Mar – Apr 2006 – South America, Panama Canal, & Aruba Cruise

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Mar – Apr 2006 – South America, Panama, Aruba Cruise
March 18, 2006 – Day 1
Enroute to Santiago, Chile

The newest adventure has begun! On Saturday morning, around 7am, we made our way to Danville, and picked up Mom Miladinovich who drove us out to the airport for our 10:00am departure. After all the rain we’ve had in the Bay Area, it was wonderful to see a non-stop horizon of blue sky as we approached SFO.

With a smooth ride across the Bay Bridge, and a few more minutes to the airport, we pulled up to the Delta Departures area at exactly 8:00am. To the check in line we go, and there was no wait… (What’s going on here?). We and our luggage get checked in all the way to Santiago, which will make things much easier in Atlanta, when we transfer from Domestic to International.

Next — over to security — I’m psyching myself up for the Disneyland style ribbon of lines of passengers waiting for their turn in the metal detectors, and find nothing… No lines and 5 sets of TSA agents almost bored with the fact that this morning’s passengers aren’t giving them “enough of a challenge.”

So, after all the prepping, the early arrival, the expectation of secondary screenings and long lines of passengers with overweight bags asking for reprieve, we arrive at our gate, 19 minutes later, and have 101 minutes of waiting for our flight to take off.

Not to worry — we packed the laptop, and downloaded about 15 hours worth of different TV shows that got backlogged on our Tivo between playing catchup on all 18 days of the Olympic coverage (we recorded almost all of it) and Natalie’s studying for her MBA finals. So, we found the closest seats to our gate with access to an electrical plug, and ground through about 3 episodes of “Deal or No Deal” before boarding. (Note to self: Always take the deal when the bank offer goes over $100,000)

Boarding our flight to Atlanta, things got off to a pretty good start. Boarding started on time, everyone was on board on time, and we pulled back from the gate on time too! The plane was a 3×3, so Natalie and I had a middle and an aisle, so we met the woman in the window seat. She was an Argentinian on vacation in the US visiting family and friends. We discussed a few of her favorite spots in South America, and the flight proceeded well.

So to review — no lines for check in, no problems with the bags, no security line, and an on-time departure? For all the concerns I have had about the airline industry — this was turning into a pretty nice trip! Even our “snack pack” (yes, meals were killed on domestic flights in coach) wasn’t too bad, containing cheese and crackers, granola trail mix, and a shortbread cookie.

We landed in Atlanta a few minutes ahead of schedule and made our way up the jetway into what can only be described as a “Sea of Humanity”. There were people everywhere. Every square inch of Altanta’s Hartfield Jackson Airport was just a constant movement of people. I knew that this place was the busiest airport in the United States, but until you experience it first hand… Wow…

We had a 3 hour layover in Atlanta, so Natalie and I made it through the crowds of people to a Chili’s in the airport for dinner (which was really good), and then worked ourselves down to the underground train to transfer over to the international terminal for our next leg to Santiago.

The E Terminal was much more mellow, and we worked our way to our gate where slowly, but surely, the gate began to fill with many of our fellow passengers, many of which would be also joining us on ship. Natalie and I started seeing a ton of these Fluorescent Pink Luggage Tags on all the carry ons and found them to belong to a retirement community in New Jersey called the Ponds of which a group of 66 were heading for the ship to join us on our South America cruise. 50 of them were on our flight… They seem like a great bunch of people.

We boarded the plane, and pulled away right on time for the 8 hours and 53 minutes that it would take to cover the nearly 5000 miles down to Santiago. An overnight flight of that length can drive most batty, but for the most part, we did ok. Natalie and I were by ourselves in a set of 2 seats (Window and Aisle), and the flight kicked off. We had dinner (pasta primivera or barbecue breast of chicken with mashed sweet potatoes) and attempted, with some level of success to get some sleep.

Tomorrow… Arrival in Chile, and Touring the coast on our way to the ship!

The Natural Bridge Collapsed... Aruba

The Natural Bridge Collapsed… Aruba

Final Touches on a Panama Hat - Montecristo, Ecuador

Final Touches on a Panama Hat – Montecristo, Ecuador

El Morro - Arica, Chile

El Morro – Arica, Chile

Midnight Buffet Onboard the Millennium

Midnight Buffet Onboard the Millennium

 

March 19, 2006 – Day 2
Santiago/Vina Del Mar/Valparaiso

We pulled off getting some sleep, though it is not the same as being in a bed and laying horizontal… Natalie and I woke up about 5am local time on the plane and were able to get as “cleaned up” as one can get onboard an airplane before getting a breakfast of a warm croissant, butter, jam, granola bar, and banana. We got to watch the sunrise over the Chilean mountain ranges as we made our decent into Sanitago. Arrival was smooth, and a few minutes ahead of schedule.

Remember how in yesterday’s log I was struggling to figure out where all the long lines had gone in our departure process? Well, Karma has a way of catching up with you and handing you one heck of a reality check.

Arriving into Santiago’s International Airport, we made our way off the jetway and into the terminal, where we were directed to make our way to immigration and customs, before picking up our bags.

Walking down a long hallway, we headed down an escalator where we joined most of the other passengers on our flight in a Disneyland style line (Karma does catch up) that seemed to go on for days… Everyone was in line to pay Chile’s reciprocity tax. In order to enter the country, a payment of $100 per person must be made and your passport needs a stamp and reciept stapled to the inside before you can continue… More than 300 passengers on our plane and 2 people at the booth taking payments… (I will never mess with Karma again…) It took about an hour to make our way through the line, and guess what? Once we got to the counter, our friendly Immigracion de Chile cashier added an extra zero to our bill… Instead of charging our card $200, we were charged $2000! After a few tense moments while she tried desparately to figure out how to issue a credit, I think everything got worked out… We will see… Next, you make your way over to the Immigration line! That one was relatively more efficient (only took 30 minutes) and we finally made our way over to the baggage claim. Picked up our bags and made it to our meeting place to meet up with our guide.

A few minutes later, we met Hector and Hernan, our guide and driver, respectively for our trip to Valparaiso. We boarded our Hyundai minivan and met up with Conni and Michell, our travelling companions for this tour. They both work for hospitals in California, and really are great folks, so we hit it off immediately and had a nice trip. We made our way west, towards the coast and made a quick pit stop at Dulces Mulhunne a family owned coffee shop where we sampled some chilean cakes (like mexican sweet bread) and chicas (a sweet alcoholic drink)… Everything was quite good, and after some more conversation with Conni and Michell as we got acquainted, we headed back to the van for our next stop, William Cole Winery.

William Cole is an American, who came to Chile to participate in the Chilean wine industry boom. The wines are great, but far more than that, the four of us got a private tour of the vineyards, the manufacturing plant, and then made our way in for tastings of their Carmenere and Chardonnay. Our guide, Pilar, was great, and the winery was truly beautiful. The weather was incredible — blue skies, a slight breeze, and about 75.

