check out my own private overpriced stash. The show tonight is a comedian. Turns out he does physical comedy, and he is pretty funny. Unfortunately I am in the balcony and miss what turns out to be the funniest party of his routine because he is in the audience where I cannot see him. Still, he is pretty good.
Then tonight I have reservations at the Mexican restaurant (the one on the ship). When picking out my entry I suddenly realize that I have not had a hamburger on board yet. I haven't had BBQ chicken either, but there is nothing I can do about that. It is all very good, especially the Tex-Mex hamburger. I go down one flight and I see there are some new photographs. But the prices have gone out of sight. Okay, they are all 8 x 10s (even the port photos) but they are $20 each! I take one of the two captain photos and dump the other photo with the captain and the port photo.
So here I am on my balcony. There is a full moon, all my lights work, my door works from both sides and there is a nice cool breeze. Other than BBQ chicken, what else could I want?
So far I have yet to have a wind issue on this balcony. We have been sailing in every direction from west to south to east, and wind has never been an issue. Also, we have spent most of our time doing 22 knots (about 25.5 MPH) or better. We are not scheduled to arrive in Acapulco until 3:30pm tomorrow (and we don't leave until noon the next day). Also, I have noticed that the balconies on the tenth deck (I'm on the ninth deck) are either smaller or don't have as large of an overhang as I do. Since the bridge is on deck eleven, the overhang provides both privacy and rain protection. I think I have one of the best balconies on the ship.
Also you might be wondering about movement, this far forward. It is not a problem yet. We have had seas from calm to moderate (from smooth to seven foot waves) and with the slight or less seas it is like driving over an expansion joint in the road once in a while. With moderate seas it is like driving over railroad tracks, again, once in a while. I couldn't be happier with the cabin - unless they get the large BBQ units delivered before the end of the cruise.
After what happened with the cabin tonight I decide not to tempt fate any longer. My computer is on the desk, as is the ice bucket. Since I leave my computer open most of the time, I decide to move the ice bucket to the table and the frog (which is as white as a bath towel) gets an honored position on the desk next to my computer.
Well, it is 11:00pm and I have to get up in time for a mid afternoon approach to Acapulco. Actually I am considering taking advantage of one of my suite perks and have breakfast at Cagney's. So, good night. See ya in Acapulco. FYI, the captain got the ship straightened out. We are going forward. Day five - day at sea day & arrive in Acapulco
I wake up before sunrise. It looks like it is going to be a good one. However, at the appointed time there are clouds on the horizon. As a result the sun has to rise further before it can be seen. This means that the entire sky will be brighter and as a result the colors are not as vivid. Oh well, last night's sunset made up for it.
Well, after a very nice breakfast at Cagney's I came back to do a little catch up on the Internet, and then I wanted to watch the DVD. However, the DVD player is not working. The butler cannot fix it and he calls the electrician. Apparently being flexible is going to be important. Most likely I'll end up watching the DVD after dinner tonight. I'm thinking of checking out the Blue Lagoon Cafe tonight, since I don't know what my plans in town are yet.
We arrived on time in Acapulco. I am not sure why, but both the Star and the Jade proceed very slowly into the harbor, even slower than in the channel in San Pedro. It takes an hour from the time we pick up the pilot until we are docked. The dock is big enough for two ships, and we are the only ship in town. Yet we keep inching forward to the point that I think the ship will shop when we hit the docked tug boat in front of us. Clearly the captain is leaving room for one more ship, but which one? It can't be the Star, we saw the Star in Cabo, and thus the Star is in San Pedro today. It could be the Carnival Spirit, but if it is, it should be here already, and if it is coming tomorrow, it will arrive after we leave.
At any rate, we are docked and I'll wait a short time for the line to thin out. I've decided to walk along the beach today, and check out Fort San Diego tomorrow (the fort is across the street from the dock). So, I head to the mid ship elevators and take it down to deck four. Apparently the line has not thinned out yet. On the way down we stop at decks seven, six, five and finally four. I can see the line goes up to deck seven and I'll likely not be able to get off the elevator. We get to deck four and not only is there room to get off the elevator, but the line just started to move. Okay, chalk one up to dumb luck leading to great timing.
I go through the shops out to the exit and notice none seem to be selling key rings. I want to get a key ring from every port (and the ship) for my friend's children's key ring collection. I figure I'll be able to pick something up while I am walking. Now I've go to get past the taxi drivers. I tell them I just want to walk. I make it past most of them when one offers me a walking tour of the local shopping. Okay, so I have two key rings in my pocket while I walk along the beach. Things could be worse, so I accept the offer. As we are walking I quickly realize he is going to get a commission for bringing in a customer. Okay, big deal, wait until he finds out I am only going to spend $10. Of course I am offered lots of jewelry for my girlfriend and/or sister. Interesting, I never said I wasn't married (I'm not, but I never said I wasn't). Well, I get my key rings, say no to everything else, and finally, getting tired of saying no, I explain I've been here before and I'm only looking for a souvenir (which all happens to be true). After turning down his other great connection (a "nice" young girl), I walk the 3 - 4 blocks back to the beach with two key rings in my pocket.
And now it starts. Do you need a taxi? No thank you. Do you want to go to the cliff divers? No thank you (I saw them last time, I was not impressed). Do I want a massage? No thank you. 75 feet later, do you need a taxi? No thank you. Do you want to go to the cliff divers? No thank you. Do you want a massage? No thank you. 75 feet later, do you need a taxi? …
Now first of all, it is pretty clear that these are shall we say "full service" massages. I have walked past several police, both local and federal. Is prostitution legal in Mexico?? And while each taxi driver/madam's runner is easy enough to deal with, there is no way the next one could not have known what questions and answers were given several seconds earlier. Sometimes I just said I just wanted to walk. Most of the time I used a hand signal to indicate I wasn't interested. They are all asking me the same three questions. They have to know that. What do they think; in the last 75 feet I suddenly changed my mind? This is so bad that the next time I come here I am taking a shore excursion. I survived Jamaica where the people are very aggressive. These people are not aggressive, but every 75 feet, every few seconds, it is really getting to me.
Finally I reach the sand (I was walking along the sidewalk between the ship and the beach). I head out to the edge of the water and some peace. As I walk I recognize two kids playing in the water. I don't know there names, but kids are so rare on this cruise that they are easy to recognize. There are actually three kids, but the oldest could pass for a young adult at a distance. The father is in the water with them, so I check out the sand. There is a woman pointing her camera at them. That must be Mom. As I get closer I see she is sitting on a ship towel, so I say hello. As soon as she realizes I'm not trying to sell her something she starts talking to me.
They are a family from Canada and are on their first cruise. The children are on break and will only miss a few days of school. Soon the father joins us and we talk until the moon rises. The kids think the water is a little cold, but the father says it is easy to get used to. They are all trying to body surf, but the waves are kind of small. I point out that that is the purpose of a harbor. I tell them that coming from Canada they should think the water is warm. Well, it is cooler than the water in the pools on the ship. As to body surfing, I suggested they should have tried Puerto Vallarta since the bay is less protected. They were going to, but the tour lasted until it was time to get back on the ship.
Well, I've got this big balcony with a front row seat, and I figured why not offer to share. So tell them about my balcony and offer to have them come and visit when we go through the Panama Canal. Turns out they are in two inside cabins, and I don't think they understand just how big my balcony is. So I offer them the grand tour. Now they are impressed. They may stop by. They are also having trouble getting into the Italian restaurant. It is free, but requires reservations, (though when I was there I was a walk-in and got seated right-a-way). I told them about my luck. I decide that if they continue to have trouble, I'll use my connections (the concierge - it would mean I would have to have dinner with them, but if they really want to get in, why not).
I clean up a bit and decide to check out Fort San Diego. Again with the taxi drivers, but this time I go the other way on the side walk, so I miss all the other taxi drivers. It turns out the fort is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00am to 6:00pm, so I'll hit that tomorrow. Works out great because it is near the ship, and with only about three hours (I figure I'll get out around 8:00am and we have to be back on board at 11:30am) being close to the ship is a good thing.
Back on the ship I decide to try Blue Lagoon, which is a 24 hour cafe. As I am walking toward the cafe I pass Jasmine, an Oriental extra cost restaurant. No line there. Where is everyone eating? Soon I have the answer to my question. Everyone is at the cafe tonight, and I'm not interested in waiting in line. It is 9:20pm. I don't know if Jasmine will still be open. I head back and ask it they are open. Yes. Do they have room for one more? Actually that was not a serious question. I can see they have more empty tables then full ones. I enjoy a nice dinner. And the check - it' is half price. I am beginning to think this might be an unadvertised suite perk.
However, the half price meals could just be the luck of my timing. I was at both Cagney's and Jasmine late. Both restaurants had more empty tables then full ones. I know from the Star that NCL offers half price meals during less popular times to get people to come during the less popular times. I have approached this cruise a lot differently then all the others. I did not go to the port lectures. I have not been reading the Freestyle Daily (though I am saving it). So, on one hand I could be missing something I might enjoy. On the other hand, I am doing one thing new (the Internet) which I enjoy (except for the price - but thanks to the OBC my agent gave me, it is really only costing me $3.95 - the activation fee). I should add that it is not that fast. I would say it is just a little faster than dial up, but no where near as fast as DSL.
