Sunday, August 31, 2014

On the road home... with a short detour.
We disembarked on Saturday morning around 9am. We had plans.  Translation we would spend money.
Our ship docked at the same pier as the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Since we knew this we planned to tour the "Queen" and then to take a private shuttle to the airport. Our flight won't leave until 5pm that evening. We walked tot he ship, found a place to store our bags and went aboard to find a tour.
We thought the tour would cost $25 a piece. We arrived so early that we could get in for free and  take a FREE walking tour. Cha-ching!! $50 saved! Since we started our tour early we, we ended it early and got on our prepaid shuttle to the airport thus saving $65 for the taxi ride. Cha-ching, cha-ching.
What to do with this largesse? Las Vegas baby.
After a delay of maybe a hour for our flight we left LAX and arrived in LAS, jumped in a rental car and drove the 80 miles to Kingman, AZ to sleep like logs, albeit, snoring logs. We expect to drive and see sights outside of the "Strip" then to spend one night "investing" our savings in the "bank of Las Vegas" to fund our trip. Wish us well.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Our last stop before arriving in Los Angeles and the journey back to TC.   This town feels the most familiar of all the places we visited on this trip. I guess, the newer construction, the wide roads and the presence of a Starbucks and Hard Rock cafe aid in this familiarity. The information sheet provided by our cruise ship said this small fishing village at the end of the Baja peninsula, once discovered by the well to do, became more American than Mexican. When Deb and i walked around we could feel this difference. We saw many large, large boats in the marina, lots of high profile shops and even a "Topless Sports Bar"! Didn't see that in any other stop. We hear spring break comes to Cabo as well. I might have to return.
Last little thing about Cabo. The same information sheet suggested we hire a cab if we wanted to go to town. The walk might take 15 minutes but the temperature could reach into the 90's. Well, we don't listen to a sheet of paper! We walked around the harbor and reached the downtown area. Just a long strip of boulevard style road with many local businesses. The temperature reached into the 90's as predicted but the sun... WOW! The sun just beat down with a ferocity i have never ever experienced. I even think it burned through my hat! Needlees to say, Deb and i needed immediate relief from the sun and  heat found a bar that served a very cold tasty local beer. Very nice!
Back on board for the last seaday of the trip. We dine with the same people every night. Around the table we have mixed feelings about this last seaday. The "Cruisers" know they have cruises already booked so this becomes a just another stop, albeit longer than a day, untill they go back to sea. Some of us have accepted the end of the trip and prepare for the future on dry land. I have cruised enough for this trip. I gladly pack my bags in preparation for debarkation. I know i may crusie again, however, there comes a time when you look forward to what comes. I don't have  a cruise in my future so i look to some thing else.
We experienced fair seas for all of our cruise. Hardly bumped any walls while walking from our cabin to the bars. The skies mostly cloudless. I found that the International Space Station (ISS) would make a pass over us on several dates during our voyage. So i endeavoured to plan a sighting party. Deck 9 forward. This position allowed barrier free visage of our bow and the night sky WNW to N. The exact coordinates for the ISS sighting. Now our ship, The Legend, moves through the water at 21knots. The wind coming over the bow blows at 24 mph. Make the calculations and you have aa apparent head wind of 52 mph!   After drawing on my strength to open the door to the forward viewing section, i bent into this wind for all of 2 minute before retreating to a quieter space amidships. In all we did not see the ISS once. I can only attribute this to finding sight information from a website using land based  coordinates while we carved a NW path in the Pacific Ocean.
Tomorrow, debarkation, flight to Las Vegas, a three day drive.
Travel on!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Seaday three of the hardtimes.
Today started with the discovery of Deck Eight flooding. No details at this time but if i wanted to report like the tabloids i could give you many, many rumors. Tune in later for details.