From here, we made our way to the coastal resort town of Vina del Mar. Vina was a resort created by the wealthy that wanted to move away from the booming growth of Valparaiso. The town, like Valpo is situated on hills that roll right down to the beaches, so driving here is not much different than taking a trip down California Street in San Francisco. Steep hills, and some great views. There is also an international music festival held here every Feburary. We stopped at a few locations in Vina, and made our way just a little further north to Renaca. This spot is big for the teens and 20-somethings for the hip music, club, and beach scene. We found a nice restaurant here for lunch and the four of us ate some great seafood and steaks.

A quick stop at the market for a few snacks, and we were headed to Valparaiso to take an ascensor ride up into the hills and to see Pablo Neruda’s home, a local museum known as “La Sebstiana”. The views from the city are great, and Neruda’s home is a bit quirky, but when you have 4 stories of 180 dgree views overlooking this city, you can see that it was a great purchase.

Over to the cruise terminal, we said goodbye to our guide and driver, and proceeded to board the ship at about 5:45pm. We made it to Room 8085 and found a nicely prepared room. A few minutes later, we met our stateroom steward, Douglas, and starting to unpack. Grabbed a quick snack to hold us over until dinner (which would be a bit late tonight due to the emergency drill) and hung out with Michell and Conni for a while.

From here, we headed over to the AquaSpa and asked to sign up for access to the “Persian Gardens”… It’s something of a ship secret, and we’ll tell you more about it later in the log.

To the emergency drill and standing in Michael’s Piano Lounge with another 400 people in orange lifejackets, and this couple right behind us asks us where we are from. We answer San Francisco Bay Area, and they look at me and ask “Darin?” In the middle of the drill, we met Paul and Pat McFarlane, two great folks from the Minneapolis area who will be touring Lima with us in a few days time. They are a lot of fun and we hit it off immediately… I wonder if any of these folks will be at our dinner table?

Well, dinner in the formal dining room was open seating, so we will have to wait til tomorrow night to see who will we will share our meals with for the next two weeks. Since the menu was pretty standard, we made our way back up to alternative dining for some Pizza and Pasta (made to order and excellent).

We checked out the introduction ship show in the Celebrity Theater, which gave us both a good feeling as to what was to come, and then headed off to bed.

Tomorrow — Our first day at sea!

Pachamanac - Lima, Peru

Pachamanac – Lima, Peru

Thankful for a Beautiful Tropic Day, Aruba

Thankful for a Beautiful Tropic Day, Aruba

Where's Zamfir When You Need Him? Arica, Chile

Where's Zamfir When You Need Him? Arica, Chile

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

 

March 20, 2006 – Day 3
Day At Sea – Enroute to Arica

Well, the lack of sleep was bound to catch up with us, and it did so with a vengenance this morning. Well, more like this afternoon. Natalie and I clocked a 12 hour nap, and awoke just a bit after 12noon. Actually, I had gotten up a half hour earlier and walked around the ship a bit to see a little more of the ship.

The water thus far has been very calm. We have had just the slightest bit of movement thus far, and the trip north up the western coast of Chile has been for the most part uneventful from the weather and seas perspective. Temps are in the upper 60s and low 70s and plenty of folks are out by the pool.

Since breakfast was missed this morning, we headed up for lunch and took in the Riviera Grill up on deck 10. Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, along with Grilled Chicken hit the spot. The big draw though might simply be some of the best french fries we have ever had. Uncle Mark would love these fries. This will most certainly be a return favorite.

From here, we headed over to the Emporium, where the Millennium has, what I generally believe to be the largest shopping mall at sea. In the center of all of the shops, there is a nice collection of art work, and here we met our cruise’s art auctioneer and the Art Gallery Manager. Today was simply a seminar on how the auctions worked, and what to expect over the course of the next couple of weeks.

Right after, we had a new cruise experience… The Millennium also has an onboard wine and cigar auction company. The intro seminar and auction today actually was helpful in better understanding the wines and the offerings they have on the ship. Unfortunately, the auction company focuses on very small wineries, and thus, no tasting… Oh well, still plenty to learn, and who knows… Maybe a bottle or two or 6 will make it home…

I stepped out a bit early from the Wine seminar and headed over to Words, the ship’s two story library to work on the Travel Log. (After nearly 2 straight days of travel, things start getting blurry.) I belted out two pages, and then Natalie stopped by to bring me some Chocolate Chip Cookies from the bakery.

We headed back to the room and suited up for a trip to the AquaSpa. Today we were going to take our first trip to the Persian Gardens, a secret back room of the Spa that is only available to a limited number of guests. You must sign up on the first day to get in, and once the limit is reached, it is closed. Natalie and I signed up for a full cruise package for unlimited access for the entire 2 weeks. We will most certainly get our money’s worth on this deal.

Checking in, you are lead to a non descript door, that looks nothing like it belongs in the Spa to begin with. Upon walking in though, you are then presented with 5 areas of different relaxation activities. The first, the showers, are specially configured to provide a shower in a number of different settings to massage, work tension, or relax. Just press a button, and it kicks on.

From here, there is the Grotto, a heavy steam room with Aromatherapy. Take a seat in these tile covered benches, and the warmth and steam take over. Stuffy nose… Gone. Tension in the neck, back… Gone. After about 5 minutes in here, you ask yourself if I still have a job to go back to…

There is also a Turkish Bath, a Dry Sauna, and an area to just relax and unwind with heated benches. Read, listen to music or otherwise. It is a spot that will be visited daily throughout the trip.

After sampling the offerings in the Persian Gardens and scheduling return trips, we headed over to the T-Pool. The pool in located indoors and is in the shape of a cross. (Think Red Cross, not a church). It is warmed to about 90-100 degress and has jets and bubbles. It fits about 40, and there are plenty of places to sit and let the bubbles do their thing.

As relaxed as could be, we headed back to our stateroom, and got showered and dressed for our first formal night. This was actually our first night in the dining room, so we were excited to see what the Metropolitan Restaurant would be like, food, service, etc.

Before heading into eat, we made a stop by Michael’s Paino Lounge and took in an early concert by a four member Acapella group called “Sustained.” They are really good and a high quality act to have on the ship. We were informed that they will be performing a number of times throughout the ship and we will make sure to attend their performances.

Arriving at the restaurant, we saw Pat and Paul and found out that although they had a great day at sea, we were not sitting at our table. In fact, they were on a different floor than we were, as this was a two-story restaurant. So, we bid them a great dinner, and looked forward to meeting our table.

We were escorted into dinner, and took our places at Table 556. We met our waiter Arslan from Turkey, and our Asst. Waiter Savio from India. Both seemed like we were all going to get along just fine. Arslan has a special place in Natalie’s heart already because from the first moment we met, Natalie is only known as “Princess”. So, these two are definitely keepers. A few minutes into the meal, we realized that we were the only ones seated at our table for 6. Nothing to worry about… I’m sure our other folks will be here shortly. Well, we reached the 2nd course, and gave in that our tablemates weren’t going to be coming tonight. Formal night probably scared them off, or they were at the Olympic Speciality Restaurant this evening.

