Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Sunny HOT day in St Thomas

Igor was not in evidence anywhere near St Thomas. It was just HOT there.

We tied up at Havensight about 7AM and shortly thereafter we saw the Oasis heading for the other dock (crown bay?) followed by the Epic which was pushed into the harbor by a tug boat. The Epic was docking in back of us and stern to stern. From our aft balcony, it seemed to come closer and closer and closer with no signs of stopping. As we were thinking we could shake hands with the people in the aft balconies on it, the thrusters kicked in and they went sideways to the dock. They left about 6 or 7 feet between the ships but it was amazing to me the way they handle these ships. Later in the morning, the Freedom of the Seas tied up in back of the Epic .. but that captain left a lot of room!

We met Godfrey’s Tours outside of the port and embarked on a day of shopping, sightseeing, banana daiquiris and beach time. We met our open air vehicle about 9 and Pete, our driver, immediately took us downtown for shopping, until 12:00 which was plenty of time to buy a ring and have it sized .. so far the day was looking good! Unfortunately it was pretty much downhill (or I should say up and down hill and around bends) from there.

We were taken on a sightseeing tour, but we couldn’t understand a word of what was said over the loudspeaker so I have no details of what we saw. Mountaintop has burned down and the reconstruction is no yet complete, so we stopped at a botanical garden for banana daiquiris and then on to Megan’s Bay for the beach.

When we arrived at Megan’s Bay they wanted $4.00 per person and we were only going to be there an hour.. we said no so Pete took us to Sapphire Beach. Both of these beaches were extremely crowded so some of the crowd stayed at the beach and the rest of us returned to the ship.

It took almost an hour to get back through the traffic. It just was a day that never quite jelled into what we were expecting but hey I got that ring so it was not a total loss.

We returned to the ship, and by the way did you hear me mention anything about food in the above paragraph? No? That is because when we returned to the ship at around 4PM we hadn’t had any food all day so it was off to the buffet .. oh wait .. it isn’t open. So we got a piece of pizza (mushroom, roasted garlic and something else.. quite tasty ) and went back to the room to relax until time to get ready for dinner.

We left port late because we had to wait for the Epic to leave first. It managed to slide out between ships and sail away and then we were off. St Thomas was beautifully lit up as we sailed away.

Dinner was a mixed bag. One of the items on the menu was “Assorted Sea Food in Newburg Sauce” and the description said black tiger shrimp and scallops so I ordered that. I started with the Cream of Potato soup which was fantastic. Then they brought the Newburg and it had Mussel shells on top and was full of mussels which I truly dislike. So I sent it back and had a bowl of the potato soup for dinner. Those that like mussels said it was really good but I would not have enjoyed it.

After two days of sun and sun .. we were tired. After dinner, we sat outside of the Ocean Plaza and talked for awhile with our new friends and then called it a night.

Today was a sea day. I think I mentioned earlier that I love sea days. This is the part of vacation where I can sleep in and just relax. The weather was perfect, not to hot and a nice breeze. We just sat outside and enjoyed the rocking and rolling of the ship and it has been rocking and rolling a lot today.

Tomorrow I will try to post a wrap up and summary of the good and the so-so and the not so good on this cruise. We have had a great time!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Random Winds of St Maarten …

Today we arrived in St Maarten at 11 AM and met Diane from the Random Wind for a day of sailing, snorkeling and overall FUN. The weather was absolutely perfect with lovely breezes and a few clouds for random shade.

We walked over to the boats (our group had reserved a sailboat and a catamaran for the day) which was the only low point of the entire day. It was a longer walk in the heat and with my bad feet than I had realized it would be. I made it, but just barely and immediately took the glass of ice water offered and poured it over my head!!

Bill and I were on the sailboat which had a lovely shady area. Trevor and Diane were the crew (and she is the owner) and they treated us fabulously. We sailed around past the famous airport where obliging planes were landing and taking off, always a fun sight, to a beautiful cove where we anchored for some snorkeling or swimming and one of the best meals of the cruise. Diane had prepared a wonderful curry chicken, potato salad, relish and green salad for us and served heaping plates. The fun part was when some of the people on the catamaran couldn’t get over to the sailboat for lunch so taking two plates at a time she swam them over to them!!

