Life is certainly interesting

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

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

San Francisco—I used to like this town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food tour!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back on the ship, sad things continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Going again

I bet you thought I died…or worse. But we are still here. And tomorrow, we leave on a two-week vacation that will find me posting a whole bunch. First, we are headed to Southern California to spend the night with my brother and his family in San Juan Capistrano. Then Tuesday, we head further south to San Diego, where we board Celebrity Cruise Line’s Millennium for a cruise back up the coast to Vancouver, BC.

On the way, we have stops in Santa Barbara, on Catalina Island, two days in San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon, Seattle, Victoria and finally Vancouver. And of course, I will be writing all about it and posting photos, so watch for my daily posts. I am happy this cruise has a couple of sea days, so I will do some posting and photo processing on those days. Hope you enjoy coming along.

But the real reason I haven’t posted in more than a month is that we are moving. And so we have been doing all the things you do to get your house ready to sell and dealing with all the fun of buying a new one. So I hope you will excuse my absence, but now it’s time to travel again. See you soon.

Let’s look at the art—what a classy ship.

This post will be the second to the last of my posts from our Nieuw Statendam (NS) cruise to the Southern Caribbean from January 23 to February 2. Today I promise to give you some photos of some really great art around the ship. So let’s get started.

Before I retired last June I was a graphic designer for 40+ years. I like to think I understand color and design. Some cruise ships drive me bats. Pretty much it’s the brash, gaudy colors that look like they were furnished by the same people (as my bride says) who designed downtown Las Vegas. Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam (and I am told it’s Pinnacle Class sisters) is one of the classiest ships we have been on.

Another thing I love on a ship is art. Themed art is even better. Somehow along the way of building NS they decided that the theme should be music. It does go along with their Music Walk venues and to be honest, I loved it. Most of this art was located in the stairwells so many cruisers who take elevators never see it. I never take elevators on a ship unless I have luggage with me so I got to see a lot more. Even though I hardly ever take pictures of other people’s art, I wanted to showcase some of the ones I loved. Here’s a quick gallery with some comments of the pieces I really liked. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.       —Aristotle

 

It’s a cruise—it’s always about the food

One of the biggest questions I get when it comes to cruising is…how was the food? And yes, I will fully admit to having consumed three times the number of calories I should have consumed over the last 10 days and probably gaining a good 10lbs but I promise that within two weeks I will have walked it off…because even though I worked out…the food was off the charts and I just could not resist it.

Before I start, just let me state up front that after 30+ cruises, we have had room service a grand total of once (maybe twice 😜). So if you are looking for reviews of room service, this is not the place.

Breakfast

On most of our cruises, breakfast would have been in the buffet but because we were in a Neptune Suite we got our own restaurant we could eat in for breakfast and dinner—Club Orange (Holland America’s colors are blue and ORANGE). We went there every day for breakfast except one. We went to the buffet to just get some granola and yogurt after having way too much dinner at a specialty restaurant the night before. The experience in the buffet was a good one but more about that later. (I should note that you don’t have to be in a Neptune or Pinnacle Suite to be able to eat in Club Orange, you can buy just a membership for—as of this cruise in February 2022—$50 per person, per day.)

Club Orange has some of the best breakfast food I have ever eaten. They have a HUGE variety. Three kinds of Eggs Benedict, as many omelets as you can think of, fruit, pastry, donuts, muffins, toast, skillets…you name it…I think they either had it or would make it for you. I fully admit to having any and all of the above mentioned breakfast food during this cruise. The team in Club Orange is the absolute best dining team we have ever been served by. From the second time we came into the restaurant they knew our names, they knew what we wanted to drink (for me it was coffee, a single espresso shot, a mimosa and maybe some extra orange juice to add to it) and how you liked your eggs. My coffee cup was never empty and the food…was spectacular.

Here’s some breakfast pics for you. I wish I had more to show you but darned if we didn’t eat all the food too quickly. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and feel free to look at these on your phone. That’s what I used to take them.

