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

 

 

 

Off to Quito

Disappointing Flights

(Hope you don’t mind me posting twice in one day but I wanted to share a bunch of stuff that happened today.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, our buddy Mike took us to Miami Airport at 2:15 am so we could get there by 3:30 which would be the recommended three hours before our 6:30 am international flight on Copa Air. This flight had been hard to come by so we took what we could get even if it meant that we had to get up way before dawn.

If you have never heard of Copa Air, they are the national airline of Panama. Originally we had a non-stop flight on American Airlines but that was cancelled last weekend and the best we could do was a one-stop trip from Miami through Panama City to Quito. The good news was we still got to keep our business class seats on both flights. But that turned out to just be an OK thing as Copa Air’s idea of business class differs widely from what we have experienced in Business or First class before.

When we arrived at the airport we were so early that there was no place open to even grab a cup of coffee. In fact there was no place open at all. To grab anything. And to the best of my knowledge nothing opened before we took off at 6:38. On our flight we got two cups of really bad coffee, a ham and cheese croissant and a very dry granola bar. The seats were much like US domestic air FC seats. Fairly comfortable but certainly no place to lie back and sleep. I need to mention we were flying on a Boeing 737-8. You will see why in a minute.

Our flight from Miami to Panama City was just a little more than two hours. We arrived in Panama City in just enough time to get from our arriving gate to our departing gate. Once we reached our new gate, we boarded within minutes. And once on board we were pleasantly surprised to see full lay down seats in a section that looked like a true business class section. And this was on exactly the same 737-8 plane that we had just gotten off. Sadly, this flight was just about 90 minutes so even though we had the seats to sleep in, there just wasn’t time to sleep.

When we saw the seats we thought maybe we would get something a little better to eat and drink but that was not to be. We were offered a bag of pretzels, a small bag of cookies and a can of Perrier for me and a ginger ale for Kathleen. One thing I am very happy about is that we did not spend our own money to upgrade as Celebrity arranged our air. If you ever get a chance to fly Business class on Copa Air, give it a pass.

Quito!

We did it! We finally arrived in Ecuador and we have much to report if you are planning on cruising the Galapagos with Celebrity post-pandemic…at least for awhile.

When we landed in Quito we made it through customs in no time and with a minimum of questions. There was a temperature check and we had to show our vaccination cards but after they checked those, we headed to passport control. We were very lucky because our flight (which was not full) was the only international flight landing at the time and being in the front of the plane, we got to the health check and passport control very quickly. Our luggage took a little longer so getting through customs inspection (they didn’t inspect anything) took a little longer. Once on the other side of security in a very nice and clean airport we used the facilities and I was about to try and contact Celebrity here in Ecuador when a man walked up to us holding a Celebrity sign. Within minutes we were in the van and on our way to the EB Hotel.

Pre-COVID this was an 11 day trip with two nights and a full day in Quito before the Galapagos segment and then a day after in Quito as well. But due to the COVID conditions Celebrity wanted to keep us out of downtown Quito. So instead of the regular hotel they use (The JW Marriott–Quito) we were at the EB Hotel near the airport.

If you are coming, do not worry about it being near the airport. These three photos show you the area around the hotel.

We have been here for at least five hours and have not heard a single airplane.  By keeping us near the airport we will be able to go right back to the airport tomorrow morning for our flight to Baltra where we embark on Flora.

The hotel itself is modern, new and beautiful and the rooms rock. Here’s a quick tour of ours. It is easier to see the video if you click the headline at the top of the e-mail and read the entire post in a web browser.

