Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lesson for the Day

Cruise Report 5

It was a close call. 

I really don't like having "learning experiences" related in any way to air travel.  And I guess that I'd rather learn the lesson we did than one involving the laws of physics.  Bottom line, though? I want air travel to be boring.

We got off the ship by about 8:30 am, in way too much time for our 6:55 pm flight.  But my husband wanted to hit the road early, and we were sharing a shuttle with my brother's family, who had a much earlier flight, so we found ourselves at the airport with almost 8 hours before our flight was to leave: we couldn't even check our bags for 3 hours.

So we caught a taxi and went to the movies.  The theater was about 10 minutes from the airport.  Watched a hour-and-a-half movie, came outside and called a cab.

At first, we were told one would show up in about 10 minutes.  When we called back 20 minutes later, we got the full story.  In Houston, there is no concept of "dispatching" a cab.  They put a call out, and anyone in the area can opt to answer it.  And nobody did.

After that second call, we started making calls to other cab companies.  And limo services.  And the shuttle service that got us from the ship in the first place.  And even to Enterprise Rental Car, since they'll pick you up – we figured we could pay for a day's rental and not be all that much worse off. 

No luck – none of them were particularly interested in our plight, and Enterprise was closed.  We were starting to get panicky at the 1.5 hour point.

Thank goodness for Google Maps mobile.  I downloaded it on my phone a few months ago, and played with it a little, but it saved us in this situation.  A search for "hotels" put a bunch of red balloons on the map near our current location.  Clicking on them produced a phone number, and I was able to call around to see if they might allow us to pay to use their shuttle.  And the Baymont Inn and Suites near Houston's Hobby airport came to our rescue.  They didn't have to, but I'm sure glad they did!  After starting out with nearly 8 hours to kill, we got back to the airport about 20 minutes before the 2-hour window started – 4:30 pm.  Shaking and nearly in tears, I might add.

So the lesson for the day?  Once you arrive at the airport, DO NOT leave it.  Just get in the uncomfortable seats and hang out.  Because if you leave, you might not be able to get back in time for your flight.

Port Observations

Cruise Report 4

As planned, I really didn't go into Montego Bay at all.  I had a "spa-scursion" - indulged in the $129 in-port "Top to Toe" special, which was a massage and facial combo.  With Mary Anne, who may well hold a record for strongest fingers on the planet.  At various times, I truly thought I could feel them poking out through the side of my body opposite where she was working.  It helped a lot, although not so much with my nasty feet.  The facial was fine as well, although I have to learn.  I just need to skip all the questions on their form regarding my current "regimen" (which doesn't really exist), because my answers, indicating that I wash my face with soap and water and moisturize it with either glycerine-based or shea-butter-based hand cream (it's dry where I live), triggered the sales lecture with extra emphasis on the horrid things I was doing to my skin.  Yeah, whatever.  I still wasn't going to spend upwards of $300 on eye of newt gel, or whatever it was, because I'm not suddenly going to start doing twice daily cleansing and moisturizing when I haven't done anything of the sort for the past 46 years.

After the spa stuff, I went into the Montego Bay port building and checked out the shops there.  Bought a lightweight sundress and a stone necklace and reboarded the ship.  From what I heard, everyone else had fun golfing, horseback riding, or rafting (which I think included a pedicure, of all things).  And no one was robbed at gunpoint or even harassed.  But they did say that nearly everything they passed on the road was surrounded by concertina wire.

Cayman, as mentioned before, was our parasailing adventure.  Afterwards, we just wandered the shops for a while.  I had an entertaining conversation with someone at Columbian Emeralds International, while admiring (from a distance) a bunch of 5-figure jewelry pieces.  Do people really buy that stuff?  The mind boggles.  Cayman also had lots of lizards and tropical birds in cages throughout the shopping district, and many statues of someone called "Big Black Dick".  It was a little too modern for my tastes - I prefer traditional Caribbean architecture, and while there were notes of it here and there, much of the town looked a lot like Denver or Kansas City - pretty generic business buildings.  From other members of the party, we heard that the Captain Marvin stingray tour was seriously boffo.

Cozumel was my favorite.  It had what I liked about Mazatlan, and right near the pier, too.  Lots of colorfully painted stucco and tile buildings, a faint (aesthetically pleasing) air of decrepitude, and a feeling of being somewhere unusual.  We wandered for a while, and then took a taxi ride around the island, came back, and wandered some more.  The water was stunning - I hope my pictures come out.  Bought a bunch of stuff - hammocks, jewelry, terra cotta sun plaques, t-shirts.  And met another dog - something that seems to happen in Mexico for us a lot.  This one was a caramel colored floppy puppy, very friendly, at the place we bought one of the hammocks.  Cozumel was also the one place that moved me to buy a port debarkation photo - me and a shiny Mayan warrior guy (who was probably one of the waiters on the ship).  It made me laugh, and that's always a good thing.

Parasailing is pretty cool!

Cruise Report 3

I really thought it would be scarier.  Our parasailing excursion was a lot of fun, but actually fell into the "pleasant" more than the "exhilarating" category, which was a surprise.  I mean, we were 300 feet in the air, flying like a giant kite at the end of a rope attached to a speedboat.  On paper, it sounds shriek-inducing.  In reality, it's a very smooth ride and you just don't get the feeling that you're high in the air attached to nothing but a giant yellow nylon smiley-face (even though you are), and even when our boat stopped to let us splash into the sea, the descent was gradual and the water was a lovely 80-something degrees.

The only downside to the whole experience was the fact that I should have taken my shorts off and done the whole thing in my swimsuit.  Nothing dries in that climate, so the walking around we did in Grand Cayman after the parasailing was a bit clammy.

