Friday, March 12, 2010

Now all I have to do is survive the rest of the workday...

We are packed.  The luggage is in Arizona, making its way overland to the port.  I have made my list, checked it so many times the print has worn off, and we have everything we need (unless I forgot to put it on the list).  The house is closed up, doors locked, trash taken out, dishwasher run and emptied, disposal run (don't ever forget that one, or you really won't want to come home!), the mail and paper stopped, the cat sitter engaged, and the dogs off visiting their grandparents.  I got the lights set up on timers and a radio set to come on occasionally.  The kitchen sink and counters are clean.  I have checked in for my (corrected) flight.  There is gas in my car so I can drive to the airport.  I have removed dangerous liquids and pointed objects from my carryon - including a toothpick I found in one of the pockets that I can't explain.  I have my sandals and hairbrush and iPod and sunglasses and passport, and a few spare chargers for things.
I think we're ready to go.  I certainly hope so, because after all that, I'm kind of tired!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

If you want to read some real travel writing

Always compelling, sometimes funny, sometimes tear inducing - and always humbling for me.  Start here, and hit "Next" until it no longer works.  As of today, this is a work in progress.

Monday, March 08, 2010

4 or 5 days to go

One of the useful skills I picked up in the Navy Supply Corps was the ability to calculate inclusive dates.  So if you need to know how many days it is from March 8th through the 13th, I can work that out for you with variations depending on whether both the 8th and the 13th are to be counted or omitted or only one of them, etc.  The problem comes in knowing when to pick one option over others.
Anyway, it's 10 am (Denver time) on March 8th, give or take a few minutes.  We can get onboard around noon (San Diego time) on March 13th.  Strictly speaking, that's 5 days and about 3 hours from now.  But do we start the official "Vacation" when my flight leaves?  When my husband starts to drive out?  When he and my daughter leave Phoenix?  When we all reunite in San Diego?  If we pick my husband's drive as the start, we're under 3 days already.
We've assembled more stuff in the guest room with the suitcase, for what that's worth.  Note that preposition, though; it's crucial.  "With", not "in".  We really need to make that transition tonight, I guess, for most stuff - especially since the suitcase is on the brink of becoming plural, depending on shoes (it's always the shoes!).
This time next week, I plan to be "reading" (more likely, napping with a book) in a deck chair in the sun somewhere - unless there's a cooking class or wine tasting going on.  Well, there's a thought to hold work at bay for a while....

Friday, March 05, 2010

They're not doing dance, they're doing Meteorology

Cruises are educational.  I'm not even on ours yet (I'll be leaving for the airport in just a little over one week from this instant) and I learned something today, precisely because we are going on a cruise soon.
What I learned was, in the Pacific off the coast of Baja California, winds coming out of the northwest are pretty standard, not some anomaly produced only when blizzards are sweeping across the Sierras to the Rockies.  I was hoping that would not be the case, but it's true. 
When we went on our previous Mexican Riviera cruise, the final "fun day at sea" (whatever Princess might term such a thing) was decidedly less than fun, because of 37-knot winds coming out of the northwest, churning up 10-12 foot seas and making the ship move in ways that didn't exactly upset my stomach, but made moving from place to place just bizarrely difficult.  Dangerous too, if the rumors of broken bones and smashed artwork are to be believed.  And at the end of that cruise, I believe I even declared that I'd had enough of going to sea for a while (it didn't last all that long, obviously, but I'm pretty sure I said it out loud).
Given our geographic constraints and my husbands very very (very) strong preference to avoid flying for any reason whatsoever (and he is not kidding), our cruise options are limited by the amount of vacation we can take at any given time.  If the absence can't be long enough to include driving to a port and back, we just don't go there.  So for this coming trip, we were always looking at a California-based port of embarkation. And this time of year, that probably meant LA to Hawaii (but not round trip, so that's out, because you can't drive back from Honolulu) or LA/San Diego to the west coast of Mexico somewhere.  On the way back, we head right into the prevailing winds, unless (according to the websites I found) there is a cold front positioned exactly in the right spot to calm everything down.
Probably not 37-knot winds this time; it sounds like they stay closer to 20 knots on a routine basis.  And maybe that will keep the Oosterdam from doing the shimmy-shimmy-shimmy-shimmy, SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! motion that the Diamond Princess produced the last time we headed north in that area.  I hope so.  I really do not want to waste a vacation day watching Alfred Hitchcock movies in the stateroom because I can't predict whether the next move is a shimmy or a SLAM.  (I blame the stabilizers for the motion, by the way, and I would advocate pulling them in or turning them off or whatever when heading into the waves - it just felt so unnatural that I kept thinking I could have handled the unstabilized motion much more easily.)
I'm not going to worry about it, though.  If we hit rough seas this trip, I'll find a sheltered topside location to sit in and spend my day watching them - not TV documentaries.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

