Nov – Dec 2007 – Europe & Transatlantic Cruise
November 26, 2007 – Day 1
San Francisco, CA to Frankfurt, Germany
I honestly can’t believe that it has been over a year since our last trip! This time around, we are headed to Spain and then onto a cruise to see the Spanish Coastline, Gibraltar, Morocco, and the Canary Islands.
After an extremely productive morning, Mom Miladinovich picked us up and we began to make our way to SFO. Traffic was pretty good and we made good time. We made a stop at Carls Jr. and grabbed a quick bite to hold us over.
This was the first time Natalie and I had been to the International Terminal at San Francisco Airport. Overall, the place is clean, new, but pretty much bland. I guess bland means little to distract folks as our check in and the security process went well and we were on our way to Gate G100 to wait two hours for our flight.
As the time past, we made a few phone calls updated the blog, took a few pictures, and watched as the 16 member flight crew boarded… A Boeing 747-400 is one big plane!
Darin was seated next to a nice older couple that didn’t speak English. Natalie sat next to a lady from Folsom that was EXTREMELY talkative. Luckily, she knew when to converse and when to leave us alone.
Once in the air we were served our beverages and then dinner service commenced. Natalie had the tortellini in tomato sauce and Darin had the turkey with stuffing and green beans. Dinner was surprisingly good. After dinner, we put on our noise canceling headphones, positioned our sleep masks, and cuddled up with a blanket and tried to sleep. The rest of the night was full of moving positions to try to get comfortable with cat naps in between.
November 27, 2007 – Day 2
Frankfurt, Germany to Madrid, Spain
Day 2 still feels like Day 1 since we started on the plane we left on yesterday and didn’t get much sleep. Lufthansa served us an omelet breakfast with tater tots. The lady sitting next to Natalie said the omelet was good (I didn’t know eggs were supposed to be grey??) but since neither of us eat eggs we passed. The tater tots were soggy so we didn’t eat much of breakfast. After breakfast, we started getting ready for our arrival in Frankfurt.
In Frankfurt, we went through immigration and got our passports stamped before heading to our next departure gate. Once we got to the gate, Darin went to get some Euros. We boarded our plane to Madrid on time and before we knew it, we were on our way. Luckily, they served us lunch on this flight is it was GOOD! We had a pesto risotto with pine nuts, vegetables on the side in a tomato sauce, and a bar of chocolate to finish it off. Our tummies were finally happy.
Upon arrival in Madrid we picked up our bag (no problems, thank God) and got a taxi to take us to our hotel. We checked in and were told that the lift was being worked on and wouldn’t work until 6pm … that was a problem since we had four piece of luggage and three carry-on bags to take up to the fifth floor. After Darin struggled with the first two bags, the man at the front desk decided to call the guy fixing the lift and ask him to turn it on for one ride. So, we loaded the luggage in the lift and made it up to our floor. Too bad Darin had already gone up five flights with our two heaviest pieces of luggage. Not to mention the key didn’t work when he got up there so had to come back down to get a new key … and couldn’t find his wife and other luggage.
We decided to drop off our luggage and get ready for a walking tour of Madrid. We were afraid that if we sat/laid down, we would never get up. So we headed off to do Rick Steves’ walking tour.
Our tour started with a walk up to Puerta del Sol , the central square of Madrid. From there we saw the governor’s office and got a Napolitana pastry from Salon La Mallorquina. While eating our Napolitana, we walked up to Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor was filled with vendors setting up Christmas “stores.” We aren’t sure if there is a festival coming or if this is typical for December.
From Plaza Mayor we headed to the Mercado de San Miguel. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything to see since the whole Mercado has been gutted and is being re-built. From the Mercado we headed towards the Cathedral of Almudena and the Royal Palace. We just took in the exterior of these spectacular buildings today. We will explore the insides another day. The Royal Palace marked the end of the walking tour so we headed back to Puerta del Sol.
By time we got back to Puerta del Sol it was getting dark so the Christmas lights started turning on and the streets started to buzz with people. We took in the beauty of the square by night, picked up a few items at the market and decided to pick up dinner and take it back to the room. Once back in the room we ate dinner, did some research and planned our activities for the next two days, and got ready for a much needed night of sleep. Good night!!
November 28, 2007 – Day 3
Our day started at 1am with both of us wide awake and still exhausted. We figured we would just stay in bed and we would fall asleep soon. Well, at 3am we were still wide awake praying for Mr. Sandman to visit so we could get some more sleep. We decided to pull out all of the stops … put on the sleep masks and put on some mellow music. Finally we fell asleep and we didn’t wake up again until 11am …. OOPS.
Once we finally woke up we got dressed, packed our day pack for our day, and headed out. Our first stop was the Chocolaterias Valor where we had churros and chocolate for breakfast. After a tasty start to our day, we headed to the Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza. When we got to the Museum there was a large crowd and several television cameras. Once inside, we asked what was going on and were informed that the Baroness Thyssen was visiting the Museum today. After purchasing our tickets and checking our bag, we were able to see the Baroness entertain the media in the lobby of the Museum. It was quite a sight.
The works of art the Baron and Baroness have collected is spectacular. The art is all arranged by date so it was interesting to see the progression of art throughout the years. We spent a lot of time here really taking in all of the pieces. From the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo we headed to the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia. This Museum was filled with more modern art then our previous stop and focused on Spanish painters. We saw a lot of Miro and Picasso since both are Spaniard. After two hours of exploring, we left to head over to the Prado. The Museo Nacional del Prado offers free admission Tuesdays through Saturdays from 6pm to 8pm. So we thought we would take advantage of this benefit. This Museum was spectacular with all 3000 pieces of art housed in a beautifully spectacular building. It was so large that it could have been overwhelming; but our tour book had a great self-guided tour. So we followed that tour and saw all of the highlights then took time afterwards to explore on our own.
When the Museum closed at 8:00, we headed back up to Puerta del Sol to start our tapas crawl. We started at La Tarina Cerveceria. This place is considered the Planet Hollywood of bullfighters. There was tried a dish of chorizos a la sidra (spicy sausage in cider). After finishing our chorizos, we went across the street to Lhardy Pasteleria for a croquette (breaded potatoes and ham roll). Next door at Museo del Jamon we each had a ham sandwich and shared a beer. Finally, around the corner, we had pimientos de Padron (sautéed miniature green peppers) at Orega de Oro. By the time we were done with the peppers were we full and ready to go back to the hotel to blog, plan our day for tomorrow, and hopefully sleep. Buenos Noches!
November 29, 2007 – Day 4
After a nice long sleep, we were awoken by the alarm at 9am. Natalie quickly turned it off and we went back to sleep finally waking at 10:30. We were hoping to be at our first stop by this time so we quickly got ready for the day and headed out.
Our stops today were fairly well spread out so we decided to use the Metro. We successfully made it to our first destination, Museo Sorolla, after one transfer. We were a little concern about this Museum because it wasn’t in our tour guidebook and when seeking directions no one seemed to have heard of it. But the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die recommended it as one of the top ten things to see in Madrid. So, we thought we would try. We are so glad we did!! This Museum was small but provided a glimpse into the life and art of a great artist Joaquin Sorolla Bastida. It was fairly empty which allowed us to experience the great works in solitude. This place was a great find.
From the Museo Sorolla we headed to Palacio Real de Madrid. This is a 18th-centry palace that is still used for official royal events. Again, the Palace was fairly empty (benefit of traveling in November) and we were able to take our time through the Palace and really take in all of the beautiful pieces of art, furniture, and decorations.
After leaving the Palacio Real de Madrid, we headed to El Retiro. El Retiro is a park … think Central Park in New York. But before heading into the park, we picked up some sandwiches and a couple of drinks for a picnic. So we enjoyed our siesta and lunch in the park at a picnic table. After nourishing ourselves, we walked through the park and saw the big lake and other spectacular monuments.
After two busy days of touring the city, we decided to head back to the hotel to blog, plan for tomorrow, and get ready for dinner and our Flamenco show this evening.
We attended the 8pm Flamenco show at Los Carboneros. We really enjoyed the show and everyone in the place got into it.
After the show, we stopped to get some dinner before heading back to the hotel. Dinner was good … but I have to say … I love a place where it is cheaper to drink wine then it is to drink water.
That is all for today. We are now getting ready for our departure from Madrid and train ride to Barcelona.
November 30, 2007 – Day 5
Madrid, Spain to Barcelona, Spain
We had to wake up early this morning since we had to catch our train to Barcelona and we wanted to ensure sufficient time in case of any mishaps. So, we started out with a quick breakfast at the corner bakery across the street from our hotel. We returned to pick up our luggage and hail a taxi. The lady at the front desk told us that there was no need to call for a taxi since many pass by the front of the hotel all the time so we just needed to wave. While that is true, many of the taxis we hailed did not want to take us because we had so many bags and were not going far. It wasn’t worth the 8 euro fare they would get. So, it took about 20 minutes and 7 taxis but we finally found someone who was willing to take us.
