I know I promised that yesterday was the last post on Galapagos but I forgot to give you a link to download the PDFs I have from X.
You can click here to download some Celebrity PDFs that I saved. The big one is the dailies for the entire week. Our entire schedule with other items as well. The others are menus, one is the room service lunch and dinner menu, another is a mid-week menu and the last one is the Celebrity menu choices for the pre and post hotel dinners.
Now that I have told you all about the cruise and the adventure and shown you the islands and the animals, it’s time to talk about the ship. I can honestly say, Flora is my favorite ship we have ever sailed on. She is also the smallest ship we have ever sailed on. But I wanted to give you a little bit of an idea what our overall accommodations were like and the public areas of the ship as well. First, as you can see above, she looks wonderful in the water. Almost like a private yacht…a BIG private yacht.
Let’s start with the staterooms. Here’s an iPhone pano shot of the bedroom part of our “suite.” Celebrity calls it a suite. Other cruise lines would call it a suite but to me a “suite” means you get more than one room. At the EB Hotel in Quito we had a suite…a bedroom, two bathrooms, a dressing room and a living room. That’s a suite. The really big “suites” on Flora are true suites.
Those suites have other rooms as well (living room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms). But we had a traditional verandah stateroom. That said, it was the LARGEST stateroom we have ever been in. It was even bigger than the suite we once had on Century. At more than 330 square feet with an 84 square foot verandah we had more than 400 square feet to ourselves. To give you something to compare, on our last cruise on Reflection to Mardi Gras our stateroom had 194 square feet with a 54 square foot verandah. We found it interesting (at least to us) that we are going to go from the largest stateroom we have ever had on a ship to one of the smallest we have had on our next cruise. In December we take a Viking River cruise to the Christmas Markets on the Danube. Our stateroom on that ship will only be 204 square feet with the verandah. We were very pleased with this one. I did a quick video tour of the stateroom and the bathroom (the largest and nicest we have ever sailed).
The ONLY complaint we had about the stateroom was the lack of places to charge electronics. This ship was built three years ago. It’s not like she was built in an era before we all carried numerous gadgets. But there were exactly FOUR electrical receptacles in the room (not counting one above the sink in the bathroom for shavers). One of those was a European plug. I always have a converter but the receptacle was inverted so my adapter/converter would not work with it. That left us three. One at the desk and two in the wall next to one side of the bed. Except that the two next to the bed were vertical and VERY THIN! So thin that if you plugged any kind of adapter or charger in to one of them, you could not use the other. That is crazy. No USB plugs at all. They have those on other, older Celebrity ships.
I know what you are thinking…how many things can you have to charge? Well, we travel with the following: Kathleen has her iPhone, her iPad, her Kindle and her Apple Watch. I have my MacBook Pro, my iPad, my iPhone, my Apple Watch, my Nikon battery charger, my Kindle and my GoPro battery charger. Twelve items to charge with two plugs. That’s crazy. I certainly hope when they dry dock Flora in a few years, this is one of their big upgrades. It is needed.
The rest of the ship
Flora is beautiful from top to bottom. The best way for me to show you that is to add some pics and explain in the captions. So here you go:
A couple of the places on board that I don’t have pics of include The Boutique and Darwin’s Cove on Deck 3. The boutique has a few trinkets, magnets, shirts, jackets and postcards but they are very spendy. See my previous Q&A. Also on Deck 3 is a science lab where you can investigate things like geological samples from the islands under a microscope. As much as our interest in science was piqued while onboard, we never got there. One cool thing to do when you back from an excursion is to go to the Boutique and look through the windows as they bring the Zodiacs in and store them. It’s a really cool operation. Also on this deck is the infirmary, but let’s hope you never have to visit there. Decks 1 & 2 are either crew quarters or storage for the Zodiacs.
On Deck 7 forward there is the Observatory. It looks like a very quiet place to just relax and face forward on the ship. It is right over the Bridge, so it has great views but they play loud techno music in there so it is NOT peaceful at all. They need to turn it off or change the music. On my first night while trying to find somewhere to write I found the music BLARING at 3:00 am.
Just above the Observatory is the Stargazing deck. DO NOT MISS THIS! We went up twice (cloudy other days…or we forgot) and it is worth the trip. They keep the area very dark and you would be amazed at the stars you can see when there is no light pollution from the ground. And your perch is right at the equator. You can see the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, the Big and Little Dipper and so much more.
