Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Home Stretch

Monday, May 9, 2011

Alarms and Alms

The quiet of the night was destroyed at 6:15 this morning as the fire alarms blared into all of the cabins on the ship. Our reaction was calculated – we waited for a further announcement. Sure enough, the captain announced after several minutes that the noise was a false alarm and that we should all go back to sleep. Sure.

We tossed and turned for a while and finally gave in to reality around 7. We had an early breakfast planned anyway since Trivia was scheduled for 10:00. When we entered the MDR at 8:00, we asked Bahtiar if he were responsible for the false alarm. He denied any involvement and said the first he knew about it was the captain’s announcement that it was indeed false; he had slept right through the alarms.

D went to the Ocean Bar and kibitzed with other Trivia regulars until MA arrived. He had intended to update the journal but did not regret that he was distracted. Everyone save Linda appeared today and we were able to take a second place GD to add to the collection. Even though Sandra left early for another commitment, we got a dollar for her, too.

We sat and chatted/gossiped more after the game broke up. Bob, Kay, Sandra, MA and D sat around until noon before going their separate ways. While the others talked, D went in search of Danielle to con her [successfully] out of GD so we could have some fun at the Cruise Critic meeting tomorrow. We have secretly planned some games and quizzes to amuse and enrich the CC members who show up, but there will be more about that in tomorrow’s entry.

We had a 12:30 reservation at the Pinnacle Grill [which we call the Pineapple Grill]. The service was impeccable and the food was different than the MDR or Lido. D had a great bacon cheeseburger but MA wasn’t as impressed with her selection. If we go again someday, she will no doubt order something else.

There was another mid-Atlantic swim with Thom at 1:30, so we made our way to the Lido pool where we joined Bob and Kay in watching the crazies who went into the pool in order to garner another 10 GD. Sandra and Alan were already there, suitably attired, when Ed and Roxanne arrived. Ed had turned into a GD slut, too, and was in his swim trunks. We had fun watching from the sidelines.

While we were waiting, D asked Danielle about borrowing hula hoops for tomorrow’s Cruise Critic Olympiad. She passed him off to another Staff member who promised to have them in the Crow’s Nest by 10:00 tomorrow morning. We’ll see how that works out.

Our next stop was the Explorer’s Lounge to check out the crafts and donations available in a silent auction. The money from the auction will go to the relief fund for victims of the Japanese tsunami and earthquake. We didn’t see anything interesting, so we continued on to the Java Bar. We found out at the show that the auction raised over $2000. MA got a drink and D checked e-mail from the children. There was also an alarming message from Charlie concerning our green swimming pool. We are hopeful that this will be remedied before we get home Friday.

A stop at the shops yielded two more t-shirts and then it was nap/journal time. We need to rest this afternoon so we can stay awake for the Indonesian crew show at 11:00 p.m. There is a rumor that Mega will be in the show, perhaps even as its star, so we must see it. Peder the Beverage Manager called before dinner to apologize for the fact there would be another function in the Crow’s Nest at 11:30 tomorrow and that the preparations might be a distraction during our CC meeting. We assured him that this would not be a problem. While we were having our pre-dinner libation, Peder’s assistant, Ferdie, came to apologize again for the inconvenience. D reassured him but jokingly added that Ferdie could pay for the drinks tonight; Ferdie responded by saying that he had already told our waiter to put our drinks on his tab! He even tried to persuade D to have something more than his customary water but to no avail.

The show tonight spotlighted Preston Coe, a tenor, who sang everything from Roy Orbison to opera. His voice was good and his showmanship top-notch. Once again, though, the sound mixer had the band overpower him too many times so that his voice could be heard but the words were lost. Still, it was a very good performance and he was well received.

Following the featured musician we stayed in the showroom for the Indonesian Crew Show. Like the earlier Filipino Crew Show, this is a staple of HAL cruises. Although crew members work long and hard, they give up their free time to practice for the show. They are proud of their country and its heritage and truly enjoy sharing with the passengers. There were singers and several magnificent dances, one by a waiter dressed as a woman for the dance and another by about a dozen crews members doing a “hand” dance. The hand dance was like a Busby Berkeley 1940s routine for white gloves. There were intricate patterns and lots of rhythmic movement. The closing had the whole cast, joined by some passengers, playing bamboo instruments. Each was numbered, according to its pitch, and the leader simply pointed at numbers on a chart. The players who had the correspondingly numbered instrument shook them and miraculously “My Way” rang out in the auditorium.

Mega really was the star. Not only did he play the guitar in the four-piece band, but he also helped direct the show AND portrayed the White Monkey – complete with sunglasses – in the traditional Ramayana dance. It was quite a night for Mega Star.

We gained an hour’s sleep tonight, so turning the lights out at midnight was not as bad as it sounds.