The food and service were excellent, and we both enjoyed our appetizers, soups, salad, and Filets. A few minutes before desert, the assistant Maitre’D came over to introduce herself and asked us if we had any questions… We asked her if she could confirm the number of folks at our table, so we could know for tomorrow night, when everyone had arrived. She responded, “No, it’s just the two of you… If you would like to change that, just let me know and we’ll take care of it, but you are the only ones seated at this table for the cruise…”

Dumbstruck, we contemplated this for a while, but ultimately decided to let the fates take their course. We have already met a number of great folks and we have a free invitation from the Maitre’D to invite them to our table for the rest of the cruise to join us for meals, and we may have some options if we want to move as well. So, we’ll try it out for a couple of days and see what happens.

After an excellent dinner, we headed back to our room for a few minutes, and then made our way to the Celebrity Theater for our first Broadway Production of the trip, “I Love The Nightlife.” Solid performance, and the entertainment continues to receive high marks from both of us.

From here, we headed over to Celebrity Karaoke. This is an experience, where everyone can have a shot at the microphone, and the crowd just adds applause, and moral support. We watched several acts, and helped them close out the place at 1:30am. Maybe we’ll sing one of these days… Maybe…

Tomorrow: Day #2 At Sea on our way to Arica

Pablo Neruda Memorial, Valparaiso, Chile

Pablo Neruda Memorial, Valparaiso, Chile

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

El Morro - Arica, Chile

El Morro – Arica, Chile

A Member of the Performance Team Who We Got To Know on the Millenium

A Member of the Performance Team Who We Got To Know on the Millenium

 

March 21, 2006 – Day 4
Day At Sea – Enroute to Arica

So, it was a late night last night, so we slept in, and loved every minute of it. Around 10:30 we got started and headed up to the Cosmos Bar and Lounge for 80s Pop Name That Tune… A perfect activity for Natalie and me! We walked in and joined a table of three older cruisers and we didn’t do half bad! We got a score of 34 out of 40… Only problem was that some table on the other side of the room pulled off a 37. Oh well — we had a great time and it was a nice start to the day.

From here, we headed to lunch in the Ocean Cafe. This HUGE buffet line runs both sides of Deck 10 and has standard buffet fare and a theme everyday. On top of this, there is a made to order pizzeria, pasta bar, and sandwich and soup bar too! Great selection, good food, and good service. By the way, every meal can end on the best note… A full soft serve and homemade ice cream scoop shop open from 12noon to 10pm everyday. With flavors like Apricot Sherbet to homemade After Eight Mint and all the sundae toppings you can think of, this is a great spot, day in and day out.

Since it is a day at sea, of course, there is an art auction and wine auction today… We checked both of these out and Natalie won one of the raffle prizes at the Wine Auction… Her grand prize? 6 Bottles of Unique Wines that cannot be found in the United States. She was grinning from ear to ear…

In the afternoon, we headed over to the Perisian Gardens for the daily Day at Sea visit. We met up with Conni and Michell in the spa, and hung out with them for a while.

Back to the room and got dressed for informal dinner. The big question — wear a tie? Or don’t wear a tie. Well, I played it safe and wore one, and once I got into the dining room, promptly surveyed the room and took it off.

Conni and Michell joined us at our table permanently tonight, and it was great to have some new additions to our table. They are both really great folks and we look forward to sharing the rest of the cruise with them.

We had such a good time at dinner, we were the very last table to leave, so about 11pm, we headed back to our rooms, so we could get a good night’s sleep and prep for tomorrow.

Tomorrow — Arica, Chile

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

Final Touches on a Panama Hat - Montecristo, Ecuador

Final Touches on a Panama Hat – Montecristo, Ecuador

 

March 22, 2006 – Day 5
Arica, Chile

A 6am wakeup call was a bit of a shock this morning, but it was eased into nicely with Continental Breakfast delivered to our room. Warm Croissants, Hot Tea, Cereal, Ham, Bacon, and much more… Yum…

We met up with Michell and Conni at 7:45 in the hopes of getting off the ship as quickly as possible as we were scheduled for an 8am start in port.

Just a few minutes after 8, we were cleared to disembark, and we took a shuttle to the entrance to the port, and there we were swarmed by locals warmly ready to accept our money.

We were approached by a nice gentleman, who offered to work with us to deliever a custom tour with a taxi driver (off the clock), to go to the exact locations we all wanted to see at a price of $15 an hour for the car. With 4 of us in the car, we were looking at $3.75 a person. How can you go wrong?

We met our taxi driver, Nathan, a nice man, whose English was non-existant, but had a kind soul, and was very professional and courteous to our any need. Since we had all done some Spanish in our days, we could communicate with him, so the basics were covered. To seal the deal, he drove a Hyundai Sonata. With all the needed pieces in place, we headed out on our 4 hour tour.

Arica is not the world’s largest city, so the options are not numerous, but we decided on a nice variety of stops. First we traveled south along the coast for about 3 miles and passed by some popular playas (beach resorts) among the locals.

From here, we headed up to the Morro, the military highpoint of the city where the Chileans stood their ground against the Peruvians in their war for independence. It is about 2,000 feet above the city and provides some great views.

Another amazing note about Arica. They are located within a desert, the Atacama. The city receives on average one day of rain per year. No, that is not a typo. (Strangely enough, we had a little rain late this evening… What are the odds?)

From the morro, we headed over to the Cathedral San Marcos, a church designed by Gustav Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame.

After that stop, we headed out of town and headed east southeast into the Azapa Valley and visited the Archeological Museum with pre-inca culture artifacts from 7000 BC. Pretty impressive history. A number of artifacts were on display and although we were fighting a little bit with the big bus tours here, it was a nice stop.

After the museum, we headed to the petrogylphs. These large sized displayed were made by the ancient peoples and preserved through the extremely dry climate and lack of rain to disturb them. We made two stops to see two different sets, and took pictures.

We decided that since it was around noon and the sun was at its peak to head back to the ship for some lunch. The four of us said our goodbyes to Nathan and returned to the Millennium.

After a lunch on Deck 10 in the Ocean Cafe, we headed back into town and visited the local handicraft market near the waterfront and picked up a few items. A quick note… There are 4 different types of llamas… And yes, some fur is softer than others.

From here we went into the shopping district of 21 de Mayo, and saw the American staples of McDonalds and Blockbuster Video… We headed up the street and found an internet cafe, where we went in and took in an hour of high speed for 400 Chilean Pesos per hour. Translation: 80 cents… That buys you a whopping one minute on the ship… Gotta love Chile…

While we were online we checked email and chatted via IM with family back home. We also checked Natalie’s bank website and found that our friends at Immigracion de Chile still hadn’t fully fixed their $2000 mistake on our Bank Card. So, after internet we headed out to the payphone outside to call home and check in and then spent 20 minutes on hold with Congressional Federal Credit Union… They to some degree fixed the problem, but we will need to check again later on.

