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

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

 

Martini Mates Forever

I have written in the past about the Martini Mates but I am just not sure I have written about them on this site. So here’s a short bit of explanation about who we are and a sad bit of news about one of our best friends—a Martini Mate.

Back in 2005 we booked our second Celebrity Cruise on Infinity that would take us on a short repositioning trip from Vancouver, BC to San Francisco, CA. As is our habit, as soon as we booked the cruise, we joined the Cruise Critic roll call (click here if you don’t know what that is) for it. Little did we know how life changing joining that roll call would be. There were about 100 people posting on the roll call but one day (about six months prior to the cruise) we started discussing the Martini Bar on Infinity. Now none of us were big fans of martinis but it was fun to discuss all the different kinds that X serves in its many martini bars throughout their fleet.

During that discussion someone suggested that we (everyone on the roll call) start calling ourselves the Martini Mates. This caught on and pretty soon we were all a bunch of Martini Mates. By the time we all arrived in Vancouver for the cruise, a bunch of us who had done a TON of posting felt like we were good friends. Many of us gathered the night before the cruise for a pre-cruise cocktail party that was organized by Carol Preisman who is the wife of the god of shore excursions Mike. We met in the bar at the Sheraton Wall Center hotel and when I walked into the hotel, Carol came up and I put out my hand to shake hers. She said, “I’m from the South honey. We don’t shake, we hug.” And she did. And I did. And I made a friend who lasted from that day until last night when we lost Carol.

Carol would always say that she wasn’t sure why she and I were friends. Neither was I. We were pretty much the opposite of each other. She was a conservative, reserved Southern Belle of the highest order and I was a liberal, loud, ex-hippie from California. And we became friends. And every time we saw each other or she would introduce me to someone, she would say, “Not sure why Jim and I are friends…but we are.”

Of course there were many Martini Mates on that cruise but for some reason, six of us stayed Martini Mates. We still correspond with others from that 2005 cruise. We have sailed with some of those people as well. Over the years we have added more folks to the Martini Mates but the six of us were the core—Bob, Jude, Mike, Carol, Kathleen and me.

Those four people have been a huge part of our lives since the day we met them. We have sailed with Mike and Carol at least eight times and done a couple of land trips with them as well. They have stayed at our place and we have stayed at theirs. Yes, we were closer to Bob and Jude but that’s just because we were geographically closer since they lived in BC and Mike and Carol lived in Florida but the six of us were still the best of friends. And when we were able to travel to all the parts of the world together, we felt like no time had passed between trips.

When we returned from the original trip in 2005, Carol wanted us all to be able to have a place to keep talking to each other on the original Cruise Critic roll call so she started the Martini Mates “friends of Cruise Critic” board that we still post on to this day. This morning it was filled with love for both Carol and Mike.

I am posting more photos than I usually post because when I went to look for them, I found so many that I loved of us with our Mates all over the world. Bob and Jude never did the really long and adventurous trips—Bob hates to fly. But we still went everywhere together.

This morning after I had found out about Carol passing I took a long walk and was thinking about all the places we had been with Mike and Carol. Besides the initial Martini Mate foray in 2005, we sailed with them to Alaska twice, to SE Asia from Singapore to Hong Kong, through the Panama Canal in 2014, to the Baltic a few years before that, on the eighth voyage of Solstice in the Caribbean and Hawaii.

So that’s kind of a short history of the Martini Mates. The Mates suffered our first huge loss when Jude passed away a few years ago. Today we lost Carol. And she will be missed but I like to think that she is undoubtedly in a heavenly Martini Bar, sipping her chocolate martini with Jude and another of our group, “The Straw.” She and Jude are rolling their eyes as “The Straw” (that’s a whole other story) tells the story of how she became “The Straw” for the 1 millionth time.

We love you Carol and will miss you. I wish I could see you right now to give you that hug because you taught me that “we don’t shake hands, we hug.”

Our best shore excursions ever

After writing a few days ago about shore excursions it brought me to create another list. If you have checked out our page of lists (see the menu above) then you know I love to rank and list things. So here is a quick list of our favorite shore excursions that we have taken in our 20+ years of travel. In a couple of days, I will do the same thing for our least favorite shore excursions.