After lunch, Trevor rigged a “tarzan swing” and those that wished swung out over the water and dropped in. It was hilarious to watch all the middle aged people playing like kids. In fact it looked like so much fun I even had a go at it.

We had a shorter day than planned, but it was completely enjoyable. We sailed back to the dock and by now we had heard that there were water taxi’s available to get us back to the ship docks. I was all for that idea. We asked where the taxi could be boarded, and an obliging young man on the dock yelled over to a taxi and it came to the dock we were standing on. Ten minutes later we were back at the entrance to the port. Much more enjoyable than the walk I can assure you.

I heartily recommend Diane and the Random Wind when in St Maarten. They have a web site and if you just google it you will find them and you can make arrangements easily.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sea Day on the Carnival Dream

I always love a sea day and particularly the first sea day. It is a time to relax and explore at whatever pace you set. We seldom get up early. We just like the quiet time in the morning and this morning was no exception, we didn’t leave the room until about 10:30. Usually we would have room service bring coffee for the early morning since we are big coffee drinkers, but we did that yesterday and the coffee was all but undrinkable. This may have been a onetime thing, but we decided not to try it this morning. I think we will order some tomorrow and see.

We skipped breakfast but met our cc roll call group in the Scarlet Dining Room for lunch. I had the caprese salad and an omelet, both of which were wonderful. Bill wasn’t all that crazy about his fish sandwich but again we are talking personal taste here so others probably thought it was great. The service, however, was excellent, the best we have had on this cruise. I should also add that the dining room was not at all busy.

On the whole, I like this ship. The layout is good and there are some great little nooks and crannies to gather with friends. Last night was elegant evening and the photographers were out in force, but I didn’t think they created as much congestion as I have seen on other less crowded ships. They were doing a good job and moving lines really quickly.

We noticed that Caliente was really going strong after dinner and the crowd in the Ocean Plaza was a nice size to enjoy the music and dance. We have found that the outside deck by the Ocean Plaza is a really nice place to gather after dinner for conversation. The only problem is that there are few chairs out there. There are a lot of tables but not all of them have chairs. It seems odd, but there it is. Just inside the door is a bar which is good because there is no service out there. There is a hot tub, but we have not ever seen it open. It is, however, quiet and out of doors so it is really nice in the evening.

The casino doesn’t seem that crowded to me either. We weren’t winning, but we could always find a seat at a table or a machine to play. I have heard that there is a smoking area, but we haven’t noticed it and since we don’t smoke in the casino it hasn’t affected us.

Sam’s, the piano bar, does allow smoking, but I don’t think they allow it at the piano bar itself. I will check that out. It is a nice place to sit for a drink before dinner if you smoke. If not you probably want one of the many other bars. The Fun Times does say smoking is allowed in Caliente Club, but that club has been so crowded (and a bit loud) that I would find it hard to light up in there. (By the way, I am mentioning the smoking because we smoke and also because I think whether you do or don’t, you want to know where it is allowed and where it isn’t.)

This has been a great cruise so far, but it is not perfect (which cruise ever is?). All of the issues and any of us in our group have mentioned have had to do with service and particularly service in the dining room. It has been so so at best. Waiters ask if you want something, you say yes, it never appears. You specifically ask for something, maybe it will appear. Everyone asks for something, coffee last night, and all but one get it and the waiter is gone so long everyone else’s coffee is gone before you can remind him he missed that person. Again, I remind you, everyone’s experience is different and there a Lots and Lots of waiters so this is just our experience. Our room steward didn’t remove the luggage thing from the bed or turn down our cabin etc the first night. We were for some reason the exception in our area (we have friends in the same area) but the second night all was well. It is just the little things and we certainly would not let those few things detract from this great cruise, but they are noticed. I thought it was just us because this is only our second Carnival cruise and I just thought that Carnival perhaps did things differently, but the experienced Carnival cruisers have a whole lot more to say on the subject of service than we do.

