I'm sitting at 30th Street Station with all of our luggage, waiting for Al to return. He dropped me off at 10am, then took the car back home. He'll walk to the station after doing one last scan of the house.
When he originally proposed this plan I thought it was a bit silly, but I think that it's going to work out well. Al was concerned about being able to carry all the luggage if we both walked; I wasn't so much, but as we woke up to severe thunderstorms this morning, walking with luggage wasn't really an option.
Annie looked so sad—forlorn, really—as she sat near the luggage this morning. She knows when we're leaving now. I think it's more that all her timed food bowls get set than that she notices the packed bags, but it might be the combination.
We've arrived on the ship after surviving the chaos of taxicabs, rude porters, piles of luggage, and disembarking and just-embarking passengers outside the terminal, and the Disney-like consecutive rope lines of passport and document checks, security checks, registration, and key card pickup inside the terminal. Actually seeing the ship as we walked along the sidewalk outside the terminal (the cab dropped us off at the Norwegian Crown rather than the Norwegian Dawn) kinda creeped me out a little; all those lifeboats make me think of the Titanic. Now that I'm on board, though, it feels like a bit like a Disney theme hotel (minus the Mickeys). The ship is much prettier from the inside and on deck than it looks from the dock.
Our stateroom is so lovely, and exactly like the virtual tour on the Expedia site (it's the reverse of the photo on the NCL site). It actually looks like we could have the exact stateroom that Expedia photographed (it's a BB Oceanview Cabin with Balcony). It's about the size we were expecting, and very well laid out. Al has already made us a reservation at Salsa, one of the no-extra-charge specialty restaurants that the Expedia review recommended, for 6:30pm, and I've booked a pedicure at the spa for 4:30pm. At 3:30pm there's a mandatory lifeboat drill (!); maybe seeing them up close will reassure me and banish thoughts of the Titanic.
The lifeboat drill turned out to be more of a lifejacket drill, mostly designed to show us where to assemble in case of emergency and how to put the lifejackets on. Colin, our cruise director (who must be Scottish, judging by the way he says "time"), gave us directions for lining up and buckling up over the PA. Once that was over, I headed to the spa for my pedicure. As I sat waiting in the lobby, I could feel the boat pull away from the dock... and could have sworn I heard the soundtrack to Titanic playing. Odd choice for a cruise ship, doncha think? Anyway, I got my feet pampered and my toenails painted and ready for my new Merrell flip-flops, bought especially for the cruise.
At 6:30 we headed to Salsa for dinner, and I must say that aside from the sangria, it was a major disappointment. I LOVE cheese enchiladas and have been craving them ever since I got pregnant (I ate them two or three times when we were out in California last month), but the menu only offered beef or chicken versions. Nevertheless, I figured if they could make beef or chicken enchiladas, they could make cheese ones, so that's what I ordered when the waiter came round. The waiter said, "oh, cheese quesadilla, of course." Me: "No, cheese enchiladas, please." Waiter: "I'll have to ask the chef."
Ten minutes later, after apparently visiting the kitchen and definitely visiting two other tables, he returned and said no problem, I could have cheese enchiladas "because they use cheese on top of them." I didn't follow his logic, but I said OK. Al ordered pork rib tapas for an appetizer (I got a salad), chicken and shrimp fajitas for an entree, and a $5 non-alcoholic sangria. (Tap water, milk, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are all free on board, but sodas, alcoholic beverages, smoothies, cappucino, etc. all come at an extra charge.) The sangria was EXCELLENT—we didn't miss the alcohol at all—with a strong mulled flavor and crunchy bits of fruit. Luckily, the little pitcher it came in filled a glass and a half, so I didn't feel so bad about mooching some. Al also liked the pork ribs, and my salad was exactly the basic iceberg-and-romaine mix I was craving.
So far, so good. The sangria was making up for the weird service, and I had high hopes of chowing down on yummy cheese enchiladas with beans, rice, sour cream, and guacamole momentarily. Alas, it was not to be. The enchiladas weren't—flour tortillas, mozzarella and cheddar cheese filling, and ketchupy sauce scantily applied made them taste like ketchup pizza—and the beans and rice were extremely dry and over-seasoned. I couldn't eat more than two bites of anything. Al remarked that the quality of the chicken in his fajitas was poor (he was expecting breast meat, not thigh), and though the seasoning tasted great on the pork ribs, it was wrong on the fajitas. (Apparently they only had one "Tex-Mex" seasoning.)
