Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Day 98: La Paz, Mexico

It was still pitch dark outside when we first awakened, but we could see lights in the distance, confirming that we were nearing La Paz. Due to last night's time change, we were up and at 'em early, and off the ship as soon as it docked just before 7am, to take photos of the hills/mountains surrounding the port. I love the arid beauty of the American Southwest, and La Paz very much resembles Arizona and New Mexico...if they were surrounded by sea. Unfortunately, the ship docks at a freight pier, so the first impression of the immediate area is not quite so picturesque. The hillsides were carved out to build up land on which to construct  the pier, and it's a bit like docking in a quarry. But, oh, that orange sunrise in a cloudless blue sky more than made up for it. 

We reboarded the ship and enjoyed breakfast in the Club Restaurant (our days of full breakfast service are dwindling down). After that morning pill taking activity, we walked off the ship again...and right to one of the vendors set up by the terminal. Some silver jewelry had caught G's eye when he first disembarked, and he was in a gifting mood today. I left sporting a new bracelet,  ring, pendant and earrings and love them all. It's kind of like a slightly belated birthday present!

The port was offering two free shuttle services today, since it really is located in the middle of nowhere. First, luxurious motor coaches had been driven up from Cabo San Lucas (complete with WiFi!) and these were making the 17-mile drive into the town of La Paz. Then, some shuttle vans were making the 20-minute drive in the other direction to Tecolate Beach. Not that it was beach weather- it was beautiful and sunny and in the high 60s- but the photos of the beach on display were nice, and the beach itself looked endless. We opted for the beach, and just the two of us were driven there in a van and dropped off at a pair of very rustic beach bars. 

The water (this was the Gulf of California, or the Sea of Cortez) was a brilliant bright blue color, clear and placid. Though the beach was a little rocky; it was extremely walkable. We first settled in at a bar and each had a Pacifico beer and soaked up the solitude. Just across the water was Isla Espírito Santo, which looked uninhabited. I think it's a nature preserve. After awhile we decided to walk the full length of the beach. And as we got to the other end, we saw for the first time a handful of motor homes scattered on the wide beach. We were greeted by two couples, one from Washington Stqte and the other from Canada who were traveling together. They said they spend several months each winter in the area and that was their favorite beach. They can camp there for free but once a week or so they pay to camp in La Paz to empty their sewage and get water and do laundry. We talked with them for quite awhile before we continued on our walk. 

The most interesting campers were a couple with young kids from Lithuania who were camping in an old school bus, but there was another guy from Germany camping in a van. The beach was so long and wide that they all had lots of space but apparently do socialize each evening and have a big campfire on the beach. It sounded like the kind of vacations we took when we were first married. We had a blast then, but I'm not certain I'd want to be bathing in the Sea of Cortez these days. 

We made our way back down to the end of the beach where the couple of beach bars were located and drank a second beer. We kept an eye on the area where the shuttle van had dropped us off; we hadn't seen another come by yet, and there were no fellow passengers (or anyone else) on the beach at that end. But just before 1:30pm, a van did show up and we took it back to the port terminal. Without even getting back on the ship we decided to take the large bus into La Paz, and at that time of the afternoon we were the only passengers doing that. It took almost 30 minutes to get there, and, once there, we only had about an hour to walk around. I was hoping to get some fish tacos but we didn't see a restaurant offering them on the main drag. There was a local craft fair taking place (color me shocked) and, interestingly, a few classic cars on display, including three old Ford Broncos (one of which could have been once owned by G).  But by 3pm we were taking the (completely full) bus back to the port. I'm glad we spent most of our day at the beach. I think it was much more enjoyable. 