While we were on the parasailing boat, we ran across an entire school of flying fish, which were amazing to see up close.  I had always thought they used the bow wave of a boat or ship to take off with, but we saw some that were distant enough from us that we couldn't have been helping them.  Nobody got a picture of them, though - we were too busy pointing and shrieking.

And another useful tidbit about Grand Cayman - the water at the pier is clear enough to see bright blue tropical fish without any of that bother with mask and snorkel - just lean over and have a look.  They don't photograph all that well that way, though.

Stunning - and in a good way, too!

Cruise Report 2

I really did expect to walk onboard and feel like I'd landed in Vegas - all the official and unofficial pictures we'd seen gave me the impression that the ship would be garish and a bit tacky.

Maybe they need to take new pictures.  It wasn't at all - it was simply gorgeous - much nicer than the Diamond Princess, I thought.  The passageways on the stateroom decks seemed to be wider, there was a lot of natural wood (including some gorgeous inlay work), and the colors were warm and soothing, not garish.  It was just a really pretty ship.  On the Promenade deck, they had created a wide walkway bounded on one side by the casino and on the other by a bunch of squishy sofas in groups - a perfect place to hang out and people-watch.  And handy to the coffee bar too.

The reviews I read that said that the ship handled the crowds well were generally right - you could nearly always find someplace public that wasn't particularly crowded - although I must admit that by our third "fun day at sea" we were kind of tired of those of our fellow passengers that were not in our party.  Many of them would have carried out the "landed in Vegas" theme nicely, if the ship had in fact been decorated that way.

One odd note, though.  I was doing laundry on our second sea day - because most of my family drove, we had several day's worth accumulated by then - and heard a familiar bit of background music over the speakers - one of the movements from Mozart's Requiem.  Beautiful stuff, but a Requiem Mass just doesn't put the "fun" in "fun ship" if you ask me.

So, I'm a little confused now, because I had certainly been laboring under the impression that Princess was supposed to be more upscale than Carnival, but the ship itself really didn't bear that out at all.  Go figure...

Stupid freaking feet

Cruise Report 1

I woke up Friday morning with a bit of pain and stiffness in my right ankle, and basically ignored it.  It's done it before and went away, so I figured it would this time, too.  But it was still stiff on Saturday when we got into Galveston, and as the week progressed, the stiffness went away (at least, I think it did) and was replaced by swelling - in both feet.

So my walking shoes got no use at all this cruise.  I spent more time than planned sitting on my balcony with my heels hooked on the rail.  And because my right foot was more prone to swelling than my left, I ended up with a one-shin sunburn, which looks just a bit odd.

I really didn't let the feet stop me, but they slowed me down a little.  I missed one dining room dinner, opting instead for room service (but room service has potato chips, which nowhere else on board has!) and the opportunity to lay around with ice bags on my ankles (or "cankles" in my brother-in-law's terminology - short for calf-ankles, and yes, they really had pretty much merged together.  They looked disgusting).

The plane flight home wasn't tremendously helpful either.  At least I don't have interesting foreign ports beckoning to me anymore, and can choose to sit at my desk with my feet up without exposing them to the Caribbean sun.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

One Suitcase, but Four Pairs of Shoes

I came close. 

My husband drove away this morning with 3 pieces of "checked baggage" for the 3 of us, and 2 carry on bags, containing travel clothes for him and our daughter.  And 6 bottles of wine (extra for extended family adults) and her backpack. 

But we did good.  So good, in fact, that when I was looking at the garment bag last night, I realized it had 2 entirely empty shoe pouches, and at the last minute, decided to pack the Birkies and wear the Crocs down to Texas on Saturday.  So I'm up by a pair of shoes from my original goal - but only AFTER everything else was packed and room was available.

I have a very short list left of things to bring with me - so short, in fact,  that if one of the items wasn't my last spare pair of undies (the others DID get packed, so I won't need to do nightly hand-laundry), I could put all of it in a reusable grocery bag.  But I'll use my backpack instead - it zips shut and spares TSA from any unplanned underwear sightings.

So, just one more non-travel day to go - lots of errands to run to get the dogs and cats to their vacation homes, make sure we don't end up with any funny smells in the house on our return (MUST remember to run the garbage disposal!!!), and make the place look inhabited.  It should be a busy day - enough so that it should go pretty quickly.  And our flight's in the morning, thank goodness.

The daughter's friend opted to fly in the end.  So she's sleeping today while the rest of the party is heading south.  Through thunderstorms and tornado warnings, according to the weather channel.  I'm sort of envious - it still beats work - but it will be a tiring drive at best.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

So close you can almost taste it

The Carnival website tells me I have 4 days until our cruise.  I have a little over one more workday to get through.

We're mostly packed, although if the suitcases go off tomorrow with no addition to their contents, I'm going to be swishing undies in the sink a lot next week - and I didn't buy any of that kind of detergent.  So we have a few last things to add before we can officially declare victory.

My husband, daughter, and parents are starting to drive down tomorrow morning.  Maybe with my daughter's friend, maybe without her.  Not that she's not going or anything, it's just that she was in England all of the past week and some, and she's apparently really jet-lagged.  So her family is looking into flying her out with us on Saturday instead.  I can sympathize.  It's been over 20 years since I spent a short vacation in England, and I even made it easier by living on the East Coast at the time, and I can still remember how disorienting it was for a couple of days after I got back.

We're working through the final details - getting the animals into their boarding houses, figuring out how many cars are going to the airport, coming up with a way to distribute the wine bottle totes amongst the adults who can bring them onboard.  Even working out the logistics of getting things like swimsuits into the carryon bags so we can spend the hours waiting for our checked bags in the pool.