Once at the train station, we got our tickets and made our way to the departures floor. We noticed that most people were traveling with just one small roller bag. We started to get concerned. We couldn’t find any luggage restrictions online when we made the reservations but we still got nervous. Darin went down to ask at the information desk and the lady did say that one bag was standard but it was at the discretion of the conductor how many bags to let on the train. She thought we would be okay since it was an early train so it wouldn’t be full but she did recommend that we be at the front of the line and spread out so it doesn’t look like a lot of bags. While this recommendation was appreciated, it did make us nervous that the conductor could prohibit us from boarding with all of our bags. Needless to say, the wait for the boarding of the train was nerve-racking.
After going through security, we noticed on the departure board that our train had an alert scrolling next to it. We were not able to understand the notice so Darin asked the information desk by the board. We were informed that the track into Barcelona was being repaired so we would have to get off at the stop before Barcelona, board a bus, and ride the bus into the train station in Barcelona. We got concerned again … what if we did get on the train and then they didn’t let us on the bus with all of our bags … how difficult is it going to be to get all of our bags off of the train then onto the bus … more stress.
As we waited for our train to be assigned a lane, we met a very nice couple from Canada who were also traveling from Madrid to Barcelona. We had a nice chat with them while we waited. These were the first native English speakers we met thus far and it was nice talking to someone and not feeling self-conscious about what we were saying. They live in Alberta and travel for four months out of every year – November through March. This year they were going to spend most of their time in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. They are seasoned travelers and it was great to talk about different places they have been.
Our track was finally assigned and we headed over to board. Our Canadian friends weren’t on our same car but they did stay close to ensure that we got on. Luckily, we were towards the front of the line and the conductor let us on the train. It was challenging, but we were able to find a place for each of our bags. We were on! Woohoo!
The train was great! There was a lot of room and very comfortable. The scenery was not very interesting. The combination of a drought and it being winter meant that the land was dry and brown. The trip to Tarragona passed quickly and it was time to get off the train and get on the bus. The conductor had come through the train as soon as we left Madrid and explained to us in English (he had a passenger manifest and knew we were from the US and wanted to ensure that we were informed of the change in schedule) and told us exactly what was going to happen and exactly where to go. So when we got off the train we actually had a very easy time transferring to the bus. The busses weren’t as nice and roomy as the train though. So for the remaining hour we were a little squished but the scenery was much nicer as we were going through towns on the freeway rather than going through the country-side on the train.
Side note … When we got on the bus we saw our Canadian friends. They told us that they met a couple on their car who were also from California. The husband got off in Madrid to take a picture of the train and the train left without him. The wife was a mess and didn’t know what to do. So they got the conductor and they all got everything set up for him to get on the next train and meet her in Barcelona. They felt so bad for her but were happy that they were able to help.
Upon arrival to the Barcelona train station, we hailed a cab and finally arrived at our hotel. We released a sigh of relief. It could have been a disastrous day but thank God, everything went well. As we were checking in the lady asked if we would like a glass of Champagne. We looked at each other, laughed, and said “After the day we had, we would LOVE a glass of Champagne. So before heading up to our room we relaxed in the lobby with a glass of Champagne. We headed up to our room and were pleasantly surprised. It is a beautiful and very inviting. Once we got settled we decided we were just going to head over to the Corte de Ingles to pick up a few things at the market and get dinner then we were going to come back to the hotel and relax the rest of the night. We have had a busy week and we need to relax and to get a good night’s sleep.
A few thoughts on our time in Madrid …
Did you know Madrid was invaded this week? It wasn’t on the news but they were invaded by Scots. Scotland’s Aberdeen soccer team was playing in Madrid and I think the whole country came to the game. They were walking the streets in their soccer jersey, wearing kilts, holding a beer, and singing their team’s songs at the top of their lungs. We have come to the conclusion that when you are born in Europe you are issued a song book for the local soccer team and must memorize it by Kindergarten because EVERYONE knows their team’s songs.
The older ladies in Madrid get all dressed up in the mornings, go to morning mass, meet up with their friends for coffee and pastries, and then spend the rest of the day shopping. The men spend the day at the casino.
We must either look like Spaniards or we look like we know what we are doing. Nearly everywhere we go, people stop us and ask for directions. Smart; ask the American where to go?!
December 1, 2007 – Day 6
After a good night’s sleep, we awoke fresh and ready to tour. We only had two sights on our list for today: Las Ramblas and Sagrada Familia. We headed out and walked the two blocks to the Placa de Catalunya, which is the top of Las Ramblas. From there we continued down Las Ramblas watching all of the street performers, admiring the human statues, and viewing the birds and the flowers. A quarter of the way down, we took a side street and stopped at Cafe Granja Viader for breakfast. Darin had toast and orange juice and Natalie had a croissant and suis. Suis is dark hot chocolate with homemade whipped cream on top. It was to die for!!
After breakfast, we continued down Las Ramblas and explored La Boqueria. Think Barcelona’s version of Pike’s Place Market. It is a bit difficult to explain so you need to check out the video.
From La Boqueria, we completed the walk of Las Ramblas to the Columbus Monument. After spending some time on the harbor, we took the metro to see the Sagrada Familia.
The Sagrada Familia is a church that Antoni Gaudi started in 1883. To this day it remains incomplete. It is currently half done and is expected to be completed in 50 years.
Having completed all of our tasks for the day, we decided to add to the list and do the Barri Gotic walking tour in the Rick Steves’ book. We walked from the Placa de Catalunya all the way down to the Cathedral through the Gothic Quarters. Once down at the Placa de la Seu (the plaza in front of the Cathedral), we stumbled upon a Christmas market. It consisted of a bunch of stands with all kinds of Christmas items: trees, wreaths, nativity scenes, mistletoe, and much, much more. It was fun watching the families there picking out their trees and the children picking out their nativity scenes. This is a very Catholic country so there is much more focus on the Christianity of Christmas than the Santa.
After wandering around the Placa, we visited the Cathedral. They were in the middle of special services presided over by the Cardinal. We sat and watched the rest of the service then continued to explore the Cathedral. From the Cathedral, we headed back up to Placa de Catalunya picking up dinner along the way. We went back to the hotel and got ready for our evening.
We left our hotel at 8pm (or 20:00h as the locals say) and set out for the Olympic Stadium to watch RCD Espanyol vs. FC Barcelona. When we got out of the Metro we encountered FC Barcelona’s (the visiting team’s) fans marching up to the stadium with a police escort. These fans were intense … waving flags, chanting their songs (again with the soccer songs), and carrying red flares (their colors are red and blue). Note: For our Spanish audience this video is rated G without sound, Rated R with sound… 🙂
We went around them and made our way to the top of the hill to the Stadium. Once at the Stadium we picked up our tickets at will call and tried to find our entrance. It ends up that our seats were two sections away from the visiting team’s section so we were not allowed to enter our section until FC Barcelona’s fans were seated. So we watched as FC Barcelona’s fans marched into the area under police escort as RCD Espanyol fans yelled at them. As soon as FC Barcelona’s fans got into their section and locked down, they let the RCD Espanyol fans in. By this time it is 9:45 and kick-off is at 10. They had 15 minutes to get 2000 fans through two turnstiles in a doorway about 6 feet wide. At 10:00 the crowd started to go crazy because they were missing the game. So they opened up the gates, took away the turnstiles, and just let everyone into the stadium without checking tickets.
By the time we got to “our” seats (I put our in quotes because we asked someone for help finding our seats and she told us to just find an empty seat and sit which was pretty much what everyone did), it was 15 minutes into the match and FC Barcelona had already scored. The match was uneventful for the rest of the first half but it was okay because we were busy watching the crowd. The FC Barcelona fans got out of hand and started to throw things from their seats on the second deck into the seats of the RCD Espanyol’s fans on the first desk. They started throwing cans, then proceeded to seats, and then moved to lit flares. Once the flare went over, the national police in their riot gear came out and completely surrounded the FC Barcelona fans … this time not to protect them but to watch them to ensure they didn’t hurt anyone.
The second half brought more action on the field then in the stands. RCD Espanyol scored a goal and quieted down the FC Barcelona fans.
We both agreed that the best outcome for this game would be a draw. It would minimize the chances of any additional violence/excitement. Luckily, that was the outcome of the game … 1-1 draw.
After the match, we head back down the hill back to the Metro and home to our hotel. Good night …
December 2, 2007 – Day 7
Today was free museum day. It just happens that on the first Sunday of every month the Catalan Art Musuem and the Picasso Museum are FREE! Both were sights listed in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die so we thought we would hit both today.
