We are trying to travel again…

Just a quick note tonight. We are at the start of what we hope will be a really great 14 night vacation that we booked to make up for losing our European trip in December. When that trip got cancelled we immediately looked for someplace else to go. We didn’t want Europe because at that point things were going south there pretty quick and we have a big Mediterranean cruise planned for next autumn.

So one of the first people we asked for advice was our good friend Seth Wayne. Long time readers of these posts may remember that Seth used to be a meteorologist in Seattle and we met him on Twitter because of our mutual love of cruising. He also had a travel show on KOMO radio and I was often one of his guests to talk travel. Two years ago, Seth left his job at KOMO-TV as the morning weather guy and became the Director of Communications and Brand Ambassador for Holland America (HAL) cruise line. Since then (minus the pandemic) he has been on a HAL ship. From time to time he does a special Sail with Seth cruise where he is on the ship with a group of folks and there are all kinds of additional activities that he runs for the group. So I called to ask him when the next one was…and he said, “Hey, come with me to the Southern Caribbean on January 23rd!”

So even though I am NOT a fan of the Caribbean, because it was Seth and because we hadn’t been anyplace since our July trip to the Galapagos (which is forever for us) we jumped on it. And then came Omicron. So for the last two weeks we have been following all the news to see what was going on with the virus and cruising.

Yes, we have heard all the CDC stuff about cruising but I still totally believe that being on a cruise ship is by far the safest way to travel. Sure you can drive, but eventually you have to stop and eat or sleep. You could fly but when you do, you have no idea if the person next to or in front of or behind you is vaccinated or willing to keep their mask on correctly for your entire flight. But when you cruise, you know that every person on board has been fully vaccinated and wears a mask except when eating or drinking. Not only that but you can’t board without a negative COVID test whether you are vaccinated or not.

So last Saturday we went and got ourselves a Kaiser PCR test to be sure we were safe to fly south. We passed with a NEGATIVE result (which is kind of weird…to say that it’s a bad thing to be POSITIVE) and then we quarantined at home (no market trips, no restaurants, etc.) until this morning when we were picked up by Century Car Service and whisked off to SEA-TAC airport for our flight to Fort Lauderdale. I would love to say that everything went perfectly and it almost did except for the one hour delay to replace a knob in the cockpit But we finally got here and we even had time for a quick dinner at the hotel before I ran back to the airport to pick my brother Steve and my sister-in-law Jamie who are back traveling with us again. (They haven’t gotten to go anyplace since we came home from Ireland in June 2019) And now I am sitting in bed at the Le Meridien Hotel in Dania Point, FL writing this post.

Our cruise does not sail until Sunday and between now and then we are going down to Key West tomorrow, then back up to Wellington to have dinner with our buddies Mike and Cathy and then an AirBnB back here in Fort Lauderdale so we can do another COVID test before we sail on Sunday.

The big message here is to get ready for some more photos and posts as we spend the next two weeks out and about in Florida and the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean the temperature never changes, the sun just goes down.      —Kris Marshall

 

2021 Top Ten (could be anything)

Over the last few days I have written about my five best food experiences of 2021, my 10 best photos I took in 2021 and my five biggest downers of 2021 so today, let’s get to the good stuff to close out the year. So here are the 10 best things I loved in 2021. BTW: Unlike my photos which I numbered, this group is in no particular order (except the NUMBER ONE which is down at the bottom).

Walking all year

It’s funny that I am choosing to write about this first. I guess it’s because I haven’t been able to do it for a week (as of today) and that’s killing me. Too much ice and snow outside keeps me indoors. I am going stir-crazy but I know if I slip and fall then I might not be able to walk for weeks. It has been a big part of my life this year. So far in 2021, I have walked 1,466 miles (that’s 2,359 kilometer for our Canadian viewers). If I had just kept going and not come home I could have walked to my childhood home in Palm Springs and then to my brother’s place in San Juan Capistrano. Or I could have walked back and forth to our friends in Chilliwack, BC almost six times. Can you tell I love my walks? (BTW: I know how far I have gone because I use the wonderful app, Map My Walk from Under Armour. )

Going to Southern California twice to see Jamie and Steve

This was supposed to have been the year that the four of us went to Europe (for the third time) together and did a bunch of other stuff. But we “made do” with visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Southern California…twice. Great weather, lots of fun, family, food and superb activities organized by Jamie made these visits at least a good substitute for Europe. Not really, but we did have fun. We even went to the historic Musso and Frank Grille in Hollywood for dinner.

Stopping to see Mike and Meeting Cathy in June

We had so many schedule changes for our Galapagos trip in July that we were thrilled when it all finally worked out and we ended up  flying through South Florida to get to Ecuador. Thrilled because this gave us a chance to add on a couple of days to see one of our best friends and fellow Martini Mate Mike and to meet the new love of his life, Cathy, in person. We had an outstanding time, Mike even got up at 2:00 am to take us all the way to the Miami airport (WHAT A FRIEND!) and we LOVED Cathy. So it really stands out as a highlight for us. Even better, we get to see them again (I really hope) in three weeks.

