Day 5 & 6 on Allure of the Seas–San Juan, Puerto Rico

SanJuanPano1
A panoramic shot of Old Town San Juan from the sundeck on Allure of the Seas

Day 5 found us docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico where the temps were in the low 90s and the humidity near 80% so according to two apps on my phone it “felt like” 110. That’s just too hot. But being the intrepid walker I decided to take a 4 mile walk around old town, and then from one fort to another, duplicating a walk we had taken the first time we were here back in 2005. I just don’t remember it being this hot. I took some pics on my walk (as I usually do) and they are below.

When I got back to our stateroom, Kathleen was shocked at how I looked. I was literally soaking wet with sweat, my face was red and Kathleen said, “Oh my God! I have never seen you that sweaty and your face that red!” She was honestly worried about me—something she does a lot…because she loves me.

After a cold shower and lots of water, a short nap (more about napping later) I was back to normal and we were off to our free specialty restaurant dinner at 150 Central Park. For you Celebrity cruisers out there, it’s a slightly less formal version of Murano. We had a wonderful server, Lina who was totally conversant and we love talking to staff about food. She was so good to us. Kathleen had lamb Wellington and I had venison. To give you an example of how great Lina was, when she came back for the customary check-in of “How do you like your entrées,” we got into a discussion of our favorite foods. I told her I loved octopus. About five minutes later, she walked back up and set a plate of grilled octopus down on the table. I was stunned. It wasn’t on their menu. I asked her how she had done that magic and she said that another specialty restaurant (Giovanni’s, where I had lunch with our group on Tuesday) did serve it and she went and got me some. WOW! That’s service. Way to go above and beyond.

That was about it for Thursday except that we saw an outstanding show in the evening, The Company Men. They are an outstanding singing quartet that does mash-ups. When I first heard that my reaction was “Let’s skip this one.” But our buddy Mike had told us not to miss a show so off we went. I was so sure we wouldn’t like it that I even had us sit way in the back so we could get out quick if it went as bad as I thought it might be.

Boy was I wrong. Sure enough, Allure did not disappoint. Another outstanding show. These guys are amazing vocalists (check their website linked above and listen for a few minutes) and what they do to put two, three and four songs together from different eras is truly amazing. We loved the show The Company Men. They play a lot of cruise ships (their website has their schedules as there are three traveling groups) so if you ever get the chance to see them, don’t miss it.

Friday was another sea day so we had our last class with Nate. He had arranged a tour of the ship’s bridge to start the day so we all met with security and were escorted in. Kathleen and I are kind of jaded when it comes to being on a cruise ship bridge. It’s something we have done at least three times before and to be honest, all cruise ship bridges pretty much look alike. The only difference with Allure’s was the size. On the others we have toured (Celebrity’s Infinity, Century and Azamara’s Quest) you could walk from one side of the bridge to the other in about 20 big steps. On Allure it would have been about 50 big steps, she is that wide. Otherwise, a ship’s bridge is just a bunch of computer monitors and a couple of chairs with joysticks. See the pics (I only took a few because there’s not much to it) and you will understand. The officer giving the tour was a really nice guy so we did have a good time.

After that it was back to class and today was just short, open book (or in our case, open Google) test about all we had learned this week. I am too old to memorize everything when I know right where to find it online. We also did some celebrating as Nate had gotten a cake for all the October birthdays (including Kathleen’s on the 27th). And one of our group (Jenna from our corporate offices) had gotten engaged the day before as well. The group of agents we are traveling and taking classes with are really great folks from all over the US and Canada. Since we have seen them in class, at shows and at dinner we have really gotten to know some of them very well. It’s great to compare how we all do our travel jobs.

After class we used our free specialty restaurant lunch and went to Allure’s Mexican joint, Sabor. It was pretty good Mexican food and the fact that it was free (normal charge $20 per person) made it all the better. We even got our margaritas comped. Didn’t know that until we were done eating. If I had know that, I would have had another. 😀

After lunch I actually went back to our stateroom and took a nap. This is a big deal for me as I hardly ever do this. This week I have found myself really tired late in the morning and through the afternoon. Last night I figured out why, (BTW: As I am writing this it is Saturday, our last full day and we just arrived in Nassau, Bahamas). Last night as I lay in bed my legs starting hurting like they were on fire, followed by my back doing the same thing. I have had this three times before in my life and it is always the same thing—caffeine withdrawal. Now I have been drinking cappuccinos every morning but either they were too much milk or they were using decaf but suffice it to say, I spend a horrid night until 7:00 am when the onboard Starbucks opened (THANK GOD FOR STARBUCKS) where I ordered a cup of black coffee with two shots of espresso. I sat down right there to drink it and within 10 minutes of my first sip, I was feeling better. By the time I finished the grande, no pain whatsoever. I am now flying 😜 but I feel great.