We returned to the terminal just in time to see some local folkloric dancing and then reboarded the ship. It was nearly 4pm and we were starved...and tired. We decided to skip dinner in the Club Restaurant (it was the Chefs Menu) and instead just enjoy sailway and sunset from the Panorama Buffet. It was too chilly to sit on the Panorama Terrace (weep!) but we kept going out there to take photos. The ship sailed shortly after 4:30pm and passed close to land, offering gorgeous views of the craggy mountain peaks. We saw a beautiful sunset and then continued grazing the buffet and talking with fellow passengers until after 7:30pm. The entertainment tonight was a cellist and vocalist duo called Brendan and James, but we were still wearing our clothes from the day and didn't have the energy to get cleaned up or attend the show. Instead we are tucked into bed early tonight, watching videos on TV. 

I think tomorrow will be a yoga pants and fleece pullover day. Even today we were chilly when we weren't in the sun. But hopefully the payoff will be some whale sightings. Captain D said the weather should continue to be good until we are almost in LA, when he is expecting some swells again. But he said that he is going to try to increase our speed while the ocean is fairly flat, so that if the swells arrive early, we will be earlier. 

We will really miss sailing with Captain D. He is aces in our book. :-)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Day 97: At Sea

Today we passed a sad and sorry point on this cruise, one where we've lost the ability to comfortably sit on the Promenade Deck in just shorts and t-shirts. Fewer people are enjoying those wonderful padded loungers and those that do are bundled up in pool towels. I have a feeling that the temps we've enjoyed since December 20 are gone for good. Add to it the reality that this cruise is nearly over and there is a sense that we are simply biding our time until we reach Los Angeles. 

Already I am refraining from sending too many clothes to the laundry. Several items (including a swimsuit, a rash guard and all underwear) will be tossed instead of packed, and for most other things I'd rather launder them at home. I knew that the temperatures north of La Paz, Mexico tomorrow would be considerably chillier and had kept out a couple of items I had worn in Europe, but I hadn't anticipated that even La Paz would only be in the high 60s. It may be time to pack away the shorts altogether and bring out a couple more long sleeved t-shirts. 

Are all of you who are shoveling snow tonight feeling sorry for us yet?  I didn't think so.

On a happier note, we are thrilled to be seeing our first signs of non-aviary wildlife. Yesterday and today it's been dolphins, sometimes in larger pods and other times just a few. The water is so clear that we can see them racing underwater and then breaking the surface in graceful arcs. I haven't yet seen any whales on their winter migration but I'm sure we will. We were in the area just a week later in January 2015 and we had all sorts of sightings. I can't wait. 

We enjoyed breakfast in the Club Restaurant this morning and then parted ways. I went to the morning's craft session where we made lighthouse notecards and then, discovering the Promenade Deck was just too chilly, I sat up on protected Deck 9 near the hot tub in which G was soaking. We opted to skip a formal lunch, but, as he was in still in his swimsuit sitting next to me on a lounger, I brought him French fries. A cheeseburger without the bun. A slice of Virginia ham. A bowl of ice cream. I managed to eat a slice of pizza myself and bid him farewell to attend Christian Heim's lecture on the Secret to Happiness. One element of happiness is doing things for others and I figured I had that aced that for the day. ;-)

I tried the Promenade Deck one more time, but simply couldn't stay out there wearing shorts, so I plugged in ear buds and went up to Deck 10 and walked while I listened to an audiobook, which is so much better for me anyway. Still, it was breezy up there and even that started feeling a tad chilly. Well, we enjoyed the warmth while it lasted (and won't have to wait too long to enjoy it again. Hawaii here we come!). 

Tonight was our final Italian menu night of the season, and I enjoyed the last of a bottle of merlot and headwaiter Antonio's penne arrabiata. First though I had one of my favorite salads- mixed greens, sundried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese topped with balsamic vinaigrette. If I had been hungry enough, I would have had a second for dessert, but I wasn't and so instead enjoyed orange sorbet. I will miss Italian nights on the Pacific Princess perhaps more than any other menu. 