We started with the Catalan Art Museum as they were only open until 3pm while the Picasso Museum was open until 8pm. The Museum is located directly below the Olympic Stadium upon the hill. So for the second time in 24 hours, we made our way up the hill. Rick Steves dubs this museum as “World-class collection of this region’s art, including substantial Romansque collections.” Honestly, we weren’t too impressed. We weren’t sure if we are just tired of looking through art museums or if it is because we had just gone through the Prado, Renia Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Sorolla Museums which are all far superior. We did take our time going through the entire permanent collection and tried to appreciate the works we were seeing.
After the Catalan Art Museum, we were starving since we hadn’t had lunch (not much is open Sunday mornings as everyone is at mass). So we headed to lunch on Las Ramblas at La Poma. We had a great Italian lunch sharing a pizza and raviolis. After lunch we continued down Las Ramblas and picked up some souvenirs and some helado (ice cream).
We jumped on the closest Metro and headed to the Picasso Museum … the long way… (or as Darin calls it, “The Scenic Route”) We weren’t lost … just didn’t know the shortest distance between two points.
We were both a little concerned about going to yet another art museum after this morning’s experience and because neither of us understand Picasso’s cubism. However, we were pleasantly surprised. The Picasso Museum was spectacular! He himself provided a great majority of the works that are in the Museum so there were paintings/drawings from when he started at the age of 12 until his death. This Museum really gave us both an appreciation of his entire collection of work.
After the Picasso Museum, we headed back to our room to catch up on blogs and to get ready for tomorrow. After doing a bit of work, we decided to go down the street for dinner at El Raco. We had a wonderful dinner of Gnocchi Pomodoro and Risotto Verdi (risotto with spinach and gorgonzola cheese). For dessert Darin had green apple sorbet and Natalie had tiramisu. It was one of the best meals we have had here thus far. After dinner we went back to the room to relax, watched a few movies – Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, and worked on pictures, videos, and the blog.
December 3, 2007 – Day 8
Barcelona, Spain & Boarding Celebrity Century
Although the last week has been a wonderful experience seeing and enjoying all that Madrid and Barcelona had to offer, it was time to transition to the Celebrity Century for the next leg of our European Transatlantic Adventure. This morning we slept in a little bit, still making up for the Futbol match the other night, so we got started about 9:30 in the morning.
We worked on the blog a bit and Natalie in all of her packing expertise somehow got all of the clothing we had used for the last week into a single suitcase, to prepare for our departure. Once this had been accomplished, we set off on a few errands – one to the Post Office (El Correos) and a trip to the Supermarket for some basics on the ship.
Given the time and the fact that the hotel was booked to capacity, we couldn’t request a late check out, so we split up to finish off the errands. The Correos was literally right next door to the hotel, so Natalie picked up stamps and I headed over to the supermarket which was about three blocks away. She got two postcards off and into the Air Mail while Darin picked up some Fanta Lemon, 7Up, and a few snacks.
A quick sidebar – Fanta Lemon is a sparking Lemonade type drink that Natalie has fallen madly for – so much so that one evening after enjoying yet again another Fanta Lemon she came back to the hotel, fired up the laptop, and pulled up Safeway.com in a desperate attempt to locate it in the states. Unfortunately, it looks like the Fanta Lemon will be a Spanish enjoyment only as it is not made in the States. (If anyone is looking for a last minute Christmas gift, a 2 liter bottle would go a long way!)
Back to reality… We checked out of our hotel as new guests were already jockeying for available rooms as it seemed the place was getting much busier as we were leaving. We hailed a cab and made our way to the Port of Barcelona. Now, when three cruise ships are in port, along with all of the normal port traffic that comes and goes, this makes for one nasty traffic jam. It took nearly an hour to traverse the 3-4 miles to the Port, but we weren’t in a hurry and eventually arrived at Terminal C to meet the Century.
As we made our way into security and check-in, there was something out of place as we began to be provided Purel Hand Wipes at a rate of one per half hour. (This is not an exaggeration – every thirty minutes or after any bathroom break, these things were been handed at all of us…) It seems that the last cruise or two on the Century has faced some GI (read: Norovirus) cases, and the Century would now have a captive audience for 17 days upon which to beat the bug or let it thrive in this environment. We will have much more on this process as we proceed in the blog as it will become a daily element of the trip. The Century staff and crew was doing a great job of informing all of us of what was happening, why we were taking all of the precautions, and that it was in all of our best interests.
Given these circumstances, the ship was being disinfected bow to stern, so we were delayed in boarding the vessel for about 2 hours. We all waited patiently (or at least WE were patient) in the Terminal and while we were there Celebrity was serving drinks, Purel Hand Wipes were being passed out, the Celebrity doctor and nurses were walking around with thermometers scouting our possible sickies, and Natalie and I found a nice spot to sit down and wait.
We met a nice younger couple from Gilbert, Arizona and chatting with them helped to pass the time until our groups were called to board. We made our way to Room 9106 and got settled in. Our luggage came fairly quick and we finally got to put all of our clothes and luggage into drawers, closets, and cabinets.
Off to the emergency drill and then back to the cabin to put the last of our luggage away. Off to the Cruise Critic sail-away get together to meet some of the people Darin has been conversing with over the last several months. Then, we made a trip up to the Spa to book our cruise pass to the Persian Gardens and came back downstairs to get ready for dinner.
At dinner, we made our tablemates Todd and Tammy from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. They are both great folks and will make for nice Dining Room companions on the trip. Although we are at a 6-top, we have yet to see anyone else, but it really shouldn’t matter, since we all seem to get along well.
After dinner, we headed back to the cabin to call it a day… Tomorrow is a Sea Day!
December 4, 2007 – Day 9
Day At Sea
After a good nights sleep, we rushed to get up by 9:30 to attend the Cruise Critic party that Celebrity sponsored. It was nice to meet a lot of the people Darin had been talking to on the message boards and meet new people who just stumbled upon the event. From there, we headed to the cinema for an acupuncture seminar. Celebrity started offering acupuncture on their ships about 2-3 years ago. We have been thinking about trying it so we thought we would check out the seminar. Well, Darin won the second place raffle of 50% off of a treatment so he is going to try it later today.
After the seminar, we went up on deck for some lunch and to relax a bit. At lunch we were very aware the steps the crew are taking to ensure the GI virus does not spread. At the entrance to every food venue, there are members of the staff and crew stationed to hand out Purell wipes to each person entering. Guests are pretty much not allowed to touch anything. At the buffet, you have to tell the crew what you want and they will put it on the plate for you. There are waiters at every beverage station getting the drinks for passengers as they don’t want anyone touching the beverage machines, glasses, ice, etc. Out on deck Celebrity provided wool blankets for people to use to keep warm. So we each grabbed a blanket and laid out on a lounge chair to relax as we were waiting for the Name that Tune competition to start. After Name that Tune, we went down to one of the lounges for a round of Battle of the Sexes. Boy do these people get into their trivia games.
After the women let the men win the first round, we headed up on deck to get a snack … it had been 3 hours since our last meal J. We caught up with Jerry and Melody, a couple we met at the Cruise Critic get together the first night. They are a great couple and we really enjoy chatting with them.
We had to wrap things up with Jerry and Melody, so Darin could go to his acupuncture treatment appointment and Natalie could go relax in the Persian Gardens. When Darin was done being a human pin cushion, he joined Natalie in the Persian Gardens for a little more relaxation.
We had to cut our Persian Garden visit short so we could get ready for our first formal night. Ready just in time, we headed to our filet mignon dinners. After dinner, the Captain hosted his Welcome Toast in the main theater. During his talk he reinforced the fact that they have been having a high occurance of GI virus and to make sure to wash our hands for 20 seonds with hot water and soap every time we eat and use the restroom. He gave us a tip on how to know when the 20 seconds are up … if you sing Happy Birthday while you wash your hands, by the time the song is over it will have been 20 seconds. Now we can’t wash my hands without singing Happy Birthday. Following the Captain’s Toasted, the production show entitled “A Touch of Broadway” commenced.
By the time the show was over, it was time for bed as we had to be up early tomorrow for our tour of Alhambra.
December 5, 2007 – Day 10
After a couple of failed attempts by Darin to program our breakfast room service menu on the television for this morning, Natalie got everything set up and we awoke early with delivered cereal, juice, and croissant as we prepared for our tour in Malaga.
We headed down to the Celebrity Theater around 8:30 and met up with Todd and Tammy who were also on our tour and we all made our way to our motor coach for the day. Our guide on the bus, Mario welcomed us aboard and started telling us all about the city of Malaga. We worked our way Northwest towards Granada, the Sierra Nevada Mountains (yes they have them here too), and our final stop – the palaces of Alhambra.
Arriving at the Palaces, we were handed off to our local guide, Elisa who took us on a walk through the three palaces – the Public, the Political, and the Presidential. Each had a slightly different feel and contained a tremendous amount of beautiful architectural detail. We even stood in the room where Isabella and Fernando first met Christopher Columbus.
Once our palace tour was complete, we all walked through the gardens, which were huge and well kept by a constantly working staff. Fountains, large and manicured hedges, and many different types of flowers added to the tour.
