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Posts posted by Maligator

  1. We'll be in Kailua-Kona from 8am-5pm and are looking for the best "bang for the buck" helicopter tour. Here's what we're after:

    • Kona only. I understand Hilo has tours, but our time in Hilo is spoken for already.
    • 1 hour or more flight time. If we're going to shell out $1000+, I don't want an up-and-right-back-down flight.
    • Must include some time over Kilauea/HVNP area. This is a bucket list excursion for us and if there's any lava activity, we want to see it from the air.
    • Early-ish flight times. My wife us super-paranoid about missing the ship and since this is a tender port, we'd like to be back no later than 3-3:30pm.


    I'm hoping someone on this board has some experience and advice. Thanks!

  2. I hope I'm not too late to help.


    You'll almost certainly be berthed at Callao - the industrial port for Lima. There is no walking to anywhere from the ship, since it is one of the busiest cargo terminals in South America. Expect shuttle buses to designated points outside the actual terminal (10 minutes). In 2017 on a Celebrity sailing, anyone who didn't take a Celebrity excursion was dropped at the "tourist" transportation point just outside the port terminal walls; it was a dumpy sidewalk in a run-down area. Tourist Police (that's what they're called) were present, but it is not an area I felt safe in. Additionally, the shuttle back to the ship was a handful of minivans - each seating about 6 - and we had a queue of around 70. Someone finally got through to the ship and they sent a coach after an hour.


    The following day, we took the shuttle coach arranged by the Miraflores shopping district, which took us to (and later picked us up from) a nice mall.


    As for what to do and see...


    We were part of a privately-arranged tour that ran both days of our overnight stop. We visited the Pachacamac ruins site south of town, which was fascinating and HUGE. We also visited the central plaza area, where the government buildings are, and the San Francisco monastery. The monastery is definitely worth a stop if you're in the area, as the catacombs contain the bones of some 40000 people. The Huaca Pucllana site in Miraflores was a very nice stop. The contrast of ancient ruins in the middle of a modern city is palpable.


    What to expect....


    Miraflores is the upscale, modern area along the coast. It has the most shopping options (from your worldwide brands to local craft markets) and nice restaurants and parks.


    You'll see a lot of "chifa" restaurants, which are Chinese joints; Peruvians love Chinese food, for some reason.


    Try an Inca Cola, which is a bright yellow soda that tastes like Big Red, if you've ever had that.


    The traffic...oh my God...the traffic is insane. It's worse than anything I've seen in the US, and I live in Houston. Someone on our bus said the only place he's seen worse is Beijing. It takes forever to get even short distances.


    Take a look at my 2017 Flickr album linked in my signature if you'd like. I have a bunch of photos from Lima there.

  3. This past August had us on Eclipse for the first time since the contract with Corning ended and we were eager to try the new Hollywood Glass program. We paid a total around US$110 for a 10" vase. I did the work while my wife watched from the rail and took pictures. Calling it a "class" is a bit of a stretch, though. I'd call it a "session." The participant does about 10% of the work (turning the rod, puffing air, et al) while the artist does the gathering, shaping, reheating, and color application during the 20 minute session. That is not to say I didn't enjoy the experience, but I think the actual learning is minimal. Especially if you're a crusty old glass show veteran like us.

  4. We were on the British Isles 12-night between the OP's sailing and the previous Baltic. I did not feel the vibrations in our aft cabin on Deck 11, nor did I feel it anywhere below 14. But in Oceanview, it is VERY pronounced. The floor shakes, cups rattle at the beverage stations, and there are points where the vibration caused an overpressure in my ears. It was not unbearable, but anyone who didn't feel it has to have been clinically dead. The "Vibration Zone" was between the pizza station and the serving tables opposite of it and all the way across the ship. It did not seem to matter if we were in motion or docked, as we ate there in both situations. Seas were almost flat all but the last couple of days, so that wasn't it. It was also present without regard to speed; they had the hammer down between some ports and the last sea day, we were crawling along about 10 kts. The vibrations were the same, no matter the variables.

  5. Matt,


    I saw upthread that you were lamenting having lost your booking through Celebrity of the Giants Causeway tour from Belfast. We have two seats on a private tour for six that might suite you very well if you've stayed interested and haven't rebooked elsewhere. PM at bscfh0 at gmail dot com.




    Thank you for your offer. Turns out they just changed the code, which caused us to have to rebook the same tour.



    Probably posting from the bathroom

  6. Might as well wrap this party tonight.


    Day 16 (Fri 12/8): San Antonio (disembarkation)

    Wx: CLDY/75

    Always a sad day, this was the morning we got the boot from the boat. Before I get into our activities, I need to explain why we disembarked in San Antonio rather than Valparaiso. A couple of weeks prior to our sail date, we (Cruise Critic roll call folks) started getting emails from Celebrity notifying us of the change. This severely ticked off several members who made non-refundable reservations with hotels and transfer companies. We, however, had booked Celebrity’s airport transfer and Santiago tour, so I figured we were golden. Well…pyrite, maybe. Some goofy twit at Celebrity HQ decided to cancel the tour/transfer and have us re-book. I think the price was within US$10, so I fail to see why they couldn’t just call it square. Whatever…

    Adding to the hassle of a last-minute port change was a Chilean national holiday, wherein devout worshipers honor Saint Something Or Other by gumming up traffic, walking from wherever home is to Saint Something Or Other’s church a thousand kilometers (possibly an exaggeration) away. Getting off in San Antonio allowed us to avoid much of the nonsense, so there’s a point in its favor.


    Oh yeah….why did Celebrity change ports last minute? After all, Valparaiso has a gleaming, new cruise terminal and San Antonio only has a grimy commercial port with a utilitarian passenger building. It seems there’s an on-going dispute in Valpo between the port workers’ union and the port authority. Utilitarian or not, I found San Antonio’s facility efficient and the staff friendly. We were through immigration quickly and on the tour bus without our bags in no time. Celebrity arranged to take our luggage directly to the airport.