Tomorrow – the last Cruise Critic meeting

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cruise Critic and Cruise Critics

The final Cruise Critic meeting was rescheduled for this morning at 10:00. D arrived at the Crow’s Nest at 9:10 just to see if he could beat Bob and Judy. He didn’t – they were just ahead of him as he walked down the hallway. The three of us had barely settled in when a woman none of us knew walked in and presumed we were there to field complaints and plan trips.

She proceeded to unload on us about her disappointment in the HAL overnight to Marrakech and spent most of her energy complaining about the snake charmer at the group luncheon. If she had known there would be snakes [!] in Marrakech, she would never have gone! Gasp! What a surprise! We weren’t as sympathetic as she wanted us to be. We tried to explain patiently that CC does not plan shore excursions despite the rumor that one of our members has created. We told her how to get on the website and what to do from there, but it was a lost cause. We agreed after she finally left that we would not want to be on the same ship with her much less on a field trip with her.

MA arrived shortly thereafter followed shortly by Roxanne and then Ed. Others straggled in and we ended up with about twenty people altogether. D distributed member e-mail lists to everyone and had half of them left when he finished.

We had planned to have the First Cruise Critic Olympiad, especially appropriate since the ship had landed at Katakolon [and Olympia]. Our first event was to be the Men’s Belly Bump, but Ken was not at the meeting. He and D have been belly bumping for two months, but without Ken there was no competition so we canceled the rest of the events, too. We had no Belly Bump, Women’s Tushie Tap, Women’s Hula Hoop or men’s Hoop the Loop. D did ask some questions about the cruise and in the end gave everyone a Grand Dollar just for coming.

Event Manager Debbie came in just about then and asked if we needed more dollars because she, not Thom, controlled the money supply. She, too, made the point that no one would be counting when they are redeemed tomorrow. She was followed by Captain Albert, Hotel Manager Fermin, Beverage Manager Peder [who had really made all of the arrangements] and both the head chef and the Pinnacle chef. We had long conversations with the captain and Fermin and collectively thanked Peder. All in all, it was a good thing we didn’t have the Olympics. We did give Fermin and Peder Grand dollars as a joke and decided later to get GD coffee mugs for them, also more as a gag than something serious.

We broke up at 11:00 so the crew could continue their preparations for the other party in the Crow’s Nest. The regular group carried the leftovers down to Trivia where Gemstone Trivia with the jewelry shop staff was in full swing. The gem people swarmed the food as if they had never seen it before but left enough for the regular Trivia people who were as unappreciative as ever.

We got our just desserts [pun intended] by beating everyone at Trivia and winning another $2 apiece. Redemption Day is tomorrow and we will have enough Dollars to get everything we want plus the coffee mugs. Greed is good.

After lunch, we went to the showroom to watch the passenger Talent Show. There were several really good performers including a Russian woman who sang a seductive “Dark Eyes” and the rabbi who did Cinderella in double-talk. Gene the Trumpet Man, who too often plays with the band in the Ocean Bar was there, too, but was not very good. A few women told stories; one recited three short poems; and an old man tried to pay homage to Rodney Dangerfield but ended up insulting him with his lack-of-performance. The passenger Glee Club ended the show and got an A for effort.

The Unexpected Boys returned for a program of Broadway show tunes. Their offerings ranged from Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl to Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific. Once again, the singing was terrific but the “story” they used to get to the songs was weak. The best aspects of their dialog came when they fluffed their lines and everyone, including them, started laughing.

We had no extra hour tonight which means we will gain an hour’s sleep each of the last two nights. Huzzah!

Wednesday, May 11. 2011

Thou Swell

The Unexpected Boys should have been singing Oh What a Night as we rocked and rolled the whole night through and into the day. We shook and shimmied all day with the wind and waves tapering off as afternoon wore on. Some of the swells were as high as our cabin window according to D although MA disagreed. Regardless, the swells were swell.

We stayed in bed so late that our first stop was the Ocean Bar, not the MDR. MA sat and gossiped with several other women while D began yesterday’s journal entry. Today is the last regular Trivia contest with Grand Dollars as prizes; tomorrow, Kevin will award “real” prizes whatever that means. We got only 11 points today, but it was enough to win again. There were a few heated discussions about answers [woulda….] but in the end none of that mattered. Score another $4 for HAL 9000.

Lunch in the MDR followed shortly after Trivia because we had had no breakfast. The wind and seas forced a change of plans, so the Farewell Buffet was held today and tomorrow we will have barbecue on the Lido, maybe. The place was a mob scene early on but managed to get a variety of goodies for lunch followed by chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert before going to the cabin to begin the packing process.

The after-dinner show was another performance by the ship’s cast. It was better than the others principally because “Dudley” had the night off. This is strange in itself since they only performed six times in nine weeks. They had a real paid vacation. Fortunately, most of the other entertainers were good enough to make up for the quality of the cast.