When all was completed on our tour, Elisa made a quick side stop at a really neat inlay shop, where all of the goods sold were made out of infinitely tiny pieces of wood, bone, and other materials to be combined, pressed, and lacquered together into just about anything. We took some pictures here and then headed to our lunch stop at a local hotel.
Arriving at the hotel, we sat down and immediately we were presented with two bottles of wine and a large bottle of mineral water at our table. A moment later, the first server was serving a huge Spanish Salad. When the salad course was done, we moved into the Paella course. Although we expected that to be the last of the meal, a few minutes later they provide another set of silverware and sure enough we have a meat, potato, and vegetable course. It was topped off with ice cream for desert and we all were thoroughly stuffed.
We headed back to the bus and most everyone slept on the way home, as we were all suffering from a major case of food coma by this point. We arrived back to the ship with a few minutes to spare and headed back on board for a stop at the Persian Gardens and then to go to dinner.
On the way to the Persian Gardens we noticed that one of the Entertainment Staff was cleaning the banisters in the stairway. We just heard that every surface is cleaned with bleach every 30 minutes. In order to achieve this schedule, all staff and crew are working overtime and doing duties that are not typically in their job description.
Tonight was casual night. The food was good and since we missed the evening show (it was before dinner – still getting used to that) we went back to the room to prepare for Gibraltar since we were doing this port on our own.
Tomorrow, back among the Brits!
December 6, 2007 – Day 11
Gibraltar, United Kingdom
We start this morning like we started yesterday morning … the breakfast delivered right to our cabin serving as a wake up call. We quickly got ready for our day and headed out before the big rush. We walked through Gibraltar among the parents taking their children to school. One observation … many of the dads walk their children to school on their way to work … it was nice to see. We made our way into town and, after a quick stop at an ATM to get British Pounds; we arrived at the cable car. We purchased tickets and took the six minute ride to the top of the Gibraltar rock. Once on top, we collected the audio tour that was part of our cable car ticket and listened to the 45 minutes tour of the views — boy were the views spectacular! After returning our audio tour systems, we walked down to St. Michael’s Cave. This cave was filled with stalagmites and stalactites which made spectacular formations. We explored around the cave then took a seat in the “theater seats.” St. Michael’s Cave is used for concerts so there is a stage and theater seats set up by the exit. As we were sitting there, waiting for the crowds to thin out enough to take pictures without people in them, we met a mother/daughter couple who were also on our ship and exploring on our own. We left with them and continued down to the Ape’s Den, a place where we were able to see more apes playing and entertaining the tourists. From there we headed down to the Great Siege Tunnels. These were tunnels that we built in the rock to place cannons to protect the rock. While in the tunnels we had a great view of the airport and were able to see a plane land. While that may not sound very exciting, you have to understand that the one street that allows travelers to enter and exit Gibraltar goes right through the runway. So when a plane needs to land or take off, the airport needs to close the main street to car traffic to allow the planes access to the runway.
From the Great Siege Tunnels we went to the City Under Siege exhibit, which explained what life was like during the time of the Siege. From there, we continued down the rock to the Morrish Castle, which we also explored. Once leaving the Castle, we had walked all the way down the Rock of Gibraltar. We continued our walk into downtown. Downtown was extremely busy with Spaniards as today was a holiday (Constitution Day) and they didn’t have to work. Apparently, many Spaniards from the region decided to come into Gibraltar for some shopping. After a leisurely walk through town, we headed back to the ship.
Once back onboard, we dropped off our “stuff” in our room and went up on deck for lunch. I have to mention that I had the best pasta for lunch today. The guy who made it did it perfectly … Rigatoni with Carbonara sauce. Lunch was followed by ice cream and a nap in our cabins. We woke from our nap at 6:30 and decided to go up to the Persian Gardens for a little more relaxation before dinner.
GI virus update … this evening the bread baskets were taken off of the tables. In stead of having a bread basket on each table that we can help ourselves to, the waiters bring around the basket and you tell them what you want and they put it on your plate. We also found out the secret code. The cabins whose residents are quarantined have half of a yellow post-it note taped to the door frame. We are now very aware of those post-its.
We had a lovely informal dinner and afterwards caught the performance of the a cappella group that is on board. They are fabulous! We can’t wait for their next performance. After their performance, we headed back to our room to get ready for our day in Sevilla tomorrow.
December 7, 2007 – Day 12
Cadiz & Seville, Spain
Morning came early today as we had to wake up at 6am. We continued with our morning routine of room services and quick preparation for the day. After a quick search for the gangway, we were off the ship before the announcement was made that the ship was cleared. We walked over to the train station where we ran into Colleen and Lindsay who had brought their table-mate Judy. We bought our tickets for the 8:40 train and waited.
After a lovely ride, we arrived in Seville. Natalie had to use the restroom so Darin purchased the return tickets while he was waiting. Once complete at the train station, we hailed a taxi and headed into downtown Seville. As we arrived in Downtown, we were met by huge crowds. Yesterday was a holiday, Constitution Day, in Spain and everyone had today off of work. Apparently, everyone decided to go to the two sites we wanted to see. After standing in a long line that fortunately moved quickly, we were admitted into the Seville Cathedral. The Cathedral was amazing. The high altar has the largest altarpiece ever made – 65 feet tall. It was a sight to see! We also saw the tomb of Christopher Columbus (or at least they claim it is the remains of Christopher Columbus). Another major sight was a crown that, in addition to thousands of jewels, uses the largest pearl in the world as the body of the angel. This really was a spectacular cathedral and it is impossible to describe everything we saw. After exploring the Cathedral we went out into the courtyard where the bells of the Girlada Tower were being rung…
From here we headed to the Alcazar.
To paraphrase from Rick Steves’ book … The Alcazar was originally a 10th century palace built for the governors of the local Moorish state. It is still functioning as a royal palace today … the oldest still used in Europe. While the Alhambra was built by Moors for Moorish rulers, the Alcazar is a Christian ruler’s palace built in the Moorish style.
We felt the same about the Alcazar as we did the Catalan Museum … having just seen the Alhambra palaces, this was nothing in comparison. Don’t get us wrong … it is a beautiful palace. But it doesn’t compare the Alhambra.
After exploring the Alcazar, we went to hail a taxi to take us back to the train station. You would think that was a simple task but it wasn’t. We couldn’t find a taxi. After walking for 15 minutes, we finally found a free taxi and it sped us to the train station. Arriving just five minutes before our train was scheduled to leave, we ran through the station and, with relief, plopped ourselves in a seat.
Darin wasn’t feeling well, so he slept the whole way back to Cadiz and Natalie passed the time people watching. Once back in Cadiz, we were both tired so we decided to just take a leisurely walk back to the ship and board.
Once back onboard, Darin laid down while Natalie went to see Jamie Allan “The Maverick Magician.” After an exciting show, Natalie came back to the cabin to pick up Darin to go to dinner. After dinner, Darin came back to the cabin to go to bed and Natalie headed to the Persian Gardens to relax. Once she got to the state where she could barely keep her eyes open, Natalie returned to the cabin to join Darin in a restful night’s sleep.
Tomorrow we can finally relax a bit as we are at sea.
December 8, 2007 – Day 13
Day At Sea
After a restful nights sleep we woke up and looked at the clock … 8:30. Then we realized it was only 7:30 because we gained an hour last night. So we took our time getting up, getting dressed, and cleaning our cabin then headed down to the Guest Relations Desk to pick up today’s Sudoku (every day they issue a new Sudoku puzzle) and a deck of cards. They gave us two decks of cards for free … I guess they don’t want strangers sharing decks since they can’t sanitize them. Speaking of sanitizing … the Library has been closed … I guess it is nearly impossible to sanitize books without ruining them so they had to close the library.
Anyway … after picking up the cards and Sudoku, we went up to the Islands Café and completed the Sukoku while we were waiting for them to open for lunch. At 12 noon the Captain came on the loud speaker to give his daily talk about where we were, where we were going, and any additional information we needed. This time the additional information was big. One of the crew members was having appendicitis and needed surgery. They contacted every port on the way to Agadir and no one was able to assist. Therefore we were headed full speed to Agadir and would be arriving at 12 midnight. Upon arrival they would immediately disembark the crew member so she could get the medical attention she needs. Everyone else will need to remain onboard until the ship could be cleared sometime during breakfast (we weren’t scheduled to arrive until 1pm). That announcement really affected Natalie. She really felt for the crew member who was going through this as Sophie had the same experience while working on the cruise ship and it was not a pleasant experience (to put it lightly). All we could do is pray that the crew member gets the medical attention she needed.