The waiters asked if I wanted another entree instead, but as I don't eat meat, the only other options available to me were shrimp fajitas (which I already knew to be a disappointment) and a cheese quesadilla (which I suspected would taste exactly the same as my cheese "enchiladas", minus the ketchup). I declined and said I'd wait for dessert. The fact that I could get any other entree I wanted at no extra charge reminded me of Defending Your Life, an Albert Brooks movie that features a purgatory/limbo with unlimited food. You don't like this? I'll get you something else. Do you want pasta, steak, shrimp, or perhaps all three? No problem!
After dinner I went down to the spa again to try out the lap pool, which was lovely, if a bit too warm. You shouldn't feel like sweating while you're swimming. (We found out this morning on the Report from the Bridge on channel 14 of our TV that the spa pool temperature is 34° C, or slightly more than 93° F. Yowsa!) It was SO GREAT to get in the water, though; I've been dying to swim ever since I got pregnant. (It helps with swelling, and it makes you feel so much lighter.) I hope I burned a few calories, since if the food really is unlimited here, I might be in trouble.
I think we went to bed fairly early, maybe around 10 or 11pm. It was a rough night of wind, swaying, and creaking, but all that motion and rhythmic noise was strangely soothing. I slept like a baby... except for the heartburn, which was bad enough to wake me up. Four TUMS and an extra pillow from Al solved the problem, thank god.
We're finding the family dramas swirling all around us strangely hilarious. "It's like watching Family Vacation 100 times," says Al.
Before we left Philadelphia for New York yesterday morning, I saw on the Weather Channel that there was a tropical depression off the coast of Georgia, but the Weather Channel folks didn't seem that concerned about it. Apparently it's now Tropical Storm Alex, and we're going to drive (float? sail? cruise?) right by it. I'm wondering if Alex is the reason for the choppy ocean, though it seems like we're too far away from it now for it to have much of an impact. In any case, making our way down the lovely starboard hallway on Deck 9, which is decorated with cool Sandra Knuyt prints, is like walking on an airplane when there's turbulence.
We just finished our second breakfast (yes, we're turning into Hobbits, it seems, thanks to the almost-round-the-clock offerings at the Garden Cafe buffet), and we're enjoying the unhurried pace of our vacation. In between breakfasts we toured the ship, scouting out the main pool (which is filled with salt water drawn from the ocean, as my sister predicted; I was surprised to hear that the ocean temperature is 82°, same as the air), the casino, and the Galleria duty-free shop. There was a strange sense of frenzy in the latter, kinda of like people pawing through the gift shop at Independence Hall after taking one of the tours.
The turbulence is starting to get to me; I've felt a bit nauseous for the past hour. Nevertheless, we are at lunch, this time at Aqua (one of the three "traditional" restaurants). Al has ordered a papaya filled with exotic fruits and ginger yogurt and a pork and shrimp udon, and I have ordered a Key West salad and the variety of Mediterranean vegetarian treats. After lunch, it's on to the Chocoholic's Buffet. :)
The papaya and salad just arrived. The papaya is pretty good, though the fruits it's filled with are hardly exotic—watermelon and cantaloupe. My salad is more interesting—avocado, orange, and watermelon over butter lettuce, raddichio, and endive. I was expecting a lime vinaigrette, but instead there's a creamy lime dressing. A bit sweet, but a refreshing starter.
Al has declared his udon noodles "a bit overcooked, but quite yummy." Udon is a dish that demands to be eaten with chopsticks, but when we asked for some we were told that they didn't have any because "this isn't an Asian restaurant." (As opposed to Bamboo, the "specialty" Asian fusion restaurant with the $12.50 cover charge.) Our waitress did offer to try to find us some, but we declined, given that she'd probably have to go far afield while the noodles cooled.