    Santiago is about an hour and a half from San Antonio on smooth, well-maintained highway. I’d heard Chile was the most developed Latin American country and what I saw supported this claim. Whereas Ecuador and Peru were utterly impoverished, I saw little in the way of slums and shanty towns in Chile. As we entered Santiago, the overcast began to break up. The tour through town was mostly a drive-by sightseeing of embassies and government buildings. We did stop at the Plaza de Armas for a short walking tour. It was short, because the holiday had the museum we were supposed to tour closed. My wife and I poked around the big cathedral on the square, but there was a service going on and I didn’t want to disturb anyone. We spent the remainder of our “free” time sitting as close to the police vans as we could. The area was saturated with unsavory characters, swarthy men in dirty clothes, and a legion of vagrants. A local woman pointed to my camera and gestured that I shouldn’t let it hang around my neck, but should cradle it like an infant, as thieves were common. Finally, our group gathered again to board the bus. I honestly could have skipped this stop.


    The tour took us to the upscale Los Condes shopping mall, where many of us made a bee line to the food court. I relied on my high school Spanish to order at McDonald’s. It wasn’t pretty and no one mistook me for a native speaker, but it got the job done. The mall was comparable to any upscale mall in the US. As a matter of fact, if the signs had been in English, one could easily think they were back in the States.


    From there, we visited a craft village across town. Brilliant purple jacaranda trees and pink bougainvillea grew all over the stucco buildings, making it feel “old.” There were scads of shops selling handmade jewelry, crafts, and minerals. The difference between this market and the one in Arica was like Celebrity versus a garbage scow cruise.


    The tour then ended at the airport, where Celebrity had our luggage lined up and waiting for us. I was impressed with the organization it took to get all those bags to the right place and in good condition. We schlepped our luggage into the airport, which looked to be linear (read: “goes on forever in any direction”) and choked with all manners of travelers. As Santiago is the capital of Chile and the home base of the national-come-continental airline, LATAM nee LAN Chile, SCL is a very busy airport, indeed.


    Since our preferred carrier, United, wanted US$2000 each for a direct flight back to Houston, we had our TA book us with ChoiceAir for about a third of that price. The “cost” was laying over in Miami for five hours. Check-in with LATAM was a breeze, due to – I believe – the large number of desks open. At this point, it was around 3pm and our flight didn’t leave until after 11pm. It seems all of the US-bound flights from SCL depart between 9pm and midnight.


    I didn’t mention earlier that upon checking in for the flight out of Houston, I remarked on my Facebook page that I’d once again dodged the dreaded “SSSS” mark on my boarding pass. If you don’t already know,the “SSSS” means you’ve been selected for extra screening in security. Well, the joke was on me. My LATAM boarding pass bore the mark of the Super-Secret Security Striptease. I was prepared to get the business going through immigration and security, but no one looked at me twice and I figured I’d slipped through.


    With eight hours to kill, I reckoned my phone and tablet would need topping off and Chile uses the European-style outlet. I picked up an adapter in the Duty Free shop and found it was conveniently packaged in an impenetrable molded-plastic wrap. We stopped in a Ruby Tuesday’s for dinner and the waiter saw me wrestling with it, so he brought me a pair of scissors and earned a nice tip.


    The seating around the gates at SCL is practically Spartan. I brought along our United Club passes from our credit card, hoping there was a Star Alliance lounge, but there wasn’t. OneWorld and SkyTeam had lounges, but not Star. Fortunately, my pre-trip research found LATAM had day passes for sale for US$55 each. My wife was initially on the fence as to the benefit, but once we entered, she was thankful her husband had the foresight to find it. We settled in and indulged in the various forms of refreshment (booze, mostly) and wifi access to pass the time.


    Around 10pm, we headed out to the gate and found a horde of passengers milling around, as seating was limited. When others started to queue up, we joined them in the line for Steerage Class. Within a few minutes, the gate agent began calling names to come to the counter; for what reason I did not know. The agent called my name and I left my wife to hold our place in line. But the agent took my passport and directed me to bypass the line and follow another agent down the jetway. I saw the look of panic on my wife’s face and shot her a thumbs-up to reassure her, which didn’t do a bit of good.


    It turned out, this was my “SSSS” screening. At a junction in the jetway, there was a side room, where I saw security people swabbing other passengers with what I knew were explosive-activated pads. I didn’t get to third base with the guy, but he swabbed my shoes, belt, and camera gear. Finding nothing, I was given my passport and sent onto the plane. I found my wife beginning to question a flight attendant about my whereabouts, but she saw me coming and relaxed.


    My hopes for an empty seat next to me were dashed when a girl sat down, relegating me to a middle seat for the duration. LATAM’s fleet is remarkably new and we were on one of their younger Boeing 787-900s. This was my first flight on a 787 and I was impressed. I still couldn’t sleep, but the flight was not as exhausting as those I’ve had on 767s and 777s. I watched movies on the seatback AVOD system once the wife fell asleep and urged the little plane icon to go faster on the map.


    It was at MIA where I thought things were starting to look up. It being a Chilean airline, the majority of the passengers were from South America and entered a long queue for immigration. But our Global Entry card put us in a line that had us in front of an agent in less time than it took us to get off the plane. But my honesty would cost us. I had the missus mark that we had soil or plant products, as we had jars of sand and her stupid bags of oregano. Phone calls were made and we were steered to a special holding area with other troublemakers from our flight. In the Sin Bin, Customs guys made more phone calls and looked sternly at our jars of sand. Turns out, they didn’t give a damn about the oregano, but weren’t sure about the sand. I thought for sure they’d confiscate the jars, but they finally let us through. The lesson learned was to keep our mouths shut about such things in the future.


    The delay meant we missed the early flight to IAH and had to wait until noon. Our flight left from a different concourse than most United flights and was at the far end of the Delta wing. I passed the time watching all the exotic aircraft and airlines we never see in Houston and chatted up cruisers who’d just come into Miami on other ships.


    The flight home was uneventful and we the cab driver on the Houston end was nice and lead-footed. He even got us home in time for us to make it to the kennel to retrieve the Mongrel Horde before they closed.


    Well, if you’ve made it this far, you either skipped ahead or have too much time on your hands. I hope you enjoyed the ride. I’ll be back in the fall to burden you with our report on August’s British Isles sailing on Eclipse.




    Itinerary: B Other than Manta, I thought the stops were quality. They were certainly not your run-of-the-mill cruise stops.


    Overall Ship Condition: A At over 15 years-old, I think they’ve done a great job keeping her up. She’s not the newest, but I saw no overt signs she’s over the hill.


    Cabin Condition: B+ I just feel a freshening is needed. The bathroom really pales in comparison to the same category on S-class.


    Cabin Attendant: A My wife thinks he should know how to do towel animals, but I feel he was top notch.