Lunch

While we ate all but one breakfast in Club Orange, we kind of moved around for lunch. There are so many great places to eat on board that it is hard to choose. Which made it a good thing that Club Orange did not serve lunch. Here’s where you can eat lunch on Nieuw Statendam and her sister ships:

  • The Lido Market Buffet. Located midships on Deck 9 (the Lido Deck) the Nieuw Statendam is a superb buffet with stations for just about everything. We went to the buffet when we made our one or two attempts to eat healthy. Grabbed a salad and a roll for lunch…and of course a couple of cookies or gelato/gelato pop. All the buffet was NOT self-service. You walked up to a station and either told them what you wanted to eat or just pointed. They did have some standard items (like Caesar or chopped salad, etc.). All the food we had for lunch in the buffet was fresh and excellent. The service was superb as well.
  • The Dive-In. A great place for a burger, a hot dog and fries. They have a variety of types. Ate there twice and truly enjoyed it. Have the Cannonball, skip the Gainer. Their fries are the second best on the ship and they have good Dive-In fry sauce. You will find the Dive-In on Deck 9, just forward of the buffet on the starboard side of the ship. Right next to it is the Gelato spot where you can get the best value on the ship. You have to pay for gelato (ice cream from the buffet is free), but it is only $2.50 for a cup that is probably half a pound of gelato. We only had it once but man it was good. I had a biscotti gelato with huge pieces of biscotti in it. Delicious. They also have gelato pops for $2 (although we heard these may be discontinued) which are just like ice cream bars on a stick with a coating and gelato inside. Tried one of those and they were awesome. Seth promised us another but we never got around to it.
  • New York Deli and Pizza. Just upstairs from the Dive-In on the port side of the ship is this deli/pizza place. We did not try the pizza but my brother and his bride did and they said it was quite good. We went up and Kathleen had a salad and I had a Rueben. I love Ruebens so this may the only place where the food I got onboard was not as good as a Rueben I could have gotten off the ship. And no fries there. Just chips. But still go try it. Great place to grab a quick bite.
  • The Grand Dutch Cafe. Down on deck three (the Promenade Deck) right at midships is an undiscovered gem of a place for lunch. I say undiscovered because we didn’t discover it until more than halfway through our cruise. Lots of other people did and now we know why. We had heard about it and wanted to go and since we were late getting back from Grand Turk we headed there as soon as we were on board. They serve lots of Dutch delicacies. For instance, I had a veal croquette sandwich. Kathleen had a wonderful melted ham and cheese sandwich. But the real star of the show were the French fries. They were amazing. How good were they? On subsequent visits, we always had them for dessert too. One other big plus is their selection of European beers. If you are a beer aficionado, this is the place for you.

Dinner…ahhhh dinner

When we bought the cruise we were part of a special HAL deal called Have It All. With that deal we got the cruise and some other perks. Two of those perks were dinners on two nights in two of their four Specialty restaurants. Since they had included two we decided to go ahead and purchase dinner in the other two just so we could tell you about them. See what kind of sacrifices I go through for my readers 😜.

I need to let you know that we never had dinner in the buffet nor the MDR (main dining room). If we weren’t having dinner in one of the specialty restaurants (five out of ten nights) we had dinner in Club Orange. But, I should also mention that the only difference between the menu in the Main Dining Room and Club Orange are two menu items (one appetizer and one entrée) that are available in Orange that are not in the dining room. And we only ate one of those during the entire cruise (it was Peruvian Chicken—one of my favorite meals of the entire cruise) so we really had much of the same food as the MDR.

Trying to figure how to handle telling you about the dinners. I think I will rate the restaurants we ate in from great to “just fine.” Also below each restaurant are the photos with captions from that restaurant when I can remember where and what they are. You know how that works—you can either be a photographer or a diner…choose one. I guess I could never be a food critic—too busy eating the food. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and since I took these with my iPhone, feel free to view them on yours.