But back to last night. We saw our last production show, Blue Planet. Your typical Cirque de Soleil-type show that cruise ships are really into right now. Music, acrobatics and dancing. We have seen these on Celebrity ships before but because Allure is so BIG and has such a huge theater with a huge stage, they can do much more staging-wise. That made it a really interesting show. If I hadn’t seen it, I would go and I recommend you do if you are onboard.

We were there for the early show at 7:00 and were out by 7:45 and off to dinner with fellow agents and then back to our stateroom for the aforementioned horrible, caffeine-withdrawal night punctuated by a cough that both of us have seemed to pick up. When will be able to travel without getting sick?

But enough about illness, here’s some pics from my walk around San Juan and our last day in class.

San Juan, Puerto Rico photos

Photos from our bridge tour and last day of classes

There’s definitely healing properties to being in proximity to the ocean and that breeze. There’s something about that Caribbean climate and humidity.—Johnny Depp

20 Years—we can’t believe it

IMG_2067Can’t believe it. Today Kathleen and I are celebrating 20 years of marriage by taking a two day trip to Vancouver, BC. We have visited here many times in those 20 years as it is one of our favorite cities. We were here last in 2017 with our British buddies Paul and Gail. Before that my brother Steve, his wonderful wife Jamie and our niece Cassie were here in 2015. We used to come here a lot more often before 2006 when we switched out British Columbia focus from Vancouver to Chilliwack because we always had so much more fun with Bob and Judy.

We drove up yesterday (Tuesday) and had a wonderful dinner at Edible Canada on Granville Island and then saw an improv show at Vancouver TheatreSports League (VTSL). We have been going to VTSL for almost as long as we have been married. It’s an awesome improv spot that has in its founding members Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles of Whose Line Is It Anyway? The show was outstanding. We laughed our asses off.

This morning I went out for one of my early morning photo walks. I have done a bunch in Vancouver and it never disappoints. Saw a couple of cruise ships (one Princess and one Holland America’s Volendam) and thousands of teenage girls line up at 5:45 am for a huge warehouse sale. Just crazy.

After breakfast at our hotel (the Wedgewood—where we have never stayed but we LOVE it) we went to see the Vancouver Aquarium. We can’t believe we have come to YVR so many times and never seen it. It is truly amazing. Then it was a nice drive around the Stanley Park, stopped at Prospect Point to take pictures of the Lions Gate Bridge and have lunch at a superb little bar and grille place there.

Back to our room so I could process photos and take a short nap (we are kind of old, you know) and then dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the world, CinCin. We have had so many great dinners there since we first went with some of our Martini Mates back in 2005. Tonight was no exception. Truly wonderful Italian food and wine.

More tomorrow when I plan to walk the sea wall all the way around Stanley Park as my early morning photo walk, but in the meantime, here’s some pics I really like from today’s walk and our visit to the Aquarium.

The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they’re right if you love to be with them all the time. —Julia Child

On the road again…to wine

You know how we hate to sleep in our own beds so with that in mind we grabbed our next door neighbors and good friends Jayesh and Lisa and took off on a quick three day jaunt to the Walla Walla wine country. We left early Wednesday morning for what is usually a 4+ hour drive that due to my choice of route (through Leavenworth, Cashmere and Wenatchee) and typical Washington summer road construction, plus a stop for some great barbecue for lunch turned into a seven-hour trip.

We arrived in Walla Walla around 4:00 and since this is Washington’s  wine country and we like wine, the first stop was the first wine tasting place we saw on the highway. After trying some really great reds and a superb white (we ended up buying the white—I know our friends who drink wine are shocked) we were off…to the winery next door. This one was in a historic school house. I thought their wines were just fine but we didn’t buy any here because nothing screamed...I AM WONDERFUL! BUY ME! 