This ship is amazing. We can’t wait to sail on her again. Other than my two very small complaints about the outlets and the techno music, it was about the best a ship can be.
First, if you are following this blog note that I posted twice yesterday (Sunday). I hope to get this one out early Monday but it may be later. So you didn’t get two e-mails by mistake, there is another post.
Morning on Fernandina
In our previous daily episode (interrupted by those pesky questions and answers) we had finished the afternoon of day four. Day five found us exploring Fernandia Island in the morning and going back to Isabela Island in the afternoon but we had moved to Punta Vicente Roca. Here’s our Day Five schedule.
As you can see, in the morning we had a choice of a long or a short walk. I took the long one and Kathleen took the short one. My long one was excellent as we got to see more of the usual animals and I finally got some good shots of the Sally Lightfoot crabs as well as lots more pictures I like of the marine iguanas, sea lions and a Galapagos hawk. Today’s walk was all over some incredible lava with huge fissures as you can see from the pics.
Afternoon cruising around Isabella
Our afternoon choices were fairly limited. Since we SURE would not be doing the “Deep Water Snorkel” we had a choice of a tender ride or a tender ride. We chose the tender ride 😜. We took the earlier of the two because they wanted to use the later ones for the people coming back from the snorkeling.
This one was very cool. Even though we are seeing some of the same animals, we are seeing totally different habitat and varying landscapes. This one included sightings of lava gulls, female frigate birds, more blue-footed boobys, sea lions and penguins again! YEAH! We also got to see some amazing geology. Here’s what we saw:
As I write this, we are sitting in the airport in Quito waiting for our flight to Miami. Had to be awake at 2:50 to make this flight at 6:30. The airport is packed. It took us an hour to get through all the checks and we are in Business Class so we were quicker through check in. Then we had go through security (computers out, belts and watches off but you can keep your shoes on which is good since I have my boots on and they are a pain to lace)
It seems as if all the flights in and out of Quito are either very early in the morning or very late at night. Part of our group that was going to Houston left around midnight and others around 2:30 am. We did not hear of anyone who had a midday day flight so everyone was either up really early or still up really late. Looking at the departures boards it looks like very little departs Quito after about 9:00 am until late tonight. That is only a good thing in one way…unlike Miami airport where everything was closed prior to our 6:30 am flight down here, here everything is open. I told Kathleen with the schedules the airlines have in Quito, this is the only time they can sell anything. And when I say everything is open, I mean EVERYTHING! You can buy a Panama hat (which comes from Ecuador) at 30% off right in front of me 😜.
I keep promising to answer some questions so here we go:
In shortening the pre-cruise portion – were you given any type of compensation at all?This question comes from the fact that originally Celebrity had us booked on an 11-night trip that included not just our seven nights on Flora but two nights pre-cruise and one night pos- cruise in Quito (with some meals and a full-day tour) but with COVID they decided to cut back to a nine night with no tour of Quito either before our after the cruise. The answer is yes, we were refunded a little less than $400. This doesn’t sound like a lot when you realize that the difference between the 11 night package and the 7 night cruise. But if you are doing just the 7 night cruise, you have to find your own way to Baltra. So part of the trip that we were not refunded for was the single night pre and post in Quito as well as our charter flight to and from Baltra. All we lost was two nights, one before and one after and two breakfasts.
Were the fully vaccinated pax due to cruise line mandate, or did it just work out that way ie: no 5% unvax allowed onboard? Why were crew still in masks if vax’d? Was there a decrease in crew or full compliment?Vaccination was mandated for anyone eligible to be vaccinated. And since the youngest people on board are two 8th graders (who are a hoot) who are already vaccinated, we are at 100%. I suppose if people wanted to bring kids under 12 there would be some not vaccinated. The crew wore masks all the time because if there is one case on board, they might be banned from landing on any of the islands so they are just taking one more step in staying safe. I applaud them for that. And I asked and the crew is at full complement. The service has been amazing and we loved having only 66 people on board. We were told the next cruise would have just about that same number.
Are there any staterooms that hold more than two people? Nope! Not a one. Even the suites are limited (by the National Park and not Celebrity) to two people. That means if you want to bring the kids, they have to have their own stateroom. It is to make sure that there are NEVER more than 100 guests on board as there are 50 staterooms. And to get to 50, they had to give up some staterooms on their Expedition ship.