    Staff: A Senior officers were readily visible and often initiated conversation. Non- and junior officers were great, as we’ve come to expect.


    Entertainment: C Maybe we’ve been spoiled by past sailings, where production shows outnumbered the “filler” acts, but we like them and they seem to not be doing them as much. And the ones we saw we’ve seen before.


    Food: A MDR fare was spot on with few misses. Oceanview satisfied, but still leaning too heavily on SE Asian fare, in our opinion. Sushi on 5 continues not to impress. Qsine and Tuscan were brilliant.


    Food Service: A Specialty staff were awesome. MDR staff were attentive and very good, but not the best we’ve had.


    Celebrity Excursions: D Continuing the decline in quality we’ve been seeing. Very little variety to pick from.

  7. Day 14 (Wed 12/6): At sea

    Wx: MC/70

    After breakfast, we joined the obligatory galley tour. I seem to recall we were given an invitation, either for being in a Concierge cabin or for being Elite. Either way, we found ourselves lumped in with a Belgian group for some reason. Despite the Belgians, our tour was in English,with one of their guides occasionally translating. This being our eighth cruise and at least our eighth galley tour, I was just along for the ride. Continuing the trend, the tour was light on content and finished off with the sales pitch for specialty restaurants.


    The remainder of the morning was spent researching hotels for our August 2018 cruise out of Amsterdam, as well as beginning to explore excursions. I was afraid they’d sell out of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, so we purchased those tickets right away, as it’s what I’m most looking forward to.


    Today was the day we received our passports, which I think I forgot to mention were taken at check-in. I thought the retrieval process was organized well enough. I doubt we spent longer than five minutes in line before we had ours in hand.


    Dinner was in Tuscan, as this was an Evening Chic night inthe MDR, and we are not chic in the evening, nor many other times. We walked in and were greeted by the maître d (whom I’m kicking myself for forgetting his name, as he was stellar) and a familiar-looking waiter. One glance at his name tag and I put it together. You’ll recall our reunion with Fabi from our 2014 Summit sailing. Well, on that same sailing, we were relegated to Select Dining, since we booked so late. Our favorite waiter was Cesar and we tried to get his table every night. And here we were on Infinity and Cesar was in Tuscan! He couldn’t believe we remembered him and I couldn’t believe it when he snapped and said, “You sat along the railing every night and ordered double escargot!” I was gobsmacked. We chatted off and on during the meal when he’d come by to refill a drink or something; we were in a different server’s section and Cesar had a couple of tables already.


    She had the meatballs, lobster rigatoni alfredo, and crème brulee. I had the fried calamari, lobster rigatoni alfredo, and crème brulee.


    After dinner, we wandered the ship and I took advantage of everyone being either at dinner or in the theater to take photos of the ship. The Constellation Lounge was deserted, except for the bartender, with whom we chatted about photography (he’s into the hobby, as well) and his home country of Montenegro.


    Day 15 (Thu 12/7): At sea

    Wx: MC + haze/70

    We slept in really late on this day. Since leaving Ft Lauderdale, we’d been through two time zones, which made three from home. Our internal clocks were all sorts of confused. The shops were doing their usual last-minute sales and we fell prey to a couple of them, though they were light on shirts for our particular cruise. Most were for the around-the-Horn leg and those for the Canal didn’t really appeal to us.


    In the afternoon, we did most of our packing, as we had to put our suitcases out by the door for disembarkation. This is always a bittersweet time. On one hand, we enjoy cruising. On the other, sixteen days is just beyond our ideal amount of time to be away from home and the dogs.


    That evening in the MDR, we said our goodbyes and thanked our waiters with a little off-the-books gratuity for their hard work and exceptional service. We both had our last French onion for a while. She had some sort of chicken dish I didn’t record. I had my last escargot and the tuna teriyaki. We split a chocolate tombstone that I think came from Qsine.


    Back in the room, we finished packing and set the suitcases outside the door to be collected. Petr was in the hallway and we thanked him for his work with a bit of cash, too.


    As the evening came to a close, it was still light outside, as we’d now sailed pretty far south. From the veranda, we spotted dolphins and a whale of some sort surfacing now and again. It was a nice end to the cruise.

  8. Day 12 (Mon 12/4): At sea

    Wx: CLDY/70 with rough seas

    After waking up at a leisurely 9:30, we spent the day reading in the Constellation lounge and elsewhere around the ship. Then we…wow…read and lounged some more. Jeez...we really didn’t do squat. So, I guess we’ll jump straight to dinner in the MDR. She had the same appetizers she’s had every other night and the brisket. I had ceviche (which I really need to remember they can’t do well), escargot, and lobster papparadelle. We skipped dessert, as the rough seas were making her wurfy, so we called it an early night.


    We’re wild. I know.




    Day 13 (Tue 12/5): Arica, Chile

    Wx: OVC > PC/75

    6:45 was starting to feel normal, which kind of sucked, but we had to get breakfast and out to the pier for our day’s tour. This was to be another and the last of our private tours with the same folks who arranged those in Lima and Paracas/Pisco. Once again, we were in an industrial port and farther than walking distance from the exit, so we were shuttled in little buses. They take the possibility of foreign contaminants seriously, so we all were filtered through a screening area before being turned loose on the street.


    Our guide, Ivan, met us just outside the immigration exit and we boarded little coaches that reminded me of those used by car rental companies at the airport, only more comfortable. Arica is about as far north as you can get in Chile (11 miles from the Peruvian border). As a matter of fact, it was taken from Peru after the War of the Pacific in 1880 – a fact the Chileans are proud of, as is evidenced by the massive Chilean flag flying atop the prominent outcrop that dominates the south side of the city.


    The first stop of the day was to be at the Anzarote Caves –an archaeological site where several mummified remains of Chinchorro people have been found. However, upon our arrival, we found the caves closed due to falling rocks near the entry. Despite that setback, the coastline we walked along was still worthwhile.


    I mentioned the outcrop with the big flag and that was our next stop. “El Morro” really does dwarf everything else in the area. Aside from a memorial marker for the soldiers who fought and died for Chile here in 1880 and the giant flag, there’s a small museum which we didn’t visit. But the view from up there allowed us to see all the way up the coast to Peru and gave us a nice view of our ship.


    As Arica isn’t a hub of international tourism, there aren’t too many restaurants around. The solution to lunch was stopping at one Petrobras station convenience store, then moving to another when the first one didn’t really have much. I’m not sure what an alternative solution would be for this, but I wasn’t impressed with a gas station lunch of Doritos and a Coke.