I am also sitting on my balcony while I am writing this (I am writing this during the afternoon after we left Acapulco). The travel channel says the seas are slight (1 ½ to 4 foot waves) we are traveling at over 23 knots and I can barely feel the ship swaying back and forth. The temperature of the ocean is 77 degrees, the air temperature is 81 degrees, the relative humidity is 85% and there is a gentle nine knot tailwind. Now that we are south of Acapulco I am now the furthest south I have ever been. From where I am sitting (in the shade) I can barely feel any wind and I can see the sea. If I move up to the rail I am in the sun and there is a little more wind. So where is all of this headed (yes, the ship is headed to the Panama Canal - but I mean this paragraph). I am enjoying myself right now, and I really don't care if I am missing something else that I might enjoy.
Okay, back to the day. Well, actually it is night and I have just finished dinner. I decide to go outside and see if I can get a good photo of the ship at night. Well, one the ship is not that colorful at night and two, I could not hold the camera steady enough. It is 11:00pm and although Acapulco has had some problems recently, none if it is directed at the tourists (who having just said no for the three-thousandth time to the thousandth taxi driver, might be willing to be shot). I feel safe and no body is bothering me. Since I went away from downtown to get the night time photos, I am not being bothered by taxi drivers.
Day six - depart Acapulco & day at sea
I wake up about 7:00am. My cabin is facing west, so no sunrise pictures today. My plan is to check out Fort San Diego, which is right across the street from the ship. I leave the ship sometime after 8:00am and run the gauntlet of taxi drivers. Only apparently they used up my patience yesterday. Today I don't say "no thank you", I just say "no" (Nancy Reagan would be proud). This works fine except for one who becomes a little more aggressive. Around the sixth no it was more like NO! Not only was it loud enough to convince him I really meant it, but the next taxi driver on the sidewalk got out of my way.
To my surprise another ship has joined us. The Crystal Symphony is docked behind us. So, the captain was trying to make room for another ship yesterday. I figured it must have arrived in the morning, since it was not there late last night.
Mostly out of morbid curiosity (but also because I want to get some pictures of the Crystal Symphony) I walked a short distance toward downtown. I just wanted so see how many street vendors had set up along the sidewalk. The sidewalk was clear. I got my pictures and I then head the other way toward the fort. I run into the family I met yesterday and just say hello. We exchange our plans for the morning and we each head our own way.
I arrive at the entrance to the bridge that will take me across the street and to the entrance of the Fort. But it is only 8:55am, so I have to wait a few minutes. The entrance fee is only $4.00. The fort has information signs in both Spanish and English. Above, on the ramparts there is a good view of the city. I finish around 10:00am, which is my goal. I walk toward the ship and decide to check out the sidewalk on the way to downtown one last time. Some street vendors are just starting to set up shop. After that it is back to the ship and I want to take a quick dip in the fresh water pool to cool off.
I jump in (feet first) and as I bob to the surface I realize the problem right away. The pool is full of saltwater. I guess they ran out of fresh water. I wonder where they found the extra saltwater. I take a cold water shower and decide to check out the other pool just in case they switched which one was fresh and which one was salt. Rats, both are saltwater today. However, the pool that is closer to the aft is currently closer to the east, thus has been in the shade longer, and therefore is cooler. So I float around for a while. Then take a fresh water shower again, only to learn that the other shower is heated. All that work to get cool ruined by a heated shower. The heated shower is next to the aft pool. The cold shower is next to the adult's pool (the forward pool).
While wandering around I find there is a little kids slide. By little I mean pre-school and kindergarten. No self respecting seven year old would be caught dead on it. This slide is right outside the ship's children's center. Good grief, what's next, free ice cream? For those that don't get the joke, yes, there is free ice cream, just don't let your kids read the next sentence. The free ice cream is right inside where the buffet is, along the wall closest to the pool.
Then I go back to my cabin, change and get ready for the sail away. I know the ship will have to back past the Crystal Symphony. The captain has already demonstrated his backing ability in PV. The question is which way he will turn. If front toward the ocean then I will not get a good view of the harbor. If front toward the land, then I'll get a great view.
We back past the Crystal Symphony and we turn with the front toward the land - yes! I get a good picture of the Crystal Symphony and I get a good view of another smaller ship that is in the harbor. But then I get a surprise. There, waiting for us to clear the docking space is the Carnival Spirit. I've been on the Carnival Pride, but not the Carnival Spirit. Sometime in the future I would like to try the Carnival Spirit on its Mexican Riviera cruise to Acapulco. I get lots of good photos of the Carnival Spirit, and then we head out to sea. In about 63 hours we should be at the entrance to the Panama Canal.
I spoke to my neighbors for what seemed like a few minutes, but in actuality probably lasted over an hour. I have a watch on my wrist, but I don't feel like I am under any time pressure, so I rarely look at it. I have spent the entire time since we left Acapulco (6 ½ hours at this point) sitting on my balcony working on this or talking to my neighbors. The only breaks I have taken are to take photos of the little kids slide and getting seconds on the free ice cream. I ate the first bowl sitting on the rear deck overlooking the wake. I finish off the second bowl back on my balcony.
I worked hard to get here, and I am really enjoying this time out on the balcony just watching the sea approach us. With side and rear facing balconies I like to sit and watch the world go by, but with a forward facing balcony I don't get the feeling the world is going by. Rather I get the feeling the world is coming at me. But I mean that in a positive way. That light in front of me is not the headlight of an on coming train, but rather - oops, the sun is setting behind the ship and I can't see it from here. We are sailing east south east, so the sunsets are getting earlier.
Well, I had to hustle up to deck thirteen and go to the rear of the ship. The sun already set, but I got a few good photos anyway. I work a little more on this, and I now I have to break away because I have an 8:00pm reservation at Teppanyaki. This restaurant is one of the extra cost restaurants ($20) and it is important to be on time, because everyone sits around the grill as all of their dinners are cooked at the same time, so being late means everyone has to wait, and I don't want to be the cause of that.
I am seated at a table full of people from New York. I don't agree with everything they say about California, but I'm not here to get in an argument over regional difference or discuss politics. However, I do defend the Western Bagels bagel against a "true" New York bagel. The couple sitting next to me has a rear facing suite, which is just like mine, except that their balcony is about one fifth the size of my balcony. They are on their 18th cruise and have taken the New York to Canada cruise I will be taking this August. So I am able to get some inside information which will come in handy for making travel arrangements. I had the surf and turf and notice a difference between pricing of the extra cost meals on this cruise and my cruise on the NCL Star. On the Star Cagney's and Teppanyaki's prices differed based on what you ordered. In this case both are one price no mater what you order. The cooks put on a show while cooking, and are very entertaining. The food and company are both excellent. This time the meal is full price, so I have been getting lucky with my timing to get the half price meals. Actually that is good to know - I can eat late, no problem.
I find another picture and decide to buy it. It seems all the photos are eight by tens and are all $20. I'm going to spend $100 on photos and I am not happy about that. As a result I have not posed for any photos at the port except for Cabo, and I didn't buy that photo. On the way to the photo lab I watch as a little girl poses for a photo with a moon background. I joke with the photographer that she can get the real thing outside. There is a full moon tonight. The moon was orange when it was just above the horizon and turned white when it got higher, leaving a while reflection on the sea, just like the backdrop.
I heard the mother say something to the little girl, and it was not in English. I am not sure if the little girl speaks English, but she is following the visual signals the photographer is giving her. Then she does a quick glance back toward her Mom. I guess that look is the same in any language - even I can read it. She is checking with her mother to make sure she is doing everything right (she is).
I notice that all the children on this ship seem to be from outside the United States. Even the family I met, that speaks English, is from Canada. I also walk past a couple with a young son and could hear that they were talking in a foreign language. Finally I noticed that about half the people who walked past me while I was waiting to be seated for dinner were talking in a foreign language. Still, I'm an American on a Norwegian ship registered in Nassau sailing in Mexican waters and headed to Columbia, so defining who is foreign is not as straight forward as it is back home. One other thing I have noted is laughter sounds the same in any language. This is true of the adults walking past me while I was waiting for dinner and the little girl who was having her photo taken. I recognize her as one of the three kids in the kid's center who where playing dodge ball with the three counselors.
Well, I get back to my cabin around 10:00pm and notice another note about moving our clocks ahead one hour again. If this keeps up we are going to lose a full half day and I'm going to ask for a 4% refund of my cruise fare. Actually this is the last time we will have to change our clocks, as we will now be on Eastern Time, which is the time zone of our final destination of Miami.
I am busy planning my next two days, as they are days at sea before we enter the Panama Canal. We are scheduled to arrive at 5:00am. I figure tomorrow will be a slow relaxing day, and the next day I'll be more active, and I want to get to sleep early so I can wake up early. That is the last thing I remember. When I awake again the TV is on the travel channel and it is 11:40pm. I thought about moving my watch ahead one hour and then decide against it. If I do, I also have to manually change the day and date. I'll just do it in the morning, and so I kill the TV and go to sleep.
