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

The PANDEMIC IS OVER!!! At least they think it is in Key West, Florida

We spent our first night after flying into Fort Lauderdale at the Le Meridian Hotel near the airport. It turned out to be a very nice place. Being about an hour late, Kathleen and I grabbed a very quick bite before I high-tailed it back to the airport to pick up my brother (Steve) and my sister-in-law (Jamie) and bring them back as well.

The next morning we were up early, off to Starbucks and then we hit the road to go down for a one night visit to Key West, Florida. Kathleen and I had been there in 2009 with our buddies Bob and Judy and had loved it. Today is a tale of what happens in 12 years—bad things.

The cute and quaint town we visited in March of 2009 is now kind of a drunken, slobbery, very expensive mess. Well, maybe not that bad but certainly different from what we had experienced. The really big news in Key West is that the pandemic is OVER! We knew that because when we were walking around downtown, shopped and ate in restaurants and besides the four of us we saw exactly two (YES TWO) people with masks on. So we guess it’s over. At least it is there. We were so careful to keep our N95 masks on all day, even in the humidity and we are hoping that was enough. We have to take COVID antigen test this morning in order to be able to board the ship tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

The experience wasn’t all bad. I did get two new Crazy Shirts (the greatest shirt in the world—I have about 30 of them and wear them pretty much every day), we had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant on Duval Street (the main drag) called Bagatelle. Food was amazing and service was great. Except for the lack of masks, it was about a perfect dinner.

The same cannot be said about our hotel. Key West is in high season and that means hotels are not only scarce but expensive. We could not find a single AirBnB. The hotel (The Gates Hotel) was more than $300 a night so we were only staying one night. When we arrived and tried to get into the lobby to check in there was a sign on the door that said something to the effect that “two hotels, one lobby” with directions to drive to the hotel next door.

Once we got in the correct lobby we found out that not only was the hotel more than $300, they tacked on an undisclosed “resort fee” of $40. This “resort fee” got us two bottles of water and some free but pretty slow WiFi. Then we headed to our room which was way around the back of the building in a different, motel-type building. We found our room but we had to walk across about about 15 feet of muddy ground to get to the door and sometimes you had to fight your way through a flock of Key West’s famous chickens. Once inside we found another sign that people in Key West think the pandemic is over as soon as we used the facilities. There was no soap. Seriously, in a hotel room that charged us more than $350 plus tax, there was no soap. Also no bath mat to step out of the shower on. So I get on the phone and call the office to see if we could get both. I called about 15 times over and over again for about 20 minutes and there was no answer. So we went off to dinner and I figured I would ask when we got back. In the meantime the person who had checked us in sent me a text asking if everything in our room was OK and I texted back that we did not have soap or a bath mat. She said she would send some right out. This was two days ago, we checked out yesterday and we still don’t have it 🙄. I can’t recommend this hotel less than I do.

But I did get in an early morning photo-walk the next morning and the best of what I took are in the slide show below. Hope you enjoy them. Got some great sunrises and pelicans and a few other subjects as well. (Click on the first pic and you can scroll through the rest.)

The next morning after a quick hit of Starbucks we were back up the overseas highway to drop our luggage at our AirBnB where we would spend the next two nights. That done we headed north to Wellington to have dinner with our friends Mike and Cathy. We had promised my brother who loves Greek food, a visit to our favorite Greek restaurant, Chris’ Taverna in Lake Worth. After an hour wait we were rewarded with an amazing dinner (just like always). Of course I had the octopus and it was maybe the best I have ever eaten. Plus it was great seeing Mike and Cathy. Kathleen and I will meet them for lunch on the day we get off the ship as we don’t fly back until early evening.

That brings us to this morning (Saturday) when we are happily ensconced in the AirBnB while doing our online-monitored COVID tests so we can board the ship tomorrow. So far two of us have passed, one is waiting for their proctor to come back and then Jamie will do hers and we are good to go. More tomorrow!