Tomorrow – The last day

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Final Frontier

The last day at sea and on board wasn’t so different than the other sea days except for the packing. We had breakfast in the MDR; the final Trivia competition [which we lost]; lunch; and relaxing in the afternoon. Today was not so relaxing because of the packing but it went smoothly. Most of MA’s clothes are in plastic bags so packing them is a piece of baklava. D’s stuff is easy, too.

The hardest part of packing after a Grand Cruise is finding someplace to put all of the tchotchkes we have bought [like the masks in Venice and Banjul] along with the “pillow gifts” from HAL. We must not forget the windbreakers we bought before Venice and used just once or the commemorative plates we got last night. We also had the plush camels, luggage tags and straps, magnifiers, cruise logs and all of the prizes we got from redeeming the Grand Dollars.

Luckily, we also received personal watercraft, too, one per person. These were not really Jet-skis despite what D calls them; they are rolling duffel bags with outside pockets and hard plastic bottoms. It was a good thing they were wheeled because by the time they were filled – and they were -- they were almost too heavy to lift. That is the price we paid for having the additional capacity.

We are shipping the suitcases we brought aboard via FedEx at HAL’s expense. This is a perk for booking early and paying on time. We could have shipped the bags to the ship as well but would have had to pack two weeks earlier instead of the night before we left.

The bags were mostly finished by 4:00 but we waited until after supper to place everything [except the carry-off bags] in the hall. By 10:00, the bags were packed, strapped, tagged and hauled. We will not see them until Monday when they will appear at our door as if by magic. If FedEx delivered on Saturday, we would have them then because we are so close to the port. On the other hand, waiting a few days gives us time to relax and catch up on the mail and reality.

Tomorrow – home again

Friday, May 13, 2011

It’s Never Easy

If Emily has bad car karma [and she does], we have bad chauffeur karma. Two years ago, as loyal readers may remember, our driver forgot to put one of the bags in the car and we had to rent a car, drive home and retrieve it. This year was a little better.

Our driver Tony had contracted to ferry two couples to the port on March 12, so he had another driver carry the other couple who live not far from us. We had told him we would be shipping our bags and that if he brought a van, we would all be fine going home in one vehicle. After all, the Ballen Isles, as we called them, would have all of their baggage from the start plus their carry-off luggage including their Jet-skis. We would have our Jet-sis, two carry-on bags plus the carpet which had its own carryall.

When D called from outside the terminal at 9:15, however, Tony said he had brought the Lincoln Town Car because he assumed we would have no luggage. The others did not have the option of shipping their stuff home so were at the mercy of the Disembarkation Gods. We had no idea how much longer they would be, so we called Tony and told him he could pull up and wait for them but that we would make our own way home. He said that he had called another driver to come so we could put all of the people in one car and the luggage in the other [why not one car for each family?]. D told him to cancel the other car because we were going to rent a car and get on our way.

We trudged to the car rental shuttle stop with D dragging both wheeled duffels which had the other carry-ons hanging off of them. M carried the rug which was also heavy. We went to the airport rental facility and ended up at Thrifty just as we had two years ago. Soon we had a car and, quick as a bunny rabbit, we were on the road to West Palm. Our last cruise-related chore was returning the car to the West Palm airport. Even with the extra fee for dropping the car off at a different location, we spent less money and had less hassle than we would have waiting for Tony.

All’s well that ends well.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Less than a Week Left

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day One of the Crossing

The next week will be filled with the same routine as the beginning of the cruise more than two months ago. Breakfast, Trivia, read, nap, dinner and maybe the show. Nonetheless, no two days will be the same.

Before we venture into today’s narrative, we must mention the excitement at dinner last night. Because the journal was posted early in the day [around 4:30 ship’s time], there was no opportunity to talk about the dolphins. As we were sitting at the table eating and chatting, Bahtiar came to point out the school of dolphins which was literally right outside our window. Not only did they break the surface of the water, which was remarkably calm, but they were jumping clear out of the water, too. As they slid back down, they resembled humpback whales but from seven stories up, they seemed smaller. Regardless, it was a beautiful sight. Other diners rushed to the windows, but we could see quite well from our table.

We gained an hour back last night, so we are only four hours ahead of the East Coast. The extra hour meant that we woke up earlier according to the clock which was good because Trivia was at 10:00 instead of its usual 11:30. Why? The first of three [!] Mariner receptions and luncheons was held today starting at 10:45. Almost everyone on the ship is a Mariner, a repeat HAL passenger, and half of us have reached the 4-Star level with 200 days or more. If Trivia had been held at the regular time, a third or more of the regulars would have had a conflict and we all know that Trivia rules the ship.

Speaking of Trivia, we were second today with14/17. Had we had that 15th answer, we would have tied for first and then won the tie-break because Kevin asked it before we scored our papers. How long is a nautical mile in feet or meters? We still won another GD each, so that’s three days in a row. Yeah us!

