Quarantine continues so let’s get Primed

As of 5:00 pm yesterday we here in Washington are officially quarantined. According to our governor that means that anyone other than about 300 occupations should stay home. And when we are staying home (like we know you are) we do lots of different things but we know we always end up watching television. In my last post I gave you my personal recommendations for the best on Netflix. Today—Amazon Prime.

First, a statement about Amazon Prime in general. I know a lot of people are either anti-Amazon or Amazon-ambivalent but we have been totally sucked into world of Amazon. Most weeks we will have at least four deliveries and many weeks more. So we would be nuts not to have Amazon Prime. That $119 we spend every year is probably the best value we know. Just the free shipping alone (for us) is worth the price of admission but when you throw in the rest of what you get (complete list here) it would be stupid for us not to have it. And that is before I even mention Amazon Prime video.

In doing these streaming lists it kind of surprised me that two of my absolute favorite shows are Amazon Prime originals. These are shows that we stream on the day they are available and when I say we stream them, I mean we totally binge(d) them. That d was in parentheses because one of them no longer has new episodes but it is still one of my absolute all-time favorites.

Our top three Amazon shows

If Amazon Prime was just a video streaming service, I would subscribe just to get these shows—I like them that much. I am sure you have heard of them, or you may have watched them but in case you haven’t, these three are worth having Prime for.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: What can I say about this show that hasn’t already been said? If you haven’t seen it, get Prime just to watch it. The adventures of Midge, Susie and the rest of the characters is a pure delight and when a new season is released (there are three seasons with a fourth on the way) we will usually watch all eight episodes in one weekend. It’s funny, poignant and just plain great. I envy those who have never seen it. I would love to be able to binge those three seasons for the first time.

Bosch: This is a detective show. But what a detective. And because Kathleen and I have both read every book Michael Connelly has ever written, we think Harry is one of the most interesting characters in fiction. We have been reading the Harry Bosch books by Connelly since before we first met more than 20 years ago. When they announced they were making a TV series from the books we were both excited and worried. Harry is a character we both love in books and we were worried they (Hollywood) would screw it up. After all, they let Tom Cruise play Jack Reacher (WORST CASTING EVER). But we were  very pleasantly surprised (and then thrilled) when this series premiered. Because the author Michael Connelly is closely involved and loves his character as much as his readers do, this show is VERY close to his books. Probably the best adaptation of a book into a show or movie I have ever seen. And Titus Welliver IS Harry Bosch. When I read new Bosch books, I see him in my mind and it works. If you like detective shows, these (there are currently five seasons with two more to come) are the best. But I watch shows for the characters, and this show has some great ones (including the entire city of Los Angeles). Give it a try.

Mozart in the Jungle: This show is no longer in production, but if you haven’t seen it go back and watch it. Don’t be mislead by the title. It’s the closest thing to Mrs. Maizel that we know. There are four seasons and they are all available so make sure you start from the beginning. A quick synopsis would tell you that this is the story of a philharmonic orchestra in NYC but that would be too simplistic. This is a comedy, a drama, a romance and one of our favorite shows ever. Go immerse yourself (this one is a great binge) in the world of “Hilee” and the Maestro.

The rest of our Amazon list that we watch together

Fleabag: If you haven’t heard of Fleabag after the year that the creator of the show, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has had, you must not be into TV. This totally irreverent, adult’s only show is a Brit classic. Just two seasons but they are funny ones.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: One of the most filmed characters of modern fiction, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is almost iconic (the character has been played by both Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin before this). This version with John Krasinski is a pretty good action series. There are two seasons with a third on the way. Decent show.

Goliath: Neither of us are big Billy Bob Thornton fans. We did like him in the first season of Fargo but that was about it, until this show came along. He plays a disgraced attorney who fights for underdogs. You get the idea but this show is from David E. Kelley who has made some of the most offbeat series on network TV, from LA Law to Ally McBeal to Doogie Howser, MD. and always gives you something interesting to watch. Goliath is a solid series and if you like lawyer shows with quirky stuff, check it out.

Modern Love: One of my favorite things to read in the NY Times is the Modern Love column. There is even a podcast which I also listen to. These are stories of love. All kinds of love. About a year ago, Amazon put a short series of eight of these together. This is an anthology so each episode is a totally different story but there is some crossover. This is a great filler series. Something you can watch an hour of and then come back to a week later. No need to binge this one. Lots of different people in it and it is almost always sweet and touching.

Catastrophe: This is another great comedy like Mozart or Fleabag. An American visiting London has a one week fling with a British woman and she gets pregnant. The hilarity continues from there. For four seasons. This series is also out of production but that still leaves you plenty to watch (or binge if you like). Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are really good as the couple in question.