Laughter is an instant vacation.  —Milton Berle

 

 

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

 

Humid but fun Florida

 

Day 1

Our first day of travel started with a pickup by Century Car Service out of Seattle. We have used a variety of car services to get to the airport in the past but our neighbor and best buddy Lisa recommended these guys as people that she had used personally and when making arrangements for her team at Microsoft so we decided to give them a try. We are glad we did. Not only did our driver arrive on time but he called us the night before to verify the pickup time and advise us that our day to fly was going to be VERY busy so maybe we would want to get picked up 15 minutes earlier. That’s service. We said yes and when I went to open the garage door to watch for his 5:30 arrival at 5:15, he was already parked in front of the house.

At SEA in plenty of time, got through TSA pre-check in minutes and were sitting in the Concourse C First Class lounge in no time. Had a nice (if pre-packaged) breakfast before our flight and then off we went on Alaska Air to Fort Lauderdale. A totally full but thoroughly enjoyable flight. Great service, not too bumpy until landing and even then the Captain set her down beautifully.

Got our bags and called for our car service to pick us up. We were using Mike & Cathy Limos out of Wellington, Florida 😜. Seriously, we were picked up by Mike Priesman, one of our oldest friends and his new lady love, Cathy, one of our newest. We headed north with a dinner stop at what is probably my favorite traditional Greek restaurant outside of Greece, Chris’ Taverna. They serve my favorite food in the best way possible—incredibly fresh and it’s incredibly good. A bare minimum of sauce—my octopus was perfect, my trip complete—NOT. But it was really good.

After dinner we headed back to Cathy’s gorgeous house where I slept so darned well you would have thought I was on vacation 😀. If you are looking for a place to stay in South Florida, we highly recommend it. Great bed, super water pressure, lots of hot water, the owner/manager is a sweetheart but you have to watch out for the bellhop. He’s a little strange.

Day 2

After a wonderful nights sleep and a superb breakfast we were picked up by the Cathy & Mike Tour Company who took us to see the Jupiter Lighthouse. It’s a really pretty and very historical lighthouse in Jupiter (former home of Burt Reynolds and current home of Tiger Woods) just north of where we are staying. The still-functioning lighthouse is a great subject for photography and you can climb the 100+ step spiral staircase and step out onto the deck that runs all the way around the outside.

Only problem we ran into was…thunder and lightning. As soon as I got to the top and stepped out onto the platform, I heard the attendant tell the people behind me (Mike and Cathy) that, “Sorry, we have to send everyone back down because of the weather.” Of course I was already outside so I continued around the platform taking photos and that’s what you see above.

While I was shooting I could see the lightening not that far away and when the first huge clap of thunder hit I got myself off that platform in a big hurry. We were down and gone to the Visitor’s Center where they were kind enough to refund our admission even though I told them I had gotten up there for a few minutes. They said I should have been able to stay longer and it was very nice of them insisting on the refund. The lighthouse (on a non-stormy day) is a cool experience and I highly recommend stopping by if you are in the area.

Next up was lunch at Square Grouper, a fun hole-in-the-wall, right-on-the-water spot just across the waterway from the lighthouse. I got to try what I was told by Mike and Cathy is a Florida delicacy—Mahi Mahi sandwich. A big blackened Mahi Mahi fillet sandwich with cheese and grilled onions. It came with some of the best fries have had in years.

This about covered our day so far. Tonight we are going to a free concert in a nearby park and tomorrow doing a scenic boat tour on the Intercoastal Waterway. This tour company is awesome!

Anything for the quick life, as the man said when he took the situation at the lighthouse. —Charles Dickens

 

The best laid plans…are made to be changed

If you may recall from my last installment we found out that we are going to be able to take our July 4 Galapagos Island cruise on Celebrity’s Flora. We had heard about all this on a TA-only Celebrity webinar that we watched three weeks ago tomorrow.