The tabouleh on my plate is surprisingly good, especially since I don't usually like tabouleh. The dolmas are also excellent—which is good, because they're the reason I ordered this dish. (They're also a source of amusement, because they remind me of the time Al asked our 7-months-pregnant friend Jean whether she was going to have a dolma at the delivery. He meant doula.) The hummus and tzatziki are a bit over-garlicky and could use a wedge or two of pita to go with them, but they're not essential, given the zillion other food options on the ship. The nice thing about "free", unlimited food is that you don't feel compelled to eat anything you don't like. There's always some other option ahead of you.
We were warned about how crowded the restaurants could get, but so far the only restaurant we've found to be consistently mobbed is the Garden Cafe. I'm not sure whether it's because it's a buffet, it's kid-friendly, it's adjacent to the Oasis Pool (the only other area of the ship that's almost always crowded), or whether everyone else has discovered what we have—that it offers the best food despite the low-key atmosphere. We'll probably give the Venetian a try sometime this week, but after lunch yesterday and (two) breakfasts this morning, we're looking forward to seeing what the Garden Cafe has on offer for dinner.
Waiting for a bus at Cocoa Village. Got off the ship this morning and took a shuttle bus to Cocoa Beach (organized by the cruise as a "shore excursion", $14), then took public transportation to Merritt Mall and Cocoa Village. (Conversation on the public bus: Me to teenage girl sitting to my right: "Is the mall the next stop?" Teenage girl sitting to my right: "No, Wal-Mart is first, then the mall.") I'm wondering now if I should have stopped at Wal-Mart; there might have been more to see. It's VERY, VERY hot out, and this bus stop is in full sun. I only found one store I wanted to visit in Cocoa Village (most businesses were lunch cafes or coffee shops with no A/C and nothing to offer me, since I'm full up on free cruise food), so I only got a brief break from the sun and heat. The mall offered A/C, thankfully, but little else except very sad (but very cute) puppies at the pet store. I'm ready to go back and spend some time in the shade on the ship.
Last night I was extremely seasick, as we passed what turned into Hurricane Alex. We got up for the Chocoholic's Buffet at 2pm, and later restocked at the mini version in the casino at 5:15pm, but after that I was down for the count. Al brought me back some shrimp cocktail and fruit from the buffet, and later we ordered a fruit plate from the limited room service menu, but that's about all I could keep down. Eyes closed, head on pillow was the order of the evening. It felt like the worst days of the first trimester of pregnancy.
This morning was MUCH calmer as we cruised into Port Canaveral. Al got ready for his golf outing, and I went to work out in the Fitness Center. I rode the bike, walked on the treadmill, lifted some free weights, and then weighed myself. With my shorts, sports bras (two, since I've got pregnancy boobs out the wazoo), and sneakers on, I weighed 172. Not too bad. I then went and had a low-key breakfast in the Garden Cafe, surrounded by nutty families.
Today we're doing a shore excursion together: a bus tour of Miami and Miami Beach called "The Magic City." Our tour guide is a take-no-shit Welshman who obviously loves Miami and knows a lot about it. His running commentary on everything from architecture to agriculture is fascinating. Miami Beach (and Miami proper, for that matter) is beautiful; I visited before when my great grandmother lived here in the late 70s and 80s, but I don't think I'd ever seen South Beach. I loved all the little Art Deco hotels. The guayaba (guava) pastelitos at the Versailles Bakery on Calle Ocho were excellent, and Al says the Cuban coffee (highly caffeinated, so I didn't try it) and empanadas de pollo were, too. I got to try out my rusty Spanish while ordering, too (I was suprised to find that it came easily). I wish we had another day or two to explore the neighborhoods of Miami and Miami Beach on foot. We'll probably come back for a visit—maybe for our anniversary next year?
The Garden Cafe continues to meet or exceed our rather middling expectations, while the other restaurants consistently disappoint. My meal tonight at the Venetian was typical; I started with President Reagan's Gruyére Fondue Crepes, which were strangely breaded and fried, and lacking the strong, salty flavor I associate with Gruyére. For an entree I had the Cooking Light vegetarian option, a Vidalia Onion Risotto with Feta Cheese. Again, the presentation was odd; the risotto was garnished with red onions, not Vidalias. I ended up being thankful for those red onions, however, as they were the only things that gave the dish any flavor at all. Once I'd eaten a small forkful of rice and a cube of feta cheese with each ring, I stopped, leaving 80% of my dish untouched. The waiter noticed and offered me a different entree, but the only other option for me was the sea bass, which Al had. He declared it, "no too bad," but to me it was just as bland as the risotto. I said I'd wait for dessert.