I've tracked down the webcams for Galveston island, and have been checking out their weather (it looks quite nice down there right now), and even found a bunch of pictures taken on our ship, so I have an idea of what to expect.  It'll be different - they take a very different approach to design than RCI or Princess, I'd say.  Much more Vegas-esque.  Although I don't think the resemblance extends to having people hawking the services of "sex workers" by handing out their baseball cards.  At least, I hope not - that would make for a far too interesting trip.

You know, all our cruises to date have been just my immediate family, and our one extended-family trip, while entertaining, ended with all of us needing not to see the other families for a couple of weeks - we weren't fighting, but we'd had enough togetherness by then.  So I am kind of wondering how that aspect of the upcoming trip will work out.  Three of our cabins are adjoining one another; the other two are about as far from those three and each other as they could get without being on another ship.  The logical conclusion is that the three adjoining cabins will become party central.  The preferred conclusion would be that cabins are private space - a place to get away from everyone without fear of intrusion.  And are we going to end up going everywhere in a mob?  I herd cats for a living, after all, and graduation (party) weekend, where we assumed responsibility for getting all of our out-of-town relatives from event to event, just about did me in.  I think we need some rules.  Maybe these:

  • No compulsion to breakfast or lunch with other members of the party - they're both just too hard, and we can't possibly all be on the same schedule.  Some of us are teenage boys, after all.
  • For dining in the dining room, we meet at the table.  No waiting around and going in as a group.  It's not like the waiters aren't used to that anyway.
  • It is perfectly acceptable to want to do something without including other families - and to act on that desire.  A family obviously engaged in something "on their own" becomes automatically invisible to everyone else.
  • We should define a mechanism to advertise our whereabouts when we're doing something and would welcome others to join in if they want. Maybe that's what the post-it notes are for.  We could use them like the wipe-off-boards on college dorm room doors.
  • Also, for any activities that involve "meet at landmark and X" type plans, we should establish the ice-cream rule: If you're not there by the time it would take ice cream to melt, anyone waiting to meet is free to head off to the planned activity.
Not quite as elegant as my sister's family's food rules, but still potentially helpful, I think.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hey! We Need More Stuff!

Well, not really.  It's just that I've been saying all along that we were pretty much done shopping and had all our stuff ready to go, and on Saturday morning, we let my husband go to Target with us. 

I can't remember what the original need was.  But we left with 3 bags of stuff, most of it for the cruise.  Bungee Cords, duct tape (in bright sunny spring green), shorts and a cami for the daughter, pantyhose and a slip for me, (more) travel-sized toiletries (and travel-sized Tide!!!), replacement ipod headphones, electronic and pool games (including some fabric-covered sponge balls that will no doubt make us very popular with our fellow cruisers), and a bunch of other things I cannot recall.  Almost none of it was on the list going in.

So do we have everything now?  Probably not.  After all, the luggage doesn't leave for 3 more days, which gives us lots of time to put things in it.  Many things are already packed - we started the luggage stuffing itself on Friday night after work.  And we might actually get onboard with one suitcase each - one of which is the joint hanging bag with our "elegant night" clothes.

So, this time next week, we'll be at sea.  I never know, in the run-up to a cruise, if I should really wallow in anticipation and make that last week almost part of the cruise, or if I should try to get through it as quickly as possible.  The problem is, if this week goes quickly, then it will BE next week and there's no slowing it down even if we wanted to - it'll be over way too soon.  There's no good solution here.

My master lists have 2 blank days on them for today and tomorrow.  That can't be good.  Wonder what I'm forgetting?

Apart from the travel sized toothpaste, that is.  And maybe some more packets of detergent...  And some more clothespins...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The luggage has been tagged

My sister is awesome.

Carnival provides luggage tags in their electronic boarding paperwork, and when you print them out on your home printer, they're obviously not showing up on cardstock (they could, if you go get some, but most people don't).  So the tags themselves have all sorts of "fold this in thirds - do not cut" instructions on them, folding in thirds apparently to beef up the strength of the cheap recycled printer paper everyone has, in the hope that they won't rip off while being manhandled onto the ship.

Not us, though.  My sister printed out, folded, and laminated tags for all of us, and provided cable ties to attach them with.  Barring some sort of natural disaster, they are not going to come off.  And they're on our suitcases - I put them there last night.

I also found my travel hairdryer, our tiny alarm clock, and the nightlight last night, and added them to the pile in the closet.  The pile is getting kind of big, and I began to suspect this morning that I might have non-cruise clothes buried in it somewhere.

So, I just scrolled down a bunch of posts to find my last "T-10" entries, and they involved blizzards.  I am so amazingly grateful to be going to sea bound for warm climates during the summer this trip - it has simplified everything!  The words "hiking boots" or "coats" are not on any lists this time.

I had been searching for travel-sized laundry detergent last night, without luck.  What I want is those little boxes that come out of dispensers in laundromats - maybe 2 of them.  What I found in the luggage store was tiny pouches of Woolite, just right for swishing the undies in the sink, or "airline-safe" packets of dried soap leaves, also perfect for swishing the undies in the sink.  And while I find Rick Steves very enjoyable to watch, the ship has laundry facilities and I want to take advantage of them.  No sink-swishing.  I was whining about this to my husband this morning, and he comes forth with a volley of sense.  "Just get a travel-sized plastic bottle and fill it from the detergent in the house," he said. 

Doh!  Gotta learn to step back occasionally.  Can't think out of the box if I can't see it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

T-11 again!

We leave in 11 days!  And I am so beyond ready.  Mentally, that is.  We're not much on the way to being packed and organized just yet.  And we need to be. 