Of course the very first morning after the announcement we wanted to get all our plans set up. We had originally planned on flying from Seattle to Los Angeles on Alaska Air (our hometown airline) about three days before we were flying to Quito, Ecuador. While in the area we would see my brother and sister-in-law and spend a couple of days doing LA fun stuff. Then we would board our flight to Quito on Friday July second, spend a full day on Saturday touring Quito with Celebrity before heading to the Galapagos themselves on Sunday. We were also scheduled to spend an extra day in Quito after we visited the islands.

But Celebrity has wisely decided that even though most people on the islands are vaccinated, the COVID situation in mainland Ecuador is not a good one. So they have shortened our trip from 11 days to nine. That was OK with us as this trip is all about the Galapagos.

But now we had to redo all our flights because we would be leaving out of LA a day later than we thought and coming back a day earlier. So I got on the phone with Celebrity (they had booked our Quito flights as part of our package) to find out when the new times would be so I could change our other arrangements that would get us to and from LAX.

Besides the fact that they told me they couldn’t be sure of anything for a least a week, when they finally sent me the itinerary, it had changed a WHOLE BUNCH! We had originally been scheduled to fly on Copa Air (the national airline of Panama) from LAX leaving at 11:30 AM and arriving in Quito at 9:30 pm our time. We had about a 2 hour layover in Panama City which was OK for us.

The new schedule had us leaving LAX at 2:30 AM!!! And then we had an almost nine hour layover in Panama City, still taking the same Panama to Quito flight we had been on originally that got us in at 11:30 pm. Now I fully realize that some people like flying red-eye flights but we are not two of those people. That would mean missing a night of sleep as we would have to stay up to get on the plane and then even if we were in Business class and had lay-down seats, by the time we got to sleep, we would be landing not to mention the really long layover in an airport we don’t know in a country that still has major COVID problems. At our age (seems like I say that a lot 😜) we would be wiped out for about two days of the cruise. So this flight was out for us.

I jumped online and started looking for flights either from LAX or SEA but no dice. Either we left really early in the morning (like 2:30) or the previous afternoon and would have to spend the night in an airport, there was basically nothing. We were just not sure how this was going to work out so I decided to take my daily walk and see if just getting out would give me an idea. Walking often does that.

Sure enough, I came up with an idea that Kathleen actually liked 😁. My idea was, let’s find a non-stop flight to Quito from someplace in the United States, fly to that city the night before and then fly to Quito the next morning. Now we had to pick a city to fly to that had a non-stop to Quito. The airlines made that easy because you can really only fly to Quito on a non-stop from very few airports. We were kind of limited to Houston, Atlanta or Miami.

When I said Miami we both looked at each other and said, “YES!” We decided right then and there that this was the way we wanted to go. One of our best friends in the world, the god of shore excursions, Mike Preisman lives just north of Fort Lauderdale and we will pretty much take any reason to go and visit him. Plus, since the last time we saw him (March 2020) he has met and fallen head over heels for his new lady friend, Cathy. And even though we have met her on FaceTime we really want to meet her in person…and now we will. So we will spend three days with them and have fun in sunny, hot and humid Florida. Not only that, Mike is such a great guy he volunteered to pick us up in Fort Lauderdale and drop us off three days later at MIA.

Our flight from MIA to Quito is only four hours. I always forget that Quito, Ecuador is just about directly south of Miami, Florida and it’s in our Central time zone. This makes for a nice medium length flight. And because we had been cancelled on this cruise last year and chose to rebook it, we had some bonus dollars to spend which we used to upgrade to Business Class on American Airlines. The other thing we love is that this flight leaves and gets in at a “normal” time. We fly out at 8:30 am and get in at about 12:30 pm. Our sleep cycle should stay intact and we should have an awesome cruise.