We managed to finish dinner in time for a spectacular sunset viewed from the Promenade Deck. There were several of us out there, all simultaneously remarking on the beautiful sunset and complaining bitterly about the cold. We tolerated the cold as long as we could to view the after-sunset that kept getting better and better, and then went into the Cabaret Lounge to get good seats for tonight's production show, What the World Needs Now. The interesting thing about the World Cruise compared to the several others we did previously on the Pacific Princess is that our fellow passengers are getting to the Cabaret Lounge 30 to 45 minutes before every show, armed with books and iPads and Kindles. Our days of wandering in five minutes before a show starts and snagging great seats are over. That was one of the things we most liked about the Pacific Princess, that there was never a need to arrive for a show as early as on the larger ships. I think this change is just something that's inherent to the World Cruise.

We move clocks back another hour tonight and will be on MST for our stop in La Paz. The current map of the ship's location on TV now shows cities we are well familiar with in the southern US. In view of all the traveling we've done this season, we are very nearly home. 

Life is good. :-)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Day 96: At Sea

As days at sea go, this one was just about as good as it gets. The sea was mirror smooth, and it was sunny and quite warm. The only wrinkle in the day occurred early; I had realized last evening that I had developed an eye infection, and trotted off to the Medical Center right around the corner to get that looked at first thing this morning. I had initially dithered a bit about going but G reminded me that two days at sea were a perfect time to start treatment and go without a contact in that eye. Of course he was right. I really thought I'd make it through an entire season without a visit to the ship's doctor and almost- but not quite- did. 

It's not that we lack insurance that makes me reluctant to seek medical help for these more minor things; it's the amount for paperwork to file a claim first with our primary insurance and then with Princess Vacation Protection that holds me back. After all, I still have all that paperwork related to Nice and the cancellation of our October 16 cruise to submit when we finally get home. Something tells me I will be busy until August with it all. But, as G encouraged when I expressed this morning that I really didn't want to add another issue to the list, "You're so good at all that!"  What he means is that I am like a dog with a bone and tenacious as all get out, which is exactly what it takes when dealing with insurance companies. 

I arrived at the Medical Center ten minutes before it opened at 9am and was third in line waiting outside the door. That's the other part of going to the doctor that I don't like: I'm not sick but found myself standing among people who truly were, with multiple URI symptoms. I'm always certain I'll pick up something much worse than what took me there in the first place. But I left by 10am with eye drops and a warning to resist wearing a contact in that eye for several days, something that is much easier to do on the ship than in port (you may recall the last time this happened, and I ran into a low hanging branch on Water Island as a result). I'm safer here. 

I went immediately to the craft session to finish my bookmark and had to nearly beg for the needle and yarn to do that, because I was early. I explained that G wanted me to get to the Mexican Fiesta Sunday Brunch buffet in the Club Restaurant as soon as I could and was reluctantly granted the needle and three pieces of white yarn. It was a bit of a trick to stitch on the plastic canvas with only one good eye. Neither working with reading glasses nor without made it any easier and I squinted my way to a completed bookmark, needing to pull out and re-do stitches only twice (see above re: tenaciousness). 

I finally made it to the Club Restaurant where the initial surge of passengers was still underway and I waited in line to get in. The theme for this Sunday Brunch buffet was Mexican and the entire Club Restaurant and its entrance were decorated in red and white and green balloons (hey...that would work for an Italian theme too) and paper accordianed hanging decorations and Mexican flags and it was all spectacular. All the waiters and galley crew were dressed in jeans and white shirts with colorful ponchos (I know that's not the correct word, but the Spanish term eludes me right now) and sombreros and had mustaches painted on with eyebrow pencil. What a hoot!  My first order of business was to find G, but along the way I took lots of photos of our favorite waiters (and they're all our favorite waiters) and they pointed me in his direction.

G had brought our one remaining bottle of MTP champagne and waiters Joey and Oliver brought flutes and glass after glass of orange juice and we repeatedly got plates of food and stayed there eating and drinking until we had finished the entire bottle of champagne and could barely move. The food was just amazing (I will post pics of the menu and food eventually). As one entered the Club Restaurant, there were different stations with different types of food- so much of it- breakfast food and lunch food and lots of seafood and pasta and all sorts of fancy cheeses and pates and specialty cured meats and a goose and then another area with Mexican food and guacamole made in front of us and lots of fruit and in the back corner of the Club Restaurant was a large table filled with desserts and ice cream and a chocolate fountain. It was hard to know where to begin. 

