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Journeys

Road to the Summit: Contemplating a season of college basketball

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Tonight, my wife and I are getting ready to hit the road, bright and early tomorrow morning, to Shreveport, Louisiana. That's where Centenary College is, the opponent the night after tomorrow of my alma mater's men's basketball team--the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits.

It will be the first of ten weekends of travel from our home in suburban Kansas City. Travel to Shreveport and Tulsa, Oklahoma, Brookings, SD, Macomb, Illinois and Indianapolis, Brookings again, Fargo, ND, Ft. Wayne, Indiana and suburban Detroit, Brookings, Cedar City, Utah, Brookings, and then Brookings one last time to finish the season.

That's a lot of travel. I'll have to add up the mileage some time. Good thing my wife both loves to travel and likes basketball.

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Cabo San Lucas -- Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Holistic Retreat & Spa

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In April, 2007 we spent five nights at the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Holistic Retreat & Spa in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  It was advertised as a 5-star very relaxing resort.  It was anything but.  Read on to learn of the problems we had with this location.  (We sent a letter to the hotel at the end of April but got no response.  Just another example of their poor customer service.)

Seven Seas Mariner Panama Canal Cruise, 5/10/07-5/12/07

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Part Six, 5/8/07-5/9/07, is here.

May 10 (Thursday, Day 14, Docking in Los Angeles at 1 PM) –

We were awakened this morning at 6:50 AM by the ship’s horn.  Janet jumped up and ran out on the balcony thinking she would see a ship in our way or something.  All she saw was fog.  For the next few hours, the ship continued to blow a 5 second long foghorn burst every 90 seconds.  I guess it’s a maritime safety thing when the fog is too thick to see very far in front of the ship.  Phil and Janet had breakfast and then went to the 12th floor observation lounge.  The fog was pretty bad, but every now and then we would get out of it.  Around 9:30 AM we noticed a bunch of birds and a bunch of splashes in the water.  Then after a few minutes we got closer and realized the splashes were dolphins.  Janet was the first one to spot them and yelled “Dolphins” and everyone else in the lounge started looking at them.  There were lots and lots of them.  She found out later that Mom was the first one to spot them in the restaurant so she and Dad saw them all, too.  As we were pulling into Los Angeles we saw sea lions, too, sunning on the buoys.  This, of course, allowed Phil to over-exercise his excellent sea lion bark.
Dolphins riding the bow wave


Everyone had to disembark to go through Customs.  We got off the ship at 1:45 and managed to get back on at 3:40.  There were a couple of passengers that didn’t get off when they were supposed to so everyone had to wait, since the rules were that we couldn’t get back on the ship until ALL passengers had gotten off.  And, there was absolutely no Regent personnel in the embarkation area of the cruise terminal so it was just chaotic.  Janet was miffed since “The Guardian” movie started at 3:00 and she wanted to see it.  They went ahead and started it on time even though passengers weren’t on board.  There were lots of complaints about how the re-boarding process was handled (or the fact that it wasn’t really handled and it was just a free-for-all).  Oh, well…

The scenic Port of Los Angeles


When we got back on board, Phil and Janet grabbed four glasses of champagne and took them to Mom and Dad’s room.  That made them happy.  We went back to our suite and were pleasantly surprised to see a two-tier tray of chocolate dipped and fresh strawberries along with a note apologizing for running out of strawberries earlier at breakfast.  (Janet asked for strawberries at breakfast, a normal buffet item, and was told they had run out.  Then she voiced displeasure on running out of something on such a short cruise when we had just docked in Mexico.  She told the head waiter that she understood running out on Day 24 of our 26 day cruise last year since we were in the South Pacific but couldn’t fathom running out in North America.)  Janet took the tray to Mom and Dad’s and Mom was excitedly oogling the birthday cake and two glasses of champagne that a steward had just delivered.  So, Mom was in hog heaven – two kinds of good champagne, gourmet chocolate raspberry mousse cake, chocolate covered strawberries and fresh strawberries!  And, there was a single sea lion (or seal?) swimming in our docking area for a few minutes, too, that we all enjoyed watching.

Since this was LA, many crew members got off since their contracts were over.  Last year our stewardess left us in LA even though we had two more days to go so we weren’t too surprised to see some of the crew leave. When we went to dinner we were seated at a table outside our “normal” dining area.  Since the dining room was pretty empty, we just assumed it meant that the waiter and head waiter that we had gotten to know had left the ship.  But, no, that wasn’t the case since we spotted them 20 minutes later.  The dining room manager just kind of had a brain drain and assigned us to a table with a brand new waiter that had just boarded the ship that afternoon.  Needless to say that waiter wasn’t the world’s best and we ended up leaving before dessert was served since it took so long.  We don’t think we’ll have that problem tomorrow night!

After dinner Janet went to sleep, but Phil watched us leave the Port of Los Angeles at 11 PM from the 12th deck Observation Lounge.  He was miffed that it took 15 minutes for a waiter to ask him for his drink order and then he noticed that two couples walked in and two different waiters descended on them within 15 seconds of arrival.  It just wasn’t a good day for Phil!  But, while leaving, he saw the fire that was ravaging 4,000 acres of Catalina Island.  He said it was a curved orange line out at sea.  Very weird.