Touring Amalfi with Marcello

MarcellaBack in 2006 we took a cruise that was billed as the “Exotic Mediterranean” by Celebrity Cruises. It was a 14-night cruise from Rome to Rome on their ship, Galaxy. It’s funny that this shore excursion took place on the same trip with two of our worst. To prove a point though, the two that will be on our worst of list were cruise line sponsored shore excursions on that cruise while this one was a trip we found on our own or rather from the “god” of shore excursions, our good friend Mike Priesman.

Before I go any further I need to tell you about Mike Preisman. We first met Mike and his wife Carol on a short repositioning cruise onboard Celebrity’s Infinity in 2005. Mike likes to see the world. He likes to take incredible shore excursions. Since 2005 we have taken a number of cruises with Mike and Carol which means we got to share shore excursions with he and Carol. When we weren’t sailing with them, we would read about whatever great shore excursion they had done on the cruise we were about to take and take that one. In my top shore excursions list, five of the top eight were either with Mike and Carol or someone they had recommended to us.

Mike had given his strongest recommendation to us that when we docked in Naples, we had to tour with Marcello. He was right. Marcello not only took us on an incredible tour that included the Amalfi Coast, the hills above it and Pompeii but he has stayed in touch for all these years. We are still Facebook friends and I still continue to send him notes and good wishes until now as does he to us. Our day with him was magical from the time he picked us up until the moment he dropped us off. He started by telling us that if we were looking for shopping and highlights, then we were on the wrong tour. He was going to show us “his Italy,” and he did. The highlight for me was lunch in a tiny Italian bistro, high in the hills above Sorrento in the little town of Pantone. The place was amazing but the food was so much like my grandmother’s cooking that it took me right back to my youth being in her kitchen. Sitting outside in the fall sunshine on that day is something I can see just like it was yesterday. For me, that day was as close to perfect as shore excursions get.

Touring Bangkok with Tong

TongAs fun and perfect as touring with Marcello was, four years later in Bangkok we were actually touring with Mike and Carol as well as other friends and we met the effervescent Tong of Tong’s Tours. We were on a cruise aboard Azamara Cruiseline’s Quest (I think this is my favorite cruise I have taken) and Mike had found all our tours and everyone of them was amazing but our two days with Tong knocked our socks off. First she picked us up in her fully pimped-out van (tuck and roll leather), and then she gave us the best-smelling, coldest wipes to help with an incredible hot and humid day. She took us to the Palace, to temples, to the floating and the train market. Through all of it, she kept us in stitches with our hilarious and enthusiastic descriptions of everything Thai. Even today I can remember the reverence she had for her aged king. It was a superb two days for everyone there.

Inverness with Ian

img_4991In August of 2016 we sailed on Celebrity’s Silhouette from Amsterdam on a two week British Isles cruise that included the Edinburgh Military Tattoo as well as a bunch of other great ports but the one that really stood out for us was our tour of Outlander sites with Ian. From the battlefield at Culloden to the cairns on the cover of Donna Gabaldon’s novels, Ian knew it all. (That’s him at right in a pic from a Culloden battle reenactment) His knowledge and expertise about all things Scotland was wonderful. He truly entertained and educated us and took wonderful care of us. One big example of this: As we were getting off the ship two of our friends were talking to Ian before we arrived and they told him about a problem I was having with my Nikon. I had somehow gotten a huge piece of dirt on my sensor. I had done the auto cleaning routine a number of times but it just did not work. Every photo I took had a huge blotch on the right hand side that I would have to Photoshop or crop out of every photo. Ian asked me about it and I told him I hoped to find a camera shop in Edinburgh the next day. Just after lunch, we were on our way to a historic priory and we swung off the road into a parking lot. He led me into what might have been the largest camera store I have ever seen…in the absolute middle of nowhere. They had hundreds of thousands of dollars of cameras and lenses on display and a complete service department who promptly cleaned my sensor. Outstanding! And I hadn’t even asked him. That’s the kind of guy he was.

Touring the Panama Canal control room with Roberto

CanalAnother Mike Preisman special! So we are on a Panama Canal cruise (our second) with our Martini Mates (which includes Mike and Carol Preisman) and Mikes sets up a tour with a guy in Colon, Panama. Turns out the guy has connections.