Day seven - day at sea
I wake up before sunrise and realize the heavy curtains are still over the window. I move them back so I can see the sunrise. I set my watch ahead one hour and go back to sleep. As the sky starts to lighten I look out and I am a bit disappointed. There are clouds on the horizon, which means the sunrise will be later and the extra brightness will wash out most of the colors. However, there is a ray of hope. The sky is overcast which might block some of the extra light. There is a small space between lower clouds and the upper clouds, so a sunrise is still possible - late but still a sunrise. So I put on the ship supplied NCL-A bathrobe and go out on the balcony to wait. It is actually warmer than it was last night (and the sun has not come up yet). This is because we are getting further and further south. I'm glad it is February and not April, when it would be even warmer. I like it cool and it is over 80. The seas are still slight, but different. Instead of looking like a cheese grater the seas are smooth with rolling swells (of 1 ½ to 4 feet per the travel channel).
Next I shower, put on fresh clothes and catch a movie on the TV. I've seen it plenty of times now, but I like it and today is a slow day. Breakfast consists of the grapes from my replenished fruit basket. Also, every afternoon the butler leaves some munchies for me, usually it is a gift from the hotel director. I have no idea what most of the munchies are that I am eating. However, I assume they are not trying to poison me, so I have tried everything and so far they are all good.
Well, the door bell just rang and I assume it is the room stewardess. My biggest problem today will be to stay out of her way so she can do her job. However, it's not the room stewardess, but rather Ruth, the concierge checking to make sure everything is okay. Well, according to the travel channel, it is 82 outside. Both the air and water are 82 degrees. Perhaps if it is nice enough I'll swim through the canal. HA HA. Last night the gentleman sitting next to me mentioned how nice lunch is at Cagney's. It is one of the suite perks is to have breakfast and lunch at Cagney's. I've had breakfast there once. So today I'll give lunch a try. I've got my favorite cruise shirt on. I got it on my first cruise in Sitka. It shows a picture of a deer in the woods. The trees have several arrows stuck in them. The caption reads, "VEGETAIAN Indian world for LOUSY HUNTER". It is usually good for a few laughs. I have a very good pastrami sandwich, but no one comments on my shirt.
On the way up I check out the Spinnaker Lounge. This is the second biggest lounge on the ship (after the Stardust Theater). It is forward on deck thirteen. It even has a few lounges with two backs, so a couple could sit facing each other as though they were sitting on two separate lounge chairs, except that this is one piece of furniture, and it is big enough for two people to lie down if they wanted to. In fact, I notice one person is doing exactly what I am doing, sitting in the lounge chair typing on a laptop computer, which is truly a laptop in this case. The only difference is I'm out in the fresh air.
I expect the Spinnaker Lounge will be full while we go through the Panama Canal. While higher up, it is also further back than my balcony, so the view is more or less the same. However, I don't have to guard my front row view, and I will not lose it if I have to go to the bathroom, so I'll take my balcony over the Spinnaker Lounge any day for viewing the Panama Canal transit.
Which gets me to thinking, is a suite worth the extra price? If you need or want the extra space, yes. If you are just after the extra perks, then I do not believe it is. Even though I have been enjoying the suite perks, they are not worth the extra $2,000 I am paying for this cabin over a balcony cabin. The only reason I am in this cabin is that it is the least expensive cabin with a forward facing balcony.
On the way down the hall to Cagney's I saw my butler. He mentioned that he was thinking of taking some time to go into Cartagena. Great, he has been working hard and I would like to see him take a break. However, he only wants to go into the terminal area. So I say well, you can still tell everyone that you've been to South America (it will be a first for me). He says he has been to Chile. So I tell him, well, now you can tell everyone you have been to the north part of South America. Well, at least he smiled.
While walking on deck thirteen (the deck just above the pool), on the way to lunch at Cagney's, I found it was quite windy. Back on my balcony I can feel the wind. I have to hold the papers down with something (where yesterday I did not). Today instead of a tailwind we have a headwind. Still, it is less windy on my forward facing balcony then on deck thirteen. I also found something new. The forward pool has a water fall. Today is the first day I have seen it in operation. At least I am fairly sure it is a water fall. I don't think deck thirteen suddenly sprung a leak right over the middle of the forward end of the forward pool.
Other notes while I sit out on my balcony typing and staying out of the cabin steward's way: Some people wonder if it is safe to leave expensive things out in the open in the cabin. Most of the time the obvious, but unasked, question is can the cabin steward be trusted. As I am about to explain, these are two different questions, and the answers are also different.
Can the cabin steward be trusted? In my experience the answer is yes. Of course you could run into one that cannot be, but then again, even police officers commit crimes. Since my third cruise I have always had my laptop with me. Some days I leave it out, and I still have it. Sometimes I forget and leave other valuables out, and I still have them too.
However, when the cabin steward cleans the room, they ALL leave the door open. Anyone walking by could walk in a take something and not be noticed. I'll give you two very real examples. One day I returned to my cabin to get my camera. The cabin stewardess was cleaning the bathroom. My camera was on the desk in plain sight. I took my camera and left without the cabin stewardess even knowing I was there. Now I should mention that I am at the end of the hall, so nobody walks past my cabin on the way to their cabin, and therefore I am fairly safe in this regard. If I was in a side facing cabin I would not leave my camera out on the desk in plane view.
The second example occurred while I was on the balcony. I was at the rail, either looking forward or talking with my neighbors. Both my balcony doors were open. My cabin stewardess popped her head out and said she was done cleaning my cabin. I didn't even know she was in the cabin. Now think about that. I'm 16 - 18 feet from an open door, and she was able to clean the cabin without my noticing. So, would I recommend leaving valuables where they can easily be seen by someone walking down the hall? No I would not. The reason is not because I don't trust the cabin steward, but rather because they ALL leave the door open while they are working in the room. Anyone walking by can look in. I know, because I look in the open doors of cabins out of curiosity, but that is because I like to see what the cabins look like, not because I am looking for something to take.
Speaking to the butler reminded me of a few things I take for granted at home, that I have to be careful about when not at home. For example, many on this ship speak English as a second language. Even someone who sounds fluent might not understand a joke. For example a student was sweeping a room at a school where I used to volunteer. I asked her why and she was trying to keep things clean so there would be no ants. So I asked what about uncles. She said no, just ants. Her tone made it clear she did not understand the joke. The teacher then said, that she thought what I said was cute, but that was the disadvantage of speaking English as a second language (the student's first language was Spanish), that the student clearly did not understand the second meaning I had given the word ant (aunt). Mean while my nephews, who only speak English, understand my play on words every time. Watching a young child try to explain something when they realize that the key word they are using is being misinterpreted is fun.
The other thing is that even at work there are others who cruise regularly. So I was a little surprised, being that we are on a cruise ship, especially after being to Cabo, to have someone ask me what a tender port is, after I tell them Grand Cayman is a tender port. Of course online this leads to a great play on words when someone wants to know how you can tell if it is tender port or not. The answer of course is, stick a fork in it (HA HA).
Yesterday one of my neighbors saw a pod of dolphins. I'm sorry I missed it, but then again I already had a dolphin experience that will never be topped. I was on a sail boat. I was close enough to the water that I could stick my water proof camera in the water and got some underwater photos of the dolphins surfing our wake. That show lasted about twenty minutes. So while it is neat to see dolphins playing in the ship's wake, I'm afraid that I'll never top that experience, off the California coast, about 20 years ago.
In an effort to avoid any unwanted viruses, NCL has become a little paranoid. Here is a quote from the Freestyle Daily (which appears as the tip of the day everyday): "Please wash your hands often, especially anytime after using the restrooms. Please sanitize your hands before any meals and at the gangway when returning to the ship. In addition, sanitize dispensers are located outside all restaurants and public areas. If you have a Gastrointestinal issue, please report to the Medical Center immediately. Advisory Notice: While ashore, drink only bottled water, be cautious while dining, wash your hands often and discourage hand shaking. Also, be diligent not to draw attention to your personal effects & handle cash discretely. Thank you." All good advice, but actively discouraging hand shaking will make people seem unfriendly. And don't wear anything on your hands that will be damaged by alcohol, because you are going to get your hands squirted when you return to the ship.
This got me to thinking, which is how I normally get into trouble. Someone with some of that fake vomit could have a grand time. Of course the crew would not likely find it funny, but I wonder if anyone has tried to save a pool side lounge chair with it?
Well, it's after 4:00pm. I slept in and spent a few hours enjoying my balcony while typing this. It is a little windier than before, but other wise the weather is perfect. Per the travel channel, we are traveling east south east at over 23 knots. The seas are slight, the air and water are 82 and the humidity is 78%. I've enjoyed a very relaxing day. So now I'll go inside and see what's happening on the Internet and perhaps watch the new DVD my butler brought me. Tomorrow I will spend some quality time in the pool and who knows what else. And as I write this I realize just how different I am approaching this cruise. Normally I don't spend this much time out on the balcony, but then again, as noted before, this is a special balcony.
I just realize, on a normal cruise I would be packing about now. But on this cruise I still have a full week left and the best is yet to come.