May 11 (Friday, Day 15, Port Hueneme) –

When we woke up, the ship had already docked at Port Hueneme.  This is a military port and if you wanted to get off, you needed to arrange for a taxi 48 hours in advance and have two forms of photo id.  We stayed on-board.  The only shore excursion was to the Reagan Library.  This was an included stop since a local travel agency contacted Regent several years ago and bought 90 cabins and requested this as a port so its travelers could get off close to home.  Our suite neighbors from Ventura live about 5 miles from here and got off today.

It’s about 50 degrees and we picked up a bunch of Alaska cruise passengers in Los Angeles and also in Port Hueneme so there are new people on board.  It started feeling like our cruise was done yesterday in Los Angeles since there are new crew members and passengers.  The big transfer of passengers happens tomorrow in San Francisco, but there are enough new faces that it kind of feels like our cruise is over a couple of days early.

In fact, while we were sitting by the pool talking with Bill, another old friend from the 26-day Hawaii/Tahiti cruise, Nanette, walked by and recognized the three of us.  She got on in Los Angeles and her mother and sister will get on in San Francisco.  She had her same suite as last time, which is one of the two master suites on the ship. Anyway, she invited us to her suite at 6 PM for a party.

WARNING - - WARNING - - RESTRICTED HARBOR – KEEP OUT – AUTHORIZED ENTRY ONLY.  Oh, by the way, Port Hueneme welcomes you!


We didn’t see any wildlife today but we did see oil platforms along the way from Port Hueneme to San Francisco.

Oil rig.  Fortunately, no sign of Jack Bauer.  That will make no sense to you unless you saw the season finale of 24.

There was an ice cream social scheduled for 2 PM today, but when I went out to get some it was so cold that Janet figured I didn’t need any.  Sigh.

We had a champagne party in Mom and Dad’s suite this afternoon.  When our afternoon hors d’oeuvres were delivered (crab legs today) we took them to Mom and Dad’s cabin and Mom had already ordered the international cheese plate and champagne.  Combined with their plate of crab legs, it was a nice finale to the cruise.  Mom and Dad passed on going to Nanette’s suite for her party, but Phil and Janet went, and we were blown away. The butler was standing in the corner waiting for Nanette’s orders to serve the appetizers and beverages.  The master suite is the most expensive suite on the ship.  It is on the 9th deck at the very front of the ship (directly under the bridge so at night they have to keep their curtains closed so the lights from suite 901 don’t interfere with the bridge!).  The two suites split the ship in half so that each one is ½ the width of the ship.  It is 1204 sq. ft. and has two balconies.  The front balcony is 727 sq. ft. and the side one is 71 sq. ft.  It has 2 bedrooms and 2 ½ baths, seating for 7 on easy chairs, a dining room table for 6, a high dollar coffee/espresso machine and a bar.  Both Phil and Janet’s eyes glowed a little bit . . . something to think about when planning future cruises, don’t ya know?

Mom and Dad were all packed but Phil and Janet saved our packing until after dinner.  Phil is the packer in our family.  Janet buttoned and folded clean clothes (Janet frequently did laundry) and put everything on the bed and he distributed it among the 4 bags we were going to check.

May 12 (Saturday, Day 16, San Francisco)

Since everyone getting off in San Francisco had to vacate their suites at 9 AM (and our arrival was scheduled for 10:30), we realized that it would be a lot easier if the four of us could congregate in Nanette’s suite rather than in a public area.  So, we left her a note on her door and she got it in time so we went to her suite and had a great view of sailing in under the Golden Gate Bridge from her front balcony.  Mom and Dad were leaning against the railing and I was running from side to side.  Phil would go inside to the second bedroom and check out the view from the side balcony every now and then and he made four cups of espresso and coffee.  Anyway, it was a beautiful sunny day and we saw sea lions and even some more whales.

This waiting strategy had the unintended consequence of making it impossible for our friend Bill to track us down before we disembarked.  Oops.  Sorry about that, Bill.

Under the gate

Family portrait in the suite


We disembarked at 10:45 and gathered our luggage (6 pieces of checked luggage and 5 carryons!) and went to the taxi line.  There were no van taxis in sight so one of the Yellow Cab drivers called for one and said it would come at some point.  In the meantime, a policeman saw us standing there.  Janet told him we were waiting for a van cab.  The policeman waved one to the front of the line for us!  We managed to get all the luggage, Dad’s wheelchair and ourselves in the minivan and got to our gate at Oakland Airport by 11:45.  We ate lunch while waiting for our 1:40 Southwest flight and then boarded it with 50 other passengers so that it was a nice, empty flight.  (No Joe-Bob in sight.)  We landed in KC early and got to Mom and Dad’s around 8:15 PM.  It was a long day, but no part of it could have gone any better.  It was a perfect ending to an (almost) perfect cruise.  

