Why Viking?

Since my last post was about why we are leaving Celebrity Cruise Lines after 25+ cruises I thought I would give you a quick explanation of why we have decided that the first cruise line we will try post-Celebrity (other than some HAL, RCL and Azamara cruises we have already done) will be Viking Ocean.

The first reason is that one of our closest friends (who we met when we started working at our original Expedia office) has been on a bunch of Viking cruises and has many more planned. She sold us completely for a lot of reasons. For us, it pretty much comes down to what Viking has but maybe it is really more about what they don’t have.

Here are the things we love about Viking and why we can’t wait to board the Viking Sky in about two weeks.

  • No one under 18 can cruise on Viking. (It’s not that we don’t like kids; we took our grandkids on Royal Caribbean. That’s where kids belong.)
  • No smoking. Anyplace. We are vehement anti-smokers. I get the worst headaches when I breathe cigarette smoke.
  • No art auctions.
  • No casinos. These two normal places on most ships take up room that Viking uses for rest and relaxation.
  • No charge for beer or wine with lunch or dinner.
  • No ship photographers in your face all the time selling photos no experienced cruiser really wants.
  • No upselling in the spa.
  • No charge for internet access.
  • No charge for specialty restaurants. You are guaranteed two reservations per cruise and long-time Viking cruisers tell us it is no problem getting in to the restaurants on more nights than that once you are on board.
  • Viking includes one shore excursion in every port. These are usually walking tours of a downtown or coach tours of the surrounding area…or a combination of both. There are also other excursions you can purchase at reasonable prices.
  • All staterooms are at least verandahs. There are no inside (no windows) or outside (a window that does not open). There are also a few suites, but about 90% of the staterooms are verandahs.
  • Every stateroom has a minbar that is included. You know, like the ones in many cruise staterooms or hotels where a candy bar costs $5. Depending on the type of stateroom you are in, yours get restocked every day or every other day. Also depending on what stateroom you are in, you get alcoholic beverages in your minibar. In our Penthouse Verandah stateroom, ours will be refreshed every day and we do get gin, vodka, whiskey and one other liquor as well as mixers.
  • A couple relax inside a penthouse veranda stateroom on board the Viking Star

    All the staterooms are large staterooms. The smallest class of staterooms on the ship are 270 square feet. By comparison, the smallest staterooms on a Celebrity ship are 170 square feet. We are in a Penthouse Veranda (not a suite) and our stateroom is 338 square feet. That is only 40 square feet smaller than the Neptune Suite we were in last January on Nieuw Statendam. I am going to post a video tour of what our stateroom looks like once we are onboard. Based on what we have seen it is very comparable to what we had on Celebrity Flora.

    Penthouse Junior Suite Bathroom
  • The staterooms have huge bathrooms with heated floors and a gigantic (for a cruise ship regular verandah stateroom) shower enclosure and we get both a couch and a chair around a coffee table.
  • Only 928 guests on the entire ship. There are 465 crew members which is about a 2-1 ratio—above average for most cruise lines.
  • Their smaller ships can get into smaller ports. On our cruise next month we go to a lot of small towns in Greece, the Adriatic, Spain, France and the back side of Italy’s boot that a big cruise ship could not get near or would have to tender into.
  • Viking focuses on ports and traveling. Our cruise is from Athens to Barcelona with NO sea days (my next post will show you our complete itinerary). It will be exhausting but at least there are four overnights (Athens before, Venice, Livorno and Barcelona post-cruise).
  • No formal, fancy chic or “whatever cruise lines are calling it now” nights. Dress in the dining room is fairly casual. They just ask that you don’t wear shorts or jeans. That means less packing.
  • There is a full laundry on every deck. so more reasons you can pack less. There is no charge to use their laundry. All soap and fabric softener included. If you have clothes that need ironing, those are available too. And if you are in a PV or higher stateroom (like we are) all pressing is free.
  • No waiting in lines because there are so few guests and the ship is so well designed.
  • No nickel and diming. You can have a great cruise without paying an extra cent. Everything is included except gratuities and we pre-paid ours.
  • Much more interesting food. The menus look amazing as do the videos we have seen about the food.
  • The ships are gorgeous—a clean Scandinavian design. We have seen so many pictures, read a bunch of descriptions and watched a ton of videos.
  • No caste system. If you are in the lowest category of stateroom or the highest suite, no one will know what category you are in after you are on board. Everyone has access to everything. No special places/restaurants/sections for suite guests.
  • Longer cruises in more exotic places. I refuse to fly all the way to Europe for a 7-night cruise. Other than the Baltic, that’s about all Celebrity (and most other cruise lines) do anymore. Most of our Celebrity European and Down Under cruises were 14 nights minimum. Viking has 7, 14, 21, and 28-night cruises. That’s worth going to Europe for. And we are. Watch for our itinerary announcement early next week.
  • We have been told that their televisions play Downton Abbey on repeat. We LOVE Downton Abbey so we will be all set 😜 if we are stuck in our staterooms. I plan to watch the entire series all over again in between shore stops.

