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

 

Crazy Lundi* Gras

If you read yesterday’s post you know that we sailed into New Orleans after coming up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico. We arrived on Sunday night but Kathleen and I decided to stay on board, mostly because I wanted to be up very early to do my usual early morning photo walk. Kathleen (and others in our party) were a little concerned with my safety walking around what is supposed to be one of the craziest cities in the world during their craziest festival. To be honest, I was a little worried as well.

My first early morning photo walk

While I have photo walked before dawn in many, many cities around the world (from Amsterdam to Victoria) without any problem at all, as I left our stateroom on Monday, Kathleen said, “That camera isn’t worth dying for.” YIKES! I hadn’t even thought that way until then. But I am happy to say that not one single time did I even feel the slightest bit threatened and that was all probably because Mardi Gras was going on. Even at 5:30 am, there was a heavy police presence just about everywhere in the city. I felt totally safe and since we were in New Orleans for three nights, I was able to get in two wonderful early morning photo walks. Here’s my pics from my early morning walk (with captions of course).

One quick thing about my photography. If you are looking at this page in an e-mail, please click the link and go to the web on a computer or a tablet before you look at the photos. They just aren’t anywhere nearly as good when you see them tiny or in an e-mail where they have been condensed to fit. If you are on a tablet or computer and you see the grouping below, you can click on the first photo and it will open in a larger window that you can then click or type on the right or left arrows (onscreen or on your keyboard) to scroll through. That’s the best way to view them. Make an old photographer happy and check them out that way…please.

Midday touring with our group

After I finished taking my early morning photo walk I headed back to the ship to shower, change, grab some breakfast and then we (myself, Kathleen and our friends Bob, Judy, David and Mickie) headed out to tour New Orleans for a few hours. Originally we were just going to walk around and look at the sites but I had sat down for breakfast in the buffet with a very nice couple who were going to take the Hop On/Hop Off (HoHo) bus and had a brochure they let me look at. That sounded even better to me than just walking around willy-nilly.

We found the bus outside Harrah’s Casino (where we were told, they don’t do gambling—which is illegal in Louisiana—they do gaming 🤔) and after a short wait we…hopped on. The bus had 19 stops all over the city and we had a great guide to start with. In fact all three guides we had that day were excellent. They knew their stuff and you could hear them clearly—those are the qualities of a great guide. The busses were comfortable but at the end of the day I had two huge quibbles with the bus company. First, they told us when we boarded that because of the Mardi Gras parades that evening that it would be a shortened day for them. Usually they would run the busses until 5:30 pm but because of the parades, they would be stopping at 3:30 pm. Now I totally get that but what I don’t get is them still charging full price for a reduced day. The trip is a little spendy already ($39 per person) but to have it cut by 2 hours should have triggered some kind of discount, don’t you think?

The other thing I wish they had done better was put more busses on the street for what is probably their busiest day of the year (they don’t operate on Mardi Gras itself). We found ourselves waiting way too long for busses after 1:00 pm when we only had a short time to get on and finish the entire loop. Both those things taken into account, I would recommend the tour because as we have found in many other cities where we have done these kind of tours, these HoHo busses are a great way to get a quick overview of the city and find out a little about the history and current events.

We rode the bus through uptown, the Garden District, past Storyville (the birthplace of jazz) and back around to the French Quarter, where we hopped off so we could get our first bite of famous New Orleans tourist food—the beignets at Cafe Du Monde, a city landmark. The line to get in and sit down for beignets was about a mile long but the takeout line was much shorter so we opted for that and within about 10 minutes we were scarfing down our beignets. If you have never had a beignet, it’s a square donut without a hole, that is COVERED with powdered sugar. For the takeout window, they just pour about a cup of powdered sugar in a bag, toss in three very hot beignets and you shake them like crazy to spread the sugar around. This is NOT food for those that don’t like or can’t eat sugar. And it’s not something I would eat anyplace else in the world. My doctor (and dentist) would shoot me. But WOW! They were so delicious.