Because we stayed so long, drinking and eating and talking, we saw Maitre d'Oscar twice lead the headwaiters and waiters in a conga line through the dining room, shaking maracas and singing and it was a lot fun. It must have been an incredible amount of work to set up and prepare and display the food (there were ice carvings and fruit and vegetable carvings everywhere) but it seemed very much appreciated by everyone and made the whole day feel special. We found out today that this is offered only once per World Cruise segment, so five times during the 111 day World Cruise, with a different theme each time based on the ship's location. We felt so fortunate to be able to partake in today's! Honestly, it was the very best food occasion we've ever had on Princess, and was even better than the midnight Gala buffets Celebrity still offered when we last cruised with them (in 2007 or 2008 I think). 

But, of course, we were ruined for the rest of the day. We changed into shorts and t-shirts and sat in loungers on the Promenade Deck where we (yes, me too!) joined all the other passengers who were already there and napped with our mouths hanging wide open. It was a beautiful afternoon with not a bump in the water to be found. I awoke after just a few minutes (based on my audiobook) and returned to the cabin to apply warm compresses to my eye, which is darn hard to do using just a facecloth that only stays warm for 30 seconds. G finally returned to the cabin and changed into his swimsuit and decamped to a hot tub. And that was a productive as we got for the rest of the afternoon. Very sadly, there has been no football at all on the Pacific Princess; I tried both yesterday and today to no avail to find a game on TV and then used way too many internet minutes trying to stay up on the scores. Thank God a thousand times over that we were on the Emerald Princess, with MUTS, at this time last year (when, you may recall, the Broncos won Super Bowl 50). ;-) Even two years ago when we were on the Pacific Princess returning from French Polynesia they managed to show a couple of playoff games on the ship. This year:  nada...except for ESPN International running old football documentaries which is akin to dangling something desirable just out of reach of a child. 

Not hungry at all, we still went to dinner in the Club Restaurant where I had just a small Caesar salad with chicken breast...and sorbet for dessert, of course. We were finished in no time at all and walked out on the Promenade Deck to await the beautiful sunset that was made even better by the few clouds at the horizon. It was still too early to go to the Cabaret Lounge for this evening's entertainment so we again sat in loungers and watched as the multiple colors in the sky faded to darkness. It was so beautiful out there that I could have been convinced to stay a while longer, but tonight's show was violinist Chris Watkins and pianist David Crathorne performing together and it was too good to miss. 

But our day was done by 9pm. Tomorrow, our third sea day in a row, is when we will start going stir-crazy. Once again over dinner, G mentioned the variety and frequency of ports we enjoyed on our Mediterranean cruises. They were so different from this experience that it's like they were a whole different sport. All cruises are not created equal, but on the spectrum of cruise experiences, a World Cruise is a bit of an outlier. Still, we're happy to have the opportunity to experience 17 days of one. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Day 95: At Sea

The day started out sunny and calm, but around 10am the Pacific Princess entered the Gulf of Tehauntepec, near the border between Mexico and Guatemala. This is the area where Pacific hurricanes form, and Captain D, in his noon announcement, explained how the Tehauno wind actually comes from the Caribbean coast and is trapped between mountain ranges and exits on the Pacific side, rushing down the coast from the north. The ship got bouncy and the outside decks were closed off, but, honestly, it was nothing compared to what we endured around Greece on our final Meeiterranean cruise and certainly not nearly like The Crossing. 