I think that pretty much covers it (as if that weren’t enough). And yes, it is more expensive. A Viking Ocean cruise is not cheap but we believe it is a great value. I priced out our 21-night cruise on Viking Sky against three seven-night cruises on Celebrity (they don’t have any 21-day cruises). When you add in everything we get and that they don’t have—Viking wins hands down. Come on along with us over the next few weeks and find out if we are right.

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get. —Warren Buffett

 

Why we are leaving Celebrity Cruise Line after 25+ cruises

Hi all! Long time, no write. Two weeks from today you will be hearing a lot from me as we start our next major adventure—almost a month in Europe. But before I get into that, I thought I should do a post to conclude our Celebrity Millenium cruise as well as answer the big question I have been getting from friends who want to know why we are abandoning our cruise line of choice since 2004—Celebrity.

Actually, they kind of abandoned us. Back in 2004 when we sailed on Infinity through the Panama Canal, we fell in love with a certain kind of cruising and that kind of cruising isn’t there anymore. Truth be told, we aren’t that kind of cruiser now either but let’s just say we have grown apart. But even though we have changed, Celebrity has changed in so many ways that we find just sad.

We have sailed on every ship in the old (and now retired) C class, all but one of the S class and all but one of the M class. Our Millennium cruise last May was our final one with mainstream Celebrity and maybe our worst with them yet (We will return to the Galapagos on Flora in 2024) but that doesn’t really count. Here are the changes X has made that really bother us:

  • Celebrity has bought into the caste system that so many other cruise lines are now into. When the majority of the ship can’t even see forward of the ship (other than from the gym) on sail away, this is just wrong. Some have bought into it because they sail in a suite. Most of most cruisers won’t have one. If you have money to buy into the “suite” life then they treat you well, otherwise, you are cattle.
  • The ridiculous Infinite Verandas. Call them what they are: an outside cabin that you pay more for and the window opens. And when the window opens, the AC goes off. And they are noisy. And the Captain can do whatever he wants with them (leave them open, close them all). Every single long-time X cruiser who we know that has tried one has said they will never get one again. Don’t believe me? Check out this video: Click here!
  • Celebrity has basically killed their Captain’s Club loyalty program. We worked hard and were ultra-loyal to become Elite Plus cruisers with them and now with their new “all-inclusive” program, they have negated 90% of the benefits to their loyal customers. We used to get 240 minutes of WiFi for free—now everyone gets it for free. We used to get a cocktail party for Elites members but not anymore. Now everyone gets free drinks so why bother? We used to get a lot of things. What do we get now? A bag of laundry and priority tendering (not worth anything).
  • When they brought out the Edge class they started refurbing the M and S class but doing things that I just hate. First, they took the wonderful Martini Bar (long a feature on all X ships) and made it a HUGE, impersonal place that is not the intimate, conversation spot that it used to be. Then they enlarged the gym by extending it out over the bridge where there used to be an open area you could stand and look forward. They made everything beige. Our stateroom on Millennium was so beige, that it was sometimes hard to tell where the bed was—it just disappeared into a sea of beige😜. I could go on about all the blah stuff they have done to ships we love but why bother? Suffice it to say, their designers all are big into calm and soothing.
  • Digital everything is horrid. It’s amazing to me that Celebrity is owned by Royal Caribbean because RCL has the best internet at sea. Celebrity’s is horrible. Streaming is a joke. There were people on our Millennium cruise who tried to do an e-Med COVID test to get out of Canada and the chances of doing that online were next to zero. Their television choices are a joke. Movies that said they were free weren’t. And yes, who watches TV on a cruise? People trying to avoid COVID, people are quarantined, and people are sick. But nothing. Eight blurry channels and movies that said they were free until you got to the final screen and then it said $14, for an old movie. Even the map that shows where the ship is or the webcam on the bow were blurry. How can you not get a clear webcam video? We can get a better one with our Ring doorbell.  Oh, and their app (compared to others we have sailed with) is pretty poor.
  • Food—this has long been one of X’s strong points but not anymore. First, they removed so many restaurants that we loved. On our Millennium cruise, we didn’t go to a specialty restaurant, even once. They were either boring or ugly. And don’t get me going about the stupid Petit Chef which is all about the show and not the food. X replaced an incredible restaurant (Qsine–where the food was interesting and amazing) with this cartoon version of a restaurant. They took away the United States Dining Room on Infinity years ago (as well as the other ship-named specialty restaurants on the M-class ships) where we had some of the best meals of our lives and they removed Murano (a kind of successor to the United States Dining Room).At the same time, the food in the other venues got worse as well. On our May cruise, we sailed in Aqua Class so we ate our breakfasts and dinners in Blu, the Aqua class dining room. How bad was it, here’s what I had to say in my ship’s review:“The food was horrid. I actually sent back three different dishes. I have NEVER done that before. It embarrassed the staff in Blu. But when the pasta tastes like rubber (I tried to cut it with a knife and it would NOT cut) or the fries are cold when they get to the table, what else is there to do?
    You have ceased to care about little things. For instance, the Daily had Cinco de Mayo all over the cover. In the past when we have been on board over that type of holiday, there would have been Mexican food maybe…but nothing but the everyday chips, cheese and refried beans at the buffet. Not even salsa. Speaking of the buffet…so much of the food was cold. The door next to the salad station was kept closed but the door across from the pizza station to the Sunset Bar was wide open. Result=cold pizza and warm salad. And try to get someone to take a drink order and return before you finish your lunch or dinner—good luck”. 

For another take on the food, here’s what my brother said about the food we ate in Blu on the Millennium cruise in his post-cruise evaluation:

“While the service was outstanding, the food in Blu was poor or boring; if Blu were a restaurant in our city and we went there for dinner we would never dine there again. When we were on Holland America their “Orange” dining had bold and spicy selections that were remarkable. Holland’s breakfast selections were better and more extensive. Some notable food failures in Blu: veal scallopini that was so rubbery it was difficult to chew, pasta undercooked that it was sent back, and salsa that was only chopped tomatoes. The bread spreads offered with butter at dinner in the 3-bay tray were usually ground carrot, corn and peas. The carrots, corn and peas were BABY FOOD. Nothing was added to them; just BORING. The beet had some taste, but the carrot, corn and pea were just YUCK. On past cruises, there were other more tasteful options, e.g., olive tapenade. The dinner bread was just ok; on past cruises, there were more options in the bread basket, e.g., brown bread, and olive bread. The bottled wine selections were mostly “out”.  The wine menu on the Celebrity app noted too many wines that the ship did not have.”  

All of this just makes me sad. If we have to pay extra to get a suite we may as well take that money and move up to a better line like Viking Ocean (where we are going) or Oceania (we will try them in 2023). With Viking for the same price as a suite on X, we get a ship where everyone is treated equally except for just a few unnoticeable perks you get for being in a suite.

So that’s where we are on Celebrity. We still plan on doing one more cruise but on Flora to the Galapagos in 2024. But we won’t sail on one of their big ocean ships again unless someone offers us a free cruise. After more than 25 cruises, we will kind of miss them. But not enough to put up with all this. We just want the old Celebrity back…but we know that’s not going to happen. If you are new to Celebrity, we wish you well but just know you really missed their glory years.