After lunch in the Lido restaurant, we went to the showroom for an afternoon presentation. A guest lecturer was speaking and singing the first in a series called Cruising Broadway. Her concept was to sing selections from Broadway musicals and give the back-story to the shows. Her operatic style was not appropriate for the material she chose and her singing wasn’t very good anyway. Her monologues about the shows were poorly presented and boring. After fifteen minutes, we left, the first time we have ever walked out on a speaker or performer. As a fitting irony, though, she and her husband occupied the vacant table next to us at dinner; we are hoping we scared them off and they do not reappear tomorrow.

There were no dolphins at dinner; maybe the speaker scared them off with her singing. The show tonight was by a group called The Unexpected Boys, a cover group who performed songs by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The group was good although the frame story they used for the first part was no match for Jersey Boys. On the other hand, it was among the best shows of the cruise.

Tonight was the penultimate formal night and our “pillow gifts” were rolling suitcases in the cruise’s signature umber color with the cruise logo. These will go well with the Grand Africa and Med luggage straps which appeared a few days ago. These bags will hold lots of stuff but may prove to be too big to use as carry-on luggage when we fly. Their arrival signals the end of the trip just as the Fedex labels for our baggage did when they showed up two days ago. And the days dwindle down to a precious few.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

And Then There Were Six

Happily, we gained an hour’s sleep again last night and are now only three hours ahead of the rest of the family. We have six more days to make up the time.

We were on what passes for the normal schedule this morning with Trivia at 11:30 again. For the fourth day in succession, we finished literally in the money with a second place finish and more GD for the collection. Kevin told us today that we can ask for pretty much anything we want at the last redemption day. It seems that HAL HQ in Seattle sent the same number of prizes to the 850-passenger Prinsendam that they sent to the 1380-passenger Amsterdam, so the ship is swimming with “cheap ship stuff.” We will not take too much advantage of this, but all of those candies and sodas will finally pay off.

Lunch on the Lido deck today featured a whopping big fresh tuna, once again being butchered right before our eyes and then popped on the grill. MA isn’t a big tuna fan because it is normally served rare, but D enjoyed his. There was also fresh-caught “tooth fish” like the ones we saw in the Madeira market the other day [corbo?]. Along with salads, it made a tasty meal.

After lunch, there was Human Ring Toss by the pool. MA watched as D tossed hula hoops over the bodies of Cruise Staffers winning another 3 GD for the collection. The reward was secondary to the challenge, but we didn’t turn down the money, either. However, as we watched, the skies grew darker and darker and we knew that rain wasn’t far off.

The End draws ever nearer. We had to reclaim our passports today. There weren’t many new stamps in them for some reason. Maybe everyone is cutting back on government services. D also went to the Fedex lady and got some additional wire ties to secure the suitcases being shipped home. Fedex doesn’t deliver on Saturday according to another passenger, so our bags should arrive Monday; that will give us a few days to settle in before unpacking and doing laundry.

The rain came finally in the late afternoon and by the time we went to the Ocean Bar before dinner, it was almost impossible to tell sky from sea. The horizon had practically disappeared. The seas rolled for the rest of the night and into Sunday morning but not enough to make anyone too uncomfortable.

We and the Pettuses ate dinner at Sandra and Alan’s table tonight. It was nice having more and different people to talk to for a change. We went to see the comedian after dinner and laughed at most of his jokes, even the old ones.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother’s Day and Mariners

Skies were still dark and unsettled when we awoke and there was a storm behind us as we ate breakfast in the MDR. The important thing is that it stayed behind us and the day turned sunny and warm while the seas settled so that there was almost no motion by late morning.

Because the second of the three Mariner receptions and luncheons was held today, Trivia was early and awful. Our consecutive streak of rewards ended with a thud today – even with the “woulda, coulda, shouldas,” we couldn’t have placed in the money. As soon as the competition was over we had to leave the Ocean Bar, our home away from home, and hurry to the showroom for the reception.

We were directed to the front of the room along with everyone else after greeting the Captain, Fermin, Thom and Tina. Drinks and canapés were passed and MA had a mimosa while D had a Virgin Mary. We both declined the hors d’oeuvres knowing that lunch was not far off. Thom called passengers’ names while the Captain and Firmin handed out medallions to those who had sailed on HAL for 300 or more days. As part of that group, we received our medallions and had our picture taken with the captain and Hotel Manager. There were 53 people in the room who had passed the 300-day mark on this trip. Friday, the 500-day and 700-day repeaters were honored. There were also another 100 – 150 Mariners present who have not passed the 300-day mark yet.

Prior to the start of the awards ceremony, a member of the crew sought us out and asked us to remain in the theater after everyone else had left. D asked with whom we were dining, a logical question under the circumstances, but was told it was a secret. Dutifully, we did as requested. After a bit of confusion in the MDR, we were once again escorted to the Captain’s Table where we were once again joined by Captain Albert and his wife Lesley. Lunch was delightful because we truly like Lesley’s company. Talking with her is easy because she is, as we have said, “just plain folks.”