One week from tomorrow, my husband, daughter, her friend, and my parents all set out to drive down to Galveston with most of my luggage (and theirs - there will be plenty of room, since I'm only taking one suitcase, in case I didn't mention it).  The day after that, I take off from work to get the cats and dogs to "camp" (my term, not theirs, probably), and our flight down is on Saturday.

Between now and then, my husband has to go to an out-of-town conference, so he has to be packed and unpacked (and laundered, no doubt) twice.  And my daughter's friend is currently in Europe, due to return next Wednesday.  I'm sure she'll make it back in time, but it's a good thing no one's counting on her to drive - she will probably spend the trip down sleeping somewhere.

I've made up a countdown schedule, with tasks to do every night after work.  If we stick to the schedule, we'll probably make it okay.

Monday, May 19, 2008

And then suddenly everyone got sick

Hopefully, this is a good sign - we still have time to get over it all before leaving.

Last Friday, my sister came down with a nasty stomach virus that put her hard down for the better part of three days.

Last Tuesday, my dad caught a cold that wiped out his ability to speak for a couple of days.

This morning, my daughter and husband were both exhibiting signs of having caught my sister's virus (without any contact with her at all, so it must be something going around).

I feel peculiarly light-headed at the moment, but not exactly sick, so I'm hoping I've dodged the bullet so far.

With luck, this means we're getting all this out of our systems prior to sailing. We've done the "sick while on a cruise" thing - bronchitis, not Norwalk, in case you were wondering - and it does cramp one's style. And I left on my first cruise with a fistful of antibiotics to help me get over the last lingering bits of the flu (and they handily allowed me to eat in Mexico without dwelling on the possible after-effects).

But since everyone's apparently so susceptible just now, I think that I will have to bring rather more intellectually challenging books with me, to keep my mind from thinking I'm on a vacation and finally have time to be sick. No bodice-rippers by the pool; I'll have to read Origin of Species or the general theory of relativity or something. Not like I haven't done that before: the book I chose to read by the pool on our last cruise was Charles Williams' Descent Into Hell. I hope no one read anything into that choice...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Shooting for the one-suitcase challenge

One month from yesterday, we will have debarked, boarded our Super Shuttle to the airport, and flown home from our cruise. I'd be all bummed thinking about it, but that actually means that we only have a little over 3 weeks until we fly to Houston to get on the cruise - and that's a good thing!

The weather around here is altogether too reminiscent of our cruise to Alaska several years ago - grey, cloudy, drizzly, and offering a view of snow-covered peaks. Great for tourism, those snow-covered peaks, if anyone was still in the mood to go skiing in mid-May (actually, I do have a few friends...). The snow contrasts nicely with all the green around town - with the drizzle, the plants are very happy just now. So it would look very pretty if the sun would just make an appearance, already. The weatherman promises we'll see it tomorrow. Of course, I think he said that about today, too. Weird spring for here, that's all.

So, we're in the home stretch, I'd say. And I've been refining the wardrobe a bit. Cruise Diva says to pick a color scheme and plan your cruise wardrobe around it. On previous cruises, I haven't really tried that - at least, not all that hard. But for this one, now that I've overcome the 3-pairs-of-shoes challenge, it's time to shoot for the 1-suitcase challenge. So my color scheme is "Navy Blue and things that go with it, mostly". I didn't say I was good at it. But here's what I've come up with:

5 pairs of shorts - 2 good for shore excursions and 3 good for eating on casual nights - in navy, black, and shades of khaki (bet you didn't think khaki came in shades, did you?).
A boatload of shirts in purple, yellow, navy, green, black, and white (things that go with the shorts)
2 formal/elegant night dresses in prints that include black or navy and purpleish colors (BTW, that they fit the color scheme is pretty much sheer chance - no planning involved)
Maybe a navy skirt (if it fits in the suitcase)
Swimsuits, which don't have to match anything.
And, of course, the 3 pairs of shoes - black heels, brown birkies, and white sneakers.

One suitcase for a week-long cruise - and not one the size of a semi. It can be done.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mission Accomplished

One shopping mall, one hour, two dresses, one swimsuit. Triumph.

Some days, the planets are just in alignment. And it was an outlet mall, to boot. I think, perhaps, I may never shop anywhere else again - there's no point.

If you were to go into my closet now, you'd find that I own jeans and t-shirts and sweaters from the Eddie Bauer outlet, polo and dress shirts from the Ralph Lauren outlet, and now, two dresses from the Jones New York outlet.

Another checkmark for the giant list o' stuff to do. One a day, that's all I ask, and we just might make it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

And there was much rejoicing

The dress is done, and the dining room looks like a dining room again (except for the sewing machine itself, which I need to find a new home for anyway, since we tore down its closet a while back). The last step was to finish sewing on some bead trim which looked really nice in the store.

Nice, it was not. 1/2" satin ribbon with 1" strings of beads suspended from one edge about every 1/4". The night before last, I sewed its top edge (bead-free) to the dress, and last night, I did the beaded edge.

Beads tangle in thread. In order to affix the stuff properly, I had to put a stitch in every other space between bead strings, and on about half of them, I'd guess, the thread wrapped itself around the beads. My husband had on a loud movie, which was a good thing, since it prevented his hearing what I was muttering to myself.

But it's done.

My husband is already talking about getting suitcases out of the attic - it's dawned on him that we're less than a month away, and we have way too much to do in the interim as it is. But if he gets the suitcases out, then they're in the way while we host out of town relatives for my daughter's graduation party, which was the real reason I had to get the dress done and get the dining room cleaned out.

And I still don't have even one dress identified for formal nights, much less two. And I need to find a swimsuit.