One of the things I love about the flight (Kathleen seems kind of unimpressed) is that on our way down we are flying on a Boeing 787. We have never flown on a Dreamliner before and I am really looking forward to the experience. On the way home we just get a 737…boring. But by then we will be so thrilled about the trip to the islands we have just completed (or so exhausted) that we won’t care what plane we fly home on.

Once in Quito, we will be spending the night at the EB Hotel (at least as of now that is Celebrity’s plan) which is near the airport. Then the next morning (Sunday the 4th) while you are prepping your fireworks and barbecues, we will fly from Quito to Baltra (the main air gateway to the Galapagos) via chartered air. We are then on the ship/boat/yacht for seven nights before flying back to Quito, spending the night and then flying back to Miami, spending another night with Mike and Cathy and then home on the 13th.

We are pretty much all set now. We do have to find a place near Mike and Cathy’s to get a COVID test within 96 hours of flying to Quito. Once we have that we will be given another test before we board the ship and another when we get off the ship. The 96 hour one has to be the nose swab but the two on the ship are the spit-in-a-tube type.

The entire crew as well as all passengers are required to provide proof of vaccination. We have also been told that 98% of the people living on the islands (there are only about 25,000 people living there) have been vaccinated as well. Besides, once we get on the ship/boat/yacht we won’t see another human that isn’t part of our cruise until the next to last day when we stop in the only town on the trip. The rest of the time all the stops are just to see flora and fauna.

Speaking of flora, our ship/boat/yacht is named Flora and we have found out that she NEVER docks. We take a zodiac-type tender out to board her and we do the same when leaving or doing any shore excursion. Plus Flora is built to never drop anchor. To not disturb the sea floor she was designed with a system that uses the propulsion system to stay in one place in the water. Pretty cool.

You can be sure that we will be sending you updates and photos from the islands so watch this space for a complete virtual tour of your own. All of that dependent on the quality of their internet connections and the amount of time I have to write and process photos. If you would like to see some amazing shots from a crew member of Flora check out Marvi Cordova on Instagram. She is not only a crew member but an incredible photographer. I plan on asking her lots and lots of questions. I stole the photo of Flora at the top of this post from her.

The only thing I like about air travel is it gives me time to read.

Jane Lindskold

Birds, birds and…gators?

Sitting in the Sky Lounge on Celebrity Cruise Line’s Reflection, having just had an appetizer lunch with three glasses of champagne, I thought this would be a great time to write a quick update on our trip leading up to the cruise.

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Benny’s on the Beach

Thursday we spent most of the day driving south and east from Sarasota to meet our buddy Mike at Benny’s on the Beach in Lake Worth. We had eaten there with Mike when we were down in October and knew our friend Bob would love it. It’s a very cool beachside restaurant that juts out over the Atlantic and you sit in a screened-in dining area and eat pretty darned good food.

After lunch we headed back to Mike’s place in Boynton Beach where we would spend the night before our cruise on Friday. Judy wanted to see some alligators (doesn’t everyone when they come to Florida), so Mike took her (and me) down to the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a really super wildlife preserve run by their local public utility district. I had been there with Mike before when we were visiting him in 2009 but thought I could get some more great photos of the flora and fauna—and I did! At least I like them. The photos I took on my afternoon visit are below on top. Scroll all the way down to see pics from the next morning (which I think are much better.)

The best part of this unspellable and unpronounceable wetlands is that it’s free to get in! That meant I could go back the next morning just before dawn and get some of the same great pics but in my favorite early morning light that I love.

I set out at 6:00 am (sunrise was at 7:05) and walked all around taking some photos in the gorgeous early morning light. Many of my readers are late sleepers, so this is my contribution to you. I get up and find the great light so you can sleep 😃. Below you will find pics of the park with the birds identified. At least they are identified by a general consensus of all present (with lots of searching online). If you have better knowledge than we do, please let us know in the comments.