As you can see. it is pretty darned impressive. A true suite which we did not expect at all. Kathleen says to tell the ladies that if you are staying here, the products in the bathroom are all very high quality so you don’t have to plan for those. And Celebrity left us some really nice water bottles, a bottle of horchata (a plant-milk based South American beverage) and a health goodie bag with a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

After getting settled into our suite we found lots of info from Celebrity including instructions about the included dinner and breakfast as well as all the hoops we will need to jump through before we can get on the plane to Baltra and the islands in the morning. Here’s our schedule:

Breakfast is 6:30 to 10:00 either in the restaurant or via room service. But either way we have to have our luggage in the hall outside our rooms by 8:00 am when they will collect it for inspection by the Galapagos Agricultural Authorities. They are making sure we have no organic materials coming into the islands that could change the environment there. To be honest, I totally understand their doing this but I hate the idea of them going through my bag because everything BARELY fits in the small carry-on I am taking for this trip. I have to be VERY careful when zipping it up or I will either break the zippers or catch my clothing inside. But we did find out later that we don’t have to put out our carry-ons. That made me happy as I don’t want them messing with my camera or this MacBook Pro.

We are also scheduled (we don’t have our time yet) to be health-screened sometime between 7:00 am and 11:00 am. We will have to go to their health screening room, get our temp checked (mine has been taken twice today already) take an antigen test, provide proof of vaccination and be approved for our flight.

At 11:00 am they will load us into vans and move us back to the airport for the 90 minute charter flight to Baltra. I will give you a full report on that flight tomorrow if the internet connection on the ship is a good one.

Celebrity seems to have this all really well taken care of. We have seen some folk in the lobby area we know are on the ship with us and we met the head of sales and marketing (Susanna) for Celebrity Galapagos who will be sailing with us. But I also know that some poor folks won’t arrive until the last Copa flight in tonight at 11:30 pm and they will have to be up doing the same things we will have do to tomorrow.

If you are sailing on Flora while they are still doing their pre-cruise at the EB hotel, here’s a tip for you. Request a parking lot view. We have a pool view and it faces west. And the afternoon sun beating against the windows (even though it is only 60F something outside) has made our room really warm. I have the thermostat set to 18 C but the AC just can’t keep up with the sun and it’s 23C in the room right now. Love the view from here but wish it was a little cooler and hoping it cools down once the sun sets in the next 15 minutes.

Another note about the hotel; because of the lousy food on the plane we were ready for lunch when we got here and the restaurant in the hotel (Tabla Bella) makes superb food. Kathleen had a wonderful salad and I wanted to try two Ecuadorian appetizers. I got the empanadas (they were OK) and something called an arepa. It’s two pieces of masa stuffed with avocado (they LOVE avocados here), shredded, braised beef and cheese with a side of their wonderful avocado sauce to dip it in. Pics are below to make your mouth water.

My TV interview

KK
Kelly Koopmans of KOMO-TV

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I did an interview (on tape) with Kelly Koopmans of KOMO-TV. She tells me it will be shown next Friday so when it is available on the KOMO-TV website I will let you know.

Kelly is a pretty great interviewer and she made me feel like we were just having a pleasant conversation. We talked for almost 20 minutes and to be honest I didn’t even realize that we were doing the interview until about 5 minutes in. She also told me that out of that 20+ minutes of talking, she might end up using a minute or two on the air. That’s TV folks. You think you are the star and then you wind up on the cutting room floor.

One thing Kelly did, (a few days before we talked) was send me a set of questions/talking points she wanted to discuss. I did some research and added my opinions. Since I know she won’t put all of them in the report, I thought I would share them with you. The questions are in bold and my answers aren’t.

Can we expect a spike in prices once things reopen or will there be bargains to get people traveling again?

This will probably differ based on the kind of travel expense. My best guess based on what I am reading and seeing in future pricing is that we will see a lot of bargains as the travel industry tries to entice people to travel again. Even though the government may say it is OK to travel, many individuals may find have some trepidation about going out there again. It will definitely be slow to come back and hotels, airlines and cruise lines will have to really try hard to get it going again. 

How far out should you wait to cancel if you have a trip booked right now?