This weekend. No excuses. Dress and Swimsuit or bust. And a bunch of other stuff while I'm at it. Eek!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

(almost) Ex-Seamstress, and Karaoke?

One more stretch of handsewing, and my sister's dress is done! I could go on and on about black fabric, especially black polyester crepe, but I think I actually already have... Anyway, after 3 false starts on moving seams and darts a bit, including an episode of accidentally ripping out the seam I just put in, instead of the one it meant to replace (complete with swearing), the minor alterations are done, the zipper's in, the hem's on, and the trim is half-attached. That's the last stretch to do. And then I can hand it over, clean up the dining room, and go find myself something to wear, other than just shoes. Although, Carnival didn't exactly prohibit nudity on formal night in their new policy... Naaah, my skin doesn't look all that dressy, I'm afraid.

Got the phones set up to work internationally - one of our key takeaways from our last cruise. It will be crucial to have them working since it's likely that we'll be going in many directions once on shore - and I'd just like to make sure everyone's accounted for. Occasionally. More often than the kid would like, I'm sure, and not quite enough for my personal comfort.

So, the big question on my mind at the moment (heaven knows why) is whether, at 80, looking back on my life, I will regret not having tried to do Karaoke on this cruise. I sorta want to, and I'm entirely certain I will make an idiot of myself if I do, so I also sorta don't want to. Maybe right after we find the bar with the better variety of single malts...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Swimsuit and shoe shopping

On Saturday, once the carpet cleaning guy had done his magic, my daughter and I went out to try to find me a swimsuit for the trip, and look at shoes for her (I thought that part was cruise-related, but she didn't, really).

Shoes, for once, were easy (and yes, I know I said that about the red torture devices I bought for my last cruise). The kid got a pair of Rocket Dog Mary Jane sneakers in blue plaid (there is no accurate way to describe these shoes in less than a complete paragraph), and a new pair of Teva flip-flops. Both of which will probably come on the ship with us, but won't be worn at formal night, which I had sort of thought was the point of the shopping.

I found a pair of lowish (less than 2") heel slides in black, similar to a white pair that I own and like, that are a bit dressier than my old standby "black dress shoes". And that's great - it would, however, be nice to find a dress to go with them. More on that further along...

Next on the agenda was a trip to look for swimsuits for me. I have the one I wore on our last cruise, and it's okay, but it's a tankini, and I just don't really like how it fits. So we did the Lands' End store at Sears (which was, unfortunately, nearly all tankinis all the time), and various other stores at the local mall. No joy. I'm pretty tall, and the suits I tried on all succeeded in making me look short and squatty. Weird effect, really. I'm actually starting to wonder if I wouldn't look better in a bikini of some sort, which is a strange thought for someone my age.

We also looked around a bit for dresses. I found one I loved (and another two not so much), but it didn't fit, either. I may hunt around to see if it comes in my size anywhere, because it really was cute - or I may find myself with another sewing project on my hands if I'm not careful. At least my sister's dress is close to being done.

I typed out my entire planned wardrobe for the cruise today, and I think I'm going to make that 1-suitcase goal. It's so nice not to see items like "hiking boots" or "heavy coat" on the list for once!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Is it too early to call this "T-30"?

Not that I'm starting to get excited or anything yet, but I dreamed last night about visiting a shipboard spa and resisting the sales pitch while I located the free sauna.

In reading cruise-themed websites, the words, "drink special of the day" are starting to sound really inviting - and as far as I remember, I've never once indulged in the drink special of the day on a cruise.

My sister's dress now is dress-shaped. No zipper and no hem, but that's all that remains to to before it's wearable (although there's some trim to attach as well).

I think I'm going shopping for swimsuits this weekend sometime. And yes, I do think I mean that to be plural.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

31 days

It's starting to sound close, and enough of the details are falling into place that I may be reduced to watching the clock tick.

The sewing is actually starting to bear fruit (and about bloody time, since we have a little insignificant matter of a graduation party to throw between now and our sail date). My niece's dress is complete, and my sister's is starting to take shape, although I'd like to say a brief (probably profane) word about sewing black fabric. Even with good light, it's nearly impossible to see edges of things or thread, or details on matte black fabric. I've rigged up extra lights to navigate this dress.

No real worries, though - and it's on the downhill slide toward completeness.

My wardrobe is a bit up in the air. I wore one of the dresses I was considering for formal night to a family wedding recently, and although I generally like the dress, it feels too short to me for what it is (it's a double-breasted shirtdress style), and a bit too businesslike for a formal dinner. So I guess I need to revisit the existing options and decide if any of them will work, and if not, I'm going to have to go dress hunting.

I don't think I've made a pitch before for John Heald's blog (, but I heard about it on a cruise site not too long ago and have been addicted ever since. I'm so impressed with his inside stories about life and work as a Cruise Director that I think I'm going to take an entirely different approach to this cruise from our previous ones. We've been passive consumers up to now - we interacted with our waitstaff at dinner and with our cabin steward, but didn't get out to that much of the entertainment and meet more of the crew. I think this trip, maybe I will go to the welcome-aboard show and other events that we've always skipped in the past.

Anyway - this time next month, we'll be in Galveston getting ready to embark!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


I think we have yesterday's crisis resolved, and in a way that should remove the occasion of whining amongst my immediate traveling party. The girls don't lose their ocean view, we will not be denied boarding, and I can get back to planning how best to accessorize my spit-yodeling shirt.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Finally starting to exhibit signs of being one of our vacations

It was only a matter of time, after all.

It's been preying on my mind of late that, when the original booking was set up for our upcoming trip, the two 18-year-olds were put in the same cabin with no adults, and assigned a guarantee booking, rather than an assigned cabin. As it turns out when you read the fine print, 18-year-olds require the presence of an adult (defined as someone over 23 or a spouse - theirs, that is - over 21) either in the cabin, in an adjoining cabin, or across the hall from them.