Getting to go back to Canada in September

Over the last 15 years we have spent a lot of time in British Columbia. Specifically Chilliwack, BC. That’s because that’s where our friends Bob and Judy live. And in case you missed it, since the start of the pandemic, Canada had closed their border. That meant that even though we could FaceTime to talk, we hadn’t seen them in person from the day we got back from our Mardi Gras cruise (March 2o, 2020) until we finally got to get tested, get the Canadian entry app, show our Nexus cards and get in to see them in September. That’s a long time not to see someone you are used to seeing at least every other month. If all works out and it doesn’t snow again, we may go up again next weekend!

Going to Seaside with family in August

Every summer (or at least three of them) we have rented an AirBnB type place with our grandkids (and their parents). This year we went to Seaside, Oregon. I can’t tell you how much I cherish that week with them. We play games, go to the beach, local attractions, make meals together and watch special movies in the evenings (Star Wars!!!). Can’t wait until August 2022 to do this again.

Ted Lasso–forever

I know. It’s a television show. But I love television and it is the best television show ever made—in my somewhat humble opinion 😜. There is not a single episode where I don’t laugh, cry and exult in these glorious characters. I have watched each and every episode at least four times and some even more. We watched their Christmas show on Christmas Eve and will every Christmas Eve from now on. I listen to two podcasts about the show every week during the season. I still listen to Brett Goldstein’s “Films to Be Buried With” podcast every week.  I follow all the actors on Instagram. I have downloaded every song Hannah Waddingham has recorded that wasn’t from a West End musical. I watch every YouTube video about the show that YouTube throws at me—and that’s a lot. I have my Richmond FC scarf and I am ready to root for Ted and the Greyhounds again next summer. I am a total fanboy and completely obsessed. The show just speaks to me. When it comes to Ted Lasso, I am never a goldfish (you only get this if you have seen the show—go watch it!).

Getting fully vaccinated and staying that way with boosters

This isn’t the highlight of the year but it led to everything else we did. Do you remember when the vaccine was first introduced and so many people (like us) were clamoring to get our hands on our first shot…and then our second. We got our first one at the end of January and our second in mid-February. Then in mid-July I was in our local Kaiser (our HMO) clinic and they said they were throwing away vaccine every day because it was defrosted and people weren’t showing up to get it. I just don’t understand the anti-vaccination crowd. We know friends and relatives of friends who are part of that group and they are normally intelligent people. Please explain this because I can’t. I just know that I have had three, full potency shots (I take an injected auto-immune drug weekly so I got a full shot for my third and not a booster) and Kathleen is boosted.

Storyworth–all year long

I think have mentioned Storyworth on this site before but here’s a quick explanation if I haven’t. For Christmas 2020 my daughter gave me a one-year subscription to Storyworth. Since then I get an e-mail every week with a single question about my life. Either my past, my opinions or my relationships. Each week I answer the question and they keep them and at the end of the year (now) I order a pre-paid, printed book of all of the stories so that my grandkids can know about their Grandpa and how he got this way 😜.

I am currently in the process of editing my book (that’s the cover above) and I will order the printed version for myself next week. Once I see my printed copy, I will order two more, one for each of the grandkids. This has been a wonderful experience. I have learned so much. Over my lifetime I have been in therapy a quite a few times, but writing these stories had been more therapeutic than any of that. It does get a little dark sometimes but it’s really brought back some good and not-so-good memories. And yes, I guess I am verbose. The average Storyworth book is about 250 pages. I am over 450 at this point. Can you tell I have loved the experience?

Retiring from Jostens Yearbooks after 39 years last June

To be completely honest, this was not supposed to happen until 2022. I love even numbers and I really wanted to get to 40 years with Jostens and my own company, Koobraey Productions. But COVID did this in as well. Yearbooks have been changing every year of those 40 years and I still found things to write and teach about but when the pandemic hit and things were NOTHING like they have ever been before, it was just enough to push me to walk away. Jostens and Koobraey have been a great place to be self-employed for those 39 years and there isn’t much I would trade for the friendships I have made during that time.

It was a career I never expected (I was supposed to be a history teacher) but loved and did quite well with. From the day I started in 1982 until last June 14, I loved a lot of it. The six months since retiring (I am still in my “funtirement” job booking travel with Expedia Cruises) have been so busy I can’t figure out where I used to fit this job into my life.

Going to the Galapagos on Celebrity’s Flora in July

Being honest, this is number one. I mean not only was it the BEST thing we did in 2021 it may be one of the 10 best experiences I have ever had in my life. It is definitely the best trip/cruise/adventure we have ever done. We loved it so much we are going to do it again in 2024 to see the Inner Loop islands. I find it very hard to put into words what this adventure meant to us. Not only was it the first time we got to really travel after the shutdown, it was so much more than I ever thought it would be.

For me, the biggest excitement was the photography. The Galapagos are a photographer’s heaven. After a year of not shooting much of anything other than grandkids (which I love shooting) it was like I got all caught up in a week. Certainly equal to the photography were the amazing people we met on Celebrity’s Flora. There is no way I would go again and not go aboard that ship. It made the trip so very easy not to mention being the best place ever to come back to at night. Every single crew member we met was amazing. The guides, the crew in the dining room, the chef who made me sango, the officers and we were especially lucky to have been sailing the week that Celebrity’s resident scientist, Ellen Prager was onboard. I was never much for science but going to this incredible place and talking to Ellen and the guides she trains really got me excited about it. I leave you with a special gift to close out 2021, a slide show of my best photos from the islands. Happy New Year!