The rocking and rolling of these small ships at anchor in calm waters is worse than anything I’ve ever experienced on a larger ship in motion. No one ever warned us about this motion at night.
We have not had any problems that affected us adversely. It was just a pain some time. Others who are not used to sailing have had problems but we have felt a LOT WORSE motion on bigger ships than we did here in the Galápagos on Flora. The motion, for us, was not that big a problem…until a huge thump happened in the middle of one night. Freaked us out and I searched the entire stateroom to find the source of the crash. Couldn’t find it in the middle of the night. The next morning we realized that it was an unopened bottle of champagne that had been sitting on our small table in front of the couch. It has fallen over along with the full ice bucket it has been sitting in. It completely disappeared into the drapes of the window so I didn’t find it until morning. Carpet was wet but the bottle did not break. One other problem we had was the shower door kept slamming open and shut but we fixed that by shoving Kathleen’s sandals under the door. Celebrity might consider having a door stop for the shower (best shower we have ever had on a ship).
If you have time can you find out if a scuba diving option is offered aboard Flora?
Sorry, no scuba, just snorkeling.
I am an experienced snorkeler and on our trip I had trouble getting into the water then managing my flippers due to the strong current. On the next beach snorkel I wore my Keens in the water instead of the flippers and swam (slowly I might add) over to the rocks.
On the more difficult snorkel trips (off the Zodiacs) they will not allow you to go unless you are wearing flippers.
Looking at the menu you posted, I do hope that they repeat the menus each week as there were multiple choices that I’d love to try. Ceviche, yeah! Plus the other local specialties.
I checked and YES, they do repeat the menus with slight variations. And they completely redesign them on a periodic basis. Not sure if that is quarterly, or yearly. I will try and post all the menus eventually.
What cabin are you in? Our cabin is towards the front of the ship so I am concerned about motion.
We are in 522, a traditional verandah in the aft area of the ship. We would book it again in a minute and if you have a forward cabin, I would see if you can move back. People we met who were in the front of the ship did feel more motion but not by a lot. One of the things we loved about our stateroom was that there is a kind of “secret” stairs at the back of the ship that led up and down and hardly anyone had discovered it. We used it all the time.
You have mentioned that you are on the “Outer Loop Cruise.” What does that mean and is there an “Inner Loop Cruise?” Yes, we are on the Outer Loop. This is where we have gone:
And here is what Celebrity calls the “Inner Loop.”
As you can see, some stops are the same (not many). We have been told the Outer Loop is more about animals and birds and the Inner Loop has the most beautiful scenery. We have loved this vacation so much that we are actively making plans to come back and do the inner loop.
Our scientist friend Ellen who plans and organizes the off ship tours tells that the park requires them to have the two different trips to limit the number of people on each island. We totally get that. It is not just a ploy by Celebrity to get us to come back. 😀 BTW: I would not JUST do the inner. My favorite two days (BY FAR) were on Española and Floreana, neither of which are on the Inner Loop. So if you do one, do the Outer.
About footwear, any notes?
Yes. I have two pairs of footwear with me. With size 13 feet, that’s all I can fit in my luggage. I wore my hiking boots (up to my ankle and helpful on the rocks and lava) on the plane and had Teva sandals in my bag. I have worn the Tevas on all the wet landings. Bare feet are NOT allowed in the Zodiacs. I have also worn them on short walks. Has not been a problem. The hiking boots have been a godsend on the long walks. Especially the ones over rocks (Española walk on Day 2) and all the days we were walking on lava. All of these long walks were on dry landing days so they never got really wet. And always know that whenever you return to Flora they have a station where you have to wash off (with brushes) your footwear to make sure no biological material is transferred from one island to another. This is another park rule and a damn good one. Lastly, I wore shorts and sandals in the dining room most nights as did just about everyone.
Was all the COVID testing you had on the trip covered by Celebrity or your own extra expense? We were tested pre-cruise with a PCR test at Celebrity’s expense. We were originally told that we would also be tested as we got off but as of this morning (I am waiting to leave the ship) they have not said that we will be tested as long as we are vaccinated. We know that vaccination allows us to enter the USA without a test so maybe we won’t have to. They are being extremely cautious and we don’t blame them. I will let you know in a future post if we do have a post cruise test. BTW: All guests tested negative pre-cruise so we felt very safe. But yesterday we were off the ship at the Darwin Station (with non-Flora people) and we were asked to wear masks all day. Some people were not happy with that. They need to grow up (sorry for the editorializing but this really ticked me off as they have asked so little of us, COVID-wise).
