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Grandeur Immersion Cruise Journal

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My DD and I have taken a cruise every two years since she was 8. This year, I let her pick the itinerary, since she is 18 and this is probably our last cruise together. She chose the Grandeur out of Colon. We booked the April 8th sailing back in November and two months later, I decided to upgrade from a balcony to a Grand Suite. I sat back and waited for her to stumble on that little tidbit while looking at documents, but she never did.

 

So if you're interested in a frank evaluation of what a Spanish immersion cruise is like, sit back and enjoy the ride ...

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The day dawned bright and early … OK, so at 3 a.m. it was bright somewhere – Iceland perhaps. Here in Cleveland it was just early. But neither of us cared. The long wait was over, and my DD and I were about to set out on our long-awaited trip.

 

You know those people who say that “life is a journey, not a destination”? They have never cruised. The ship is a destination, filled with excitement and life. And that Saturday morning, I was focused on all the connections that were going to have to come off smoothly to reach that destination. Every one of those connections was looming in my mind as a stress point. The journey to get to the ship was fraught with the possibility of a break-down in any of those connections which could prevent us from making it to our destination. As the day unfolded and each connection was made along the way, I could feel a little bit of stress slipping away. DD, of course, felt no stress. Just recently turned 18, the biggest stress she was anticipating was the reality that she would have to turn off her cell phone for 11 days. [Gasp!]

 

Promptly at 4 a.m. the neighbor across the street put his car in gear and began backing down his drive and into mine. Of course, I’d had my nose glued to the window for several minutes previously until I saw him emerge from the house. Admittedly, it would have been a nice touch if I had gone over there and helped him scrape the frost off the car windows … but that might have made me look too eager. (That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.) As we loaded up the car, we secretly enjoyed how cold we were in those light jackets, because we knew we’d be basking in 85+ degree temperatures by early afternoon.

 

It was a quick ride to the airport and we were soon opening our brand new passports for inspection and check-in. Naturally, neither of us had remembered to sign them so I had to dig out a pen while the airline hostess watched in amusement. It was clearly a pretty common blunder. The two pieces of luggage were checked in without charges, due to the fact that this was an international flight. That was a nice plus.

 

The TSA people have apparently been though some customer service training lately and the process was cordial, as well as efficient. I’ve always wondered why the Americans who choose to fly are supposed to accept the Gestapo demeanor that airport security personified for so long. Hopefully things are improving in that arena.

 

As we moved through security we chatted with the folks nearby and it was no surprise to find that many of them were heading off for Easter Break Get-aways with their kids – Disney World, Aruba, Martinique, Hawaii. Do our kids realize how lucky they are? I had never even boarded a plane until I was grown and on my own. The guy headed to Hawaii commented that his childhood involved trips to places you could drive to. Yep! That was my dad, too! See America by the car – from the car. And don’t stop, especially if it’s on the other side of the road. I have lots of pictures of scenic America … taken from the car window at 70 MPH.

 

We stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a breakfast sandwich, since I was relatively certain there wouldn’t be anything of substance offered on the flight to Houston. I also bought a glazed donut for good measure. While donuts are available on board ship, I knew they wouldn’t be quite the same caliber as these and I needed one for the road.

 

DD settled down at the gate to await departure, while I walked the concourse. Once they started boarding, I wandered a little farther away to buy a drink for the flight. This little gambit had the happy side effect of stressing my DD, who had frankly been far too stress-free up until that moment. I don’t understand the big hurry to get on board a plane, unless you’ve managed to secure comfortable first class seating. The spaciousness of the concourse is a far nicer place to spend your time than in the standard seats of a rather large plane. But I returned to the gate, ignored her peevish tongue-lashing and joined the line of people who were inching their way through the jetway and down the aisles to our seats in the back. The flight was full, so I tucked in my elbows, pulled out my puzzle book and settled in for the flight to Houston. The plane took off on time and my stress level dropped considerably. We had less than an hour to change planes in Houston and a delay of any consequence would have been a huge issue. It was a smooth flight and we were treated to the view of the sunrise from 30,000+ feet. It’s always interesting to try and pick out features of the land from this height and we were both pretty sure we identified the Mississippi River late into the flight … then we saw it again … and again. Either it does an awful lot of twisting or the country boasts some imposter rivers under the flight path of Cleveland-Houston plane. The pilot must have had a hot date in Houston because we were advised during the final approach that we would be at the gate ten minutes early. As the plane coasted over the runway, DD commented that it was the smoothest landing she’d ever experienced. “We aren’t down yet,” I replied. And then there was a bump and a jolt to prove my point. “Now we’re down.” I’m sure she appreciated my wit, but was too cool to admit it. We checked our tickets for the next flight and found that we would be leaving from E12. As the plane taxied toward Terminal C I noted to the guy next to me that we were passing E12, “Can I get off here?” He laughed and reached up to pull an imaginary cable “Ding!” he said. Wow! Does that ever take me back! I thought the gesture was lost on my DD, but she would later tell me she knew all about it. But it left me wondering … do they still have those cables on city buses? Everybody drives cars now and the buses tool around the city empty (your subsidiaries funding public transportation), so who knows?

 

We deplaned without issue and started the trek to E12. I made an initial guess of a half mile walk, and if 2000 steps really is approximately one mile, then I was close … it was just over 900 steps. Boarding was already in process, so there was no time to buy any additional provisions. In very short order, we were aboard, stowing our carry-ons and settling into seats that boasted a TV on the back of the seat in front of you. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were giving headsets away for free, which was such a nice touch. My delusional euphoria persisted until I found the on-button for the TV and discovered that the airline had no intention of overlooking a potential revenue stream. There was a credit card swipe slot available and a repetitious ad running to advise you that it was only $7.99 per passenger to be able to spend the duration of the flight plugged in and duly entertained. This strains the bounds of credulity – if I decided to forgo watching those films four months ago when they were on the big screen, why would a $2 discount entice me to watch them on a screen the size of a Kindle?

 

It is important at this point in time to witness that gut-wrenching moment when the American teenage girl has to sever her lifeline to her boyfriend … the cell phone was turned off and she didn’t start twitching at all. I was so proud of her.

 

On this flight there were a number of empty seats and we were delighted to discover that no one would be seated in the aisle seat. I quickly moved over when they closed the cabin door and we were able to spread out and enjoy a bit of breathing room. My stuff went on the floor between us and once we were airborne, DD turned sideways to curl up on two seats and fall asleep. I pulled out my embroidery to pass the time.

 

About an hour into the flight I got another surprise … free breakfast … in coach! I’m not sure if this was due to this being an international flight, but it was a welcome sight. I was pretty hungry by this time and the bagged hot omelet in a pita was not as bad as I thought it would be. The fruit was actually very fresh and pretty tasty. There was a muffin, too, but the less said about that item, the better. Let’s just chalk this up to “2 out of 3 ain’t bad”. I topped it off with an uninspired cup of lukewarm coffee in a Styrofoam cup – always a treat.

 

DD caught about 45 minutes of sleep and then woke up to a cold breakfast. She actually put away half the pita omelet (and she later delivered a scalding criticism of how awful it was) and 2 grapes – then hit our stash of food. Fruit snacks, munchies and mini cookies would have to do to hold her until we could get a decent lunch.

 

I borrowed her iPod, since mine had apparently played to the interior of my purse all night and seemed to be powerless. How interesting! I’ve heard plenty of the music she has on her iPod, and there’s some stuff on there I really like. However, I found that I was skipping thru 5 or 6 songs before I got to something I was interested in. I hit a couple of fun pieces and tested my ability to embarrass her by dancing in my seat. It was very effective, but I decided not to push it, given that I risked having her repossess the music machine.

 

An hour outside of Panama, they began to pass out forms that we would need for customs. I’ll pause here to point out that my past includes a fair number of years designing mundane forms. I tend, as a result, to be rather critical of forms in general. Rule Number One: Make the boxes big enough to put a legible symbol in it. These forms were apparently designed by someone who was told that paper was being rationed and they would have to fit everything on a 4 x 6 index card. Tiny boxes to put in your name and passport number, too many boxes for the hotel phone number, too short of a line for the hotel name and address … in general I was rather confused by what they really wanted. What is my destination country? For one night, it’s Panama, but my real destination is the Grandeur. And no one was available to ask if I should admit to bringing Lay’s chips into the country, so I held off on checking any of those boxes. I forged ahead with what I could figure out, such as the easy stuff like birth date. But then after reading the fine print (English was in very, very fine print) I found that I had mixed up month and day. Corrections are not permitted, so I had to start all over again with a new form. I finally decided to leave all the destination stuff blank and ask them at Customs what I should put on the paper. Of course, DD had not had a problem with the birth date thing, and she clearly felt ridiculously superior about her achievement.

 

The clouds gave way a bit as we neared the airport and we had a clear view of the Pacific locks of the Panama Canal from the air. I was terribly excited. Never in my life had I ever identified this as one of the places I would visit some day and it was a thrill to think I’d actually come here. There was a ship entering the locks and dozens of ships clustered in the bay apparently waiting their turn. I’d read several books about the canal in the last few months, so I had a deep appreciation for the incredible series of events that had occurred to make this canal a reality. DD graciously allowed me my enthusiastic moment, although she is far too young to appreciate what she is privileged enough to be able to visit. As we glided through the sky above the Miraflores Locks you would think that I would have thought to dig out my camera and get some of those incredible pictures that exist only in my mind now (after all, I have extensive on-the-fly photographic experience from my childhood vacations with dad). But I was so busy drinking in the details of the scene below that it wouldn’t be until I went through the pictures later on my camera that I noted I’d left one of the most memorable moments of the journey to the ship unshot.

 

The clouds closed in again as we made our final approach and when the plane touched down it was pouring rain. The plane didn’t taxi very far before we’d reached the gate. I was focused on collecting my stuff and I didn’t really take in my surroundings much, but I have to say that I would look back later and be amazed at just how small that airport was. It was a rather short walk from where we deplaned to Customs. We found that arriving passengers were to head right, while returning passengers were to head left. The signs were in both Spanish and English, so I was lulled into a false sense of security that language was not going to be an issue at Customs. There were only a few people in front of us and I passed the wait trying to anticipate which Customs agent would be the easiest to work with. It was not a happy moment when our turn came and we were directed to the agent who had just rejected someone and sent him off with a man in uniform. To make matters worse, we found that she didn’t have much of a comfort level with English (did I mention that my grasp of Spanish doesn’t progress much farther than “Gracias” and “Por Favor”?). This rather humorless woman poured over our passports and then wanted to see our papers regarding where we were going. I produced the hotel confirmation email and she kept snapping at me about “one night”. DD commented on how pretty her earrings were and the woman clearly didn’t understand a word of what had been said. I pulled out the travel docs for the two cruises and she poured over them intently. I tried asking questions about how to fill out the forms, but she waved off my questions and kept leafing through the papers. By this time, I was convinced she didn’t have a clue what she was looking at. If she couldn’t carry on a conversation in English, it’s pretty hard to believe she could read it. She finally decided she had made a big enough show of studying the papers and she shoved them back at me. She grabbed her rubber stamp to do that Hollywood style double-slam on the ink pad and then whacked out passports with gusto. We were then waved us on to the next formality. Grateful that I hadn’t been handed over to the Reject Officer, I collected everything and headed for the groups of folks who were manning a diagnostic machine of some sort. I handed the incomplete forms to the woman at the desk and tried to ask about how I was to finish filling them out. She grabbed the form, flipped it over and made a couple of x’s. Then she pushed it back to me, brusquely noting that I needed to sign and date it. I did so and she just kept repeating that we needed to put all of our luggage through the machine. Dutifully, we followed directions and then went around to the other side to collect them. At that point we turned and discovered we’d arrived at the point where people were holding signs for those who’d made arrangements for a ride. I was dazed. Clearly, we’d just been processed without much form or substance to the operation. For the record, I doubt that the missing hotel phone number was going to set of international alarms, but I worried about the unanswered questions about whether I was smuggling in fruit, pets or food. I had at least a half dozen breakfast bars, several packets of fruit snacks and a large canister of Lays Stax clearly sticking out of my carry-all.

 

I had arranged with My Friend Mario for transportation to the hotel. I had read a fair number of posts that said he gets great reviews, but he’s hard to contact. I can attest to the “Hard to contact” part. It was two weeks before he responded to my multiple emails to set up arrangements. But I was being open-minded and convinced that he would have followed through once he’d committed to the transaction. There were at least a half dozen transportation services holding signs near the door to the taxies. Every sign had somebody’s name on it, but none of them were mine. I looked twice to be sure. Well, I’m not going to waste any more time on this guy and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else do so either. I turned and headed over to the taxies and asked them what the fare was to the Toscana Inn Hotel. Guess what? It was only a dollar more than Mario had quoted me. Having made sure that both the taxi manager and the driver confirmed the rate, we loaded up and headed off for Panama City. At this point the stress was virtually gone. Having made it this far, the rest was clear sailing. If your ground transportation gets screwed up, you have options. You don’t have that kind of flexibility with your air arrangements.