After the announcement, the café opened for lunch so we grabbed some food. While eating lunch, we saw Lindsay and she joined us for lunch. After eating, we headed back to our cabin to play a few games of gin rummy. At 2:30 we headed down to the Rendez-Vous Lounge for the art auction. We aren’t very impressed with either of the auctioneers so it was uneventful, but might actually save us some money in the long run, haha. While watching the auction, we tried to get some blogging done as we are behind. After the auction, the Entertainment Staff held “Brain Buster” trivia in the same lounge so we decided to stay. We were able to play in teams so we asked three others to join us to play. Let’s just say we didn’t win and moved on (did you know the Virgin Mary was the first woman on the front cover of Time Magazine??).
After trivia, we headed back to the room to get ready for the Persian Gardens. After another relaxing evening in the Persian Gardens, we headed to dinner. After dinner we went to hear “The Sensational Performance of International Singer Helen Jayne.” We sat through the first set and weren’t very impressed … we didn’t know any of the songs she was singing and don’t how how else to put this, but she was oozing “cheesy” in the act. Then she introduced her next set … an Al Jolson medley. She explained that she has been looking around the ship to decide what to sing tonight and put together an entire show that she felt the audience would like. Natalie doesn’t even know who Al Jolson is (Darin does, but that is a whole other blog entry) … so we were afraid that, not being the typical demographic of the audience she was performing for, we wouldn’t enjoy the show. So we decided to exit and head off to bed.
Tomorrow, the day we have been waiting for, we hit the continent of Africa!
December 9, 2007 – Day 14
We woke up this morning excited for our first experience in Africa. We went up on deck to have some breakfast and fuel our bodies for the day ahead. After breakfast, we walked around the deck to take pictures. We were a 20 minute drive from town so we weren’t able to see much and we would not be able to get to town and back in order to make our tour. So, we decided to just enjoy the limited views we had from the ship. As we were walking around, we ran into Tammy and Todd and hung out with them until it was time to meet our tour.
Once on our tour bus, we headed out to Agadir into the city of Taurdourant. In route, we saw about 50 wild camels just grazing. So the bus stopped so we could get some pictures. We were unable to get out of the bus as “it was not safe.” Once inside the gates of the city of Taurdourant, we were allowed to exit the bus to walk around and take pictures. It was nice to see people going about their normal day in their traditional dress (Darin took some great pictures here). After a ten minute stop at the city gates, we continued into the town to the souk (markets). When we got to the market, we were joined by a local guide so we had two guides with us showing us around and ensuring our safety and security. We walked through the Berber Market and the Jewish Quarter. Our guide was explaining how the Muslins, Jews, and Christians all live together in harmony in this area. After a guided tour through the souk, we were given time to shop but we had to stay together as a group … no going off on your own. Here is a view of just one shop that we visited…
After our shopping, we boarded the bus and headed to Restaurant Jnane Soussia for a snack break. They served fresh squeezed orange juice and mint tea – two traditional drinks in Morocco. We didn’t try them because we were concerned about eating non-cooked items in a foreign country. It was here that Natalie received two marriage proposals (from the same man) offering a payment of 10,000 camels. We aren’t sure what the conversion is from camels to US dollars but Darin wasn’t interested in the deal. In the meantime, we watched some traditional Moroccan dancers performing at the open air restaturant…
After leaving the restaurant, we headed back to Adagir. On our ride back, we were able to see the goats in the trees. The goats make their way into the trees to find edible leaves. When the leaves on lower branches have already been eaten, they have to climb into the trees to reach the higher leaves. It was quite a sight.
Once we got back to the ship, we had to wait in a long line to get onboard. Everyone enjoyed every possible moment of their time in Morocco which made for long lines to return to the ship. Once onboard, we met Todd & Tammy for a late lunch. After lunch, we went back to the room to get ready for the show and dinner. Tonight’s show was a combination of a singer and the magician Natalie saw the other night. It was a great show.
After the show, we continued to dinner where we were joined by Adam. Adam and Andrea were the couple from Arizona that we met while waiting for embarkation. They were sat at a table for six all alone. We saw them in line to board today and they asked if they could join our table. Unfortunately, Andrea was sick tonight so she didn’t join us and there were only five of us. Tomorrow we should have a full table of six.
After dinner we went up to the Persian Gardens for a little relaxation before turning in for the evening. We had a wonderful day and can’t wait for our next visit to Morocco.
December 10, 2007 – Day 15
Lanzarote, Canary Islands
We had plans to do Lanzarote on our own so we wanted to get off the ship as soon as possible. Therefore, our morning routine was brief. We got dressed. We picked up breakfast to go on deck. Then we headed to the gangway to wait for the ship to be cleared. As we waited, we picked up the daily Sudoku and worked on it while we waited. Once the ship was cleared, we were one of the first off of the ship and we hailed a taxi to the renal car company.
Once at the rental car office we realized we were going to have a problem. Despite the fact that we had reservations for an automatic car, they didn’t have one at that location. So, one of the workers drove us to the airport to pick up our car. Once at our assigned car, we realized that Natalie left the small camera in the car that drove us to the airport. So back to the counter to see if the man there could call and confirm that the camera was there. They were able to do that for us and we requested that they hold on to the camera until we return the car. Crisis averted!
Once back to our assigned car, we tried to get going and the gear shift was locked and we could not get it unlocked. Back to the car rental desk and we were assigned a new car – Volvo S40. It was a nice upgrade!
We were finally off to our first stop – Timanfaya. Timanfaya is the volcano on the island of Lanzarote. The National Park is isolation and desolation to the extreme. We had reserved a guided walk but because we were unable to call to confirm our reservations on Friday, they cancelled our reservations. Therefore, we were unable to take the guided walk. We were very disappointed, but it ended up working out for the best. Instead, the guide recommended a hike that we could do on our own. It was a 6 mile hike round-trip that took us around two craters and up to the rim of the largest. It was a challenging walk but worth the pain we will feel later. We were totally alone for most of the hike and were able to enjoy the beauty without all of the crowds.
After our hike, we decided to spend the rest of the day in the car. We drove around southwest side of island, taking in the beautiful landscapes. We stopped for gas and picked up bread, sliced turkey, cheese, and sodas for lunch. After driving around southwest Lanzarote, we headed up to the North end to visit the Jameos de Agua. The Jameos de Agua is a naturally occurring lava tube that allows both ocean water and natural light to enter this cavern. Local artist Cesar Manrique determined that this would be a fantastic location to add a bar, restaurant, and hotel. Though the hotel is no longer, it is still a sight to behold. In the crystal clear lagoon, blind albino crabs exist only here and no where else in the world. We enjoyed the scenery and the piped in Enya music as it truly was a relaxing place.
After enjoying the Jameos de Agua, we decided it was time to return to Arrecife to return the rental car. With no good maps of the island, it took some time to find our way back to the rental car office where we returned the car and were reunited with our camera. Upon leaving the office, we waited to find a taxi and couldn’t find one. We decided to start walking towards the ship in hopes of finding an available taxi. After walking about 20 minutes we began to panic. We weren’t sure if we would make it back to the ship in time. Finally we found a taxi that was available, jumped in and off we went. Once we got to the ship, the security guard met us at the bottom of the gangway saying “we’ve been waiting for you.” Even though we still had 15 minutes until all-aboard, we were the last two passengers to board the ship. So as soon as we walked up the gangway, they started to dismantle it and we were ready to set sail for Tenerife.
Once back on board, we rested for awhile in our cabin then went to the Persian Gardens to relax some more. At dinner, we were joined by Adam & Andrea and we finally have a full table of six. After yet another nice dinner, we headed to bed to prepare for our day in Tenerife tomorrow.
December 11, 2007 – Day 16
Tenerife, Canary Islands
We started our morning with a waffle breakfast on Deck 11. As we were eating Tammy joined us. She was hoping to see us to see how we were feeling. Todd was sick last night and wasn’t going to be leaving the bathroom anytime soon. We invited her to join us today but she decided to continue on the shore excursion they had booked.
Once off the ship we walked to the rental car office which was conveniently located nearby. The rental process was much quicker today as they had the car we requested. We were off and running in no time. We decided to head north on a scenic drive. We drove to the town of Taganana then curved through the Anaga Mountains. Once we hit Roque de las Bodegas, Darin asked where the closest gas station was because we needed gas right away. Natalie had asked twice before leaving town if we needed gas and Darin declared that we had plenty. Well, when we arrived in Roque de las Bodegas we needed some and the closest gas station was 22 kilometers away through a curvy and steep mountain-side. A long 20 minutes later, we coasted into Las Canderas where we got gas – woohoo.
We continued on to the city of La Laguna and enjoyed the small colorful streets. We continued to La Orotava where we got out and walked around. We saw the famous Casa de Los Balcones and the Iglesia de la Concepcion. After a quick stop at the supermarket for some lunch, we made our way through the mountains to Tiede National Park. Tiede is the largest National Park and the highest point in all of Spain. It was a spectacular sight and the drive through the park was also very scenic with all of the rock formations.
After the leisurely drive through the National Park, we returned back to Santa Cruz de la Tenerife to return the car and board the ship. Didn’t want a repeat of yesterday when we were the last onboard.
