Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

All Quiet on the Southern Front

As predicted, today was even quieter than yesterday. We chatted amiably with a couple of retired ladies from Alberta, Canada, before returning to the room to gather our supplies for Trivia. We always take our own pens as well as Goetze’s Caramel Creams, known as Bullseyes in other parts of the country. They are a Baltimore specialty and we are trying to get the rest of the world addicted; Trivia Kevin was really excited when we slipped some to him on Saturday, and other Trivia players have accused us of bribing him.

By the time we got to the Trivia venue, the Ocean Bar, it was packed. We weren’t able to get our “regular” table and ended up at the bar before D spotted an empty table. We hustled to it before someone jumped our claim and D dragged 2 more chairs over so we had seating for four. It was perfect. Our teammates straggled in and we proceeded to giggle our way to a second place tie today, one point behind the winners. Shoulda, coulda, woulda – we had at least one more correct answer which we bypassed in our path to second place. [What do you call the place between the two halves of a backgammon set? We almost wrote “hinge” but settled on the incorrect “wall” instead of “bar.’] We are having our own friendly rivalry with Ken and Lois’s team since we had identical results both yesterday and today.

Trivia has changed a little from previous cruises. In the past, the daily winners were awarded ‘cheap ship stuff’ after the papers were scored. On this Grand Voyage, the daily winners get 2 Grand dollars each and the second place team players get 1 Grand dollar each. At the end of the cruise, the dollars can be exchanged for new cheap ship stuff. Passengers may also win these dollars by participating in sports activities. Once upon a time [i.e., two years ago], HAL issued DAM dollars at the sports events and redeemed them for athletic clothing and supplies. There’s nothing that good now, but at least we don’t have to worry about schlepping key chains, pictures frames and luggage tags home.

We sat and talked some more with our teammates before heading to the computer center to try to post the blog for Saturday and Sunday. The connection was poor and D gave up after wasting 10 minutes with no positive results. He met MA in one of the lounges where she had been reading and sipping an iced latte, then went to the MDR for lunch. Oh, no! We were 5 minutes too late for sit-down lunch and did not want to indulge in the international buffet, so we went to the burger bar by the Lido pool. MA got a veggie burger and D had a knockwurst while we watched on-deck whale races run by Thom and his staff. Participants won more dollars based on their bets, but we were not so greedy as to join the small but enthusiastic group.

After lunch, D was able to post the blog and e-mail a Cruise Critic chart to himself from the Ocean Bar where the wireless is at its peak. Then he went to the internet area and used the ship’s computers to download the chart and print it. Once that was done, he opened the blog and formatted it so both faithful followers could read it easily. A quick stop at the Front Office yielded 50 copies of the Cruise Critic name-and-cabin chart which the Housekeeping staff will distribute to everyone.

MA got tired of waiting for him in the Ocean Bar, so she returned to the room where D found her working on a crossword puzzle. He made a few calls leaving messages with people about the new vacancy on the Rabat trip. If there are no takers, he will e-mail the agency, apprise them of the problem, and ask for a partial refund. There is still plenty of time until we reach Casablanca, but we want this resolved earlier rather than later.

And then it was nap time.

We discovered that the early cruiser also gets the table and chairs in the Ocean Bar before dinner, not just at Trivia. By the time we got there at 7:30, our usual time, there were no seats left. We were fortunate that a couple was leaving and motioned to us to take their table; they even waited for us so no one else could usurp it. When we went into the MDR, our next door neighbors, a lovely Asian couple, told us that they had been able to get a larger table so they could sit with other friends. They invited us to join them, but we demurred. Dinner itself was fine – MA ordered the day’s side vegetables, broccoli and a corn-stuffed tomato, in lieu of an entrĂ©e – and we discovered that we were finished much earlier than other days because there was no cross-conversation with the neighbors. Things will certainly liven up when Ed & Roxanne arrive.

The show tonight was the antithesis of last night’s. There was no rock and roll, no dancing, and little excitement. The performer assumed the persona of Ethel Merman and gave a brief musical drama based on Merman’s career. The music was enjoyable but was, as is the habit on cruise ships, over-produced. The opening line of the show, spoken from behind the curtains, alluded to the fact that Merman would never had needed a microphone to be heard at the back of the auditorium, yet the whole show was amplified and all of the songs were done with an electronic echo [reverb]. Her lisp didn’t help matters. Merman headlined 14 Broadway shows from Girl Crazy to Gypsy and introduced many songs which became popular on their own.

Before the show began, D spoke with Louise with whom we will be sharing five tours. She had just found out that her travel agency was providing a free tour in Rome. She was conflicted because she had committed to our Roman adventure. She was also more honorable than the couple who backed out of Rabat – she said they would not drop out unless she could find replacements. That’s the way it should be done.

We saw our erstwhile dinner companions on the way out of the theater and she told us that they were thinking about returning to their original table. He wears a hearing and the noise level in the other dining room bothered him. They are really angling for a table for 4 right behind ours; it was been vacant each night so far. If it stays empty for 4 nights, the staff may make the change. Oh, the intrigue!

Tomorrow – Gustavia, St. Barts

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
A Quiet Day in the Caribbean

Our first port of call is Gustavia on St. Barts island [actually, St. Bartholomey Island]. It has become a playground for the rich with a harbor filled with yachts too big to describe. We were here two years ago and decided to stay aboard and rest up for the “real” ports where we have tours. The day is cloudy and there have been sporadic showers, so we have no real need to tender into the town. We will read and play Trivia this afternoon. [On sea days, we play at 11:30; on port days, it begins at 3:30] The last tender from shore leaves at 5:30, but we are sure that most of the Trivials will be back for The Game.