Dessert was worthwhile—a plum cake whose only flaw was that it could have used more plums—with a rather tasty cup or two of rich decaf coffee. Afterwards we ended up going up to the Garden Cafe just to see what the Mexican Buffet offered, and we found a couple treats worth making room for. The rhubarb cobbler I'd had for dessert at Salsa was available with a vanilla sauce, and it was wonderful. YUM. Al got a couple pork ribs and some chips and salsa (the salsa, he reported, was better than what was available at the restaurant of the same name).
Earlier today, when we returned from the Miami bus tour (which we both thought was great—especially the stop at the Versailles Bakery), Al went swimming in the Oasis pool while I rested. We then had afternoon snacks (a late lunch, really, since we'd missed ours due to the tour) at the Garden Cafe, after which I completely conked out for about two hours. I think I'm more prone to heat exhaustion now that I'm pregnant. Anyway, I had lots of vivid dreams while napping, including one in which I met the baby. My sister wheeled him out of the delivery room and announced his arrival. I looked over and said, "I know, I was in the delivery room... virtually." It sounded stupid even as I said it, but while I knew I had to have been there in order to give birth, I couldn't remember the labor or delivery. "Virtually" was my odd explanation. Even weirder, I think the baby was a girl, and I know I'm having a boy. I can't be sure about that now, though...
|Woke up irritable, spent rest of day laughing.|
|Ate leisurely breakfast (at the Garden Cafe, of course), then caught tender (i.e., boat that holds 320 people) to Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's "private island". Found beach too crowded and smoky (from the BBQ), so we walked toward the lighthouse. The mosquitos found us a bit too tasty, however, and the heat and humidity demanded more drinking water than we had, so we only walked about a mile. We caught the next tender back, changed into our bathing suits, and went up to Deck 12.|
|Oasis Pool was relatively empty; for most of the time we had the small whirlpool area in front of Topsiders Bar to ourselves. It was GREAT. 82° was the perfect temperature for cooling off without getting cold, and the salt water made me extra buoyant. We wished we'd brought a waterproof camera to get some underwater belly shots.|
|After swimming we came back to the room, showered and changed, ate lunch at the Garden Cafe (they have a yummy Indian Vegetarian line at lunchtime), and then spent the afternoon playing games.|
|We played Scrabble (with the wrong number of tiles, we discovered—we sorted them out when we were done, so the next people wouldn't get two Xs but only four As), Bingo, and Texas Hold 'Em all in one day. Bingo was fairly high-stakes, but we played more for fun than in hopes that we'd win any jackpots. We figure we've been so fortunate in our daily lives lately, getting a Bingo jackpot would somehow unbalance the Universal Scales of Justice. Texas Hold 'Em was played with a couple kids who came into Shuffles Card Room—James, 16, and his stepbrother Eric, 13, both from Connecticut. Eric's brother Jake, 10, watched, and Mike, 14, came in later to watch Eric win and to collect James for some illicit clubbing. (James asked us if some party/disco/happy hour/god-knows-what-nightlife would be happening again tonight, and we said we didn't know. He said he was able to get in last night without being stopped by any crewmembers—and he was only 16! That's how we ended up asking about everybody's ages. Now that I think of it, both Al and I were more than twice as old as anybody else at the table... and, of course, utterly clueless about clubbing options onboard. I guess it's time to part with the illusion that we're hip.)|
|Lori: "Cruising is like Family Camp at a 3 1/2 star hotel... that floats."|
Got up early this morning, mainly because we docked in Nassau at 7am, and the announcements about going ashore started then. Instead of disembarking right away, we changed into our bathing suits and headed up to the Oasis Pool for a morning swim. This time we brought the underwater camera... though it's the one I was given to use on the Dreamweaver 4/UltraDev 4 ship trip to Hawaii in January 2001, and the film in it expired in 2002. We figured what the heck: if anything came out, great; if not, oh well. [If anything comes out that's worth looking at, I'll add the photos to this post later.] We had the small whirlpool all to ourselves—hooray!—and spent at least 30 minutes swimming, bobbing, and dancing around (the water is only waist-deep at that end). At about 8:15 the music started blaring over the pool's PA, and families started gathering at the poolside tables with their Garden Cafe trays. We figured we'd had enough, and it was time to get out and eat breakfast.