  • Rudi’s Sel de Mer. This is HAL’s seafood restaurant created for them by Master Chef Rudi Sodamin. It is the most expensive extra charge on the ship. The voyage we sailed it was $50 per person. I have to say, it was worth just about every single penny. Photos are below but suffice it to say it was a dining experience I would not want to miss. Be aware that it is only available every night on HAL’s three Pinnacle Class ships but is available as a pop-up restaurant for one night on others…sometimes. They also have the coolest plates and you can buy them. WOW! More in the photos (loved them so much we brought one home). Oh and my brother would want me to mention the best side dish on the ship—Rudi’s ratatouille. I agree. Loved it so much we begged for the recipe and they printed it up for us. There is a Rudi’s cookbook that you can buy (but everyone in Sail with Seth got one as a gift from Seth) but the ratatouille recipe isn’t in it. If you want it, you either ask them or e-mail me.
  • Tamarind and Nami Sushi. Choosing between this Asian specialty restaurant and Club Orange as the next best option was really tough but this one wins by a lobster roll. We got to eat in Tamarind twice. Once because it was part of our Have It All package and once because my brother Steve won a drawing to have dinner with Seth from our Sail with Seth cruise. We went the first time with Seth himself and since he had eaten in Tamarind many times on previous trips we followed his recommendations. One thing about Tamarind is that it sits in the same room as Nami Sushi and you can order off either menu. The difference is that you pay one price for your entire meal in Tamarind but Nami Sushi charges à la carte. But you can order from both menus. My brother and I love sushi (as does Seth) but our brides not so much so this worked perfect. The sushi was amazing (my brother and I will agree that the lobster roll from Nami was the best bite on the ship), the dinner divine and the service incredible. Cocktails were not too shabby either. Here’s a great dessert tip: get the sorbet trio but tell them to skip the lychee and give you two scoops of the lemon-basil sorbet—you won’t be sorry. One last thing—this Asian restaurant, sitting above the wake of the ship may be the most visually beautiful restaurants we have seen on the high seas.
  • Club Orange Dining Room. This one was close. Really close. But Tamarind one by a hair (or a lobster roll). Otherwise the 5 nights we ate in Club Orange were AMAZING! Every night superb food, superb service and a pretty unforgettable dining experience. The team in Club Orange led by the amazing Wayan Suadnyana took care of our every need and made us love being in the restaurant. Imagine going to your favorite place to eat every night and they treated you like a local, like a regular. When this happens, it’s one of my favorite parts of cruising.
  • Pinnacle Grille. This is HAL’s signature steakhouse. It is on all their ships. Our dinner there was one of our two included dinners with our Have It All promotion. We (Kathleen and I) have eaten in the Pinnacle Grille on two other HAL cruises but I should state up front that we are not big steak people. We like ethnic food better than steaks but we have always enjoyed the food at Pinnacle. And it is in fourth place not because we didn’t love it this time, just that the other options were so much better. Pinnacle gives you some great steaks (my ribeye was a little fatty) and lots of super sides (don’t forget to order the clothesline of bacon when you first order or you will be adding it as you see others get theirs). One reason this fell to fourth in my rating was the service was really sporadic. We would have five servers all over us for five minutes and then they would disappear and we wouldn’t see anyone for another 10 minutes. A couple of times after they brought an entrée, we didn’t have something we needed that went with it (like a glass of wine or a steak knife) and there was no one to help. The manager of the restaurant was five feet away from us much of the time but with eyes glued to his phone and NEVER even glanced at anyone in the entire place. Lastly, leave room for the key lime pie. Delicious. Sorry only one photo from Pinnacle. My ribeye with onion rings.
  • Canaletto. This Italian restaurant is carved out of the buffet every night. This means they use a part of the buffet table area, put table cloths on those tables and do Italian food that is served to you (not a buffet). Kathleen and I had eaten in Canaletto on another HAL cruise in 2018 and loved it but the food was just not up to par this time. Now, by up to par, I don’t mean it was bad…it was just not as good as every place else we had to choose from onboard. Service was fine. The food was fine. Everything was just “fine,” if you know what I mean.