One other thing I wanted to mention this time are the crowds. In my opinion, this ship is very, very crowded. There are lines and slow moving crowds of people everywhere. However, there does seem to be enough seating on the decks that despite the chair hogs (and they are of course aboard) it is very easy to find a place to sit. The pools are small, as others have said, but I have not seen them crowded. This may be due to the fact that we have seen very few children on this ship. I don’t know if they just aren’t here, or if they are all at camp Carnival or what, but I think I have counted about 6 so far and two of those were infants.

Tomorrow we are in Saint Thomas. Hope the weather is like today, lovely and not blazing hot!!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nassau on the Carnival Dream

Today we arrived in Nassau at 8:30AM and joined the Majesty of the Seas and the Oasis of the Sea in port. I have had some foot problems related to some surgery so I am not a great walker at the moment and man that is a long pier! We decided just to go to town to “see” so we walked over and walked around for a couple of blocks and returned to the ship. I don’t think that Nassau will make our top ten. When we considered the crowds, the heat, the short time in port and the walk, it seemed to us that the Dream was a much better destination for this port.

Today I tried the Tandoor Grill and I really liked it. The seasonings were not overwhelming and the humus was particularly good. Bill isn’t so enthused with Indian food and had a good sized breakfast so he declined. We didn’t really do much of anything but relax (oh that almost sounds like a vacation doesn’t it ?)

Tonight is Elegant night and I always look forward to that, and Bill of course remembers his saying “Happy Wife Happy Life” and manages to dawn the Tuxedo. Tomorrow is a sea day, so I will be posting a much more extensive review of the ship itself.

I did want to mention something that is “Good to Know” and that is luggage express. I have read and read about this but the specifics have often eluded me so without further ado :

It costs $20.00 per person. The participating airlines are American Airlines, Delta, AirTran, Continental Airlines, US Airways, United, Southwest, NWA, JetBlue, Air Canada and Alaska Airlines. You must be flying out of Orlando on the same day as debarkation in the case of Southwest, by 8PM. If you have a connection, it must have the same Airline and Booking Locator Number and only domestic flights qualify. The $20 includes priority debarkation. They take your luggage Friday night, deliver your boarding passes and valet tags Friday night and your luggage is sent directly to your final destination airport.

We will absolutely be doing this since we are flying Southwest Air and after we return home I promise to post how it goes. Wonder what boarding number we will get this way ?? Perhaps we should have a lottery on that.

More from the Dream tomorrow ….  Kathy

Embarkation and Sail Away – Dream Cruise to the Caribbean

We have read that Port Canaveral is a very organized port and that embarkation from there is like clockwork. In this case, you can believe everything you have read. The Cocoa Beach Shuttle picked us up from the Days Inn at about 10:15 and we were on the Lido deck by 11:30. Most of the delay was caused by the fact that the buses carrying disembarking passengers were not all out of the area where the shuttle needed to drop us. Very smooth embarkation.

The Dream is pretty impressive. We are not experienced Carnival cruisers since this is only our second trip on Carnival, but the décor is not at all as gaudy as I had been led to expect. It isn’t conservative or demure, but it is really pretty interesting. The first thing that you see, as usual on cruise ships, is the atrium and it is actually lovely. There will be MUCH more exploration later but when we arrived, the first thing we wanted was food and something cold to drink (well Bill, of course, wanted coffee) so off to The Gathering we went.

Bill will have to tell you about the buffet because I opted for a hot dog and fries. My meal was o.k. not the best hot dog I ever had but the fries were hot and fresh. I really like the fact that iced tea and lemonade are available all the time since I have come to really appreciate a good “Arnold Palmer” (for the uninitiated that is ½ iced tea and ½ lemonade).

We wandered out to the aft pool and discovered that there are some smoking tables on the port side of the aft and if you sit in just the right place you get a nice breeze when someone goes into the Gathering. So we sat and talked and enjoyed the breeze until the rooms were ready at 1:30 promptly. We are in 7454 which is an aft wrap cabin so we went down three decks and around the corner and checked it out. This is a small stateroom with a great balcony and good use of windows. There is no couch, ok there is no chair either but hey .. there are two chairs and table and a lounger on the balcony and who wants to be inside anyway?? We dropped off the carry-ons and checked out the room and decided to go explore the ship. We got sidetracked when we almost fell over our luggage outside the door by about 1:45, now that is impressive to me. So we unpacked and then went exploring.