After the early morning photo walk, it was back to Mike’s to shower, eat breakfast, load the car and head south to the cruise terminal. Our plan was to get close to the cruise port, find a gas station, fill up the rental car pre-return, drop Kathleen, Bob and Judy (as well as all our luggage) at the cruise port and then I would take the car back at Fort Lauderdale (FLL) airport. After dropping it off I would catch a cab or a Lyft back to the port and we would all board together. Should be easy, right?

Not so much. First, there isn’t a gas station within about five miles of the cruise port…OR the airport (they are only about 10 minutes apart) so as we got off the freeway coming South, the cruise port gates were right in front of us. So I went ahead and dropped everyone off and then went in search of gas before I could return the car. (BTW: I know I could have purchased the “return empty” option from the rental car company but I hate giving them back a ton of gas and trying to guess how much to put in each day so I don’t give them a bunch back.)

So there I was at the port with an empty car (no people, no luggage and NO gas) to return so I plug “gas station” into my GPS and it finds me a Shell station less than a mile away. I think, “WOW! That’s close—GREAT!” Only problem was, it was less than a mile as the crow flies, not as the car drives. It was on the OTHER side of a large body of water. Getting that  distance from the cruise port took me about 30 minutes because it was actually about four driving miles away. And getting back to the airport there was a BUNCH of construction so what should have taken me 20 minutes quickly stretched to 40. I finally got back to the airport, dropped the car and went looking for a Lyft. Problem was that even with Lyft Pink (which is supposed to get me priority pickup) it was 20 minute wait. So I did what I hate to do and took a taxi.

Why do I hate taxis? Because of their meters. I got picked up and we had not even left the airport and the meter already said $10. My quote for Lyft was only $12.00 all the way to my destination. Because of traffic, this cab ride cost me almost $30. But we did finally get there. Everyone was thrilled to see me and I grabbed my carry-on luggage, my bride, my friends and we got onboard.

Before I say anything about the ship (which will wait until tomorrow), I want to put in my photos from the Wakodahatchee Wetlands.

Day 1 in Boynton Beach, midday photo walk

Day 2 in Boynton Beach, early morning photo walk

I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way I could. —John James Audubon

Mardi Gras Trip—Days 1-3 in Sarasota

Shame on me for not posting sooner on this trip but to be honest, we have just been really busy. Plus, this is the non-cruise part of the trip. The really interesting stuff starts on Friday when we sail away on Reflection to Mardi Gras.

Monday morning we (Kathleen, our good buddies Bob and Judy and I) were picked up bright and early (6:00 am) and driven off to SeaTac to catch Alaska Air flight 770 to beautiful Tampa, Florida. It was a totally boring flight (which is a very good thing) and we arrived just a little early (but of course that means that our bags took forever) and after grabbing our rental car we were off.

Just a little disappointed in the rental car we got. I had asked for a large SUV that would seat five people with luggage for five people going on a cruise. What we got instead was an Infiniti SUV that is big but if you put luggage for four people in it, it only has room for four people There are six seats in the car but two are only for tiny children or contortionists. But if you have the back row of seats set up as seats, there is no place to put luggage…and we have a lot of it. We had hoped to be able to take our friend Mike to the ship with us on Friday but now he can hopefully go with his neighbors Barbara and Hans who are also joining us on this cruise. If they can’t take him, I may have to go swap rental cars. Tampa only had this one that was big enough to fit us all, that wasn’t already reserved for someone else.

We arrived at our AirBnB fairly late (Tampa traffic was the cause) and after going to dinner it was pretty much come back here and sleep. The place we are in is nice enough but the host has a lot to learn or maybe this is the standard for AirBnBs in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, the house is very clean, very nicely furnished and HUGE! You can see the listing for the house (with lots of pics) by clicking here. The only real problem is that this particular AirBnB bills itself as “Secluded luxury with heated Saltwater Pool & Spa” but the spa is NOT working. Water won’t get over 72 degrees and we have been contacting the owner every day since we got here. The pool isn’t heating up either but during the day it is in the sun so it does warm up to 74 or so. We are now down to about 6 hours of possible time to use the spa before we leave and still nothing is being done. I suppose it could be worse but that’s one of the reasons that we chose this place, because Bob and Judy like a good hot tub experience.