Finally, we just make a quick stop to pick up some more Sprite for our in room bar… Back to the ship, and time for a hot shower to clean off that funky mixture of dust, dirt, and sunblock… Whew…

As we prepared for dinner, we noticed that around 8pm, we had not yet left port, and we’re now about an hour behind schedule. This is not entirely out of the ordinary, but a few minutes later there was an urgent call to the members of the B’nai B’rith Organization on board to report to a conference room. Now, we knew that something wasn’t right… We headed into the dining room for late seating dinner and a few feet from our table, an all-ship announcement began and the captain addressed all the passengers, staff, and crew. He announced that at around 4:30pm, there was a tragic accident that had claimed the lives and seriously injured our fellow passengers. To assist to the needs to all involved, a doctor, nurse, and concierge all left the ship to report to the local hospital to help in any way they could. We would remain in Arica until further notice to assist with the investigation and to attend to the injured.

During dinner our Assistant Maitre ‘D informed us that we would be able to utilize the internet on board free of charge to contact friends and family to inform them that we were okay. So after a somewhat subdued dinner, we headed back to our room to pick up our laptop and found a nice corner of Deck 8 near our room that picked up the wireless internet. We got word out to the family that we were ok, and also allowed Conni and Michell to email their family and friends. This was the first time that we had seen the coverage of the accident on MSNBC and CNN. According to CNN.com the accident involved 14 passengers (12 killed and two injured) whose tour bus swerved off a steep mountain road and fell nearly 300 feet. We had a feeling that it would be a big news event, but not a breaking news headline at home… So, we were thankful when we found Shelly, Mom Moss, and Mom Miladinovich online so we could let them know that we were ok.

It was very uneasy throughout the ship that night. Entertainment was cancelled, and the lines in the Internet cafe were very long, but for the most part, folks were really just doing there best to respond to the circumstances. The ship did a great job, and the professional attitude and genuine concern for the passengers was apparent in their communication and response to the situation.

Right before we headed to back to our room, a passanger saw us online reading about the accident and stopped to talk. She informed us that the individuals involved in the accident were part of the group from New Jersey. It is then that we found out that those lovely people we met in Atlanta airport were effected by this accident. We could not get there faces out of our minds as we tried to get some rest.

We headed back to our room a little after 12midnight, and just watched some Tivo to settle down before heading to bed.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those involved and their family and friends at home and on the ship.

Tomorrow: Day At Sea, or Day 2 in Arica…

A Tiny Church, Aruba

A Tiny Church, Aruba

A View To Appreciate, Aruba

A View To Appreciate, Aruba

Crafts of All Types - Montecristo, Ecuador

Crafts of All Types – Montecristo, Ecuador

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

 

March 23, 2006 – Day 6
Day At Sea – Enroute to Lima

This morning, there was some question about whether we would be waking to a day at sea, or if we were going to be spending another day in Arica to assist with the local officials and the needs stemming from yesterday’s tour bus accident. At 9am, the local authorities cleared our ship to depart and we headed back out to sea on our way to Lima. With a 14 hour delay, the captain announced that we would be heading to Callao at full speed, 25 knots, to do our best to make up the loss in time.

After all the ups and down of the previous evening, Natalie attended the morning mass then joined Darin back in the cabin to watch a few movies. It was nice and relaxing.

After the Italian buffet lunch, we headed over to the art auction and sat in on the action. The art auction today had a piece that we just couldn’t pass up, so we selected a great piece that we are looking forward to adding to our collection.

From here, we headed over to the wine auction for the day. We were a few minutes late as we had to complete our transaction over at the art auction, but Natalie’s buddy Rob was ready and waiting with a bunch of raffle tickets for us, and I worked on the log while Natalie learned about the different wines available today.

Not only are these auctions fun to watch, but you can learn a tremendous amount of information about art, wine, value, and information on the artists and winemakers. The staff onboard ship are informative, and fortunately keep the information moving, so things never get boring…

Well, we were reaching the end of the wine auction and the final raffle of the day was done… I leaned over to Natalie when they announced the number and said to her, “It’s yours, isn’t it?” and sure enough, she has won her SECOND case of 6 bottles of wine. She is on a roll, and we will definitely be back again, but at this rate we may have 18 or 24 bottles coming home with us…

At 6pm, Natalie had an appointment in the spa, as we were able to get a good deal during the previous Art Auction. During the auctions they auction off certain spa packages for up to 50% off… Natalie purchased a massage and facial and had her appointment this evening … She was supposed to be gone for only 75 minutes, but 2 hours later, she returned back to the cabin, and she was a happy camper!

To celebrate, we had a great evening at dinner, and after dinner, we had a late run to the Spa for a visit to the Persian Gardens and the T-Pool. The staff allowed us to stay late, and then we headed to bed.

The captain announced that we would be arriving into Callao about 4 hours late, at 11am, versus our original 7:00am arrival. To help balance that out, we will be in port for an additional 2 hours, until 8pm. Darin contacted our tour provider and they agreed to the shift in our time. When we checked our e-mail to see if our Lima tour provider had responded to our message, we also received a message from our tour provider in Equador. She had heard about the accident and wanted to make sure we were okay and see if there is anything she could do for us. We thought that was very kind of her to be concerned for us and think this is a good sign of things to come.

So, off to bed to get ready for our day in Lima tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Callao & Lima

Yes... Bones... Lots and Lots of Bones... - Lima, Peru

Yes… Bones… Lots and Lots of Bones… – Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

A Tiny Church, Aruba

A Tiny Church, Aruba

Arica, Chile

Arica, Chile

 

March 24, 2006 – Day 7
Lima, Peru

This morning, breakfast was served in our room, as we watched the ship dock into Callao on our stateroom TV. We were going to meet our tour guide at the front of the Port Terminal at 11:00am, so we knew we were going to be racing against the clock.

We met up with Paul, Pat, June, and Rose, our tour partners and headed out to the dock. The dock is nearly a mile from the entrance to the port, so there was supposed to be a number of shuttle vans to take us that distance to the front of the terminal… Unfortunately, they were about 15 minutes late, so we all hung out waiting for them to arrive, but it wasn’t too long… We reached the terminal a few minutes later, and found our tour guide, Nieves waiting for us with a sign in hand.

Nieves directed us to our Kia minivan for the day and asked us to make sure our windows were closed before we started our tour. Apparantly, the Peruvian president was going to be visiting the ship today, and there were a few protests outside of the port. Once we got passed them, we began to make our way towards Lima…

First things first… Nieves, our tour guide, and Rafael, our driver were top notch. They were very good at what they do, and it was evident right from the get go. We weaved our way through the amazing traffic of Callao and Lima to make our way to the PanAmerican Highway headed south along the coast towards Pachamanac.

The trip highlighted two major points of Lima. The first is that security is big business in Lima. Many companies and homes have high walls around their locations, many with metal bars, and some with their own security guards and guard towers. It was a little odd at first, but we grew to accept it as time went on. Also, poverty is still a huge problem in Lima. With 9 million people in the city, 20% of the population averages $1 a day salary, and the overall average is only $150 a month. The point is evident in the abundance of shantytowns along the PanAmerican highway as we made our way to Pachamanac, the ruins located about 30 km south of Lima.