 

The rain had quit before we emerged from the terminal, so we had a good view of the surrounding countryside as the taxi sped along the roads. I was a bit surprised that the blacktop road with ill-defined shoulders was the main route to the city. I wasn’t even sure it was a two-lane road. The taxi driver did an apologetic shrug early in the ride to let us know that he couldn’t speak English, so we were left to our own devices to interpret what we saw along the way.

 

There is a considerable amount of rural countryside to pass through before you actually start crossing the mudflats along the shore that lead to the city. As we closed on the city, we saw the first set of distant skyscrapers. Shortly afterward we saw another cluster of them. The vegetation thinned and we found that the road was set on a causeway at this point. It was pretty clear from the nature of the waves on the ocean that it’s incredibly shallow for quite a ways out to sea. But it was the city itself that captured our attention. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another city like it. With no vegetation on either side of the taxi, the viewer sees a skyline consisting of multiple clusters of pencil-thin skyscrapers separated by vast tracts of low profile buildings. I tried to pick out the biggest cluster in my effort to determine where the center of town was located, but I’m not sure I figured it out. I’ve wandered the streets of a fair number of major U.S. cities, fascinated by the different forms of architecture that they contain, but the one thing they seem to have in common is a solid street presence. Here in Panama, I got the sense that the architectural mindset was completely different. Either the builders had been unable to secure a sizeable number of adjoining properties for their project or they had set out to construct a building where everyone gets a corner office. As for the low profile buildings, there seemed to be a great many residential developments ranging from upscale same-style condo types to corrugated steel roof shantytowns where the most significant feature was the sea of satellite dishes on the roofs.

 

Our taxi driver had assured us he knew where the Toscana Inn Hotel was and we soon turned off onto a series of side streets that felt like the kind of area just a few blocks off Waikiki Beach. It was a mix of small hotels, local restaurants, and residential properties. The driver pulled up to one of the hotels and consulted with the doorman, because he clearly had us in the right church, but the wrong pew. It turned out that our hotel was only a few blocks away and we were soon unloading our luggage and the doorman was assisting us into the lobby.

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I handed my confirmation email to the lady at the desk, who possessed passable English and she began the check-in process. As I stood in the small, but tastefully decorated lobby I could feel the last vestiges of stress slipping away. All the connections had come off without a hitch. Now the only thing that separated us from the ship was about 22 hours and a ground transfer. I’d already found that it was an easy matter to procure alternate ground transportation in the event that My Friend Mario didn’t show up at 10:30 tomorrow morning. And frankly, I didn’t see why I should even bother to count on him.

 

We were graciously welcomed by the hotel staff. Check-in was smooth and we soon had our key cards. The young bellman smiled and deftly assembled our luggage as we headed for the elevators. I glanced back through the main doors out onto the street and spotted our taxi driver still out front chatting with the doorman. I experienced a flash-back to Hawaii where we were advised that we needed to appreciate “Island Time”. Rather than leaping into his cab to get back to the airport for another fare, the driver was casually enjoying a chance to chat with someone he had probably just met for the first time. I let go of that last little bit of travel anxiety and decided it was time to get laid back and relax.

 

The bellman got our luggage into the room and then showed us that we needed to slip a key card into a slot on the wall near the door in order for the power to come on in the room. I tried to tip him but he smiled and refused, then left us to get settled. This privately owned boutique hotel was turning out to be a delightful surprise. I’d picked it based on its number one standing on TripAdvisor and it was a very good call. It was a very nice room with all the expected amenities – upscale toiletries, safe, frig (and no mini-bar stocked with pricey up-sell add-ons, thank you very much), iron and ironing board, scale (I refuse to step on one of these until I get back to Ohio, at which point I’ll need to institute an austerity program), blow-dryer, flat screen TV. Additionally, the hotel possessed a small room off the lobby with two public computers that were available for guests to use for free. We got settled and then headed downstairs to have lunch in the café right off the lobby. Initially we punched the “1” button in the elevator, which let us off onto the elevator lobby of the first floor of rooms. So we got back on the elevator and hit the “PB” button. In our week-long search for a way to understand Spanish we never did discover what PB meant, but we simply announced “Plobby” every time we stepped into the elevator and it would get us to the right place.

 

The cafe turned out to be another delightful surprise. This under-used venue served us both a delicious lunch of grilled chicken and vegetables with mashed potatoes for $9.00 each. The chicken was moist and lightly seasoned, artfully arranged on the plate. Then to assure that the dishwasher had plenty to do, the main white plate was nesting on a larger gold plate. The waitress had to summon the desk clerk to interpret and she was terribly apologetic about it. We assured them both it was fine – after all, we were the ones who chose to come to a Spanish-speaking country without having bothered to learn the language ahead of time.

 

We returned to our room and discovered with some confusion that there was no slot to stick our key card into. We tried poking the card at all potential edges of the large metal frame that surrounded the door handle, but the slot just didn’t exist. We finally hunted down the housekeeper on the floor and asked for assistance. I’m not sure she spoke any English, but she figured out what our problem was as we waved the key card around. I’ll give her loads of credit that she managed to keep a straight face as she walked us back to the door and then tapped the card flat against the panel above the handle. The door unlocked and we sheepishly went inside. We finished checking out our room and discovered we still had an issue. Although we had both tugged strongly on the shower door we couldn’t get it to open. Rather than resort to climbing over the top, we figured we were going to have to consult the housekeeper again, so we asked her to come and clue us in. She didn’t say a word this time either; she just paused as we explained our plight and then reached forward and gave the door a gentle push. I truly understand her inability to stifle a smile this time and we are quite certain that she spent the evening regaling her family with tales of the inept American females who clearly don’t get out much. Let the record show that DD pressured me into being the clueless traveler who had to make the inquiry in the first place. I did make her pay for her cowardice when I later handed her the ice bucket and said that her penance was to go fill it. She avowed she would wander the halls until she found the ice machine on her own, because there was no way she was giving the housekeeper any new dirt on us. Alas, she returned empty-handed and crestfallen. A staff member had spotted her with the ice bucket and taken it from her. He told her he would take care of the matter and bring her the ice.

 

We had the good fortune to be on floor number 4, because the paintings in the hall were particularly striking. I didn’t check out every floor, but there had been that confusion that had landed us on the first floor where the hallway art was far less dramatic. The artist had made liberal use of bright primary colors to depict charming scenes about town and I stopped several times during our stay to study them. I don’t know if all the rooms also had the same kind of paintings, but there were two of them in our room as well.

 

I had arranged for a visit to the Miraflores Locks with Miguel Espino for the afternoon, so once we were settled into our room and the meal was over, I called him to confirm the arrangements. He advised that it was a “terrible day” to go and suggested going in the morning. I’m not sure if he referred to his personal schedule or the decidedly chancy weather we were having, but I was fine with the switch. I arranged to have him expand the tour to include the transfer to the ship after visiting the locks and we agreed he would come for us at 8:45 the following morning. He assured me he would arrive at least 15 minutes early.

 

This was a delightful turn of events, because this left us free to explore the near-by area. After being assured by our favorite desk clerk that it was safe to walk about the nearby streets we set off to discover the local area. All the signs of an emerging economy were there. Many of the sidewalks were patched and uneven, but a number of corners had been altered to provide wheelchair access to those wishing to cross the street. There were some nicely restored buildings right next to buildings that were abandoned and fenced off – suggesting they were very shortly slated for demolition. Many of the shops we passed were closed, which was likely due to the fact that this was late in the afternoon on the day before Easter. The clothes in the windows were so brightly colored that we wished we could wander through the shops to see them better. There were a few shops open, as well as a number of street vendors. The vendors were not the pushy kind, which made for a very pleasurable experience. Window shopping is an art form at which my DD and I pride ourselves on being among the most proficient. We can window shop for hours and simply admire the wares, without ever making a purchase. It’s really very similar to visiting an art museum without feeling like you need to tuck a Monet under your arm as you leave. You learn a great deal about an area by seeing what they have to offer in the shops. We did both make a purchase before we headed back to the hotel. DD found a charming little wooden puzzle box and I found a light airy top in beiges and browns that would help me endure some of the hot days we would encounter later in the cruise. For the record, it was about 85 in Panama City and a bit humid, but there was a nice breeze. I don’t handle extreme heat especially well, but I found Panama City to be quite comfortable that day.

 

We had been warned to expect a certain amount of attention in Latin countries from the male population. As advertised, by the time we returned to the hotel, the presence of a hovering mother didn’t dissuade the local men folk from expressing their approval of my DD. Or maybe all those horn honks and wolf whistles were for me!

 

When we returned to the room, we decided to kick back and relax. Out came my embroidery and DD settled down with her Nook, where she was well into the third Hunger Games book. As it started to get dark, we decided we weren’t all that hungry, so we chose to skip supper. I opted to go downstairs for ice cream instead. I got a large Strawberry Sunday for $1.25 (did I mention how reasonable the prices were in the café?). DD opted to hit our stash of smuggled snacks, which had the nice bonus of destroying the evidence in case the Customs folks decided to raid our hotel room that evening.

 

One of my objectives in a country is to try and collect a bit of local currency, but I didn’t think there was any point in attempting it in Panama, since they use the US Dollar. Imagine my surprise when I received a 2-dollar Panamanian Balboa in change. I’m still not sure why they also mint coins if they are using the U.S. Dollar for trade, but I was just happy to have gotten this marvelous prize while I was there.

 

Although only a couple of people at the hotel seemed to speak English, there were a few others that seemed to understand some of it as well. In any event, communication didn’t seem to be much of a barrier. They would apologize sweetly, “Sorry, no English” and I would apologize back “Sorry, no Spanish.” Then we’d share a smile at our mutual deficiencies. And in that attitude of graciousness our lives were each enriched in some small way by the encounter. Come to think of it, had communication been easier, I would have actually gotten an ice cream shake that night instead of the sundae – which would have prevented me from receiving that shiny 2-tone Panamanian Balboa in change.

 

We tried very hard to pull as little as possible out of our suitcases, but it seemed that there was always something else we needed, so we were constantly sorting through all four cases to find some elusive item or another. Clearly we could have done a better job of organizing the cases before we left Ohio. By bedtime, there was clutter spread from one end of the room to the other, and it was obvious that we’d have to do some serious repacking in the morning. DD had brought her clock to handle iPod recharging duties, as well as offer a large night-time digital display for us both. She struggled a bit trying to figure out how to handle the time change before giving up and doing the mental adjustment for setting the alarm. Unfortunately it wasn’t her finest hour (pun intended) and I awoke at 4:40 a.m. to the happy verses of Dancing Queen.

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By the time I’d crossed the room and turned off the alarm, I was fully awake and starting to rehearse the emotions I expected when I made it to the pier. Not much chance of going back to sleep once I started doing that, so I alternately worked on my embroidery and a Suduko puzzle while I waited for a more reasonable hour to take my shower.

 

By 6 a.m. the folks in the next room were up and clearly in a very happy mood. Maybe they were going to be cruising, too. In any event, I figured I wouldn’t be disturbing anyone now if I took my shower. Chalk up another plus for the Toscana Inn – the showers boasted outstanding water pressure. I couldn’t help but wonder what we could expect in that department once we got on ship.

 

It was uncharacteristically easy to get my DD motivated to face the day. She was just as excited as I was to get to the ship. We went down for the hotel breakfast that was included with our room cost, but I wasn’t overly impressed. It was clearly a meal designed to appeal to Latin people and we ended up settling for fruit and toast. We were surprised to hear a number of people speaking French at breakfast. We would find out shortly before leaving the hotel that a group of several dozen Europeans was touring Central America by bus and they had stayed the night at our hotel. They were headed for Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

 

After breakfast, we packed up and checked out of the hotel about 8:20. The bellman took charge of our luggage and we settled into the lounge area to await our ride. In a sharp departure of what one can normally expect in Panama, Miguel arrived promptly at 8:30. With the help of the bellman, our luggage was soon loaded into his van and we headed off to see the Canal Locks. As we rolled through town, we found the traffic to be especially light. I would guess that was due to the fact that it was Easter Sunday morning. We heard plenty of tales concerning frequent traffic snarls, so I doubt that our experience on that front was typical. As we headed out of town Miguel told us something of his background. He had left the country and gone to America when he was a young man, escaping the oppressive regime that was in place at the time. When he eventually returned to Panama he discovered that his country was thriving. He expressed a great deal of appreciation for the helping hand that Panama has gotten for so many years from the United States. He commented repeatedly about how much he loves his country and how much he values the democratic changes that have taken place since his youth.

 

We passed the community that was originally built by the Americans as a base from which to work on the Pacific side of the canal construction. We also saw the air field that was used, and that clearly wasn’t something that had received any American defense dollars in over 80 years.

 

We passed over a bridge with a view of the dam that is used to release water from the lake when the levels get too high. When we entered the parking lot for the Miraflores Locks there were only about 5 cars there. We crossed to the stairway and began to climb to the admissions booth just as the first of many buses pulled into the lot. We had to wait about 10 minutes before the tellers opened and collected our $10 for admission. This got us into the viewing area for the locks (I believe it would have been an additional $3 each to see the museum as well) and we climbed the stairs to get to the viewing platform. Our early arrival allowed us to grab a spot right along the railing, so our pictures didn’t end up with lots of heads of the people in front of us. There was a ship just entering lock #1 and another ship leaving lock #2. We stood and watched while the mule trains guided the huge ship in expertly and then the massive gates were closed. Having read a good bit about the Panama Canal before the trip, I was intrigued to see that they were only using one set of gates. In the original design plan, they had allowed for two sets of gates to close off each segment of the locks. This would prevent the water flowing unchecked from the massive lake if there should be a failure of one set of gates. Perhaps the engineers no longer deem that a potential issue.