... and 3-4 clothespins

A lot of the web-based packing lists for cruising include clothespins.  They have multiple uses - if you need to do a quick swish of the skivvies in Woolite, a la Rick Steves, they can anchor the results to that laundry line that pulls out from the wall.  They could serve as skirt clips if the hangers don't have anything like that.  And they can weigh down the shower curtain to keep the water confined to the shower.  We've actually used them a lot on previous cruises.
So why can't I find them anywhere this time?  Have we maybe been donating them to each ship as we leave?  During my adult life, I know that I have purchased at least two packages of the french-style wire clothespins.  We don't just use them for cruises; they're also pretty handy to close the top of an open bag of chips.  But when I started packing on Sunday and went around the house to gather them up, I found exactly two of them.  Only enough to hold down the shower curtain - not enough for our needs. 
They don't appear to be for sale just now anywhere - Target's Dollar Spot would be the most likely place, but I didn't see any there.  So I'm substituting the wooden ones this trip.  I have a fresh package of those that I found in Phoenix a while back and flew home in my carryon bag.  I actually saw them on the TSA x-ray image, and I can't imagine what they made of them - but they let me on the plane with them and we can use them now.
They'll go in the car with my husband, though.  We need them on the ship and I don't want to be forced to mail them home from the airport.

Monday, March 01, 2010

We're packing...

Got the suitcase (yes, that's singluar - so far, anyway) down this weekend and started getting things together.  I found my slight-overkill packing list from our last cruise, and am using it for reference anyway.  It's quite amazing how little you need on a cruise once you abandon the thought of dressing for dinner.  Barring underwear, my stack of clothes is less than a foot high - and that's everything on my list!
I had to back myself off a good bit while putting together the first-aid kit, though.  We had the remains of several first aid kits in the medicine cabinet, and I started to combine them.  However, once I found myself stuffing in the latex gloves and gauze rolls and the mylar heat-retaining blanket, I came to my senses.  Cruise ships have a medical staff, and if we're dealing with hypothermia or a wound big enough to require a roll of gauze, I think they're going to be involved - and they bring their own supplies.  So it's whittled down to fit in a small ziploc bag (of course the ziplocs are coming with us).
I think, perhaps, that there is no experience more demoralizing for a middle-aged woman who is not still in training for the Olympics, than trying to find a flattering swimsuit.  I have been duly demoralized this weekend.  Almost to the point of looking for a bathing suit from the turn of the previous century - one of those ones with a high neck, leggings and a calf-length skirt.  I can say with absolute authority now that the world does not need to see me in a tankini or in a string bikini or halter top - ever.  After a few failed attempts to try on something that looked potentially un-frightening, I gave up and added my old workout Speedo to my stack of clothes.  It's not particularly flattering, either, but it's a workout suit, and isn't supposed to be glamorous.
Then we ended up at Costco yesterday - being a weekend and all, we are required to go to Costco at least once, I think.  And they had women's swimsuits for sale there at a reasonable price.  No opportunity to try them on, and they came in recognizable women's clothing sizes.  I found one that looked reasonable - not utterly glamorous, but not utilitarian either - and bought it.  It looks okay.  People will not run screaming from me if I appear in public wearing it. 
But seriously, after that experience, I'm eating salads and soups for lunch and dinner for the next 2 weeks.  No exceptions.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Update on my missing reservation

I am an idiot.
At least, I was apparently an idiot on January 21st of this year.  I finally got hold of a live human at the airline so that I could have them find my missing airline reservation for the cruise.  I gave him my credit card number - no joy.  I gave him my confirmation number and name, and he found the reservation just fine on his system.  Yep, absolutely perfect.  A reservation for a flight leaving Denver and flying to San Diego around 6:00 pm on Friday the 12th.
Of February. 
I booked the wrong month and - obviously - missed the flight altogether.
The customer service rep was very gracious, and the airline had held my reservation as unused credit, so I was able to apply it toward the correct flight on March 12th.  Granted, I had to provide some additional cash to get on the new flight, since the cheapo fares had long since been exhausted, but I have a seat and the additional cash is a reasonable price to pay for idiocy.
I don't know what made me try to do the early checkin the other day, but I am incredibly glad that I did it - just think what might have happened if the first time I tried to pull that reservation was 24 hours before the flight! 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Carnival and Me - I think I finally figured it out