Well, unfortunately there were clouds on the horizon tonight, so going up on deck to watch the sunset was a waste of time. The best sunsets have a clear horizon and clouds well above the horizon. After that I shot a few baskets and then went back to the cabin and watched the DVD. If you are looking for a movie to rent, I highly suggest you steer clear of Benchwarmers.
After the movie one of the channels has something about the Panama Canal. Apparently the ship is now showing an old NOVA program called The Building of the Panama Canal on a continuous basis. After catching the last half of the program I decide to go to dinner, and then the late show. The only restaurant left that I want to try is Blue Lagoon. There is only one couple in line and there are empty tables, so I figure things should go fairly smoothly.
Well, Lets just say that there is some room for improvement here. There is a podium where you wait for the host or hostess to seat you. There is just one problem; there is no host or hostess. The couple in front of me gives up and now I am first in line. I wonder around and look as conspicuous as possible. After several minutes one of the waitresses comes over and seats me and another couple that showed up after I did. The food was average for a cafe. For example, the hamburger was just okay, while the hamburger in the Tex-Mex restaurant next door was very good.
At any rate, after dinner I catch the late show, which is a comedy routine with Joe Yanetty. If you get a chance to see him, go. I, and the rest of the audience, laughed the entire time he was on stage. Back in the cabin I find an elephant on my bed. Last night it was a snake.
Well, it is 11:00pm, the wind is stronger and thus the waves are bigger (moderate - 4 to 7 ½ feet). I can feel the ship swaying back and forth (right to left). This is a side to side motion known as roll, and has nothing to do with being forward or aft. The least amount of side to side motion is felt if you are close to the water line and near the center line of the ship (above the keel). In both the show on deck seven and in my cabin on deck nine I can feel the side to side motion, but it is not bad. It is more like a gentle rocking motion.
There are only two other DVDs that I am interested in, and neither is available right now. So I'll see what is on the TV, and if nothing interesting, I'll read a little and get some sleep. Good night.
Day eight - day at sea
Well, I am up in time for sunrise, but there are clouds on the horizon again, and this morning's sunrise was hardly worth the effort. I check out the laundry prices and quickly realize that for one load of laundry they want to charge a month's worth of dry cleaning. So I decide to do laundry, only to find out that I am not the only one with that idea. Okay, if worse comes to worse I have back up plans (at worst I will have to pay $30 for one load of laundry).
So I'll kill a little time and catch up with my review and fill out the application for the BAGS program (which allows me to check my airline luggage on the ship for $15 per person), then I'll check the laundry room again (it would help if all three washing machines in the room worked).
The Freestyle Daily doesn't contain the usual details that help plan a day. It is four pages, but one page is mostly ads for other ways you can run up your ship board account. The first page is good. The second page is all ads. The third and fourth pages are lists of what is available when. Usually the first and second page contains details while the third and fourth pages list what is available when.
I also note that they don't have a photograph of the ship. It's not the Pride of Hawaii, and it will look different after if comes out of dry dock. So the official ship photo will be taken during the canal crossing. In a few minor ways this cruise feels as though it was put together at the last moment. Nonetheless, the Hawaiian theme interior, lack of details in the Freestyle Daily, the ship supplied bathrobes say NCL America on it, the temporary ship photo and the small casino are not really big deals to me (I don't even gamble). I am having a good time; I relaxed a lot yesterday, and have enjoyed the ports (even Acapulco). I am looking forward to the rest of the cruise, especially tomorrow.
Well the laundry line is getting bigger. If we were not going to through the Panama Canal tomorrow I would just stay up to 1:00am and do it then. However, it's not worth $30 to worry about it. I put the laundry in the bag and just when I am going to call the butler to find out where to take it he arrives at the door (extra points for good timing). He takes the bag and says he'll bring it back tomorrow. I check regular service which is two days if in by 9:00am (it is after 11:00am). Express service (one day service) is an extra 50%. Is this another suite perk?
Well, I'll turn in my BAGS application, and then do a little swimming. Both pools are salt water today. The ship is swaying right to left still. This is creating an interesting condition in the aft main pool, which has a wider shelf because of the cutouts for the waterslide. The sides are also "V" shaped, so if you swim in the right place in the pool, you can swim against the current.
After swimming I decide to walk around a bit. I find the golf cage empty. I don't think I've hit a golf ball since college. I seem to have lost my touch. No matter how hard I hit the ball, it only goes about 15 feet and then stops dead. So I decide to grab lunch at the buffet and bring it to the balcony to eat it.
We seem to have picked up some escorts. There are some black and white birds gliding in front of the ship. I am not sure what kind of bird they are (no, they're not penguins - we are too far north for that) but they look like they are just floating in the air in front of the ship, which means of course that they are actually gliding forward at 23 knots. They seem to be well fed because a lot of what they ate is coming back down all over the front of the ship. Taking note of this, I make sure to stay under the overhang.
I watch Mission Impossible for a while (I'm not sure which one) and when the room stewardess comes I go outside and read. Then I decide to walk around the ship and see what is up (hopefully not the birds - I'm not taking my hat). But before I go I call the concierge to make reservations at Cagney's for 8:45pm (which gives me time to catch the early show).
Well, the good news is that what was not up were the birds. Unfortunately neither was the ice carving demonstration, which has been moved to tomorrow. I'll be on my balcony until we get dropped into the Caribbean. Nonetheless, the thing I am really interested in seeing is what they do with the ice carvings after they melt. So, since my prime ice carving viewing spot is useless, I decide to just walk around. This includes a walk to the self service ice cream which I eat while looking out over the wake. Then I walk back toward my cabin and I notice some strange splashes in the water. Apparently we are traveling through a pod of small dolphins. Finally back on my balcony I notice everyone looking and pointing. At what, all I see is ocean? Oops, we are traveling through another pod of dolphins. Pretty neat, but at 23 knots it does not last long.
Then I spend some time talking to my neighbors, and sharing a few pictures from my June 2007 cruise on the Freedom of the Seas. Again time flies by. What seems like just a few minutes is at least an hour and a half. I guess I should explain that the divider between the forward facing balconies is not full height the entire length of the balcony as they are on the side and rear facing balconies. At the most forward part of the balcony divider is only about three feet high, so it is easy to talk to your neighbors, and even share photographs.
I decide to change for the show and dinner (from shorts to jeans, thanks to Freestyle I don't need or have a suit with me - my dress clothes are slacks and a Hawaiian shirt). Then I update this and get everything ready for tomorrow. I backup everything (photos, this review and my spreadsheet with all the expenses - there is no interactive TV for checking the onboard account, though you can get a printout from guest relations) onto a portable hard drive that I take with me for this purpose. Then I clear all my photo memory cards. All three sets of my camera batteries will be fully charged by tomorrow, I check up on a few things on the Internet and finally I set a wake up call for early tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is the big day and I don't want to miss a thing.
The entertainment tonight is Cat's Pajamas. This is an A Cappella group of four men. I would say that their singing was average, but the sound effects they create are fantastic. There is an announcement at the beginning that all the sounds we hear are being made by their mouths, there is no sound track, no orchestra and no CD playing in the background. And as soon as I hear their first song I don't believe that there is no sound tract or orchestra playing in the background. The two guys responsible for the sound effects are amazing.
Then I go to Cagney's for the 14 oz rib eye steak. They recognize me from my last visit, and service is even better this time (there was nothing wrong the first time - it's just better this time). Rib eye is a better cut of meat than porterhouse, and it shows. The steak was very good. Again it is half price. Okay, I can catch the early show and eat later for half price - no problem.
I walk back to my cabin and the room stewardess has not turned down my bed yet (I'm not sure what this entails, since the same side is facing up before and after she turns it down) but what I really want is tomorrow's Freestyle Daily. It will have more information about tomorrow's schedule. I even made sure I walked past her and said hello when I went to the show so she would know I was gone (I've been training myself to always go to starboard side because that is the side that goes all the way through on the public decks - and she is responsible for the port side forward cabins). She shows up right behind me, so I go out to the balcony and look out at the moon's glow on the sea. Very mesmerizing (in fact, I even consider sleeping outside on the balcony tonight). All I feel is a gentle breeze on my face. The room stewardess even washed my lounge chair cushions, so I'll have something clean to sit on tomorrow (this was not a request I made - they were dirty and she took it upon herself to clean the cushions).
The travel channel says the wind is back down to nine knots, however, the seas are still moderate. We are now headed east north east at 22 knots, which explains the gentle breeze, since the wind coming from the south west is now a tail wind. The ship is still rolling side to side. By lining up the railing with the horizon (during the day - I can't see the horizon at night) I can tell the ship is also pitching up and down, but I can't feel the pitching movement.
According to the Freestyle Daily we will pick up the pilot at 6:00am. Not really a big surprise, since I have been tracking our progress over the last two days and I figured that we were about one hour behind. Okay, I reset my wake up call so I get an extra hour of sleep. We pass under the bridge of the Americas at 6:15am (I hope the pilot remembers to duck). We will enter the Miraflores Locks around 8:30am, the Pedro Miguel Locks around 10:20am, we should enter the Gatun Locks around 2:40pm and we should clear the Gatun Locks around 5:00pm (I knew I would end up missing the ice carving demonstration). We will pass Gamboa around noon (I'm happy to hear he passed this time).