I should note that by this time we had picked up two fellow travelers who were part of our Cruise Critic Roll Call group, Melody and Les from Colorado Springs. Bob and Judy had decided to continue on with the HoHo bus tour and skip the beignets (they have a lot more will power than I do) so Melody and Les were a welcome addition to the group. After our beignet snack I led the group down past St. Louis Cathedral to Bourbon Street so they could see some of what I had seen before dawn. There were two huge differences between my pre-dawn walk and this one (around noon). One, the streets were CLEAN! Amazingly so. Nothing like the incredible amounts of trash I had seen that morning. Secondly, the streets and the balconies above them were now full of people. Those on the street were hollering up to those on the balconies to throw them beads.

In case you are unaware, beads are the currency of Mardi Gras. Beads and other things you can wear around your neck are thrown from the balconies of Bourbon Street, from the floats in the parades and from just about everywhere else. When I had walked these streets in the early morning, it was hard not to step on thousands of discarded strings of colorful, plastic beads. Beads aren’t the only things they throw. There are tiny frisbees, lighted necklaces, light-up wands, beer cups and when they are done throwing everything in them, they throw the bags that used to be full of all that stuff. Coming back from Bourbon Street or any of the parades it is not surprising to see people with hundreds of strings of beads around their necks.

On our few blocks walk down Bourbon Street, Kathleen and the rest of the folks in our party caught their first beads thrown from a very fun group of yodelers on a balcony (see  them in my pics below). Between that and doing some shopping we spent about an hour walking in the French Quarter before standing in line for far too long to get on another HoHo bus. This bus took us out of the Quarter through Treme and downtown and finally back to Harrah’s where we disembarked and headed back to the ship for (I was hoping) a nap 😜. Below are the pics from this foray into the craziness that is Lundi Gras and the rest of our HoHo bus ride.

If you want more info about the Hard Rock Hotel collapse (above), click here.

Evening walk with Mike to see King Rex and some parades

After heading back to the ship, we grabbed a quick burger, fries and a beer (the only thing open for lunch by then) at the Mast Grille before going back to our stateroom for me to download pics and Kathleen to collapse. Later on (around 5:30) I went to meet our friend Mike to head out to do some evening exploring and picture taking.

*One of the things I did not know about Mardi Gras before doing pre-trip research was that the day before Mardi Gras (which literally means Shrove Tuesday) there is an entirely different festival going on down by the river called Lundi Gras. And the big highlight of Lundi Gras is the arrival (by train) of the king of Mardi Gras, King Rex. At 6:00 pm, they back a train into the area near Lundi Gras, the King (with trumpeters and a Grand Vizier) comes out onto the train platform and greets his adoring fans. Then he is escorted to the Lundi Gras stage where he is met by the actual mayor of New Orleans who reads a proclamation that states that the mayor relinquishes control of the city until midnight on Mardi Gras to King Rex and until then, it’s party, party, PARTY (like it hasn’t been before)!

Just a side note: I was always under the impression that Mardi Gras was just the day before Ash Wednesday when in actuality is starts with the first parade on January 6th (the feast of the Epiphany) and lasts until Mardi Gras day itself. During that time there are more than 75 parades all over Louisiana. I was shocked. You can already see next year’s schedule by clicking here.

So after Mike and I took pics and movies at the welcoming of King Rex, we met up with a friend of Mike’s (a native of New Orleans) also named Mike and his wife Cindy and two of their friends who told us a whole lot about Mardi Gras and their city on the way to the Krewe of Orpheus parade. They were awesome and gracious hosts of their city which they are clearly very proud of. Mike is part of the Krewe (the groups who put on the parades) of Bacchus and their parade had been the night before. After about an hour of shooting pics of the parade, I was just about done so I thanked them for their hospitality and left them (and our Mike) to watch the balance of the parade while I headed back to the ship to be ready for the actual day of Mardi Gras the next morning. Below are the pics from our evening foray into the crazy Lundi Gras streets of New Orleans.