 

Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.

Art Buchwald

My End of the Year Lists Begin Today with Food and Drink

With the end of this mixed bag of a year, I am seeing all the Top Ten/Bottom Ten of 2021 lists in every part of the news. I usually read the ones about movies and photos (there are lots about the latest music but it makes me sad when I have never heard of anyone on those lists 😂). If you have been following me for a while you know I love lists. I even have a page of nothing but lists I have made. Most were posts first and then added to the list page. Check them out sometime if you are new to the blog. You can expect these new ones to be added to that page as well.

This year I have decided to do my own set of Top Ten Lists. I am already doing my Top Ten Photos I Took in 2021 on Facebook and Instagram (I will post them here tomorrow). In that spirit I have decided to do a post about my Top Ten Things That I Loved About 2021. Then, when I started listing that Top Ten, I also thought about a bottom 10…or maybe 5. Then I started thinking about other lists from 2021 like my favorite meals or my favorite just about anything. But I decided that this could just go on forever. So I decided to do four lists (including my photos). First, the aforementioned Top Ten and then a Bottom Five of 2021. That leads us to this post,  The Top 5 things I ate or drank in 2021. And I was going to do them all in one post but I knew that would get too long so I broke them into four posts (for today the next three days) so I hope you enjoy them.

Food, Glorious Food!
My top five things I ate or drank in 2021

You know I love food and drink so here they are in no particular order. I had two of them in one meal and three of them within two days and the other two in the same week (Did you get all that?).

  1. Chicken Sandwich with slaw (Houstons restaurant in Irvine, CA)
  2. Wood-fire grilled artichokes (Houstons restaurant in Irvine, CA)
  3. Blue Coyote’s margaritas (Blue Coyote Grille–Palm Springs, CA)
  4. Sango De Camarón (onboard Celebrity Flora in the Galapagos)
  5. Fritada and Llapingachos (EB Hotel—Quito, Ecuador)

As you can see the first two things come from the same restaurant, Houstons. This is a small chain (11 outlets) of restaurants located across the US. I had first heard about them while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Armchair Expert. The expert himself, Dax Shepherd, raves about them and my brother and his bride had been wanting to take us to the Irvine, California location for a while but we didn’t have a reservation the first time we went. But in April when we went to visit them for a few days, we stopped there for lunch right after we got off the airplane and based on the recommendation from Dax, we ordered the chicken sandwich.

Then, based on the menu description, we ordered the artichoke appetizer as well. Suffice it to say, these were both AWESOME! How much did we like them? Well, six days later when they took us back to the airport we had an early dinner ordered the same thing and when we went down to see them in October, we had lunch when they picked us up and dinner when they took us back to the airport and we ordered the same thing all over again. Yes, they do have other things on their menu but when something is this good and you don’t live nearby, get it! If you are ever in a place with a Houstons, go have these two dishes. You won’t be sorry.

I mentioned that I had three of my top five things within just a few days time. Well the first two were at Houstons and the third was the next day after both our visits to Houstons. We stopped by the Blue Coyote for margaritas. Blue Coyote is a restaurant in Palm Springs (my and my brother’s hometown) and we first discovered it years ago and then took Steve and Jamie a few years later. When I was a kid if you wanted Mexican food in Palm Springs, you went to Las Casuelas. They are still there but the tourists have taken over the place and it just isn’t as great as it used to be…so now we go to Blue Coyote.

We used to just order a round of margaritas but the last few times when we have been there with Jamie and Steve we have started getting a pitcher…they are that good. I do feel a little sorry for Steve because he is always driving and that means he only gets one (but not too sorry 😜).

The last two items in my list of food are both from our trip to the Galapagos in July. I had the Fritada and Llapingachos at the EB Hotel in Quito where we spent the night both before and after our visit to the islands. I ordered this the night before because it sounded good (it is a pork dish with potatoes and lots of other stuff) but it was so good, when we came back a week later I ordered it again—yup, still just as good and since I don’t know of anyplace to get it besides Quito, ordering it again was a no-brainer.

Lastly, Sango De Camarón is a traditional seafood stew with a plantain base and I ate that onboard the amazing Celebrity Flora while we were cruising through the islands. One afternoon Kathleen and I were looking at the menu for that evening outside the dining room and I told her I was sad because there were no real Ecuadorian dishes on the menu that night. I had learned on the four previous nights (plus the night at the hotel) that I LOVE Ecuadorian food. The maitre’d overheard me saying this and asked if I really liked the food from Ecuador. I said, “Yes I do!” So he said he would see what he could do. That night when we went to dinner—still no Ecuadorian food on the menu 😔. But the next night…I had already told our waiter what I wanted when the maitre’d walked up and said he was cancelling our order (of an octopus dish I knew I would love) and the chef had made a wonderful surprise for me. Being an idiot and looking a gift horse in the mouth, I told him that this sounded great but I loved octopus and I really wanted to have that entrée. He said to wait a few minutes and he would see what he could do.