If and when we sail a Pinnacle Class ship again, we would go back to Rudi’s and Tamarind in a minute, skip Pinnacle and Canaletto and put the cost of those into another night at Rudi’s. And we would hope to win another night with Seth Wayne in Tamarind for sushi.

And I want to make one final food comment that really set the Nieuw Statendam food apart from 90% of other meals we have had on ships—spice. The cooks on NS were not afraid to use it. Most cruise fare is geared to middle American tastes. Steaks, chops, bland sides, etc. As I mentioned we love different and adventurous food. We do get that sometimes when we sail.

One of our all-time favorite onboard restaurants was the old Qsine on Celebrity ships before they corrupted it with that damn “Le Petite Chef” or whatever they call it. Turned if from a culinary experience to a tiny little piece of tripe (sorry for the rant–I truly loved Qsine).

HAL chef’s put spice in their food. My eggplant side in Tamarind was ordered “spicy” (could have ordered mild or medium as well) and it was spicy. Not “burn your mouth” spicy but delicious. They tried new things. They gave us incredible meals with incredible service. For years in the cruising world of so-called “big ships” (over 2500 guests) Celebrity has been the standard for food. Not anymore. You want great food—HAL gets the nod, at least on this ship.

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

Avoiding Aruba and why I still don’t like the Caribbean that much

See—I love those alliterations. Can’t resist them in headlines. Never have been able to 😜.

Let’s talk Aruba. We have been here before…a very long time ago (2004) on our first Panama Canal cruise. It was the stop the day before we went through the canal. I totally get that things are going to change in 18 years but I guess I wasn’t expecting it to go this far south (pun not intended).

When we were here in 2004, we had heard it was really easy to get off the ship and immediately rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle and drive all the way around the island so that is what we did. It was (to that point and until this cruise) our favorite Caribbean experience. We had a lot of fun, saw a lot of stuff and generally enjoyed ourselves. The island reminded me of what we found in Curacao on this trip, not overly developed, not overly touristy.

Well that changed. If you saw my post two days ago about the commercialism in cruise ports you know what I am talking about. I have friends who follow this blog  and know that I have never been a big fan of the Caribbean in general. Now they are reading the last few posts and I am being asked if I now have either softened my stance on the Caribbean or changed it all together. I think I figured it out last night when I started writing the post. It’s not that I have changed my mind about the Caribbean, it’s that I have seen a different Caribbean on this cruise than we have seen before.

I figured this out when I was explaining to my brother and sister-in-law about the Caribbean islands we had seen as opposed to the ones we had seen before. In our past experiences down here we have stopped in…

  1. St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
  2. St. Maarten
  3. Labadee, Haiti
  4. Casa del Campo, Dominican Republic
  5. Cozumel, Mexico
  6. Costa Maya, Mexico
  7. Puerto Rico, USA
  8. St. Kitts & Nevis
  9. Grand Cayman
  10. Nassau, Bahamas

If you know the Caribbean and you see this list you realize that these are all the commercialized ports that ships sail to. These and the cruise line’s private islands are about it. On this trip we stopped in one of those places—Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic. When we were touring there it reminded me of all the things I really don’t like about the Caribbean. Tours of rum distilleries, tobacco/cigar factories, chocolate stores…anyplace they could sell us something.

In the new Caribbean I found on this trip they took us to Grand Turk, Bonaire and  to some extent Curacao. Places where it is probably much like the Caribbean used to be. No chain stores, beautiful beaches, tours that featured the natural beauty of that island. Sadly, those places are few and far between. But they reminded me of being in Galapagos. The guides in both places were proud of being from those places and they wanted to preserve the things that were important to life on their island.

Which brings us back to Aruba. Since we were here in 2004 I have always said that of all the islands in the Caribbean we had visited, I liked Aruba the best. And now I know why. Back when we visited it was like Bonaire. Oranjestad was a sleepy little town. It’s not anymore. Check out my photos below to see what I mean. There is a pink building that you can see in the center of my Oranjestad photos. When we were here in 2004, you could walk to that building from the port and not really pass any other buildings. And right outside the ship you could rent that Jeep to drive around the island. There were at least six places at the pier you could rent a car. Not so anymore. When I went walking in town, I asked where you could rent a car and was told that Enterprise was about three blocks away. That’s sad.