One last thing I learned from Mike’s friends Mike and Cindy: All of Mardi Gras is totally self-funded by the Krewes who put on the parades. They raise money all year long to do the parades and to contribute to charity. They even pay the city back for the cost of security and policing. Really impressive and a real boost for the city.

I had one of the best nights of my life at Mardi Gras. —Cenk Uygur

Up the Mississippi…to Mardi Gras

Mississippi MapFrom this point on in reporting our Mardi Gras journey, I am going to be a little behind. Today is Ash Wednesday and we have left the Mississippi behind. On Sunday we sailed up the river to New Orleans, arriving at around 6:30 in the evening. We have been there since then (until 10:30 last night) and that has been 2.5 days of non-stop craziness. Suffice it to say that I have a ton of stuff to share but because of internet and computer charging glitches, you get the post today about our trip up the river last Sunday.

_8100856Just after 10:00 am on Sunday, we started seeing the sea dotted with oil rigs. According to Wikipedia (the source for everything you need to know, right? 😁) there are more than 4,000 of them. We only saw about 400 or so, but it seemed like they were everywhere. As we approached the mouth of the Mississippi, it was getting close to noon.

_8100867
The first land at the mouth of the Mississippi River

About that time we saw a very unassuming little stick of land jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico. That was it. The start of (or the end depending on where you are starting from) the river.

For the next six hours or so we would slalom our way up the muddy Mississippi to New Orleans (see the map above) with lots to see on the river as well as on both sides. I think the best thing for me to do is to add the rest of my good river photos (I took about 500) and let you read the captions which will kind of detail our trip.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Mississippi River and the way of life in these small river towns. —Daniel Woodrell

Lamenting learning loss

LearningYou have to love a headline that is also an alliteration. But there’s an explanation below. (Warning, this isn’t really a travel post—big announcement on that below—but more of a quick personal thing.)

When the year started I did what I always do—set some goals. It’s a yearly ritual. Some are always the same, like exercising every day, others change. For instance, I always have the goal of losing weight (don’t we all have that one 😀) but this year I decided to change that one and just do “eat healthier” which meant cutting out red meat and switching to a predominately plant-based diet. And doing my usual Dryuary (not drinking in January). It worked. We are eating a lot healthier. Tonight when our older kids come for dinner will be the first red meat I have since December 30 (except for one of Mason’s mini-corndogs). I had other goals as well that had to do with work, travel, etc. Still working on all of them.

But the one that I totally missed was learning. One my goals for the last five years that I have failed miserably at is setting up a day each week that I can schedule (and stick to) for learning. I am supposed to be semi-retired after all—I should be able to do this. Usually that learning has to do with one of three things that I dearly love: travel, photography and cooking. This year I am also taking up videography so that I can better document our travels, especially in the Galapagos this summer.

Kathleen got me a GoPro Hero8 for my birthday and I am ashamed to say that it took me until yesterday to even look at it with videos running and books open. And I still have a ways to go before I will feel comfortable shooting and editing videos. Sadly, I have scheduled at least five full days to watch videos and read books to learn how to use this new camera but had to put each and every one of them aside because of work or personal things getting in the way.

I also feel bad that I haven’t been shooting pictures this year. Haven’t take a single shot with my Nikon since sometime in October that wasn’t pictures of family (mostly grandkids) and that’s just not me. I even did this after I took a photo class with the incredible Scott Kelby in late November. One of Scott’s tenets is practice, practice, practice shooting pictures. I just haven’t been doing that. Part of this I blame on the weather. We have had measurable rainfall every single day since November 30th until today. We are WATERLOGGED and that just doesn’t lend itself to taking a camera out shooting. Plus, I have taken photos of just about everything there is in Redmond.