    The tour moved on to a little artisan commune in town, where a couple dozen little adobe shacks housed potters, weavers, painters, and jewelry craftsmen. It took about fifteen minutes for the group to make the circuit and determine there was little worth staying for.


    Outside of town, we paused at a little overlook to see some geoglyphs. These were not as grand-scale as the Nazca Lines, but were made of rocks arranged to form figures on the side of a hill. While at first they seemed amazing, after a while, you realize they’re all over the place if you look for them. Don’t get me wrong – they’re still pretty cool to see.


    On down the road a bit, we stopped at an olive grove. My wife disappeared and later surfaced to root out some Chilean currency from my pocket to buy fresh oregano (more on that later) as a gift for a foodie coworker. Meanwhile, I was captivated by the swarm of hummingbirds in the garden, as were the other photographers in the group.


    From there, we climbed up out of the river valley to the top of a plateau, where we were in the heart of the Atacama Desert. Once again –like in Paracas – the topography is arid and almost totally void of vegetation or animal life. One exception was a low scrub that looked like Spanish moss called a desert rose. I have no idea why, as there wasn’t anything about it that looked like a rose, but that’s what they call it. Maybe Sting named it. We passed a Celebrity tour bus nearby on a similar stop, though theirs was more of a typical ship tour, in that some peddlers were standing around in full, local native regalia with their tchotchkes to sell.


    We ended up following that bus down a rather steep switchback road that descended back into another river valley. Being on the side that looked out over the edge of the road, those on the other side asked how steep it was. I joked it was the kind of steepness that ends up on the evening news when a bus full of tourists tumbles down in a tragic wreck. Just after I said that, the hulk of a truck appeared about halfway down the hill. I didn’t make any more jokes, as I saw it as the universe’s way of scolding me for my policeman’s gallows humor.


    The Celebrity bus stopped at the church in the little village of Poconchile, as did we. The result was the site was mobbed with tourists trying to fit inside the little church. I was more captivated by the scenery outside, so we stayed in the courtyard until it was time to go.


    The remainder of the tour had us drive past a coastal wetland and along the beach toward town. A few folks on the tour clamored for some kind of shopping stop to buy souvenirs. Again, this isn’t a tourist hotspot, so such places aren’t prevalent. Still, the bus stopped at what amounted to a row of stalls (most of which were closed) so those who wanted to could buy the same stuff that was for sale in every other stop we’d made since the Canal.


    Back on the ship, we enjoyed the sail away from our veranda, then hit the MDR for dinner. She had the usual, plus a ribeye. I had escargot, broccoli soup, and the ribeye. We did dessert at al Bacio for chocolate cake and listened to the house band playing in the foyer to end the evening.

  9. Day 11 (Sun 12/3): Pisco, Peru

    Wx: Sunny/75


    This was another stop where Celebrity’s tour offerings were thin and we’d signed up for another tour arranged by the same group who organized the Lima tour. Although officially listed as a stop in Pisco, the ship docked at another industrial port in neighboring Paracas. In fact, our tour never went to Pisco, which was fine with me. The port is across a small bay from the town of Paracas and there was absolutely nothing within walking distance, though several vendors were allowed to set up little stalls right off the ship. Our tour coaches were allowed all the way up to the ship among the Celebrity buses this time. After a fifteen minute trip around the bay, we arrived in the town of Paracas. Paracas is a developing resort area that is said to be the weekend playground of wealthy Limeños. In town, we hopped aboard a fast boat to see the Candelabra geoglyph and the Ballestas Islands. The weather was perfect for a boat ride, with hardly a cloud in the sky.


    The Candelabra ended up being just around the corner from the port. Well…”just” is a relative term. A couple who had to be from our ship (they didn’t have a vehicle and there is literally nothing else within walking distance) was climbing around on the base of the glyph, leaving footprints and taking photos. Our guide was beside himself that these idiots were trampling a 2000 year-old heritage site. I wanted to yell at them and they likely would’ve heard me, but I bit my tongue. Footprints would eventually go away. Still…the urge to smack them was present.


    We continued on to the Ballestas, which have been called the“poor man’s Galapagos.” The Ballestas are a cluster of smallish rocks off the Paracas Peninsula that are home to hundreds of thousands of birds (terns, pelicans, cormorants, and Humboldt penguins) and sea lions. The guides brought the boats up close enough to smell the critters and said critters – the sea lions at least – don’t seem to care one bit. Even the rock formations are fantastic, with sheer cliffs and huge arches. I lost track of time, but I’d guess we spent about 45 minutes puttering around several of the islands and gawking at the spectacle.


    Back at Paracas, we were given an hour or so of free time to browse some of the shops and grab a bite to eat. I was ravenous at this point, so I basically waited until I couldn’t stand it any longer and went to the nearest restaurant. The waiter didn’t speak English, so we had to make do with my high school/college/street Spanish, but we got the message across. I chose a fried seafood platter that was absolutely delicious. I could identify the scallops (fried still attached to the shell and likely harvested from the scallop farm in the adjacent bay), some kind of fish, and calamari. There was a mystery thing in there that was fried and tasted like the ocean, but it was also delicious.


    From Paracas, we began our tour of the Paracas National Reserve, just outside of town. I promised I’d go into detail about the topography, so if you’ve been waiting for that, here it is. The area around Paracas is not part of the Atacama Desert (officially), but is part of the Atacama’s desert system. Did that make sense? The Atacama has no defined boundaries that I can identify and one arid region blends into the next without much to let you know. The part of the desert within and around Paracas National Reserve is an ancient seabed lifted above sea level by plate tectonics. Once the guide told us this, it was easy to imagine. The rolling landscape looks like what I envision the bottom of the ocean would look like if the water drained away. That’s essentially what happened here, only Paracas raised from the ocean as the Nazca Plate pushed up the western edge of the South American Plate as it slid under. This former life as a seafloor was illustrated on our first stop in the park, where turritella fossils were embedded in the desert surface. Turritella were thumb-sized (these were, at least) critters with conical shells. Think of a snail that created a shell like a dunce cap rather than a coil. I’d hoped to abscond with a few as souvenirs, but the little farts were in there like concrete.