I did google Ellen (the Celebrity Science adviser) and now I want her to be my buddy too! Do you know how long she’ll be aboard, our cruise is 7/25. Sorry no, Ellen has been here for two weeks and she is on our flight to Miami tomorrow morning. Her presence has added much to our trip. I have learned so much from her. I call her the Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the Galapagos but she is so much more and a great speaker. She was here a week before we got here touring all the islands with the naturalists to check trails and conditions. Then she stayed on for our cruise. I learned early on that she is a early bird like I am and was almost always out on the first Zodiac. I made a point to be in the Discovery Lounge early to be in Group 1 to leave the ship because as I told my fellow Group 1 friends (who also got there early most days)…the Early Bird gets the Ellen. And it was always worth it. She rocks. I think Celebrity should advertise (do you here me Sussana?) when she is onboard and have a “Cruise with Ellen!” She is that good.
I think that’s every question I have received either here in the comments or on Cruise Critic where I am posting this as well. If you have more, I can address them as soon as I get caught up with the rest of our trip.
As I mentioned earlier in this post we are waiting to get off Flora right now. My plan to finish up my Flora blog is to post Day 5 later today or tomorrow and then do a post on the ship and our stateroom followed by Day 6 and then some general stuff and Day 7 (Giant Tortoises) finishing up with some general comments so I can answer more questions then. See you soon…here online.
And welcome to all my new blog followers. You rock! So glad to have you here.
This one will be short just to bring you up to date on the afternoon of Day 3. This was a short, wet landing stop to see the Post Office Barrel.
In the olden days (17 and 1800s) whalers would be away from families for months on end, sometimes years. And they would stop on this part of Floreana Island. On the island someone had installed a giant barrel (in the pics below) and the sailors and whalers would leave a letter for their families and if they were headed home, they would pick up letters for others families, promising to deliver them, in person, when they returned to their European country of origin.
That tradition exists today. So after a wet landing we took a short walk off the beach to the barrel. Inside were hundreds (maybe thousands) of postcards that we could take and hand deliver if we lived or were going to that area of the world. We spent about 20 minutes going through the ones that were in there at this time and a few people took ones to deliver. There was on headed to Seattle but it had just been put there three days before and we didn’t want to be delivering it before they got back home 😜.
After we finished with the post office barrel we jumped back on the Zodiac and went for a slow ride. We saw more blue footed boobys, sea lions and a few other birds. It was awesome.
Here’s the pics. Don’t forget you can click the first one and it will open full screen and then use your left or right arrow to scroll through them.
(Hope you don’t mind me posting twice in one day but I wanted to share a bunch of stuff that happened today.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, our buddy Mike took us to Miami Airport at 2:15 am so we could get there by 3:30 which would be the recommended three hours before our 6:30 am international flight on Copa Air. This flight had been hard to come by so we took what we could get even if it meant that we had to get up way before dawn.
If you have never heard of Copa Air, they are the national airline of Panama. Originally we had a non-stop flight on American Airlines but that was cancelled last weekend and the best we could do was a one-stop trip from Miami through Panama City to Quito. The good news was we still got to keep our business class seats on both flights. But that turned out to just be an OK thing as Copa Air’s idea of business class differs widely from what we have experienced in Business or First class before.
When we arrived at the airport we were so early that there was no place open to even grab a cup of coffee. In fact there was no place open at all. To grab anything. And to the best of my knowledge nothing opened before we took off at 6:38. On our flight we got two cups of really bad coffee, a ham and cheese croissant and a very dry granola bar. The seats were much like US domestic air FC seats. Fairly comfortable but certainly no place to lie back and sleep. I need to mention we were flying on a Boeing 737-8. You will see why in a minute.
Our flight from Miami to Panama City was just a little more than two hours. We arrived in Panama City in just enough time to get from our arriving gate to our departing gate. Once we reached our new gate, we boarded within minutes. And once on board we were pleasantly surprised to see full lay down seats in a section that looked like a true business class section. And this was on exactly the same 737-8 plane that we had just gotten off. Sadly, this flight was just about 90 minutes so even though we had the seats to sleep in, there just wasn’t time to sleep.