Our driver was almost surgical as he made his way through the traffic and got us to our destination with little difficulty. When we exited the van, it was a little strange, but the ruins site was covered in fog… Even our tour guide was a little perplexed by this, but we made our way through the site of the pyramids and the Temple of the Sun. Most of the site is still in its original state, though some of the buildings are beginning to undergo some restoration.

From Pachamanac, we returned back to Lima proper and headed towards the Miraflores District, an affulent and wealthy area of the city. The homes are quite nice, and the mahogany garage doors were a nice touch. We went to a local shopping area to have a Peruvian buffet lunch at a restaurant called Mangoes.

The food was quite good, but time was limited, so we hightailed it back to our van, and headed to the Plaza de Armas and the Museo del Oro. The Plaza de Armas was actually donated to the state by a single gentleman who has collected more than 30,000 pieces of artillery, weapons, knives, and military collectibles. Borderline between collector and insanity, the tour through this building was amazing as we saw items ranging from the saber used in Prince Diana’s wedding to more than 7,000 guns from all over the world. It was an impressive display… Too bad all photography and video is banned.

From here we went into the Museo de Oro (The Gold Museum). It was an impressive collection of gold objects from the many civilizations within Peru. Our guide, Nieves provided us with a number of stories and historical references to collorelate the objects we were seeing with the appropriate time periods. Long story short — The Spaniards invaded, took all the gold… Came back, took more gold… And repeat about a dozen more times. The Peruvians… They still hold a grudge…

From here, we continued into the center of town and made our way to the Lima Cathedral and Franciscan Monastery. We narrowly made into both locations just as the doors were closing. Our tour guide and driver must have had all their karma in place… The Cathedral was beautiful, but there was only one rule. No candles, no burning, no fire… The entire buidling is made out of wood. Amazing architecture, and Nieves provided us with a lot of great facts on the church. From here, we went along to the Monastery and the Catacombs. A graveyard underneath the church held the remains of more then 75,000 people, and it was a secret for a long time. Making our way through the tight and narrow hallways, we needed to keep our heads down, but saw a lot of history.

It was almost 6, so we headed back to Callao to reboard the ship, but it was a most impressive day. Nieves and Rafael did a fantastic job, and we will most certainly recommend them to any other travellers headed to the Lima area.

Back at the ship, we headed to dinner, and hung out with Conni and Michell that evening. Another great day in South America.

Tomorrow: A Day At Sea, Heading towards Ecuador

A Tiny Church, Aruba

A Tiny Church, Aruba

Old School Internet Access

Old School Internet Access

Does This Bus Come With a Kickin Sound System? - Montecristo, Ecuador

Does This Bus Come With a Kickin Sound System? – Montecristo, Ecuador

Midnight Buffet Onboard the Millennium

Midnight Buffet Onboard the Millennium

 

March 25, 2006 – Day 8
Day At Sea – Enroute to Manta

We finally decided that we were going to be up for made to order pancakes and waffles today, so we got up about 9:15am and went up for belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream… Natalie had a stack of pancakes… A very nice way to start the morning.

From here, we went out on deck and took in some sun and played cards for a while…

Heading down to the art auction at 1pm, they were doing the “Masters” collection today, which basically meant lots of high priced works by many artists that Natalie and I were not huge fans of, so it was a bit of a slow day. I brought the laptop and worked on the log a bit. Around 3pm, I went up and picked us up some ice cream, and following the auction, we were going to go to the wine auction, but it was a repeat of the two earlier auctions so not many folks showed up. Rob and Scott said that they were going to cancel it, so we headed upstairs to team trivia.

Natalie and I came in a few minutes late, so we took two seats by ourselves and just started to answer the questions to ourselves. We didn’t do half bad, but let me tell you… These trivia people are brutal… They play for blood and Celebrity T-Shirts and no one, especially two young people, will take them away from their free tote bag greatness…

After the trivia chaos, we made our way back to deck, played a little scrabble, and got changed for a trip to the Persian Gardens. After a nice long stay in the spa, we came back to our cabin and got ready for our second formal night.

After dinner, we checked out the second production show of the trip called Fantasea. The entire group did a great job, and we can only hope that they keep that energy level up for the rest of the cruise. If so, we will be in for some great performances here on out.

After the show, we went to Karaoke and saw some sad displays of singing talent or lack of talent (depending on your perspective). Conni did a Trisha Yearwood song and did a nice job… A beacon of light among the darkness. (The woman from Tennessee that butchered the 12 minute version of American Pie needs to stick to her day job)

A long day, but one that was definitely enjoyed.

Tomorrow: Manta, Ecuador

Arica, Chile

Arica, Chile

Overcrowded and Improverished - Lima, Peru

Overcrowded and Improverished – Lima, Peru

Pablo Neruda Memorial, Valparaiso, Chile

Pablo Neruda Memorial, Valparaiso, Chile

The Girls and Arslan, Celebrity Millennium

The Girls and Arslan, Celebrity Millennium

 

March 26, 2006 – Day 9
Manta, Ecuador

Continental breakfast to the room was a nice start to the day as we got packed up for our day tour in Manta and Montechrsti. We arrived in port at 8:00am, on schedule, but instead of having to tender into Manta, we were able to go directly into port!

The port of Manta is not very large. In fact, only about 30 cruise vessels come through Manta a year (this is a very small number in comparison to places like the Carribbean or even the U.S.), so when word gets out that 1,500 wealthy Americanos are arriving, we had everyone out to meet us, including a 7 piece band.

We exited the ship around 9:45am for our 10am tour where we met Janeth of Metropolitan Touring, who was waiting for us with a sign. She introduced us to our guide for the day, Jessica, and our driver who would be taking us through town and into the countryside.

Jessica is a student who has lived in Manta all her life, though has recently begun studying in Guayaquil. She was really nice and enjoyed having us on her tour. I guess that for the longest time, Janeth and Jessica thought that we were an older group of folks.

We began our tour in Central Manta, where a large scale bike ride has just started, somewhat snagging traffic a bit at the start of our tour. We headed to the Central Bank of Manta which has been turned into a museum showing the history of the area and the peoples occupying the country.

One major change in Manta, versus the rest of the trip thus far is that the temperature has risen significantly and the humidity is much higher. We arrived to temps in the upper 80s and humidity in the 90% range. It was a sauna all day. We were fortunate that our Kia van had air conditioning and that made a big difference for the better.

Our next stop was the Taqua Nut Factory on the way to Montechristi. The Taqua nut is also known as vegetal ivory. It is a natural substance, but has great strength and durability. At the factory we were able to watch the craftspeople harvest the nuts, slice, shape, and carve the nuts into many shapes, sizes, and uses from necklaces to little figurines and ornaments, but the primary use is to turn them into buttons. We took a ton of pictures here and received a taqua nut to take home along with some sample buttons that have been made with the material.

From here, we headed to the town of Montechristi, the home of the Panama Hat. We visited a summit overlooking the town to grab some pictures, and then headed into the center of town to see some of the artisans creating the hats and visit the local church.

As we arrived to the center of town, we went into an artesian market and we saw different crafts from little taqua nut figurines to artwork created on corn husks, and many different bags and clothing made by locals. It is here where we met a 90 year old woman who has been making Panama hats since she was 6 years old. This tradition is handed down from one generation to the next and is very much a family affair.