We've sailed on Carnival ships twice now - more than on any other line - but I don't think they'd be my choice in the future.  I've been wrestling in my mind with why, because, as noted two years ago, the Conquest was truly a gorgeous ship, the food was good, the service more than adequate.  But it was just all wrong for me, and for a long time, I could not put my finger on a reason.
This is going to sound truly weird, but I think it's their repeated emphasis on "fun".  Despite the very upscale appearance of the ship, the demographic it was catering to was not upscale - the activities and infrastructure were aimed at people who enjoy Vegas for the slot machines and shows and go to amusement parks and waterparks a lot, and who spend their "evenings out" at nightclubs or bars, drinking and dancing and singing karaoke.  I'm not one of those people.  When I'm in Vegas, I enjoy the neon lights and the utter bizarreness of the tourist offerings, but slot machines and gambling in general bore me, and I wouldn't go to Vegas as a destination; it's always a stop en route to somewhere else.  I like an occasional visit to an amusement park - with kids; I wouldn't go for my own purposes - and I really don't get waterparks.  My vision of an evening out involves music at a volume I can talk over (if necessary) - jazz or symphony - performed by other people, not me.  With drinks included, maybe, but not as the central reason for being away from home.  Perhaps I'm just getting old.
The weird thing is that I know for a certainty that both Royal Caribbean and Princess had casinos and pool slides and nightclub options - and I liked both of them better than Carnival.  The only reason I can think of is that those things were not front-and-center on the other lines in the way they were on Carnival; other activities and venues were the "attractions" instead.  The shows were different.  Royal Caribbean fascinated our entire party with a quick-change-artist act, and we were vastly entertained on Princess by the hypnotist's act.  We did see a fairly amusing ventriloquist on Carnival - I'm still wondering how he worked the whiteboard dummy - but everything else seemed to be aimed at another group; not us.
So our next cruise is on yet another line - Holland America - which has a reputation for being targeted at an older audience even than Princess.  I don't know if we fit the demographic there or not; guess we'll find out.  I do know that their Culinary Arts Center program is a huge magnet for me, and they are definitely downplaying the karaoke contests and things of that sort, which seems like a move in the right direction.  I guess I'm looking for more of an educational slant on cruising - give me a lecture on the geologic origins of the rocks at Cabo San Lucas, or teach me about the migratory habits of the whales, or introduce me to new cuisines or art forms.  (Wow, do I sound like a snob!  But that's really what I would enjoy.) 
I think our bucket list includes a Cunard lines cruise in some class above steerage (they really do have classes of cabins on their ships, although I'm not so sure about steerage).  If we do go some day, I almost hope that they don't turn out to be the perfect match for us; I'm not sure I could sustain the wardrobe.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nothing like a disappearing flight reservation to start the day off with a bang

I was kind of groggy when I first got up this morning, but no more. 
After posting my last, I did some searching around in my e-mail archives and found all of the very detailed packing and to-do lists from our last cruise, and that spurred me to some action overnight.  I did a poor-man's laminate job on the luggage tags (covered both sides with clear packing tape).  I sent the packing list to my daughter.  I resolved to get a swimsuit or two purchased (like that's going to be easy in Colorado in February).  And this morning, I hunted down my confirmation e-mail for my flight reservation, to make sure I had it on my phone calendar.
The airline I'm planning to fly on offers early check-in for an additional $10, and after thinking about it, given that I'm likely to be a bit busy the night before I'm due to leave, what with settling the dogs at my parents' house and various other things, I thought I would spring for the extra money to get one thing off my plate.  The link was handily right there on the e-mail, so I clicked it.
And the window popped up, nicely loaded with my confirmation number and my name - and a nasty red message saying that they could not find my reservation in their system, with a few reasons why that might be so.  None of which applied to me, unfortunately.
I logged into their site with my frequent flyer number.  The flight doesn't show up on my upcoming itineraries.  I did a regular search on their site, typing in my name and reservation number.  Same rather annoying red message.
I have an e-mail into their customer service, asking them please to find my reservation, which was made with my frequent flyer number (I can see it on the e-mail), and which has been paid for (I checked my bank records).  They'd better find it, and soon.  Because I'm flying to San Diego two weeks from this coming Friday (which is the day after tomorrow), and if they've lost me, well, the loss will be permanent.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shouldn't we be doing something about now? Anything?