Caribbean clouds at sunset



Cruise Boxscore - - -

Our sailing distances on our great cruise were:
April 27       Ft. Lauderdale to Gatun Lake Yacht Club, Panama – 1,411 nautical miles
May 1       Gatun Lake Yacht Club, Panama to Puntarenas, Costa Rica – 478 nautical miles
May 3       Puntarenas, Costa Rica to Huatulco, Mexico – 788 nautical miles
May 5       Huatulco, Mexico to Acapulco, Mexico – 251 nautical miles
May 6       Acapulco, Mexico to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – 685 nautical miles
May 8       Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to Los Angeles – 832 nautical miles
May 10       Los Angeles to Port Hueneme – 62 nautical miles
May 11       Port Hueneme to San Francisco – 317 nautical miles
May 12       San Francisco (end of voyage)
Total distance   4,824 nautical miles (or 5,551 statute miles)

Cruise Highlights

Day 1 – Seeing a drunk passenger on Southwest get off before his scheduled stop
Day 1 – Having just about every crew member from our last cruise greet us by name
Day 1 – Seeing Bill Bishofberger
Day 2 – Eating dinner with Dominique Nicolle
Day 3 – Watching a Jamaican Defence Force helicopter perform a medical evacuation
Day 5 – Going through the Panama Canal
Day 8 – Seeing lots of dolphins, turtles and sting rays from our balcony
Day 8 – Seeing the results of “shade burn” on Phil (aka Lobster-Man)
Day 9 – Eating a made to order Indian dinner while watching dolphins
Day 11 – Watching a medical evacuation via a boat off the coast of Puerto Vallarta while a pirate party ship was sailing out of port shooting cannons and playing loud music
Day 13 – Seeing whale spouts, a whale’s fluke and several backs of whales
Day 14 – Being awoken by the ship’s horn due to the thick fog
Day 14 – Watching Mom on the balcony really savor her birthday cake and champagne and the “apology” chocolate covered strawberries after the chaotic customs experience
Day 15 – Ending the cruise with a champagne party in Mom and Dad’s suite
Day 16 – Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge from the master suite (rather than a public area) and getting back to KC with no hassles at all

See you on the open ocean!

Go back to the main cruise page, here.

Seven Seas Mariner Panama Canal Cruise, 5/8/07-5/9/07

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Part Five, 5/6/07-5/7/07, is here.

May 8 (Tuesday, Day 12, Cabo San Lucas)

We were only anchored in Cabo San Lucas for four hours.  Bill, Phil, and Janet got off the ship and wandered around.  Since Phil and Janet had been there three weeks earlier, we were able to be the tour guide for Bill as we were walking around.  We managed to find a “gallery” at the end of a dead-end alley and the woman painted Cabo scenes and then framed them with cactus pieces from her father’s ranch in another part of Mexico.  Dried cactus looks like rustic wood, but is extremely lightweight.  Anyway, we found a framed painting that is 3 inches by 3 inches of the famous Cabo Arch (a natural rock formation close to the harbor and very close to where we dropped anchor).  She said it was 100 pesos and Janet figured $10 wasn’t worth bartering over since she was the artist.  Bill bought a painted tile for $10, too, and didn’t barter.  This store was the only store that had anything unique in it since it was all painted by her.  All the other stores were typical Mexican junk (probably made in China).  So, we were pleased to have found our travel wall picture souvenir commemorating this trip (and our 5 night stay in April, 2007 in Cabo, too).
Cabo Arch

Cabo crabs

Pelicaaaaaannnnssssss!!!!

More Pelicaaaaaannnnssssss!!!!

Husband for Rent in Cabo

Mariner at Cabo

Mexican patrol boat



Later in the afternoon when we were at sea, Phil and Janet saw two groups of 30 or so dolphins.  I called Mom and Dad’s room, but by then they were gone.  Phil also saw a hammerhead shark when he was out on the balcony looking straight down.  But, by the time Janet got off the bed and ran to the balcony it was gone.  We have the perfect set-up: Phil sits on the deck with his headphones on while listening to short-wave radio (Radio Japan, Radio Bulgaria, etc.) and watching the waves and when he sees something, he bangs on the sliding glass doors and then Janet runs outside.  She is usually reading or surfing the internets while on the bed.  (In-cabin wi-fi is really nice, but cuts down a lot on socializing with the other guests.)

While at dinner we all saw another pod of dolphins.  When we got back to our room we had an invitation for dinner tomorrow night with the Travel Concierge (the woman in charge of shore excursions).  The funny thing about that is that Bill was excited earlier today since he just got an invitation from her for tomorrow’s dinner.  Now we know that we’ll be joining him (and her)!


May 9 (Wednesday, Day 13, At sea)

Sunrise at sea


Janet enjoyed room service breakfast in bed and Phil went to the 10 AM naturalist’s lecture on whales.  A few days ago he said that he wanted to go see whales on a 2009 trip so Janet started that research and focused on Alaska.  Well, after the lecture he said that it seems like Maui and the Baja Peninsula (where we are right now) are the best places in the winter.  Janet likes the idea of Maui in the winter rather than Alaska in the summer!  She told Phil that she would stop the research and we would do a Hyatt December trip in a couple of years to Maui/Kauai. 

This afternoon Phil was out on the balcony in his pants and coat (it’s kind of chilly with the wind and the captain said it was 62 degrees).  He spotted whales and called Janet out to the deck.  There were two or three whales that we could easily see their “blows” (water spouts) and the back of one.  We figured it was a mother and her calf(s).  Then a few minutes later we saw another two or three, including the fluke of one of them and he even got a picture of that.  So, that was pretty neat!  I’m amazed at the quantities of sealife we’ve seen from the ship on this cruise – turtles, dolphins, whales and stingrays.  We haven’t just seen one or two of these creatures, but lots.  (Janet consider 5 whales a lot since we’re on the tail end [no pun intended] of their migration season and really shouldn’t have seen any.)