Stick with me here on the blog. I will be back with a preview of our upcoming Viking Cruise in the next week. Then (I hope) there will be almost an entire month of travel to report on.

It’s not called quitting if you quit while you’re ahead. It’s about being aware and being strategic enough to know that you got to get out of the pool at some point. You got to put your clothes back on and dry off. —Nipsey Hussle

Told you I would be back

But I bet you didn’t think it would be this fast.

The day after we were in Astoria we stopped in a very exotic city as far we were concerned—Seattle 😜. This day was going to the most boring one for us. We had booked a food tour of Pike Place Market with Show Me Seattle with my brother and sister-in-law. Kathleen and I had done this tour with Savor Seattle before they were bought by this company so we knew what to expect.

Our big task for this day was to leave the ship, get in an Uber, cross Lake Washington to Bellevue and sign our escrow papers to buy our new home. Kathleen was also tired out with her arm in a heavy splint, so I guided Steve, Jamie, and a few other folks from our Cruise Critic Roll Call up to the Pike Place Market and introduced them to our tour guide. I even went along to the first stop on the tour, Ellenos Yogurt (the world’s most excellent yogurt).

Then I hot-footed it back to the pier where Kathleen met me; we grabbed an Uber and raced through the city, crossed the lake and signed the papers (BTW: we LOVE this house. One of the best decisions we have ever made) that made our new house our home. Then back to the ship and by that time, it was almost time for dinner. I don’t have pics from Seattle because I didn’t take my camera off the ship. I have taken thousands of Seattle photos, so I am sure you will excuse me if I didn’t. Here are some of my Seattle pics, so you won’t think I have left you wanting. Don’t forget; these pics look much better if you click on one and watch them as a slide show on a computer or a tablet.

Back with Victoria soon.

The bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle.  —from the theme song to the 1960’s television show, “Here Comes the Brides.”

The story of Astoria—yes, I might finish…eventually

I have been putting this post off for a while. I have known since we got home from our Pacific Coastal cruise in mid-May that I needed to finish my Pacific Coastal story. Here’s a quick synopsis for those who have forgotten where we are. We took Celebrity Millenium from San Diego to Santa Barbara, Catalina, and San Francisco (where Kathleen broke her elbow), and that’s where we left off.

Our next stop was Astoria, Oregon. This was the only stop we had booked a ship’s tour—Shot in Astoria. We (Kathleen and I) had just been in Astoria last summer with the kids and grandkids, so this tour sounded interesting. It was a tour of all the spots in Astoria where they had shot popular films.

You may not know this, but in the mid-eighties, Astoria was a primary filming site for Hollywood movies. The biggest to be filmed there were Kindergarten Cop, The Goonies, parts of Twilight, Point Break and one of the Free Willy movies. So we drove around in a big old bus and saw the sights of the films (the only one I could remember anything from was the hotel in Kindergarten Cop. I will take a lot of abuse for this, but I have never seen The Goonies. Not my kind of movie.

Suffice it to say that the tour was pretty good, the bus was comfortable, and we got to stop at the Astoria Column, where you have great views. Afterward, we hit the Fort George Brewery for lunch, which was outstanding. Then back to the ship, and I was off on a photo walk. My best stuff from Astoria is below. Don’t forget, these pics look much better if you click on one and watch them as a slide show, either on a computer or a tablet.

 

I promise (really, I mean it because we are finally settled in) to finish this trip soon. Really.

It’s not a tumor!” —Arnold Schwarzenegger as Kimble in Kindergarten Cop

San Francisco, Day 2

When last we spoke, I was writing my last post while Kathleen was having surgery on her elbow that she hurt on our first day in San Francisco. Today (four days later), I am starting this while she is in for her post-op check. She is doing better. The first day was fine, the block wore off, the pain kicked in on day two, and now things seem better. I hope whatever they do to her today doesn’t make her regress.

But back to our second day in the Bay area. Not much happened for us because Kathleen (with her arm in an ugly splint) slept most of the day. But I got up before dawn to take pics from the ship (all of them are in the gallery below), and then after getting her up, bathed and off to breakfast and then back to the stateroom for another nap, I went out to walk the Embarcadero in the opposite way we went yesterday. I wanted to walk from the ship at Pier 27 to whatever they call the ballpark where the San Francisco Giants play.