When we saw the seats we thought maybe we would get something a little better to eat and drink but that was not to be. We were offered a bag of pretzels, a small bag of cookies and a can of Perrier for me and a ginger ale for Kathleen. One thing I am very happy about is that we did not spend our own money to upgrade as Celebrity arranged our air. If you ever get a chance to fly Business class on Copa Air, give it a pass.
We did it! We finally arrived in Ecuador and we have much to report if you are planning on cruising the Galapagos with Celebrity post-pandemic…at least for awhile.
When we landed in Quito we made it through customs in no time and with a minimum of questions. There was a temperature check and we had to show our vaccination cards but after they checked those, we headed to passport control. We were very lucky because our flight (which was not full) was the only international flight landing at the time and being in the front of the plane, we got to the health check and passport control very quickly. Our luggage took a little longer so getting through customs inspection (they didn’t inspect anything) took a little longer. Once on the other side of security in a very nice and clean airport we used the facilities and I was about to try and contact Celebrity here in Ecuador when a man walked up to us holding a Celebrity sign. Within minutes we were in the van and on our way to the EB Hotel.
Pre-COVID this was an 11 day trip with two nights and a full day in Quito before the Galapagos segment and then a day after in Quito as well. But due to the COVID conditions Celebrity wanted to keep us out of downtown Quito. So instead of the regular hotel they use (The JW Marriott–Quito) we were at the EB Hotel near the airport.
If you are coming, do not worry about it being near the airport. These three photos show you the area around the hotel.
We have been here for at least five hours and have not heard a single airplane. By keeping us near the airport we will be able to go right back to the airport tomorrow morning for our flight to Baltra where we embark on Flora.
The hotel itself is modern, new and beautiful and the rooms rock. Here’s a quick tour of ours. It is easier to see the video if you click the headline at the top of the e-mail and read the entire post in a web browser.
As you can see. it is pretty darned impressive. A true suite which we did not expect at all. Kathleen says to tell the ladies that if you are staying here, the products in the bathroom are all very high quality so you don’t have to plan for those. And Celebrity left us some really nice water bottles, a bottle of horchata (a plant-milk based South American beverage) and a health goodie bag with a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
After getting settled into our suite we found lots of info from Celebrity including instructions about the included dinner and breakfast as well as all the hoops we will need to jump through before we can get on the plane to Baltra and the islands in the morning. Here’s our schedule:
Breakfast is 6:30 to 10:00 either in the restaurant or via room service. But either way we have to have our luggage in the hall outside our rooms by 8:00 am when they will collect it for inspection by the Galapagos Agricultural Authorities. They are making sure we have no organic materials coming into the islands that could change the environment there. To be honest, I totally understand their doing this but I hate the idea of them going through my bag because everything BARELY fits in the small carry-on I am taking for this trip. I have to be VERY careful when zipping it up or I will either break the zippers or catch my clothing inside. But we did find out later that we don’t have to put out our carry-ons. That made me happy as I don’t want them messing with my camera or this MacBook Pro.
We are also scheduled (we don’t have our time yet) to be health-screened sometime between 7:00 am and 11:00 am. We will have to go to their health screening room, get our temp checked (mine has been taken twice today already) take an antigen test, provide proof of vaccination and be approved for our flight.
At 11:00 am they will load us into vans and move us back to the airport for the 90 minute charter flight to Baltra. I will give you a full report on that flight tomorrow if the internet connection on the ship is a good one.
Celebrity seems to have this all really well taken care of. We have seen some folk in the lobby area we know are on the ship with us and we met the head of sales and marketing (Susanna) for Celebrity Galapagos who will be sailing with us. But I also know that some poor folks won’t arrive until the last Copa flight in tonight at 11:30 pm and they will have to be up doing the same things we will have do to tomorrow.
If you are sailing on Flora while they are still doing their pre-cruise at the EB hotel, here’s a tip for you. Request a parking lot view. We have a pool view and it faces west. And the afternoon sun beating against the windows (even though it is only 60F something outside) has made our room really warm. I have the thermostat set to 18 C but the AC just can’t keep up with the sun and it’s 23C in the room right now. Love the view from here but wish it was a little cooler and hoping it cools down once the sun sets in the next 15 minutes.