Hunters: We just started this new series about a group of people hunting Nazis who have infiltrated the US in the 1990s. It has a decent cast led by Al Pacino with an accent that often makes him hard to understand. And there is a fair bit of violence but so far we are intrigued. Be warned, it is a little intense. We can only take one show at a time.

Amazon shows I watch when I am working out

These are shows that Kathleen doesn’t watch. That doesn’t mean that they are not for the ladies, just that they aren’t something she likes. I, for instance, do not watch the PBS show Call the Midwife with her. It’s a great show, just doesn’t appeal to me.

Hannah: There is one season of this show about a girl who is brought up in the woods by the man who killed her mother. It goes from there. There is only one season but it is pretty good action.

The Boys: This show with one season out already and another coming could be called the Anti-Avengers. What happens if super heroes were evil? This show tells you with humor and interesting characters. Also, my feeling is that any series with Karl Urban in it, is a great series.

The Expanse: My son and Kathleen’s son-in-law have been after me for years to watch this series. I tried a few times to watch but it just started too slow for me. When I am riding a bike I need to be distracted from the pain of the ride so I need something with some action. Recently I learned I was wrong. Before we went on our last cruise I downloaded the entire first season onto my iPad (did you know you could do that with some Amazon and Netflix shows?) to watch while I rode a bike in the ship’s gym. I got hooked! I am currently almost done with season three (there are four with a fifth coming later this spring) and I almost look forward to working out just to watch it. Can’t wait to see where it goes. If you like science fiction adventure, this show is great. I think it may be the best sci-fi series I have seen since Battlestar Galactica (not the original but the outstanding remake).

That about covers Amazon for us. Next up will be the other streaming services we stream shows on including Hulu, Disney+, Apple Plus+, CBS All Access and The Paramount Channel.

I was like, Amazon Prime? Who has Amazon Prime? It turns out everybody.—Gaby Hoffman

 

 

 

What are we watching?

In a previous post I mentioned binging TV during this quarantine and I got some texts and some e-mails asking what we are watching. I know that we have discussed this with some of you in person or by e-mail but I don’t think I have ever written down a complete list. And my oh my this is a long list.

First, for those of you who aren’t close, personal friends that we see all the time, you need to know upfront that we watch a lot of television. We have season passes on our TiVo (that means we record every new episode of those shows) for more than 50 shows. Don’t freak out—many of those are not on at the same time. Some happen once a year for ten to twelve weeks while others only come around every few years (Luther or Fargo come to mind), some sports are included (Seahawks and Formula 1)  but my guess is that we have about 20 regular shows at any one time.

After those are out of the way (which happens surprisingly often) we hit the streamers. Our first line streamers that we ALWAYS have subscriptions to are Netflix and Amazon Prime. Those are ones that people ask me about when we are talking and then later they say, “What was that show you told me about? I forgot to write it down.” So for the next couple of posts I thought I would list our favorites. Today: Netflix.

BTW: There are other streaming services we watch programs on at different times of the year. Before Kathleen retired two years ago, we had a cable subscription that charged us an obscene amount for things we could get for much less by streaming them. I called our cable company, cancelled all the premium channels (HBO, SHO, Starz, etc.) and we went to a cable lineup that is just basically the local network affiliates.) Now, once a year we will subscribe to one of the other services for a few weeks and catch up on all our shows on that service. For instance, right now we have a three month subscription to Starz so we can watch Outlander—one of our favorites. Next month we will get CBS All Access for a month so we can watch The Good Fight and I can watch Picard.

More about those later—on to Netflix. I have subscribed to Netflix since they first started. That was back in 1997. Of course at the start it was all DVDs and no streaming. In fact we didn’t cut out the DVD service until about three years ago. Can’t remember the last time we even turned on the DVD player. Guess it is about as worthless as our old VCR.

By the way, all the Netflix shows I am listing are Netflix originals. Some started as broadcast TV but were eventually taken over by Netflix after they were cancelled.

First thing you need to know about all the shows I list is that Kathleen does not watch all of them. I ride a stationary bike every morning for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and I watch shows that she isn’t interested in…mostly action stuff. So I will start with the ones we watch together.

First, let’s get the best shows (that you have probably seen but I need to mention) out of the way. They are the most famous and most viewed of the shows on Netflix and include:

  • Grace and Frankie: I shouldn’t even have to mention this–you should have already watched all six seasons but if you haven’t you should. It’s an awesome show and it’s not just for old people. Lily Tomlin is one of the funniest people who has ever lived and Jane Fonda is amazing for someone over eighty. Together they rock. And the supporting cast is superb.
  • Stranger Things: If you haven’t seen this I bet it is because you “hate” horror stories. Well I really HATE horror stories but this series is one of the best—all three seasons. Go binge it. We do on the day the new season comes out. It’s one of only two or three seasons we do that with every year. The other two are on Amazon.
  • The Crown: This is a another one of Netflix’s most well known series. The story of Elizabeth II, current queen of England. We are currently in season three with Oscar winner Olivia Coleman playing the queen. If you haven’t seen it at all, Claire Foy plays the Queen in the first two seasons and all three are great.