Once in our cabin, Natalie rested while Darin worked on the blog. We took a break to go to the Persian Gardens before getting ready for dinner. When we got to dinner, we were the only two there. We knew Todd and Tammy would probably not be there because of Todd being sick but we are hoping everything is okay with Andrea and Adam. After dinner, we headed back to the cabin where we continued to catch up on our blog and went to bed.
Tomorrow is our last port of this voyage – La Palma.
December 12, 2007 – Day 17
La Palma, Canary Islands
Arriving into La Palma, everyone was eager to leave the ship, passengers and crew alike, as this is our final port before the seven day ocean crossing. We docked around 8am and made our way into the Celebrity Theater to get our tickets and stickers for our North Island Tour.
A few minutes later, we were headed to the Deck 3 gangway and made our way onto our bus for the day. We were in the bus along with another 45 people as we met our guide for the trip. Our half day tour got started as we worked our way from the port and into the capital city of Santa Cruz de La Palma. Once we left the city, we began to head North towards Los Tilos Forest.
The Los Tilos Forest is a part of a huge reserve that makes up a major percentage of the island of La Palma. As we made our way to the forest, we learned about a number of species of flora and fauna that are only found on this island and no where else in the world. As we worked our way to the Tilos Forest, we stopped in a small town of Puntallana, where we were able to take pictures from a lookout and spent a few minutes exploring this little town.
After the stop, we headed about 20 kilometers north and worked our way into the dense forest area of Los Tilos. As our “experimental” driver worked his way through the one lane bridges and the twisting and turning mountain roads we arrived. (Note: Our guide was working through some new English vocabulary and meant to say that our driver was “experienced” and he more than proved his skill as we made our way to the forest.)
Los Tilos was a nice stop and Natalie and I went through a number of displays describing the forest, the plants and animals of the island, and how we have a continued responsibility to maintain the fragile balance of the ecosystem if it is to be here for the future.
From Los Tilos we headed to a local restaurant “Las Roques” where we were able to try out a number of local Canarian foods. We were able to taste Gofio, a local specialty, along with goat cheese, Papas Arrugadas (Boiled and salted potatoes), mojo palmero sauce (Red Pepper Sauce), Chorizo, and more. Along with bottled water and local house red wine, it was a really nice meal and much more than we were expecting.
From here, we headed to the coast and the town of Las Sauces where we were able to see local banana groves and see the natural pools of Charco Azul. These pools were carved into the volcanic coastline to allow locals to bathe and sun without the concern of the heavy surf.
It was impressive to know what could be accomplished in 4 hours, but it was time to begin our trip back to Santa Cruz de La Palma. About a half hour later, we arrived back into the port city and decided to walk around a bit. We walked downtown for a while and decided that we wanted to find an internet café so we could get online to work on the blog and send some email. We headed to the local Tourist Information Office and upon asking the person behind the desk which café in town had wi-fi, we were met with a somewhat unexpected response. “I’m sorry, but none of the cafes in town have any wi-fi, but if you go across the street and sit at that corner, open your computer, and see what happens…” With a smile on his face, we followed his advice and to his credit, we opened up the computer on the next corner and sure enough there was a hotspot we could connect to. Since it was unsecured and really wasn’t a formal hotspot, we kept our work to a bare minimum, but we were able to update several days of the blog. Unfortunately, the battery didn’t last as long as we were hoping, so the effort got cut short, so we dove into the guidebook and found ourselves a local gem called Heladomania and started our walk towards the ice cream shop.
Heladomania lived up to the hype as Darin had a lemon/strawberry combo and Natalie had a chocolate/vanilla double scoop and we found a power plug for the laptop. The ice cream was great and it gave us a chance to plan out the rest of the day. We finished up a few more days of the blog and then packed up to head to the supermarket.
The largest supermarket in Santa Cruz de La Palma was a Spar that looked to be about the size of your standard 7-11 at home. About 60 people were inside of it, all passengers and crew of the ship picking up their share of snacks, drinks, etc. to bring back for the crossing. A two-liter bottle of Sprite costs about $2.00 here, while 2 liters of soda on the ship would run you in the range of about $25.00, so when you see the crew stocking up, passengers follow.
After our shopping trip, we headed back to the cruise terminal and tried to get a few more minutes of juice onto the laptop, so we could get back online one more time to try out email and upload the next set of pages, but after a short wait, we headed back to our “hotspot” and it unfortunately was no longer available, so we boarded the ship and headed up to Deck 11 for a late lunch.
We ran into Todd up there and though he was doing better, he was still recovering from the bug he had the night before. He joined us for a while and as the ship began to pull away, we all bid our goodbyes to land, and made our way into the Atlantic Ocean to start our 7 days back to Miami.
We headed to the Gardens to relax and then went to dinner. When we arrived to dinner we were only 5 as Tammy was not feeling well. So we had a good meal and wished Tammy well and hoped she would be back the following day.
After dinner we were really tired, so we called it a day and went back to the cabin for the night. Tomorrow – At Sea, Day 1.
December 13, 2007 – Day 18
Day At Sea
The crossing is finally here and along with 7 straight days of no land in sight, we also began several straight days of turning the clock back, so we weren’t in too much of a hurry to rush out this morning. We woke up around 8:30am and made our way up to Deck 11 and to the Islands Café for the Waffle Bar. Yes, it is exactly as you are probably picturing it, but to add a bit… Imagine 3 hot waffle irons kicking out 12 perfectly golden waffles every 3 minutes. The gentleman behind the counter simply needs to know if you want 1, 2, or more (though most people stop at 2, Natalie and I included.) Once they are on the plate, one must face life altering decisions as to what to put on top! From melted butter to orange butter, syrup to warm strawberries and cream, cinnamon sugar to fresh berries, the combinations are nearly endless. Add in a few sausages or a couple strips of bacon and who needs the buffet line!
From here, we headed out to deck where we received a day of partly cloudy skies, mellow seas, and temperatures in the upper 60s! This is December people! Oh well, I guess we will just have to adapt…
On deck, Natalie and I played some Gin Rummy, when a nice woman came to our table to ask if she could join us to have her coffee. It was a 4 top and we were only using 2 chairs so we were happy to have her join up. We got to chatting and learned that she traveled on the same Princess trip as Natalie’s mom and her aunts and had a daughter who just purchased a home in Lafayette! She introduced herself and then her husband and another friend (Jim and Richie, respectively) arrived for their morning routine of cards, so we were invited to join them to learn the game of Ucker. Darin was taught the game a long time ago by Norma, but it took a little bit before getting back on the horse, but our hosts were good instructors and were very patient, so within a few minutes we were playing Ucker and getting along just fine.
Karen and Jim currently RV 8-10 months out of the year and cruise the rest. He a former grade school teacher and they retired early to enjoy the good life. So they provided some tips on how to retire early, ensure positive gains in the market to maintain retirement until Medicare and we had a good ole time playing Ucker throughout.
After our game, we headed into lunch which generally brings us back to the Waffle Station which has magically transformed into the Pasta and Pizza Station (yes, this entry is a lot about food, but we have seven days on the ship, so each day will have a slightly different slant on the vessel…) Natalie has a good chef friend that makes her “the best pasta on the ship” and she picked up some of her favorites along with Darin’s selection of some pasta and a slice of pizza.
Back to the room for a nap and Darin decides that he will head up to the gym as with the extra hour of sleep, he needs to stay awake through the day. The gym has been remodeled along with most of the ship in the retrofit from a couple years ago. On Deck 11 at the front of the ship it has wrap around windows, treadmills, bikes, elliptical machines, free weights, and a class area. Not the largest we have ever seen, but the facility is nice and wasn’t too crowded.
As we were preparing to head up to the gardens, we received an unfortunate phone call that our friends Todd and Tammy had been officially quarantined. The unofficial term is being “post-ited” – a half of a post-it is taped on the door frame of an affected room. The occupants are provided a letter from the medical team with a list of allowed food items to eat, and although you are permitted free in-room movies on demand, you are confined and cannot leave until cleared by the medical staff. We wished Todd and Tammy well and let them know that we would provide them with any deliveries or needs that they had while we were on board. We would miss them for the next few days, but they had said that they were already feeling better so the worse was behind them.
Tonight is Formal night for the Captain’s Club party, so we headed to the Gardens early today as we needed to be dressed and at the Celebrity Theater by 7:45 for the Captain’s toast to past guests, so we enjoyed sunset from our comfy warm stone loungers and then made our way to the Celebrity Theater.
It was packed… On longer itineraries, the past cruisers come out in droves. On this cruise, they honored multiple cruisers who had passed the 50 cruise mark. We’re a little behind, but have a lot of time to catch-up.
Onto dinner, where we enjoyed another great evening of food and service. From here, we caught another short set performance of the Cat’s Pajamas (more on them in a few days) and headed to the Production Show called, Shout. They did a fine job and we were done for the day, so we headed to bed.
Tomorrow – More Ocean!