Back in the cabin, we read and napped a bit. D left to update the journal but promised to return in time to wake MA for dinner. Linda/Ginger and Dave joined us tonight for dinner while Ed and Roxanne ate at the Captain’s Table. We knew before they did that the Captain would really be hosting tonight because Lesley mentioned it at lunch; D told her we would be nearby in the Ocean Bar to fill in in case someone did not show up for dinner. We all knew it was a joke and, as it turned out, everyone showed up.

We skipped the show tonight, a violinist. She may have played classical music; she may have used an electric guitar like Vanessa-Mae; she may have been really good. We will never know.

Tomorrow – more of the same.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

And Down the Stretch They Come

Monday, May 2, 2011

Motril and Mayhem and Mixed Blessings

Neither of us slept well last night. MA said she never does the night before we have an excursion planned and D just couldn’t get to sleep. The ship was rocking and rolling and making sounds like it was in pain. She groaned all night. Around 5:30 [maybe earlier?], the Prinsendam started bouncing as if it were on a washboard road. This was not a good sign.

The room service tray came at 6:30, right on schedule, and we staggered awake to discover that we were not yet in port but were still pitching port-to-starboard and back. The waves were high, whitecaps were plentiful and rain was pounding the ship. We settled in to await the captain’s announcement that we would not be stopping in Motril. He made his announcement at 8:15, apologizing for skipping the port but emphasizing the safety aspects of his decision. This is now the third port we have missed because of high winds.

Motril itself offered us nothing, but it would have served as a jumping off point for Granada and the Moorish palace known as the Alhambra. We have never seen it and were anxious for this, our last planned field trip. D had even gone so far as to purchase entry tickets online in order to avoid crowds once we got there.[You may remember that he was able to retrieve them from an ATM in Cartagena a lifetime ago] At least we did not have to shlep through the rain to see it, not that that’s much consolation.

While we waited for the cancelation announcement, we turned on the television to see the view from the bridge. We knew what it looked like from our window, but we hoped it looked better straight ahead. It didn’t. The TV was tuned to CNN and the first thing we heard was that Osama bin Laden had been killed in an assault by US troops. Cut to pictures of jubilant civilians in pro-Western cities.

Once the cancellation announcement was made, MA climbed back into bed for a little more rest and D went to post the past five days of the journal. He also printed out the CC e-mail list for distribution at next week’s [last] meeting. The Front Desk ran off 40 copies for him, so that chore was done.

And then it became just a gloomy sea day. The weather improved dramatically as we chugged eastward in the Mediterranean. The winds and whitecaps subsided and the rain stopped. Eventually we even saw the sun. The captain decided to make for Cadiz with all possible haste and arrived just after 7:00 p.m., twelve hours early. We watched the final maneuvers from the Ocean Bar before dinner.

Since it was now a sea day, Trivia was held in the morning. We were close but not close enough. Again. When we finished kibitzing after Trivia, we went to lunch in the MDR where we were able to get a table by the window on the starboard side. We watched Gibraltar as it loomed through the low clouds. MA’s back was to the promontory as we approached but she could see it clearly once we were abreast of it. It was interesting to see even from the distance because the “rock” was covered in rain clouds but the lower town area was in bright sunlight. When we passed here in 2001, we were eating breakfast in the Lido and felt close enough to touch it; Also Sprach Zarathustra, the theme to 2001: a Space Odyssey, was playing in the background.

The rest of the day passed quietly with reading, crosswords and a nap. After dinner [wonderful meatloaf for both], we went to the show which had short performances by three previous entertainers. Then it was time to catch up on our sleep. Really.

Tomorrow -- Cadiz, Spain

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cadiz Capers

When we were in Cadiz two years ago, we took the HOHO around the city and then return [still on the HOHO to El Corte Ingles, Spain’s leading department store in search of a lemon meringue pie [It’s a long story]. This year, we walked through part of the old city and had lunch.

The Cadiz tourist bureau sent representatives to the ship this morning. They were loaded with maps, advice and smiles. One of the brochures outlined four different walking tours which were easily accessible from the ship. When D told the young lady that we wanted to get lunch along the way, she recommended the purple tour which would take us through the Plaza de las Flores where there were a number of flower stalls as well as cafes.

The purple route was neither hard to find nor hard to follow. Just as Boston has a red line running through it marking the Freedom Trail, Cadiz has all four of its walking tours marked on the pavement throughout the city. We walked parallel to or crossed the green, orange and blue lines at one point or another.

As we wandered through Cadiz, we “lost the trail” once in a while but always found it again. We enjoyed seeing the people and the town and did not bother with actually entering any of the landmarks on the tour. We did not visit the Arts Center or the Cathedral but were content to note them on the map so we could place ourselves. We found the Plaza de las Flores without difficulty and left the trail purposely to visit the city market [Mercado Central] which was adjacent to but not part of the purple path.