Here’s the shows that Kathleen and I watch together.

  • Queer Eye: This is not the old Queer Eye for the Straight guy. That show was just fine, but this one is AWESOME. We have loved every episode of all four seasons and we watch and listen for anything from Bobbie, Jonathon, Karamo, Tan and Antoni. Give it a chance. If you don’t love it, I will want to know why. This show is one of the ones that we binge every episode as soon as it comes out.
  • Sense 8: This is a very special series. There are two seasons and if you liked Lost, Fringe or maybe even the X-Files then try this an outstanding show made by the Wachowskis who made The Matrix. It is also one of the most beautiful shows I have ever seen. And as a plus for travelers, it is filmed all over the world. Stick with it—it’s kind of science fiction, kind of action, kind of drama, kind of comedy—all good. Fantastic characters and a cool story.
  • Manhunt: Unabomber: This show is less of a whodunit than a how-we-caught-the-bad-guy. There is one eight episode season and there may be more someday.
  • Love: This a kind of a stupid series about a nerd who is in love with a very difficult cool girl. Not the best series but good when you need a mindless half hour show. We usually watch it at the end of the evening if we aren’t quite ready to go to bed.
  • Dead to Me: There is one season of this surprisingly good show. I wish I could tell you more but every single episode ends with a total game changer so just go watch.
  • Lucifer: This was originally a broadcast show and then it switched to Netflix. The story is totally ridiculous (the devil comes to earth to solve crimes) but it is a whole lot of fun. We love Tom Ellis who plays Lucifer and just makes the show. There are four seasons with one more coming.
  • The Politician: This is NOT about politics. It is made by the same creative team behind Glee and stars Ben Platt (BIG Broadway star) and Gwyneth Paltrow. Lots of fun and lots of singing.
  • Atypical: A great little half hour show about an autistic teen. There are two seasons and we have enjoyed them both.
  • Secret City: Two seasons of an Australian series that is full of intrigue and spy kind of stuff. It stars Australian Anna Torv that we loved on Fringe.
  • Sex Education: A very funny series about an English teenager whose Mum (Gillian Anderson from The X Files) is a sex therapist—so he becomes his high school’s sex therapist. There are two fun and heart-warming seasons of this one.
  • The Kominsky Method: A very funny show starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. Two seasons of eight episodes that are over way too soon.
  • Russian Doll: There is one season of this show. It is a take-off on Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day but different. Just take our word for it, it’s good. Different but good.
  • Travelers: This Canadian series is about time travel starring Erik McCormack (Will of Will & Grace) and is a fun diversion. 

Shows that I watch by myself when I ride my bike

  • Mindhunters: Directed by David Fincher (He did the movies Se7en, Fight Club, Social Network) this is the story of two FBI agents in the sixties interview the worst of serial killers (they use real killer’s stories) to help them catch others. The start of criminal profiling.
  • Altered Carbon: A dystopian science fiction piece set in the future and is really cool. My son and Kathleen’s son-in-law both told me to watch it and they were right, it is great.
  • All the Marvel series are excellent except Iron Fist (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher and The Defenders) Daredevil is my favorite but they are all good. Warning: these are violent. Kathleen has watched some of these as well.

I love a good Netflix binge!—Simone Biles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need some positive news?

BreathI don’t know about you but every time we turn on the news, things just seem to be better. Kathleen sits next to me and tells me the latest things on Twitter (which I have pretty much abandoned) and they are mostly negative. Everything is horrible, everything is awful. The world is over, etc. Now I don’t want to make light of it but I certainly need some positive news right about now.

First, I saw this on the web and verified it with simple math. As of this morning there are a little more than 200,000 cases of Covid-19 in the world. The current world population is 7.59 billion people. That means that the percentage of people who have it in the world is less than three percent of one percent of the population of the world. That made me feel better. Of course it DID NOT MAKE me feel like I should be doing any less as far as social distancing, sheltering in place, washing my hands or any of the other precautions we all should be taking right now. It just made me feel better.

Then yesterday a good friend of ours sent me a text with a whole bunch of very positive facts. They are below. You may have seen them before because when I Googled them to verify them, I found a lot of copies of the list. But if you haven’t seen them yet, they are great reading. To be sure that they are legit, I added the links below so you can read the original stories. They are for real and I just know that if the world pulls together, we will be OK. Our amazing caregivers and first responders have done everyone such good. Now researchers and chemists are jumping in to do their part. Here’s the facts.