Banner five dogs celebrating carnival, halloween, new year wearing pirate hat, blue wig, red mask, cape and doctor costume. Isolated on white background..But good news (here’s the travel stuff)! We are leaving a week from tomorrow for a two week vacation in Florida, New Orleans and the Caribbean. This is our first big trip of what will be a year of memorable travel. We fly on Monday the 17th to Tampa (with two of our best buddies, Bob and Judy) and then spend three nights in Sarasota, a city I have been to but Kathleen hasn’t. After Sarasota we head south to Boynton Beach to meet up with another close friend, Mike. Regular readers may remember him as we stayed at his place for three days in October when we cruised on Allure of the Seas.

Then comes the highlight of the trip when we (along with Mike, Bob, Judy and other friends) board the Celebrity Cruiseline ship Reflection (the same ship we sailed to Iceland last June) to sail to New Orleans where we will be moored at the Julia Street Cruise Terminal for three full days during…Mardi Gras. Yes, we know it will be a zoo, but we can’t wait! After Mardi Gras we sail down to Grand Cayman (where we will tour some really cool caves) and then to Cozumel, Mexico where we will practice our snorkeling. We want to kind of know what we are doing when we go to the Galapagos in August so I can snorkel with the penguins and sea lions. By the time we get there, I need to really know that GoPro so I can take it and shoot underwater. Hopefully all of this will take place in beautiful (AND WARM) weather.

For me this trip means non-stop photography. I have been planning my New Orleans photo walks for weeks. And the same in Sarasota as well. So watch this page for daily reports on our travel. I will try to not be verbose (since I will be traveling with my #1 reader who says I can be verbose that shouldn’t be too much of a problem) and stick to some great photos and an overview of the trip.

Hopefully when I get back, I will be able to schedule that one day each week when I can just learn. Can’t wait.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. —Mahatma Gandhi

Connections Anxiety

Word anxiety composed of anxious worried stressed faces of men and womenThis happened today on our Cruise Critic Roll Call for our February Celebrity Reflection cruise to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It was a question from one of our fellow cruisers about what happens if…

This was our fellow cruisers original question:

“I’m sure some of very well cruised folks here can help with a couple of questions. We fly in the day before the cruise from London and I can’t help but worry that we might have a delayed flight. If we missed the ship (heaven forbid) would Celebrity help us with a flight to New Orleans if we are not booked cruise air?  I don’t mean financially, just practically. The other query is on lost luggage.

Last time we flew into Miami we arrived, bags didn’t. Fortunately we were not cruising and the bags were delivered a few days later to our hotel. So, if history repeats itself and we sail off into the sunset and our bags are still flying the Atlantic, will it be Celebrity or British Air (BA) who have to get the bags to the ship. Ok, so I’m being a drama queen but I do like a plan B in place.”

I was on this like jam on bread. This is my kind of thing. Helping people who travel. So I thought I would share this with everyone even though I know that some of my readers who are on the cruise with us (you know who you are) have already read it. Below is my response. If you cruise or fly and are worried about this kind of thing, pay heed.

My response

Since you didn’t book air with Celebrity (cruisers call Celebrity X—it’s on the side of their ships and dates back to their Greek heritage), you are going to be on your own getting to New Orleans. X won’t book your flight, or assist with transfers. But if you do contact them if you are late, they will assist you with where to go in New Orleans to board the ship and how to do it. As to your bags, if they don’t arrive in time, it is BA’s responsibility to get them to you in New Orleans, not Celebrity’s.

You already did the smart thing by coming in a day early. That said, I do understand about the luggage as BA probably has few flights to MIA so it won’t show up until the next day unlike if you were flying from NYC or Chicago where the airline might have a flight to Miami or FLL every few hours. The best thing you can do to avoid lost luggage is to get to the airport EARLY! Otherwise there is very little you can do other than go carry-on only which I have NEVER understood how anyone can do, especially on a cruise. (One extra pair of shoes for me takes up almost an entire carry-on. 😂 ) One suggestion would be to pack three days of clothing in your carry-ons so if your luggage is delayed, you have some clothing. Also, if you are each bringing one checked bag, don’t forget to cross pack so that if one bag is delayed you both have something to wear. And of course, NEVER pack anything you HAVE-TO-HAVE (prescriptions, etc) in your checked bag.