After watching the process for a while, we headed to the local church where Sunday services were being held. In the back of the church behind the priest is a statue where folks make pilgrimages to a statue of the Virgin Mary to make offerings and requests for assistance with illness or needs. We didn’t want to disturb the services that were in progress, so we left and made our way back towards Manta.

We made a short stop at the Paseo de Manta — a new American style shopping mall, which is such a contrast to the poverty and traditional ways of the people, but alas, this is the future, and towns like Manta are embracing it for the dollars it brings into the economy.

Conni and Michell checked internet (which was so slow that it was worthless to even try), and Natalie and I stopped off at the market to pick up a few snacks and drinks for our next set of sea days.

About 30 minutes later, Jessica took us over to the local handicraft market, and we got a chance to haggle a bit with the shopowners. It was a fun experience, and we got to use the little Spanish we knew to bargain with folks for their offerings and souvenirs.

We headed back to the ship around 2:45, and we grabbed a late lunch. Then, Natalie and I headed back to the terminal to look for a phone to call home. Unfortunately, they were not compatible with our phone cards, so we head back to the ship.

We rested up for a few hours, and got ready for dinner. Heading into the restaurant, we enjoyed a nice dinner and then headed to the show, Classique. It was another good show and the cast and crew did a fine job.

Back to the room to call it a night…

Tomorrow: A Day At Sea Enroute to the Panama Canal.

Taqua Nut Manufacturing - Montecristo, Ecuador

Taqua Nut Manufacturing – Montecristo, Ecuador

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

Happy Wine Tasters - William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

Happy Wine Tasters – William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

Taqua Nut Manufacturing - Montecristo, Ecuador

Taqua Nut Manufacturing – Montecristo, Ecuador

 

March 27, 2006 – Day 10
Day At Sea – Enroute to Panama Canal

Natalie wasn’t feeling too hot this morning, and so we took today a little slower than usual.

I brought her a late breakfast from the Restaurant on Deck 10, and then I headed out to see the arrival of King Neptune. Last night, around 10:30pm we crossed the Equator, and shifted from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere. Fall is now Spring again, and we are headed towards the Panama Canal.

(The water in our bathroom shower also made the shift from counterclockwise below the equator to clockwise above the equator…)

King Neptune arrives to perform a maritime ritual on “Polywogs” or first time people that have crossed the equator. In this case, newly arrived staff and crew members on their first trip over the equator will complete their initiation, from the anointment of ketchup, cool whip, and kissing a big dead fish, they are baptized in the main swimming pool, fully clothed. I think nearly every passenger was out on deck to see the festivities.

About 12 staff/crew members were initiated, and then passengers were welcome to participate and the line was long! Some folks were really intent on getting a bunch of chocolate sauce poured over their head, and dusted with flour and nacho cheese… But it was a lot of fun to watch!

From here, Natalie joined me and Conni, and we hung out near the library, just chatting and reading our books while I worked on the log.

At 3:00pm, I headed down to see a National Geographic documentary on the Panama Canal, and Natalie went over to the Wine Auction. We met up right after, and then returned to our room to get ready for the 5:00pm Memorial service for the 12 passengers of the accident in Arica.

We arrived to a large gathering of passengers wishing to pay their respects to the nice folks from New Jersey that were involved in the accident. It was a nice service officiated by a Rabbi that has worked with Celebrity in the past.

After the service, Natalie and I signed the condolence book and got to see pictures of those involved. We had met and knew about 6 of the 12, and even though it was for a short time, it was a nice service to offer our thoughts and prayers.

We also learned that the 2 injured had been transferred back to the United States, and fortunately their injuries were minor (broken leg and arm). Amazing, given the state of the bus that we saw in the news coverage.

We headed up to the Persian Gardens for another relaxing steam and sauna, and then returned to the room to get ready for dinner.

Dinner was informal this evening, and although that meant that I had to wear a jacket, our dinner staff are such a nice group, I really don’t mind getting dressed up for a day at sea.

After dinner, we hung out for a little while and then headed off to bed.

Tomorrow: The Panama Canal

Arica, Chile

Arica, Chile

Pablo Neruda Memorial, Valparaiso, Chile

Pablo Neruda Memorial, Valparaiso, Chile

The Matriarch of Panama Hat Making - Montecristo, Ecuador

The Matriarch of Panama Hat Making – Montecristo, Ecuador

Panama Canal, Panama

Panama Canal, Panama

 

March 28, 2006 – Day 11
Panama Canal – Scenic Cruising

Welcome to the Panama Canal! Today is pretty much about the Canal and little else. We began our day around 9am… Originally, we were scheduled to enter the canal through the first set of locks around 7:00am local time, but this was postponed due to traffic and the large number of super ships or “Panamaxs” that were scheduled to come through today.

So, around 8:45, we got word that we were about to enter the canal, so we headed up on deck to see our first set of locks, the Miraflores.

There are three major sets of locks that cover the 42 mile journey — the Miraflores, Don Miguel, and the Gatun. Now, here is where things start to get interesting…

The Panama Canal is fast approaching its 100th birthday and the engineering marvel that was developed and presented by John Stevens is a marvel in and of itself. Huge ships are systematically raised and lowered inside of locks approximately 1000 feet long and 110 feet wide. This allows them to traverse the isthmus to get from one side of the country to the other.

The next head spinner is that in order to go East through the canal, ships actually must travel West… No that is not a typo… The country of Panama is shaped like a letter S and it is necessary to head Northwest in order to reach the eastern side of the country. In fact, when we exited Panama, we were actually 23 miles WEST of where we had entered the country…

Even with all of the fun and crazy facts about the Canal, it truly was an amazing trip, and in a small way, very glad that we were unable to disembark to take a shore excursion because we would have missed the journey, which is definitely one of many highlights on our trip thus far.

After making our way through the Miraflores Locks, we continued for about another 45 minutes and made our way to the Don Miguel Locks. This next set of locks brought us up to the highest point in elevation on our Panama Crossing, and then we began making our way through Gatun Lake. This 160 square mile lake is the largest man made lake on earth, and was created when the Chagres River was blocked off when the canal was being built. It took a few hours to made our way through this area, so we grabbed some lunch and took in the scenery from the deck 10 cafe with floor to ceiling windows.

In the afternoon, around 3:30pm, we began to approach the Gatun Locks, the end of our crossing and identified as the most spectacular of the locks that we would pass through for the day. Just about every passenger on the ship was up on deck or in a public viewing room to see the trip as our huge cruise ship was lowered foot after foot and made our way through the locks.

Just as we entered the final set of locks, Panama’s skies roared to life as the rain began to pour down. The rain was warm and the feeling was very humid and tropical, so with the exception of my camera, we were very happy to just stay outside.

I quickly ran in and swapped from my Rebel to my G3, and headed back out with a pool towel over my head to keep the camera dry. Natalie and I also had a chance to duck into the conservatory and found a relaxation haven. On the second floor of the conservatory in a tower, was two chaise lounges with the most comfortable cushions, and we were able to listen to great 80s music from the flower designer’s studio below, with the pounding rain providing rhythmic percussion that drifted us into a wonderful afternoon nap. We were the only ones there, and it was definitely a place that we would like to hang out in once more before the end of the cruise.