It was a beautiful, windy day, and I think I enjoyed my walk as much as Kathleen enjoyed her nap 😜. I shot a bunch of pics (again, see the gallery) and then headed back to the ship as we sailed at 4:30 in the afternoon to head out for another sea day and then a visit to Astoria, Oregon.

One of the best things about sailing into or out of San Francisco is sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, and this time (on a clear afternoon), I was on the top deck as we sailed out to sea. There are lots of photos from that in the gallery as well.

That about does it for San Francisco. We had a decent time, but if I had to do it all over again, I would have preferred that Kathleen not fall and that we do not have to spend more than six hours in an ER. But that’s what happened.

Below is my photo gallery from day two in San Francisco. The first few are from an early sunrise shoot from around the ship’s upper decks.

The second group is from my mid-day Photowalk.

The last few are from our sail out, which took us under the amazing Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco is really fun and liberal, and it’s my kind of politics. It’s like being Jewish in front of Jewish people.  —Elaine Boosler

Life is certainly interesting

As I write this, I am sitting in the waiting area for Proliance Surgeons as Kathleen is getting her elbow repaired. We are now fully moved into our new home (except for about 20 boxes we still need to empty), have sold our old one (escrow closes on the 16th), and things are indeed…”interesting.”

When Kathleen asked me what I was going to do while she was getting cut (surgery takes 90 minutes, but she is in pre-op for 2 hours and then post-op for two hours), I said it was about time I finished up the Pacific Coastal cruise report, so here we go.

San Francisco—I used to like this town.

Ok, I still do like this town, but I am also kind of ticked at the city. This is the city where Kathleen found a nice lip on a sidewalk and took the fall that led to the surgery she is having now. But you already knew that, so here’s what we did that day.

Our ship was in port for two days. I had hoped to get up early and be on deck when we sailed under the Golden Gate, but we were already docked when I woke up and looked outside at 4:30 am. I guess I could have taken pics of us coming in but they all would have been black scenics.

The ship was docked at Pier 27, about halfway between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf, right on the Embarcadero. After breakfast, the four of us set off on a walk towards Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 and Boudin’s Sourdough Bakery. Lots of photos on the way you can see in the gallery below. We stopped for coffee at Boudin’s, and then Kathleen and I headed back to the ship via Uber while Jamie and Steve went exploring.

That afternoon we had scheduled another food tour with Local Tastes of the City Tours. We had chosen to do their North Beach/Little Italy tour. They also do a Chinatown tour, but we went that way since I love Italian food more than Asian. We took an Uber up from the ship to meet our guide smack dab in the middle of Little Italy. We four were part of a group of 14 who would take the tour, which started with us eating a cannoli on the street corner where we met up. They were delicious, but I sure would have liked to see the places where they came from. Our guide just brought them along with her from Stella Pastry about half a block away.

Then it was off to cross the street to Cavalli Cafe, where we tried Italian sodas (definitely the weakest link on this tour), but they did have a nice restroom. This was also one of the few stops where we got to go into someplace and sit down. The rest of the tour involved our guide (who was very good) going into the store/restaurant and bringing the food out to us to eat on the street. While all the food we had was excellent, this got a little annoying after a while—eating on a sidewalk with people walking by. But as I said before, life is certainly interesting.

After Italian sodas, we went on to a fun little Sicilian delicatessen about a block away to try arancini (rice balls full of meat and cheese). The food was fine, but the real attraction here was the owner, who came out on the street and pretty much put on a comedy show. As you can see from the photo, he is a pretty animated Sicilian who truly loves his store. A few days later, I have to say that we had arancini in Victoria, BC, which was a lot better.

I should also note that none of these places were more than about two blocks from another, so this was not a long tour by any stretch. As we walked, our guide Isabella told us all about the history of the neighborhoods we were walking through. She was genuinely well-versed in her San Francisco lore.