When i enumerated the things one can do during a seaday did i mention eating and drinking? These two activities comprise the majority of the cruising life. 24/7 one can find food. Twixt 6:30am,ship's timee and 9:00pm  the choices boggle the mind. Full course dinners to sandwiches to pizza to snacks, all available somewhere on the ship. Twixt 9:00pm and 6:30am snacks and ice cream fill the void. On some evenings a late, 10:30pm, dinner offering provides a themed treat.. On one night i tasted Mexican tacos and other delights. All the food, with the exception of two specialty retaurants, come free with the cabin. Eat, Eat , Eat and be happy. By the appearance of many of my cruisemates, they have over enjoyed this offer.
Drinking, on the other hand, does cost money. Fortunately, Carnival, our cruise line, provides the cruiser with a "Sail and Sign" card. An onboard credit card if you will. With this little device, anything on board can become yours. Need a message? Proffer the card and relax. Need a photo taken by one of the zillion onboard photographers? Proffer the card. Just like a credit card you don't pass money so you never see the transaction as anything more than a signature. Wait until the day of reconning though. As i said you pay for alcoholic beverages. You pay a pretty penny. I guess if you go to a microbrewery you can pay the same price but you can leave the brewery. Here you can sit and drink for hours without noticing the tab. Of course, i know this from hearsay for i maintain control at all times. Just ask my friends at Friday night Brady's.
So far this seaday i have watched two movies and napped a little. The weather does not reflect the sunny days of yesterday and before. We have clouds though the temperature remains in the 80s.Still most of the cruisers lounge as though the sun beat down in full glory. True cruisers do not give up any cruise day. I may not be a cruiser.
Tomorrow Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Puntarenas, Costa Rico
After our Canal transit we spent another day at sea. Pleasant day, no weather to speak of, hot. A seaday consists of finding things to do that you may want to do. Always one can play bingo, gamble in the form of blackjack, craps, video dog racing and the ever present, slot machines. On weather permitting days, the three pools provide entertainment as  does the Green lightning. This green lighting begins when you climb the steps to just below the smokestack top, the highest point on the ship, then step into the pod, an inclined coffin shaped structure and lean back against the wall. Then the operaator closes a clear plastic cover and you wait. Finally, within seconds, a female voice begins a count down. At "Zero" the bottom of the coffin drops out and you fall 10-12 feet to the curving green tube which extends over the edge of the ship. This fall and subsequent tube ridec omes via the benefit of a cascade of water greasing the tube. Zoom, round you go and suddenly, maybe 10 seconds later, you exit the ride in a splash of water up your nostrils. Salt water clears out sinuses swell. Pretty much i never opened my eyes on the three times a took the plunge. However, i do have video that i will post. Next door to the Green Lighting" , a more tame and docile water slide exists. So tame in fact at the top of the ride just after you start down you stop! It takes some effort to get your butt sliding again. I did the slide once for show then back to the Green Lighting.
So if you don't like any of the above then you nap or read a book or write a blog. Well, i guess you can talk with people but... more about that later.
We arrived in Puntarenos and docked. Docking provides such a nice benefit that we want to dock all the time. One has the flexibility when one returns to the ship to get off and on at one's leisure. When you anchor in the harbor and must depend on the tender, that becomes a hassle.
So, we had many options for our 8 hour stop in Puntarenos. All involved crocodiles, macaws, monkeys and shopping. The odd train ride and hanggliding opportunity exsted as well. Deb and I chose to take a boat ride to see alligators and other local wildlife, see monkeys and shop. The boat ride consisted of a long, (30 feet?) boat sitting 4 abreast and driving you downriver with the other 5 boat companies and their boats. I guess the local animal population has gotten used to the traffic since most stayed put as we glided by. Our guide for this trip must guide many bird watching groups. His knowledge of the birds seemed encyclopedic.  We had two groups on our boat. He led the other group. I don't say that oru guide didn't do a great job but his knowledge of birds did not compare. After the boat ride we lunched. Compeltely forgetabe lunch but great company. Back on the bus, we stopped by some macaws on the side of the road. We stopped on the side of the road to see the macaws in the trees. On the road again, we needed to cross a bridge to get to the shopping center. Our guide cautioned us about crossing traffic and then said we should exit the bus on this side of the bridge, walk to the center where all the other people had bunched up and look down. The center pier and pier footing had 7 of the laregest  'crocs, not the shoe the animal, i have ever seen. One, obviously in the best sun and sand resting position, must have eached twenty feet... HUGE. All around this island basking area drifted , upwardss of 20, crocodiles of various but, most definitly, smaller sizes. Rank ahs it's privilege! After crossing the busy road, twice, without loss of life or limb we proceeded to a half bour of shopping in the "best priced store in all of Costa Rica where you can see the local artisans actually make the art objects". I had nothing to compare with and trusted his judgement.