Whale fluke

As mentioned previously, our dinner tonight was with the Travel Concierge Manager, Christina Andrusyshyn, and her colleague Nico.  They are in charge of the shore excursions.  It was formal night and the crew did their talent show before dinner.  It seemed to be the same one that Phil and Janet saw last year, but since it had different crew in it, it was different.  And, since it is totally voluntary and they have to rehearse at midnight, it’s appreciated by the passengers even though the soloists really couldn’t sing like the professionals!

The story concludes in Part Seven, 5/10/07-5/12/07.

Seven Seas Mariner Panama Canal Cruise, 5/6/07-5/7/07

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Part Four, 5/4/07-5/5/07, is here.

May 6 (Sunday, Day 10, Acapulco, Mexico) -

Phil’s sunburn got him up before the sun, and he went forward to the Observation Lounge.  More dolphins.  Yawn.  (Just kidding, it’s always a thrill to see dolphins.  It’s even more of a thrill to take a decent picture of them, because they’re so $#%@#$ elusive!)

This was supposed to be another snorkeling day, but we turned in the tickets in time to get the shipboard credit back.  As it turns out, Acapulco isn’t a very good place to snorkel anyway, and they cancelled the snorkeling excursion due to lack of interest.  Now we have even more shipboard credit to spend…

Janet laid claim to the title “Queen of Finding Dead Animals” by locating a dead sparrow along her path during her short stroll around the Acapulco harbor area.

We went to the animated movie “Happy Feet” and decided that it was okay, but about 30 minutes too long. 

Dad is the only one on board with a scooter.  There are 4 or 5 wheelchairs, at least 2 walkers and lots of canes.  The wheelchair people should definitely have scooters since then they would have their independence.  Getting over the doorsills that are all over the ship (for the watertight doors) is impossible on your own in a wheelchair.  But the scooter does just fine.  The dining room wait staff love to drive his scooter to its “parking spot” before and after dinner since he sits in a normal dining room chair while eating.  It seems to be the highlight of their day!!

May 7 (Monday, Day 11, At sea) -

Today is another sunny day, but the temperature seems cooler than it’s been.  Phil and Dad did the tour of the bridge.  A code blue was announced around 11 AM and at 12:10 PM, the captain came on and said that we were diverting to Puerto Vallarta but that our scheduled port tomorrow of Cabo San Lucas shouldn’t be disrupted at all.  Mom encountered one of those code blue situations--a woman was running towards her saying that her husband was having chest pains.  So, we guess it’s a man with a heart attack.  Phil’s comment was something like “Traveling with old people is fun” since you just never know what will happen next.  We can only imagine the number of itinerary changes on our 65-day cruise in 2008!!!

Janet had done some online research towards the beginning of the cruise on our next cruise and Phil finally got around to doing his research and said “yes” to a Royal Caribbean 13 night transatlantic eastbound cruise on the 3,114 passenger Voyager of the Seas in April, 2008.  (We disembark in Barcelona, Spain and then will visit Stuttgart, Germany if Janet’s sister and brother-in-law will have us.)  I’m sure it will be quite different from the luxury of the 700 passenger Mariner that we are enjoying now!

Another code blue sounded during our Indian and Thai curry buffet lunch by the pool (there is a themed buffet lunch outside by the pool on all sea days), but we found out it was just a bloody nose!

We saw a steady stream of stingrays this afternoon.  They seemed to be about one or two feet under the water.  When we first saw them we thought they were turtles, but then we quickly realized they were rays since they were diamond-shaped.  None of them jumped out of the water, though.  They just floated alongside the ship in groups of two to four or so.
Rays under the surface

We stopped near Puerto Vallarta and a little boat came out with an EMS guy and a stretcher and the man that had the heart condition code blue was transferred from our ship to the little boat (and then probably to a Puerto Vallarta hospital).  His wife and a nurse from the ship went on the little boat, too.  While the stretcher transfer process was going on (it took about 30 minutes in total), a wooden “pirate” booze cruise party boat was leaving from Puerto Vallarta.  They had their loudspeakers on and were saying crazy things to our ship.  They even fired three cannon balls “at” us (that is, fired off three fireworks into the sky—away from our ship).  Anyway, it was kind of bizarre.  Since they had no idea what was going on, you couldn’t blame them for having fun.  But it was very, very surreal.

Rescue boat meets pirate ship

We had dinner at Signatures, the Le Cordon Bleu restaurant, tonight.  Mom ordered two appetizers – caviar and frog legs.  Phil ordered two, too – scallops and escargot. Janet confesses that she ordered (and ate) three desserts – vanilla bean crème brûlée, a warm gooey chocolate tart with chocolate ice cream and a lime “muffin” with a blob of chocolate ganache on top of it.  The lime muffin was good and the chocolate ganache was good, but not together!  The presentation of all the food is really the outstanding part (as well as the taste).