Our next stop was our favorite on the tour, San Francisco’s oldest Italian market, Molinari’s. Inside this place was AMAZING! If we had a place like this near home, I might ask for a job or spend a lot of money there regularly. I have some great photos of the inside of these places in the gallery below. BTW: This place had the best sandwiches I may ever have eaten. Don’t ask me why, but I think it’s because everything was just perfect, from the bread to the cold cuts and veggies inside. It was so good it would almost be worth a trip back to the city to eat there.

After we left Molinari’s, we walked a bit, and I climbed a high set of stairs to take pics with a few others from the tour (see the gallery), and we were headed to Z Cioccolato to get some of their amazing fudge. But sadly, we never got there. About 25 feet to the right of this photo is where Kathleen fell and broke her elbow. From there, we hailed an Uber and drove quickly back to the ship. We had hoped that she wasn’t hurt too badly, but by the time we got down to the ship, it was evident that we needed to get to a doctor or an ER.

At this point, I need to point out that we did have a little bit of good luck because the ship was in San Francisco overnight. If that had not been the case, and seeing that it was already after 3:00 pm, we would have been in real trouble as the ship would have sailed at 4:30 pm, leaving us behind to fly home on our own. That’s what happens with ships. That would have given us some real problems for so many reasons.

After we got back to the ship and dropped Steve and Jamie off, we grabbed another Uber and had them take us to the nearest Kaiser hospital (our HMO). It wasn’t too far away, but when you are driving bumpy streets with a broken elbow, it seems like 100 miles. We had high hopes that we would be out of there within a couple of hours and make it back for dinner. Unfortunately, that was not to be. We were in the ER for more than six hours from start to finish. And they were so crowded they wouldn’t let me in the building (not even a waiting room) due to COVID restrictions for the first three hours. I got so stand outside in the cold wind. This was not one of my most fun experiences.

Kathleen left with a fully wrapped arm in a splint (that had to be kept DRY), and we got back to the ship about 9:30. My brother had arranged for a wheelchair to get her back on board, and by that time, she needed it. So we got a very late room service dinner and went to bed.

One other thing I want to mention before I drop in the photos. The folks at Local Tastes Tours were awesome when this all happened. Our guide (after making sure we were doing OK) ran to the chocolate store and grabbed fudge for all of us to enjoy later. Then that evening, I got an e-mail from the tour company owner asking how Kathleen was and sending us a certificate for a free tour for four the next time we are in San Francisco. Of course, he did not need to do that, but this is the sign of a great company, and then our guide Isabella sent me a separate e-mail asking how she was doing. They were just wonderful. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Don’t forget, these pics look much better if you click on one and watch them as a slide show, either on a computer or a tablet.

That was about it for day one in the city by the bay. As if that wasn’t enough. As I am finishing this, we are back home after Kathleen’s surgery, and she is OK and doing well. Her elbow just needed some repairs but not a complete replacement. Thank heaven (or whoever) for that.

Nothing important has ever come out of San Francisco, Rice-a-Roni aside.
—Michael O’Donoghue

Sorry I disappeared

I hate that I haven’t finished the story of our cruise. I just wanted you to know that I will finish it as soon as possible. We are still in the midst of our move, Kathleen’s broken arm needs surgery and by the end of the day, when I usually write, I am beyond tired. Saturday morning is my no-workout, so I have a few minutes to leave this note.

I still have a lot to say about the cruise…A LOT. I promise to come back and say it. I have been writing notes; I just need to put them all together.

I kept a diary right after I was born. Day 1: Tired from the move. Day 2: Everyone thinks I’m an idiot.  —Steven Wright

26 miles across the sea…Santa Catalina is the place to be!

First, Kathleen is doing better. The arm doesn’t hurt as much as it is a giant plaster albatross attached to her arm. We are in Seattle as I write this with two more days to go on the cruise. On Friday we disembark in Vancouver and drive home. Our plan for today is to take a Lyft to Bellevue to sign our escrow papers.

As promised, here’s our report on Catalina. We had booked a tour with Catalina Tours called Bison Expeditions. There are approximately 150 wild bison on Catalina Island if you didn’t know. They were brought over years ago when Hollywood used the island to film many Westerns. They were left behind, and the herd grew. They thinned the pack a few years back and now have 150. But, like a whale watching tour, you aren’t given a 100% guarantee that you will see any bison…and we didn’t. But that was OK because our original intent was just to see the island’s interior and that we got to do in spades.