That was enough tasting to start the trip so we made our way into the downtown core of Walla Walla to the AirBnB we had rented. This may be the nicest AirBnB we have stayed in (Click here to see the listing). Just gorgeous. Tons of rooms for all four of us (actually room for eight). A great kitchen (not that we are cooking) and close to everything. We have never been here before but Jayesh and Lisa come on a regular basis so they know all the good wineries and more importantly, the great restaurants. Last night we started with dinner at a superb Mediterranean restaurant called Saffron. If you come here—go there. Excellent food and great service. Plus when you are with good friends, you always have a good time.

This morning I was up and shooting photos around 5:30 on my five mile walk to try and wear off some of dinner and what turned out to be an amazing breakfast of chilaquiles. No matter where I go, if they have chilaquiles, I have to try them. Today’s were about a 7 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the ones I had in Santa Fe and the ones in Las Vegas being a 9.5.

At any rate, I am writing this while we are killing time waiting for the wineries to open up so I will add some photos from yesterday and my pre-dawn walk and see you tomorrow.

Close friends contribute to our personal growth. They also contribute to our personal pleasure, making the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, the laughter ring louder because they are there. —Judith Viorst

Incredible Iceland— Akureyri-Day 2

I was glad we had come back a little early from our first day tour so I could be up at what would be dawn at home (5:30 am) to see old town Akureyri and I got lucky and had a great walk. I didn’t get rained on but the by the time I got back it had really started coming down. I will leave it at that and you can see what I saw in my photos. Later on, some of the group went into town but Kathleen was wiped out so we stayed on board and the whole gang was back for a late lunch at The Porch (a Reflection alternative seafood restaurant) and it was wonderful. A great lunch. Some super fresh seafood and some of the best sangria I have ever had. Drank way too much of it. We sailed out late in the day and it was a beautiful sail out up the fjord. This was followed by two sea days before we would dock in Cobh, Ireland. More about that coming on Sunday.

When I prepare, I am not messing around. I find the right places, the right people, and the right environment. Iceland is one of those places. —Conor McGregor

 

Incredible Iceland— Akureyri-Day 1

After what seemed like a very short night we sailed down an incredible fjord into Akureyri, Iceland’s most important northern city. It’s small town (a population of only around 27,000) but it is the gateway to some pretty amazing natural wonders. The day started with beautiful weather and the sail-in made for some great photos. 

I almost forgot to mention that before we got to Akureyri the captain of Reflection decided to make us all what my friend Bob (a long-time Navy guy) calls “Bluenose Sailors” which I am sure means we have been inside the Arctic Circle. He sailed the entire ship north of where he needed to so we could say we had been inside the Arctic Circle. What a guy! We even got a certificate. Kind of the like the one we got when we crossed the Equator many years ago on our SouthEast Asia cruise.

 

We were met by our guide Auðun of No.17 Tours. He had been recommended by the god of shore excursions, my buddy Mike Preisman. Mike had used the services of Auðun a few years ago on their Icelandic cruise and had spoken highly of him. He was right. I should point out that Auðun told us his company used to be Taxi 17 because when it wasn’t touring season, he would drive a taxi but now the government says he is too old to do that. He can drive a bus, a truck and a tour van but at 76 he can’t drive a taxi. Who would have thought. He is an amazing guy who really knew the area he was showing us. Plus he had some great stories from his 27 years as the skipper of a fishing trawler. 

We set out a little earlier in Akureyri as the ship was docked and let us off by 10:30. Auðun was ready for us and we were off to see the northern waterfalls, stand with both my feet in different continents and see some other amazing geological wonders as well as two versions of the Blue Lagoon. And we finally got to see puffins. We had missed them before on previous trips to places where they live but this time we got to see a bunch. Check out the photos for all the sights we saw. 

Even though we had gone out earlier than we had in Reykjavik, the weather had turned both cold and gray and by the time we had seen the puffins and the waterfalls, we were wiped out so we asked Auðun to just head us home and we were off to the ship were we pretty much caught a late dinner and collapsed. But we did have a super day and the Icelandic landscape is even more amazing up north. 