Phil likes scallops

Soupe Cremeuse aux Moules Infusee au Safran

Sorbet au Vin Rouge avek epice

Tournedos Rossini, bouquetiere de legumes glaces, sauce Perigueux

Baba au vieux Rhum, Crème Pistache et Fruits Rouges

Crème Brulee a la vanille de Tahiti, aux Fraises marinees et son coulis, Tarte tiede au chocolat et aux framboises, and Financier aux Amandes—Citron Verte, Ganache au chocolat Molleux

After Janet ate her appetizer the waitress put a silver tray in front of her with something on it.  She opened it and found the one bracelet that she had been looking at buying.  Mom and Dad bought it for her as a thank you for planning the trip!  It was funny since that morning Janet had told Mom about the bracelet and Mom started talking about it, too.  Of all the bracelets in the little store, we managed to like the exact same one!  When Janet went to the little store before dinner to buy it, it was gone and Janet was very disappointed.  She didn’t realize that Mom was the buyer.  It is made up of tiger eyes, clear green and blue “gems” and opaque bright green stones and matches a lot of Janet’s cruise outfits perfectly.

The story continues in Part Six, 5/8/07-5/9/07.

Seven Seas Mariner Panama Canal Cruise, 5/4/07-5/5/07

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Part Three, 5/4/07-5/5/07, is here.

May 4 (Friday, Day 8, At sea)

Phil got sunburned, sitting in the shade.  We sat out for about four hours in the afternoon on our suite’s balcony deck.  It was on the shady side of the ship, but still there was enough reflected sunlight to turn Phil into Lobster-Man.  We saw our first dolphins and sea turtles, and witnessed numerous rays leaping out of the sea and re-entering with a great splash.  A professional travel photographer cruising on the ship said that they did that to dislodge parasites from their backs.
At Sea

Veranda listening shack

Lobsterman!


There was a code blue announced during our dinner that night (it wasn’t Phil’s sunburn) and while we were leaving the dining room we saw the woman lying on her side on the stretcher being put in the glass elevator.  We later found out that she broke her hip and there was some discussion of skipping Huatulco to get her to a bigger Mexican port, but we ultimately did keep on course for Huatulco.

May 5 (Saturday, Day 9, Huatulco, Mexico)

We were supposed to go snorkeling.  Phil’s sunburn kept him on the ship, so Janet went by herself.  But it was an excellent dolphin- and sea-turtle-spotting day, as numerous dolphin pods and a steady stream of migrating sea turtles swam by our ship as it cruised into Huatulco.  Phil even got a couple of useable pictures!

Dolphin leap

Two dolphins!

Huatulco harbor


Janet had a good snorkel and the highlight was seeing a school of millions of sardines.  (The guide said millions, and since Janet can’t count that many fish, she believed him since they were all over the place!  It was the largest school of fish she’s ever seen while snorkeling.)

In the evening, we had our made-to-order Indian meal originally scheduled for May 3rd but mistakenly scheduled by the dining room manager.  Prior to it being served, we were treated to a dolphin ballet out the window.  And, since the restaurant is on deck 5 (the lowest deck for passengers) we were pretty close to them.  Mom said it was her first time to ever see dolphins while on a cruise.  Our Indian dinner was good as always and included three appetizers (fried curried cauliflower, onion balls and samosas) and four curries (lamb, shrimp, vegetable, chicken), rice, raita sauce and two breads (naan and papadam).  We had to order our desserts from the normal menu.

Indian appetizers

Curries

Spice cake



The executive chef visited our table to make sure we enjoyed everything (which we did).  We learned that there was an Indian chef on board who worked overtime in the afternoon to make our dinner!  He had his regular duties to do and the executive chef said that he was paid overtime to make our dinner.  We thought that was pretty interesting.  The Indian chef made extras, too, for himself and his friends so everyone ended up winning.

The story continues in Part Five, 5/6/07-5/7/07.

Seven Seas Mariner Panama Canal Cruise, 5/1/07-5/3/07

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Part Two, 4/30/07, is here.

May 1 (Tuesday, Day 5, Transiting the Panama Canal)


Phil was up at 5 AM to see our entry into the Panama Canal via the Gatun locks. While we were anchored in Gatun Lake we went on an “eco-cruise” excursion.  On the way to the eco-cruise, we saw a three-toed sloth in a tree.  Our guide said that it takes 14-23 days for a three-toed sloth to climb up and down a tree – that’s how slow they are!  We also saw a big iguana on the ground and a cat-like coatimundi with a very long ringed tail.  During the cruise in our “rustic boats”, we saw a cayman (like an alligator), several snail kites (birds), another sloth and survived a 5 minute tropical rainstorm.  (We didn’t see any monkeys and we were hoping to.)  May is the start of rainy season and the “May trees” were in full bloom (big trees with orange/yellow flowers on the top that bloom at the start of rainy season).
Gatun locks

May trees

An interesting fact about the Panama Canal is that it takes 52 million gallons of Gatun Lake water for each ship to transit the Canal and this water is only replaced by natural rainfall.  Panama gets 200 inches of rain a year.  The construction that is being done on a new set of locks to allow larger boats to transit the canal is supposed to be done by 2014 and will be paid by the fares of the ships passing through the canal between now and then.  Yeah, right.