At the Mercado, we found vegetables stalls, butcher shops, fish merchants and even olive stores. There were fish we had never seen and organ meats we were happy not to recognize. The olive seller had great big jars of different kinds of olives and was packaging them as requested by his customers. Some were placed on the counter so customers could sample them. When D snapped a photo of the display, he took advantage of the opportunity and tried a sample which was delicious. We also saw people selling live snails by the bag; the snails were obviously still alive because they kept slithering into and out of their shells. It was fascinating.

We returned to the Plaza and found an outdoor café for lunch. There were four different menus – pasta, paella, pizza and house specialties. We were hoping for empanadas but settled for vegetable paella and chicken paella, both of which were so good that we almost licked the skillets in which they were served. Accompanied by Cokes, it was perfect lunch to have while watching the people parade by.

We followed the purple line for a few blocks after lunch and then took a chance and attempted to find a shortcut to the harbor. Of course, only the cross-streets had their names at the corners so we weren’t sure for a while if we were where we hoped to be. We knew we were heading downhill, always a good sign when you are looking for the harbor. Sure enough, we had guessed right and were going in the right direction on the right street.

When we were practically across from the ship, we spotted a sign for helados, ice cream, and went into a little restaurant which had half-dozen or so flavors of ice cream in a display case by the front door. MA chose coffee with Irish cream and D picked chocolate brownie and we sat inside and enjoyed our dessert.

We were back on board in time for afternoon Trivia and were the only members of the team to show up. We had told Ed and Roxanne that we didn’t know if we would be back in time and they echoed the sentiments. Well, we were and they weren’t. Linda and her husband Dave went to the beach; and Sandra wasn’t feeling good, so we were a team of two today.

Most of the Trivials were on tour since Cadiz is a gateway to Seville. One team had everyone there, but it was a small crowd with teams combining so they would have more players and a better chance at getting the answers correct. We chose to play as a team of two and ended up beating everyone today! We had a score of 13/17 and there was no waffling on the ones we missed – we were just plain wrong.

The rest of the day went so quickly that we didn’t even take a nap. Suddenly it was time for drinks and dinner. The Ocean Bar was almost empty because there was a paella festival by Lido pool which we skipped; we have had the Prinsendam paella before which explains why we had it ashore for lunch. We skipped the flamenco show and returned to the room to read before lights out.

Tomorrow – a day at sea

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sunshine and Sea Breezes

We are heading for our last port, Madeira, a rock in the middle of the Atlantic. Skies are clear and there is almost no wind. It is a beautiful day of reading, resting and Trivia. And so it goes.

Tomorrow -- Funchal, Madeira

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Madeira

The MDR is festooned with multicolored banners and tonight’s menu is pseudo-Mexican in honor of Cinco de Mayo. Of course, we are nowhere near Mexico but that is of no consequence to the staff of the Prinsendam.

Madeira is another volcanic island off the coast of Portugal. It is, in fact, part of Portugal. The Portuguese language is close to Spanish but just enough different that we were glad that we did not have to try to communicate in anything other than English. We know how spoiled we are. [The other day in Cadiz we bought more cough drops using sign language as much as anything with a pharmacist’s assistant who spoke no English]

The highest point on the island is El Monte, simply The Mountain. It is 2000 feet above sea level and can be reached by a cable car which starts by the water in Funchal, the major port city. We did not ride the cable car. Tourists can ride in wicker sleighs down the steep hills of Funchal. We didn’t do that either.

What we did do was take the shuttle bus to the downtown area. The bus went through a series of tunnels and around several roundabouts. At one point it made what amounted to a two-block-long U-turn as it maneuvered through the one-way streets and traffic circles. Once we alighted from the bus, we started to walk toward the Central Market near the old city of Funchal. Our route took us along the waterfront from which we were able to see the Prinsendam sitting majestically across the harbor. She looks big when there are no other ships parked near her.

We re-visited the Central Market which we had seen ten years ago. It is a hollow square two stories tall with a basement area in the back. The outer areas are filled with flower, fruit and vegetable sellers with some tchotchkes shops in the mix as well as vendors of wicker products and the local wine called, obviously, Madeira. There was also a tiny café where we shared a Coke. The center of the first floor had “flea market” tables with an assortment of junk for sale. The real market day, we were told, is Friday.

In the basement area we found fish sellers. The fish market was bright and airy because the market is built into a hill and this part is open to the outside. There were not as many species on display as we seen in Cadiz or elsewhere, but there were enough. The major food fish seems to be the tuna; each vendor had a large tuna on his table where the fish were being butchered. As one of the fruit vendors told us later, there is nothing like really fresh tuna. Surprisingly, there were no shrimp for sale. There were some fish we could not identify including one with a mouth full of dangerous-looking teeth.