About five minutes later he was back with an appetizer that was not on the menu. It was a big salad with a HUGE portion of braised and broiled octopus on top and tons of avocado (the avocado in Ecuador is amazing!). After eating that he brought me the regular octopus entrée I had ordered and set it down in front of me and then brought a huge bowl of something that smelled amazing. He set that down in the middle of our table (there were four of us) and said, “This is sango. It is a traditional Ecuadorian dish that is a seafood stew with a plantain and rice base.” So I had to taste it and it was AMAZING. If there was a kind of local seafood that was NOT in there, I would like to know what had been left out. There was shrimp, clams, mussels, different kinds of white fish, calamari, scallops and…octopus. The stew/sauce part reminded me of a very good risotto.

Sadly, because of Kathleen’s allergy to shellfish, she couldn’t eat any of it. And the better half of the couple we were eating with (Jamie and Catherine) said she couldn’t eat anything with tentacles. So it was up to Jamie and I do make that chef happy…and we did. We ate it all.

One of the main reasons I want to go back in 2024 is to have this dish again. The taste and texture were delicious but I think the thing that really made it special was the fact that just because someone had overheard me talking about my new love for Ecuadorian food, the chef had made me this wonderful dish that represented his homeland. Food experiences don’t get any better than that.

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.

Elsa Schiaparelli

 

 

 

Total Disappointment–Trip Cancelled–Mad as HELL!

How do you start a post where you are both sad and mad? Today is November 24. Next Tuesday, November 30th we were SUPPOSED to be flying to Europe for a four night stay in Lisbon, a three night stay in Amsterdam, a two night stay in Prague, a one night stay in Nuremberg, a seven night Viking River Cruise from Regensburg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary with stops in Vienna, Passau and Krems. After the cruise we would spend an additional two nights in Budapest. We were going to be out doing what we love best for 22 days in glorious Europe. We would have seen the Christmas Markets of Europe, done a plethora of tours, gotten to travel with my brother and his bride once again…and so much more.

But last week we learned two things that made us reconsider the entire trip. First, due to a spike in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths Germany closed all their Christmas Markets–one of the main reasons we were going. At that point we thought, “Well, let’s go ahead and go and we can do the Christmas Markets in Prague, Budapest and Austria.” On Friday of last week, Austria went into lockdown so the cruise was going to just be a lot of time on the river and not a lot of time in those cities that we really wanted to visit. When I called Viking I was told that they had rescheduled all the Austrian stops (3 days out of the seven) as river cruising days and that they might schedule a day in Bratislava, Slovakia but there probably would not be any independent touring allowed in any of the stops we would make except maybe Hungary at the end of the cruise. With all those restrictions, not  to mention the risk of getting COVID ourselves (even though we have had three shots) we decided to cancel.

This was a pretty bitter pill to swallow. We had originally booked and paid in full for this cruise in 2018. We were supposed to have taken it last winter (December 2020) but of course that got cancelled. And because it was cancelled by Viking, we could have either had a full refund or a voucher for 125% of our fare to use on a future Viking cruise. We opted for the voucher and used it to book the same cruise again in 2021. Now that we have cancelled that one Viking has again offered us a full refund or to reinstate our 125% voucher so we can try again. That’s what we decided to do. As soon as I have the voucher we will book this same cruise in 2023. If any of you would like to join us, we would love to have you travel with us. I will post all the details after we book it.

So that’s what made us sad. We had to cancel. Then we got mad. Not at the cruise line, not at the airline, not at all the tours and shows we had prepaid to do because they all gave us either a quick refund (in less than three days) or a voucher for future travel (which we are OK with since we intend to continue to travel). Of course we could have still gone to Europe but then we heard that other countries were also shutting down. Which brings to the people I am mad at. The people who caused our cancellation. The freakin’ European idiots (who are no better than our home-grown American idiots) who refused to believe in science and get themselves VACCINATED—they are why this happened.

We have two friends who live in Bavaria. They are both retired physicians. Their kids are all doctors. We were corresponding with them on a regular basis leading up to our decision. They were telling us that due to the infections in the unvaccinated, there were so many people who needed ICU beds they were shipping patients to Italy. How stupid are people? I guess we all know the answer to that one.

That’s all for now. Suffice it to say that we are sitting sadly at home and staying there until at least January…but that’s a whole other post. Stay tuned to find out how well we did with cancellations and where we are going instead.

To my US readers, have a great Thanksgiving. To everyone else–stay safe (especially if you are in Europe).

When things are a disappointment, try not to be so discouraged. –Carol Burnett

Quick (well not that quick) Updates

Just dropping in with a couple of things I have seen in the last few days that I wanted to share…and a comment on my writing.

Follow up to my Seattle post

If you read my last post you know that I am really unhappy with the state of the city we live closest to—Seattle. This morning this was in The Seattle Times:

If you have been here, you know that the number two (after the Space Needle) tourist attraction in the city is Pike Place Market. It’s now a haven for drug users, panhandlers who are aggressive and lot of other problems. This happened yesterday (October 4). Everyday brings new reports of problems. If you are coming to Seattle in the next months, be VERY careful.