– China has closed down its last Coronavirus hospital. Not enough new cases to support them; (https://nypost.com/2020/03/11/china-shuts-all-16-temporary-coronavirus-hospitals-in-wuhan/)

– Doctors in India have been successful in treating Coronavirus. Combination of drugs used: Lopinavir, Retonovir, Oseltamivir along with Chlorphenamine. They are going to suggest same medicine, globally; (https://www.insideover.com/society/indian-doctors-successfully-cure-italian-coronavirus-patients.html)

– Researchers of the Erasmus Medical Centre claim to have found an antibody against Coronavirus; (https://nltimes.nl/2020/03/14/dutch-researchers-first-find-covid-19-antibodies-report)

– A 103-year-old Chinese grandmother has made a full recovery from COVID-19 after being treated for 6 days in Wuhan, China; (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/coronavirus-latest-103-year-old-woman-recovers-wuhan-hubei-china-a9393991.html)

– Apple reopens all 42 china stores; (https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/13/21177964/apple-stores-china-reopened-coronavirus-covid-19)

– Cleveland Clinic developed a COVID-19 test that gives results in hours, not days; (https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/continuing-coverage/coronavirus/metrohealth-medical-center-can-now-test-covid-19-results-available-in-2-hours)

– Good news from South Korea, where the number of new cases is declining; (https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/coronavirus-cases-have-dropped-sharply-south-korea-whats-secret-its-success)

– Italy is hit hard, experts say, only because they have the oldest population in Europe; (https://www.wired.com/story/why-the-coronavirus-hit-italy-so-hard/)

– Scientists in Israel likely to announce the development of a Coronavirus vaccine;(https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/science/scientists-in-israel-likely-to-announce-it-developed-coronavirus-vaccine/articleshow/74592807.cms?from=mdr)

– 3 Maryland Coronavirus patients fully recovered; able to return to everyday life; (https://www.fox5dc.com/news/3-maryland-coronavirus-patients-fully-recovered-able-to-return-to-everyday-life)

– A network of Canadian scientists are making excellent progress in Covid-19 research; (https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/coronavirus-canadian-researchers-make-progress-toward-vaccine)

– A San Diego biotech company is developing a Covid-19 vaccine in collaboration with Duke University and National University of Singapore. (https://www.cbs8.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/san-diego-biotech-company-developing-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccine/509-110c3c4f-1d0c-46e4-b2df-663789db6889)

If you appreciated this, send your friends by to read it. It just might make their day.

Good news is rare these days, and every glittering ounce of it should be cherished and hoarded and worshipped and fondled like a priceless diamond.—Hunter S. Thompson

What a couple of weeks

 

Greek Matches
Stay home and save some folks

As my regular readers know, two weeks ago yesterday we returned from our cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection to Mardi Gras. (Kathleen always reads my stuff before I post and when she read this line she said “It’s been longer than two weeks!”) But it really has been just two weeks. We got off Reflection on Monday, March 2.

So much has happened to us and to you since then. Thought I would write something to let you know how we are doing and ask you how you are doing. Of course I did post about everyone blaming cruise ships for all of this but that was just me on a soap box.

So now the reality. Kathleen and I are basically quarantining ourselves at home. (Before you ask, since we are pretty much together 90% of the time, this is not a big deal for us. We love being together.) I have been out to do some shopping and we had three friends (who we knew were not infected) over for dinner, but that was about it. Since we are in Washington (one of the most seriously affected states) our restrictions are ahead of the curve (trying to flatten the other curve). Our Governor first banned groups of 250, three days later it went down to 50, the next day he closes all schools until April 29 at the earliest. We are doing our best to practice social distancing. Tonight we shared an Aperol Spritz with our next door neighbors, sitting in their driveway, six feet apart. It was wonderful.

Our days have been spent (so far) cancelling client travel, dealing with yearbook advisers who suddenly have no spring sports or activities to cover and binging all the television on our TiVo that accumulated while we were gone. We are all up to date with television now and will start working our way through Netflix and Amazon Prime shows soon. The only really great thing this week has been the amazing weather we have been having. Sunshine and warmth do make things a little easier to handle. I have been able to walk three days out of the last four so that makes me happy. Walking since the quarantine has been different than usual. People make sure to stay far apart but when they do, they actually nod, wave, smile and even greet each other. That doesn’t usually happen.

We also started a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle that is all about the Galapagos Islands. We still have high hopes that we will be able to take our cruise there this August. In the meantime, our April Holland America cruise with our friend Seth has been cancelled. Which means we have no travel scheduled until the aforementioned Galapagos trip in late July. That’s crazy strange for us. But the way things are now, we can’t even make plans to go see our grandkids in Olympia. We are being discouraged from any kind of travel. But we do FaceTime regularly with the grandkids

One other thing that is keeping us going is the great friends we have online. We hear from our Martini Mates almost daily, FaceTime with Bob and Judy in Canada, have a constant group text exchange with my brother and his wife Jamie and text, e-mail, Facebook, Cruise Critic and Twitter contact with so many others.