So what did Kathleen and I do in Aruba? Pretty much nothing. Kathleen stayed aboard and I took about a 45 minute walk to shoot some pics, get some postcards (yes, we still send those) and a magnet (yes, we collect those for the door of our garage freezer), ran into our buddy Seth and that was about it. Came back to the ship and had lunch with him. So the pics below are either from that short walk (not much to take pictures of) and stuff I shot from the ship. Please note the ENORMOUS hotel in the distance. Not here when we were here before but we are told it is incredibly expensive and they are building more.

I do want to add that my brother Steve and and his bride Jamie took an overall bus tour of the island and loved it. They saw a lot of the stuff we saw on our Jeep ride in 2004 and told us they had a great guide who truly loved his island. So maybe some of that spirit is still out there. All I know is that it kind of made me sick to walk through what downtown Oranjestad had become because now it looks a lot like the other ten places we had been before. I hope Bonaire and Grand Turk don’t succumb to this but I don’t have high hopes for Curacao.

Here’s the pics, such as they are. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That’s it for our ports of call. The last two days of the cruise are sea days as we make our way back to Fort Lauderdale. Yesterday was a lot of fun as we spent much of the day doing Sail with Seth stuff including a group photo, a cooking demo and a mixology class. Took up most of the afternoon.

My plan is to do three more posts about this cruise. One on the food, one on the ship and finally an overall review. Watch for those in the next couple of days. I will do them today (our last day onboard 😔) and tomorrow on the flight home and then post when we are home.

I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in, and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this.   —Anthony Carmona

Beautiful Bonaire—I’m impressed

Yesterday (Friday January 28th) we were in beautiful Bonaire. One of the three ABC islands, the island is predominately known for its diving—both scuba and snorkeling. I could go on and on about their politics, their industry and the rest of it but if you really want to know—click here—for a link to the Wikipedia page for Bonaire.

What I will tell you about is the two (yes 2) excursions we took and how impressed I am with the island. First let me say that we are NOT divers of any kind. We leave that to our friends Mike and Cathy. They do the snorkel thing and the scuba thing. They live in Florida so they have warm water. We live in Washington where if you go in the water, you freeze to death in less time than you can say, “GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”

So we started off the morning with a ship’s excursion called “The Best of Bonaire.” There were three groups of about 12 people in three different vans. We had settled into one of the vans when the head of shore excursions asked for volunteers to move to another van because they had miscalculated the numbers on ours. We were in the front so we said we would switch. Best decision of the day. I have nothing against the guide and driver on the original van but the new van had a guide that made our day—Gladys. Now we really doubt Gladys is her real name because she acted like it was a joke all day long but if you are in Bonaire doing this tour, get Gladys. The woman is a HOOT! Not to mention an excellent guide and you could tell how much she loves her adopted island—Bonaire. She is originally from Wisconsin but has been on Bonaire off and on since 1963 so she knows her stuff. Her driver was a guy she called Cheech because of his past life as a cop confiscating marijuana and being in charge of burning it after the perpetrators were caught.

These two took us all over the island and while Gladys regaled us with stories, history, geography, science, nature and local customs, Cheech kept a VERY sharp eye out for the best flora and fauna he could find. And find it he did, time and time again. Check out my pics to see what I mean. He found parrots, parrot fish (he was good at parrot stuff 😜), lizards and all kinds of other stuff. Then he would slow down or stop so that us photographers could get the pics we were after. (BTW: I am so sorry I did not get a photo of Gladys or Cheech—my bad.)

We were out touring with Gladys and Cheech for 3.5 hours and other than my knees giving me problems from sitting for so long we had a great time and saw a bunch of great stuff as you will see in the photos. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Our second excursion a little later in the day was a short but very nice trip on a glass-bottom boat. Having never been on a glass-bottom boat before I thought maybe I could get some great underwater photos without going underwater. And our guide and skipper Kim took us out to the coral reef around a large island called Little Bonaire that is just off the main port. While we were able to see some very pretty fish, the only photo I could even slightly make work is the one of the turtle you see below. The other pics are from the boat ride but just not the underwater parts.