Well, it's almost 11:00pm and I am getting up early tomorrow, so good night. Day nine - the Panama Canal
I wake up at 5:00am. I look out the window, which doesn't even have the sheer curtain drawn (I turned out all the lights and opened all the curtains) and I notice the running lights. Wait a minute; I haven't seen running lights from my cabin before. Those are city lights. We are here! Well almost, the lights are in the distance, but after two and one half days of nothing but ocean (okay, plus a few dolphins and birds) we are definitely near land. We are not scheduled to do anything until 6:00am and I still have a wake up call scheduled, so I go back to sleep. In a few minutes the phone rings. How do you answer a phone when you know it's a wake up call?
I put the camera outside so it can warm up (I keep my cabin as cold as possible and until the camera warms up, water will condense on the lens and ruin the shot). I shower and dress, then prop my door open (so the family from Canada I invited to join me can come right in). Most likely I will not hear the door bell (yes, I have a door bell) while on the balcony. I told them to come right in, so hopefully they will not be shy. It's 5:50am. In ten more minutes the pilot boat should bring the pilots and guest lecturer.
There is a speaker on the balcony, but I've never heard it, so most likely I have to get the sound off of channel 23, which is the forward view camera channel. I'm on a forward facing balcony, what do I need with a forward view TV channel? Besides, the music on channel 23 is not as good as the music on the travel channel. Nonetheless, I am stuck with what they offer. So I switch from the travel channel to the forward view channel. Hey, I can see my neighbor on TV. I tell her and everyone watching this channel at 6:30am gets a big wave from my neighbor.
Meanwhile we should have passed under the Bridge of the Americas fifteen minutes ago and we haven't yet. Hey, I'm up at 5:00am, I want to see the locks, but we are dead in the water, along with a dozen other ships. Nonetheless, I'm not worried, I know the cruise lines pay a premium to get a preferred transit time. I am looking forward to the captain weaving between all these ships like the cars in the commercials going through the cones. LET'S GET GOING! Give me a paddle, I'll help. Finally around 7:00am I notice our view is starting to change. WERE MOVING! Okay, we are moving, but not very fast. Where is that paddle?
The guest lecturer starts to speak and guess what; he is not as loud as the music. Now I have to increase the volume so I can hear him, which is no big deal. But every time he stops talking that awful music comes on, and now I have it at close to full volume. Hopefully nobody will complain, because I want to hear the guest lecturer. Turns out I'm not the only one who has the TV volume turned way up, so I guess we are all in the same boat - literally.
At any rate we are approaching the Bridge of the Americas. Nice, but we've already passed under a bridge on this ship. We went under the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, spun in the turning basin, and then passed under the bridge on the way out. Neat. Where are the locks, and step on it, we're late.
As far forward as I can see there is nothing but channel. Where is the lock? I see a cargo ship in front of us, but that ship is no higher than we are. Where is the lock?? The ship in front of us isn't moving very fast, hopefully we will pass it.
Wait a minute that ship is next to something. It's getting ready to enter the Miraflores Lock. At last, it will soon be our turn. Oops, sooner than I think. In a strange twist of rules, day time transits through the Gaillard Cut are one way. Night time transits are two way. I guess as long as the two captains cannot see how close they are when they pass each other it is okay, when they can it is not. So what does this mean, it means we get to enter the other side of the Miraflores Lock and while we are tying up to the mules (the little trains that keep the ship centered in the lock - the ship moves through under its own power) we can watch the other ship. Neat!
About this time I realize all work aboard the ship has likely stopped, because there must be one hundred crew members on the deck in front of us. Apparently the passengers and captain are not the only ones who are looking forward to this portion of the cruise. Soon the gates behind the other ship begin to close. This is when I notice it. Did someone plan this? The other ship belongs to Yang Ming. Its name is YM Los Angeles and it is registered in Panama. Gee, we left from Los Angeles and we are now in Panama.
Slowly the other ship starts to rise. The neat thing is I am already higher above the water than the top of the second lock, but just barely. I can see everything. This is why I paid extra for this cabin. I don't know who is fighting for what view in the Spinnaker Lounge, or along the other observation spots along the ship, but I've got a front row seat and I don't have to fight for it. The family I invited to join me hasn't shown up yet. They don't know what they are missing. This is great.
Now we are starting to move forward and the ship is going to tip forward if any more crew shows up on the bow. I can imagine the engineer is busy transferring a few tons of fuel to the rear tank to keep the ship level. We move very slowly, but finally we stop. About this time the ship next to us starts moving forward. We are all busy waiving. And then the sound of ears popping all over the ship signals that we have started to rise. Soon we are in the rarefied air 28 feet above sea level.
Okay, nobody's ear's popped, the air is not noticeably thinner and each lock does not raise us the same amount. But since I was too busy taking pictures (over 760) to take notes, I don't remember how much each lock raises us, so I'll just use the average of 28.33 (or just 28, because it is easier to type) feet each. As we start to move forward I notice that there must be a visitor center across the way, and we have drawn a crowd. Looks like we will be the only passenger ship going through the canal today and since passengers wave more than cargo containers, we seem to have drawn a big crowd.
Well, the crew having seen it once, have now seen it all, and most head back to work. I can't describe how neat this is to me. Yes I know, we are in a big bathtub and by filling it with water (I hope the people in the lower decks got everything off the floor) the ship rises. Big deal. But it is special, and all I can say is WOW! The process repeats itself and soon we leave the Miraflores Locks headed for the Pedro Miguel Locks.
About halfway there the family from Canada that I met while hiding from all the taxi drivers in Acapulco shows up. Good. Most of the people with forward facing balconies, realizing what a good thing we have, have invited people to join them. One couple has a couple from the Garden Villa visiting them. Someone paying $25,000 a week for their cabin has joined us for this portion of the trip. Does that tell you how special these balconies are?
The family from Canada is a couple with three children, two boys and a girl (the girl is the youngest). The two youngest look like fifth and sixth graders, while the oldest looks like he is in high school. They are staying in inside cabins, and I hope this opportunity to experience a fantastic front row seat to the eighth wonder of the world makes their trip just a little more special.
They tell me about what they have seen so far. However, they could not hear the speaker and stand at the rail edge. So they had to choose one or the other. Truth is, I can't stand at the rail and hear the speaker (over the TV) either. The difference is I can see just fine while standing closer to the door so I can hear the speaker, and I haven't missed a thing.
The only disadvantage of this cabin is I cannot look down along the side. I am in an AC penthouse cabin. For double the money I could have gotten an AA owner's suite, which has both a forward facing balcony and a side facing balcony. Okay, for $7000 less, I'll live. For $4,000 I can get a side facing balcony and do this again, and still be $3,000 ahead.
My guests are taking it all in. They watch as the YM Los Angeles begins to rise. Then we begin to rise and they ooh and awe as much as I did in the prior lock. Soon we pass under the Centennial Bridge (which actually is a very good looking bridge, at least from below) and enter the Gaillard Cut. We look in amazement as we pass through a mountain range, 85 feet above sea level, in a ship that spends most of its time at sea level. Finally we reach Gatun Lake.
My new friends decide to take a dip in the pool, while I am not moving from this balcony - not even for BBQ chicken. I invite them back for the trip through the Gatun Locks. Hopefully they will return. I get the feeling they will.
The guest lecturer has pointed out two crocodiles along the banks. They all would really like to see one, but by the time he points out the reptiles, they are behind us, and one thing I cannot do from this balcony is look backwards. Finally he points one out before we get to it (about two minutes after the family left) and I get a few good pictures. I'll show my new friends when they return.
Sailing through Lake Gatun is nothing special, except we do it at half speed and every few minutes another ship passes us on the port side. After a couple of hours I note a gathering of ships. We will soon be entering the Gatun Locks. And just as we do the family returns. Good, this means they enjoyed the view earlier. I tell them I have a surprise for them and show them a photo of the crocodile. They at least saw it themselves. The girl needs some photos for of the cruise for a class project. I have asked several times if she would like me to burn a CD with some of the photos I have taken (over 1500 so far) but she has never responded. Finally Mom says that she would, but she is too shy to say so. Okay, now I have a project for the day at sea between Cartagena and Grand Cayman.
The Gatun locks are three in a row and it takes about two and one half hours to transit. I figure we could save a lot of time if they just open all the gates and we'll go down just like the log ride at Magic Mountain. However, for some reason the captain does not seem too interested in my suggestion.
I notice the wife and younger boy have both found that the lounge chairs in the shade under the overhang are very comfortable. I comment to the husband that I was thinking of sleeping out there last night myself.
I comment that February is definitely the right time to do this. By April it would be stifling hot and the sun would be directly overhead (we are less than 10 degrees north of the equator). As it is, since we are headed northwest (yes, we go from west to east by traveling northwest) the sun is behind the ship most of the time.
The husband, the older boy and I are the most active as we descend through the locks. Okay, granted two of the three others are napping. The girl is taking it all in also, but at a slower pace. Mom does wake up in time to see us descend through the final lock.
While they are here the butler brings back my laundry (t-shirts on hangers?) and his usual edible gifts - chocolates this time. I offer the chocolates to my new friends. Meanwhile, unknown to me, the butler sees I have guests and comes back with seconds. Apparently the girl, like me, is a chocoholic. Somehow all eight pieces disappear.