 

I still don’t know why, exactly, but I do think people can have a spiritual connection to landscape, and I certainly did in Iceland. —Hannah Kent

Incredible Iceland— Reykjavik-Day 2

Most everyone else in our party slept in a little bit after getting back at almost midnight from our Golden Circle tour with Birkir. I on the other hand, love it when a ship overnights in a port so that I can get up early the next day and walk through the city. (One of my best photo walks ever was in Québec last October when we overnighted on Summit). More and more cruise lines are doing this (overnighting in cities) and you can get off and on whenever you want all night long. This was a good day to do that but I really missed that early morning golden light I had when we were in Edinburgh and Dublin.

I got up at 5:00 am and headed out to walk the seaside walkway into downtown Reykjavik but the light outside was already like 10:30 in the morning as you can see from my pics. I got some decent stuff and then headed back to the ship to shower and meet Kathleen and others in our group to take a taxi back into downtown to see some more of the city. My pics and their captions will pretty much tell the tale on that. Don’t forget to click on the first one and view them as a slide show. And if you want to see more, check them out on Flickr by clicking here.

We were back on the ship by 2:00 pm and Reflection set sail for Akureyri at 3:00. It was a pretty great day considering how little sleep was involved. Thursday, I will post all about our travels in Akureyri, in the north. And we cross the Arctic Circle! 

Blustery Belfast

Sitting in the Club World Lounge in Terminal 3, Heathrow, I think I have enough time to upload Belfast (their WiFi is pretty good and it is already written). We shall see. It was the next stop after we boarded in Dublin where I left off (other my WOW Iceland post and my Woeful WiFi post).

We awoke on our first day after leaving Dublin to a truly blustery day in Belfast. Due to tides we weren’t able to dock until almost 11:00 am. As soon as we were able, we walked four of our party who had never been to Belfast before out to a private excursion I had arranged through Tours by Locals that would take them to up the Antrim Coast to Giant’s Causeway. We had done this on a previous visit to Belfast and we along with four others in our group who had been here before decided to forego that and pay a visit to the Titanic Experience. 

I fully realize that visiting a museum dedicated to a cruise ship that sank by hitting an iceberg while on a cruise seems to be tempting fate but we went anyway. If you are in Belfast, this is a must-see. They have done an excellent job of detailing pretty much everything about the Titanic, its building, the times it was built in and so much more. Not only are there a number of excellent exhibits, there is even a ride. Who knew? We were pretty surprised. It was a great tour and worth the money and time. 

Our original plans after the Titanic experience had been to jump on the HoHo bus but since it was pouring rain, we crammed ourselves into a taxi and headed back to the ship. All and all, a pretty decent day.

Remember, you can click the first photo to see the pics larger and as a slide show.

Post note: Wasn’t able to upload everything in the lounge. Finishing up at home with my usual AWESOME WiFi. Exhausted but more about that later.

The Titanic hit the iceberg not because they could not see it coming but because they could not change direction. —Dean Devlin

On to Dublin

After six days in Yorkshire we bid a fond farewell to Paul and Gail. Paul drove us to the airport at 6:00 am (thank you again Paul) and Gail got up to tell us goodbye (thank you again Gail). We caught our 8:22 Aer Lingus puddle jumper flight from Leeds-Bradford airport to Dublin. Arrived 10 minutes early, but unfortunately, our ride to the hotel arrived an hour late. After that snafu, we got a great driver who took us in to the city to our luggage drop where we…dropped our luggage. Then we walked a few blocks to meet our buddies Bob and Holly for lunch at a great little place called O’Neals. A real Irish pub. It was great seeing them again. Bob and Holly, not O’Neals.

After that it was back to pick up our luggage and head to our AirBnB where we got settled, welcomed my brother and his family around 4:30 (they were wiped out after flying non-stop from LA) and went out to dinner to Brookwood, an outstanding restaurant that turned out to be right across the street, we watched a little more of Britain’s Got Talent and it was off to bed.

A couple of quick thoughts about Dublin and our AirBnB. Dublin seems more crowded and crazy than Edinburgh and definitely more than wonderfully sedate Leeds and Yorkshire (where of course we were staying in a neighborhood and not right down town as we are here). For instance, we have a very famous pub (Toners) and a couple of bars across the street from us. Normally when I get up to walk in the morning (like today when I am up at 4:30), it’s quiet in the neighborhoods. Not here. There is still a loud crowd out in front of a bar down the street (I can see the bar from our front window). At 4:22 am??!! Do these people ever sleep? Our AirBnB is pretty cool. The host, whose name is Phil, met us and has really taken great care of us. A super guy. We have a big living room, a gourmet kitchen (not that we will cook) and a four bedrooms. Check out the listing at the link above. Another win for us picking great AirBnBs. It even has a bakery downstairs and we will see how great they are later today.