    I stopped to admire the surrounding landscape, which was a rich yellow base with a light layer of deep red dusted over the top. Per the guide, the yellow coloration is bentonite and the red is iron oxide, deposited through volcanic activity. There wasn’t much sand to speak of. A very thin layer covered a hard, rock surface. I thought it looked like what the surface of Mars must look like.


    We moved on to the top of a seaside cliff, where a large arch used to stand. It fell a few years ago during an earthquake, but the yellow cliffs were still pretty neat to see. Let me side-track for a moment since I’ve mentioned earthquakes. I want to express my disappointment that one of the most seismically-active areas on the planet failed to produce a single tremor during our visit (including Ecuador, Peru, and Chile) that we could feel. I had a web page open on my tablet that documented earthquakes in real time and it confirmed we got bupkes. Naturally, a 6.5 hit near Manta a couple of days after our visit. Just our luck. Kilauea and Etna both went off soon after we visited those, too, so this shouldn’t be surprise at this point.


    Back to the tour, I’d read during my pre-cruise research about a beach that was maroon. As we collect sand and soil from our various vacations, I really wanted some of this red sand for our collection. Fortunately, that was our next stop, the aptly-named “Playa Roja” (Red Beach). It was just as spectacular as I’d hoped. The dark red ribbon of sand, up against deep yellow cliffs, with white seafoam and emerald green ocean, and a brilliant blue sky above was exactly what I wanted to see. I think most photographers have those shots they just can’t wait to get on a computer to edit and this was one of them. I believe this will go up on the wall soon. I collected some of the sand in a jar we’d brought. When I say “sand,” I mean it’s the stuff that comprised the beach. In reality, it was more the consistency of fine pebbles worn down by the surf. Think of pebbles from the size of craft beads to green peas, with dark red and gray colors. Fascinating.


    Our final stop before returning to the pier was the Paracas visitor’s center. We didn’t go inside because the electricity had gone out. Our guide showed us a half-mile trail that led from the center to the edge of the bay, where we could see pink flamingoes foraging in the shallows. My wife and I made the hike and found the end of the trail was still a good half-mile from the water and a good ways farther to the flamingoes. Adding insult to injury was a stiff wind we had to fight to get back. I estimate it was a sustained tropical storm-force wind and it carried with it bits of sand to get in our eyes and mouths.


    Back at the port, the same wind was causing havoc with the vendor stalls set up just off the gangway. I actually caught a heavy steel frame as one tent started to come down. I snagged native mineral eggs from one vendor in turquoise, sodalite, and a malachite-chrysocolla specimen that would be three times the price here in the US.


    Dinner was back in the MDR, where Asep thought we’d been left behind somewhere, as we hadn’t been in for a few days. My wife had French onion, Ceasar, a flounder dish, and chocolate cheesecake. I had escargot, strawberry soup (one of my favorites), flounder, and chocolate fondant.


    The evening show was a comedian. I can’t remember anything about him or the show, so he must not have been too special.

  10. Day 10 (Sat 12/2): Lima, Peru

    Wx: Fog > Sun/70

    Also in port: Oceana Sirena

    This was our second day in Lima and also with the same tour. Once again, we were up at the unholy hour of 6am. We slept well, despite the cacophony of an industrial port and the container ship being worked within shouting distance from our veranda. Unlike the previous day’s debacle, the plan was we’d all take the free Celebrity shuttle to its drop-off point at a mall in Miraflores. This went much smoother than using minivans to take us to the ‘hood.


    Our first stop of the day was fascinating to me. The site was similar to the Pachacamac ruins from the first day’s tour, only smaller, and these were smack dab in the middle of Miraflores. Imagine a 2000 year-old ruin in the middle of a major city. We were told that no one knew the site was there until someone started to develop the area. What I found most astonishing was how a stepped pyramid of clay brick was literally across the street from gleaming, glass-façade office buildings and apartments. One of my favorite photos from the entire vacation was of three men excavating near the top with a construction crane building an office building in the background.



    It being Saturday, I saw no discernible difference in the horrid traffic, but in a city of nearly 10 million, I suppose it is unavoidable. Still, it made a crosstown trek a hassle. Unfortunately, the next stop was in the city’s center to visit the San Francisco Monastery and Catacombs. Don’t get me wrong…the visit was worthwhile, but the commute was abysmal.

    Our guide pre-purchased the tickets, so we went right in and browsed the old monastery, which is still operational, though most of the monks’ quarters and work areas were elsewhere. As there is almost no precipitation here, windows and doors were few and far between. In fact, the monastery’s old library was open-air and the fixtures and books still on the shelves showed no sign of degradation, other than simply being old. The catacombs were fascinating, though tight quarters. The estimate of how many human remains interred here is around 45,000, based on a bone count done decades ago. The bones are still there and many are arranged as decoration. We’ve been to the ossuary crypt at the Capuchin monastery in Rome, which has a more elaborate display, but the dungeon-like feel of the San Francisco catacombs made it feel more macabre.


    The monastery is just a block off the city’s main plaza, to which we walked and found some sort of small parade in progress. Women in colorful dresses danced and swished around a little marching band made up of Peruvian federal police officers.


    Back on the bus, we were taken back to Miraflores and the same chifa from the previous day. I thought we’d be better off with a new restaurant – maybe one with more Peruvian fare – but it was not to be. As our ship’s all-aboard time was relatively early, we were dropped off back at the mall to catch the Celebrity shuttle to the port.


    We were a bit late for the MDR, so we hit up the stir fry station in the buffet again, then headed to the cabin to relax from a hectic couple of days.

  11. Day 9 (Fri 12/1): Lima, Peru

    Wx: MC/70 > PC/70

    Also in port: a container ship within a stone’s throw from our room


    Vacations are not meant for 6am wake-ups, yet here we were, rising before the rooster. Today’s excursion was the first of the private tours we joined through the Cruise Critic roll call. There was so little offered by the ship that these intimate tours morphed into multi-bus affairs, but I think they were handled well.


    Again, these ports are unaccustomed to passenger ships, so we were relegated to a commercial berth in Callao – Lima’s main port. The port was tight on security, so anyone who wasn’t on a Celebrity tour had to wait for the “shuttles”, which were little more than minivan taxis. Furthermore, those shuttles dropped us off outside the port at a dingy “designated passenger drop-off” in the middle of a run-down, industrial neighborhood. There was a detachment of Tourism Police (it’s a thing) milling around, which made me feel better about getting dumped in a slum. Judging by the abandoned encampments and human feces on the sidewalk, the cops had recently shooed away the bums so they wouldn’t harass the nice tourists. It took a bit, but our trio of small buses finally found us. Each bus held about twenty passengers and ours was very comfortable. Our guide was Maribel (I think) from Lima and I believe our driver’s name was Javier.