I feel like I'm forgetting something important.  After all, we leave in quite a bit less than 3 weeks, now, and all I've done so far is buy some shorts and get the passports out and print off our boarding passes.  I've done cruises before, and I KNOW that preparation is involved.  So this is sort of freaking me out.
I have a pack list done - for me, anyway.  My husband is on his own as regards clothing decisions, and my daughter, being at college, is beyond my help.  My pack list includes those weird shipboard necessities like nightlights, travel clocks, and powerstrips, so that's taken care of.  It does NOT (so far, at least) include formalwear.  What it does include (not counting the weird shipboard necessities) is:
  • 5-7 polo shirts or dressy t-shirts
  • 3 pairs of walking shorts
  • 1-2 casual skirts
  • 1 pair of exercise shorts
  • 1-2 exercise t-shirts
  • 1 casual dress/swimsuit coverup
  • 1 cardigan sweater
  • 1 ballcap
  • 1-2 swimsuits (aha!  I need new ones, I think - something that needs to be done!)
  • sneakers and socks
  • casual sandals
  • (maybe) slightly less casual sandals
  • belts
  • underwear and pajamas
  • toiletries
  • jewelry
I think I could cram all that into a duffel bag.  Are we definitely going on a ship here?  We don't even have a self-service laundry on this one, so that eliminates the detergent-and-quarters item from any possible list.
We aren't signing up for any shore excursions this time, so nothing needed there.  At the moment, we're not even sure we'll bother going ashore - this cruise is to places we've been before, so we don't need to do much in the way of exploring.  Although I did really like Mazatlan's old city and wouldn't mind wandering around there again.  Nonetheless, I don't think there's any planning to do in that arena.
I got the scoop on my shipboard activity of choice (the Culinary Arts Center classes), and can't do anything about signing up until we get on board.  Note that this trip, I am not even going to go out of my way to find the spa on the ship.  It has taken 3 cruises to do it, but I am over the whole shipboard treatments thing.
Our luggage tags have been printed - yet again, we're faced with the "fold it in thirds and staple it around a handle and hope it doesn't rip" instructions, and no one to laminate them for us this time.  I think I'll add a step to the instructions - "cover both sides with clear packing tape" to occur after the folding and before the stapling.
There IS a pile going in the closet, though - so far, it's 3 pairs of walking shorts and some of the weird shipboard necessities.  I guess we could get a suitcase down, but I know what will happen if we do.  The cat will sleep in it for the next few weeks - and then we will really regret the lack of a self-service laundry when we go to put anything on.  We'll have a coordinated wardrobe then, all right - every item grey and fuzzy.
I guess we can wait a while longer.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Going down to the sea in ships (again)

It would appear that, for our family, the need to go to sea surfaces on about 2-year intervals.  Given that we were last at sea in June of 2008, it's time again, and we're scheduled to be sailing on the MS (I think) Oosterdam from San Diego on March 13th (less than a month, now that I think of it!).  Mexican Riviera for 7 days again, but on Holland America instead of Princess.  I don't know if we'll even bother to go into any of the ports this time - they're nice and all, but the whole point of this trip is to be on a ship on the ocean.
Our original plan was to go on NCL in a mini-suite (the dates matched up with the offspring's spring break), and were particularly intrigued with the "freestyle" aspect of the whole thing.  My husband vowed at the time that he would spend the entire week in shorts or a swimsuit and that he was looking forward to not having any formal nights.  So of course, when we went to book, the mini-suites were all gone and our best option was just a balcony room - which seemed very small in the pictures.  HAL had a cruise on the same basic schedule, and their balcony rooms looked less likely to provide a "family bed" from the combination of fold-out couch and bed.  And besides, they offer cooking lessons.  So we changed lines.  My husband is still vowing to spend the entire week in shorts or swimsuit and to avoid formal nights.  Which is fine by me - it means that the 3-suitcase goal of our last cruise is so achievable it isn't even worth worrying about.  Shoot, we can probably do it in 2 suitcases.
Except that my daughter keeps letting slip little sentences that start out, "I could bring this for formal night...".  Hope she's okay with our ultra-casual program here.
If anything of interest occurs, I'll add it here.  Given our track record, it seems likely.

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