As I was finishing this up at 4:30 am I realized that for the first day in 10 days, I hadn’t taken any photos. Well, I took two. Both out the window from the living room. One of the world famous Toner’s Pub and the other of Brookwood, the restaurant where we had dinner (they make a wonderful lamb) so sorry, that’s all you get today. But as I am going out in about 10 minutes for an early morning walk, you should have much more tomorrow or tonight.

Fabulous place, Dublin is. The trouble is, you work hard and in Dublin you play hard as well. —Bonnie Tyler

Whitby & Scarborough (Scar bruh)

Castle HowardBefore I even start telling you about today,  I have been very neglectful in not telling you about where we have been staying with our friends Gail and Paul Howard. We have been guests at their home since Saturday night and will be here until we go to Dublin on Friday. They just call their place, home but we call it Castle Howard. Here’s a picture and you can see why and the link will tell you all about it. It’s quite the place and we have loved meeting all their staff and the entire court. 😀

Back to our travels—we have been getting quite the education about proper British pronunciation. So today we learned that Scarborough is pronounced Scar Bruh. We were there today and I didn’t see a single scar or a single bruh. Everyone had great skin and my brutha was still back in California. But it’s still pronounced that way.

Today was beach day. We were out the door at 9:00 am and headed to the North Sea (doesn’t that sound cold) coast, first to Whitby and then to Scarbruh.

Whitby is quite the town. We parked and walked it from one end to the other as well as crossing the old swing bridge and going up the other side of town. Then Paul and I went all the way up the 199 old stone steps to see the Abbey. Paul was very surprised at the Abbey with its brand new visitor center. When he was last here three years ago with our fellow Martini Mates Mike and Carol, it hadn’t been in existence and you could not walk around the ruins of the Abbey. The Abbey itself was built in 1539 but there has been a church on this site since 604 AD. (Now that’s old.) And not only that but the author Bram Stoker set part of his novel Dracula here as well. Paul and I climbed the hill and walked all around. Please see my photos for more. They are at the bottom of this post.

Yorkshire Day 3-115After descending and finding Kathleen and Gail ensconced in a cute little pub, (Gail having a cuppa and Kathleen tasting an ale), we headed back down the hill to the village to see if we could get in the line at the Magpie Cafe which as Paul related to us a number of times, has the “Best Fish and Chips in England.” I have to say, he may be right. After standing in line outside for about 20 minutes we had some incredible fish and chips. If you go to Whitby, eat there. It is worth the wait…which may be much longer.

After our wonderful and very filling lunch, we were off to the car to continue onward to the seaside town of Scarbruh. The best way to tell you about this is through the captions on my photos so please see those below. That was our day. We did a slow slog back to Castle Howard due to everyone coming home from the Bank Holiday (which is today) and once we got here that was it. There was a lively discussion about what to have for dinner but my cold is so bad, I knew I would not be able to taste anything so while I write this, Kathleen, Paul and Gail are having some of his world famous Yorkshire scrambled eggs in the kitchen.

Some of my fondest memories are holidays by the seaside. —Mary Berry

Visiting every country in the world?

SALThink you can do that? Visit every country in the world? Do you even know (without Googling it) how many countries there are in the world? I will save you some time—there’s 193. Late last week I was checking my Twitter feed and I saw a post from Conde Nast Traveler’s website about a guy (Sal Lavallo—that’s him at right) who actually visited every single country in the world. All 193 of them. WOW! (I want his frequent flyer miles!)

So I checked out the article. It was great. Instead of a typical travel log or interview, Conde Nast Traveler asked this great guy 193 questions. One for every country he visited. I read every one of them and I loved them. Sal is the is the kind of guy who I would love to meet and I would love to travel with. The article that you can read by clicking here is worth a look. And the best part is, it reads fast.

You can find out all about his life and his journey in bits and pieces by reading just a few of the 193 questions. You can learn some cool stuff like, which country has the best tap water or what was his worst mistake. Or the most unusual place he slept and the hardest country to get into. I am betting if you start, you will finish. It’s that good.

Were you ever bored? There was always something new to see and learn.—Sal Lavallo, the man who visited all 193 countries of the world.