We were also kind of surprised that there was nothing in the house when we got here. Not even bottled water. We have never stayed in an AirBnB that didn’t at least have that and coffee. This place had neither. But maybe that is just the way AirBnBs are in Florida. We have stayed in AirBnBs (like Salt Lake City) that had an entire breakfast, bottle of wine not to mention bottled water ready for us when we arrived.

Enough about our first world problems, Tuesday was all about us driving up to Ana Maria Island for a visit with a bunch of Canadians. It is a total coincidence that I suggested that we go to Sarasota pre-cruise because when Bob mentioned that to his cousins that live in Ontario, they said they would be wintering on Ana Maria Island, a short (well with traffic, a long) drive away. So in the morning we headed north to visit Bob’s four cousins and to meet up with Bob’s brother who had driven down from their winter perch in Myrtle Beach, SC. We had a true family reunion going on where not only were Kathleen and I the only non-relatives but we were also the only non-Canadians. We had a great time and I assumed my usual roll as the group photographer (samples below).

Today (I am writing this on Wednesday) I took a pre-dawn photo walk on St. Armand’s Key and Longboat Key and then after breakfast we headed off to The Ringling. The Ringling is Sarasota’s biggest attraction besides shopping and the beach. It is the former home of John Ringling of circus fame. On the property is an art museum housing his private collection (he’s been dead since the 1930’s so he doesn’t need it), his actual home (kind of a junior San Simeon) and my favorite part, the circus museum. The circus museum features an ENORMOUS miniature circus from the heyday of circuses, the 1920s-1930s. It is truly amazing and if you are in Sarasota, make sure and stop by and check it out. We only wish we had had the grandkids with us. They would have loved it.

Also toured the bottom floor of his house (they charge you more to go upstairs) and three of us toured the art museum as well. And we all had a little lunch on the property. When we got back to where we were staying I had nothing special I needed to do (except text our host again about the lack of heat in the spa and pool) so I thought, why not do the first post of this trip.

Tomorrow we are off to our friend Mike’s house in Boynton Beach, to spend the night, before we drive to Fort Lauderdale on Friday morning to board Celebrity’s Reflection, a ship we stepped off of last June in Dublin, Ireland. I will keep this going as we go and whenever I have enough photos that I want to post them.

Pre-dawn photo walk

The Ringling in photos

My best vacation is somewhere I could hide, somewhere warm and not a lot of people around. —Derek Jeter

 

 

Last day in South Florida

Morikami Pano
A panoramic photo of the Morikami Gardens

Just a quick post with some photos before breakfast. We will be boarding Allure of the Seas at 10:30 am and I am writing this in Mike’s family room at 6:30 while Kathleen is getting ready to go.

Yesterday was a really great and relaxing day. Mike does volunteer work at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens where he is an information specialist (a fancy name I am giving him for the guy who sits at a desk by the entrance and answers questions). The gardens are beautiful and the weather cooperated while we were there.  Big, fluffy clouds on a nice blue sky let me take some great pics while we toured.

After Morikami we headed north on Highway 1 along the coast. We drove by the infamous Mar-A-Lago Country Club (that you-know-who owns) and then a little further before we stopped at Benny’s on the Beach (a really cool restaurant on a pier perched over the Atlantic) for a delicious lunch. After that it was north to Palm Beach where we stopped to buy some postcards (yes, we still send those—I’m very retro, 😀 so sue me) to send to the grandkids and other friends and relatives. Speaking of retro, we got the postcards at a little drugstore that Mike had been to before that was a total throw-back. Even had a little luncheonette. Reminded me of an old Woolworth’s.