How about you? What’s your daily life like. Hopefully you are staying healthy. I have decided to close every e-mail and every post until this is over with these words—stay safe and STAY HOME.

A pandemic influenza would mean widespread infection essentially throughout every region of the world.—Anthony Fauci (The only person in Washington D.C. with any credibility.)

 

ENOUGH ABOUT CRUISE SHIPS!

The mainstream media (and now the general populace as well as the US State Department) just tick me off. I have just about had it with these organizations and government entities  making cruise lines the major focus of all that is bad in the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic. Every single morning when we wake up we turn on the TV to check the news and the lead story is always—”Cruise ship gets quarantined!” or “State Dept. warns people to stay off cruise ships.” And I hear people saying things like, “Cruise ships are nothing but human petrie dishes.” As a cruiser and a travel professional, this drives me crazy. Here’s a typical story:Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 1.01.09 PM

So I started thinking what percentage of cruise ships have been affected. So far, (after doing numerous Google searches) there has been Covid-19 cases on two ships—both from the Princess line. I am not saying this is the fault of Princess Cruises, just that this happens when crew members change ships and some from the one ship that had an outbreak moved to the other. When  they moved, Covid-19 was not even a known problem at the time. That could happen at your job, your hospital, your kid’s school, etc.

There have been other ships that authorities have suspected carried passengers or crew that had the virus but having now gone back through numerous news reports I can only find confirmed cases on the original Diamond Princess that was quarantined in Japan and now the Grand Princess currently docked in Oakland. That’s two ships with a total of a little less than 9,000 total people (passengers and crew) on board. There were other ships mentioned in news articles. Some were even denied landing in ports. For instance, Holland America’s Westerdam was stopped from entering a number of ports in Asia during February but it turned out they had 0 cases on board. Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 1.02.54 PM

The most ridiculous thing to me about all of this is that this is a MINUSCULE percentage of cruise ships (as you can see from the screenshot below that I took from an Excel spreadsheet I just put together). I listed each cruise ship from the major English-speaking cruise lines. I left out those that predominately service just the European market like the Spanish-based Pullmanter (with four ships) or the German-based Mein Schiff/Tui (with three) or the small expedition lines like Ponant or National Geographic. But, just looking at the cruise lines that are considered mainstream in the USA, here is the breakdown.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 12.46.24 PM

Notice anything? Like the fact that there have been Covid-19 outbreaks on TWO ships and there are 227 cruise ships in the major companies fleets? (If you would like a copy of the Excel file which lists every ship from these lines and how many passengers and crew are on those ships, click here.)

Since all this started, I have been asking people I meet in everyday life how many cruise ships they think there are currently sailing the oceans of the world. They never get near the number 227. For instance, today I was at Kaiser’s Redmond clinic, the dentist, Trader Joe’s and Costco (where there was still a HUGE run on toilet paper 😆).

At each place I went, I got into a discussion about the Covid-19 virus (that’s all anyone is talking about anyway) and the fact that I was on a cruise ship last Monday morning. (One person hearing this actually took a step back when I told her that 🙄).  In each place after they reacted to my being on a cruise ship, I asked them, “how many cruise ships do you think are currently sailing?” Of the four people I asked today in person, most said something like, “60?” or “100?” Just to see what I would get in a quick online poll, I just texted every person in my text list that I am friends with or related to. Some of those are major cruisers, others have not cruised at all. Guesses were all over the map. A few went crazy and said 4,500 while most, when I limited them to English-speaking ocean cruise lines (no river cruising involved), said 150-300. One non-cruiser said 225 (well done).

In actuality there are (as you can see in the chart above) 227 ships that carry a little more than half a million passengers at any one time. When you add in the crew members on board those 227 ships the total number of people on cruise ships at any given moment is just under three quarters of a million. And of all those people, less than 200 have the Covid-19 virus. If I were a mathematician, I would give you a percentage. Maybe one of my readers will tell me what that is. I can say that if there are 227 cruise ships, and only two of them have proven to have Covid-19, then that’s around 2%, right?

The media loves to pick on cruise ships. They know that they get miles and miles of headlines by making it sound like if you go on a cruise ship, you are going to get sick and die. Cruise ships are a great target and easy to cover. I just wish they would stop. There are hundreds of thousands of people whose income relies on cruise ships. This is killing them. Would I take a cruise right now? Depends on the cruise. We have four more scheduled this year. We are planning on going on all of them as of now. Our next one is at the end of April. Should the Covid-19 panic still be going on, we may cancel that one. It’s not a biggie, just San Diego to Vancouver with a very good friend but rumors are swirling that Vancouver may not allow ships to go there…which is ridiculous, so we may decide to skip that one. In August we are scheduled to go to the Galapagos. If that cruise was this week, I would go in a minute.