Breakfast found us next to an elderly couple [aren’t we all on this trip] who seemed pleasant enough, but he interrogated us pretty thoroughly about our lives, children, etc. We talked very little about travel, the usual topic among new acquaintances, but he did mention how much they liked Bruce Scudder, the Cruise Director on the Amsterdam, whom we distinctly disliked. They gushed over him and were especially effusive about his piano playing abilities. Later, there were some anti-immigrant comments which did not set well so we will try to avoid these people if we can. As Disney said, though, “It’s a small world.”

We stopped at the internet center so MA could catch up with Facebook. When she was done, D e-mailed the tour operator in Egypt to say that we would not be there. He also wrote to the vendor for our trip to Rabat asking about a partial refund if we cannot fill the two spaces created when someone backed out on the opening day. While at the computers, we heard another passenger ask about re-charging his Kindle. He had forgotten to pack the power cord but D volunteered to do it for him, so our first chore when we returned to the room was to plug it in for him. We will return it later today. That’s the way most folks are on small ships on long cruises.

We went to the Lido Deck and read at a table in the shade where we could still enjoy the tropical warmth and breeze. We ate a staggered lunch, first MA [veggie burger] and then D [pastrami]. We talked with the Republicans at the next table for a while. We seem to attract them. Because of the crowd at Trivia yesterday, we went to the Ocean Bar a bit after 2 p.m. and claimed the small table we had yesterday; it is perfect for a team of four. Linda didn’t show up by 3:30 but we added a fellow whose whole team failed to appear. With help from all members, we were able to win today with a score of 14/17. We are now the team with a target on our collective backs.

On the way back to the room, D returned the no-longer-dead Kindle to its owner who was so grateful that he offered to buy D drink. D declined but told the fellow to call him when the e-reader died again.

And then the nap.

For those keeping track of things [Roxanne], we have received not one but two presents so far. On Sunday night, the first formal night, we returned to the room to find two cruise diaries on the bed. Each has its own pouch to protect it from TSA or something. Last night we got carry-alls emblazoned with the logo for the cruise. These are nice, plastic lined bags suitable for tchotchkes or wet bathing suits. With eight more formal nights to go, we should be rolling in stuff before we get home.

Moving on…We got to the Ocean Bar early enough tonight to get seats without difficulty and spent a half-hour watching the dancers. Some are quite good while others are quite enthusiastic. Dinner was shrimp cocktails and penne-spinach casseroles. We have a new neighbor at the next table but are not sure if she will be there tomorrow. She said this was her fourth table in four nights. This could get interesting. We can’t wait for Ed & Roxanne to arrive so we can have fun at dinner.
We skipped the show tonight and returned to the room to read.

And so to bed, as Samuel Pepys used to write.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Another Sunny Day in Paradise

Another day, another Caribbean Island. Today we are on Terre de Haute, one of the tiny outer islands of Guadeloupe. Once again, it was overcast and sprinkling when we dropped anchor but was clear, sunny and hot by the time we made it ashore. The town where we anchored did not have a level spot on it. Even the streets closest to the shore were not flat. We wandered through the town for a while, marveling at the vibrant local life. There were plenty of little shops which were obviously aimed at the tourists, but most were part of the local life – little grocery stores, restaurants and bakeries as well as lots of Heineken outlets. The street was full of locals going about their daily lives.

The harbor was chock-a-block with sailing vessels although none rivaled the ones we saw in St. Bart’s for size or splendor. Still, some were sizeable and cost more than most houses. There were quite a few catamarans as well. Sailboats dotted the blue-green water between Terre de Haute and the other volcanic islands which comprise Guadeloupe.

We stayed ashore for about an hour and saw everything we could see or wanted to see. By 11:30, we were on board the Prinsendam and cranking up the A/C in the cabin. Once we were cool and dry, we went to the Lido pool to read and, eventually, have lunch [veggie burgers for both]. At 2:00, we descended to the Ocean Bar to stake out our table and read. D tried to upload the blog for the past two days, but the internet connection was down. Instead, he began today’s entry and then read his Kindle until Trivia time at 3:30.

Since it is a port day, Kevin is again busy with other duties, so a replacement Trivia host worked with us today. He has such a heavy accent that all of us in the room had difficulty understanding what he was saying as well as having difficulty understanding the questions. By the time we were done with all of the questions and the bonus, everyone just wanted it over with. We went over the answers as a group and we and Ken & Lois’s both had 14 out of 17 points. The new guy declared a team with 13 as the second place team which, naturally brought howls of protest from the two winning teams. There was a playoff between the 2 teams. But wait! After the second playoff question, a third team claimed they had scored 14 as well and that they should be included in the playoff. Since New Guy had collected the papers and maybe misread the scores [we have our doubts about the this team], they were allowed to continue even though no one knew if they had the right or wrong answers on the first two tie-breakers. They definitely missed the third and sat and fumed as if it were our collective fault. We were still tied after the third extra question [not that we had the right answers each time, just that we were either both right or both wrong]. Finally, the other team won on a question neither of us understood, but there guess was closer to the correct numerical answer than ours. They each received 3 Grand dollars; we got two apiece; and we’re not sure if anyone [like the crybabies] got one dollar.
It was 4:15 by the time we finished, too late for a nap, so we returned to the room and read, worked crossword puzzles and updated the journal.

We got smart tonight and went to the Ocean Bar 15 minutes earlier than usual. We had no trouble finding a little table for two and spent the time until dinner watching the dancers. The lady who sat next to us last night was gone tonight, so we are alone again. The table for six behind us is empty, too. Maybe it’s us. After dinner [veggies, again/dry duck], we went to the room where MA read and D finished today’s entry and then posted it on line.

Tomorrow -- Martinique

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