Well, the guarantee cabin pretty much guaranteed that they weren't going to be anywhere near the rest of us, and when their booking stopped saying "TBA" and turned into a cabin number, it proved true. They were on deck 1; most of the rest of us were on deck 6. I began envisioning the scene at embarkation as the powers that be realized that the two girls (and quite frankly, they're about as likely to raise an unsupervised ruckus as a convention of librarians) were not appropriately supervised onboard. And I tried to decide (it's better to figure these things out in advance): if they were denied boarding, would we absolutely need to return home with them? Kidding - it would have spoiled the trip for all of us.

So, I followed my sister's lead, and got on a chat site to ask if this was likely to cause problems. The verdict there? Guilty - and to read their replies, guilty of aggravated murder. Not something calculated to make me feel welcome to ask anything else, I must say. So, writhing with guilt, I got on the phone with the cruise line, and we are trying to work things out to get the girls closer to some responsible adults in our party. Apparently, at this late date, making that happen involves shuffling other people around, which is just all bad.

For what it's worth, my immediate family is not falling on my neck weeping with gratitude for my foresight in getting this straightened out before we found ourselves standing on the pier at Galveston waving good-bye to the rest of the group. Both my husband and daughter are angry that her cabin might change from an ocean view (which is what her guarantee was for) to an inside - she because it "might" make her sick, and he because the girls will then undoubtedly spend more time in our cabin using the balcony.

So, it could be a week fraught with the type of interest that I won't find particularly funny. The countdown isn't quite reminding me of a condemned prisoner's countdown to that final meal, but I won't be putting the old vigor into my spit-yodeling this trip.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

They laughed

We distributed the matching shirts to the family during a family birthday party over the weekend. I guess it's a good thing that many of these people are either related to me, or chose at some point to marry someone from my family, because they all thought the shirts were pretty funny. I think they might even wear them occasionally.

My mom wants us to embark in them - even I'm not entirely sure about that, but she's thinking Embarcation photos.

And the custom logo on the shirts? My entire party is officially labeled as affiliated with "Saskatchewan Boys Spit-Yodeling". The words in red, above a multicolored embroidered armadillo.

Don't ask.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Dad-N-Lad" Outfits for All

Back before this blog started, my family took a cruise to Alaska on RCCL Vision of the Seas (my favorite ship to date, although I liked the Mexican Riviera better as a destination, because it was warm). Anyway, as part of preparations for that cruise, I bought the four of us matching raincoat/windbreakers that folded into their own pockets, so we could deal with the vagaries of Alaskan weather in June. They turned out to be quite handy, and I still wear mine occasionally. We referred to them as the "Family Von Trapp" coats, and I don't actually know how keen my familiy was to look even a little alike in that way.

Flash forward quite a few years (4? I think) and with 14 of us going on a cruise together, I'm starting to think that I have something a little strange in my mental outlook. Because after we found out that my parents were springing for the bulk of our costs, I used some of our surplus funds to buy all 14 of us matching embroidered polo shirts. Nothing traditional, though - polo shirts only because some members of the family were whining about the need to have collared shirts in order to eat dinner on the ship.

Ordinary people, going out to buy matching shirts for a family group, would have them embroidered with something like "X Family Cruise...." on them. Not me. Our shirts are essentially nonsensical (picture the Japanese fashion statement of having clothes with English words on them, notwithstanding the fact that the words make no sense), with an unrelated logo, and the only connection with our family was that the words start with the first initials of our combined last names. More than that, I will not say, since we haven't shown them to anyone but my parents yet. The big reveal is this coming Sunday at a mob birthday party. I think they're pretty cool, but I could be alone in that opinion.

My calendar thing says 1 month 3 weeks and the odd day! Woo hoo! On the other hand, I guess that means I really need to get going on the sewing, huh?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Shorts and stuff

I'm happy to report that all passports have arrived well in advance of sailing, and that I think we're all booked for shore excursions, although there were a few of us that didn't get in on the parasailing group before it filled up.

In any event, progress is being made - and in the right direction, too. I have solved the shoe dilemma, and have my new Birkies ("training sandals" according to my brother-in-law) in hand. And I think I've found some "dress" shorts - dressy enough for casual dining, anyway, which to me means chino walking shorts in a variety of colors.

I have some sewing on my plate yet - formal night dresses for my sister and my niece - but they should be reasonably quick, I hope.

This is all going way too smoothly.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

And then things got so simple!

Last Wednesday, I got an e-mail from my sister, with the subject "Just found this on Cruise review changes to Carnival Dress code!!!" The text was:

Hey this is from a thread that was just posted on 3/28. Might give some options for the non-formal dining nights without costing an arm and a leg.

She was right. We can now wear "dress shorts", t-shirts, and jeans to dinner on casual nights, and the "formal" nights have been re-christened "elegant" nights, and the standards accordingly lowered. My guess is that they're bowing to the inevitable, but whatever the reason, my pack list got a bunch shorter with that announcement. And the number of things I need to buy.

Not that I'm taking jeans - who'd wear jeans in June in the Caribbean? But shorts for most dinners, maybe one casual skirt... How cool is that?

It screwed up the 3-shoe challenge for a little while, but after thinking about it, it's still doable. I was going to take tennies, crocs, and dinner shoes (swappable between casual and formal outfits). But I don't think they make shoes that go with shorts and cocktail dresses. So I've shifted things. Now, it's tennies, formal shoes, and a new pair of Birkies, to handle shore-excursions and casual dining. I'll miss the crocs, but not that much.