 

52 million gallons of water began to flow from one lock to the other and we watched the water fall in lock #2, while the ship slowly rose in lock #1. There are no pumps involved in the process; the locks are filled by gravity alone. The massive amount of water released into the ocean each day from this round-the-clock operation is staggering. Lake Gatun handles the demand easily in this country where the rainy season lasts for 8 months. In fact, they have to open the spillway at the dam from time to time to take additional water out of the lake.

 

Once the levels were identical, a warning alarm sounded and three workers scurried across the narrow top of the gate doors to reach the other side of the locks. Then the gates slowly opened. While all this was going on there was a narration in Spanish, followed by English that advised those on the observation deck about the specifics of the process. I turned to look back at the bleachers and was stunned to find them full. The walkway between the bleachers and the railing was jammed with people as well. I’m not sure if that is normal or if it was due to the number of visitors who may have come here on Spring Break. Miguel directed our attention to the top of the building where a new observation deck was under construction to give future visitors a better experience when they visited the locks. In any event, the gates soon were fully opened and the mule trains moved forward, guiding the ship into the next lock. As it slid past the announcer encouraged the crowd to give the Spanish equivalent of a “Hip-Hip-Hooray!” We were clueless the first time, but DD quickly figured out what was going on. So when they gave it a second go-round, we joined in. The crew of the Omega Prince waved an acknowledgement and we waved back.

 

We turned and stepped back from the railing, and our previous position was quickly claimed by someone else. Miguel was just behind us, letting us make the call concerning when we were ready to go. We retraced our steps, easing through the crowd that now filled the stairwell and the level below the observation deck. Returning to the parking lot, we found that it was now a sea of cars and buses.

 

We climbed back into the car and headed for Colon. There were a series of local roads until we reached the expressway and then we picked up speed. Miguel told us with pride how his country is capitalizing on the revenue generated by the canal to fuel progress. He advised that they collect an estimated $5 million each day in tolls and they expect the new set of locks currently under construction for larger ships to greatly increase that figure. Currently 8% of the ships on the seas are too big for the canal. Those ships handle their current shipping needs by off-loading containers at one of the Panamanian ports and then sending the containers by rail to the other side, where they are loaded on a different ship. I commented on the impressive skyscrapers and he told us that they don’t build any of them until they have sold the space. They first design the building and then use models and virtual tours of building space to market it. Once fully sold, they the building is built. As soon as it is completed, the new tenants promptly move in and it is 100% occupied. I would hear a different story from a Panamanian who would sail with us on the 3-day cruise to Miami. He advised that a great number of buildings were uncompleted and construction had stopped, due to lost contracts or financing arrangements that collapsed mid construction. Somehow, between the two stories lies a gulf of uncertainty, and you have to wonder at the wisdom of committing funds to a building project that may collapse before it is complete.

 

We zipped along the relatively deserted expressway and I wondered again if everybody stays home on Easter Sunday (unless, of course, they are taking out-of-town guests to the Miraflores locks). There were rarely more than two or three other vehicles within view on any stretch of the road during the entire trip across the country. I would later hear that the locals would rather spend a considerable amount of additional time behind the wheel on local roads than have to pay what they considered the relatively high toll that was required to use the road.

 

At some point we crossed the continental divide, but it wasn’t marked. It really couldn’t have been quite as dramatic as when you make that kind of crossing in the United States. The mountains of Panama are soft-rolling affairs … more like green-shrouded hills, than mountains.

 

Eventually the land leveled out and we began to enter an area that was undoubtedly less affluent that much of Panama City. Miguel warned us that Colon was considered terribly unsafe and cautioned us to avoid venturing off the ship on our own. As we got closer to the center of town, the shabby nature of the town didn’t improve. I kept straining to get a view of the ship, but the buildings blocked any view of the port. There was a final stretch through a warehouse district and then we cleared the last building and there she was! I caught my breath. I wanted to say something like “there she is!”, but these days DD makes fun of my child-like excitement when I do something of that nature. What I view as an exercise in sharing the moment, she views as an instance of stating the obvious.

 

So I savored the moment and hoarded the memory for myself. It was an aft view of the Grandeur, towering over the low building that was handling the duties of the passenger terminal. There was our destination. We’d made it and now all that remained was the final formalities to get on board.

 

Security waved us through the gate without examining any paperwork and Miguel pulled up to the terminal. About 100-200 passengers were already queued up with their luggage along one wall and there were a number of porters in blue shirts wandering back and forth shouting and waving their arms. As a matter of fact, the overall number of porters was ridiculously high, given the small size of the ship (particularly since many passengers had boarded in Columbia and only a portion of the 975 cabins was changing hands that day). It was Easter Sunday morning, but it looked like their quality family time consisted of bringing all their brothers and cousins down to the dock to shake down the folks who would be boarding that day. Up until now, my impression of pushy porters always conjures up an image of the guys in Miami, but these guys were in a class all their own.

 

The car barely stopped and we had three of the porters pressing close to try to commandeer our luggage. Miguel asked us if we were OK without them since the luggage was on wheels and I said “yes”. So he waved them away, got us to the curb and walked back to get into his car and leave. We were immediately the target of plenty of incomprehensible Spanish as each porter began gesturing that we were to go either right or left. I wasn’t sure which way to go, but I was determined to not be misdirected. Miguel quickly reversed his direction and returned to us to challenge them in rapid fire Spanish. I ignored the exchange and searched the area for a Royal Caribbean employee. I finally spotted one and left DD with the luggage and Miguel. I approached her and noted, ”We’re suite guests. Where do we go to check in?” She led me to a counter and retrieved a clipboard. She asked my suite number and confirmed my information. Then she walked back to the vortex where the commotion continued unabated and asked me which pieces we wanted to check. I pointed out the biggest pieces and she marked an “F” on the tags and then told me to put them in the nearby empty luggage corral and then join the line of 6 people near the door who were luggage-free. The porter hovering at the luggage corral had his hand out and I gave him $2, which was nothing more than hush money.

 

DD and I then joined the short line and within 10 minutes we were let inside and directed to the priority check-in line. All the paperwork was in order and we were soon in possession of those nice impressive gold boarding cards. We paused long enough to get our boarding picture taken, as well as the picture for security and then we headed out the back to the ship. In a tradition that never fails to annoy her immensely, I made DD pause long enough to get a pre-boarding picture and then we headed up the gangway.

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Somehow I managed to be in front of DD as we headed up the gangway. I’m not sure how that happened, since she doesn’t seem to have grown out of the “me-first” mindset yet. I stepped off the gangway and onto the ship with a relieved smile, “I’m home.” I announced. The lady manning security smiled and reached for my card to officially log me in. We had arrived!

 

We took the elevator to deck four and sat down in one of the lounge areas to put our paperwork back together. It would be a little over an hour before the cabin would be accessible so we headed up to the pool deck to check out the view of the harbor from the top. As the glass elevator rose through the Centrum, DD spotted Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream across the way and another must-do item got added to our list for the week. Although a great many people were already on board from the Cartagena boarding group 6 days previously, the pool deck was virtually empty. Most of them must have taken advantage of the available shore excursions to tour Panama. When the Windjammer opened at noon, there weren’t very many of us settling down for something to eat. Since we hadn’t eaten much at breakfast, we were starving. I started with a salad and DD headed straight for the main dishes. This would be the cruise that we would discover the famous honey stung chicken, which oddly enough we had never sampled before. It was a huge hit with DD and she vowed she would be back up here often during the cruise for more of the same. (She would later be terribly disappointed to find that it wasn’t offered again until boarding day on the second cruise.)

 

We finished eating before 1:00 and went to find a lounge to relax in until the cabin was ready, since the Windjammer was starting to fill up. We settled into some of the Centrum seating and just relaxed and chatted until it was almost 1:00. I felt like a bottle of champagne ready to pop. There was still no indication that DD had realized we were in a suite and I was looking forward to springing the surprise. We headed up to Deck 8 about 5 minutes early and found our cabin right off the stairwell. I walked into the cabin first and then turned to watch DD’s reaction. She stepped in and froze as she looked around our space. I waited for it to register and she just stood there looking confused. Finally, she pointed to the counter that separates the foyer from the sitting area and she said “Whoa! We’ve never had one of these before!” I responded, “It’s a grand suite. I upgraded us months ago.”

 

On a moment’s notice, teenage girls can produce vast quantities of an enzyme that induces extreme giddiness. My DD went into serious overdrive. She squealed, “Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh, Oh Wow!” She threw herself on the wrap-around couch and then jumped up and bounced over to the bed to try that out. Frankly, by bedtime, I’d lost count of the number of times she’d expressed her delight in the fact that we were in a suite and the number of different ways she found to express it.

 

At one point she was standing by the bed and I noted that we could pull the curtain in the morning so I wouldn’t disturb her if I got up early to read. It didn’t register because she kept looking at the window drapes. I must have said “Behind you!” three times before she spotted the drape used to separate the bed area from the rest of the cabin. That became the next novelty. She had to pull it closed and then check out the newly created environment. She announced that it was like a secluded little clubhouse and she began a mental re-adjustment about what a cruise experience needed to consist of. By the end of the day her criteria for the perfect vacation was firmly filed away for later reference in her mind … it had to be a cruise vacation, on a Royal Caribbean ship, to a warm destination, in a suite. Since her next vacation is likely to be something she has to pay for herself, this is probably a master stroke. Mind you, I’m sending her off to college in the fall and I won’t be on the scene to nag her to study. I can, however, email pictures on a weekly basis of the kind of vacation she wants to be able to afford after graduation. That should be a powerful motivator.

 

Our luggage arrived long before muster, so we were completely unpacked and settled in by mid afternoon. At that point, the two days of rush and bustle finally caught up with me and I stretched out on the bed to relax. I found myself drifting off, so I told DD to give me an hour and then roust me. “Of course, I probably won’t get that,” I added. “I’m sure the cabin steward will show up once I get really sound asleep.” Prophecy fulfilled. He gave me about 40 minutes at least, so that took the edge off.

 

At the appropriate time we headed down to the promenade deck. Since muster had to be completed in two languages before we could be released, it took a bit longer than usual, but our staff member was part of the entertainment staff. He did the showman’s version of demonstrating the proper techniques for tapping into the awesome potential of a life vest’s amenities, so it was pretty funny. And when the all-clear was announced in Spanish, we didn’t need to wait for the English translation, since people began dispersing right away, and we dispersed along with them.

 

So, did I mention that Latin people are on Island Time? This cultural fact had a marked affect on how Royal Caribbean dealt with planning for events. I got my first taste of that at the Sail-Away Party. My traditional experience with this event is that passengers scramble to get up to the pool deck after muster, where waiters will be circulating with trays of drinks-of-the-day ready to purchase, the band will be pumping out festive tunes and the entertainment staff will be on hand to start the dancing and encourage the party atmosphere.

 

We got to the pool deck to find the band hadn’t shown up yet and there were two bartenders at the pool bar who were making drinks if you ordered them. So we ordered the necessary festive fruity drink and headed up to the sun deck to watch them cast off. We were too late – there was already a sizeable amount of water between the ship and the dock. We clicked our drinks together to toast the start of our trip and watched the band get themselves ready to start playing. But once the band began to play, the party atmosphere kicked in big time. These people didn’t need the entertainment staff on hand to encourage dancing; they were dancing wherever they happened to be … all along the rails of the sundeck and down on the pool deck. It was awesome!

 

From time to time, someone starts a post asking about the biggest thrill of the cruise, so I’d been asking myself that during the day as I went through those moments that people recall. Was it when I first set eyes on the ship, or when I first stepped aboard? Those were good … but frankly, nothing came close to the thrill of being on that sun deck at dusk as the ship slid out of the harbor carrying this party of hundreds of people on her top deck. I could feel the first barely noticeable sway as the ship began a slight turn to round the harbor markers and the movement underscored the deep need I have to escape from time to time to this little window of freedom from the demands of everyday living that a cruise vacation represents. The man next to me was dancing to the music and he finally put his arm around his wife and they began to dance together on the sun deck. I caught his eye, grinned and flashed him a thumbs-up. He grinned back and returned the gesture.

 

On shore, we could see plenty of buildings starting to turn on lights for the night. Unlike some ports, there were no people on shore to wave as we set out to sea, but there were dozens of ships. Inside the harbor, I counted several dozen at anchor and out to sea there were at least 3 dozen more … waiting for their turn to enter the canal. I have to believe that a number of crew on those ships paused to watch as we slipped between them, feeling like royalty … because we were most certainly going to be treated like royalty for the next ten days.