We will keep our fingers crossed for you. Hope this helps.

The REST of the story

I should add that later they (and others) responded (we had quite the discussion) and it turns out the couple who asked the original question can’t affect their bags by getting to the airport earlier as they are flying into Heathrow (LHR) from a regional airport. It also came to light that they only have one hour and thirty-five minutes to change planes.

If you have ever been to Heathrow you know that is VERY problematic. I won’t change planes at LHR with less than three full hours. If you have never flown through LHR (we have a bunch of times) there are five terminals and domestic and intra-Europe flights usually come in at Terminals 1 through 4 while international flights leave out of Terminal 5. Transiting from one terminal to the other means going out of security, riding a bus and then going back through security. When we flew from Seattle to Edinburgh last May, it took us almost 90 minutes to go from our Terminal 5 arrival gate to our Terminal 3 departure gate for our flight from LHR to Edinburgh. And that was a very smooth transition at a pretty good time of day.

Of course all this comes back around to why you need a good travel agent. A good, well-traveled agent knows these kinds of things. Especially if you are a new traveler or someone who doesn’t travel that much. Plus, this applies to any travel, not just those of us who cruise.

I hate flying, airports and the whole rigmarole – queuing up, security and lost luggage.—Johnny Vegas

 

Another Friday. Another ship visit.

Resized_20190719_111832Yesterday I (along with my friends above) did my last ship visitation of the summer. Kathleen was supposed to come along with me but after a week of having the grandkids here, I think she was just plain worn out (or we hope not…catching something). Besides the fact that the ship I was touring was one we know VERY well—Celebrity Solstice. We had just finished our recent Ireland/Iceland cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection which is pretty close to a carbon copy of Solstice. My guess is that we have probably spent 3 weeks total on Solstice since we sailed on one of her first voyages back in early 2009 and at least twice since then.

I would have skipped this visit myself (those grandkids wore me out too) but I had both travel agent friends I was driving and more importantly, I had clients that were coming for the visit as well. Celebrity allows us to invite people who might want to try their ships in the future along with us, which is a great idea and something I wish all the cruise lines would do.

We were at the pier and waiting to board by 9:15 (not sure why so early, but we were there). We have a brand new BDM (Business Development Manager) for Celebrity in Washington, who is just starting, so two sales managers (including the person who is in charge of all sales and marketing for the entire western USA) were doing the tour. They split us into two groups and our group was lucky enough to wind up with Elena, one of the Future Cruise salespeople on board. She was great and very receptive to having me show the group some of my favorite parts of the ship as well. I apologized later for “taking over her tour.” and she said it was great to get the viewpoint of a guest and see what was important to someone who had sailed as a passenger.

Since so many of my readers have already been on Solstice or one of her sister ships I am not going to say much more and just add some pics but I do want to add one thing. There was/is a little drama for Solstice as after we left the ship at 3:00, she sailed at 4:00, got halfway up the Puget Sound and lost all power. Got it back within the hour but had to turn around and come back to Seattle to be inspected by the Coast Guard. She was still here last night when we went to bed around 9:00 pm and I just checked on the Marine Traffic Global Ship Finder and she is just now clearing the Straits of Juan de Fuca which puts her about 10 hours behind. That means she left Seattle about 4:00 am.

One thing I forgot to mention, this was the best food of the entire summer for lunch. Got one of my favorite Celebrity dishes for lunch—Moroccan braised short ribs with couscous and apple pie. Just delish. And we got an excellent Malbec to go along with it.

More about this in a future post—the ways the media covers the cruise industry. Something that really ticks me off.