After the pruchasing frenzy, we boarded the buses for the finally journey home. A collective gasp went up because we didn't get to see the aforeentioned monkeys. Not to worry, on the way back we will stop and see if they will come in for us. Wild monkeys, after all, come when they feel up to it. An offering of banana and watermelon got the desired results. 30 small white faced monkeys come in to feast. They grabbed food from hand, shooulder, top of head as well as glasses, hats and anything loose.When we ran out of consumables, their interest in us waned and back on the bus, boatward bound we rode.
Our guide expounded, at length, on the virtues of his country. I commend him this advertidement for his country but he should limit the speech to twice then find other things to talk about. I know Costa Rica offers more.
We begin the "Hard times " now. Three seadays in a row!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Panama Canal
We travel, today as a seasay yet we pass through the Panama Canal. I guess, since we don't stop we call it a seaday. The trip will take us from the north to the south of the ismus of Panama. Seems odd that we will end up going east to west while we take this north-south route but the world turns as it must.
Coming from the Atlantic side we pass thru a single set of three locks, up 87 feet in total. Then we traverse the system of man made lakes using the path of the river that once ran 45 feet below our boat. We pass over towns and villages drowned when the area flooded for navigation. As we pass littletufts of tree covereed land on either side of the navigation channel,  I can't help but think those  "islands" were once hill tops.This "Ditch" stands as a monument to human engineering and effort . It cut off  sea travel of many thousands of miles,  and I  believe, months of seatime if you had to travel around the South American tip and into the Pacific Ocean. Yet, i don't know that the people displaced cared much. Our narrator brought onboard for the passage said those displaced had received replacement housing and such for their imposition.
To move nto a lock means you travel agonizingly slow. A baby can crawl faster than the boat moves. Yet, any faster could cause damage to the boat, canal and the pocket book. Once in the lock setup, some locomotives on either side of the lane attach to the ship to keep it in the center of the lock. The lock has a width of 110 feet. Our boat measures 106 feet at it's beam. We need to stay dead center to make the locks work without dmage to us or the lock.. Forward motion comes from the ship's engine. All boats going through the Canal use their own power to move. The little locmotive, "Mules", merely center the ship in the lock. As soon as we are centered and int he lock, the gates at either end close, valves are opened and water to the tune of 50 million gallans flow  into or out of the lock.  It works just like the Soo.  They work 24-7 in both directions, timing every ship movement. When you see it in action you realize the immense choreography going on.
It took an hour plus to pass through the Atlantic side locks.. Five hours .or so, to move across the lake and then the Gatun lock on the Pacific side comes into view. This lock has one step.We started at sea level, 0 feet, rose to 85 ASL. now we begin the step back down process. Gatun lock brings us down the first 27 feet. into Gatun lake. Then,  a mile distant, we meet the last two locks to bring us back down. Also we see Panama City in the distance.
Finally, we emerge into the bay that weill take us tothe Pacific Ocean. We must pass under the Bridge of hte America's  a huge span that will not cause fear as we pass under as did the bridge in Tampa. Our last information piece from our narrator before he departs for a cruise the other way, let's us know that the construction on our starboard side shows the  New locks which should be in operation next year. We had rain during our passge. during the last two locks we had clear skies then clouds quickly formed , dumped hge amounts of water, cleared up and left a lingering mist, almost as fast as this description.  So as i looked at he construciton, took pictuees and squinted, i still couldn't see the new canal, lock system or anything else. Just a lot of concrete and cranes. I trust his narative.