 

The party was still in full swing at 7:00 when we headed below for our early dining seating. I always take early seating, and it was a stretch to embrace the concept that on this cruise, 7:00 was considered early. Having checked out our table location earlier that day, we headed for the back of the dining room on the main floor. Our table was the last table in the center, right by the raised platform where the dinner music was played. This area also boasted a water feature that simulated a waterfall on some evenings. It wasn’t turned on every night and my recollection may be fuzzy here, but I think that they only had it on during those evenings when there wasn’t any live dinner music. As we were seated that first evening, the waterfall was running. Our waitress came over to introduce herself. Debra didn’t need to tell us she was from Jamaica, as the accent was so strongly identifiable it really spoke for itself. She wasn’t the type of person who came on strong in the first acquaintance. She was quiet and very competent, getting a feel for the likes and dislikes of her charges within a short period of time. By the middle of the week we were getting knowing nods and sage advice on everything from shopping venues to dating rituals. At one point, when DD tried to use the excuse of a boyfriend back home to brush off her suggestions that she go check out the meat market in the Viking Crown Disco that night, Debra’s response was, “Girl, you don’t have to order off the menu. You just have to look at it. Umm, ah no thank you, I’m not going to order tonight.” She was so much fun.

 

Although we were at a table for 8, we were alone for about ten minutes until our tablemates arrived. They were a charming young couple from California and we clicked with them right away. Since I lack any signed releases to use their names, I will hereinafter refer to them as TM1 and TM2 … short for tablemates. It was a lively dinner conversation that evening and we would spend every evening that week comparing our day’s activities and examining the different culture we were experiencing. TM1 commented that first night that there was an activity listed in the Cruise Compass for the next day called an English Speaking Get-together. “What is that?” he asked. “Is it like Americans Anonymous when you all sit around in the lounge and the first person says ‘Hi, my name is TM1 and I am an English-speaker.’ Then everyone claps and the next person introduces himself.” This, of course left us tempted to go hang out at the bar of said lounge and heckle anyone who showed up for the event. We were too busy each evening to bother, but we kept poking fun at it all week, since the event showed up in the Compass every day.

 

The Vidalia Onion Tart was on the menu that evening and I advised DD that it was highly recommended on CC. Although she had serious doubts about it, she ordered that, along with the fruit medley. It only took one bite for her to join the Onion Tart Fan Club. She now has to add that to her growing list of expected components to the perfect vacation. Of course, our assistant waiter was quick to learn that we needed at least 3 savory bites a person per meal, and sometimes more. We figure that by the time we got off the ship, we had accounted for 5 or 6 dozen of them during the 10-day cruise. That first night was the pork medallions, which we both ordered and enjoyed. And for dessert, it was the chocolate cherry dessert that was good, but just a little dry.

 

After dinner we relaxed in the cabin for a bit until it was time to head up to the Viking Crown Lounge for disco music. We passed the Centrum and the Latin music was pulsating. Choosing a cabin in close proximity to the Centrum would be a serious error in judgment on a Latin cruise. This party went on every night … long into the night. They love to dance and it was fun to watch from the upper levels as people of all ages danced to the insistent beat. We finally continued on to the Viking Crown and found that they really do play non-Latin music on this ship. They played some of DD’s favorite music, as well as pieces we’d never heard before. We danced for a bit, and sat it out for awhile as well, overlooking the pool and enjoying the gentle sway that is typical of the ship when it’s underway.

 

Let the record show that it was DD who finally said she was ready to call it a night. On the way back to our cabin, we decided to take the hall on deck 7 so we could check out the location of the cabin we would have the next week. We were surprised to find the walls of the hallway lined with large suitcases. My first thought was that these people were just getting their luggage. But as we got back to our room the realization hit me that these were the cabins of those who had boarded a week ago in Cartagena. Tomorrow their cruise was ending and they would be getting off the ship.

 

I climbed into bed first and puzzled out the arrangement of light switches. So when DD got into bed I advised her that she needed to hit the big white button on her side to turn off the last light. She wisely informed me that the smaller blue switches were to be used instead. But when she demo’d this feature, all the lights in the cabin began to glow dimly and then slowly ramp up to full strength. “Let there be light.” I intoned. We both began to giggle. She then followed my initial advice and all the lights slowly dimmed and went out. We lay there chatting about the reason for providing a gradual brightening of all cabin lights from the bedside, but couldn’t puzzle it out. However, we chuckled about it several more times before we settled down, which assured that alternate pronouncements of “Let there be light.” and “Let there be dark.” would become a regular night-time ritual for us the entire week we stayed in the suite.

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Loving it...........nothing like a mother/daughter cruise.....I have taken a few with my daughter and it makes for very special memories..

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So glad to hear that you enjoyed Miguel and the Toscana Inn!! We had a lot of fun with Miguel Angelo...yes, his name is MichaelAngelo LOL

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So glad to hear that you enjoyed Miguel and the Toscana Inn!! We had a lot of fun with Miguel Angelo...yes, his name is MichaelAngelo LOL

 

Thank you so much for the recommendation. He was great. And he didn't have to come back and fend off those porters for us ... we were so grateful to him for that. he'd already been paid. He could have just left.

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Wow - this is an absolutely wonderfully written travelogue! I can't wait to read the rest! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us.

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This is awesome, I can't wait to hear more. I am considering this cruise for an extended family cruise and concerned about the language and culture aboard.

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I have a friend who is a fellow cruiser and he had joked with me before the cruise that a GS doesn’t just have a balcony … it has a porch! And that is what we called it the entire week! I slept until 6:00 a.m. – it was bliss. I slipped out onto the porch to enjoy a few moments watching the ship cut through the waves. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cabin this far forward. There’s a definite difference to the water patterns. When you’re farther back, you get to see the swirling patterns that the water makes as the ship moves through it. Up here, there is the splash of the water being thrust aside as the bow cuts through. I polished off an orange that had been in our fruit basket and caught up on my notes. From time to time, I could hear the scraping of chairs above me, since our cabin was directly below the coffee machine for the early risers. I should think some folks would find this bothersome, but it reminded me of the years when I was in the downstairs half of a duplex. I could hear the heavy feet of the guys upstairs from time to time and it was actually a comfort knowing that there was someone else in the house if I needed them.

 

In any event, I decided that I might as well go upstairs and join them for coffee. I decided on a yogurt and a coffee and settled down at a table to await the opening of the Windjammer. The pool deck was a nice pleasant place to hang out in the early morning with a comfortable breeze blowing through. I got a kick out of the people who were wearing sweatshirts and jackets. Of course, those will be the people who will be chuckling at me later today when this Ohioan is walking around Cartagena with a battery-operated fan on a mister bottle, dying from the heat.

 

When the Windjammer opened I started off by playing tourist as I slowly wandered the landscape taking in the sights. First stop was the fruit bar where the usual offerings were laid out. Someone had gotten up far earlier than me to cut up plenty of fresh fruit, which is always a treat for someone who normally has such a busy morning that there’s no time for breakfast until I reach my desk and my computer starts to boot up.

 

There is, of course, the option to get fresh squeezed orange juice for a fee, but do the math! For the two of us, this would set me back $70 by the end of 10 days.

 

The pastries look great, but what wouldn’t I give right now for a microwave to pop those cinnamon rolls into. Warm, moist cinnamon rolls with coffee in the morning would be awesome. Maybe Royal can add a microwave station. The plebian masses (of which I am generally a part of) can swipe their seapass cards -- $1.00 per 15 second warm up. Suite passengers (of which I am one, at least this one trip) however, get complimentary bun warming. It would be the latest suite perk!

 

There’s an intriguing “Latin Corner” that I will need to explore more fully. But I don’t want to visit this alone, since this is just the scouting mission. DD and I will want to sample this together so we can discuss our different reaction to the offerings. Fried plantains, flour tortillas with cheese, arepas. I have zero interest in the baked beans since they can’t possibly compare to the Yankee baked beans I’ve spent 30+ years perfecting.

 

There’s a carving station for ham and two chefs standing by to make omelets. Of course, there’s bacon, sausage, potatoes, and eggs, along with another station with more fruit and some boiled eggs. Then for those that are truly concerned about the need to keep RCI economically viable, there are mini boxes of cereal that probably cost the cruiseline 10 cents each. This was conveniently located right across from the fruit, where the ever-popular All Bran can be selected by those who have a serious interest in keeping regular.

 

I settled for an apple pastry and a sugared donut, along with coffee. I then enjoyed my morning pre-breakfast while allowing DD a chance to sleep in – which she had declared the afternoon before was very high on her agenda for Monday. Assisting in her quest was the rare fact that we would not be making port until about 10 a.m.

 

I returned to the cabin and went back out onto the porch. By 8:55, I could see the murky outlines of the coast off the port bow. Plenty of skyscrapers poked into the air, creating a ragged look to the coastline – rather like a comb with a bunch of missing teeth.

 

DD joined me on the porch at 9:00 and we watched the coast edging into our direction. Having checked out the history of the area before the trip, I spared a few moments to think about the pirates who approached this coastline in years past. Like us, they would be looking forward to getting ashore to check out what the local environment had to offer. The local inhabitants, however, are more likely today to be looking forward to the arrival of the seafarers.

 

DD took a quick shower and then we went up to the Windjammer for a serious breakfast. By this time the line for omelets was intimidating, so I chose the scrambled eggs with bacon, sausage, and ham (a nice gambit, which eliminated the need to make a choice). Of course, I took some potatoes, a few more pastries and a selection of fruit. It was an awesome alternative to the packaged oatmeal I often settle for on Monday morning! We sat at the breakfast bar that looks directly out to sea and watched the pilot boat (Mrs. Doroty) shepherding the ship as it slipped sideways toward the dock on the other side of the ship.

 

Then it was back to the room to get ready for our excursion. We first popped DD’s formal into the bag and left it where our room steward could collect it to send it out for pressing. Despite what we’d been told on CC, both the folks at guest services and the room steward had told us that suite guests do not get a complimentary pressing for one formal night. So I sent it anyway, figuring that the $4.50 charge would be worth it, if I wanted any decent pictures of her in the dress.

 

We had spent an awful lot of time struggling with the choices for how to spend the day in Columbia. I wanted to get a chance to take in the local sights and absorb a bit of history along the way, but I wasn’t keen on an especially long excursion in a very hot climate. DD agreed that a lengthy tour wasn’t to her liking. She just wanted to do something fun. When we reviewed all the options, we had come across far too many excursions that were in excess of four hours. That didn’t sound like very much fun to me. But as we kept going over the options, we kept coming back to the cheesy, touristy Chiva Party Bus … and in the end, we decided that got both votes. From our porch as we docked we could see a long line of buses waiting for the passengers who would soon be disembarking for various excursions. Very few passengers on the Grandeur would have been able to identify their bus, but ours was unmistakable. At the end of a line of sleek, white air conditioned buses was an open-air bus that looked like it belonged in an amusement park. Armed with my confirmation paperwork that included the assurance that we were guaranteed an English tour, we headed for the lower deck. We were the last two people to arrive at the bus and this meant that we had to climb up the side and squeeze past two women who had no intention of yielding a spot on the end. The bus seated 6 across and sported iron hard seating. This was not expected to be an issue since you were supposed to be partying too seriously to notice any discomfort of any kind. We had barely gotten seated when we were handed glasses and a bucket of ice. Next came a bottle of rum for each row and a bottle of CocaCola. The band in the back began to play, everybody filled their glasses and we lurched off for our tour. We had the good fortune to be seated behind a Panamanian couple we’d met the day before who were bilingual (hereinafter to be known as PF and PM -- Panamanian Female and Panamanian Male), so we had someone to chat with during the stops on the tour.

 

There is no question that the party atmosphere was in full sway. The guide was convinced that everyone understood Spanish and the first part of the tour was completely in Spanish. DD and I were pretty good at going with the flow and we simply laughed with the rest of the passengers and had a good time. The bus attracted an awful lot of attention as it moved through town. As if the brightly painted exterior isn’t enough of an attention grabber, there is the band playing (did I mention that the only volume level that Latin Bands have is “deafening”). People would turn and laugh, then wave at us as we went by. I can’t imagine a similar operation ever getting the permits to operate in the United States. In addition to the bottomless bottles of rum in every row, there were the frequent calls to jump up and dance. DD and I just played follow the leader, since we couldn’t make out much of what was being said … about the only thing I remembered was the name Cartagena being mentioned from time to time. PF later advised us that we missed lots of really interesting facts on that first section of the tour, as well as plenty of good jokes. But I don’t feel I really missed anything. The number one thing was to have some fun and get to see a bit of Cartagena. The reality is that someone who wants a great history lesson won’t go looking for it on the Chiva Party Bus. It’s called a party bus for a reason.

 

The first major stop was the fort, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, and the bus was still jockeying into a parking spot when the vendors began to press close. As we climbed down from the bus they surrounded us and tried to get people to focus on their wares. It was an odd encounter and somewhat hard to describe. Unlike the animated vendors of Jamaica or Mexico (who can be rather nasty) they just seemed to press close. I found that if I avoided eye-contact and walked toward them, focused on a point beyond them, they would step back and easily give way. It was bothersome, but certainly not offensive. They were very quiet, but ever-present. We were offered hats, jewelry, T-shirts, maracas, etc. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a number of things I had some interest in, but I judged that if I was foolish enough to display it, I would have touched off the seagull syndrome. I watched it happen to one woman nearby. The slightest interest, and she was soon lost in a crowd of vendors trying to catch her attention.