The guest lecturer mentions that the average toll paid to cross the canal is around $40,000 to $45,000. It is based on gross tonnage, which is a space rating, not a weight rating. Also only enclosed areas are counted. Therefore, all that space occupied by the containers stacked four high above the deck of a container ship do not count. Only the enclosed area does. The guest lecturer says the old record holder was the NCL Pearl at over $300,000. However, we just set the new record, at $313,800 plus some change. At 92,000 tons this may be as big as it gets until 2014, when the new bigger locks will be completed.
After we pass through the locks the family leaves to make a dinner appointment. Two minutes later another crocodile sighting. Meanwhile my neighbors offer me some of their Champagne. We are celebrating making it across Central America and tonight is Oscar night. Okay, that is as good an excuse as any to drink. I have a glass and we toast a fine cruise so far. Perhaps that was a mistake.
I go inside. I have been standing on my feet in the warm sun for ten straight hours. Either my feet will never speak to me again or they are going to speaking to me all night. I am not sure which. I lie down for a while and finally decide to go to the buffet for dinner. There is no way I will survive a sit down dinner. I will consider it a success if nobody finds me asleep in my dinner plate. I actually plan my little outing. First down to deck seven to see if there are any new photographs, then up to deck twelve for dinner, and then back down to deck seven for some Panama Canal shirts (which were on display, but not available until today). Then back to the cabin.
Down to deck seven which just happens to be the upper level of the Stardust Theater. I don't care what the entertainment is. Unless they are having a BBQ cooking demonstration, I'm too tired to attend. Since it is so nice outside, I decide to go outside to walk back to mid ship. Wow, what happened? Did a hurricane suddenly form while I was walking down two flights of stairs? I'm not sure what the sea conditions are, but it is something worse than "moderate." And the wind has picked up too.
No new photos. But either there is something magical about deck nine, or it moves side to side less than deck seven (and that should not be the case). There are no new pictures, so I go up to deck twelve where the buffet is. I manage to eat dinner without falling asleep in the dinner plate. Back down to deck seven for some Panama Canal t-shirts. Gee, this is what an earthquake feels like (and being from California I know what an earthquake feels like). All the wind chimes are going, and the AC is not on that strong. I get my shirts and head back outside for the walk forward. I may not be able to see much, but I can hear (and feel) that things are getting worse.
I decide to check out the travel channel. The seas are rough (no kidding). The waves are 7 ½ to 12 feet. It never occurred to me to tell the family from Canada that I have ginger tablets (helpful for seasickness). Even though I know their cabin number, it is late and I don't want to chance waking them. I hope they make it through the night. Meanwhile every time one of those twelve footers hit's the side of the ship there is a loud thud and the entire ship shakes. I get sea sick easily but I have been typing this for three hours since I ate and it is not bothering me. But I pity the people in the lower ocean view cabins, I don't think they will get much sleep tonight (those thuds must be much louder in the lower cabins).
Well, I am tired, but I wanted to write this while it was fresh in my mind. It has been a great day. Rarely is one day so important in a cruise itinerary, but this day was special the moment I booked the cruise. Everything has been planned around this day, starting with cabin location. It has been a fantastic day. Where would I start with the thank yous? Thank you Theodore Roosevelt (the President responsible for the building of the Panama Canal). Thank you NCL. Thank you my neighbors (I have truly enjoyed hanging out on the balcony with them). And a thank you to my new friends. They saved me from the Acapulco taxi drivers and it has been a great joy to share my balcony with them.
One cute note and then I'm going to bed. My cabin steward has been servicing my cabin late, which is fine with me. The cabin is clean and I have ice. Basically that is all I really need. She explains that she has several elderly people in the cabins she is responsible for, and elderly people tend to go to sleep early, so she has been servicing their cabins first. I'm not as elderly (I smile inside). Also, she heard my guest taking when then left. The kids were commenting on what a nice cabin I have (and now I am smiling on outside too). I'm glad that I was able to make someone's vacation a little more special.
Good night. Well, night - I'm not sure how good it is going to be.
Day 10 - Cartagena
Well this is now officially my longest review. The previous record was 19-20 pages from the eight night Mexican Rivera cruise on the NCL Star.
I wake up to a gentle rocking. Well, maybe not so gentle. I check the travel channel and nothing has changed. There is still a 25 knot wind and the seas are still rough. And, since it is also still dark, I go back to sleep. As tired as I was last night, I was motivated, and keep writing this review until 1:00am. It's only 5:00am and I would like to get more than four hours of sleep. Of course I am sure there are people on this ship right now who wish they could get four minutes of sleep. If this keeps up we are going to miss Grand Cayman. The travel channel says sunrise is at 7:37am. But that is what it said yesterday and we are heading east, which means the sun will rise sooner.
Well, now it's 7:00am and I am fully awake, and so is the sun. No big deal, I knew I was too tired to get up for any sunrise photos. Well, the wind and seas are the same, but it's light outside. Let's see what it looks like. I know a rouge wave can reach three times the normal wave height. Twelve times three is 36. Even though I am sure the bow is higher than that, I'll keep the bulkhead door closed, just in case.
Our heading is 80 degrees and we are going about 20 knots. The wind is coming from 45 degrees at 25 knots. So, standing out at the rail I am basically being blasted by a 40 knot headwind. It's not that comfortable. However, back up a bit and it's not that bad. Basically once the wind gets close enough to the cabin walls it has nowhere to go. As a result the wind is just pushing against the air, and it is more like a gentle breeze. So you don't have to worry about the wind in a forward facing balcony.
Because of all the horror stories about Columbia, I have decided to take one of the ship's sponsored tours in Cartagena. When I first found out we were going here I wondered if it was safe. I was told it is, as long as you stay in a group. Don't go off by yourself. I heard bits and pieces of this same advice while channel surfing on the ship's TV. Others on this ship warned me of how aggressive the street vendors can be, and also how many there are. So I am a little concerned as we head out. Even the tour guide warns us, if you take a picture of anybody they will expect you to pay them.
The original notice said that we would meet on the dock. Two or three days ago I was handed a slip of paper saying that our meeting place had been changed to the Stardust Theater. What! I had my heart set on meeting on the pier. I WANT A FREE CRUISE! As we pull into what is a very large harbor I notice dozens of buses lined up along one of the piers. I know which pier we are docking at. It is an industrial pier, servicing container ships. When I get to the Stardust Theater I notice it is almost full. What is going on, and where does the tour meet? I find a crew member who tells me I am in the right place. Apparently I am not the only one on this tour.
While waiting I start talking with the crew member. Since I know she sleeps below the water line I asked her about the sound of the waves crashing against the hull. Apparently it was not a problem for her, nor was the movement of the ship. That lack of movement does not surprise me, as she sleeps closer to the water line than I do. At any rate I mention one of the favorite cruise director jokes when ship is rocking back and forth. It is easy to tell the drunks, because they are the ones walking in a straight line. She laughs - she hasn't heard that one yet.
Most of those buses I noticed by the pier are for the tour I am on. I get assigned to a bus and off we go. Even as the bus is backing to park at the first stop the street vendors are all over us. But a simple no thank you and they leave me alone. There are a lot of street vendors, but I don't feel pressured. As we approach the entry gate there is someone there with a three towed sloth. I remembered from one of the Discovery Channel programs that a three towed sloth is okay, however, the two towed ones are not so friendly. For $5 he takes a few pictures of me with my camera.
At the next stop more street vendors. And again, they are obviously trying to sell something, but they are showing respect. The third stop is a bunch of shops. Each proprietor is standing by the door. I am asked to come into each shop. If I do, I am free to walk around without any sales pressure. If I don't come in, I am not bothered. I am after two things, key chains for my friend's children's key chain collection and coffee for my sister and brother-in-law. The coffee is of course easy to find. Believe it or not, the key chains are not.
When done I am standing outside one of the shops waiting for our bus. One of the shop owners offers me a chair. I don't know about anyone else's experience in Cartagena, but not only are these people respectful, they are down right friendly. I feel perfectly safe. So why all the horror stories?
At the next stop I ask the tour guide about the stories and mention how friendly the people seem. The reason for so many street vendors is the government does not offer any assistance. The people realize that when tourists come it benefits everybody. It seems they want to attract tourist and realize the best way to do this is to be friendly. They have won me over. If I come here again I might just go out on my own. I feel as safe here as I do in Miami.
Well, after four hours in the heat and humidity we return to the ship. I note that some touchup painting is being done to the side of the ship, so I guess we hit the side of the canal a few times. I see the butler has brought one of the two DVDs I am interested in. Tomorrow is a day at sea. I'm going to work on a CD for the little girl and if I get tired of that, I'll watch the DVD. In the meantime I'm tired, so I lay down for a while. Then I grab lunch at the aft buffet. The chicken taste like - chicken. But the teriyaki pork tastes great, so I go back for seconds on that. Then back to the cabin for a nap. I'm up in time for the sail away. This harbor is huge. It might be as big as San Francisco Bay. And just as soon as we exit the harbor, oh boy the wind hits. We are in for another fun night.