If you have a flight or a cruise booked that you don’t think will go, DO NOT cancel it. Let them cancel you. If you cancel, you may lose any deposit or payment you have made. Or you may only be able to get a credit that is good for a specific time. If they cancel you, you will either be able to get a refund or possibly a credit for future travel that exceeds what you would have paid for your current travel. For instance, if you cancel a cruise in June today, you may get your deposit back or pushed forward as a credit but if you wait until they cancel you, with most cruise lines, you could get a 125% Future Cruise Credit. 

Are summer and fall international trips off?

That’s one I can’t answer. As we all know, Europe was hit harder (for their relative size) than we were. Asia more so. And the CDC has banned cruises to and from the US until after July 24. Small countries (especially those in poorer areas of the world) may still have their doors closed because they were unable to deal with the virus as well as larger industrialized nations. A traveler’s best bet might be to think about in-state travel first, then inside the USA travel and finally international travel. We have a trip planned for August to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands which we are pretty sure will be cancelled. But we also have a European Christmas Market river cruise in December that I think we should be able to take.

Tell me about travel insurance… are all these changes  covered?

The best way to think about travel insurance is this: If you don’t have what is called Cancel for Any Reason insurance (which most people don’t because it is VERY expensive), then if the flight/cruise/attraction is open and running, your insurance will not cover reimbursement if you decide not to go because you are worried you might get sick or quarantined far from home. If you are sick or get the virus, then yes, you would be covered. Or if you are traveling and get sick, your insurance would cover your medical costs as well as getting you home.

If your flight is canceled do you settle for a voucher or can you get cash back?

Decide what is best for you. If your flight is cancelled, they have to give you a choice. If you cancel your flight, you might not have that choice. If you need the $$$ now, take the refund.

What are your rights as a consumer when it comes to changing or canceled  flights?

For domestic flights, as well as international ones departing or arriving in the U.S., you’re covered by the rules of the Department of Transportation. As it says on the DOT’s website, if your flight is canceled — no matter the reason — you are entitled to a full refund back to your original form of payment for the unused portion of your itinerary.

When your flight is canceled, you are entitled to a refund — no questions asked — according to the DOT rules. However, some airlines have been trying their hardest to convince travelers to go with a voucher instead of a refund – despite the rules. The airlines are doing this to maintain as much positive cash flow as possible.

If you’re offered credit for a future trip and would prefer your money back, the best course of action is to call an airline’s customer service desk. Cite the DOT rules and contract of carriage you agreed to when you purchased your ticket. If you’re still out of luck, consider a credit card charge back.

But either way, knowing your rights is the first step in getting what you want.

How far ahead should you book?

Depends on what you are booking. If you have a cancelled cruise, book the next one as soon as you can. I have clients cancelled in May who have already rebooked for next May. And those cruises are filling up fast. People are going to want to travel and many already have reservations for next year and the year after. For instance, we have a cruise booked for September 2021 and October 2022. But when it comes to air and hotel, 11 months is about as far out as you can book, so you can’t book next summer now anyway. 

Have you ever seen a time like this in your industry?

Since I have only been a travel professional for a little more than two years, I can’t say. As a traveler, I have NEVER seen anything like this. And it’s killing us not to be able to go anywhere. 

Do you think this will forever change the travel industry?

I truly believe the biggest change is going to be paying more attention when something like this starts up in another part of the world. We got off our last cruise on March 2. We went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. In hindsight, we should have skipped that one as the virus was a known factor in Asia (and Washington state) when we boarded. Other than that, I think things will be cleaner, more people will wear masks and wash hands…at least I hope we will have learned something from this. 

I have also heard that some cruise lines are also considering two huge changes. First, adding a walk-through fever checking station to their boarding procedure. Apparently this is quite common when boarding a cruise ship in Japan. As Kathleen just mentioned to me, this would NOT catch those that were asymptomatic but I believe it is a good step in protecting the rest of us. If you have a fever, you shouldn’t be cruising.