 

It was at this point that the guide approached me to question whether we spoke any Spanish. I assured him that we didn’t. From then on, he made certain that we got an English interpretation. He gathered everyone around and gave them some information about the fort, and then everyone wandered away to take pictures, while the guide gave DD and I the facts about Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. I have a hard time understanding how a fort can protect an area from a land assault. If this area had a suitable amount of jungle, couldn’t a land force just move through the vegetation at a distance far enough away from the cannon to attack the city? But, I suppose I’m over-simplifying things, since they seem to be pretty clear about the fact that the fort offered suitable protection from their enemies. There is no denying that it was an impressive structure that had to have taken a considerable amount of effort to construct, given the fact that the ships weren’t big enough yet to handle cargo like bulldozers and steam shovels. Our guide pointed out the flag and explained the symbolism behind the colors. The top half is a panel of bright yellow to represent the gold that was instrumental in driving the creation of the community that became a country. The bottom half was made up first of a bar of blue to represent the ocean and a bar of red to honor the blood that was shed to protect the country.

 

Some construction was underway at the fort in preparation for the huge 33 nation conference of heads of state that would be taking place the next day. As we progressed through the city, we would see plenty of signs that they were preparing for the visitors. The Columbians were bowled over by the size of the American President’s entourage. Apparently they had booked the entire Hilton Hotel and that was one of the points of interest as we motored about the city.

 

Cartagena was crawling with Policia. No matter where you went, there was a policeman (or 2 or 3 or 4) every 50 yards. On foot, in trucks, on motorcycles – patrolling the streets, walking through a park, unloading horses near the walls of the old city, quietly watching the antics of crazy cruisers in Chiva buses, forming up with riot gear and full-size shields at the foot of ancient forts. They had drained the police forces of the entire country to blanket the city with the recognizable gray uniforms with the bright yellow-green lettering. We also saw military forces with serious firepower patrolling some areas. It strikes me that this would leave countless cities vulnerable to criminal activities, but I’m sure that there was something in place to trip up any opportunists. In addition to the visible security personnel, I wondered how many undercover personnel were already in place. I remember wondering how many security people the Americans had sent in early to prepare for the president's visit. I would learn upon my return to the states that they had been hard at work while we were there.

 

After commenting on the abundance of Policia, our guide went on to point out that the mixer for the rum that was being passed around always needed to be referred to as CocaCola. “In Columbia, it’s a bad idea to ask for coke.”

 

Lest it be thought that I didn’t soak up any culture on this excursion, I must point with pride to my mastery of the only new Spanish word I learned on the entire trip … Yallow! Pass me some more Yallow before I die of heat prostration, please. OK, I guess it’s really more like ee-el-o, but I was terribly proud of myself and I spent the entire cruise checking the Yallow bucket in the cabin to make sure there was something to keep our drinks cold.

 

Dancing on the bus was not only encouraged, it was expected. Sometimes there was a challenge between the ladies on the front half of the bus and the ladies on the back. Sometimes, it was a dance-off between the men and the women. Although I love to dance, I really think there should have been an exemption for anyone over 5’5”. It is a special challenge to alternately shake your shoulders or your hips when the back of your head is pressed against the ceiling. I hung onto the pole in the middle for stability as we were exhorted to “shake it”. I glanced at my daughter and asked if this made me a pole dancer. Her eyes widened in shock, “Mom!!” I guess I’m not supposed to know about that sort of thing. Maybe she really doesn’t know how old the movie Flashdance is.

 

We stopped under the shade of a tree alongside a little lake and everyone was to pile out of the bus and convene in front of it for a dance party. We were to "shake what our mama gave us" and if you didn't dance, you couldn't get back on the bus. Apparently there were a select number of vendors who had inside information concerning this stop and they wound through the group offering their wares. The band set up shop and began to play another Latin tune (or maybe it was the same one they’d been playing for the last hour). Presently, members of the tour group were trying their hand at the instruments. I'm not sure if these folks had expressed an interest in sitting in with the band, or if they had been commandeered for the merriment of all. In any event, we had a rather good drummer who did a credible job of subbing for awhile, but everyone who attempted the guira failed miserably. This particular instrument is apparently a staple for this type of music and the playing of it looked like simplicity itself … seriously, how hard can it be to play a cheese grater? But being that I am part of the older, wiser generation, I avoided being sucked into the belief that I would be the one to carry it off. In any event, it was a fun little party … with enough of a breeze to make the heat tolerable.

 

We must have all passed the dance test, because we were loaded back onto the bus and we tooled around the upscale part of town. The difference between the town we’d first traveled through and the one we now found ourselves in was startling. If you’ve been to South Beach then you get the picture. It was a world of Mercedes and Gucci and the people we saw walking to their cars were obviously the country club set (I’m sure they have one of those here, too). Despite the abundance of tall apartment buildings, there were allowances made at street level for some gracious shaded areas provided by spreading banyan trees. Granted the trees couldn’t compete with the massive ones I’ve seen in Jamaica and Hawaii, but they were still wonderfully welcoming.

 

We circled the wall that encloses Old Town. As we passed the gun ports along its upper reaches, I could spot people lounging in them, clearly taking advantage of that little bit of shade. There was a drive that allowed us to enter a part of Old Town and our bus took us as far as a ramp, which turned out to be our second stop. This stop also boasted a small area next to the bus with trees, a wide ramp that led to the top of the wall, and a series of shops tucked into a long yellow building. Climbing the ramp afforded a great view of the ocean and a wonderful stiff breeze. Even the breeze couldn’t dispel the effects of the sun, however, and there was a welcome shade structure nearby where we could get out of the sun and enjoy the breeze at the same time. Neither DD nor I understood what the expected duration of the stop was, so we kept making quick little forays into one spot or another and returning to the bus. Everyone else was on Island Time (you would think we’d have gotten the picture by now, but maybe the heat was clouding my brain). Everybody else wandered pretty far afield shopping, exploring and taking pictures. Part of my expectation about the duration of this stop came from the advertised length of the tour. We had figured on a tour of two-and-a-half to three hours. This was clearly already at that point, so there was no way we would get back on time.

 

We stepped into the shops and got a chance at last to peruse the wares of Cartagena. Some of the things the fort vendors had been pedaling could now be purchased in a much more relaxed environment. The shopkeepers made themselves unobtrusively available if you showed interest in something, without making you feel like they were pressuring you. In the first shop, I was attempting to get some heat relief with my battery-operated mister bottle, and the shopkeeper apologized for the heat, while turning on the ceiling fan. It wasn’t until I got to the second shop that I spotted something that really appealed to me. I ended up buying a necklace and earrings, along with a selection of local coins. The shopkeeper didn’t speak much English, but she was embarrassingly grateful for the purchase I made and thanked me repeatedly for making the purchase.

 

There was a lady who showed up near the end of this interlude with a clipboard. We were pointed out to her and she came over to interview us about whether we had been provided with a suitable tour experience. Had the guide given us an interpretation in English? Were we satisfied with the tour? There were no other passengers who were interviewed, so we felt terribly special. The only thing missing was the lady who hauled the huge video camera around the ship. This was pretty riveting material … your basic man-in-the-street commentary. I’m sure that this one is going to make the cruise in review video.

 

Just about the time that we expected everyone would be returning to the bus, we were advised that the party had moved to the top of the city wall. DD had climbed into the bus by this time and wasn’t interested in climbing that ramp again. There was a promise of food and drink so I made the trek. There under the shade structure, the band was banging away with another Latin tune and they were serving some kind of local favorite in a pocket. I believe they had sausage or egg varieties. I tried the egg and it was OK, but I only ate about half of it. They started popping the tops of yellow cans of beverage and I was dying of the heat by this time. “Lemonade!” my brain said initially, but I came to my senses before I grabbed one. It simply wasn’t possible that the Chiva Party Bus would be serving anything that failed to deliver an alcoholic content. It was a local beer and I’m not a beer drinker. So I went back to the bus and grabbed some more Yallow and poured myself another CocaCola. By this time, every pore in my body was pumping out sweat. This was not acceptable. I firmly believe that when your body is sweating it’s telling you that you’re doing something wrong and you need to stop it. At that moment, the only thing I was doing was standing in the shade on an incredibly hot day. There wasn’t anything I could do to change my state of affairs. Presently, all those happy Latinos returned to the bus and not one of them had the grace to look hot and sweaty.

 

We boarded the bus and cruised past a number of streets of Old Town. The bus was too wide to go down any of the streets … and besides, the band in the back would probably have violated their noise ordinances. We paused from time to time for passengers to take pictures. The rather pleasant woman who had been seated on my left had switched places with her mother (or maybe that was her great-great grandmother). This rather dour woman hadn’t cracked a smile on the entire trip and now I had the opportunity to share in her general aura. I was just working up the courage to try to loosen her up by commenting on her pretty necklace (which just happened to match the one I’d just purchased), when she waved a baggie of US dollars in my face. For someone who didn’t seem to know any English before, she managed to have key phrases available to her now as she snapped at me that it was for “The Music”. I took the bag from her and she sat with her arms crossed glaring at me as I dug into my bag for my wallet. And she periodically interjected “The Music!” Either she thought I was intensely stupid or horribly miserly. In any event, her litany ceased when I stuffed some bills in the bag and moved it on.

 

When the ship finally came into view, we were both more than ready to part company with the Chiva Bus. It was fun, but in that heat, it was too lengthy. We were hot and we were hungry. It was a welcome relief to step back aboard the Grandeur.

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This is awesome, I can't wait to hear more. I am considering this cruise for an extended family cruise and concerned about the language and culture aboard.

 

It was an absolutely amazing trip. My DD ranks it as one of her very favorite cruises.

 

We encountered cultural differences ... but not cultural clashes.

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It was an absolutely amazing trip. My DD ranks it as one of her very favorite cruises.

 

We encountered cultural differences ... but not cultural clashes.

 

 

I am really enjoying your review. I was on Serenade through the Canal in 2007 right after they opened Cartagena as a port again and had a good time there, but next time I might try the party bus. LOL I'm looking forward to more of your review!

 

Perhaps, at some point, I could contact you directly with some questions about your experience that might help me better help our potential group to know more about this cruise. I kind of get "eww" looks when I tell some that it's mostly Spanish speaking.

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Once we got through security, we found there was quite a line-up waiting for the elevator. DD quickly assessed the situation and urged me to head for the stairs. We climbed a couple flights and then took the glass elevators to Deck 8. It would be the first of many times that she took the lead in shipboard navigation on this trip. I spent the entire trip disoriented by our cabin position in comparison to our previous cruise. We were just off the aft elevators on the starboard side on that cruise; on this one we were just off the forward elevators on port. I was constantly expecting to find the Schooner Bar one deck below us. I kept turning the wrong way coming off the elevators or the stairs, which afforded my DD the opportunity to correct me … and she rarely failed to take advantage of the chance.

 

We decided that a quick lunch was in order … then we were heading for the pool. We both made ourselves a fabulous salad and ate in the Windjammer, sitting at the breakfast bar and looking out across the harbor. Then we did a quick change into swimsuits and headed for the pool. I dropped my things on one of the many available loungers next to the pool and stepped onto that wonderful wide shelf just above the deep part of the pool that the water washes across. Oddly enough, the water on the dock side of the pool barely covered the ledge, while on the side I was sitting, it was waist deep. I would have thought that the ship would be level when docked, but maybe there was a current pushing against us. In any event, it was just the right amount of water to relax in. I didn’t feel like swimming; I just wanted to be wet and on the pool deck. This is one of my favorite little videos that I run in my mind when I thinking about my cruise experience. I love the periods of time that I spend on the pool deck. There are no pressures, no schedules to keep, no demands on my time … I can just sit and enjoy the warmth of the sun, which is nicely balanced by the cooling affect of the water. People were still in the boarding process and we would see the occasional new arrival walking along the pool deck towing their wheeled luggage. A small number of people were sunbathing or sampling the pool. One little boy ran behind me and I was splashed with some startling cold water on my back. His dad saw me flinch and immediately began to chastise the boy in Spanish. I smiled and indicated with a gesture that it was OK. It seems in retrospect like a small incident, but I include it as an example to illustrate that the Spanish cruisers contain the same mix of people that you’ll find on a cruise out of a U.S. port – some people try to teach their kids to be considerate of others, while some folks are completely oblivious to the fact that the antics of their offspring might have a negative affect on other passengers.

 

TM1 and TM2 showed up on the pool deck to stretch out in loungers. When they spotted us in the water they came over to join us and we chatted about our day. They had done a city tour which had turned out to be given only in Spanish. Then at one of the stops, the tour operators moved them to another bus and they were then able to get an English version of the narration. Given our experience, I suspect this is something Royal Caribbean is having some trouble controlling. They have an agreement with the tour operators, but the operators haven’t got a predictable system in place to assure the promised experience.

 

PF showed up at the pool and we introduced her to our tablemates. This seemed to be the place to cool off after a day in Cartagena. She commented again that it was a shame we missed some of the earlier information, but I told her that I felt we got our money’s worth. At $36 each, it was a reasonably priced tour. Had I paid $50 each I might not have made the same assessment.