So, a little wet, about 200 pictures later, and having passed through the Panama Canal, we have now entered the Atlantic Ocean, and began our trip towards Aruba. Another fantastic day with many great things to see!

We had a pre-dinner show tonight with a Broadway Actress named Jeri Sager. She did a good job, and really got the audience into her act.

From here, we were off to dinner, and the 4 of us at the dinner table enjoyed good conversation and were the last table of the dining room to depart.

It had been a long day, so we headed off to bed.

Tomorrow — A Day At Sea Enroute to Aruba

Crafts of All Types - Montecristo, Ecuador

Crafts of All Types – Montecristo, Ecuador

A View To Appreciate, Aruba

A View To Appreciate, Aruba

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

Panama Canal, Panama

Panama Canal, Panama

 

March 29, 2006 – Day 12
Day At Sea – Enroute to Aruba

The seas are a rocking! Waves up to 15 feet today kept us moving all day long, but really, for Natalie and I, these days all that moving just lulls us to sleep.

We had to add an hour to our clocks last night, so we woke up this morning at 10:30am, and on the Stateroom Television was National Treasure, so we just enjoyed the movie, as there wasn’t a significant number of activities this morning.

Around 12:30pm we headed up to deck and joined Michell and Conni for lunch and had a little barbecue, some pizza, and plenty of excellent ice cream.

From here, we headed over to the Art Auction, and played some cards as many of today’s works were not necessarily our style, but we still learned a lot and had a good time. We have made some good contacts with the Art Gallery Director and our Art Auctioneer, so they stop by throughout the auction to ask us about our needs, wants, etc. and they always have a good deal up their sleeve, if you ask…

From here, Natalie headed over to the Wine Auction as today was Red Day at the auction, so she was looking for a few Reds that might be available for a good price. Of course, she won ANOTHER lot of six wines. This takes us up to 24 bottles of wine. I think this will be her last visit to the wine auction.

Speaking of wine, we found out something really interesting today… Celebrity has a signature wine collection with specially engraved bottles of wine that have special maritime and nautical logos… Guess who makes them for the entire fleet? Wente… Who would have thought? Well, now we know we can go to Wente and bring the wine onboard with us next time…

Arica, Chile

Arica, Chile

El Morro - Arica, Chile

El Morro – Arica, Chile

Vina De Mar, Chile

Vina De Mar, Chile

The Natural Bridge, Aruba

The Natural Bridge, Aruba

 

March 30, 2006 – Day 13
Aruba

Aruba was our first port on our own, but since Natalie had been here before, we decided that a 4×4 and a map would suit us just fine. The island is only 19 miles long by 6 miles wide, so how lost could we get???

We arrived into Aruba around 8am in the morning, and grabbed a cab to travel about 8km to the South to Reina Beatrix International Airport where we would be getting our car for the day.

It was realtively early, so the temperature was quite nice and walking into the rental car counter, we were greeted warmly as our Daihatsu Terios was pulled along to the customer pickup island on the back side of the rental office.

Other than the great big Budget Rental Car stickers on the sides of the doors, our little gray 4×4 would do the trick just fine. The best part — a really powerful A/C system that would keep us at 60 degrees inside the car, because it is going to get hot today.

We travelled north from the Airport and drove through the Aruban capital, Oranjestad, because we would have a chance to come back through once the day was done (the ship docked about 2 blocks from downtown).

We reached the northwest corner of the island, and headed for the California Lighthouse. It was already pretty busy with tourists, but we got some great picutres and took in some great views of the ocean before we got back inside our Terios and took a trip “off-road”.

Like I mentioned earlier, Natalie and I wanted to get a 4×4, and it came in handy since about half the roads on the island are not paved, and most travel through the backside of the island over rocks, cracks, crevices, and plenty of fun little items that you wouldn’t want your own car to have to deal with.

Headed south down the eastern coast of the island we made our way to a little chapel, that was originally constructed in the late 1700s. Destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again, and rebuilt again, continue this pattern to the present day, where it was rebuilt again not too long ago.

It is a tiny little chapen with bright yellow walls that can be seen for miles away. There are stone benches outside in a circular pattern around the building, as the actual chapel can’t seat more than about 40. Inside, a simple altar, and prayer candles, along with some beautiful decorations. I could see why folks wind their way for miles along the backroads to find this place. (Actually, there is a perfectly good paved road that gets you there too, but our scenic route was far more fun.)

From the chapel, we were back on the rocky 4×4 path that wound its way along the rocky coast, and we watched waves crash up on the shore and we were occasionnally passed by ATVs or saw a horseback riding expedition. Beyond that, we were for the most part by ourselves as we admired the Aruban desert.

Our next stop was an abandoned smelter from the 1800s that was erected for the processing of gold. It seems that Aruba had their own gold rush for a short period. The rules were simple — anyone could collect and harvest the gold as long as you sold it for a fixed price. The smelter is long abandones, but the old stone building frames some amazing sea views, and climbing on it reminds you a bit of grade school. Natalie and I climbed around, took pictures, and made our way back to the car as the temperature really had started to heat up.

A note about Aruba. It is a desert. The temperature was about 88, and to top it off, a constant wind blows across the island from East to West. They say you will always know your direction as the winds never change. The only problem is that the wind is warm, and at about 30 mph, it not only takes off people’s hats, but it makes a sunburn that much worse. Fortunately, early in the day, Natalie got us started on the path towards a painfree experience, and we had plenty of SPF30 on hand.

From the smelter, we began to follow buses (yes, buses) out on the rocky roads towards our next stop, the Natural Bridge. The bridge, spanning 98 feet, and towering 30 feet about the sand and surf had been carved out of the rock by endless pounding of the waves over thousands and thousands of years. Last September, the bridge collapsed. Strange that so many folks would come to see a large pile of dirt and rocks, but there we were along with so many others just to admire the amazing creative and destructive power of Mother Nature. There is another natural bridge in the works near the same site, but it has a long while to go before it is up to its big brother’s size.

Well, the 4×4 roading was now done for the moment, and we got back on solilde ground to make our way south through the interior of the island to head towards Arikok National Park, a nature preserve covering nearly 20% of the island.

We entered the park from the north and guess what? The paved roads ended! Back in 4×4 mode we made our way into the park and drove up to the top of Cerro Arikok to take in panoramic views of the island from nearly 600 feet above sea level.

From here, we made our way back down the hill and towards the coast, where we had a chance to see some caves. Aruba has 3 of them that are open to the public and safe enough to enter. Natalie and I saw 2 of them. The first was Fontein Cave. We met a park guide here and went about 75 feet into the cave, seeing stalagmites and cave paintings from the past.

From here, we headed down to a larger cave about a mile to the south. This one was much larger, and much deeper. In fact, it has two natural skylights that shine sunlight into the caverns, which lights them up in a truly errie and impressive way. The only problem in this cave was that we had to yield to the locals — in this case fruit bats and bees who had claimed it their home first. So we couldn’t go too far, but it was a fun adventure nevertheless.