Gatun Lake

Approaching the locks on the Pacific end of the canal

Phil and I ordered in tonight from the menu for the main restaurant and Mom and Dad went to La Veranda for dinner where they had lamb shanks.  La Veranda is the Italian-themed restaurant that has an antipasta/salad buffet and then you order off a menu for your entrée and dessert.  We left the second set of locks around 9:20 PM and the third (and final) set of locks around 10:30 PM.

May 2 (Wednesday, Day 6, At sea)

After waking up at 10 AM (after going to sleep around 9:30 PM – our clocks got set back an hour last night), Phil looked outside and saw a dolphin.  That’s our first ocean wildlife sighting so far. Naturally, dolphins and other sea life are uncommonly camera-shy—at least, shy of Phil’s camera—so pictures were hard to come by.  As you’ll see, it took a while for them to settle down and give Phil some good shots of them.  We went to lunch at noon for the Tex-Mex buffet out by the pool.  I put on capri pants and a ¾ sleeve blouse since it was overcast.  Phil sweated some, but since the sun wasn’t out, it really wasn’t that hot.  Humid, yes, but not too hot.

After lunch we looked at the boutiques since we have around $150 left to spend.  So, Janet might be getting two Regent polo shirts and Phil might get a bottle of premium port.  Otherwise, there is really NOTHING to buy.  But, in case you feel sorry for Janet and Phil--Mom and Dad have about $550 left to spend!  (Phil and Janet spent our shipboard credit on shore excursions but they didn’t which is why they have so much left.)

We went to the 3:00 movie “Pursuit of Happyness.”  It was okay, but the popcorn was stale and burnt.

Tonight we went to Latitudes, the Indochine restaurant that requires reservations.  We’ll only go to it once this cruise since we’re never very impressed with it, but it’s a change of pace so what the heck.
There’s nothing really wrong with it, it’s just that nothing we’ve been served there has ever really grabbed us.  We’re not sure why it rates a separate restaurant which only changes its menu every 8 days.  Latitudes just isn’t our cup of tea.

May 3 (Thursday, Day 7, Puntarenas, Costa Rica)

Today was forest sky walk day.  Janet and Phil went on the excursion, which featured a walking trail through the rain forest, with several steel suspension bridges.  We didn’t see much until at the last bridge, Janet spotted a coatimundi in the gully underneath the bridge.  (Couatimundis are, possibly, more camera-shy than dolphins, it seems.)  Most of us caught at least a glimpse of the creature, but all of us heard him (or her!) pawing through the leaf litter looking for lunch.  Another highlight of the sky walk was seeing a couple of beetles doing the Beetle Nasty on a leaf.  Actually, we saw more wildlife at the small resort we stopped at after the forest tour than we did during the tour, including an iguana munching on a papaya tree, another couple lounging on the sidewalks, and a yellow social flycatcher bird.  Janet found a desiccated frog belly-up on the sidewalk, and later a large moth with a wingspan about as big as your hand lying beside another sidewalk.

Mariner at Puntarenas

Costa Rica

Iguana

 The story continues in Part Four, 5/4/07-5/5/07.

Seven Seas Mariner Panama Canal Cruise, 4/30/07

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Part One, 4/27/07-4/29/07, is here.

April 30 (Monday, Day 4, At sea)

We settled quickly into the Mariner routine.  Wake up around 9 AM ship’s time, take a quick shower, then to La Veranda restaurant for breakfast.  Wander around the ship until the room is made up, then drop stuff off/pick stuff up, and go to lunch.  Wander around the ship some more, then go back to the room and dress for dinner.
Phil's typical breakfast

Today we were eating lunch by the pool, where it was windier than usual.  We were at a table with an umbrella in it (just like a patio table).  Phil was eyeing the umbrella suspiciously, and sure enough, it took to the air.  Phil caught the expensive, high-quality umbrella and guided it down to the deck before it could hit anyone else.  The pool bar staff then scurried over to secure the umbrella.  Such excitement on a cruise ship!

Since we missed out on Cartagena, Colombia due to the medical evacuation, we had to stop at the Colombian island of San Andres, off the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea.  The reason had something to do with the Jones Act.  This 1920 U.S. law, so we were told, requires non-American ships that are leaving one part of the US to stop at an international port before stopping in another US port.  (We’re puzzled as to how this applies between the United States and the Panama Canal Zone, since we gave that back to the Panamanians in the 70s.)  The bottom line is that since we didn’t make our scheduled stop at Cartagena, Colombia, we had to make a “technical” stop at San Andres.  A tender did leave the boat with some people on it, but we guess they just had paperwork.  From what we could see, though, San Andres looked absolutely beautiful and had at least five shades of blue and green water surrounding it.  Phil looked on the internet and it is world famous for its snorkeling and diving so maybe we’ll have to come back on our own.  The water looked magnificent.

San Andres

Tonight we had dinner at Signatures. Regent claims this to be the only restaurant outside of France to be sanctioned by Le Cordon Bleu.  Bill (his real name), who was a guest on our last Regent cruise, joined us for dinner and the five of us had a fun time while eating French food.  (Bill emailed us about 3 weeks prior to the cruise telling us that he had decided to take this cruise, in part, since we were taking it.)  Mom and Dad went to the female singer’s show, while Phil, Janet and Bill went to the casino and we watched Bill play 3 card poker for a while.  Phil and Janet then sat down at the blackjack table and won $30.  The table was a $10 minimum which we didn’t realize until the first hand was being dealt.  We only played two hands before beating a hasty retreat with our winnings.