We went upstairs to see more vegetable and fruit vendors. Both sides of the concourse were filled with merchants and the aisle was packed with customers [and HAL tour #8]. Several of the vendors offered us samples of local fruits in an effort to entice us to bring them back to the ship. The fruits were like nothing we had ever seen or eaten, but we resisted the temptation even though they were delicious.

MA wanted to look at the local embroidery although she had no specific items in mind. Rather than try to find the store we bought from in 2001, we went next door to the market where there was a “factory store.” There was not too much on display but the trip was not a total waste because MA did find a box to add to the collection.

Using a different route, we walked slowly back to the shuttle bus pick-up point, stopping along the way to look at flowers which were being set out in a park a la the Rose Bowl – patterns of flowers in mostly geometric designs – for a festival tomorrow. We passed flower sellers, too, not far away. The walk was not as long as we thought and soon enough we were waiting with the HAL crowd. The ride back was much shorter than the ride to town because we didn’t have to negotiate the tunnels or roundabouts.

Lunch by the pool on the Lido deck was followed almost immediately by Trivia. Ed and Roxanne rushed in just moments before the game began and we crushed the meager competition today with 13/17; the next highest score was 10/17. Afterwards, Ed acknowledged that we would have won without them [especially because they missed the science question].

We sat and talked with Roxanne while MA worked on the NYT crossword. When Roxanne left, MA and D worked on the puzzle before D started to update the journal. By then it was almost 4 p.m., time for the siesta. It’s interesting to note that we begin our siesta at the same time most people end theirs. Hmmm…

With no plans for the evening, D finished the entry early so he could post the last four days.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow -- A week of sea days

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Around the Med in 60 Seconds

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Katakolon Krowds

We are continuing on the “downside” of the cruise where the ports are less and less important, at least to us. The Prinsendam is in Katakolon [kuh-TACK-uh-lon], Greece today. Katakolon is the ship’s gateway for tours to Olympia, the home of the ancient Olympic Games. We saw the home of the modern Games in Athens two years ago; that was enough.

Katakolon is unique in several ways. The most obvious to even the casual visitor is the stench from sulfuric gas bubbles which rise to the surface by the dock. The lower decks, especially near the front staircase and gangway, were especially aromatic this morning. We were not immune since our cabin is on the lowest passenger deck and we are near the gangway. The gas is the remnant from volcanic action or at least potential. The town, however, does not smell of sulfur.

This is the ultimate tourist town. It is nothing but jewelry stores, tchotchkes shops and cafes. The cafes all have seating outside on the harbor side rather than the street. It may be picturesque, but we wondered whether the sulfur was noticeable to customers while they ate. Yuck.

Sandra told us that their guide said that the shops open only when there are ships in port. If that’s true, they will be open all day today. There are four ships here including ours with as many as four thousand potential customers. Luckily for us, at least, the ships are all relatively small. We cannot even imagine what would happen if 4 ships the size of the Westerdam docked here and disgorged 12,000 people.

The town, such as it is, has only two streets, the one with all of the shops and a second street parallel to it. We walked down one side of the street and up the other, stopping in a pharmacy to purchase cough drops for MA and Ed who are both still suffering from the mange. We crossed the street from the apothecary shop and found a store selling semi-local products including olive oil and wine. We purchased two bottles of wine as presents [one red, one white, both supposedly dry] and strolled among the throng back to the ship just as today’s intermittent rain started again.

Earlier in the day, D took part in several Grand Events which, like Trivia, reward winners and/or participants with the coveted Grand dollars. He added three to our collection and we are now only one shy of our goal of forty. All but five have come from Trivia, but we have not been doing well recently. If we get no more in the next two weeks, we are hopeful that the Cruise Staff will remember all of the candy and pastry we have given them and have pity on us.

And, finally, we are down to the last two weeks of this year’s “trip of a lifetime.” We will have to pack our bags two weeks from today as we prepare to return home. Damn!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding

The timing was perfect for a sea day because today was the royal wedding between Kate Middleton and Prince William. The whole ship was abuzz, sort of. Thom and his staff arranged for big-screen coverage in the show lounge, re-re-named the Queen’s Lounge for today and tomorrow, and provided tea and baked goods for the audience. The televisions in the library and Java Bar were crowded, too, with some crazies taping the tv coverage from BBC. Of course, the same broadcast was available in the cabins but people wanted to be part of a crowd for this event – why else would hundreds of thousands been in the crowds in London?

Even Trivia today was Royal Trivia. Thom was the moderator for the first, and probably last, time and all of the questions dealt with the current royal family and the wedding. He claimed that the questions came directly from the Seattle head office, but we think that was just a way to avoid responsibility. Scores were really low today with 8/16 heading the field. We scored 5 and ignored two correct answers again. Shoulda, coulda….