    Let me start by saying Javier should be up for sainthood. I will never gripe about traffic here in the US again. My job has me in rush hour traffic during my entire shift and I’ve grown accustomed to it. But Lima has absolutely atrocious traffic. It’s not just congested. Lanes are mere suggestions and drivers seem to make turns from wherever and whenever they feel like it. Someone on our bus who’d been in Beijing said traffic there was worse, but I can’t see how that’s possible.

    Javier wandered through Miraflores – the gentrified, modern, and high-rent district – of Lima and along the cliffs that overlooked the Pacific. Soon, we were in the dirt-poor outskirts south of town and pulled into the Pachacamac ruins site. Think of stepped pyramids, not unlike those in the Costa Maya, but constructed of tens of thousands of mud bricks. The area was enormous and even extended beyond the site’s boundaries. There were little favelas actually built atop the surrounding ruins. The arid climate spared much of the site from total destruction, but much of the site was eroded or under sand.


    This brings me to another point about the cruise from this point, on: the Pacific coast of South America between Colombia’s rain forests and southern Chile’s temperate fjords is some of the driest topography in the world. Looking back, I guess I didn’t expect it to be THAT dry. Yes, I knew the Atacama Desert was super dry, but I didn’t realize the scale. Being from the US, I’m used to deserts scattered with scrub and cacti and all sorts of fauna. But coastal South America is another animal. There is absolutely nothing growing in many areas. But I digress, as I’ll get into the topography more in detail on other stops.



    Leaving Pachacamac, we returned to Miraflores, where we stopped for lunch at a “chifa.” A “chifa” is basically a Chinese buffet. Yeah, I had the same thought you’re likely having after reading that. Our guide told us there was a large migration of Chinese to Peru decades ago. Like they did in the US, Chinese immigrants found great success with restaurants, as Peruvians went crazy of the new cuisine. I saw parts of town where there were multiple chifas in one building. Ours was a large, two-story joint with long tables to accommodate buses full of tourists. The food was mostly recognizable as similar fare to that which you’d find in a Chinese buffet in the US. There were deviations, of course. Local tastes influenced the selection and there were some Peruvian dishes to try, such as ceviche. If you’re unfamiliar with ceviche, let me save you a Google search: it is seafood (fish and calamari, mostly) that is cured in lime juice. The acid in the juice “cooks” the protein, rather than using heat. If prepared fresh and in the correct manner, I find it delicious. This was done right, but they went heavy on the onions, which turned me off. One thing I did thoroughly enjoy was Inca Kola. This local favorite soft drink is ubiquitous down there. It looks like a fizzy pee sample (clear, bright yellow) and tastes like carbonated liquid bubble gum. If you’ve had Big Red or Fanta, the experience is very similar.


    From the restaurant, we were taken on a driving tour of Miraflores. We stopped at a clifftop, seaside park with a famous statue of a man and woman locked in each other’s arms and sharing an eternal kiss. As it was a sunny (it’s always sunny in Lima) Saturday afternoon, the park was filled with tourists and wealthy Limeños recreating and walking their dogs. We even saw a few of the native Inca orchid dogs, which look like mange-infested whippets.


    The next stop was a native market,where we were turned loose with our Nuevo Soles (the Peruvian currency) to purchase alpaca hair things and other native Peruvian crafts. My wife bought a sweater as it was cooler at night than we’d planned for. I picked up an iridescent blue butterfly mounted between glass panes as a souvenir.


    From there, we fought through Friday rush hour traffic back to Callao. The bus dropped us off back at the dodgy tourist depot outside the port, where we were to wait for our shuttle back to the ship. In 45 minutes, one minivan shuttle arrived. Several of us were trying to reach Celebrity to alert them to the queue of 80, or so, passengers waiting for the inadequate shuttle service. My contribution was to try to reach them through social media, since I had a phone plan. This was really poorly done by Celebrity; leaving us to wait in a sketchy area after dark. I guess someone on that lone minivan shuttle told them what was going on, because they sent a couple of larger buses that weren’t officially supposed to be shuttles. I know the organizers let the Guest Relations staff have it with both barrels upon their return.


    Too late for the MDR, we had stirfry in the buffet, then caught the late show, which was a musician. Somewhere I have a daily with the musician’s name, but all I wrote down was he or she was “good.”

  12. It must be your lucky day! Here's one more day's worth of my banter.


    Day 8 (Thurs 11/30): At sea

    Wx: CLDY/70


    One of the great things about this itinerary was the abundance of sea days. And only two were consecutive, so they were spaced out to allow time to recover after each port. Port-intensive cruises make us weary, as we learned on an Adriatic sailing, where we had one sea day to relax.



    We made the most out of this one by lounging by the pool,though I remained in the shade, so as not to make my already-awkward sunburn worse. My wife’s plan was to wear a different swimsuit so that her avant garde sunburn pattern took on a three-dimensional look. Chair hogs were not as prevalent on this cruise, so there was always a place to lay, though they may not have been next to each other.



    As mentioned earlier, we were researching a 2019 sailing and picked a 14-night Baltic itinerary. The Baltic is pretty far down my list, but it fit our schedule at the time. Since we’ve returned, my wife was given extra vacation days, so that Baltic cruise may turn into something else.



    For a change of pace, we dined in Sushi on 5 that evening. I’m still convinced So5 is a waste of space and haven’t forgiven Celebrity for replacing Bistro. However, I suffer from a condition that requires that I consume some sort of Asian cuisine several times a week. I’m afraid to find out what will happen if I don’t do so. My wife is not quite as much of a fan, but she offered to go with me, as long as she could visit the stir fry station in OVC afterward. She tried the miso soup and edamame, while I had the lobster& shrimp dumplings and lobster ramen. The ramen was fine, but the dumplings were woefully under-cooked and underwhelming.



    We dropped in on the “Star Factory” production show afterward, which I believe was the first production show of the sailing. It was standard fare, but still entertaining and well done.