December 14, 2007 – Day 19
Day At Sea
We figured that with another 6 days of being at sea the best way to make the most of it would be to pace ourselves and just take each day nice and slow, do a few activities, rest a bit, and carry it out to the end. Today’s blog will be slanted a bit towards the activities and the options available to us on each day of the cruise.
We woke up this morning about 8am. We have begun our moving the clocks back, so we are trying to keep ourselves adjusted so the hit isn’t too bad once we get home. After non-stop ports for the last several days, we used the morning period to pick up our room and get organized again. After the last few days, the room got a little out of hand, but we are back in business. Things are organized again, so all is well.
We headed down to Deck 5 (the grand foyer and the main lobby of the ship) where the bank, shore excursions deck, and Guest Relations is located. We exchanged a small Euro Note here that was left over from La Palma and headed over to the Guest Relations Desk to pick up the daily Sudoku puzzle. Natalie has gotten really good at these things. Darin helps from time to time, but generally speaking she has got these things wrapped up. The staff at the Guest Relations Desk is very nice and handled all of our needs on the ship very well.
From here, we headed to the Islands Café and grabbed a snack to await the opening of the Lunch buffet, since we were working through Breakfast. Generally mornings on the ship have a mixture of trivia and game contests that Natalie and I participate in from time to time, but ultimately we gave it up since some of these people play for blood. They spew evil when the Staff mispronounce trivia questions and will not be happy unless they win. This is all too much negativity for our liking, so we chose to spend the morning playing Gin Rummy on deck.
It was about lunchtime, so we grabbed some lunch (pasta, pizza, and hot line items are always pretty good) and played some more cards. (As a side note, Natalie won the Gin Rummy perpetual game we had for the cruise.)
From here, we headed down to the Art Auction Preview. The Auctioneer was someone that we had from previous cruises and really wasn’t the best we have worked with, so we enjoyed the art and seeing some of the new artists, but really weren’t interested in any purchases this time around, so we went from here to the Celebrity Theater for one of their Enrichment Series lectures.
This was our first exposure to the Enrichment Series and is definitely something that we will expand on in the future. Chet and Marlene Solemander (she was on our La Palma shore excursion) did a lecture and live performance on the series of Broadway Musical composers. Today’s was on Harold Arlen. At first Darin was a little worried since he had no clue who this person was. Within 2 minutes of the performance, Marlene was singing music from the Wizard of Oz and other works that everyone in the audience recognized. In 45 minutes they had very successfully outlined his life, his major works, and they performed several pieces that he was famous for. They did a great job and it was obvious why the theater was nearly at capacity for their talks for the rest of the trip.
It was time to head back to the cabin for a little rest. Natalie watched a movie, Step Up, while Darin worked on the blog.
The regular evening routine kicked into gear, we headed to the Gardens and went over to dinner. With Todd and Tammy still unable to join us, we had dinner with Adam and Andrea and enjoyed another good evening of food and service.
After dinner, we headed to bed.
Tomorrow – Movie Day!
December 15, 2007 – Day 20
Day At Sea
After reading the schedule for the day, we decided that today would be movie day on the Century. The Century offers a number of movie options for guests from scheduled movies in the staterooms, to movies on demand that can be ordered, to movies played in the Cinema on Deck 6. We took the clocks back another hour, so we were up early and Darin ran to the Islands Café for hot waffles and brought them back to the room in advance of movie #1.
This morning Cars was showing at 8am, so after breakfast, the movie began promptly. It was a good movie and nice and mellow just hanging out in the room. Following Cars, The Ant Bully was playing as a double feature, so we figured, why not? Both movies were good and neither of us had seen a movie in a while, so it was nice.
We headed up for lunch around 12noon and had just about a half hour before the next movie was being featured in the Cinema. The Cinema held about 150 people and had both a main screen as well as two televisions for folks in the back. It wasn’t quite stadium seating, so if someone in front of you was tall it could get a little difficult. We watched Ice Age: The Meltdown, with Ray Romano and then headed out to deck after it was over.
We picked up a snack at the grill (the French Fries on board were excellent) and then headed back down to our room for our fourth movie of the day. Click, starring Adam Sandler was playing in the stateroom movie channel and although we starting watching it a bit late, we had seen it before so it was not a problem.
From here we were about on schedule for our evening routine, so the Persian Gardens was our next stop and then to the Early show to see Comedian Frankie Pace. He did a good set, even though he had a varying and at times difficult crowd to please. His jokes were good and there were a bunch of good laughs.
We headed into dinner and tonight was a little bit quiet as it was just the two of us. Todd and Tammy were still in their room and Adam and Andrea weren’t in the dining room for dinner, so we enjoyed a nice quiet evening, just the two of us with excellent food and service as always.
Since it was just the two of us, we were done with dinner exceptionally early, so we had more than an hour wait before the final movie of the day started in the Cinema at 11pm. Given that we still had several more days at sea, we just decided to call it a day and head to bed.
December 16, 2007 – Day 21
Day At Sea
It was a rough night at sea for Natalie – the waves were not the issue, but the forced AC in the staterooms had finally had caught up to her causing congestion, sinus problems, and a nasty cough, so about 2:45 in the morning, she got up so as not to disturb Darin and was trying to find a place to rest. Going up on deck was a consideration, but it was just a bit too cold up there, so a quick trip to Guest Relations (They were stars even at 3am in the morning) brought about a maintenance person to our room to turn the AC off.
Natalie was able to get some sleep and we woke up to some great news! Todd and Tammy were cleared! They had received their Get Out of Your Room Yellow Card (No Joke – they were told to carry this card with them for the rest of the cruise…) and they had Breakfast with us and we spent most of the day enjoying life on Deck. Since they had been in their room for the last 3 days and Natalie wasn’t feeling well, we just hung out on the Pool Decks enjoying the sun, chatting, and admiring the weather and the amazingly calm sea we were having on the Crossing.
We all had lunch on deck and then the sun reminded both of the guys that with the sun comes sunburn, so we relocated to slightly more sun protected spots on the Resort Deck.
Later that afternoon, Darin and Todd both headed back to their respective rooms for a nap and Tammy and Natalie relaxed on deck for the remainder of the day.
When we arrived back to our room we found a nice surprise. Earlier, we were chatting with Melodie and Jerry, our cruise critic friends, about how we miss Christmas decorations and holiday music. While we were out Melodie made a huge red bow out of beautiful sparkly ribbon and attached it to the door to our cabin. This gesture put a big smile on our faces and makes us happy every time we see it.
The evening routine played itself out like most and we headed to the Gardens and back into the Grand Restaurant for another great evening of food and service from our Waiter Dave from Jamaica and our Assistant Waiter Imeade.
After dinner, we headed to a special Holiday Show in the Celebrity Theater. The Piano extraordinaire Elliot Finkel (we had seen him and his brother on a previous Celebrity Cruise) along with the Celebrity Orchestra and Special Guests (a Capella Quartet Cat’s Pajamas and one of the Production Singers) did a Holiday themed show that was really nice.
From here, we all headed off to bed as it was time to start turning our clocks back again.
December 17, 2007 – Day 22
Day At Sea
Unfortunately, Natalie still wasn’t feeling up to 100% today, so she spent most of the day in the cabin resting while Darin headed out to explore the ship.
Breakfast was in the Islands Café with hot waffles off the griddle (they are really good waffles) and then began to take pictures all over the ship so there would be something to post on the blog for the 7 days that we were at sea.
After a quick check on Natalie, Darin headed up to Deck 15 at 11:45 for a volleyball match with some nice folks from Australia. They seemed to play everyday and for about an hour Darin joined up with them for 2 matches. He did ok and it was nice playing outside as we continued to see temps in the low 70s.
Natalie was up for lunch in the Café so we both headed up to Deck 11 for pasta and salad.
At 2pm, the Online@Sea team (the Internet staff) was doing a new lecture on Facebook (Social Website kinda like MySpace), so Darin wanted to check it out to see what they had to say about the service, how to use it, etc. Danny, one of the technicians from Nova Scotia, Canada did the talk and really did a good job explaining the service and what people could do with it. It seems that Celebrity is looking to expand their online program so this was a beta lecture to see if there was interest. A Microsoft Excel lecture at the same time had 8 people. Facebook has over 50. I think that they have a winner here.
From here, Darin headed up to the gym for a workout and although it was busy, he didn’t have to wait for any equipment so it was a good session. From here, he went back to the room and picked up Natalie for a trip to the Gardens and to get ready for dinner.
At Dinner, Todd and Tammy filled us in on all of the information they had received at the Upcoming Cruises Seminar earlier in the day. It seems that Celebrity has a nice cruise ship being introduced each of the next 3 years in the new Solstice Class. Some great new itineraries and destinations also helped us figure out the ultimate question of “Where to Go Next?”
After dinner, there was a late show in the Celebrity Theater featuring a variety show with both the comic, Frankie Pace, and the final show by the a Capella quartet, the Cat’s Pajamas. They did a great job and we picked up their CDs as a little souvenir of their performances.