Cruising is the safest way to travel right now

Earlier this week I saw an excellent article by Gene Sloan about cruising. Gene used to be the travel editor at USA Today. He now writes for the website, The Points Guy. (If you aren’t familiar with The Points Guy—the site is all about the best way to use points and mileage rewards but also covers major travel stories.) The story he wrote is all about why cruising is probably the safest way to travel right now. His reasons include the fact that most cruise lines are requiring everyone on a cruise to be vaccinated. They are, in many cases, requiring masks to be worn as well. The people who are on these cruise ships have agreed before sailing to these rules. There’s no discussion about vaccinations and no fights about masks. If you are onboard, you have already indicated you will comply. If not, they put you off at the next port.

Contrast that with some places in the USA where many are unvaccinated, won’t wear masks or think COVID is a government conspiracy. Or airplanes where people who won’t wear masks fight with the flight attendants. So I get where Gene is coming from and I couldn’t agree more. You can read the entire article by clicking HERE.

It’s October!

Of course you knew that, but it is really exciting to us because now we can say that we are traveling this month…and next month…and the month after too. Sadly not until the very end of October and November but we are still traveling.

Later this month (on Kathleen’s birthday–October 27th) we are off to Southern California for a few days. The big reason we are going is my 50th high school reunion in Palm Springs on October 30th. Happily, it also means we get to see my brother and his family as well as spend a couple of days with them in Palm Springs.

Then on November 30th (see what I mean about the end of the month) we are flying to Europe! First up, five days in Lisbon, Portugal. Never been there before but can’t wait to go. Then we fly to meet my brother Steve and his wife Jamie in Amsterdam to stay at our favorite hotel in the world…The Banks Mansion. We stayed there in 2017 when we did a British Isles cruise and can’t wait to go back.

That part of our trip is on our own—not a cruise ship or tour group in site. But after we leave Amsterdam we come under the care of Viking River Cruises as we fly to Prague for a three day pre-cruise visit. Then we move on to Nuremberg, Germany for another one day pre-cruise visit.

Then the cruise starts. We board the Viking Long Boat Atla in Regensburg, Germany for an eight day cruise to visit the Christmas Markets in the cities on the Danube River. We stop in Passau, Germany, Vienna, Austria, Krems, Austria and then finish in Budapest, Hungary. Of course I will be blogging it all so you can follow along with us as we go. Expect a whole lot of Christmas!

Being verbose

A while back my best buddy Bob told me that I was verbose. I answered him in a post that you can read by clicking HERE.

If you don’t feel like going back to read it, here’s the definition:

Why do I bring this up now? Because I know I write that way. I mean this post was supposed to only be a quick look at three topics. And here I am at 713 words so far (WordPress keeps track of it). But about three months ago I heard a great quote about being verbose and I had to share it for those of you who read my ramblings. It is below. I had originally heard it attributed to Mark Twain but I found that it wasn’t but it does sound a lot like me.

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.  —Blaise Pascal

She can’t stand it…and neither can I

When we were on Celebrity’s Flora two weeks ago we spent a bunch of very pleasant dinners with two new friends, Katherine and Jamie (that’s them on the right). Jamie and I (even though they are both young enough to be our children) had a lot in common. He loves beer, Formula 1 racing and octopus. All three of those interests make him a great person to have a conversation with…in my book.

Then it turned out that I had two things in common with Katherine. First, she is as big a fan of the what we (Katherine and I) consider to be the greatest television show ever made—Ted Lasso (back tonight for season 2 on Apple TV+! We can’t wait! If you haven’t seen it, go watch the first season now) and she also (like me) can’t stand to finish a vacation without having another one planned.

It just about kills either of us to have nothing coming up and booked. Thankfully for Kathleen and I, we have so much booked I don’t have that problem (but there have been times I did) with our annual beach trip with the grandkids next month, my 50th high school reunion in Palm Springs in October, our Portugal/Amsterdam/Christmas Markets cruise in December, our Pacific Coastal cruise in May 22 and our Mediterranean cruise in the fall of 22.. But Katherine had that problem—nothing booked. I told her to get going. I gave her some suggestions but sadly, I can’t be her travel agent because she works for Royal Caribbean and gets some really nice employee discounts. I am pretty sure that’s how they wound up on Flora.

But if YOU don’t have any travel plans and it’s killing you too (blatant and shameless plug coming 😀), drop me a note. I have plenty of ideas of where you might be able to go and I can even help you to get there.

When you can look forward to something outside of now, then you have an open door.    —Esther Peril on Armchair Expert

Celebrity Galapagos PDFs

I know I promised that yesterday was the last post on Galapagos but I forgot to give you a link to download the PDFs I have from X.

You can click here​​​​​​​ to download some Celebrity PDFs that I saved. The big one is the dailies for the entire week. Our entire schedule with other items as well. The others are menus, one is the room service lunch and dinner menu, another is a mid-week menu and the last one is the Celebrity menu choices for the pre and post hotel dinners.

Enjoy!