Another note about the hotel; because of the lousy food on the plane we were ready for lunch when we got here and the restaurant in the hotel (Tabla Bella) makes superb food. Kathleen had a wonderful salad and I wanted to try two Ecuadorian appetizers. I got the empanadas (they were OK) and something called an arepa. It’s two pieces of masa stuffed with avocado (they LOVE avocados here), shredded, braised beef and cheese with a side of their wonderful avocado sauce to dip it in. Pics are below to make your mouth water.
Dinner! STOP THE PRESSES!
I was going to finish with lunch because the rest of the afternoon was us trying to catch up on our sleep but we just returned from seeing/doing three things that I have to write about before I go to bed. First, there was the MOST AMAZING SUNSET right outside our window. The worst part was there are no windows that open or landings above the ground floor where I could get a picture. But I was able to lean around the reflection in our window to get a few shots.
The second great thing that happened is that when we went down to dinner we stopped by the Celebrity desk that is now set up in the lobby so they could check our vaccination cards and get us set up for a health screening in the morning. While we were talking, Susanna came by (I mentioned her above) and said that because of all our air problems they were going to upgrade us to business class (the larger seats) on the flight to Baltra tomorrow morning! How awesome is that?
And then it was dinner. We thought lunch was good but this was beyond my wildest imagination. When we had first gotten to our rooms there was a menu of our choices for dinner. Four appies, four entrées and four desserts. I am hoping you can see our choices by clicking here. If it is gone by the time you read it just know all the choices were amazing. So both of us had the roasted tomato salad with burrata to start. Then Kathleen had the chicken and I had the pork. I stopped the presses for the pork. I have to say that was/is one of the top ten dishes I have ever had in my life. There was just so much going on and so much of it done perfectly. It was so good, when we come back after the cruise, I will order it again. And dessert was the Ecuadorian 65% cocoa chocolate mousse. I have had many chocolate mousses in my life but this one was beyond belief. I can’t even begin to describe it. Sadly, we were so busy talking with the people at the next table (Jamie from Devon, UK and Katherine from Miami) that I forgot to take a picture of the dessert, but here’s the most amazing pork dish I have ever had. I wish I could do justice in describing it.
We had also asked the bartender to make us an Ecuadorian cocktail before dinner and he made us this wonderfully dry cocktail he called blue beard. It was amazing. Just like the entire dinner. This is one I will remember for years to come. We went all in on Ecuadorian tonight and we are happy we did.
“I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure” —Anthony Bourdain
If this post comes off as a little loopy it’s because we had to leave Mike and Cathy’s house this morning at 2:15 am to get to the airport for our flight to Quito. So please forgive any omissions or mistakes. Plus I am writing it in our Quito hotel room where the altitude is 9,000 plus feet.
I finished the last post before we left for dinner and a concert on Thursday so I wanted to drop a little bit in here to finish up our visit with Mike and Cathy. On Thursday night we went to a free community concert that Mike and Cathy go to all the time. And then on Friday we did a super relaxing “yacht tour” of the intercostal waterway from Delray Beach south for a few miles. Saw lots of cool boats and houses and drawbridges. Then it was back to Cathy’s house for an awesome pot roast farewell dinner. The next morning Mike actually got up at 1:45 to take us to the airport. That’s a true friend. And you would think it could be sad to take our leave of these friends but we aren’t that distraught as we are staying another night with them on our way home.
Make new friends and keep the old; Those are silver, these are gold.
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.
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
First, yes…we know. We are not supposed to be doing anything but “essential” travel. Well, if you are traveling fanatics like us it feels “essential” for us to go someplace. We decided that since we are fully vaccinated and it is becoming more and more clear that vaccinated individuals can’t pass on the virus, we are going on a short six day trip to Southern California to see our usual traveling companions, my brother Steve and my sister-in-law Jamie as well as the rest of their family.
To be honest, this was a kind of spur-of-the-moment trip. We were texting with Steve and Jamie and they invited us (since they were all vaccinated), we looked at each other and just said, “Why not?” They had been up in October but after Jamie’s bad fall just after they got here, we only got to see her for two days of what became a 10 day visit for her at Evergreen Hospital. So we did some research and found the safest options for travel for this trip and put it together.