From the caves, we dropped out of the southern exit of Arikok park and headed into San Nicolas, the home of the island’s oil refinery. Valero is the current owner, and though they provide jobs and money to the economy, it is strange to see a gigantic refinery on an island of 90,000 people.

We skirted around the refinery to make our way to a little gem of a beach called Baby Beach, located on the southwest corner of the island. Through we were not in the mood to go swimming, we did get our feet wet and walked along the sand, admiring this expanse of talcum white sand against a beautiful blue sky, and teal colored water. It’s called Baby Beach because the maximum water depth here is only 5 feet, so it is a favorite of families and children.

From baby beach, we headed back up the west coast (plenty of paved roads here), and made our way into the capital to see some sights and stop in at the local supermarket. Picked up some Cool Ranch Doritos and headed back to the airport to drop off the car.

At the airport, the rental car agency was kind enough to give us a ride back into town and dropped us off about 4 blocks from the Port Terminal, so we could find some internet access and make some calls home.

Natalie and I found internet and checked email, and called home ot check in. We were only there for about 30 minutes and then headed back to the ship.

As we walked back to the gangway, we see a big white igloo cooler and the Pool butler standing next to it. He reached in with some tongd, and out came two ice cold wet towels… Nice! After baking in the Aruban sun and being blown around with those 30 mph winds, that cold towel was a gift from heaven.

We got back on board, and get ready for dinner, where we joined Michell and Conni and enjoyed another great meal.

After dinner, we all agreed that it had been a long day, and we headed back to our rooms to cool off and get some rest.

A few minutes later, Darin remembered that tonight was the Chocolate Buffet, so he ran upstairs to check it out. More desert than anyone would ever need, but he was so stuffed from dinner that all he did was take come pictures…

Tomorrow — A Day At Sea Enroute to Fort Lauderdale.

Overcrowded and Improverished - Lima, Peru

Overcrowded and Improverished – Lima, Peru

Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso, Chile

Overcrowded and Improverished - Lima, Peru

Overcrowded and Improverished – Lima, Peru

Pablo Neruda Memorial, Valparaiso, Chile

Pablo Neruda Memorial, Valparaiso, Chile

 

March 31, 2006 – Day 14
Day At Sea – Enroute to Fort Lauderdale

It was a nice late morning again, and Natalie and I headed to breakfast about 10am. Picked up some waffles and cereal and settled into a nice relaxing day at sea.

We didn’t do a ton today, as it was time to face reality that the trip was beginning to wind down. We went up on deck and played some cards and enjoyed the sunny carribbean weather on the pool deck.

Lunch, and a lazy afternoon followed, and we went over to the art auction with Conni and played cards while the auction was going on. There was a lot of 4 masters artworks being auctioned off at $68,000! Just a little bit outside of our range, but fun nonetheless. Conni won an artwork in the raffle, so it ended on a good note.

Afterwards, Natalie and I headed to the future cruise desk. True to our form, we started checking out future wish list cruises.. There were a few really tempting choices. We’ll see what happens…

About this time, we headed back to the room and get ready for our daily visit to the Persian Gardens, and got our daily dose of R&R in the saunas. Natalie and I were both big into our books so we spent about an hour in here and then headed back to our room to get ready for our final Formal Dinner.

Dinner was great, though we did miss one of our tablemates due to her being under the weather. Not to worry, our super Asst. Maitre’D Kathryn put together a huge plate of cookies and sent them with us to deliver to her with a prescription to get better very soon. I definitely think that would do the trick for me…

We checked out our final production show with the Celebrity singers and dancers… It was a collection of Broadway works. They did a nice job, though I had a few concerns with the sets — I was a little afraid they might fall over… After the show, we headed back to the dining room for “Le Grand Buffet” and let me tell you, they do the buffet well. Ice Cravings, Chocolate Eiffel Towers, and food, food , food.. Again, way too full from Prime Rib at dinner, we passed, but still enjoyed the display.

We headed to bed, and called it a night.

Tomorrow — Day At Sea Enroute to Fort Lauderdale

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

William Cole Winery -Casablanca Valley, Chile

Panama Canal, Panama

Panama Canal, Panama

Hector and Our Travel Friends - Valparaiso, Chile

Hector and Our Travel Friends – Valparaiso, Chile

Arica, Chile

Arica, Chile

 

April 1, 2006 – Day 15
Day At Sea – Enroute to Fort Lauderdale

Today was for the most part pretty mellow… We had until 11pm to complete our packing, but we decided to make a good press to get it done early, so we could enjoy some free time in the afternoon.

So after a few of the bags were finished up, we worked on our evaluations and feedback cards and grabbed some lunch and ice cream up on deck 10.

A quick note… Orange Sherbet and Vanilla Soft Serve in the same bowl is excellent…

In the afternoon, we caught a movie on the stateroom television and headed down to the gardens for our final visit.

Before dinner, there was a farewell show with a pretty good violinist, the Pampas Devils, a Tango Troupe, and Sustained, the A Capella group. They all closed out the entertainment of the cruise on a high note, and then we made our way to the dining room.

With all of our bags packed, tonight was a casual dinner, since no one had any remaining clothes, so we headed into the Dining Room to enjoy our “Last Supper” with our tablemates and to say goodbye to our most excellent dining room staff.

A wonderful dinner, and plenty of pictures later, we headed back to our rooms to put our bags out for the staff to move into the cargo holds, and then headed off to the Cosmos Nightclub for 80s night. Although there wasn’t a lot of dancing going on, DJ Constantine did a fine job of keeping the great music coming song after song.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day home, so we all headed back to our room about 1am, and headed off to bed.

Tomorrow — Coming Home: Disembarkation and Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

I Could Get Used to This... Celebrity Millennium

I Could Get Used to This… Celebrity Millennium

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

Panama Canal, Panama

Panama Canal, Panama

 

April 2, 2006 – Day 16
Fort Lauderdale, Heading Home

Continental Breakfast was delivered at 7:00am, and then it was time to head down to the Celebrity Theater to wait for our disembarkation clearance.

Well, we arrived at the Celebrity Theater about 8:30am, for our 9:25am scheduled release. Coming back to the United States for the first time in over 3 months, the ship was subject to a substantially more intense inspection then was originally expected, so it took longer than was expected.

Natalie and I were in the “Brown 1” group, and had about 5 groups ahead of us, so we got comfortable in the theater, and just relaxed as CNN International played on the projection screens.

After an hour later than expected, the call finally came that we were cleared. As groups slowly, but efficently made their way off the ship, they finally got to us, and we made our way through Customs, Immigration, and picked up our bags in just a few minutes! Once they cleared us, the process of getting off the ship was completely painless.

We made our way to the buses and made the 35 minute trip to Miami Airport and boarded American Airlines Flight 2110 about 45 minutes late to head home.

As I write this, we have about another 2 hours to go, but it’s been a great trip, and we look forward to the next adventure!

See you all again online soon!

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