Summing up the Galapagos on Celebrity’s Flora

This was a hell of a trip. We have decided it was the best we have ever taken. On the final night on board Captain Patricio (one of the nicest guys you will ever meet) talked for a few minutes about how he feels about the Galapagos. He said that (paraphrasing here) that “the Galapagos should be the model for the rest of the earth. A place where every animal and bird has learned to live together. And the people who come to visit care about those islands and do their best to nurture them.” I loved that. It’s the way I felt walking through the nests of the albatrosses, stepping over sea lions, watching penguins be totally unafraid and letting us get within inches and so much more.

It is also the way I felt when I talked to the naturalists and crew members who lived and had grown up on the islands. Their love for the place they live was evident in the way they protected the land, the animals, the birds, the foliage and the geology. These islands are truly magical.

One thing I love that Celebrity Cruises is doing, is giving back. From the perfect ship (that does not run on smog producing bunker oil) to the fact that they never drop anchor so as not to disturb the ocean floor and the tree planting that we did and they continue to support. I will admit that in the middle of our day on Santa Cruz Island I was not that thrilled to stop to plant some trees in the rain, but as I look back on it, it was more than just a symbolic gesture on Celebrity’s part. It was making us think and giving us a chance to give back to these incredible islands.

Somewhat else that makes Flora different from every other Celebrity ship (besides the  other two small ships in the Galapagos) is that there is no caste system on board. I think I have mentioned that after 21 cruises with Celebrity we are switching our cruising to Viking Ocean. This is because on their other ships, if you aren’t in a suite or aqua class you do not get the same experience as the others on board. You get a lot better trip if you spend a lot more money. You can actually sail in a suite on their big ships without ever seeing the folks in the “economy class” staterooms. They can stay in “The Retreat” and have a “luxury” experience and never have to associate with the riff-raff. But on Flora, everyone is the same. Unless I stood outside the door of the biggest suites, I would NEVER have a clue who was in them. That would not be the case on the other Celebrity ships. There would be lots of places those in suites could go, that I couldn’t. Sad.

This post is all about summing this cruise up and answering some last questions and giving you a few more pieces of information I have missed in previous posts.

Let’s start with the questions:

  • What was the weather like?
    When we there in early July it was magnificent. In the 70s every day and pretty much every night. Before we made the decision to go, we did a lot of research on the weather. As we were told by our naturalists mid-June through mid-August and mid-November through early-January (the transitions between seasons) are the best times to go. Here’s a chart on the weather:

    From looking at this there may be a better time if you are a snorkeler, you may want to go when the water is warmer.
  • I like cocktails. What were they like on the ship? Are they expensive?
    First, everything is included onboard including all alcoholic beverages. That said, as much as we love our wine and cocktails we drank less on this cruise than we have on any of our 25+ previous cruises. Why? I think for two reasons. We knew that we had to be up early every day to be on the islands on the ship’s schedule. Being even the least big hung over or dehydrated was something we could not do and be at an optimum for the excursions. The other reason we didn’t drink as much is that there was less time to drink. Seriously, on other cruises, gathering in our favorite lounge both before and after dinner to socialize and sip is not something you do on this cruise. Before dinner you hear about the islands and what you will be doing the next day and after dinner…you go to bed.
  • What was the one thing you bought for this cruise that you could not have done without?
    That’s easy. My dry bag. I would have been lost without it. I owe the advice to get one to my Instagram friend Marvic_212. He is a crew member on Flora and takes the most amazing photos of the islands. He and his family live there as well and one of the biggest regrets I had was not being able to meet him when we were there. He was going to come back onboard a few weeks after we left. But if you love my pics, you will love his. When I asked him what I would need to keep my camera dry, he said “get a dry bag.” So I got the one I linked. I also ordered a strap so I could carry it with me. You will need a backpack with straps to take on the Zodiacs. The reason you need the straps is because you have to have both hands free to board the ship or get off on a wet or dry landing. So this is the strap I got.  I am really glad I got this as on the very first Zodiac trip, the bag got soaked. If I hadn’t had it, it would have been my camera getting soaked. And there would have been none of the great photos I took.
  • What was the best thing that Kathleen got before the cruise?
    She says, “That little turtle backpack.” Celebrity gives you a small mesh backpack but it is just too small. This one was the envy of all our fellow cruisers.
  • Are there bathrooms facilities on the islands?
    Nope, the only facilities are the bushes and trees. Seriously. I asked Ellen what do people do if they have to go. She said that you tell your naturalist and they will direct you to a place (hopefully out of sight of others but sometimes that is not possible) where whatever you will do the least damage to the environment. On all our trips (always more than 2+ hours) I only saw one person “using the facilities.” It was a young lady and I felt sorry for her because she had a wetsuit and a one-piece bathing suit so she pretty much had to disrobe. And it was on an island with hardly any bushes or trees, just lava. Everyone just looked in the other direction. As for me, I stuck with one cup of coffee every morning 😀.
  • Can you say a little more about the motion of the ocean? Will I get seasick?
    Kathleen says, “A couple of nights it was rough. The wind was blowing in one direction and the currents going in another. So if you are a person who has problem with motion sickness, you should consider possible preventive measures.” Kathleen always has her “Relief Band” with her on any cruise. It has saved her a bunch of times since she learned about it from our friend Carol. The ship does have dramamine-type drugs available if you need them and some of our onboard friends used a behind the ear patch.
  • What was the best thing about the ship?
    I loved the bed facing the ocean. That and deck eight where we went to see the stars on two nights (DON’T MISS THIS!). Kathleen says hers was hands down the shower. So well equipped, so well designed. For instance, there was a towel rack on the outside of the shower door that opened inward so you didn’t have to reach out and get the floor wet. Brilliant.
  • What was the worst thing about the ship?
    Kathleen says the lack of electrical outlets. Especially none on her side of the bed. The two that weren’t on the desk, were on my side of the bed. If you asked me, I would have to say the pillows. I am a side sleeper and the two we had were just too soft. I had to use a couch pillow under one of them or my neck was sore all day.
  • What was the most amazing you saw on the ship?
    Kathleen says that for her it was everything we saw while we were off the ship. It was just so magical. I would totally agree with her and add that one of the most amazing things I have ever seen a human do is the way the seamen on board handled the Zodiacs. They were able to do things with them that blew me away—such incredible skill. And you don’t realize it before you ride in one that they NEVER tie them up to the ship or to any dock. They control them while loading and unloading with the throttle and the steering. It’s amazing.