When I say the safest options, I mean avoiding Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at all costs. The crowds there have been terrible and the lines long according to press reports. So we have opted to go north and fly from Paine Field in Everett. If you are on the west coast or in Denver or Las Vegas and coming to visit Seattle, consider Paine Field. It was only opened a few years ago but we love it. Most of the flights are with Alaska Air but United does have a couple as well.
First, from our house the commute to get to the airport is against the traffic in the morning, when we usually fly. Then when you arrive you get out of your car (we are going to take Lyft for this trip) and walk directly to the security line. Because of the size of the airport and how few flights they have each day (about 20) as soon as you are through security (which usually takes less than a five minutes) you are at one of 2.5 gates. I say 2.5 because they have a gate 1, 2A and 2B. These last two are essentially two gates with the same waiting area, just different doors out to the airplanes.
That’s it. The last time we flew from there it was about 5 minutes from curb to gate. The gates are pretty great too with very comfortable furniture. Another thing we like about flying out of Everett is the kind of airplanes that Alaska Air flies from Paine Field—the Embraer E175. It is a small jet but the best part during the pandemic is that it is a 2-2 arrangement so we don’t have to worry about having someone we don’t know sitting in the same row as we are (on our side of the plane) as there are no middle seats.
At the other end of our flight is John Wayne International Airport in Santa Ana, California. Not exactly a small airport but definitely not a large one either. When we come off the plane we won’t have to spend too long before we grab our checked bag and meet Steve and Jamie who are coming to pick us up. I am really looking forward to getting into their car. Not just because I want to see them but because after about 4 hours it will be the first time I can take my mask off.
Speaking of masks, I got a new one just to travel with. It’s tough to find anything that has to do with travel that also fits my oversize head 😜. Got it from Amazon if you are interested in getting one for yourself if you love traveling the world like we do.
We don’t have a lot of things we want to do for the six days we will be there. We are mostly going just to see them. But we know that Steve and Jamie are making plans. We are meeting some old cruising friends for lunch (outdoors) one day. Haven’t seen them in a couple of years. We will probably take a day trip out to our old hometown, Palm Springs. Gives us a chance to see the house we grew up in. It had been turned into an AirBnB type rental but I can’t find it on any of the rental sites now. We have seen pics when it was a rental and you can still see it on Zillow. The pictures we’ve seen of the interior are quite impressive. We still want to drive by. We will also want to stop at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, The Blue Coyote for a great lunch and some wonderful (if they haven’t changed) margaritas. I am so glad that Steve will be driving 😜.
I hope to do a bunch of photos walks so I will be posting while we are there. It’s going to feel so good to be traveling again since we haven’t left Washington State since the day we got back from our Mardi Gras cruise on March 2, 2020.
We know we aren’t going far away and we still have high hopes that we will still be going to the Galapagos in July. Our seven night cruise hasn’t been cancelled yet but we should know more later this week. Celebrity (the cruise line we are sailing) is starting up cruising again outside the USA. I will update as we get closer.
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. —St. Augustine
Been severely tardy getting a post out lately but blame my daughter. For now I only have a finite amount of time for writing and for my birthday in December, my daughter gave me a one year subscription to StoryWorth. It is a very cool website that sends me a question to write about every week for one year. These are questions about me. For instance, since the first of the year I have written about what vacations were like when I was a kid, what my grandparents were like, something in my life that really surprised me, etc. At the end of the year they will print a book of everything I have written for my grandkids to know more about their grandpa. Kind of a history of me and my family. So each week I have been writing about my favorite topic, me 😜 and neglecting this blog.
Which brings us to another episode of Jim & Kathleen’s favorite food experiences. This time it comes with a big endorsement of the Seattle Area’s greatest travel expert, Rick Steves. If you love travel like we do, you have undoubtedly heard of Rick. When we decide to go someplace in Europe, we read Rick’s book about the city or country first. When we first started going to Europe we carried the books with us. Now we get them on Kindle so we have them on our phones. You can even download guided tours to use on your phones as well.
Lunch in Versailles
Don’t get me wrong. We don’t just follow Rick’s advice 100% of the time. For instance, we don’t always agree with Rick on lodging. Rick will stay in hotels with shared bathrooms—we won’t. We are just too old for that 😜. But when it comes to sightseeing, Rick gets it. If you ever decide to tour the great art museums of Europe, you would be crazy to do it without a copy of Rick’s book, “Mona Winks.” We have used it in the Sistine Chapel, the Louvre, the Ufzizi and others. He even puts a note in the book that you should tear out the chapter and carry it with you into a particular museum because the book is too big and heavy to lug around. And then when you get home, you send him the chapters you tore out and he sends you a new book. Pretty cool!