Ok, I will get off my soapbox now. I am just tired of reading and hearing about this. And I should say that what really set me off on this topic today was seeing a subReddit last night where a guy said he just broke up with his girlfriend and was going to kill himself by going on a cruise and catching the Coronavirus. Give me a break!

So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges. Stay in control, and never panic. —Martha Stewart

But what about the cruise?

To finalize our Mardi Gras trip I figured that I should tell you about the cruise and give you some general impressions both good and bad. So let’s get started.

_8101855We sailed on Celebrity’s Reflection. This was the same ship we sailed on last June on our Ireland/Iceland cruise. We liked it then and we liked it this time. It is not Celebrity’s newest ship but it is the newest in their Solstice class and since we refuse to sail on the newer Edge class, it is the newest of Celebrity’s ships we will sail on (we will actually sail on a newer ship—the Flora—when we go to the Galapagos this summer but that doesn’t really count as a big Celebrity ship, more of a large yacht). We now know Reflection pretty well.

Let’s start with embarkation. We had driven down from Sarasota the day before to stay with our friend Mike (mentioned a bunch for the last few days) and on Friday (February 21) we headed to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale to board Reflection. The plan was for us to put gas in the rental car, then I would drop Kathleen, Bob & Judy at the cruise port, return the rental car at the airport (about 10 minutes away—without traffic) and then take a taxi back to meet them at the pier. So much for plans. First, I could not find a single gas station (by looking on my GPS) that was within 10 miles of the cruise port (on our way there) so when I got off the freeway to look, the entrance to the port was right in front of us. So change of plans already. I dropped everyone (and the luggage) off at the port and went in search of gasoline before heading to the airport.

How did I try and find a gas station close to the port? I asked my trusty Garmin GPS where the nearest gas station was. It told me there was a Shell station approximately eight tenths of a mile from the port in a northeast direction. So I said great, punched the button and she (we call our GPS an untypeable name) gave me directions to this station. The only problem with her directions was that this station was eight tenths of a mile from where I was…if I could FLY! Since I had to drive, it meant I had to leave the port, go over a bridge and drive about six miles in horrible traffic to get there. By the time I had the gas in the car and was turning it in at the airport a 15 minute trip had turned into a 45 minute trip. I was fuming. But then I reminded myself I was on vacation and I was about to board a cruise ship and I felt a lot better.

Celebrity has a brand new terminal in Fort Lauderdale and it is very nice. This was the first time we had used it. Embarkation was very easy and we were onboard within 30 minutes of me getting out of the taxi (you all know that I prefer Lyft but it the quickest one available in the airport was 15 minutes) and having lunch in the buffet within 45. After that (because of my late arrival), our stateroom was ready. Originally we had booked an Aqua class stateroom but the folks who had booked Aqua with us were unable to join us for a variety of reasons so with other friends on board and wanting to eat dinners in the main dining room with them, we changed to regular verandah stateroom 6244. If you haven’t been on a Celebrity cruise, here’s what it looked like when we boarded.

We have stayed in this type of stateroom before and have enjoyed it. Our only complaint before has been the lack of storage. Those cupboards above the bed are kind of worthless as they are just big, open cabinets. But we recently read on the Cruise Critic boards about some great baskets/bins you could get at a Dollar Store that were collapsible for putting them into your luggage and then fit perfectly into these cupboards when unfolded. They worked SUPER. And since they only cost a $1.00, by the end of the 10 days they were not doing that great, but we just left them behind. One other thing about the stateroom. On the first day we met our stateroom attendant, Kam and he turned out to be one of the best we have ever had.

Enough about the stateroom. Let’s move on to the important stuff—the food. Usually we would do most dinners in the main dining room with friends at early seating. This time since we were stopping in New Orleans and might be having dinner at odd hours while there, we decided to opt for Select Dining. This means we didn’t have a set time for dinner, but we could make a reservation, especially since we were a party of 11 and those tables are rare. So I made a reservation for the first night and I even called earlier in the day to verify that we were good to go. I was told we were all set. But when we arrived at the dining room, they had no record of it and told us it might be as much as an hour until they could seat us. No one was willing to wait an hour so we kind of split up. We (Kathleen and I) went up to the buffet where we had a really nice steak (for me) and pork chop (for K). Bob and Judy joined us and even thought we don’t usually eat dinners in the buffet, this was very good.

Our party at the Lawn Club Grille
Lawn Club Grillers: Allen, Hans, Mike, Mickie, David, Bob, Judy. Kathleen, Me, Barbara and Terry.

The rest of the week this was our dinner schedule, a real mix. We had dinner in the dining room most nights. We also had a late snack in the buffet on our two nights in New Orleans since I was either coming back from being off the ship or heading back out to take pictures of the evening festivities. On another night we had dinner in the Lawn Club Grille which is Reflections outdoor specialty restaurant. That about covers our dinners.