I have time before the show to see the "official" ship photograph (I get one free because I bought an album). There are some goods ones there. I get an 8 x 10 that I like for free, and purchase two 5 x 7s, which are only $5 each. Two 5x7 photos is 70 square inches. One 8x10 photo is 80 square inches. So why are two 5x7s only $10 and one 8x10 is $20? On the way down I notice that the starboard of deck seven is closed due to high winds.
Tonight's show is another comedy routine. This time the comedian specializes in "vocal manipulation" (in other words, a ventriloquist). He is average, and to be honest, laughter might be the best medicine, but I miss the production shows. Per the Freestyle Daily, tomorrow is another comedy routine. At least they could provide a little variety by offering a BBQ chicken cooking demonstration.
After the show I decide to check out the smaller main restaurant. When I get there, there is a line, so I go to the gift shop to see if there is anything new. No there isn't, so I head back to the restaurant (I figured the line was from all the people who, like me, just got out of the show). On the way I see the captain and ask if we will be able to stop in Grand Cayman. He says of course, why not? I respond, because usually when it is this windy the ships don't stop there (oops - someone who is familiar with that port). The captain then says that Grand Cayman is two days away and we will see what the weather is like tomorrow. Okay, fair enough.
Sure enough when I arrive at Alizar the second time there is no line. It is my understanding that the smaller restaurant is supposed to have a lighter menu, but if seems to weigh the same as the menu in the Grand Pacific Restaurant. At any rate the food is very good.
While waiting for my dinner I hear the two English couples next to me talking (by English I mean British - not American English) and it suddenly dawns on me why so many people from Europe might be on this cruise. They are taking a month long cruise, which not only takes them through the eighth wonder of the world, but also transports them back home (or at least pretty close). Not a bad deal if you ask me.
So far I have only repeated one restaurant, and that is Cagney's. It was always my intention to eat at Cagney's at least twice. But I have pretty much run out of restaurants that I want to try. So I'll be repeating others.
Day 11 - day at sea
Well, this was not your typical day at sea. The cruise director put together a behind the scenes slide show that was very interesting. We were shown a lot of the areas that are off limits to the passengers. At the end we were given a fact sheet. The ship holds 713,000 gallons of fuel. At full speed the ship burns about one gallon per second.
And while all of this was going on we were in the middle of conducting a rescue. There was a small sailboat that had lost electrical power and propulsion. And there was some sort of medical emergency on board the sail boat. The captain was supposed to provide more information after the rescue, so I have had the TV on channel 23 all day. I like the music on channel 22 better, but the ship's announcements can only be heard in the public areas or on channel 23 (the bow camera channel - in other words the same view I have out my window). So my choices were to either leave the front door open or listen to channel 23. I felt listening to channel 23 was the lesser of the two evils. However, we left the sailboat about eight hours ago and I haven't heard an update.
I don't know what the medical emergency was, and since most of this went on while I was watching the behind the scenes slide show, I missed most of what happened. However, I was able to get some pictures and the talk among the passengers is the sailboat had to be abandoned. So I guess we have some additional passengers on board. Hopefully we will get some more information later.
We are traveling a little faster to make up for lost time, but should still arrive on time. The wind has died down, so hopefully we will get to visit Grand Cayman (which is a tender port).
For the rest of the morning I worked on putting together the CD for the girl from Canada. It actually took less time than I thought it would and I decided to go out for lunch. That is when I ran into the mother and her daughter. When I asked where the guys were she said that she did not know. I had lunch with them and we talked for a while. The guys showed up eventually and I talked longer with the husband. What seemed like an hour was actually four hours. How come that never happens at work?
Then they went swimming and I finished making the CDs. It took three CDs to hold all the photos I am giving them. I am giving them about 600 photos; including photos of what they are doing tomorrow (they are going to Stingray City, so I gave them photos from my visit there last June). While 600 photos might sound like a lot, it is actually only about half of the total number of pictures I have taken.
Okay, now that I am done I need to get the photos to them. I call their room, but there is no answer. It is a little late to be out on deck, but if they are not in their room then where else can they be. As I walk out on the deck thirteen I see it is just about empty. Okay, lets see, they like bridge, ping-pong, golf and basketball (they also like hockey, but there isn't a hockey rink within 200 miles of us right now). Sure enough I find the guys on the basketball court. We talk some more and he invites me to the show and dinner. Great, how do we meet up? My cabin is two decks above the Stardust Theater, they will stop by. Okay, I'll work on this.
The phone rings. They want to go to Teppanyaki. Yikes! That requires reservations. I call the concierge and she comes through with reservation for six at 9:30.
The show is another comedy routine with Rich Purpura, who is very good. While the cruise director did acknowledge the excitement of this morning, he did not provide an update. However, he did make a joke about there being one more person in line at the buffet, so I guess we did pick up some passengers. After the show we have an hour to kill before dinner. The gals and the oldest boy go up to the Spinnaker Lounge to see Cat's Pajamas purrr-fect encore. The lounge is filled to overflowing and the husband, the youngest boy and I go down to my cabin to relax until dinner.
We turned out to be the only ones booked for the 9:30 dinner show. Apparently the husband had been given bad information by his friends. Most of the extra cost restaurants are half price after 8:30pm, but not Teppanyaki. Fortunately two of his children were half price. It was a special treat for the kids, who had never seen this kind of dinner entertainment. The food was good and we all enjoyed ourselves.
Day 12 - Grand Cayman
We are due in Grand Cayman at 8:00am. However, sometime between 7:00 and 7:30am when I look out the window I realize we are already here. And we are not the first one to arrive. The Carnival Inspiration is already here. It seems each of the biggest cruise lines is sending two representatives to Grand Cayman today. Joining us is the Norwegian Jewel. Joining the Carnival Inspiration is the Carnival Liberty. And from Royal Caribbean we are joined by the Liberty of the Seas and the Radiance of the Seas. I'm guessing about 15,000 passengers.
My all time favorite shore excursion is Stingray City, which I have done twice. I wanted to try an independent firm that I have heard good things about. However, while I knew what ship time we were schedule to arrive and depart at, I could not find out what time zone the ship would be on. Without this critical information I was unwilling to book an independent. Therefore, I decided to try something new. So I booked snuba through the ship.
Snuba is half way between snorkeling and scuba. You are breathing compressed air from a tank, but the tank floats on the surface on a raft. There is a 20 foot airline with a regulator at the end for swimmer. It was fun and I'm glad I did it.
The tour group was made up of passengers from both NCL and Royal Caribbean. The tour guides are all members of PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors). Each guide takes four people. I was added to a family of three. There are two people to a tank. I was with Mom. Apparently Mom didn't feel comfortable with the set up and never dived below the water surface. I had no problem except that my throat was dry because of the dry air I was breathing and I ended up having to tow Mom around (which was no big deal).
I took my water proof camera with me and the guide took some pictures of me with my camera. They came out great. Someone else had a water proof camera case for his expensive camera. Unfortunately it leaked. So he lost a $350 camera. I looked into a water proof case. The problem is they cost as much as my water proof camera, and if you change cameras you have to get a new case. Also, of course the case is bigger than the camera. My water proof camera cannot go as deep as a camera with a special case, but I am not planning on going deeper than 15 feet anyway. The water proof camera cost the same as the case, is smaller and provides me with a back up camera just in case.
While waiting in the terminal area for the shore excursion I saw the assistant cruise director. I asked about the sailboat. He said that there was only one person on the boat and that he had an arm injury. There is a major difference between Grand Cayman and the other four ports we visited. Not only does everyone speak English, but their standard of living is on par with the USA or Canada. There are no street vendors, the shop owners are not standing outside their shop inviting or coercing you into their store and there is no gauntlet of taxi drivers offering you a ride (either in their taxi or on the madam's bed).
Back on the ship I was tried, as it was hot and humid in Grand Cayman. I relaxed outside and got lots of good photos of the other ships in the harbor. As I am laying in the shade waiting for the ships to move so I can get some pictures from different angles, I reflect on the fact that I just made it through an entire cruise without hearing the old tour guide joke that goes, if you liked the tour my name is Adam and the driver is Bob. If you didn't like the tour my name is Charles and the driver is David. I'll have to book a cruise to Mexico and book a ship sponsored shore excursion. I don't think I can make it through two cruises without hearing that old classic.
Once under way the wind seemed to pick up (it was calm while we were in Grand Cayman) and I relaxed prior to the show. The show is billed as, "Showtime: Broadway All starts - some Enchanted Evening". Okay, at last a production show. What a disappointment. First of all it was not a production show. There was one pianist and six singers. Now I am not a qualified music critic, but I thought the pianist could use a lot more practice and singers were average. And the best of the bunch did the least amount of singing.
Another problem was the setting. Two of the singers did one of the songs from Oklahoma. Oklahoma can be done one of two ways, either as a song to sing, or with a western theme. I've seen it done well both ways. So imagine watching two people, one in a tux and the other in a formal dress pretending that they were wearing the same thing a cowboy and cowgirl would be wearing. It just didn't work.
After the show there was a chance for some of the behind the scenes crew to get on stage and receive a cheer. They were introduced by the person in charge of payroll on the ship and the cruise director singing. Both of whom I thought were better than five of the six singers we had just listened to.