We got lucky when our jeep (see photo at right) pulled up, and our guide Halvorsen introduced himself. He turned out to be the highlight of the trip. And the tour turned into much more than we had expected. It became a combination of a wild ride (that would match anything at any Disney park), a historical lesson about Catalina, a nature talk about the flora and fauna and a floor show full of impressions of presidents. All that for a very low price; we would recommend this company very highly.

I did take some photos I liked, so they are in the gallery below. Remember, if you click on the first one, it becomes a slide show that you can scroll through.

26 miles across the sea…Santa Catalina is the place to be.   —1960’s Los Angeles television advertising jingle used to attract folks to Catalina Island.

I thought it was bad before

So if you follow my posts, you know I just did one about our day in Santa Barbara, and I promised the next one would be about Catalina Island. We had a great time, but I need to update you on something that happened yesterday in San Francisco that will change what I can write about and take photos of.

We were on a food tour in the North Beach/Little Italy section of San Francisco. I will report on it later because it was superb until about three-quarters of the way through. That’s when my wonderful bride Kathleen caught her foot on a metal piece in the old sidewalk, took a fall and wound up with a broken arm. After six+ hours in the hospital ER, we made it back to the ship around 10:00 pm. Not the most fun day of vacation we have ever had. But we are very happy it happened on a day when the ship was staying in port overnight, or we would have been in a hotel last night and flying home to Seattle today.

We will tough it out until at least Wednesday when we get to Seattle. If she is in a lot of pain or wants to get off, we will take an Uber/Lyft home.

I just wanted to keep you updated. Today, we planned to head to Sausalito on the ferry, but that isn’t going to happen. She is just not up for it. And I have been having painful problems with my back and legs, so it isn’t all her. We are just two old people getting older.

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.    —Mark Twain

Off the ship—Great! Onboard—not so much continues

This has been a really fun cruise when we aren’t on board the ship. So let’s be positive to start with and tell you all about the great food tour we took in Santa Barbara. 

Food tour!

We had booked all but one of our shore excursions with private companies. And strangely enough, we are doing Food Tours in four of the seven stops. Santa Barbara was the first where I found a fabulous food tour company called Eat This/Shoot That. The idea wasn’t that you had to kill your own dinner but that you would shoot pics and post them to Instagram or Facebook of all the amazing food you were eating on their tour. Of course, you were supposed to eat them after you shot them and in two cases I completely forgot to shoot first and by the time I remembered, there were just the remains.

I found this tour company in an online search. (When in doubt, Google) and they normally did not due tours on weekdays except in the summer. But I persuaded the manager (Kayla–who was awesome) to do a tour if I could find enough people off our Cruise Critic Roll Call. Since they only take eight people on their tours, I thought that would be easy and it was. In fact, so many people were interested they ended up booking another tour after hours off the ship as well. 

Santa Barbara is a tender port and that means waiting for the tender (in this case a little more than an hour) and then a 15-minute lifeboat/tender ride in and then we walked to where we were meeting the tour. 

Our tour guides Christine and Bella were fantastic. I could list all the restaurants for you but I think I will just caption the photos. So see the great food we got below.

Suffice it to say, I would do that food tour again in a second. My brother and his wife were so impressed with one of the places, they are already making plans to drive up to Santa Barbara. The other places were equally as good. Here’s the list of places we went. You can see their pics below (don’t forget that you can click on the first one and it will open and then use your arrow keys or swipe to see the rest):

  1. Santo Mezcal
  2. SB Bier Garten
  3. The Valley Project
  4. Mony’s Taqueria
  5. Lucky Penny
  6. Figueroa Mountain Brewery
  7. Cutler’s Artisan Distillery
  8. McConnell’s Ice Cream

Back on the ship, sad things continued…

First, I need to do a bit of a retraction. In my post on Wednesday, I mentioned that I thought that Celebrity had created a third (basic) level of the internet that they were giving away for free. After some discussion with one of their tech support people it turns out that is wrong. They have always had two internet offers: Surf and Stream. Surf got you e-mail, websites, texting, etc. Stream got you just that. You could stream movies, do FaceTime, etc. The tech support guy tells me that they just renamed Surf to Basic and Stream is now called something else but darned if I can remember what. Either way, they still have the same programs they had before.