As far as the quality of the food and service, we give the Lawn Club Grille incredibly high marks. I am not a steak person but I had the best ribeye steak I have ever had. And the service was outstanding. In the buffet, we were totally impressed with the selection (even a lot of outstanding Indian food which we had never seen before), food quality and the service, although sometimes it was hard to find a member of the bar staff to take a drink order or get us a glass of wine.

The dining room on the other hand was pretty much mediocre. Maybe we just expect too much but after twenty Celebrity Cruises their menu is very tired and needs to be refreshed. Most nights, there are at least two dishes on the menu that we have seen for 15 years and they weren’t that good the first time. And the service was not up to Celebrity standards either. Most nights it was OK but a couple of them it took forever to get served. We had menus in minutes, then it took 20 minutes to get appetizers and another 35 minutes after that to get entrées. That’s just not Celebrity like.

IMG_2347We did lunch most days in the buffet and enjoyed it. We also did a special hamburger lunch back at the Lawn Club Grille as well as a sea day lunch at The Porch, Reflection’s outdoor seafood restaurant. It was EXCELLENT! Enjoyed all the food and outstanding service. I love their seafood tower (at left) and their sangria, although I did think the lunch we had in the same place in Iceland in June was better.

Breakfast was usually a muffin (or two or three) and latte/Americano in Cafe Al Bacio or the buffet for something more substantial if we knew we were going to be out until late.

OleksiiMoving on from the food, we can’t say a lot about the entertainment. When we are on a cruise, our predominate evening preference is socializing with friends. Most nights would find us at the Elite (a higher level of Celebrity loyalty program) reception before dinner and then in the World Class Bar after dinner. One of the highlights of our June cruise in Iceland had been meeting Oleksii, the most amazing bartender in the world in that World Class Bar (a very special bar that is affiliated with a particular world-wide bartending contest). Well, one of the best part of this cruise was seeing Oleksii again. When he first saw us he just about jumped out from behind the bar to come and give us a huge hug. When we left him on the last night of the cruise, he gave Kathleen a kiss on the cheek and I jokingly said, “What no kiss for me?” and I got one myself😆.

We also had a great time with Oleskii’s bartending partner, Santos. Both of these amazing  guys taught an outstanding Mixology class one afternoon that we took and LOVED! In fact, Santos took video of it and you can see it by clicking here. It’s hilarious. You can see Kathleen and I shaking cocktails like crazy.

To sum up, the Reflection is a wonderful ship, sparkling clean with an awesome crew. Since this was our second time on board, we would clearly sail on her again and again…except for the fact that we (after 20+ Celebrity cruises) don’t have any other mainstream Celebrity cruises booked. We are sailing Celebrity’s Flora in the Galapagos but that’s one of their expedition cruise ships. We doubt we will be sailing on one of their ships again (unless coerced by friends 😀) in the future. Our next cruise is on Holland America and after Flora, we are doing a river cruise with Viking followed by a Viking Ocean cruise in October 2021. If we like Viking, we probably will make them our mainstream line of choice. I will explain more in a later post.

One last thing—I can’t write a cruise review without mentioning Coronavirus. Covid-19 on cruise ships is all the people on the news are talking about. We had no problems with illness whatsoever. In fact, if anything, the virus made everyone more diligent in doing things like washing hands, not touching faces and Celebrity cleaning. Personally, I have come home from every one of our last six cruise trips with some kind of virus. Either a cold or the flu with fever. So I was determined not to get sick this time and I was extra vigilant. As many of you know, I don’t do elevators on cruise ships. I use the stairs to try and help with warding off all the calories I am eating. I did this again this time but I can honestly say that I never touched a stair rail. I was consciously aware of doing it. And it worked. I came home healthy and now almost a week later, I still feel great.

Oops, I almost forgot the BEST part of the entire cruise—sailing with our friends. Of course Bob and Judy (who we see a lot as they live just north of us in BC) that we traveled this entire trip with. But beyond them, it was great to see our close friend Mike. We were totally thrilled about two months before the cruise when Mike told us his neighbors Hans and Barbara would be joining us on this cruise. We had sailed with them on one of our favorite cruises back in 2010, when we went from Singapore to Hong Kong. We see them just about every time we are at Mike’s. They are two of our favorite people. Hans is an amazing guy who is absolutely hilarious and Barbara and I always seem to be able to find something to talk about. Also joining us were two of our newest Martini Mates, David and Mickie. There is a long story about a unicorn, a horse, a cruise director, etc. but I won’t get into it here. And two of Mike’s other neighbors who we had not met before joined us as well—it was great to have Terry and Alan along. Just for giggles, here’s a bunch of pics of all of us having a great time.