After the show I went to Cagney's for dinner. The waiter, who was very good, recognized me from the last time I was there. However, the rest of the staff was off their game tonight. As I was being seated, three waiters were trying to figure who would be the waiter at the table they had all just descended upon. I ordered three sides and requested that my steak be cooked medium. Well I got three sides, but one of them was not the right one. I ate it anyway. The waiter somehow caught on to the error and he gave me the correct third side that I ordered, after I had already finished the wrong one. Meanwhile the steak I received was fine on the outside and raw in the middle. The waiter took it back (I didn't have to send it back) and returned later with the same piece with the same problem and he took it back again. A little later the manager brought out one that was cooked properly.
So now they think the sides have gotten cold and bring me three new sides. Well, I had already eaten the sides, so now I had seven sides. And the waiter was offering to bring me another steak (I had already eaten the second one that had been brought to me - it was fine). I turned down the second steak, and I did not eat sides five, six or seven. But I did leave the biggest tip of the three times I was there.
Back in my cabin I am pretty much dead tired and the ship is rocking. So I watch a little TV and go to sleep.
Day 13 - day at sea
I wake up and the ship is still rocking. I think it is pretty early because there is no light coming in the window, until I realize the room stewardess closed the drapes so she would have something to hang the towel monkey on. It's not really that early, but I can catch the sunrise if I want. I decide I'm too tired for that and check out the travel channel. We are still heading northwest to get around Cuba at 19 knots. There is a 30 knot wind coming from the north east and the ship is pitching up and down pretty good. I figure it is only about an eight or nine inch motion, but found out later from the captain that it was three feet. While I am watching the travel channel the ship begins its turn to the right. Soon we will be headed north east, toward Miami.
While I don't feel sea sick, I decide to error on the side of caution and I take one ginger tablet. After my shower I sit out on the balcony for a while and watch the horizon. The combination of the two really helps to bring me back from 95% to 100%.
I go to the disembarkation talk, mainly because the senior officers will be there after for a Q & A session (barring any distressed sailboats). Nothing new in the debarkation talk that I have not heard several times before in I my eight prior cruises. With the ship moving the way it is the cruise director tells the joke about the drunks being the ones who are walking straight. He also talks about the comment cards and then says that if we liked the cruise his name is Paul, and if we didn't like the cruise his name is Mike. Oh good, now I don't have to book Mexico as my next cruise.
At the Q & A session someone asks the captain about the sail boat. The sailor was by himself and had started sailing from New York in July. He had recently left Jamaica headed for Panama. He had fallen overboard that morning and had dislocated his shoulder. He was in too much pain to control his boat. In case you are wondering how he got back on board, people who sail alone tie themselves to the boat for safety. We took him to Grand Cayman where he got patched up and is making arrangements for someone to take him back out to his boat in a few days.
We also learned that the captain considers this to be good weather. After all, when under way the ship is moving at up to 25 knots, so a 30 knot winds does not mean much to him. We learned the ship has a range of about 4500 nautical miles. We refueled in Cartagena which would have been around 3500 to 3700 nautical miles if I recall correctly. One nautical mile is 1.15 land miles.
We also learned that there is no difference between the stern and aft and the difference between a boat and a ship is you can put a boat on a ship, but you cannot put a ship on a boat. Before the officers got there the cruise director asks someone to ask about the water in the pools (fresh or salt). Somebody actually asked that one. As soon as we heard the question we started laughing. The chief engineer gave a serious answer and of course the passenger then said, oh, that explains why the pools (which have salt water) are so rough. I am sure the offers laughed because they had been caught by surprise, and not because this was a new joke for them.
The captain was asked the old standby about if you are here, who is steering the ship. Of course he has heard this one several times. So he told us one time he told a passenger that if it Tuesday it must be housekeeping. Well the passenger thought he was serious and put a negative comment on the comment card says that it was irresponsible to have housekeeping steering the ship on Tuesday. So this time he said he has no idea (yes he does - it is the auto pilot).
I head back to the cabin to get caught up. I upload my photos from yesterday and write this. Because of the cloud cover it is cooler outside (about 67, which is 15 degrees less then what we have been experiencing), which is great for me, because now I can keep my balcony door open.
Well, I like the weather, but the rest of the passengers don't. The pools and pool deck is just about empty.
In the afternoon I watched the last DVD. Then I started to fill out the questionnaire. My thoughts as I reflect back. My favorite port, by far, was Cartagena. The Panama Canal was fantastic. I really did miss the outdoor BBQ. My first cruise was a fourteen night Alaska cruise on a ship built in 1957 or 1958 (I was invited by my parents for their 50th wedding anniversary). Another of their guests was the travel agent. At the time she mentioned that one week is not long enough (true). Ten or eleven days are perfect. Two weeks is too long. At the time that seemed true. But now two weeks does not seem too long. It was great to realize that after one day at sea and two ports that the cruise was not half over. The atmosphere was much different with so few children on the ship. Not better and not worse - just different.
I still prefer traditional dining. Yes I met interesting people when I shared a table. But on my last cruise (with Royal Caribbean) my table mates were interesting people also. The reason I like traditional dining is that with Freestyle you have to make reservations, and that requires thinking and planning. I would rather use the thinking and planning time for figuring out how I can have more fun, not for figuring out when I want to eat. Also, since the shows occur during dinner time, if you want to see the show you are still pretty much stuck to a set dining schedule. I say this even though, because of the demographic on this cruise, I was able to eat all my extra cost meals late, when they were half price. On the Star it was the early meals that were half price.
As for the cabin, it is an AC penthouse suite. This is one level above the smaller suites at the rear of the ship. The cabin size is about the same as a mini or junior suite on other ships. The size of the balcony was great and I put it to good use. But this cabin could easily sleep three or four (by having a bed or two come out of the ceiling or a sleeper sofa). Limiting it to two limits it to couples, and suites are great for families with young children. Even an AA suite, which would be great for families, is limited to just two. The butler and concierge where nice, but not necessary. It was nice having one person to call for all my needs. However, usually I called her for reservations, and there is one central number to call for reservations. Breakfast and/or lunch at Cagney's is nice, but just gives you a somewhat exclusive place to eat. I like eating on my balcony, which I did several times. The butler spent most of his time trying to get me to ask him to do something for me. He seemed surprised when I tipped him and even said that he did not do that much for me (true - but some of the tip was for his effort and attitude).
Did I enjoy the cruise? Very much! The ship and the staff were great. I did feel a little slighted being on a maiden voyage with nothing special (no special souvenir program for example) and that the ship was not totally converted to the Jade (the interior was still Hawaiian, the final outside paint job had not been done, the casino was not ready - even though I did not gamble, the lack of production shows, the missing outdoor BBQ units … None of this was important, but it would have made the cruise a little more special.
This review may be long, but it only represents one person's experience on an itinerary that is not likely to be repeated in the near future (I expect the Jade will spend a long time in the Atlantic before, if ever, it is transferred back to Hawaii). I hope however, that it gives the reader some idea of what a special cruise is like, and even though cruising in general is special, this was a special cruise even when compared to cruising in general.
Day 14 - Debarkation day
I woke up after the ship turned around in the turning basin. We arrived a little early. Soon afterward the Jewel pulled up in front of us. However, from this point forward things started to slow down. As part of the BAGS program I was supposed to be off the ship by 8:50am. As I understand the schedule, the express group (take your own bags off) was first. The VIPs were second. The BAGS group was third, then the colored tags. Fortunately I was in a suite so the concierge allowed me to join the VIP group. Unfortunately the VIP group did not get off until 9:00am, and I was the first person not dragging any luggage to get off the ship. When I got to the truck they refused to take my luggage. They said I would have to call NCL for a refund. On top of that, they refused to give me my luggage tags. As a result, when I got to the airport, I could not curb check my luggage, because Continental's records showed that two luggage tags had already been printed. Oh great. This was after fighting for a taxi. This was not the way I wanted to end my vacation.
Fortunately the check in line was not too bad and I was able to get my bags checked through to my sister's house, where I am spending the weekend before flying home Monday morning. The security line was fairly long. Fortunately I have elite status with Delta which Continental honors, so I made it past security by 10:00am. Otherwise it would have been closer to 10:20am. Nonetheless, I could not believe the number of people who did not know how to get past the metal detector. Here is a hint - remove all the metal in your pockets.
So, while they say anyone with a flight after 11:30am can use BAGS, based on my experience, I would not use the program unless I was flying after 12:30pm. One small glitch in clearing the ship and this program will slow you down (and remember, I had VIP status - I'm not sure where I would be if I did not have VIP status).
Also, in case you are wondering, Miami Airport does not offer free Internet access. When I get to the final destination both of my bags are two of the first six off the plane (thank you elite status and Continental). However, at my sister's house I find one lock missing and one slightly damaged (that is TSA's fault, not Continental's fault). The damaged lock I am able to fix with a pair of pliers and I did have an extra lock with me. My flight home on American was a direct flight, but during the layover a mechanical issue popped up, and we ended up about 1 ½ hours late arriving in Burbank.
Well, I hope you found this review helpful in some way. For me, now it's time to start planning the shore excursions for my next cruise, which leaves in about six weeks. Read Less