We are totally willing to answer any other questions but this is my last post about this trip. I think I have covered it pretty well and I have struggled to think of anything I may have missed. I hope you have enjoyed traveling along with us. We have lots more adventures planned or you can go back through the archives to see our Iceland trip and our Mardi Gras trip from 2019. You can also switch over to our other website a by clicking here to see all our travels since 2002. And come back after Thanksgiving when we will journey to Portugal, Amsterdam, Prague, Nuremberg and the Christmas Markets of Vienna, Krems, Passau and Budapest.

The Galapagos Islands are probably the most famous wildlife-watching destination in the world. And no wonder – it’s almost impossible to exaggerate the sheer spectacle of the place that provided inspiration for Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking theory of natural selection. – Mark Carwardine

 

 

 

Flora—What a ship!

Now that I have told you all about the cruise and the adventure and shown you the islands and the animals, it’s time to talk about the ship. I can honestly say, Flora is my favorite ship we have ever sailed on. She is also the smallest ship we have ever sailed on. But I wanted to give you a little bit of an idea what our overall accommodations were like and the public areas of the ship as well. First, as you can see above, she looks wonderful in the water. Almost like a private yacht…a BIG private yacht.

Let’s start with the staterooms. Here’s an iPhone pano shot of the bedroom part of our “suite.” Celebrity calls it a suite. Other cruise lines would call it a suite but to me a “suite” means you get more than one room. At the EB Hotel in Quito we had a suite…a bedroom, two bathrooms, a dressing room and a living room. That’s a suite. The really big “suites” on Flora are true suites.

Those suites have other rooms as well (living room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms). But we had a traditional verandah stateroom. That said, it was the LARGEST stateroom we have ever been in. It was even bigger than the suite we once had on Century. At more than 330 square feet with an 84 square foot verandah we had more than 400 square feet to ourselves. To give you something to compare, on our last cruise on Reflection to Mardi Gras our stateroom had 194 square feet with a 54 square foot verandah. We found it interesting (at least to us) that we are going to go from the largest stateroom we have ever had on a ship to one of the smallest we have had on our next cruise. In December we take a Viking River cruise to the Christmas Markets on the Danube. Our stateroom on that ship will only be 204 square feet with the verandah. We were very pleased with this one. I did a quick video tour of the stateroom and the bathroom (the largest and nicest we have ever sailed).

The ONLY complaint we had about the stateroom was the lack of places to charge electronics. This ship was built three years ago. It’s not like she was built in an era before we all carried numerous gadgets. But there were exactly FOUR electrical receptacles in the room (not counting one above the sink in the bathroom for shavers).  One of those was a European plug. I always have a converter but the receptacle was inverted so my adapter/converter would not work with it. That left us three. One at the desk and two in the wall next to one side of the bed. Except that the two next to the bed were vertical and VERY THIN! So thin that if you plugged any kind of adapter or charger in to one of them, you could not use the other. That is crazy. No USB plugs at all. They have those on other, older Celebrity ships.

I know what you are thinking…how many things can you have to charge? Well, we travel with the following: Kathleen has her iPhone, her iPad, her Kindle and her Apple Watch. I have my MacBook Pro, my iPad, my iPhone, my Apple Watch, my Nikon battery charger, my Kindle and my GoPro battery charger. Twelve items to charge with two plugs. That’s crazy. I certainly hope when they dry dock Flora in a few years, this is one of their big upgrades. It is needed.

The rest of the ship

Flora is beautiful from top to bottom. The best way for me to show you that is to add some pics and explain in the captions. So here you go:

A couple of the places on board that I don’t have pics of include The Boutique and Darwin’s Cove on Deck 3. The boutique has a few trinkets, magnets, shirts, jackets and postcards but they are very spendy. See my previous Q&A. Also on Deck 3 is a science lab where you can investigate things like geological samples from the islands under a microscope. As much as our interest in science was piqued while onboard, we never got there. One cool thing to do when you back from an excursion is to go to the Boutique and look through the windows as they bring the Zodiacs in and store them. It’s a really cool operation. Also on this deck is the infirmary, but let’s hope you never have to visit there. Decks 1 & 2 are either crew quarters or storage for the Zodiacs.