So having been on my other Celebrity cruises with the “Surf” internet package, I can remember that it was NEVER this slow. His answer to me was that Celebrity began giving away their FREE basic package to everyone but what they did not do was increase their bandwidth. So now we have almost 1500 people with internet on all day long. And if someone opens a web page on their device that has ads (let’s say) and they leave it on that page and walk away (like in their stateroom) then that continues to take up bandwidth as ads are refreshed on that page.

So the real story here is not that they created a newer, slower level of the internet but that they gave everyone internet and didn’t increase what they were giving away. Not only that, when I told the tech support guy that I couldn’t do Docusign documents (because the connection would time out) he suggested I upgrade to Stream (or whatever they are calling it now—the fastest one). So I did. Here’s what I got:

If you look back at my last post you will see that my speed with the basic program was .04 for downloading a page and .02 for uploading (like I do with this blog). For comparison, today we are in San Francisco and I am using my T-Mobile iPhone as a personal hotspot and here is what I am getting right now:

Seriously, my cell phone brings down data at more than 30 Mbps and the best Celebrity can do with their top internet offer is 1.05? We know of a lot of people on board who are flying back to the USA from Vancouver. Many of them purchased an e-Med kit because there is a required COVID test before you can reenter the USA. Those are monitored tests that are performed in a video chat online. These people are expecting to use Celebrity WiFi to do that test. GOOD LUCK! Thank goodness we are driving home.

Let’s talk food. We are eating breakfasts and dinners in one of their restaurants called Blu. It is for people (like us) in Aqua class staterooms. We eat breakfast and dinner there pretty much every day. And while the food has been fine and the service excellent, we are supposed to be on what is called anytime dining. Yet when we got on the ship we were told that could we please plan on coming to Blu between 5:30 and 6:00. Others were asked to come after 7:00. So without knowing in advance, we were back in early/late seating.

The food in the other venues we have eaten in is just sad. Especially the buffet. Cold pizza, sad salads with strange dressings (the Italian dressing is bright orange???). One sad thing is that Thursday was Cinco de Mayo. Now, I know it’s not a real holiday in Mexico but I would have expected something in the buffet for lunch. There were: chips with cheese on them. And some fajitas. But don’t ask for salsa—they don’t have any. It was just sad.

And I have been a little under the weather so I skipped Blu on Thursday and went up to the buffet to get a salad and a couple of pieces of pizza. Again, salad was weird and the pizza was cold. And I was hoping one of the servers would come around and asked if I wanted a cocktail or a beer or some wine. But no, I was there for 40 minutes or so and not one person approached me. Before everyone had a drinks package you had to swat those people away like flies. You were constantly being asked if you wanted a drink. Now since everyone has “free” drinks, no one asks anymore. This was truly aggravating when I could see about six or seven of the staff standing in a corner talking. As I told someone yesterday afternoon, “This is not the Celebrity I remember.”

Lastly, some of my readers will remember the good old T-Pool. For those who don’t know, this is an indoor pool on the Millennium-class ships that is in the shape of a cross. It is not for swimming. It has two big benches you sit on and jets push water up from underneath them. It is total relaxation and we have always loved using these pools.

Well, no longer. No more bubbles and the water was hotter than hell. Hotter than the two hot tubs that sit alongside it. The temps used to be just above body temp so it was really wonderful to spend some time relaxing in the pool. Now that is not the case. Most people we saw could not stand the heat and, like us, were out in about 5 minutes. They also have big faucets that pour water down into the pool that our buddy Bob (hi Bob) used to love to stand under. I think if he did that today, he would be boiled in minutes. We asked a pool attendant about it and were told that he had no clue there were jets under the benches or that the pool could be at a different temperature. Again, it’s just sad.

The next day on the cruise we had a stop on Catalina Island and I will do my best to get that up soon.

There is no sincerer love than the love of food.
–George Bernard Shaw