We donned shorts and t-shirts (next time I'm bringing a sports bra with me and taking off my suit—no matter how much I toweled off, I still soaked through my shorts and shirt) and walked the 20 yards or so to the Garden Cafe. We opted to eat indoors to avoid the too-loud pool music. After stuffing ourselves with delicious grapefruit halves and toast, we went back to our room to shower, change, and prepare to visit Nassau. This time we didn't have to go through a terminal with customs officers or take a tender; we could just walk off the boat onto the pier, and from there past the other cruise ships and into the city.
Alas, Nassau turned out not to suit us very well. I've discovered that while I like cruising—the part that involves being on the ship—it isn't how I like to see new places. Generally I like to avoid tourist areas (and other tourists) and just blend in, experiencing the city or country as much like a local as possible. This is decidedly impossible on a cruise, as you are dumped en masse with your fellow passengers in port. You feel (or at least I do) like you're in a herd of cattle being led to slaughter.
This probably accounts for the creepy, every-hand-in-our-pockets feeling we got on arriving at the Festival Market in Nassau. We ended up declining the numerous offers of a taxi, despite the fact that the light rain we'd tried to ignore on the walk from the ship had turned into a steady downpour, and bought an umbrella at a souvenir shop instead. We set off toward Atlantis, which was recommended to us as a must-see spot by a Bahamian customs official we met at dinner yesterday, and which our map indicated was only 1 1/4 miles away. It turned out to be a more difficult trek than we'd anticipated because of the narrow sidewalks, which were both badly maintained and badly flooded, the diesel fumes that hung in the humid air and made us headachy and nauseous, and of course the relentless rain. We often had to pause in doorways and then make a mad dash down the sidewalk when there was a gap in traffic to avoid being sprayed by trucks and taxis hitting huge pools of standing water in the street.
Thus, despite the umbrella, we were both fairly wet by the time we reached the bridge to Paradise Island and Atlantis. The bridge turned out to be rather long and steep, and our spirits were not up to the climb. We decided to give up and return to the ship. Luckily, the return walk seemed shorter, in part because we knew the route and how far we had to go. Plus we knew that there was nothing much to look at in the way of scenery, so we could keep our eyes on the puddles and potholes and move at a brisker pace. I'm sure the Bahamas are lovely, but what we saw of Nassau didn't make us want to go back anytime soon. (I also hope I never smell diesel fuel again.)
08.13.04 ~ The underwater photos did indeed come out fine, so as promised, I'm adding them to this post:
We washed Nassau off and changed clothes upon arriving back in our stateroom, and shortly after I wrote the last entry, the ship left port. After some yummy wild mushroom soup and other goodies at the Garden Cafe, we spent the rest of the afternoon gaming: We entered the "Victory at Sea" slot tournament (again, not so much in hopes of winning, but rather because we thought it was hilarious that what you do in a slot tournament is hit the Spin Reels button as often as possible in five minutes—we just *had* to try it ourselves), and then we dashed from the casino to the Spinnaker Lounge for another round of Bingo. The main draw here, in addition to the fun of bending back the numbers on our perforated cards (and the proximity of the Spinnaker Lounge to the Garden Cafe, which was serving its Afternoon Snacks), was that we earned raffle tickets with every card purchase. The raffle drawing, which will be held at tomorrow morning's Bingo session, is for a cruise for two—something we'd like to win so we can give it to my parents. I think they'd enjoy cruising (even the stops in port). I was one number away—N 49—from winning the last Bingo round, but Mike, the wonderfully goofy Assistant Cruise Director (second only in goofiness—and command—to Cruise Director Colin, the Scot) called N 48 instead, and somebody else got it. Oh well; as I said, we weren't in it for the jackpots anyway. It just would have been nice to yell "BINGO!"