Woo Hoo! Less stuff to do on top of way too much work all of a sudden (I know, these days, that's a good problem), a graduation party to plan, a family wedding, and 3 birthdays, all between now and June.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why this would make it hit home, I have no idea

Two nights ago, I got my husband signed up for his golf excursion online, and then followed his verbal instructions to reserve equipment for him and my brother-in-law (our normal baggage is bad enough; we don't need to add golf clubs). Yesterday morning, he forwarded this e-mail to me:

Hello Mr. XXX:

Thank you for choosing Elite Golf Cruises. Please accept this email as
confirmation for the following information:

Name(s): XXX and YYY
Sail date: June 8, 2008 on the Carnival Conquest
Course(s): White Witch Golf Resort
Rentals: one set men's right handed, one set men's left handed*

Please meet your golf professional, Stuart Perry, at the Shore Tours Desk,
Atrium Lobby, Deck 3, Mid Ship, from 1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. and then again
from 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. the day you board. At that time he will give you the
information you need for your tee time(s) as well as where and when to meet
for priority debarkation. As this is a shore excursion, payment will be
accepted through your Sail and Sign Card.

Once the ship has sailed, all cancellations are subject to a 25%
cancellation fee. Excursions cancelled within 24 hours of port arrival are

*All of the NIKE Slingshots are cavity back!

Have a wonderful time!

I don't golf. I've tried, and it just doesn't work for me. And I am not all that excited about going to Jamaica. But I read this e-mail, and it hit me -



Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Added a Ticker

Just found the Cruise Clocks site, and added a ticker to this page, so I can always tell how long we have until sailing!

Plans are proceeding!

We had nearly my entire family over for Easter dinner this weekend (my brother was in Japan on business, eating live baby squid, poor guy), so we took advantage of the fact to try to coordinate our shore excursions. The idea was that no one under the age of 18 should go off on an excursion alone.

But it's pretty obvious - my family tends to like the same things. So a large group of us (including me) are going parasailing in Grand Cayman, and another large group is leaning toward horseback riding on the beach in Jamaica, and a third group are interested in something the cruise line refers to as "Sea Trek".

Sea Trek is a sort of modern version of old-style deep-sea diving. They give you a helmet connected to a hose, and you walk around, wearing this contraption, on the bottom of the ocean looking at fish. You emerge with your hair dry and your jaw unclenched, and no headache (at least, in theory) from wearing a too-tight mask so that it wouldn't leak. Could be cool. Although the picture of it on the shore excursions site shows a bunch of people in helmets standing around with nary a fish in sight.

Jamaica has been a bit problematic for all of us. I was reading reviews of our proposed cruise on Cruise Critic (, and saw references to armed gunmen and scary-crazy drivers, and we've really been struggling to decide if we should do anything there or just take advantage of in-port-day spa sales. I'm still leaning toward the latter, but the horseback riding has to happen there (the age limit is lower there than in Cozumel, which means everyone could go), and my husband and brother-in-law are already booked to play golf there.

My sister was more daring than I - she signed up on the Cruise Reviews forums and asked everyone there about it. Here's her question and all the answers, in case you're similarly concerned:

On the wardrobe front, I'm making only marginal progress. At the moment, I'm thinking that I'll just take existing formal-night dresses, rather than buy new ones (especially after I realized that the TravelSmith reversible tank and skirt that I like only has the tank available in size S), but I think I might have found some shoes - Zappos is a wonderful site. They list 983 (I think) different pairs of sandals in the mythical size 10-1/2 (which is my mythical size), and there are a couple there that could do double duty for casual and formal nights.

I think we're well under 80 days - I haven't had an e-mail from Carnival in at least a week, telling me what the countdown is.

And the weather around here is starting to act more like spring, finally (yes, I know it's only been officially spring since Friday).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Luggage. Our goal: to reduce it this time!

If you scroll down a bit, you'll find an entry from our last cruise about the self-serve debarcation and what we had to do in order to manage it. Here's the list of luggage items that we brought onboard for 3 people for 1 week last year:
  • 4 standard rolling suitcases of various sizes
  • 1 rolling garment bag (which I didn't realize was a rolling bag until this morning)
  • 2 canvas duffel bags
  • 1 really heavy backpack (storage for the laptop, the DVD collection, and the physics book)

This trip, I, for one, am not going to contribute my 2-2/3 bags to the total. I want to put my entire cruise wardrobe into a single bag.

There are a couple of good reasons for this. First, I want to fly down without
luggage. That means that my bag has to fit (along with everyone else's) in whatever my husband and parents end up driving to Houston.

Second, somehow, 9 of the 14 of us have to get back to the airport, without leaving our luggage at the cruise terminal. That means it has to fit back into that same car/truck/SUV/bus. I don't think we'll all be traveling at once, and our flight back isn't until evening, but still - if the bags outnumber the people, that has to mean more trips to get everyone where they need to go.

Finally, I want to drag off again. It's less confusing, and we don't have to worry about our luggage taking another trip through the Western Caribbean without us.

Future posts about how the minimalism works out. For starters: can I really go a week on only 3 pairs of shoes?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Snorkeling, wonderful snorkeling!