Out to seea for another seaday and Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cartegena, Colombia..and more
Our choices for tours in Cartegena had two themes. The first traveled to all the religious sites, monasteries, churches and icons in the city. The second visited all the forts. War or peace , not much has changed. We decided on a third tour which offered a little of both worlds. We saw "La Popa"  the monastery on the highest point in Cartegena and the main fort in "Old Cartegena" plus some sights offered by our guide.
As i said, we had little time here so a tour would give us the most for the information here and guarantee  a timely return. As we stepped on the pier we met a line of buses. Some 50 feet long, some half that. Personnel directed Deb and me to the first bus in line and away we went. This 50 foot bus would take us up to "La Popa" as our first stop. I bring up the bus size because our travels included streets designed for donkey carts. These narrow streets hardly accomodated the small cars in town much less this bus. Yet, our driver managed to turn corners and battle traffic(motorcycles everywhere without regard for anyone) and never clipped a curb. To get to the monastery you must traverse a switchback road. During some reigious occasion the penitents would ascend on foot stopping at the 13 stations of the cross on their journey up. I became exhausted just watching our driver make the 180 degree turns while pointing, what i thought, straight up. In Cartegena one drives on the right so ascending the hill,one has the tightest of turns. Coming down proved no less harrowing even with the wider turn radius to our advantage. The monastery has special significance to the history but the structure still  consists of stone and mortar atop a hill. It does offer the best panoramic view of Cartegena though. 
Back on the bus, we spiral down the hill and travel on two way streets little wider than our one way streets. Next stop The "Old City". On the way we learn that Cartegena ranks fifth among the cities of Colombia in population. Bogota, the capital tops the list then Medellin, Cali, and two others that excape the memory.Of course, our guide thinks this wrong and insists Catrtegena ranks numero uno..
Cartegena,the Old City,  has a wall around it built in the 1500's for protection. The wall extends 11 mile around the city. I do not know the height but at times i saw 20 feet of brick. Coming into port we saw new construction. Tall buidlings of glass and steel, gleaming in the sun. All this construction, hotels, apartments and the like needed to begin construction before 2017 when a building tax would stop most new construction. The skyline fairly bursts with cranes and girders. You can get quite a deal on aprtments in this area with so much new construction. However, if you want to show how much money you really have buyng in the new city will not do the trick. Our guide said the highest priced dwellings in all of Cartegena stand in  the "Old City". He quoted a price of $12million.  I would like to know what you get for that money but i haven't  spent enough time in the casino to accumulate funds for a purchase. But i digress. In the "old City" we stopped at a market place with a building housing 20 "stalls", large shops. All carried the same goods. All had the same prices. Our guide directed us to shop 4 for the best deals. I did not look to see if "made in China"  stamps adorned any items.
I should tell you that everywhere you go. When you step off the bus. When you walk anywhere, the street vendors proffer handbags, hats,  silver jewelry and more for your review.  Their idea, if they place the item a foot from you face you will buy. My method of avoidance says no eye contact. I believe i missed a great shirt because of this method. Orange and white, my colors!!!
Back on the bus, all passengers returned in the required time. We traveled, next, to the main fort of Cartegena. Set back from the ocean you wonder why it stands where it does. Simple, many forts block passage to the walled city. should those not dissuade the attackers, this fort will. Of course, this fort constructed on a hill requires one to walk up a steep incline to discover the mysteries at the top. The temperature soared into the 90's and sweat poured profusely. Deb declined the climb up the hill but i soldiered on. A thin haze lay over the city, humidity i believe. Views from the ramparts seemed out of focus because of this. Stone walls, sniper lookouts, cannon ports with a few cannons pointed out and a small shop on top doing a brisk business in ice cold water for $2 a bottle rewarded my efforts and that of my bus mates.. Back on the bus(ah, air-conditioning).
Our last stop, 40 minutes of shopping, brought us to, what one can only descride as the "Emerald District". An island building with many shops, all selling emerald jewelry. It seems Colombia has a world reputation for it's gem stone. Our guide, helpfully, stopped our bus in front of the "best' emerald purveyor in the district. Deb and i had other plans, however.
