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...

Cruise Clock ticker