Signatures

Marinade de noix de petoncles a l’huile d’herbes, pommes de terre de deux facons

Cassolette d’escargots Signatures

Bisque de crustaces avec garniture d’avocat, miettes de crabe et tomate fraiche

Sorbet aux pommes et au thym

Saute de chambas epices aux asperorn vertes, a la crème de champangons


When we returned to our suite, we had a note saying that we were being given $50 per person of shipboard credit due to the skipping of Cartagena.  We have no idea what we will spend it on since the boutiques have the same merchandise as our last trip.  Did we mention that alcohol is free on-board, so even spending the money on booze is out of the question!

The story continues in Part Three, 5/1/07-5/3/07.

Seven Seas Mariner Panama Canal Cruise, 4/27/07-4/29/07

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April 27 (Friday, Day 1, Leaving Ft. Lauderdale)

We awoke at 4:30 AM, showered, dressed, and headed out to pick up Janet’s parents at their house. From there, the trip to the airport was uneventful, as was check-in at Southwest.  We were told that the plane was pretty full, so we settled in the back of the plane and began to get comfortable for our 7:20 AM departure. And then, we met . . . Joe-Bob (not his real name).

Joe-Bob was your classic good-old-boy, traveling with his wife to do some fishing in Florida.  He was situated on the aisle seat in the last row, across from Janet and behind Phil’s mom-in-law (whom we’ll call “Mom” for short).  Joe-Bob was boisterously cheerful, which should have been our first warning sign.  We determined that it was probably Joe-Bob’s first flight and he was trying to hide his trepidation.  For the moment, he was succeeding with the aid of a stiff drink or two.  Joe-Bob’s parents and cousins were on another Southwest flight from KCI to Ft. Lauderdale. They were on separate flights since he and his wife booked later and ours was the cheaper flight.  Joe-Bob’s wife chatted via cell-phone with his family in the next plane over, which departed just before our flight pushed back.  We watched maintenance people come on the plane, go into the flight deck, and then go back outside.  This is rarely a good sign.  Eventually, the passengers on our plane were all boarded and settled, but maintenance people continued to frequent the flight deck.  After a brief delay, the pilot said that our plane wasn’t going anywhere, but that we would board the plane that had just arrived from Dallas and had parked at the gate beside us.  (The gate vacated by Joe-Bob’s relatives a bit earlier.)

Shamu at KCI, not our plane (or Joe-Bob’s relative’s plane) but the one on the other side of us.

Joe-Bob wasn’t amused with this development, but his wife calmed him down and we all went back into the terminal.  After maybe fifteen minutes, we were boarded onto the new plane.  Plane #2 pushed back, then didn’t go anywhere. 

Oh-oh. 

The maintenance guys came out and opened the cowling of the right engine.  After about 20 minutes they fixed the problem, and the pilot made an announcement that they’d have to go back to the gate to “fill out the paperwork.”  Joe-Bob was now officially ON EDGE.  Quietly at first, but with steadily increasing volume, he launched into a tirade featuring the F-bomb every third or fourth word.  “I want off this f’ing plane.  I want off right now.  F*** it.  I need a f’n cigarette.  Get me off of this f’n plane.”  Meanwhile, Southwest finally figured out that maybe it would be easier to bring the paperwork out to the plane versus pull the plane back into the gate, and we finally took off about 1.75 hours after our scheduled departure time.

Our Southwest flight was scheduled to stop in Tampa before terminating in Ft. Lauderdale.  After we got through delay #1, plane change, and delay #2, the flight from KC to Tampa went smoothly.  The flight attendants didn’t publicize that they were giving free drinks, but if you ordered a drink, it came and they weren’t asking for payment.  Given Joe-Bob’s state of mind, I suppose the flight attendants weren’t sure whether or not to give him more whiskey, but they did—five of them in all.  Janet’s dad, on the other hand, partook of a single scotch on the rocks before 10 AM—not his usual routine. 

When we started the descent to Tampa, Joe-Bob’s insecurities (and his affection for F-bombs) arose again. “I want off this f’n plane.  F***.  I need a f’n cigarette.  F*** it.  Are we in FL yet?  F***.”   Joe-Bob’s volume was again increasing as he became more and more agitated.  But this time, he varied his routine by repeatedly getting up out of his seat (the fasten-seat-belt signs are, of course, on).  Phil leaned over to Janet and asked “I wonder if Joe-Bob will be leaving us in Tampa?”

When we landed in Tampa and parked at the gate, the galley truck moved up and they opened the rear galley door to resupply. Joe-Bob might have made it to Ft. Lauderdale if he had just settled down (and sat down) at that point.  The woman traveling with him kept telling him that he had one more flight to go but Joe-Bob insisted on getting off.  With the plane’s rear galley door now open, Joe-Bob saw an opening (literally) and tried to go out the galley door.  They frown on that sort of thing as a rule.  The flight attendant said he would have to go out the front. Joe-Bob insisted that he needed to get off the plane.  The flight attendant, who had been amazingly patient with Joe-Bob to this point, agreed to let him off the plane, and said “Follow me.” She led him up the aisle and out the front door where the friendly Tampa police officers were waiting to have a chat with him.  A few moments later, one of Tampa’s Finest came back to get a statement from the flight attendant.  This was probably only the start of Joe-Bob’s very, very bad day.