The main indoor activities all seem to be centered on deck 5 so we wandered around there for a bit and found the coffee place to get espresso and cappuccino, or in my case and Iced Americano and some truly wicked looking desserts. You do pay for these, but the iced Americano was truly excellent so I will be back there frequently this week.

Then it was time for the Muster Drill, or as it is officially called, the Safety Briefing. We went to the Scarlet dining room without the life jackets and listened to the instruction which took about 20 minutes and it was over. We were back at the aft bar to meet our friends in plenty of time for sail-a-wau. There was a sail-a-way party in the mid-ship lido area but we had arranged the meet & greet for the aft which worked out just fine.

A little relaxation on the balcony with our kindle and net-books to read and then it was time for dinner.

Dinner was a mixed bag tonite. Some of us loved out dinners (my ribs were wonderful and Bill’s enjoyed his linguine) and some sent dinners back (the tilapia was way overcooked) and some said just OK. I particularly enjoyed the gazpacho for a starter. Our servers seem like they will be good but rushed tonight, but I never judge the dining room on the first night so I will have more on that when I know more.

After dinner a few of us took the opportunity to enjoy the outside deck of the Lanai and get better acquainted. Most of us took a short spin in the casino and paid our dues and now I am ready to do a bit more of that relaxing with my Kindle.

One more quick note, there a many packages for the internet usage and since we know that we will be trying to upload not only this review, but the same review as our blog and some pages with pictures to our website while we are cruising, we opted for the most minutes with the least per minute cost which was 480 minutes for $159 which works out to 33 cents per minute and they threw in 20 minutes for signing up on embarkation day. The speed is the best we have ever seen at sea.

More tomorrow - Kathy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Traveling From Portland to Orlando for our Caribbean Cruise on the Dream

The only drawback I have ever found to cruising is the travel it takes to get to the port. Today is a perfect example. We live in Portland, Oregon and we will cruise from Port Canaveral, Florida on Saturday. You will note that in the lower 48 that is close to as far as you can go.

Conventional wisdom, and in this case I believe it whole heartedly, maintains that you should get to the port a day early just to compensate for any travel problems along the way. In order to get from Portland to Port Canaveral on Southwest Airlines, which we used because we had free tickets, we left Portland at 9:15 AM and arrived in Orlando at 9:15PM. If we headed directly to Port Canaveral, we wouldn’t arrive until 10:30 or so. Then we would be up bright and early to sail the following morning.

We opted to break that up into one day of travel to Orlando and then on to Port Canaveral tomorrow so that we will have time to relax before the actual cruise.

Now, for a travel day, things really went smoothly. The town car to take us to the airport was right on time, the traffic moved quite well through rush hour, there were no lines at curbside check-in, short lines at security (Bill didn’t even set off the metal detector), time to get coffee, organized fast boarding and an on time departure. All was well. We arrived in Kansas City early.

It is an easy airport to grab a cigarette outside and a bite to eat. Again going back through security was quick. Another flight, to Orlando, which landed 15 minutes early. Luggage all arrived and then we got a taxi to the hotel.

The taxi was a whole different kettle of fish. We told the driver where we wanted to go and it was “no problem, mon!” And then the driver promptly got lost. When I asked the clerk at the hotel how long it would take us to get there in the morning, he told us 7 minutes.

Our taxi ride was closer to 25 and a lot of it was AFTER Bill called the hotel, got the address and the driver plugged it into his GPS! He even stopped at another hotel for directions. Ah well, we are here and that is what counts!

I booked us a room at Amerisuites at the Orlando Airport and it is just like all Amerisuites everywhere, clean, comfortable and courteous staff. They even had a menu for an Italian Restaurant that delivered our dinner to the room.

So, the first leg of the adventure is over and it is off to the leg 2 tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Our Caribbean Cruise On the Carnival Dream

Well, it is finally here! We booked this cruise in May of 2009 and it seemed like it would never get here but tomorrow morning at 7:30 we leave for PDX to fly to Orlando and then it is on to Port Canaveral on Friday. We will finally board the Dream on Saturday.