After Trivia, which was held an hour earlier than usual to accommodate the wedding schedule, MA went to the Queen’s Lounge to watch with the masses. She ended up with Sandra and Lesley, the captain’s wife, and had a “loovely” time. D played slots for a bit and then returned to the Ocean Bar to read for a bit until MA joined him around 12:30, after the deed had been done, so to speak.
After lunch, we returned to the cabin where she watched more of the festivities and inane interviews until the momentarily happy couple came out to the balcony for the traditional wave to the common folks. Then it was lights out for the nap.

Formal night featured a toast to Carnival Cruise Lines, owner of HAL and half-a-dozen other cruise lines, on the occasion of the launching of their 100th ship, the Carnival Magic. As stock owners, we are thrilled; as customers, we wish they used better champagne. Thom did the honors and said that there would be as many as 227,000 people toasting Carnival tonight which assumes sold out cruises on all of the ships. It also means that the average Carnival-owned ship holds about 2250 passengers. HAL’s ships max out at 2100 and average about 1750, so there are some pretty big ships out there somewhere.

The show was a piano duo called Katzenjammer. MA swears we have seen them before, but D doesn’t remember them. And they are memorable. Two players, one piano, and fireworks on every number. Most of the repertoire was classical and it was a well-received program. We are hoping for an encore before we land in Florida.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sardinian Showers

The weather gods have made up for lost time, but we are grateful that we had fair skies in the ports which were most important to us in Africa and the Middle East. Sardinia is just another pin in the map, so to speak, so we were not too disappointed to discover high winds and intermittent showers today. We had no tours planned and no great plans to wander. The ship was far from the cruise terminal, so the locals provided a bus which we ignored. Our sole venture outside was to visit the wind-blown merchants who were brave enough to set up their wares on the pier. MA bought another little box for the collection before we high-tailed it for home.

Earlier in the morning, D ventured up to deck 12 for a football toss contest. Although his prime motivation may have been securing the last Grand Dollar needed to make our desired purchases next week, he also was looking forward to the comraderie of the participants. He discovered the other day at the sticky darts event that the people who take part in the sports activities have their own group personality which is far different from the tone at Trivia even though some of the same people are involved.

The football toss was canceled due to the winds. More specifically, the football blew overboard while the staff was playing catch before the scheduled start time. No football meant no football toss, so we gathered in the Crow’s Nest for Backwards Bowling in which we had to turn our backs to the pins and then bowl between our legs. D garnered 5 more GD, so we are now above our goal of 40. Some passengers have 500 GD, but they go to all of the activities.

We did better at Trivia and should have been contenders but weren’t. This trend is no longer a concern since we have the Dollars we need, but it is frustrating.

Tonight’s dinner should have featured another cheap champagne toast in honor of the Queen of the Netherlands but didn’t. Today is the official celebration of her birthday even though she was born in January. April 30 was the date of her mother’s birthday [who continued the holiday tradition her mother had started]. The present queen kept the April date because it made celebrating easier in the Netherlands than wintry January would have. It was a good excuse to serve the traditional Dutch dinner and make the waiters wear little painters’ hats, but that was the extent of the celebration.

Tomorrow – Another sea day

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Time flies when you are having fun. Here it is May Day already. We have been aboard so long now that it is hard to remember the earliest ports. Martinique? Mindelo? Were we really there? Do we have pictures to prove it?

This morning was HAL’s Race for the Cure. The staff does this once during each cruise as a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen cancer research program. Two years ago, D almost participated. He paid the $15 entry, received his Susie G t-shirt and was right in the center of the group photo. Once everyone started walking laps around the ship, he slipped quietly inside at the first door. Today, we watched from our breakfast table by the back deck as Thom inspired the group before they did their stretching exercises. Then we counted laps as they passed the table. Thom had just gone past for the fourth time when we left.

It was another busy day. Arthur Starr gave another lecture on fact, fiction or fantasy in the OT; there was another loss in Trivia; animal racing on the Lido deck; and a meeting with Tina to discuss our cruise plans for 2013. Exhausting!

The animal races were fun because, unlike the earlier camel races, we could bring any species we wanted. Sandra made a lizard from toilet paper [“the first animal made from personal products,” as Thom phrased it]; Ken used a goldfish from the bar; and D used his computer mouse. It was all in vain as we lost, but at least D got to move from the starting blocks this time.

We had placed a deposit on the Grand South America voyage for 2013 weeks ago and then considered pairing that with the 2013 Grand Med again. That combination would have totaled about 130 days in a row at sea. MA always said the world voyage was too long at 110 or so we changed our plans, canceling South America and adding the 2013 Grand Med and the 2012 Amazon Explorer which travels up the Amazon River. The Grand Med will probably be about 62 days although the itinerary has not been finalized yet and the Amazon is 23 days. Neither of us has expressed any strong feelings about South America but we both want to see the Amazon.

We went to the cast show after dinner. It had only the four male singers and was not great. The singer we have dubbed Dudley Dooright was as full of himself as ever. The others were okay. We have an early day tomoorow, so we were in bed about 15 minutes after the show ended.

Tomorrow –Motril, Spain, gateway to the Alhambra