This, for me, was the absolute highlight of our tours off the ship on this cruise. Mike had arranged another great tour (maybe one of the best we have done with him and that is saying a lot). We were touring with Roberto from Robtad’s Tours in Colon. Our previous canal crossing had not stopped in Colon.

This time we had the entire day in Colon and we really wanted to see the canal itself, close up. Not only the current canal but also the new construction of the canal that should have been already finished. When Roberto picked us up he took us directly to the Gatun Locks where he had a wonderful friend (who was like his brother) who worked as a lock master at the canal and he had arranged for us to actually walk across the canal gates and tour the Gatun Locks control room. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every single person we met in Panama that day were some of the nicest folks we have ever met. We also got to see monkeys, the new canal and so much more. What a day!

Touring Villefranche with Sylvie

SylvieAnother Mike Preisman recommendation was the amazing Sylvie who we met while taking a Western Mediterranean cruise on Celebrity’s Century in 2007. This was one of our favorite cruises and we loved most of the ports (you can keep Gibraltar) but our day in Villefranche with Sylvie was the best. She picked us up early and took us to the market in Nice, then on to a superb lunch in the hilltop town of Eze and finally a complete tour of the entire country of Monaco. She drove us on the entire race track which really gave me some street cred yeas later when I became a Formula 1 fan. (We’ve been on three tracks and I am always looking for more.) The day was fantastic and we would go back out with Sylvie anytime.

Harv & Marv whale watching

WhalesWe will finish up the Mike Preisman arranged shore excursions by touching on the best shore excursion of all our six (soon to be seven) cruises to Alaska. We were sailing once again on Celebrity’s Infinity but this time on a reunion cruise of the original Martini Mates to Alaska. Mike has arranged for the four of us (Mike, Carol, Kathleen and I) to go whale watching. I know…whale watching. What’s so special about that? Well, we were on a boat with just the four of us and two other people. Just six of us. And we moved fast. We went looking for whales while Harv (or Marv–not sure which we had) monitored the radio. The minute that he heard someone had spotted whales, we were off. And we saw some amazing whales that day. But to me, the most amazing thing that happened that day was before we went to look at the whales and the seals and the sea let ions, the boat stopped off a Juneau neighborhood and we saw a woman in a kayak paddling towards us. She came up next to our boat and handed a box to Harv. Harv blew her a kiss and handed us some of the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had. That was his wife and  she brought out freshly-baked cookies for us. Now that’s service. And a really special day.

Akaroa on our own

AkaroaIn January of 2012 we headed south, way south to Aukland, New Zealand to cruise on Celebrity’s Century from Aukland to Sydney, Australia. We had a lot of really awesome shore excursions with some really great friends but the day that was the most memorable was Akaroa. We had originally been scheduled to visit Christchurch that day but six months prior to our arrival, Christchurch was hit by a massive earthquake. So we were informed that we would be stopping in the sleepy sheep-ranching village of Akaroa. We scrambled to find something to do there. First we decided to take a harbor cruise in the morning (we were the first ones off the ship), then had what I still remember as the best hamburger I have ever had and finally went with some friends to a working New Zealand sheep ranch where we helped sort sheep, shear sheep and were invited into the sheep rancher’s home for tea. It was such a typical Kiwi thing to do. It made our day.

Jet boating in Acapulco 

Of all our favorites, this last one is the only ship-sponsored shore excursion in the bunch. It happened in Acapulco on our first Panama Canal cruise back in 2004. We both count it as a great shore excursion because it’s probably the most exciting one we have ever done. The jet boat drive with our guide Walt, through a mangrove swamp (really stinky) was one of the many highlights of this trip. We still remember (more than 15 years later) Walt whipping his hand around over his head as he pulled the boat in a tight circle. It was so much fun we really wish we had done it over and over…except we didn’t. We piled back on the bus and headed to a…turquoise factory for a sales pitch that wasted an hour of our touring time. See what I mean about cruise ship sponsored shore excursions. But think how great the jet boat part must have been to outweigh the turquoise factory.

How about you? I would love to have some comments about your favorite shore excursions. Later this week I promise our worst…and there were some doozies—one that almost killed us!