Planned and packed many times over for our trip, I forgot a connector cable for one of my cameras, the underwater camera. As we realized that emeralds did not work for us, we ventured off(against advice to stay together) in search of a cable. Spanish speakers abound in Cartegane not English speakers. After seeing a window advertisement for a computer brand i know, we mimed and spoke loudly about  USB and pointed to connectors in our phones. The store person took pity and offered some cables and power supplies none of which would fit my needs. She conversed with her associates and with hand motions and some rudimentory Spanish words pointed us, "one  block that way and on the left near Hotel Dorado we  would find a Kodak store". We hoped they would have a cable.
Short version, they did! However, we did not have the camera so they didn't think the cable would work and, actually, hesitated selling us the cable. Assurances and $3 later we had cable in hand and made it back to the bus for the boat and a short nap.
We begin day two of sea days at this writing after we passed thourgh the canal on seaday one. More about that after breakfast.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Seaday recap
I misspoke and misspelled in my last entry. We willnot have two days at sea before our next landing. We only had the one day. On Thursday we dock at Cartagena, Colombia for a short 6 hour visit. Deb and I have a tour set to give us plenty of tourist information and time to shop. Back on board by 2:00 or miss the Canal transit.
Our day at sea brought no new revelations. We read and napped extensively. We looked for things to do that interested us but going outside did not figure into our plans. The wind coming off the port bow clocked in at 42mph. We have a cruise speed of 18knots and the wind coming at us measures 30mph or 10 beaufort. Very brezzy if one wanted to stroll on the deck. At this writing, late Wednesday, the wind seems to have picked up and the sea has responded with a gentle rocking motion.
We received a note from the captain that, not threat exists in Cartagena but stay alert. Our travel group will take us liek a herd of lambs to various sites and return us quite unharmed, i know.
Today we performed,"Elegant Night". We dressed for dinner. It amazes me how people take on a different air when they believe they have dressed up, myself included. We all walked more upright, manners at the tables improved and, generally, we saw a prettier picture. 'Course immediately fter dinner the cruiseclothes came back and peace reigned on the ship.
more tomorrow.

Day 4, somewhere out on  the high seas.
Not quite somewhere, we have a channel on the television that shows our course minute by minute. I have pictures! It ,also, shows depth of sea, wind direction and speed(beaufort) and other interesting items. Interesting for me, for Deb...not so much.
A seaday means we have shipboard activities or we fend for ourselves. Shipboard activities include but not limited to, eating, drinking, bingo, gambling, pool fun game, ladies pamper party and more. Eating and pool fun cost nothing but time while the others will set you back something. Of course, you can always nap... my activity of choice.
Tuesday, we visited Grand Cayman Island,  Two days onboard ship with the aforementioned activities invites any escape as a good thing. We had arranged a boat ride to a sand bar to swim with sting rays then snorkeling on a coral reef, starfish photo-op and lunch. The boat's master warned us of the dangers of the Carribean sun. Ha! I laugh in your deeply tanned face. Now i have a red face, chest and back where the sun worked its' magic. While I didn't get really burnt, I have sensative skin.
The sting rays are not the same species as the one that did in Steve in Australia. It has a barb on its' tail but docile to the touch and interested in the free meal. Most of the activity of the life of the sea we found at the coral reefs. I say reefs because the reef consists of many dots of life in a sand desert. Grat colors of purple,   yellow, blue and more. Large fish, small fish, some fish with eyes the size of quarters and coral of every description, brain, fan and teh one that looks like antelers.,  I brought my underwater camera along to capture some colorlful scenes only to find i left the charging cable at home. Pack, pack, pack and then you forget something anyhow. The Cayman's only have red and orangish starfish. 5 points make the most common fish but we found a rare--er 6 pointer and one can have the, even, rarer 4 pointer as well. Now you know, too!
Lunch cnsisted of a buffet of salad, jerk fish, red beans and rice, chicken and sun. It got hot, hot, hot. No clouds to mitigate the sun's wonderful warming ways.  This two hour break before we headed back to the ship caused my current tender condition. Sleepy by over-consuming, the warmth of the day and chatting with new found friends in the cooling beach waters means you forget  the ship master's admonishment. Lesson learned until the next outdoor lunch!
