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.

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