Old and young, we are all on our last cruise.—Robert Louis Stevenson

 

Grand Cayman Crystal Caves

_8101850I love alliterations so you got that one as a headline. Of course it also relates to where we spent our next port day. After two days at sea (relaxing and socializing) we arrived at the island nation of the Cayman Islands (this is where I keep all my off-shore bank accounts 😜). Specifically, we came ashore in tenders on Grand Cayman Island. But not the town of George Town which is where we were supposed to come ashore. The winds were too strong for Reflection to get us on to the tenders (For the non-cruisers, these are small boats that ferry us to shore when there is no ocean pier and the ship has to anchor offshore.) So we had to go to the opposite side of the island and tender into a much smaller port, nowhere near a town.

_8101861We did have plans on Grand Cayman and we were still able to do everything we had set up. Our buddy Mike (the god of shore excursions) had set up a small group trip to the Crystal Caves, a relatively new attraction on Grand Cayman. On the way off the ship (while on the tender) I got to take the photo above which shows The Reflection in her best light. Then we got to the tender dock and I shot her again with some island color in the foreground.

We were picked up by a taxi hired by the tour company and whisked away to the Caves. We were a little early so our driver gave us a free tour of some of the sites of Grand Cayman. One of the things we saw everywhere on Grand Cayman were tiny cemeteries everywhere. It was like every neighborhood had one of their own. In our short drive to the Caves we passed at least nine._8102059

We finally reached the Crystal Caves (a new attraction on Grand Cayman since 2016). It is a fascinating system of caves. There are three main caves and because there was a threat of rain that day, we were not able to visit one of them. We were able to visit the Roots Cave and The Lake Cave. I took more than 200 photos of the caves and if I showed you all of them, we would be here all day and you would get sick of caves. If you are interested in more, I will drop the balance on my Flickr feed that you can access at right.

After our outstanding Crystal Caves tour (it lasted about an hour or so) we taxied back to the pier and headed back to the ship. On the way I took a few more photos to kind of give those that have never been to Grand Cayman an idea of what the island looks like.

The mystery is what prompted men to leave caves, to come out of the womb of nature.—Stephen Gardiner

Finally…Mardi Gras!

I’ve been teasing you long enough. We were actually still in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and yes we loved it. Had a superb day which started off with my taking the photo mentioned in my previous post. Please check it out if you have’t read it yet.

Pre-dawn photo walk

After I took that pic I walked around some of the same streets I had walked through the day before and a few others. First I hit St. Charles Street where the parades were scheduled for later in the day. At the corner of Julia Street and St. Charles, there were hundreds of people who had camped out overnight to save their places. Many had tents, sleeping bags and a few had charcoal grilles fired up and cooking breakfast. I watched an awesome sunrise and captured a lot of it. I will let the photos speak for the actual photo walk and be back with more narrative after the photos (with captions).

Later that day…

After my photo walk I headed back to the ship to shower, eat and convince Kathleen to come to a parade with me. Eventually she and I along with Bob, Judy & Mike walked up Julia Street to St. Charles Avenue to watch what we thought was the start of the Krewe of Rex parade. King Rex’s Krewe hosts the final parade before the end of Mardi Gras. Turns out the Krewe of Zulu’s parade (that preceded Rex) was a little late getting started and that put Rex a whole bunch late getting going. We stayed and watched a bunch of Zulu floats go by. The crowds were about 20 people deep going back from St. Charles Street and in that mess were some truly unusual and fun people watching the parade and celebrating Mardi Gras in a real New Orleans fashion.

After we watched the Zulu Krewe parade for a while, we headed back to the ship, got some lunch and around 4:00 pm Mike and I walked back out to get some authentic cajun gumbo for me and jambalaya for Mike. We both just had a small bowl because we still had dinner with our friends later that evening back onboard.

_8101812After we got back aboard but before we went to dinner I did a quick panorama of downtown New Orleans from the ship (it is below). Pay special attention to the skyscraper that is just to the right of center in the distance. (It is also the tallest building to the right.) When we did the HoHo bus tour it was another very sad building failure in the history of modern New Orleans. When we drove by the tower, all the bottom floor windows that were easy to see, were covered in plywood. It (The Plaza Tower) was built (according to our guide and the previously linked Wikipedia page) in 1964 and totally abandoned in 2002 due to a HUGE infestation of black mold. And even worse, it can’t be demolished because it is full of asbestos and imploding it would put a mile wide cloud of asbestos all over downtown New Orleans. So it sits there and probably will for a very long time. So sad. 

New Orleans Pano

This finished up our time in New Orleans which brought us a ton of fun, lots of walking, parades, Krewes, beignets and so much more. We are very glad we visited during Mardi Gras and we truly loved the city and the people we met there.

Mardi Gras, the drinking, the partying—that scared me. —Archie Manning