I'm sitting here reading a Jane Austen mystery and jotting down notes about our day while Al hits some golf balls up on Deck 13; I suspect we'll go stuff ourselves silly again at the Garden Cafe upon his return. Tonight's buffet theme is Italian; though that's not a very exciting prospect, I've learned that there will always be something yummy to eat up there. If nothing else, the salad and dessert will be worth seconds, I'm sure.
We decided not to participate in the morning Bingo session today, mainly because the buy-in was too expensive. (The card options vary from session to session; for example, the first time we played it was buy-one-get-one-free for three cards per game for four games at $29, and the second time it was three cards for five games for $19 each. You could also get one card per game for $9 in that session, and there were more expensive options as well. This morning's lowest buy-in was $39 per person, which seemed too steep to us given that we were in it for fun, not money.) Instead we hung out through the first two games, awaiting the raffle drawing after game two. Sadly, we didn't win, and our 6-pack of Krack-Its (kind of like Scratchers, only with Advent calendar-like peel-back panels instead of messy silver coating) did not yield the other free cruise, either. I guess we'll just have to save a little if we want to send mom and dad on a cruise.
Now that we're back at sea my nausea has returned, especially after sitting in the Spinnaker Lounge, which is all the way forward. Apparently it's not unusual for the waters to be rough in the Atlantic, even without a hurricane nearby. Nevertheless, we are going to avail ourselves of the Fitness Center in the aft portion of the ship and try to work off some of the buffet food. I hope I can stay on the treadmill or elliptical trainer with all of this pitching and rolling....
After working out this morning, I suggested to Al that we brave the Day at Sea crowds at the Oasis Pool and attempt another swim. He agreed, so once again I donned my pink striped bikini (it's the only suit I have that accommodates the belly), shorts, and t-shirt, and we headed up to Deck 12. (This time I brought a sports bra, so there'd be no soaking through my clothes post-swim.) We noticed that they'd set up the daily BBQ on either side of our whirlpool area (yes, it seems like "our" whirlpool area now), and that they were serving pork ribs, paella, chicken, and sausages in addition to burgers and hot dogs. The Expedia review had mentioned that the poolside BBQs were not to be missed (assuming you eat meat), so this seemed like a good time to try it out. (It'll also be our last, given that we return to New York tomorrow.)
We decided to swim first, braving the stares of other poolside denizens whose eyes seemed to be drawn magnetically (and often disapprovingly) toward my belly—were they appalled that I'd apparently had sex sometime in the past five months?—as well as a teenage boy whose whole body was drawn magnetically to Al. No matter where Al went in our little pool area, the kid would bump into him. There was one other couple in the whirlpool end, but they mostly hopped around in their own little corner, as we did. I'm glad our supply of 45 sport sunblock held out, because we ended up staying in the pool for quite a while. Floating around helped my nausea considerably, since I couldn't really feel the sway of the ship in the water. I probably could have stayed in there all day, but that would have meant missing lunch. What, me miss a meal? NEVER!
We finally got out, and I went to change while Al got a plate of pork ribs and fixins. I collected some paella, and then we went into the Garden Cafe to eat. I also got a salad, some soup, and a glass of milk to go with my paella, as well as some dessert. (I've been drinking more milk than water on this trip, oddly; between the milk and the TUMS, I shouldn't have any trouble meeting my daily calcium requirements.) Al reported that the ribs and chicken were quite good, and so was the paella in both of our opinions. Score one for the Expedia reviewers. Two, actually, if you also count the fact that they recommended the Indian vegetarian options at lunchtime.
We'll probably spend the rest of the day in a leisurely fashion: hanging out on our balcony, doing loops around the Promenade and Sports decks, hitting golf balls, watching ESPN, reading, and napping. We also plan to watch Calendar Girls at 9:00pm tonight (it's on one of the two edited-for-content movie channels available on our stateroom TV). The movie selection has been somewhat abysmal; I hadn't expected them to be showing current-run movies, but I did expect something more than Agent Cody Banks 2, several third-rate movies I'd never heard of, and two decent movies (Calendar Girls and Bend It Like Beckham) that have been on video and pay-per-view for months now. If you can't run current titles, how about at least offering some classics and other favorites of the past 20 years?