Rick also “gets” food. At least the kind of food we like. Food that is all about the region we are visiting. In that respect Rick is responsible for two of our very memorable food experiences, both at lunchtime, one in France and one in Italy.
Let’s start with France because that food experience happened first. We were on our second trip to Europe, on a two week ground trip that started with six nights in London, three nights in Scotland and five nights in Paris. While we were in Paris we did all the touristy things, the Louvre, Montmartre, Notre Dame and other Parisian must-see spots. One thing we wanted to do was take the train to Versailles to tour the palace and the grounds.
The palace is amazing. (That’s Kathleen at right, inside the Hall of Mirrors.) But when we went to see the grounds, it was FREEZING! It was a really cold day in November and we saw a little of the gardens before we decided we had to find some place warm to get lunch. We went into the village of Versailles and looked around and we were about to succumb to one of the touristy spots selling the touristy kind of “French food” you would expect to find in a tourist village. But these places looked cheesy and they had people standing at their doors trying to get people to come in and eat. Not an optimum experience.
We suddenly realized that the Rick Steve’s guide we had with us not only had a section about the palace and gardens (that we had used to tour those places) but recommendations for where to eat. We knew that Rick would never steer us wrong on food so we looked up the downtown village of Versailles and he gave a strong recommendation to a tiny place (whose name I can’t remember—this was in 2003) on the main square of the town. The biggest endorsement was…this is where the locals eat. So off we went and had a culinary and cultural adventure.
When we walked in the door, the smells were amazing but the place was JAMMED! In fact there were only two chairs left open—right in the middle of a long communal table. Each side of the table must have seated 20 people and the two chairs were across from one another just about in the middle of the table. We looked at each other and thought, “What the heck!.” We were cold and starving and this place was warm and the food smelled amazing. I don’t remember exactly what we had but I do remember it was awesome. And the people on either side of us were very friendly. It was a wonderful lunch.
Lunch in Sienna
Six years later we were on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean and we had docked in Livorno which is the port for Florence. Since we had been to Florence before we decided to hire a guide and head to the hill town of Sienna. We consulted our buddy Mike, the god of shore excursions and he hooked us up with a driver and guide named Marco that he had used before and really liked. So we were really looking forward to an awesome day. We had prevailed upon some of our Cruise Critic roll call friends to join us as well.
We should have known that there would be a problem when Marco did not meet us but instead we were met by Francisco. Marco was supposed to be taking us himself as we had been told he spoke excellent English and lived in Sienna. Francisco, although a very nice man, barely spoke English and with me sitting with him in the front seat trying to translate, we headed off to Sienna.
We still had hopes that we would be met by Marco once we reached Sienna but that was not to be. After the two hour drive (during which Francisco got lost twice), upon entering Sienna, Francisco drove up a one way street in the wrong direction and when a car came down the other way, he had to back up almost all the way out of the city. He then hollered out the window, “Excuse me, how do I get to the Duomo?” But the real kicker came when we arrived in Sienna and Francisco told us he would meet us to take us back to the ship at 3:30, handed me a copy of Rick Steve’s Tuscany and said Ciao!
We were astounded. We had contracted for a guided tour of Sienna and we got a car and driver who barely spoke English and who got lost both coming and going. But we made the most of it. We grabbed the Rick Steve’s book and walked the city.
No one else in the group wanted Rick’s book so Kathleen and I took it and headed out to see Sienna.
All in all it was great day as the rain stopped and the city and its Duomo were a truly amazing sight. The Duomo has incredible etched and painted floors that are kept covered for most of the year. But at the end of August each year, they are uncovered for only two months. We arrived six days before they were to be recovered so we got to see what many never do in Sienna.
We had a great time following all Rick’s advice about what to see…but then lunch rolled around and we knew we would be OK because we had Rick along. Sure enough, we opened the guide and found a wonderful little restaurant below ground level that we never would have seen just walking around. Not only was it gorgeously decorated but the food was amazing. I think the best way to describe the experience is that it was unexpected on a lousy day. Again, I can’t remember what I had but I know one of the best things that happened on that entire trip was that lunch.
Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch. —Orson Welles