It was just about Midnight, so it was back to the room and time to turn the clocks back again.
December 18, 2007 – Day 23
Day At Sea
Well, we finally got a bit of movement on the ocean today; though it wasn’t anything to really write home about. We had small whitecaps and swells of 1-3 feet. That is as exciting as it got on the entire trip ocean wise, but there is some “exciting” video to show you what we were dealing with…
This morning, we headed up to the Islands for breakfast as we have most mornings. Waffles were excellent as always. From here, we headed up for one of the morning game activities “Tri-Bond” that is a little more humane as the Trivia Powerhouses weren’t all awake at that hour. One team was still in attendance and got 15 out of 15, so we just hung our heads and made our way out of the Hemisphere Lounge.
From here, we decided that it was time for a little more “individual” play, so Natalie picked up the daily Sudoku and this was the accomplishment of success this morning.
Another morning trivia activity was “Scene-It” – trivia all about movies, actors, actresses, etc., but guess who was now fully awake and thirsty for another win??? So, Natalie and I just played cards while that bloodbath took place, and we joined Todd and Tammy in the Crystal Lounge for this morning’s cooking demonstration with the Executive Chef.
This morning’s demonstration was a little bit different as the last one was just “watch them make one dish.” The Executive Chef brought three of his sous chefs from various dining venues on the ship to the Crystal Lounge where three different dishes would be prepared simultaneously. What we didn’t know was that this time around, the three sous chefs would be battling against each other with passenger chefs running the show while they provided advice and assistance.
When they called for volunteers, we wasted no time and both Todd and Darin were selected to participate along with another woman. The three of them paired up with their respective chefs and began working on their dishes. Todd and Darin worked on a cod and salmon dish, respectively.
Here’s Todd working the culinary magic with his sous chef Shyam close by…
Although the recipes made these meals out to be pretty easy, the sous chefs were pretty intense folks that had very specific instructions to be followed to the letter. Once the dishes were completed, they had to provide one dish for presentation and another for tasting. Except for a near miss with nearly scorching the sesame oil for the Teriyaki Salmon, all of the dishes made it to the tasting and judges.
Darin’s getting his Teriyaki Salmon ready for the judges…
When all was said and done, the Teriyaki Salmon that Darin made got 3 of the 5 votes in the judging, so he won the contest! After the win was announced by the Executive Chef, there was a surprise in store… Natalie and Darin won a free evening in the Murano Specialty Restaurant as a prize.
We invited Todd and Tammy to join us since Todd did great work on his dish and it would be fun with four of us in the Murano since none of us had ever done a specialty dining on board, so we scheduled up for an 8pm start and got ready for what would be an event to remember.
In between, Todd and Darin played some Cribbage during the Pop Culture Trivia quiz (which, needless to say we didn’t win…), grabbed some lunch, watched the ice carving demonstration, and watched some of the Celebrity Guest Talent Show.
After the Talent Show we spent some time out on deck relaxing where we found two exciting sightings, both of which require a little explanation. First, we saw a bird. This may not seem too exciting to you, but when you have been in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for six days and haven’t seen any life outside of the confines of the ship, with the exception of the occasional flying fish, it was very exciting to see. It meant that we were approaching land and other life.
Our second sighting was Mr. Happy Happy, aka Leonardo. Leonardo is a Filipino security guard who spreads cheer throughout the cruise. Every time you leave or return to the ship, you can hear Leonardo singing “Happy, Happy.” As soon as you hear his voice, you can’t help but smile. Leonardo has become know as Mr. Happy Happy (his name tag even lists his name at Happy Happy) and is a celebrity onboard. While sitting on deck, we spotted Mr. Happy Happy all dressed in his formal uniform. So, Darin and Todd went running to get a picture with Mr. Happy Happy. We can’t wait to see Leonardo on another Celebrity Cruise.
After our sightings, it was back to the room for a quick run to the Gardens and then into formal attire for our dinner at the Murano.
We arrived at Todd and Tammy’s stateroom at 7:30 for pre-dinner drinks and then made the amazingly long walk of 18 steps to the Murano Dining Room where we were met and escorted to our table in a nice quiet corner of the restaurant.
Where in the world do we begin? We were welcomed to the restaurant by the Assistant Maitre’ D Marjan of Macedonia. He recognized Natalie’s name and we had a nice discussion about Serbia and where the families were from. Marjan was responsible for all of our satisfaction with this evening’s food and service and let me tell you, he didn’t miss a beat.
Our first course was a Palette Cleanser, complements of the Dining Team which was a Ricotta cheese mixed with cream and minced red bell peppers. It was fantastic and only started what would be become not just a meal, but a 4 HOUR dining experience.
Next up was the soup course – Natalie and Darin had a Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup with Melted Mozzarella while Todd and Tammy had the Lobster Bisque.
From here, Caesar Salad was prepared fresh tableside with the salad and dressing completed within seconds of the synchronized serving staff bringing all four plates to our table and gently gliding them in front of us in absolute unison.
The main course was next with Tenderloin Steak Diane being prepared to our specifications and the sauce being prepared and flambéed tableside. Once complete, it was put over our steaks and presented along with Todd and Tammy’s Lobster and Scallops and the dining event of the Century continued.
Hold the phone! The food is not done yet! Next was a cheese course with somewhere in the range of 12 cheeses ranging from mild to medium to sharp to goat and blues. We selected and each of us was presented with a history and description of the cheeses along with walnuts, dates, crackers, breads, grapes, apples, and celery sticks.
If this wasn’t enough, it was time for dessert and the Chocolate Souffles with crusty sugar crust show up with Vanilla Sauce for Darin and Natalie, while Todd and Tammy had the “Chef’s Surprise” which was a sampler of 6 different small desserts. This was amazing and only added to the already impressive level of stuffed that we were approaching.
But, hold it! It’s still not over! Petit Fours showed up along with Coffee and Tea. We looked at our watches and low and behold, it was already 11:45pm! We had been at the restaurant for over 3 ½ hours!
Tonight was the Grand Buffet, so although it was simply impossible to eat anything else, we went down to take pictures of the buffet, but from here, it was off to bed… Here’s a short look at just some of the offerings…
Tomorrow – Our last sea day! Time to pack!
December 19, 2007 – Day 24
Day At Sea
It was our final day at Sea and time to pack… We woke up this morning and got one bag done and then headed up to breakfast. We met up with Todd and Tammy and planned out our day between packing and taking advantage of the last of the ship’s activities. So, in between meals and packing, we went to the Blow Out Sale on the pool deck, played cards, hung out, completed the ship’s customer survey, filled out customs forms, and went for our final day at the Persian Gardens.
Before our final meal in the Grand Restaurant, we saw the final production show of the cruise, which was a holiday themed goodbye show. This was a great show as it was not a standard production show and all of the performers got to prepare their own songs and acts. Here’s a quick look at the acrobatic team doing what they do best…
They did a great job and it was capped off with a traditional reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” From here, we met up with Todd and Tammy in the Martini Bar where we hung out until the restaurant opened for late seating. We had some martinis and headed over to the restaurant at 8:30pm. It was casual night and all six of us were there for the first time in quite a while. Here’s a look at what dinner in the Grand Restaurant was like this evening…
We had a nice dinner and said goodbye to our waiter and assistant waiter, Dave and Imade, who both did a fine job.
From here, we went back to our rooms to put luggage out and then spent a little time in the Café looking at pictures and burning some to CD for Todd and Tammy. It was time to say goodbye, so we each went our separate ways and headed to bed to prepare for disembarkation tomorrow.
December 20, 2007 – Day 25
Miami, FL to Fort Lauderdale, FL to Oakland, CA
It’s the final entry, so it really will be short and sweet. We woke up around 6:45, packed up the last of our carry-ons, and went up for a quick breakfast. Headed over to the Celebrity Theater at 8:20am for our group to be called and actually exited the ship on time. We got to our transfer to Fort Lauderdale and made the slow crawl to the airport. I-95 was particularly rough today with several accidents tying up the 22 mile drive to FLL. Once at the airport, we had a long while to wait before checking in for our flight, but we had internet so we caught up on the blog, email, and we are about an hour away from boarding our flight home.
It has been a wonderful adventure from Flamenco in Madrid, a crazy futbol match in Barcelona, the Alhambra in Granada, hiking the Rock of Gibraltar, taking the train to Seville to hear the bells at the Giralda Tower, the amazing clash of cultures in Morocco, hiking to the top of a volcano crater on Lanzarote, nearly running out of gas in the Anaga Mountains of Tenerife, and touring the banana groves of La Palma while snacking on Gofio and Papas Arrugadas. Add in 7 days of a Transatlantic Crossing and you have a trip to remember. The next one will be here before we know it and we look forward to having you along for the ride.
As our Captain said at the end of his daily update, “Goodbye for now.”