    Still hungry after a mediocre So5 experience, we hit the buffet for stir fry. The stir fry station was open every night and we visited more than once. On previous cruises, I don’t remember the stir fry station being open every night. My wife was a novice and quickly became a fan – so much so that she’s been doing a different stir fry at home every week for her meal prep. After a bite of dessert at al Bacio, it was back to the room to read and watch the Redskins and Cowboys game.

  13. Day 6 (Tues 11/28): At sea

    Wx: Rain &CLDY with Fog/80 > PC/75


    I didn’t write much down for this day. After a late breakfast, we pretty much wandered the ship, pausing to read here and there. We did check in on a naturalist’s presentation on Ecuador’s volcanoes. It was more of a lecture on plate tectonics and was light on the actual volcanoes specific to Ecuador, so we left before it was over.



    We spent the majority of the afternoon by the pool. My wife was trying to perfect her abstract artwork of multi-shade sunburn. I was in the shade, where I belonged. It took me 42 years, but I finally realized my Scot-Irish heritage means I'm genetically predisposed to go directly from "pale" to "3rd degree burn", bypassing any kind of tan.



    Dinner was in the MDR again. She had the crab cake, Ceasar, French onion, and an off-menu addition - the steak with chimichurri sauce. I had the escargot, French onion, and the same steak. I finished off with the apple tart tatin.



    The evening show was a singer, who was very talented, but I can hardly remember what he did. I hope that made sense. It’s late as I’m writing this.


    Day 7 (Wed 11/29): Manta, Ecuador

    Wx: Fog > PC/80

    Also in port: a bunch of tuna boats


    We awoke at 6:45, much to my dismay. But the reward was a nice, foggy view of the tuna fishing fleet moored in the harbor. We later learned that tuna is *THE* cash cow here and the number of boats certainly supported that assessment.



    This was to be the last Celebrity excursion we’d take until disembarkation. The offerings for Manta on the Celebrity site were slim-to-none. We’d originally planned to take one of their special excursions recommended by Celebrity naturalist, Milos Radakovich, but after I did a little research and discovered he would not actually be on the ship, we saved the roughly US$700 and went with the least-objectionable offering. That happened to be a tour of the Montecristi hat shop.



    Manta is by no means a tourist hot spot. It is very impoverished, as is much of South America, but I’ve been in some truly run-down parts of the world before and this was right there with them. My wife, however,had no idea what a Third World country looked like and she seemed surprised by the poverty. A comment she made really stuck with me: “I still don’t agree with illegal immigration, but at least now I understand why they come.” I’m glad she got that experience and saw something other than the façade we always see in tourist ports.



    We arrived at the Montecristi hat shop, which was nothing more than a dirt lot with a few thatch-roofed structures without walls. Each was a “station” where a different part of the hat-making process was conducted.So as we moved through, we saw the process from harvesting the fronds from which the fibers are made, through the preparation, the actual weaving (which looks like a medieval torture; the artisans are hunched over for hours a day,pressing their chest against a block to shape the hats), the cleaning, shaping and finally…of course…the sales. I found this sales stop forgivable, because there was no pressure and we could really tell the artisans would be the ones who benefited from our visit. My wife and I made a couple of small purchases before we left.



    The tour then stopped in some off-the-beaten-path barrio to visit a factory that hand-makes burlap sacks on archaic machines. I have no idea why we stopped here. It wasn’t on the itinerary that I could tell. I can’t even say it was remotely interesting, though I understand that’s subjective.



    The trip back to the ship tried to cover the rest of the city, of which there is very little. Parts of the area along the shore were devastated by a powerful earthquake a few years prior and had yet to be rebuilt. After yet another sub-par tour, we were thankful to get back to the port.



    As I mentioned earlier in the report, this was not a stop where the port was geared toward tourism. It is wholly a commercial port that managed to accommodate a passenger ship. I got the impression we were considered “in the way” by the guys unloading the tuna boats. We did have a good view of a boat across the pier from us as they hoisted large nets full of tuna and dumped them into refrigerated shipping containers. Next time you tear into a packet of tuna, know I might have watched it come off the boat.



    After a nap and watching the sail-away from the veranda, we dined in the MDR. She had French onion, spaghetti, and chocolate cheesecake. I had the escargot, pepper steak, seafood crepe, and an éclair. I had to splurge a little at al Bacio, when I saw Nutella cheesecake. It was also at al Bacio that Cruise Director, Luigi, stopped for coffee (no wonder he’s always so amped up). He took a few minutes to chat with us and I was impressed the conversation went beyond just “How are you enjoying your cruise?” or other forced chit-chat.He was genuine in his interest and I got more of a vibe that he was good at connecting on a personal level. Again, I’m not sure if that came across the way I intended, but it’s a good thing. Thumbs up for Luigi.

    A solid “meh” for Manta, though. I think I’d rather they’d stopped in Guayaquil.

  14. Day 4 (Sunday, 11/26): At sea

    Wx: PC/85


    With another sea day on tap, we slept in, then had breakfast in OVC. Much of the morning was spent poolside, where I managed to miss a significant portion of my abdomen when I applied sunscreen. The result was an awkward burn that looked like post-mortem lividity more than anything else.Being right at my waist, it made wearing pants hell, but I thought I might not be welcome everywhere without them. We also went to the iLounge to look up potential future cruises. Much of the 2019-2020 schedule wasn’t released, but Europe and I think the Caribbean were out.



    Dinner that evening was in Qsine. The previous evening, we were leaving the MDR and one of the ever-present specialty restaurant servers was at the entry, peddling reservations. She smiled and something clicked in my brain. I’d seen her before.

    “Wait…were you on Summit in October, 2014?” She thought for a moment and said, “Yes…I think I was.” Fabi from Jamaica was our waitress in Qsine during the Canada & New England sailing we did and I remember thinking at the time she was a great waitress. I think she was stunned I remembered her. We booked this evening’s dinner with her and made sure she would be our server. My wife had her favorite lava crab, fish & chips, and one meatball (because they’re baseball-sized, you see). I had my favorite lobster escargot, sliders (I must remember to stop ordering these), and the painter’s mignon. We split a chocolate tombstone for dessert.



    Day 5 (Monday, 11/27): Panama Canal Transit

    Wx: CLDY & Drizzle/80 > PC/90


    We awoke to find we were already approaching the first locks of the Canal. Unfortunately for us, November is the height of the rainy season for Panama and it was doing so. We threw some breakfast on plates and took them out to the pool deck, where we could stand under the Deck 11 overhang, out of the rain. The on-board historian was narrating the passage from the Constellation Lounge and was broadcast over the ship’s public address system. The Captain wanted to open the helipad, but wind and rain kept it closed for the first part. As we entered the first lock, the rain began to taper off and we were able to enjoy the view from Deck 11 and the small deck around the forward mast.The stair to the small deck was crowded and I was a bit taken aback that some had the audacity to act like I was the bad guy for trying to get up the steps.