Then it was back to Mike’s where we watched a little college football until Mike’s neighbors Barb and Hans came over to see us. We had sailed with Barbara and Hans on a two week South East Asia cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong (one of our favorites) in 2010. It was great to see them. We always have a lot to talk about. Then it was dinner out at a Cuban-American restaurant and that was it—a really nice day.

Here are the pics I promised you and you will get our first report on Allure either later tonight or tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter how much I think I know about Florida, it still flips me on the head every time. It’s just an absurd, eclectic place, and the stories that can come out of that place just never stop.—Matt Passmore

On the road…again

RCI_AL_Drone_DJI_0061_RET_CMYKSometimes I think we are the living embodiment of the Willie Nelson song. Or if you are my age, the Canned Heat song. But then we spend a few days with our good friend Mike Preisman and I realize that as much as we travel, he travels more. And he writes about his travels even more than I do. I linked his website above. It is worth going to before you travel has he has probably been where you are going.

I mentioned Mike because we are in humid and hot South Florida staying with Mike before we board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas tomorrow. I may have mentioned that I am not a big fan of the Caribbean but we are taking this cruise to learn. Almost all of the cruise lines out there do what are referred to in the trade as FAM (familiarity) cruises from time to time. These kind of cruisers give travel agents a chance to see a ship and learn about a cruise line while on a cruise. They aren’t free (nothing ever is…) but we do get a very nice discount and there are some nice perks. Of course we still had to pay to get down to humid south Florida, but it’s still a bargain.

It especially helps if you have great friend who will put you up a few days before the cruise as well. We are staying with one of our super Martini Mates, the aforementioned Mike Preisman. And besides getting to see him, we were able to see some friends who we met on our first Celebrity cruise through the Panama Canal in 2004, Bert and Annette. We had lunch with them at their country club (a really swanky place) and just a great time talking about all we have been doing since we last saw them five years ago when we had lunch in the same place.

So tomorrow (Sunday, October 6) we board the Allure of the Seas at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. This is our first time on an Oasis Class ship. The Oasis class are the largest cruise ships in the world. Only one ship sailing has more cabins than Allure. When the ship is at maximum capacity she can hold 6,314 passengers and more than 2140 crew members. That’s 8,500 people on one ship. For me that three times the size of the town where I spent most of the 90s, Leavenworth, WA.

We will board tomorrow morning before most of the other passengers so we can do a ship’s tour that will let us see some of the staterooms and suites before others come aboard. Our FAM group is composed of about 30 Expedia Cruise Ship Centers travel consultants and people from their sales department. During the week, on the four sea days (out of seven) we will have classes from 9:00 am to noon and then from 2:00 to 4:00 pm every day. The coordinators from Royal will not only talk about the ship we are on, but all the other Royal ships in the fleet. And I am sure we will have plenty of time to see all the public areas on this ship…which means you will get to see a whole bunch of photos this week.

At least I hope you will because we have free use of Royal Caribbean’s Voom internet which is (according to their marketing) the fastest internet at sea. So if it really works (they say you can stream Netflix) so we shall see. If it is that fast, you will get daily updates all week, so be ready. This will be your chance to find out all about the biggest ships at sea.

We hope it all goes better than our last cruise on Royal’s Ovation of the Seas when we took our grandkids (and their parents) to Alaska in July. And since we are doing this cruise by ourselves, this will be much more about the ship. We are seeing shows almost every night, have planned a shore excursion in one of our ports (St. Kitts) and want to try as much as we can while onboard. I should mention that our other two stops on this cruise are San Juan, PR, a port we have visited twice before and Nassau in the Bahamas. We have no interest in those ports so we will probably stay on the ship. I may get off and walk around in San Juan as their old town is really quaint and picturesque.

Be ready for some posting this week while we take you cruising on Allure of the Seas.

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. —Zora Neal Hurston