The other major change on cruise ships would (and should) be no one being able to serve themselves in a buffet. No more bread baskets (that will both kill me and save my waist line) on tables in the dining room, basically no more handling of food by passengers, only by crew with tongs and/or gloves.

So that’s what Kelly and I talked about. I just thought I would share. I would love to hear some of your comments in the space below.

Never make predictions, especially about the future.—Casey Stengel

When can we travel again?

JK333Want to know when we can travel again? Personally, I am not the one to ask, but I wanted to send you a very short post today (back later this week with a longer travel post) with a link to an article from the Seattle Times. We first saw it yesterday and it is all about “When can we travel again?” It is prognostications from a number of travel and virus experts including travel guru Rick Steves. You can find that article by clicking here. It’s a good read and might brighten your day if you (like us) can’t wait to travel again.

But apparently, I am the one to ask here in Seattle. This is the same topic that I will be discussing (via Skype) with Kelly Koopmans who is the morning anchor on KOMO-TV here in Seattle. Or at least I will be taping an interview with her this morning that will air sometime next week or the week after. I will post when I know the date. It will undoubtedly be on the web as well for those of you who aren’t local.

Kathleen wishes I could get a haircut before I do it, but we all know that won’t happen. Speaking of that, Kelly asked me to find one or two local clients of mine who had travel cancelled for this summer so she could get their reactions to that.. But my few local clients (most of my clients are friends and relatives who don’t live locally) said they didn’t want to talk on TV because “I am not going on TV. Not how I look after all this quarantine time!” Cracked me up but I know that for many people, it is the real thing.

So take a second and read the article and maybe it will give you some hope…because we all know we love to travel!

I love traveling. I hate jet lag, but I love, love, love, love traveling, to meet new people, to try different foods because I’m a big foodie. —Irina Shayk

What are we watching?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shows that I watch by myself when I ride my bike

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

I love a good Netflix binge!—Simone Biles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need some positive news?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a couple of weeks

 

Greek Matches
Stay home and save some folks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ENOUGH ABOUT CRUISE SHIPS!

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 12.46.24 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts about coronavirus (Covid-19)

Panic2Yesterday I had an e-mail exchange with a good friend about the coronavirus (Covid-19) situation. He was a little worried about it because of all the current news coming down about cruise ships. Not necessarily about the cruise we are both going on next week, but for the long run. Believe me, I have heard some of the same things from other friends who cruise. Plus being someone who sells cruises and is going to be boarding a cruise ship a week from Friday, I have been hearing a lot lately. To those people who are worried and asking why I still want to cruise, here are some things to think about:

  • The quarantined ships we see in the news predominately sail in Asian markets and the cruises on those ships are being sold and marketed primarily to Asians.
  • There are a few Westerners who take those cruises because that is when they can cruise but our news media knows that we relate better to people who look like us, so they cover people from US, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. This makes it look like there are bunch of Westerners on board when there are actually very few. The fact that pretty much every news item I have seen on television is the same woman from the Princess ship who has been diagnosed with coronavirus.
  • The ships with problems originally sailed and visited Chinese ports before anyone knew there was a coronavirus (Covid-19). That’s why we are seeing so many people on that Princess ship that have contracted the virus. You should note that there have been no other ships with that number of cases. That’s because there is a 14 day incubation period and it is barely 14 days since this all started.
  • Driving to an appointment this morning and listening to news radio, there was a spokesman from the CDC who stated that all current US cases were either someone who had been in China in the last three weeks or was closely related (spouses and children at this point) and living with someone who came back from China in that time frame..

So I am still going on my cruise next week. We did receive an e-mail from the cruise line saying that they would be doing some extra screening when we boarded but friends boarded that same ship yesterday and they let us know that the only “extra screening” they received was asking them if they had traveled in China within the last month. That works for me.

I tend to stay with the panic. I embrace the panic. —Larry David