Our experiences of the Solstice depends entirely upon where we are when it occurs. Neither Solstice encompasses everyone. Neither can. The Solstices stand forever opposed, literally at the two poles of our Earth and experiences. —Gary Zukav

 

Yikes—another place we want to go

One of the problems with working in a travel agency is that we see so many great travel destinations, that we want to go to all of them. Well, maybe not all of them. There are a few places I don’t care to go to but I never dwell on those. So our destination goal list grows with every presentation we see.

By the way, you may have noticed I don’t use the term “bucket list.” Not a big fan of trying to do things before I die. Always sounded kind of negative to me. Would rather set goals that keep me wanting to go on until I visit all of them. I am going to call them my destination goals. Bucket list is too negative. 

So back on the new place we want to go. Last night Marilee Syme from Celebrity Cruises came by. Now we have been on quite a few Celebrity Cruises but we have never been to the one place that they kind of rule the world of ships—the Galapagos. To be honest, I have always wanted to go there. The animals, the flora, so many amazing things to see. So many things to photograph. And Marilee had just been there in September and she had first hand experiences to share and incredible photos she and her traveling partner had taken when they were there. No word fits but amazing.

Did I mention that the ships they have down there are not really ships. They are yachts. Celebrity’s “yachts” that sail the Galapagos hold no more than 100 people. The newest, the Flora, will be launched in just a few days. If this amazing new “yacht” interests you at all, check it out by clicking here: The Flora.

Of course that means we now have another destination to add to our list. But as I posted a few days ago, we plan far, far ahead. But right now, we are planned out about as far as we can go. Maybe 2022. But don’t let that stop you from going right now. If you are interested, let me know and I will set it up for you. You can send us pictures.

I love traveling and seeing new things, learning the histories of different cultures. But I’ve always wanted to go to the Galapagos to see the giant turtles.—Mikaela Shiffrin

Where are you going in 2019?

Happy New Year!

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Saw this online this morning and loved it. We don’t do it often and I think we should. always seem to know where we are going because I love to plan vacations.

I have had this post in my head all day long and finally have time to get it up and online. It’s kind of a combo post. A chance to share where we are going this year and a chance to ask you where you are going.

Last night we had dinner next door with our wonderful neighbors Jayesh and Lisa as well as Lisa’s sister Leanne and her husband Derrick. Most of the night was spent talking about travel. One of the things that came up was all the places we would all be going in the coming year and I told our friends that it just drives me CRAZY when I don’t have something planned. Either a cruise or a road trip or a visit to someplace we haven’t been.  There was a point a few years ago where we didn’t have any trips planned anywhere and it drove me nuts until we got something reserved.

Last year we did not sleep in our bed (because we were traveling) for a total of 70 nights. That’s more than two months. We are pretty sure that this is the most we have ever been gone in a calendar year. We did three cruises, one preceded by a very long road trip as well as going on a number of short trips within the western US not to mention numerous 100+ mile road trips to see the grandkids in Wenatchee.

This coming year we already have 40+ nights that we know we are going to be on the road. Between those short trips to the kids in Wenatchee, a March trip to Arizona, our big European trip in May and June and our Alaskan cruise with the grandkids in July we will be getting close to that two month number again. I know we will add something in the fall or we just wouldn’t be us.

We try to take one BIG trip each year and a lot of smaller ones. Last year we were in Southern California three times (January, March and November). Those were our small trips. Our New England trip was the big one that found us out of the house for almost a month. And we also had two other short cruises, a FAM to Alaska with HAL and Seth’s birthday cruise  around Puget Sound.

This coming year the big trip is May/June Europe trip. We will spend four nights in Edinburgh, six nights with our Mates Paul and Gail in Leeds, UK, then three nights in Dublin followed by a 10 night cruise from Dublin to Iceland and back. We will be gone almost a month on that one.

So that’s our plans right now. What are yours? Where are you going this year? Some of my readers (who comment a lot) are coming with us on some of this but we would love to know where else you already have plans to visit in 2019. So let us know in the comments below or on our FB page or by e-mail or Twitter. We would love to hear from you.