Today was a bit wild. I started with “the pamper-me” appointment. You know the stuff... eyebrows waxed, manicure, pedicure, hair color and cut. I am ready for my close¬-up Mr. DeMille  . Then it was off to do all of those last minute errands. The bank, the post office, last minute shopping (cat litter trays and batteries along with a darling little shirt and a wonderful fascinator made for me by Anne Bocci of the Anne Bocci Boutique) and finally the dry cleaning needed to be picked up. Whew, I am tired before I even start the packing!

Now the packing is a bit tricky. As soon as we get the suitcases out, the cats get suspicious and run for the door. They like to be in and out all day and while we are gone they are in for the duration. We do have a lovely young woman coming daily to feed and water and check the litter box but they are pretty anti-social unless it is us, so she probably won’t see them. We will be forgiven when we return, but Bill does have a bit of trouble with this particular part of traveling.

The other vital bit of business was to load up the Kindle, and download the correct books for the Kindle on the Netbook, the Kindle on the PC and the Kindle on the Iphone. Sounds redundant? Well actually not since I will read the Kindle and Bill will choose between the other devices depending on where we are and what is available. It does make it pretty convenient. I read voraciously and he reads occasionally and mostly non-fiction so I am attached to the Kindle and he is just looking for some time killing on all day flights and layovers. It should work pretty well.

I’m off to pack but look for our blog from the ship, we will try to blog every day.


Bill’s turn.

Well, tomorrow will be an ordeal. Not like going through a flood, tsunami, earthquake or hurricane, but still, across the country on Southwest Airlines… that shoots down an entire day. I suppose it’s worth it though. I am expecting to have a great time.

I’m going to try to be a little more organized than on previous cruises as far as my website goes. I plan on getting some good cruise videos of our group too. I will try to make those members who did not go jealous!

So hopefully… until tomorrow!


Monday, September 6, 2010

Our Next Cruise, The Carbbean aboard the Carnival Dream is coming up fast!

In a couple of days we board a Southwest flight and begin our journey to Port Canaveral and a Caribbean Cruise on the Carnival Dream cruise ship.

Time to put together a list of things not to forget to pack.  On our various cruises I've managed to forget things like a cable for the camera to download the pictures, my tux shoes, a dress shirt, swim trunks, cuff links and studs for the tux, toothbrush charger etc.  I have to wonder what I will forget this time.

The Caribbean isn't really our favorite cruise destination, but we are taking this particular cruise to cruise with our group of crusing friends.  A few cruises back, a big group of us who had been reguarly visiting the roll call page or something at cruise critcs, had so much fun that we decided to get together and attempt to take over more cruises.  This is about the 3rd or 4th one where a bunch of our cruise critic freinds have cruised together.

I've found some photos of the cabin we will be in, cabin 7454.  We got what looks like perhaps the best balcony you can get without going to a suite.  That's the criteria Kathy deems the most important... what the balcony is like.

Here are some pictures of the cabin we will be occupying on our Caribbean cruise:

Interior of Cabin 7454 on the Carnival Dream cruise ship

Stateroom 7454 on the Carnival Dream

Cabin interior  - Cabin 7454 - Carnival Dream

Photo of the balcony for cabin 7454 on the Carnival Dream

In a few short days Kathy and I will be doing daily blogs as we cruise the Caribbean aboard the Carnival Dream with our cruise critic friends!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pictures of the Forbidden City – Beijing China

Another item on our “must see” list is of course, the Forbidden City!

The Forbidden City, or Palace as it is sometimes referred to, is in the middle of Beijing. For about 500 years it was the Imperial Palace. The place is not small, with 800 buildings, 8000 plus rooms, and covering 720,000 square meters. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1977 as the "Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties".

The Imperial Palace is located directly to the north of Tiananmen Square and is accessible from the square via Tiananmen Gate. The Palace Museum is one of the most popular tourist spots in the world now. As you can tell from some of the photos with the scaffolding, they are renovating it. The Olympics was coming up…

When we visited there was a Starbucks coffee shop on the grounds, but it was pretty controversial and was removed in 2007.