Sans Joe-Bob and his partner, we departed Tampa and landed without further incident in Ft. Lauderdale.  We arrived at the ship around 2:30.  As we boarded the Seven Seas Mariner, Phil and Janet were delighted to be welcomed back by name by Lynn, the Regent “Future Cruise Consultant” with whom we’d booked this cruise, and by one of the waiters who was handing out the champagne glasses.  He said he remembered serving us in the dining room on the last cruise.  We were amazed that people remembered us!  As we walked around the ship later on, more and more crew would come up to us, shake our hands and welcome us back.  And, yes, we remembered most of them, too!


Our suite

When we arrived at our respective suites we were greeted with a beautiful tropical floral arrangement, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne, a coupon for a free 8 x 10 photograph and a beautiful red silk covered jewelry box (with a drawer in it) of 30 pieces of Leonidas Belgium chocolates (which retails for $48).  Each of the suites had $700 in shipboard credit, too, due to using AmEx Platinum and due to Regent just giving us $400 because of our prior problems in December, 2005. We met our stewardess, Eugenia, from Cali, Colombia.  The situation in our “suite” being well in hand, we headed down to Mom & Dad’s room. 

Goodies

The scooter that we ordered for Dad was waiting in their handicap suite (829) and we were down the hall in 877.  Their suite is very close to the laundry room so that will be nice.  The ship left Ft. Lauderdale at 4 PM and Mom promptly wanted their bottle of champagne opened so Phil obliged her!

There was a block party at 6 PM where you were supposed to step in the hall and meet your neighbors.  This hadn’t been done on either of our prior Regent cruises and we thought it was a great idea.  Stewardesses came by with bottles of wine, and it got everyone talking to everyone else.  The couple next door to us is from Ventura, CA and the husband is a WWII army POW.  He had on his bolo tie with the POW holder and that’s what I saw.  I hooked him up with Dad and they traded war stories.

April 28 (Saturday, Day 2, At sea)

I’ve been fighting a cold for the past five days and still have it so am kind of lethargic.  However, after breakfast outside on the back of the ship Phil and I decided to look for Mom and Dad.  We looked everywhere (except for the hospital) and finally just gave up.  As it happens, they were in the naturalist’s lecture on sea life.  During our search we went in the theatre, but somehow missed Dad on his scooter in the aisle and Mom in the seat next to him.  Anyway, everyone was having fun and that’s all that mattered.

We received an invitation to join the Food and Beverage Manager Dominique Nicolle (male, French) for dinner that night.  Mom got all dressed up in formal attire but 20 minutes before dinner, she felt seasick so she stayed in her room.  The rest of us had a good time, though.  We found that Dominique started out as a chef and is now in charge of a staff of 211, including the executive chef and the executive housekeeper.

April 29 (Sunday, Day 3, At sea)

After breakfast Phil was watching his favorite shipboard channel--the navigation channel that shows a map of where we are and said, “We’re not heading south to Colombia anymore but now we’re going northwest to Jamaica.  We must be having another medical evacuation.”  We went to the front desk and asked.  Sure enough, the front desk had just been informed by the bridge that we were heading towards Jamaica.  So, we’re on our 2nd Regent cruise with a medical evacuation!  Around noon the helicopter from the Jamaica Defence Force hovered over the ship and picked up the man with the bladder blockage, his wife, and a ship’s nurse and took them to Jamaica.  Our port stop in Cartagena, Colombia was canceled but we were told we would make the Panama Canal as scheduled.  Phil and I were thrilled with another day at sea but Mom wasn’t since she was thinking of more seasickness.  (Dramamine proved to work for her, though, so she has been fine after that first bout.)

Air evacuation at sea

Since we used an American Express Platinum card to pay for the cruises, we were invited to a “Back of the House” ship's tour with Human Resources Manager Vanesa Serafini.  We briefly toured the galley, the officers’ mess (which was small and made me realize that there aren’t many officers on board), the crew’s mess (which was pretty large), the crew bar (very smoky and not too big), and the laundry.  The laundry was hot and humid, crowded and busy.  This was the last stop on the tour, so the nine guests were treated by Regent to a full bar set-up.  (Alcohol is free at all times so it wasn’t that big of deal but did look very out of place in the industrial laundry!)

Food in the galley

Dad, Mom, and Janet in the galley

Ship's Laundry

The story continues in Part Two, 4/30/07.

Seven Seas Mariner Panama Canal Cruise, 4/27/07-5/12/07

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On the heels of our fabulous experience on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner on our Hawaii-Tahiti cruise last year, we eagerly anticipated our next voyage on the Mariner.  That tale is told here, in several parts, as we did for our previous cruise.

Knock on the door to begin your cruise, or do it the old-fashioned text hyperlink way.



Part One, 4/27/07-4/29/07

Part Two, 4/30/07

Part Three, 5/1/07-5/3/07

Part Four, 5/4/07-5/5/07

Part Five, 5/6/07-5/7/07

Part Six, 5/8/07-5/9/07

Part Seven, 5/10/07-5/12/07