 

Eventually, it was time to leave the pool deck and go make ourselves presentable for dinner. As I waited for my turn for the shower, I reviewed the information that had been left for us on our coffee table. Slipped into a folder was a listing in Spanish of the suite perks we could expect on board the Grandeur. For the most part, I was armed with information on that issue from the web site. As I scanned the Spanish list, however, I hit on an item that I hadn’t tracked on before … you don’t need to be fluent in another language to translate Ghirardelli ... couple that with something that looked like “night” and we were both anticipating that we would find the appropriate little squares of chocolate on our pillows at bedtime. While they hadn’t been there the first night, we attributed that to the rush and bustle of boarding day, but DD declared she wasn’t cutting the room steward any slack if she didn’t have one that night.

 

It was uncommon for DD and me to have a dinner where we both ordered something completely different. Tonight would be one of those times. I had the crab cakes, the beef stroganoff and a lemon tart dessert. She got the Cesar salad, pork tenderloin and yogurt dessert. We declared dinner a huge success and left no prisoners. During dinner TM2 brought up the issue of the Quest and told us about her previous experiences with it. She was really pumped about doing it on this cruise as well, and was rather crestfallen when I told her that it would be first in Spanish, and then in English. Obviously that would give the edge to those who understood Spanish and she wanted to be a serious contender. My DD was champing at the bit to resolve the language issue, because she attended Quest two years earlier and had apparently decided that this time around she was old enough to be a participant. We left the subject hanging for the moment, but would come back to it before another day had passed.

 

After dinner we went to the pool deck to find out if there was going to be any sort of sail-away for those who had just boarded. There had been a number of announcements concerning the muster drill they were to have earlier, but sail-away simply involved slipping the lines and heading out to sea. I did hear a fair amount of cheering from some of the balconies on the port side toward the aft when the ship got underway, so there were some folks who had determined that some sort of celebration was necessary to commemorate the event. Again the pilot boat Mr. Doroty was in attendance, but it really seemed to be just watching off the port side in case the Grandeur’s side view mirrors weren’t operational.

 

With the ship underway, I noted that the casino would soon be open, but DD announced that she wanted to read my notes first. So I sat on the porch and watched the lights of Columbia slide by. One of the last set of lights seemed to be a brightly lit platform with a high tower. I resolved to do a bit of research when I got home to determine if that was a drilling platform offshore. What seemed especially odd about the rig is that it stood alone outside the harbor. Drilling rigs have a herding instinct. I would anticipate seeing multiple specimens of the species in any given area where there was a possibility of a profitable yield. When I subsequently researched the matter at home, I discovered that an oil rig off the coast of Columbia had recently changed hands and was in the process of being prepared to be towed to the Middle East for refitting, prior to a three-year contract in Saudi Arabia.

 

Unlike the previous evening, the sky was clear and I scanned the horizon for the Southern Cross. I’m enough of a dork that I got a big thrill when I found it. I called DD out onto the porch to share the discovery and if she thought I was overly impressed with the rare treat, she had the grace not to express it. The strains of the song were drifting through my mind, “When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand why you came this way …”

 

In any event, DD completed her notes review, identified one edit and we embarked on our plans for the evening. First stop would be the Schooner Bar for the Drink of the Day – Mango Tango. We needed to correct our earlier error. Our sail-away DOD had come from the pool deck, so we ended up with the disappointing plastic glasses. We arrived at the lounge and DD happily slid onto a bar stool. She ordered her drink and pushed her gold card across the bar. It was clearly one of those “rights of passage” moments (hereinafter referred to as ROP). Fully aware that the only reason she had this privilege was that the ship had sailed from a non-U.S. port. Consequently, 18 year-olds had full adult privileges. She knew she would be demoted to the status of adult-in-training when we returned to Miami, so she was reveling in the moment. We sat chatting with the bartender for a bit and he noted that this is the first ship he’s ever worked on where the Schooner Bar is pretty empty every night. It simply isn’t the sort of venue that appeals to the Latin cruiser. He commented that he was looking forward to the three-day cruise next week to see if it would be any different on the passage to Miami. He added that the latest information was that there would be only 600-700 passengers on that trip. I knew that cruise hadn’t been selling very well, but I had expected it to at least be half full … apparently it was only going to be one-third.

 

Next stop was the casino, which was slated to be another ROP event. We wandered for quite some time searching for a quarter slot machine that appealed to either of us. It had to be just the right one – one that possessed an understandable objective, appeared to have some decent intermediate pay-offs and possessed an arm to pull. Somehow the whole process of tapping a button to “spin reels” robs the user of a piece of the expected experience. She eventually selected her first candidate and lost her first dollar. She got lucky with the next machine and found that dollar number two netted her $2.75. So she cashed out and moved on to spread the wealth. I finally stopped at a machine and donated my $5 bill to the moment. I got a number of wins along the road to the inevitable. I was there long enough for DD to sit down at the machine next to mine and squander her money. But when she’d spent $3, we were ready to leave the casino. Did we lose $8? Not at all! We got $8 worth of fun and DD commented that it was fun for a brief pastime, but she couldn’t understand the appeal for those who will spend hours wired to the machine endlessly watching the reels spin. Of course, those same people probably don’t understand how I can spend endless hours stitching colorful X’s on a baby blanket, or DD can spend those same hours on a video game.

 

We detoured by the cabin to drop off our souvenir glasses, then headed up to the pool deck where the White Night Party was in full swing. During later discussions with the small group of Americans on board, we would discover that we were apparently the only non-Latinos on board who had been aware that a White Night Party would be on the schedule. Meanwhile, virtually all of the Latinos were dressed completely in white. At first I thought that maybe their travel agents had simply been better informed, but the truth is that white is a staple item in their wardrobes and the biggest decision that night had probably been figuring out which white item to wear.

 

Unlike a U.S. party crowd where most of the dancers tend to be female, there seemed to be just as many men dancing as there were women … of all ages. They were so much fun to watch, because the Latinos really know how to move to the music. It looked more like meringue than salsa, but the Latin population was really in its element. In the interest of working off a few pounds, we joined in. It was really hard to determine if they just kept playing the same song or if they mixed it up. There was clearly a jarring transition from time to time before the exact same beat picked up again. After awhile we moved to the side to watch and shortly thereafter they decided to perform a piece that was probably the Latin equivalent of the Cha-cha Slide. Arms went into the air and waved from side to side, then there was a swimming motion and some jumping up and down in unison. It looked like an awful lot of fun and we would have loved to join in, but we couldn’t understand the Spanish directions tossed out by the singer. We figured we’d still be jumping when they switched to waving, etc.

 

We had planned to hang out longer at the party, but exhaustion started to set in once we actually sat down. We never made it till the promised Limbo competition. For the record, DD called it quits before me. We went down to our cabin, found that our pillows still held no Ghirardelli chocolates and climbed into bed. “Let there be dark.”

Edited by emeraldcity

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I am really enjoying your review. I was on Serenade through the Canal in 2007 right after they opened Cartagena as a port again and had a good time there, but next time I might try the party bus. LOL I'm looking forward to more of your review!

 

Perhaps, at some point, I could contact you directly with some questions about your experience that might help me better help our potential group to know more about this cruise. I kind of get "eww" looks when I tell some that it's mostly Spanish speaking.

 

Hang with me till I finish writing this up and if you've got some more questions, I'll work with you. The key piece is that it's different, but the same (if that makes any sense). I had to step out of my comfort zone to take this trip, but I loved it. You get a chance to experience a different culture, but you do it in a familiar setting. Most of the favorite components of a Caribbean cruise are part of it (I did miss the steel drums), and plenty of new experiences to add spice to it all. There are some people who cruise far more frequently than I, and I've always wondered if all those cruises just sort of blend together in memory. This was was different enough that there's not much chance that it will do that for us.

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Sounds like a plan! I am super interested in an experience like this but I've got some in our group who are very leery. Relaying your comments to them so far is very helpful.

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We had clearly been operating in overdrive since we boarded that plane in Cleveland. We had rushed from one thing to the next, determined to complete a fully defined schedule of experiences that had a finite number of hours in which they could occur. It was time to gear down. When I got up that morning, I took my embroidery and my notes and went up to the pool deck at 6:30. Once the Windjammer opened, I got my pre-breakfast and returned to the pool deck to sit at one of the open air tables for a relaxing meal. Then it was on to the Solarium for a morning in neutral.

 

I stepped into the deserted Solarium. The bright recorded Latin tunes of the pool deck gave way to recorded birdsong, which was much more conducive to “gearing down”. I selected a chair in the corner and started to work on my embroidery. Occasionally someone would walk through, but I was relatively undisturbed for quite some time. Although the roof had been opened when we boarded, it was closed now. I gazed around and couldn’t help evaluating the difference between this Solarium and the one on the Serenade. The layout was pretty much the same, but the Serenade Solarium struck me as being opulent, whereas the one on the Grandeur was stately. The designer had stumbled upon a clearance sale on columns. Fifty-one fluted columns in a space this size might be defined as overkill, particularly since there are an additional eleven smooth columns circling the pool and the hot tubs. Then, of course both showers boast columns at all four corners. Somehow, it all seems to work, but I would have added some greenery atop the cornices that the pool columns support to soften the overall look. This is all useless observation, since I’m sure a major rehab will be part of the dry-dock in a few weeks. I hope they add a stairway to get into the pool, as I would observe during the week that it was a challenge for some of the older guests to get into the pool by using the ladders.

 

Shortly before 8:00 a.m., a full dressed couple showed up, selected two chairs in a shaded spot and spread their towels on them before leaving. It was a clear case of towel abandonment if I ever saw one.

 

I embroidered for awhile and then drifted off to sleep. I awoke to the sound of kids playing. It didn’t last long. They either spotted the signs themselves or something was said to them. In very short order, I saw them headed for the main pool deck. DD showed up and announced she’d already had breakfast and was just looking for the Coppertone. I left her lathering up and went to the Windjammer for sustenance. When I got back with food, she ditched me to go up to the sun deck. I polished off my breakfast and then settled back into my lounger to continue to embroider. The Solarium began filling up and was beginning to get a bit stuffy. I was just thinking it might be a wise decision to take my hot-flash prone self out to the breezy pool deck when a noisy grinding disturbed the peace. There was a moment of concern on my part that some construction workers were beginning to tear marble slabs off the walls before the upcoming rehab … then I looked up. The roof was retracting. In short order, a marvelous breeze was blowing and my environmental quandary had resolved itself.

 

DD eventually returned and we sat at the edge of the pool chatting. One of the other passengers swam over to comment that he was drawn to the uncommon sound of English words being openly spoken. He was from New York and was another unwary traveler who had his airfare booked before he found out that it was an immersion cruise. It seemed to bother him somewhat, but apparently RCI had come up with up a bit of OBC when he fussed about it. I was left wondering if I should have tried fussing too, but the reality was that I was having a good time and getting my money’s worth, so I didn’t see that RCI owed me anything. I can only hope that he eventually evaluated the entire experience and felt that it had been a great vacation despite his early misgivings.

 

Our schedule included the reception for suite guests at 12:30, so we began gathering our things together shortly before noon. The venue had filled up as the morning had progressed, so the folks in the chair next to mine simply began moving their things onto my chair before I finished picking everything up. A couple had stopped near my chair and had stood watching me collect my things, but they were out-maneuvered. I paused and asked them if they were looking for deck chairs. When they said they were, I directed their attention to the two chairs with the towels on them. “Those towels were put there before 8:00 this morning and the couple who put them there has never returned.” The man looked over there and then back at me, commenting that it certainly sounded like it was longer than 30 minutes. As I left the Solarium, I looked back and they were standing by the chairs looking undecided. I hope they used the chairs; they certainly had every right to do so.

 

We scurried downstairs and quickly slipped into something more presentable before heading off to the library for the reception. It was our first suite and we weren’t about to miss the first opportunity we’d ever had to go to a Sweet Reception. En route to the library I glanced down at the lower level of the Centrum where there was to be a line dance class. There were at least five young girls who were identically dressed who were showing everybody up; I decided that it was probably just as well that I couldn’t fit this into my schedule. I don’t mind a few pros in a dance class, but when 5 of the 7 are smoothly sailing through the choreography, I’m afraid that if they’re grading on the curve, I’d be an “also-ran”.

 

At the reception, there weren’t much more than a dozen people who showed up. A very nice selection of canapés had been laid out, as well as the timeless crowd-pleaser – chocolate covered strawberries. We met several officials on the hotel and services side of the business, but I certainly wasn’t at risk of being blinded by a dazzling assembly of gold braid.

 

But it doesn’t pay to tarry over horse doo-vers when there’s serious entertainment to be experienced. We engaged in the basic eat-n-run maneuver, then zipped over to the sun deck where we scored a nice spot on the stairway landing between the sun deck and the pool deck – just as they began to introduce the contestants for the Men’s Belly Flop Competition. There were eight contestants from eight different countries, but no one had stepped forward to represent the USA. There has to be an interesting story behind what little we were told at that point, but it was announced that a 12-year-old girl from New Jersey had said she could take on these guys. Without further ado, the plucky little girl marched out and gave it her best shot. I suspect they had attempted to get her dad to do it and no one in the family possessed enough leverage to force the decision. And the little girl tried the “Please, daddy.” gambit to which he responded, “If you think it’s such a good idea, do it yourself.” So she did. The New Jersey entry was followed by the main event. Of the eight men, there were three good floppers in the lot and they were eventually awarded the highly prized plastic RCI medals, with lots of cheers being delivered by the respective countrymen of each.