On Deck 7 forward there is the Observatory. It looks like a very quiet place to just relax and face forward on the ship. It is right over the Bridge, so it has great views but they play loud techno music in there so it is NOT peaceful at all. They need to turn it off or  change the music. On my first night while trying to find somewhere to write I found the music BLARING at 3:00 am.

Just above the Observatory is the Stargazing deck. DO NOT MISS THIS! We went up twice (cloudy other days…or we forgot) and it is worth the trip. They keep the area very dark and you would be amazed at the stars you can see when there is no light pollution from the ground. And your perch is right at the equator. You can see the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, the Big and Little Dipper and so much more.

This ship is amazing. We can’t wait to sail on her again. Other than my two very small complaints about the outlets and the techno music, it was about the best a ship can be.

Day 7–Santa Cruz and the Giant Tortoises

Our last full day in the Galapagos found us on Santa Cruz Island. This was a very different day as there were no choices to be made about where to go today. Everyone on the ship was going to the same place…to drive across Santa Cruz Island. One thing that was different on this day were that we were all asked to wear masks for the first time off the ship in the week. This was because we would be meeting others who were outside our ship’s safety bubble.

After our Zodiac ride to the northernmost point on the island we hopped on busses to drive the entire length of the island to the Charles Darwin Research Center. But on the way an amazing thing happened. You see, so far every island we had visited had either been dry lava rock or dry scrub brush and rock. But Santa Cruz Island is split in half and as we drove south towards the Darwin Center and climbed in elevation, the dry, arid land turned to…rain forest. Seriously, all of a sudden we were driving through clouds. And it was raining. What a huge contrast to the entire previous week of weather.

After driving through some rain, farmland and finally a small town, we arrived at the Darwin Center.  The Center is all about keeping alive all the different species of giant tortoises from all the different islands. They have hundreds of turtles of all ages. The smallest are segregated by the island they came from. Then as they get older they are put into the same pens but with numbers on their shells that indicate the island of their origin.

In still another enclosure were some fully grown giant tortoises. They are truly amazing creatures. These were being kept apart because they can’t be sure which island they came from and they do not want to cross-pollinate species. As you can see from my photos, these animals are amazing. Later in the day we would see them in wild.

After our visit we headed back into the hills to visit the Manzanillo Ranch for lunch but before we got there we stopped to do some community service. Celebrity supports a reforestation project that removes invasive species and replaces them with the kind of plants that are native to the island. It was an interesting experience. Because we were planting them a ways off the road, our bus stopped (blocking half the road) and we got out and found a row of chairs and a pair of rubber boots that we swapped for our shoes. We then grabbed a trowel and two seedling trees and then we headed into the jungle. There we found pre-dug holes that we dropped the seedlings into and from there we just covered them, took pics of each other, changed our boots (while they stopped cars—it was almost funny to see this row of chairs standing on the road) and we were off to Manzanillo Ranch for lunch.

At the ranch they had a very nice covered area where a delicious buffet lunch was served. Again, just like the ship, no one was allowed to serve themselves and all the servers were masked. Lunch was tasty and was followed by an Ecuadorian folk dance performance by students from the island dressed in colorful, traditional colors . Celebrity has been supporting this group for a while including sending them to a folk dance competition to Italy.

I need to mention something that was so typically Galápagos. While I was taking these photos of the dancers in a covered area at a ranch, all I had to do was turn around in the exact spot where I was standing to take this photo. A giant tortoise that seems to have come along to see the performance himself.

After lunch we were allowed to go onto the rest of the grounds on the ranch to see the tortoises close up. Some notes about that short walk. As we started to leave the enclosure, the rain picked up and that meant my camera went into my dry bag so I didn’t get very many pics of the big guys in the wild. But I had so many from the Darwin Center, that was OK with me. Another thing that was very interesting was when a fellow traveler asked our naturalist who owned these tortoises, the ranch or the National Park that bordered it? His answer was, “No one owns them. They own themselves and can go anywhere they want on these islands. That is our  law.” In fact we were told if you were a rancher or a farmer, you could be fined for using any fencing that would block the tortoises from migrating. Speaking of migrating, our friend Fausto who runs the Celebrity operations in the Galapagos told us he had been to the ranch less than two weeks before to finalize the lunch plans and when he was there he saw two or three tortoises. Two weeks later while we were there we saw hundreds. They were migrating to the higher elevations. There were so many on the road leaving the ranch, it made it hard for our bus driver to get off the property. Think of driving in a sheep ranching area and running into a bunch of sheep on the road and have to stop until they moved. Now imagine it at tortoise speed 😀.

After our tortoise experience it was back to the ship for our final dinner, packing to leave and sad farewells. But in the meantime, here’s the balance of today’s pics.

I will be back tomorrow with some notes on the ship and our room. See you then.