Today brings the firs to two seadays before Cartehagne, Colombia. And oru first "elegant Night". stay tuned.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Day One: at sea.
Allow me to catch up with the day before day one. The day we embarked.
It began like any other, a trip for breakfast to Hulk Hogan's restaurant for some edible Eggs Benedict. I make my own Hollandaise so it becomes difficult for anyone else to make a good one. Then a walk along Old Tampa Bay. Sun rising from the east into a cloudless sky. Temperature rising from a near fridgid(Tampa version) 75f to 85f in 10 minutes. Pictures of pelicans and cameleons and bugs taken. Also the occasional shot of a father helping his son remove the son's first caught fish. Just another day.
We boarded our coach for the Port of Tampa and sped off to the "Legend". We arrived at the Port to a mass of humanity all interestred in boarding the same boat as Deb and me. Some one forgot to send the email that Deb and I had priority. So we jumped in and passed security then stood in line. One must circle stairs and escalators, file down halls and, generally, practice patience during endeavors such as this. Even though we paid the extra cost for "Faster to the Fun", a special tax to ease some travel lines, this could not opt us out of all lines.   Along the march to the boat we passed windows overlooking the entrance far below(one floor), We hoped to get a smug look at the humanity standing in the heat waiting to enter our air-conditioned hall to vacationland. The smug face wiped clean as we realized everyone who thought to beat the rush had entered the building during the first rush. I imagine the really savvy traveler came after our initial clamor for the doors and will just stroll in un hindered. Lesson learned...maybe.
After locating our stateroom and dropping off our bags, we walked the ship, noting all the places to have a beverage. We found all the other essential places, dining hall, upper decks and hammocks then settled down to await dinner.
We  opted for assigned seating at a 5:30pm seating. We will dine here, with the same people, for the entire voyage. Kinda of a crap shoot of personalities. Pleasantly, all the others at our table seem nice enough. Time will  tell though. One note of interest. We passengers have a caste system on board, to some. The newbies, first time cruisers, have blue cards. Then, according to days cruised with Carnival, you rise to red, gold, platinum and the much harealded diamond. Well, at our table we had a platinum! And she let us know it in uncertain terms. She pronounced where she would sit and how things were.  Pleasant coversation ensued until the people next to her slipped in their conversation,"We were the only diamonds on that cruise"!  The changed in our, aforementioned, dinner mate brought smiles to the table. She almost bowed in defference to the Diamonds at the table. Caste system gone for another day. Deb and I have gold cards should you need to know.
 Last item for this entry. I did not know that i had one other item on my bucket list that i can now check off. Tampa, Florida sits at the northern end of Tampa Bay. It takes about 2 hours to transit the Bay and enter the Gulf of Mexico. The Sunshine bridge spans the outlet to the open sea. Our ship could not get into the bay and to our dock on time because the water level at the bridge had risen higher than expected. So we needed to wait for low tide to leave the bay. You see, the bridge is two feet taller than the Ship's smokestack! I kid you not! Deb and i stood on deck watching our ship carve a line to the bridge through the channel then line up for a trip under the bridge in the dead center... the tallest point. Ship traveling at 15 knots, the bridge span approaching and i knew we would hit the span! I may try to find words for it but the anteenna stack came first and the smokestack came second. Heart stopping!!!! Yes, two feet clearance! WOW.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We begin again. Well, technically, we began when we boarded the Tampa bound plane but, now, we sit in our hotel room in Tampa to begin...again. In threes hours we will board the "Legend" for a cruise through the Panama Canal. My bucket list item of peeing in two different bodies of oceanic water, on the same day, will soon come true!
 So far the trip has no adventures to report. Passing through gate checks did no arouse suspicion. I did see a cute TSA person and requested a full body pat down. Have they training in evil stares? Flights, both to Atlanta and Tampa, had smooth skies and rock hard seats. The better to stay await.
I have difficulty with the shock of 90f heat to 74f air-conditioning. But given 5 minutes, the cool is appreciated the more. I tolerate the reverse better. As always humidity makes a big difference. Humility... i wouldn't know.