To sum all this up, I would say the one thing that most impressed me about Bonaire is that they have not succumbed to the usual cruise-type shops. No Diamonds International, etc. Also, both guides we had were so in love with their island and the things their government (which is funded and supervised by Amsterdam—Bonaire being a Dutch protectorate) is doing for their people, their environment and the flora and fauna of the island. It I also impressive that 70% of the island’s power (even powering their desalinization plants) is from wind. And they hope to be 100% renewable within 5 years. Not only that but everyone there has health care, an education, a guaranteed retirement…all things that every human should have a right to.

I sometimes detect that a type of regional divide is setting in, and there is a lack of real Caribbean connection among the islands, and I am concerned about this.  —Anthony Carmona

On Board the Nieuw Statendam…it’s AWESOME!

Yesterday (it’s Monday right now and will probably be Tuesday before I finish this), we sailed on Holland America’s (HAL) Nieuw Statendam from Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Florida. After two really great nights in our FLL AirBnB we got to board in the first group. We had heard that HAL was being really being a stickler about boarding times due to the pandemic and we were no exception. Our time said noon and at 11:15 I dropped Kathleen, Steve and Jamie off at the port and took our rental car back to the airport. A quick cab ride back and we were ready to board right on time.

BTW: Before we went I did an early morning photowalk around Fort Lauderdale’s Riverwalk and here’s some pics from that morning. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Our home for the next 10 days

Check-in took less than 15 minutes and would have been faster if you took out all the COVID stuff. As soon as we got on board our rooms were available so we went to drop off our carry on luggage and to unpack those. I am not sure if I mentioned this but originally we had a verandah stateroom on deck six. About two weeks before the cruise we got an e-mail asking if we wanted to upgrade to a Neptune Suite. Neptune Suites are the second highest level of suites on the ship and the cost to upgrade was amazingly reasonable so we grabbed it. The suite is AMAZING! More than 350 square feet (which is big for a cruise ship stateroom, with a monster bathroom and a huge living space. Here’s some pics to show you what we are living in for the next ten (now nine) days and…don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

You always hear folks say, “I don’t need big room or a verandah because I am never it in.” This is true until you get a stateroom/suite like this. Then you are in it because you have everything you need. And on this cruise (and others for awhile) this is the only place we can walk around without our masks on. And because it’s just awesome!

I will drop some photos in my next post of the rest of the ship. Here are some facts about this particular cruise. First, due to COVID there are fewer than 750 cruisers on board. This is on a ship built to hold 3,214 passengers when at full capacity so to say that things feel empty is an understatement. I will say that there are some events (the Blues Club we were in last night) that can get crowded but we are doing our best to stay in our little pod of four.

We were supposed to have six ports of call on this cruise but that got tossed out the window yesterday when we could not land at Half Moon Cay, (HAL’s private island). This was NOT due to COVID but to high winds. Half Moon Cay is a tender port (that means they drop life boats and ferry you in from the ship) and the winds and seas were just too high to put those in the water safely, so we skipped that port. I will give the activity staff high marks because they quickly adjusted and found lots of things for people to do. BTW: If you are a trivia buff, this cruise is for you. I think there is trivia scheduled about every three hours along with lots of other activities.

Still have five ports scheduled and as I type this we are tied up at the pier in Grand Turk. We (the four of us) are going off around noon to do a HAL shore excursion. We got two free with our cruise and this is one of those. Grand Turk will allow us to get off and just wander around.

Tomorrow we are in Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, then a sea day, then we hit Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba in that order, on successive days. Then it’s two sea days and we are back in Fort Lauderdale. So far, everything is going great. More on the ship, the activities and the food in my next post.

The purpose of our lives is to be happy.   —Dalai Lama

We are trying to travel again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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