There won’t be a lot of narrating because we never got around to captioning the photos… and now I don’t remember what was what. This will be more of just a slide show.

 The Entrance to the Forbidden City that we used.

The throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity

And this is the other end of the Forbidden City. And that's all for this blog or slide show...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pictures of the Great Wall of China – Orient Cruise on the Star Sapphire

One of the places I never thought I would be visiting was the Great Wall of China, until we decided to take a cruise to the Orient. 

Our trip to the great wall was actually after the cruise had ended. The Cruise finished up at Beijing, where we would be spending a couple of more days before flying home. It turned out pretty good. We inquired at the hotel about seeing the great wall, and they told us it was no problem to get a private tour to the wall.

We ended up with a guide and a car with a driver to take us to the wall, about an hour or so from Beijing. The cost was about the same as if we had taken one of the bus tours.

It was great. Having the guide right there with us was wonderful. We asked her all kinds of stuff and she was very informative. They took us to a part of the Great Wall of China that required us to take a cable car up to the wall… from what we understood it was a less-often visited part. Whatever… it worked out well for us.

The drive was very interesting. I’ve never seen such big power line towers. Those things were HUGE! It seemed to us that everything being built was really big. Big power line towers, big apartment buildings, big highways…

We knew we were getting close to the wall when we spotted the street vendors selling tourist type stuff on the side of the road.

Huge power line towers… The reason for the darkness of the photo is AIR POLUTION! Amazing how dirty the air was. You could look right at the sun… like looking through smoked glass.

Looks pretty inviting doesn’t it?

purses, hats, umbrellas, stuffed panda bears… everything you could ever want. Those steps on the left lead up to the cable car.

The steps that lead up to the cable car.  Kathy had to take a little break...

This is a veiw from inside the cable car as we approach the great wall.

We made it!  Kath and I standing on the Great Wall of Chinal!

Notice that there are people actually walking way down there... looks like an ok walk going down... but you have to come back up...

Inside one of the little guard towers... The guards lived in these little guard houses...

Kathy poses with our guide...

This is what awaits you after you get off the cable car at the bottom...

Is there no end to the steps?  Yes these are fairly steep steps.

One last shop, and it's back to Beijing.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Visiting a Chinese Cloisonné Vase Factory and Market - Sapphire Princess Cruise

On our return trip from visiting the Great Wall of China, we stopped at a factory and market where they make cloisonné vases.

It was interesting to discover that they start with a copper vase that is hammered into shape over a mold. There numerous steps, gluing on tiny little pieces of copper, then filling them with ceramic material and firing them, etc. and then painted and polished. Making a cloisonne vase is a lot of intensive work.

Naturally I got some photos of each of the steps to making a cloisonné vase and at the end of our tour, guess what! Yep a cloisonné vase store!  Wait till you see how big some of those vases are.
So here are the cloisonné pics...
This is just inside the gates of the factory.  All the little rooms around the square house little workshops were the various steps are being followed to make the vases.

Here we go... Start with a copper vase hammered out to the shape you want.

They have some inventory

 Looks like the cloisenne vases are in various stages of progress 

Here some workers are gluing the little pieces of copper to the vases.

More craftsmen using tweezers to glue the bits of copper to the copper blanks.

See the little pile of copper bits she is picking up with her tweezers...

Here is where the ceramic matgerial is filled into the surface of the vases.

Modern mechanized well lit factory....  well at least there weren't any kids working...

These have been filled and fired once, but they still have a ways to go..

Fired and filled twice....

This is the oven where they do the firing.

This is where the vases are polished after being fired.

Filled and fired and awaiting more filling and firing

And finally this is what you end up with... cloisonné vases!

 This was not a small shop...  doesn't much resemble the cloisonné vase factory.

A very large vase!

Quite a bit of detail... and after seeing how they make these things I'm double impressed.

How many years worth of work do they have here? Incredible!

Not just vases... all kinds of stuff.

Kathy was of course, compelled to make a few purchases.

And now you know how to make your own cloisonné vase!