I gather that the snorkeling is pretty good in Cozumel.  Not because I've heard that from my friends.  Not because I've read it anywhere on a travel website.  Certainly not from personal experience, since I've never been there.
It's just that every ship-sponsored shore excursion in Cozumel involves snorkeling.  Catamaran sail and snorkeling.  Jeep safari and snorkeling.  Zip line and snorkeling.  Horseback riding and snorkeling.  Dolphin encounter and snorkeling.  Kayaking and snorkeling.  Segway tour and snorkeling.  Fun day at the beach and snorkeling.  Tour of Mayan ruins and snorkeling.  Diamonds, tanzanites, and snorkeling.  Learn Mexican cuisine and snorkeling.  Parasail and snorkeling.  Two-tank scuba and snorkeling.  Snorkeling and snorkeling.
I might be exaggerating a bit, but not much.  The word "snorkeling" is starting to produce echoes of "Spam (spam-spam-spam)". 
Anyway, I'm sure it will be fabulous - at least, it would if I liked snorkeling.  It's just that I really stink at it.  Keeping my face in the water feels unnatural, so I lift my head to breathe.  And get a lungful of saltwater.  Apparently, when I take pictures, I close my mouth and breathe through my nose.  Try that when snorkeling with a waterproof camera.  Camera to face, close mouth, breathe through nose.  Mask suctions onto face, breathing fails, head jerks up, mouth opens, lungs gasp - and another lungful of saltwater.  It's just too hard.
So I'm looking for the excursion with "just a little bit of spam in it".  And then I'll stay on the boat and drink beer.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Getting on and off cruise ships

This is from an e-mail I sent my sister explaining the embarcation/debarcation rituals (mostly the latter) associated with cruising. Thought it might be generally useful.

Cruise times work something like this:

The ship will leave Sunday evening, but you should be able to start the boarding process (you thought airlines were a pain!) around noon. Anticipate lines. Do your paperwork online before leaving home, and bring copies with you. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring a book.

The crowds fluctuate, and the earlier you can be at the port, the better. If you get there at the exact right moment (you'll need a crystal ball to nail it exactly), you will breeze through with no waiting. It's really not all that bad, though - at least, it hasn't been for us, yet. And once you've handed in your paperwork and provided the all important credit card number for onboard charges, you'll be herded into the final waiting area and boarded by groups. Then, it's generally a matter of working your way through one last incomprehensible maze and you'll be greeted by the photography staff, ready to provide you with the first of many pictures that prove you really did go on a cruise. And then they let you get on the ship.

On the following Sunday, the ship will be in port docked just about at dawn. Two options exist for getting off: let them deal with the luggage, or drag it off yourself.

Let them deal with the luggage:

Depending on the poshness of your final cabin, and earliness of airline reservations (if Carnival knows about it), you will be allotted leaving groups, and you will get luggage tags to fill out. Everything except minor carryons gets packed, locked, and tagged by midnight Saturday (I think), and overnight the stewards will come and make all the bags vanish (you leave them in the corridors). Then, on Sunday morning, you gather with your group somewhere on the ship (auditorium, casino, lounge X, etc) and wait for them to call your tag color. At that point, you file off the ship, go through customs and immigration, and are shepherded to a barn where all the bags from the ship are laid out. This is where strategic tagging or luggage selection becomes important. Everyone in the US has a black, wheeled, carryon. If you bring yours, and you have a black luggage tag on it, you will be spending quality time in the barn finding which one's yours. On the other hand, if I'd held on to my hot pink Samsonite set from college graduation and used it, I could be out of there in about 15 seconds. So bring non-black luggage, and invest in the fluorescent (go with the ugly color - everyone has heard this tip too) nametags for each one. Once you have your bags, you're golden, and can get moving toward home. It will be before noon, but you shouldn't plan on flying out early-early on Sunday.

Drag it off yourself:

We did this last year on Princess, and Carnival has it too. You will still group/assemble somewhere, but you are responsible for dragging your own stuff off, and I think the customs/immigration process is a bit longer while they make sure you haven't brought back half of Mexico's liquor output for the year or something. Anyway, since you have everything with you, you don't get to visit the barn-o-luggage, and you can stick with basic black. On the other hand, since you have everything with you, juggling all of it can be a tad challenging. When we did it, we actually did some weird re-packing to allow us to stuff one entire suitcase into another, so we didn't have more than 2 per person. This option probably gets you off earlier than you might otherwise, especially if you don't have urgent flight issues or didn't stay in the "CEO sup er-deluxe VIP suite".

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Here we go again!

Can't leave well enough alone...

We're scheduled to leave Galveston on June 8th on the Carnival Conquest, in a party of 14, I think it is (at the moment, anyway - it could get bigger). A triple occasion: my parents' 50th anniversary, our 20th, and my daughter's high school graduation. So my entire side of our extended family is booked on the cruise, along with a friend of my daughter's. 8 adults, two 18-year-olds, a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old, and two 11-year-olds. Could be a blast, could be utter chaos. I think I feel sorry for our waiters already - my family has an honored mealtime tradition of trying to get at least one person at the table to laugh so hard that milk comes out their nose. (Note to self - avoid red wine. That could be painful and expensive.)

This cruise is from a warm(ish) climate to a warm(er) climate, for a change. Maybe we won't need so many bags (luggage, not ziplocs; gotta have the ziplocs). Maybe we can leave home without worrying about dodging blizzards.

Not that the lack of local weather nastiness means clear sailing for all of us. Our travel plans break down like this:
  • My husband, parents, daughter, and her friend are driving down to Galveston, starting on the 5th.
  • I'm flying down with my sister and her family on the 7th.
  • My brother's family are flying down on the morning of the 8th.
The ship sails at 4 or 5 pm on the 8th.
How many interesting things could happen? Guess we'll find out.

In the meantime, I'll post things about preparations: what I'm packing, how we get the myriad shore excursions organized so no one under 21 goes anywhere alone, stuff like that. Maybe it'll actually be helpful. If nothing else, it might keep me off the cruise advice websites. And it will be a nice balance to the stinky weather we're having here in March (it was 15 degrees this morning as I was gouging ice off my windshield - I'm SO done with Winter already!).

Cruise Clock ticker