    The passage was fascinating. There were tankers and cargo ships ahead of us and behind us, as well as beside us heading northbound. We were quite an attraction ourselves. Crew from passing ships took selfies with us in the background, since we were eye-level with them.



    Once we cleared the Gatun locks and entered Gatun Lake, we dropped anchor. The historian explained to us that some larger vessels were coming through and we’d have to wait until they passed before we could continue. The hour wait gave the rain some time to thin out and by the time we weighed anchor, the sun was beginning to peek through the clouds. We took the opportunity to grab lunch in Oceanview, then went out to the helipad, which opened after the rain.



    It was peaceful, watching the countryside roll by. At least until we reached Gamboa and the inmates at a small prison camp began whooping and hollering at us. Some of the other passengers waved and whooped back for some reason. Tourists....sheesh.



    We stayed out on the helipad until we passed through the Miraflores locks, at which time we went back to the room to enjoy the remaining part of the passage. The view from our aft veranda was great, as we expected.As we went through the final two locks, I heard a crowd cheering somewhere. More prison inmates? Soon after, what I assume was the Canal’s visitor center came into view and the observation platforms were packed with tourists. I later found out Coral Princess was in port at Panama City.



    That evening, we dined in the MDR. She had a Caprese salad and rigatoni. I had the same, except with escargot. We did dessert later at al Bacio.



    The evening show was an impressionist comedian, who was pretty good. Afterward, we repaired to the cabin where I watched the first half of a dismal effort by my Houston Texans.


    We're over the hump, so to speak. Stay tuned....

  15. Day 3 (Saturday, 11/25): Grand Cayman

    Wx: MC/85

    Also in port: AIDAluna


    We awoke to the news that heavy seas forced us to anchor on the south side of the island, rather than the usual west end. Since both were tender ports, that part didn’t matter, but the lack of the usual port facilities was less than ideal. Boarding the large tender boat supplied by a vendor on the island was one of those experiences that was like a fraternity stunt to see how many people we could cram onto one boat. We did have a great view of the dent in the hull from where Infinity gently kissed the dock in Ketchikan. And by "gently kissed" I mean "rammed and destroyed." At the landing (I can’t really call it a port), there was a Spartan restroom facility and a long bench. No shops. No restaurants. No bars. Just an oyster shell parking lot, a bench, and an hour wait with the Germans from the Aida ship.



    Finally, our excursion bus arrived (this was a Celebrity tour) and we were off. Starting in the wrong spot on the island I think trimmed our time table. We got a glimpse of Seven Mile Beach, but no visit. We were let out at a piece of beach that we couldn’t get to, so I’m not really sure why we stopped here. Some couple took our given five minutes to make a ten minute stop at the Subway across the street to pick up lunch for four. For once, we weren’t “those people” who held up the show.



    The next stop was a turtle farm, which was a lot like a small Sea World with turtles and iguanas. What they didn’t talk about much was how these cute turtles weren’t necessarily being raised to release and populate the ocean. Many would end up as dinner on the island. But it was a nice stop and playing with the baby turtles was a highlight of the day.



    Next up was a visit to Hell and yet another reason we have grown to loathe Celebrity excursions. For those unfamiliar, Hell is known for a peculiar rock formation that looks like jagged stone spires. Part of the experience are the little gift shops with Hell-related merchandise. We really looked forward to this stop, both for the geology and for the novelty of buying Hell things as tongue-in-cheek tchotchkes for friends and relatives. Our bus driver/guide first pulled into an empty parking lot of what I presume is the shop he has a deal with, only to remember that it was Saturday and the Dark Lord who runs the place (a guy who dresses in a red tuxedo) was closed. Saturday is his Sabbath. Seriously. No big deal, as there was another place two doors down that was open. And here’s what we hate: we had ten minutes. Ten measly minutes to check out the formation and cram ourselves into a tiny shop. The line was long enough that we gave up and got back on the bus. What a waste.



    The next stop was a little better, which was a boat trip out to Stingray City to swim with the rays. I’m glad we got to go, because I was told by a friend who went a couple of weeks later that the government closed the site due to “environmental” concerns. We piled onto a very utilitarian double-deck boat with little in the way of comfortable accommodations; the seats were benches constructed of two-by-fours. I think my butt went to sleep early on in the 20 minute trip out to the sandbar. The submerged sandbar made it a comfortable depth to wade without having to tread water. I’m 6’5”, so that’s relative, but I didn’t see anyone struggling to stand with their head above water. There were about a dozen other vessels moored and the whole place felt like a Spring Break college kegger. The rays were on us immediately and were plentiful, which is to be expected if they’re being fed regularly. We’d received tips on how to feed them comfortably and I must admit it was really fun to feed them. The guides brought a bucket of squid for us to feed to the rays. I held my squid in the recommended fashion and a big, hungry girl didn’t hesitate to partake. She slurped up the squid and I guess thought I still had a piece, because she latched onto the back of my hand. Stingrays’ mouths are underneath, so they can’t really see what they’re doing. They eat with a sucking force and she tried to give my hand a hickey. It wasn’t painful, but was surprising. She let go once she realized I wasn’t a squid. Another one sucked my thumb when I didn’t hold the bait correctly. We stayed about 20 minutes before we were summoned back to the boat.



    On the way back to the pier, we had to make our obligatory sales stop we’ve come to expect on Celebrity excursions. This one was at a rum cake shop and – while we chose to stay on the bus – the speed at which others came back on told me there was nothing to the stop but the opportunity to buy rum cake. Safe to say we didn’t miss anything.



    The tender back was uneventful and looking back, was run efficiently. Back on board Infinity, my wife headed to the gym and I took a nap.



    Dinner was in the MDR. She had French onion, Ceasar, and the pork loin. I had a spring roll, escargot, seafood orzo, and trifle cake. The missus saved her dessert for later at Café al Bacio.


    We dropped into the theater for the first evening show, which was magician Jay Mattioli. He was entertaining enough, but I found the homemade props he uses a little cheesy.


    To be drawn out at a later time...

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