 

We were, however already heading down one deck before the cheers died down. It was time to pour over the Compass to plan the afternoon. We’d done neutral speed for the morning, and now the adrenaline was pumping again. As it turned out, we had just enough time to shower and spiff up before heading to the Card Room for jewelry class. We arrived about 5 minutes early and we were sure we were the only ones there for the event since the two tables of teens at the other end of the room were playing table games. But once Enrique arrived and began to pull out materials, the three girls left their game and joined us. Then another lady arrived and Enrique declared that was the limit, as he only had 6 templates available. A couple other ladies arrived as we got started (at least 10 minutes late, but well within the culturally accepted Island Time limit) and he apologized as he sent them away. DD quickly recognized the tools of the trade and began laying out her design. She was doing the necklace and I was doing the matching bracelet. Enrique came over to assist me in starting my wire. I then began to string my beads. I glanced at DD to find that she had completed stringing and was expertly affixing the clasp. Enrique was dutifully impressed and he dubbed her “The Pro”. I let her do the finishing on mine once I’d completed stringing the beads. DD was clearly relishing her pro status and I couldn’t resist comparing the ability she now commands to the toddler who once sat with me on the bed … fat pink shoelace in hand, painstakingly trying to stick the end through a very large hole in a wooden bead that was slightly smaller than a golf ball. I had praised her efforts then; today, I let the praise of others do the job.

 

Before heading on to the next activity we stopped at the Purser’s Desk to check on the availability of the Loyalty Ambassador so we could find out how to proceed getting our Diamond Status for the second leg of our B2B. DD also wanted to check on the status of the formal we’d sent out to be pressed. This does not mean that she wanted to do the checking. For someone who’s testing the waters of adulthood, I should think she’d have been able to make an inquiry of this nature herself.

 

We had a short break between activities and then it was time to head down to the South Pacific Lounge for the “Where in the World?” game show. We verified upon arrival that it would be bi-lingual and then settled in to await the start of the game. Jerry was running this game and as he completed setting us he asked the usual questions, such as where we were from. He then used our response to assign us our nickname for the remainder of the cruise … Ohio. At one point he asked us “How good is your geography?” I responded “I guess we’re about to find out.” Groups kept trickling in, with a couple more arriving after the game started. We were given sheets of paper and we had to select a team name. DD and I conferred – it had to be something fun and related to the cruise. She finally announced that we could be the Frito Banditos (which was a reference to the Chiva Bus entertainment. At one point the band had struck up the familiar tune of “Aye –Yi-Yi-Yi” and the whole bus began to sing in Spanish, while I responded with a commercial from my past “I am the Frito Bandito! I love Fritos Corn Chips. I love them, I do. I take Fritos Corn Chips; I take them from you!”). In any event, I agreed and a legend was born. There were 12 questions in all and I was a bit unsure about some of them, totally clueless on others, but very confident with about half of them. When we switched papers for grading with the couple nearby, DD says they grinned and shared a laugh over the team name. At least I hope it was the team name. I know we butchered the spelling of a Central American country and it may well have been the home country of one of their ex-spouses.

 

As the grading began, we missed the first question. DD was not terribly circumspect as she chastised me for picking a different answer than the one she suggested. The entire room was aware that if we’d put down her answer, we would have gotten it correct. The grading continued and we got down to the tenth answer before our next miss. Again, the room was made aware that the old lady should have had the good sense to listen to the charming young lady. Mind you, the room was populated with people who were primarily from South or Central America, so they may have known very little English, but they quickly picked up on the nature of the exchange. I was laughing by this time because we’d already seen the prize that would be awarded to the champion. It was a Royal Caribbean highlighter which a staff member had displayed Vanna-style in all its pristine glory. Clearly this valued treasure had brought out the competitive nature I hadn’t known my DD possessed. I’ll pause here to note that her fencing coach had searched long and hard to find a powerful motivator to get DD to drop her easy-going demeanor and develop the kill instinct. I’ll have to tell Sara she should have dangled a Royal Caribbean highlighter in front of her. I decided to give as good as I got so when question #11 came up and we got it right because my insistence had won the day, I played it up. “See, I told you so!” “Ladies,” Jerry intoned warningly, “Let’s be nice.” The crowd loved the exchange and I think DD was laughing along with the rest of us – but I haven’t been able to confirm that yet. In the end, our score of 10 correct answers took first place and two teams shared second place with 9 right answers each. We were accordingly awarded not one – but two! – highlighters as well as 2 hair clips with color-changing features. The 2 second place finishers got one of each prize.

 

We remained in our seats for the next event, which was Bingo. There were a number of others who stayed, with plenty of additional people filtering in. I took note of the new arrivals. Having grown up in a community consisting of a vast number of 2nd and 3rd generation Americans who hailed from a mix of Eastern European countries, I have a leftover stereotypical impression of Bingo being a women’s game. The Catholic churches that dotted the landscape served up the main entertainment that everybody’s gramma lived for … Bingo! My misconception was taking a beating as I watched a sizeable number of men arriving with their compadres to get in a little gambling while the wives were watching the kids on the pool deck.

 

DD and I were both planning on playing and I soon discovered that the price of Bingo had taken another giant leap. The double strip of cards was being peddled for $32. But Hey! Buy two – get one free! What a deal! So DD and I split the price of the deluxe package and agreed we split any winnings. There would, of course, be no winnings to split, but we enjoyed our hopeless dreams during the course of the game.

 

Once the sale of cards was complete, they announced that they would start off with a bonus drawing for some door prizes. Sounds exciting, right? It’s no secret that each of the cruise lines enjoy a wonderful sympatico relationship with a select number of Caribbean vendors. This generally consists of the cruise line imparting valuable information to its passengers about how much richer their lives will be if they acquire some merchandise from these valued establishments. And I had noticed while window shopping earlier in the Centrum Shops that they had taken this to a new level … Del Sol products were available for purchase on board. So to beef up interest in the product, a few select items were given away as door prizes. I can see that this sort of thing has enormous potential for developing into a huge draw for Bingo – but only if those favored vendors were the diamond and emerald guys.

 

Enrique was running the show and he started off by giving the passengers from each country a chance to be heard. There were sizeable cheers for Mexico, Panama, Columbia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, etc. And when he said “the United States”, my DD and I cheered and threw up our hands – and looked around in surprise. We were the only ones. Somehow we felt just a little awkward for a bit, but it was a friendly crowd. After all, we were exactly playing for big money, as we would soon discover.

 

The instructions were first given in Spanish and then in English. On the band stand there was a large video display that showed all numbers that had been called and a huge block with the current number. At one point during the instructional phase, there was a rather long exchange in Spanish with some woman in the crowd who was clearly debating some issue with Enrique. DD looked at me in confusion, but I wasn’t confused at all. As a matter of fact, it was getting a bit scary by now, but I had no trouble deciphering what the conversation was about. When you throw together enough words and gestures (and Spanish-speakers aren’t at a loss in either category), there are enough similar words (with an “o” at the end of them) that you get a sense of what is being said. This time it was, “No lady, I don’t know Portuguese, but numbers are international. Just watch the display.”

 

The games began and as the veterans are aware, when someone is within one number of winning, they must stand so that the entire room can boo them. DD got the treatment during the second game when she stood. Enrique glanced over and called her The Pro again as he led a round of boo’s. But he mused before continuing with the next number as to whether that was the appropriate translation, and perhaps it should have been baa’s instead.

 

For a real gambler, this has got to be the worst sucker bet on the ship. Prize money for the first three games was $100 each. It doubled for the last one. Given what we’d collectively dropped on the game, we couldn’t even double our money. I remember sitting with some guy on the Sovereign in 1988 who won $400+ on a card that had set him back $5. And then on the Voyager, there was a rolling jackpot that kept climbing if it wasn’t won. On the last night they played a coverall game until the prize was claimed and it had reached 5 figures by that time. They packed the theater for that game! But the reality is that as long as the cruise line makes a tidy sum on the event, they’ve got no reason to alter the game plan. People have fun, a select few get a little cash, and the RCI stockholders point and laugh.

 

After Bingo we returned to the cabin where the only thing that DD noticed was the formal that wasn’t there. She was finally concerned enough now to handle the contact herself, so she called the desk. They assured her they would see to it right away and within five minutes, her formal was delivered. The world was now a happy place.

 

We slipped into our finery and headed downstairs to get pictures with multiple backdrops. We ran into TM1 and TM2, who were also on a mission to make the photographers feel useful. With multiple backdrops to choose from. we ended up getting plenty of pictures while we waited for the large family who was being photographed on the central staircase to finish up. The family consisted of the grandmother and grandfather along with two younger couples and their eight children. The three boys were dressed identically and the five girls were also identically dressed. DD styles herself as a strong individualist and she was pretty vocal in her sympathy for the girls who were expected to all dress the same. In her opinion, that may be charming when kids are toddlers, but the oldest was probably about 11 or 12 and DD couldn’t conceive of a situation where that girl was going to be agreeable to dressing just like her 5 year-old cousin.

 

At this point the agenda called for pictures to wrap up early enough for us to stop at the bar for a DOD before dinner. Since the final back drop we wanted was that staircase occupied by The Matching Family, it looked like the plan was in jeopardy. They were interested in quite a few photos. So we decided that we could slice a little bit of time from the master plan if DD went for the drinks while I held my place in line. It wasn’t a good move. As it turned out, they overfilled the drink and she ended up splashing a bit on her formal as she picked it up from the bar. There would be no further pictures that night. We decided not to let it become a major issue. We would have plenty of other chances to get pictures and the dress could just be popped into a dry cleaning bag tomorrow. So we went on to dinner.

 

We were in for treat tonight. I don’t remember what we ate for dinner, but it was probably the most memorable dinner of our cruise. With our incredibly fortuitous location by the bandstand, we had ringside seating for Dick Saraza and Teddy Tipon (aka Rosario Strings). These guys are amazing. My distant past includes a number of years playing the violin and it gives me a huge level of admiration for someone who has taken their training on that instrument to the level that Dick has. He is awesome. As he played, he scanned the crowd and when he spotted me watching him intently, he lit up like a Christmas tree. He smiled broadly, his eyes sparkled and he added a little more sway to his movements. This is a man who clearly loves what he’s doing and if he is able to give someone some pleasure in the bargain, it increases the joy he has in making the music. I don’t remember everything he played that night, but when he began “Time to Say Goodbye”, I’ll admit my eyes teared up a bit. That incredibly beautiful piece was the most memorable piece I’d seen the Bellagio fountains perform during a stay in Las Vegas just two weeks earlier. I’d had the good fortune to get a room overlooking the fountains and I’d seen multiple fountain performances (the music accompaniment is broadcast on channel 22), but it was that piece that was the best (with the theme from “Somewhere in Time” a close second). As Dick played I could close my eyes and see the fountains again as they dipped and swayed to the music. When they finished the piece I approached Dick to make arrangements to buy a CD. TM2 was right behind me to do the same. In the end, we both bought 2 CDs … and the net result is that I can relive a special cruise moment anytime I want to by popping that music into a CD player.

 

After dinner we decided to give the show a try. TM1 and TM2 had gone to the previous evening’s show and had said it was very good. So we allowed ourselves to be persuaded to give it shot, but to make certain that we could reverse the decision relatively easily, we chose seats in the back very near the exit. The cruise director came out and introduced the entertainer … in Spanish. About the only thing we understood was the name of the ship. But in Spanish, the inflection is different … really, really different. You draw out the first word (Gran-dure) with very little emphasis on the first syllable and add a lot of punch to the second syllable. Then there is a little pause, followed by a rush to finish the last three words (o-da-SEEZ). We both started giggling at the same time. Neither one of us wanted to shout out “Gesundheit”, but we were both thinking of it. At any rate, the entertainer came out and apparently did Frank Sinatra … in Spanish. Then he addressed the crowd for a bit. Since entertainers generally use this moment to tell people how happy they are to be on {nameofship}, I can pretty much guarantee that he was using this moment to convey this joy … particularly since he always sneezed after saying “Gran-dure”. At any rate, when he sailed into the next song, it was also in Spanish. So we slipped out and went back to our cabin.

 

DD suggested we do something we’d never done before. “Let’s go swimming at night!” So we did. We had the Solarium to ourselves and we ended the day the way we started it … laid back and in neutral gear.

Edited by emeraldcity

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A big "you're welcome" to each of you who posted a thank you. I have a lot of fun with these journals ... it's my way to make the trip last a little longer.

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I woke up at 6 again and spent the morning on the porch with my notes and my camera. I love to watch us coming in to port. There are generally some boats in the waters nearby and the occupants of said boats can sometimes be persuaded to wave back at you. At some ports, you can watch the pilot boat coming out to meet the ship. But best of all, there is the emerging island slowly rising up out of the sea. Land ho!

 

This time around there was no indication of an approaching pilot boat, unless it came in from starboard. What we got instead was an aerial escort consisting of three sea gulls who seemed to be trying to herd the big ship in a desired direction. I got a mental picture of a small atoll up ahead where millions of their friends were waiting for us to arrive and offer the vast amounts of wasted food left by the people who can’t handle the decision process in the Windjammer and end up taking a substantial helping of everything. Let the subsequent feeding frenzy begin.

 

In any event, this escort likely resulted in lower port fees for Bonaire. As we closed in on the pier, I roused my DD so that we could get some breakfast and pack our things for our excursion. We had pre-booked a snorkel/sail with Woodwinds, largely on the advice of CC posts and high ratings on TripAdvisor.

We disembarked and walked down the pier to the entry gate. Having bypassed the RCI photographers, we stopped close to shore to look down into the water. Neither of us could avoid commenting on how clear the water was. We spent some time pointing out various fish and trying to identify them. My DD spotted one that she was certain was a parrotfish; our guide on the Woodwinds later that morning would confirm the identification. I spotted several long skinny fish we would later be advised were probably needlefish.

 

Once through the gate, there were a number of vendors who approached with offers of excursions. I told the first one that we were already booked with Woodwinds and he helpfully directed us to where we could find them and check in. We had over an hour before we were due to leave with them, so we spent that time wandering among the vendors that had set up shaded booths in the area just off the pier. It was a wonderfully pleasant shopping experience. There was a music vendor broadcasting a selection of the music he was selling, which created an especially festive atmosphere. We found ourselves doing a restrained bit of dancing as we browsed the booths. We were delighted to find some things that were completely unique, which is, of course, criteria number one when overcoming sales resistance. Within about 5-10 minutes of entering the area, we had graduated from window shopping mode to product selection mode. This mode can actually take considerably longer than window shopping mode, since we wanted to be certain that the choice would stand the test of time. It simply doesn’t do to make a purchase and then discover 10 minutes later that you’ve discovered something with a stronger appeal. This is particularly distressing if the new item is too similar to warrant an additional purchase. DD ended up being true to her initial purchase whim, whereas I found something else 3 vendors later that had stronger appeal. We both ended up buying jewelry, since there is no such thing as possessing too much jewelry. The only time that sort of thing becomes an issue is when a person can’t make up their mind what to wear and ends up arriving at an event looking like one of those back alley shysters who leap out at you, open up their trench coat and hiss, “Hey buddy. Do you want to buy a watch?” As a matter of fact, that grumpy old lady next to me on the Chiva party bus was one of those people and it had taken the colorful nature of the new necklace to make it stand out from the five others she was wearing.

 

All in all, arrivals to Bonaire can expect a very pleasurable shopping experience. The low pressure approach coupled with the opportunity to chat a bit with each of the vendors was a wonderful change from what we’d encountered initially in Columbia.

 

DD was elected to return our purchases to the ship, while I waited in the shade. The lack of breeze was triggering a few personal thermo-nuclear events and we couldn’t get on that boat fast enough to suit me. Finally the call to move out came and we followed our guide for a 10-minute walk to get to the dock where they had their boat. It felt rather like a scene from a Pied Piper movie, where people were called to join us as we got closer to the dock. One of the last groups to join in was The Matching Family. Once again, all the girls had matching swimsuits and matching cover-ups. The boys all had matching swim trucks.

 

As we waited on the dock to take our turns boarding, we were drawn to the family speaking English as if they were a huge magnet. They were Yankees as well and a bond was formed that would last until the Grandeur arrived in Miami. (Hereinafter referred to as FM and FF, for Family Male and Family Female)

 

Shortly after everyone boarded, the boat got underway. During the short sail to the snorkel spot, drinks were passed out and we were measured for equipment. We got more information about how to properly fit and wear a mask than I’ve ever received before. I was also impressed with how new all the equipment seemed to be. I was given a choice of several magnifications for my snorkel mask, which I had never encountered before. In short, this was a very professional outfit with a high regard for a satisfying user experience.

 

We were broken up into 4 groups for snorkeling. We were in Group 1, which was English language guide with no small children. Group 2 was English guide for families. Groups 3 and 4 were the Spanish equivalent of the two previous groups. By the time all the preliminaries were over, I was hot and anxiously awaiting the moment when we could jump in to cool off. Consequently I was first in, followed closely by my DD. The water was initially very warm, but as we progressed through the reef we would suddenly find ourselves in cold patches. It would turn out to be a bit much for the smallest children and some of them returned with a parent to the boat early to wrap up in a towel.

 

Our guide would dive down and point out something, then surface and tell us about it. Among the things we saw:

• Stove-pipe sponge – long, tube-like formations that take in dirty sea water at the base and filter out impurities, then excel clean water from their open end. This was the equivalent of the local health club, and the tree-hugger fish could be identified by their determination to hang out at the very top of those pipes.

• Elephant Ear Coral (also known as Elephant Ear Anemone or Bowl Anemone) Big and very striking

• Elkhorn Coral, which is an endangered species

• Brain Coral – Lots of huge examples

• Parrotfish – which DD had identified earlier in the day

• Four-eye Butterfly fish – A personal favorite of mine, frequently stocked by large aquariums. They are generally seen in pairs because this fish mates for life

• French Angelfish – spotted on the side, which is supposed to make you think of champagne … hence the name. This was probably the largest fish we saw

• A couple of sizeable sea turtles, who headed in the other direction if you tried to pursue them

• Sea Cucumber – also called sea slugs. These creatures were absolutely huge and rather gross. Our guide shared several unpleasant stories about them with us. I promptly forgot them to concentrate on something more pleasant. Honestly, if snorkel excursions rely on sea slug viewing to pull in the masses, the industry will die out rapidly.

We saw a great many other fish, but our guide was often not in the right place at the right time to ask her what they were.

 

When we returned to the boat, drinks were passed around and trays were passed of various fruit and other snacks. It was welcome refreshment. Breathing through a snorkel in a salt water environment always leaves me with a sense that salt residue is plastered to the back of my throat and well into my lungs. I can’t get something to drink fast enough once I get back on the boat.

 

During discussions on the boat with FM and FF, DD discovered that they were in a family suite, so she asked about the Ghirardelli chocolates. They happily assured us that they were receiving their pillow treats every night. A personal crusade was launched in very short order, since DD was apparently severely put out that she was being deprived of something she had never expected before reading that list in the cabin. For my part, I didn’t give much thought to the issue. With vast amounts of food being offered to us at every turn, what exactly was to be achieved by assuring that we couldn’t even brush our teeth and go to bed before chowing down on one more piece of food? Frankly, I like to space out the various tastes that I encounter, so following chocolate with a Colgate chaser is just terribly weird.

 

There had been a photographer with us in the water and she made sure she got plenty of pictures of every group, as well as shots of the sea life we were shown. We had chosen to leave our pricey cameras back on the ship, knowing that I could just buy professional pictures from them. I almost forgot and stepped onto the dock to leave. But as I was checking my gear to be sure I had everything, I realized I didn’t have my camera … and that was because I wasn’t going to need it on this trip. I reversed my steps, got back on the boat and ducked below to buy a copy of the CD for $25.

 

After we left the boat, the walk back to the ship seemed longer than the walk had been to reach the boat, probably due to how skuzzy we were. There was no question on priority of events at this point … it was showers before lunch, and those showers felt wonderful.

 

We’d been discussing the quandary presented by the need to connect with a bi-lingual passenger who could join our quest team when we realized that PF would fill the bill. All we had to do was find her. Fortunately, en route to the Windjammer for a light lunch, we were headed in opposite directions on the stairwell so we stopped her and launched our proposal. She was clueless about quest … apparently a first-time cruiser. And she tried to beg off, telling us that she was the early-to-bed sort. We put the heat on, saying that we desperately needed her and besides, this event was so much fun, it probably wasn’t even legal. She agreed to strongly consider it.

 

When we returned to the cabin we spotted our room steward in the hall and DD immediately brought up the Ghirardelli chocolates. He apologized for their absence, but told us that there weren’t any on the ship. “How can I give them to you if I don’t have them?” DD advised that there were suite guests who were getting them and when he asked which cabin, she was able to identify where that cabin was on the ship. I stood there watching the exchange and thinking back to a post I’d read on CC about room stewards needing to tip other service personnel aboard ship in order to assure a reliable supply of the basic components they needed to provide service to the passengers. I had to wonder if they didn’t also end up relying on hoarding certain supplies to assure they had them for their passengers. In any event it was interesting to watch my DD following up on a detail that was apparently bothering her. Granted, this was akin to swatting at gnats, but it was a big step for someone who only the day before had wanted me to check with guest relations about her formal.

 

This would be the evening of the Crown and Anchor party, but we managed to fit in the Logo Contest in the Schooner Bar before that event. At first, we were the only ones who showed up for the game, but true to form, several Spanish teams had joined us within the 10-15 minute Island Time grace period. I had anticipated that if we’d been the only two, I would pit myself against DD and win. The truth is she would have bested me. We ended up getting 21 logos correctly identified, and she had nailed more than I had.

 

We went on to the Viking Crown Lounge where the Crown and Anchor party was in full swing. We found that FM and FF were chatting with TM1 and TM2, They had apparently connected on the Cartagena City Tour. We used this opportunity to pitch the quest to FM and FF, as well as clue TM1 and TM2 in about finding our bi-lingual team member. FM and FF were intrigued, but not committed. TM2 was incredibly excited. She was one of the cruisers who had the quest-bug in the worst way and she was looking forward to the big event.

 

We were a bit late for dinner, but it wasn’t a problem since we were arriving with our tablemates, so nobody was held up waiting for us. This was the night that strawberry bisque showed up on the menu and our tablemates had never tried it. So it was bisque all around and I also ordered the scallops, since it simply doesn’t do to be forced into making a choice sometimes. The bisque was a big hit all around and it’s a safe bet that TM1 and TM2 will add that to their must-do list for cruise experiences. For dinner I had the garlic shrimp and DD had the Chicken Marsalla. We were both very pleased with our meals. As for dessert, the only thing that really sounded appealing was the panna cotta. I asked Debra if that was the dessert that is pink and rounded and jiggles like a ---? She took on that knowing look, gazed up at the ceiling and nodded affirmatively “Uh-huh!” with a slight smile. OK … in that case, I pass.

 

We headed to the South Pacific Lounge for the “Where in the World Am I?” game show. If you’re starting to notice a trivia trend by this time, there’s a reason. We are card-carrying members of that sad little group that likes to test their mental capacity on a frequent basis. This contest was basically just another team trivia event and this time we weren’t terribly effective. We ruled that the clues were pretty obscure and we applauded the winner, who apparently had more mental capacity than we collectively possessed.

 

The planned Centrum party for the evening was billed as Carnival. We compared notes with our tablemates and agreed that for each of us this conjured up images of bright, colorful costumes with heavy usage of sequins and ostrich feathers. What we found instead was a Village People tribute group leading Latino dance tunes. Very upbeat, lots of cheering, undoubtedly fun – but certainly a far cry from a Carnival experience. It really didn’t have much appeal for any of us.

 

Our tablemates went off to their favorite lounge and we went to do some serious on board window shopping. This excursion never moved past window shopping mode, since we knew we had another week on the ship, but at least we had some prices so we could begin the process of making value judgments in the days to come.

 

We stopped by the Schooner Bar to exchange our plastic DOD drink glasses for the nice souvenir glass ones and I got a Mango Tango while I was there. DD chose to forgo getting a drink because she did the math … $7 per day on a 10 day cruise was $70 and she wanted something to show for her money. I was impressed to hear her making the kind of careful value judgments that would be a necessary part of a successful financial future. We lingered a bit and chatted, then we moved on to the next planned event, which was the 70s night in the Viking Crown Lounge.

 

The Cruise Compass had exhorted passengers to dust off your white polyester suite, but the only thing 70s in that party was the music. A few daring dancers were moving to the beat in something that didn’t resemble the Latin dances we’d been seeing all week, but the reality was that they danced what they were comfortable dancing and enjoyed themselves … and that’s all that really matters anyway. DD asked me if I remembered the dance I used to try to teach her when she was younger. Wow! DO I remember? I hadn’t suggested stepping onto the floor because I was pretty sure she wouldn’t want to dance with mom. So we got on the floor and I danced hustle to a couple of songs. She said later that there were plenty of people who were watching, but I didn’t notice. When I dance, it is for me and only for me. I love to dance, but I have very few opportunities to do so outside of my living room … so this one was for me! I wonder if she’ll ever realize what a fun evening that was for me.

 

By 11:30, she was ready to call it quits (maybe it was those spins I put her through) and we headed down to our cabin to call it a night. We stepped into the cabin and noticed in short order that each pillow formed an enormous frame for that long-sought-after square of Ghirardelli chocolate. I stood there wondering what our cabin steward had needed to go through to come up with them. In any event, I told DD she’d better eat it before morning. Tomorrow when he comes to clean, there had better be two empty Ghirardelli wrappers in the trash basket. She instantly complied and we then got ready for bed. “Let there be dark!”

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I hate to interrupt, but I just want to say I'm loving your review. It is so well written. I have to confess, I rarely read the reviews without pictures (shame on me, lol) but yours has inspired me to try to write a similar review for my cruise and using it to create a Blurb book. I even googled tips on writing a travel journal.

 

Have you considered plopping your review into one of these online book makers? Our local art store does classes on creating one of the Blurb books; they seem to be excellent quality and they do not limit the amount of text.

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