But, backing up, we were in the Club Restaurant by 8:30am and I enjoyed poached eggs well done and six grain toast again. We returned to the cabin to sort through paperwork and start some initial clean up in preparation for packing (guess where we'll wake up a week from today?). I am finally feeling a little participative, or perhaps it was the draw of today's craft project (pilot flag bookmarks) that had me attending today's session at 10:30am in the Atrium. I went a few minutes early to get a seat; these craft sessions are proving to be very popular on this World Cruise and there is a couple on board whose sole responsibility is to conduct them. As you know, bookmarks are my weakness, despite the fact that I scarcely ever read a paper book anymore. This one involved needlepoint on plastic canvas and we will finish the second half in tomorrow's session. And then it will be added to my shoebox of life! ;-)

Speaking of needlepoint on plastic canvas, I was reminded of a set of twelve blocks I had stitched on 3" plastic canvas squares and constructed with a jingle bell inside. I had made them while I was traveling so much for business for my first nephew (now 34!) and they were used by three more nephews and several friends' toddlers and finally the twins. I wonder where I put them when they were returned the last time?  Note to self:  find them (though they will not fit in my shoebox of life). 

G and I were in our midship Deck 4 cabin just before lunch when huge splashes of water began hitting our window. We had felt nothing; our cabin is very stable.  But at noon, Captain D announced that we had entered the Gulf of Tahauntepec and that things would be rough until about 5pm. He said we were experiencing about 8 foot swells, which pale in comparison to the 17 foot swells we had around Greece during those three consecutive storms and who knows how high swells we had the night before we arrived in Bermuda. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch in the Club Restaurant (we both had pasta and wine AND dessert...we have some serious adjustments in our near future) and then returned to the cabin where we read and watched videos on TV.  There was no use fighting it; tomorrow is supposed to be much better. 

Captain D was exactly right; by the time we went to dinner at 5:15pm, things had calmed considerably. Not that we were hungry, we still enjoyed salads and an entree, and pineapple sorbet for dessert. Maitre d'Oscar made of point of walking around and reminding us that tomorrow there will be a large Sunday brunch served in the Club Restaurant from 10:30am to 1:30pm, in lieu of dining room breakfast and lunch. We didn't need to be reminded, of course. The opportunity to enjoy one of these World Cruise Sunday brunches was part of our motivation for adding this cruise. They are offered each Sunday that is also a sea day on the World Cruise, with a different theme for each of them. That, and the fact that they were very well regarded by past World Cruise passengers is all I know about them, but I'll make a full report tomorrow night. Production show Cinematastic in the Cabaret Lounge and music trivia with piano entertainer David Crathorne in the Casino Lounge completed our evening. 

Tomorrow should still be sunny and warm (we've had amazing weather) but much calmer than today and I predict some pool exercise time during my day.  I'll need it to work off that breakfast buffet!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Day 94: Acajutla, El Salvador

Our expectations regarding our stop in Acajutla (say a-ka-HOOT-la), El Salvador today were realistically low but I think we may have been overly optimistic. This was the strangest place I've been since our escorted tour into East Berlin before the wall came down. Not to say we felt totally unsafe (if we had we would not have left the ship), but it didn't help that, when I downloaded the news first thing this morning, a top story featured on several news outlets was that El Salvador had just had its first day without a murder in two years. It also said the murder rate here was ten times St. Louis, Missouri's. On average, over 14 people a day are murdered in a country the size of Massachusetts. Comforting stuff, that. 

Our arrival was not scheduled until 10am and it was nice to not have to rush into the day. I downloaded the aforementioned news before meeting up with G for breakfast in the Club Restaurant. Shortly after we finished, the Pacific Princess was close to docking in the freight port of Acajutla, and we went out on the Promenade Deck to view the large crowd that was here to greet the ship. This was the first time a Princess ship had ever stopped in Acajutla, and we were met with fire boats spraying large plumes of water and loud local music and TV cameras and reporters and several dignitaries bearing a plaque that was presented to Captain D, as is the usual practice on an initial ship visit. It took some time to get a gangway set up (though it shouldn't have been any different from the Azamara Quest, which has also stopped here, as they are essentially the same ship). We waved and smiled for the cameras from the Promenade Deck and watched as the reporters descended on a youngish man (perhaps from the tourism board?) who must have been answering questions about Princess stopping here for the first time. 

It was all a little exciting. ;-)

We had received a notification in our cabins a few days ago that, unless we were booked on one of the few Princess tours (mainly involving the Flower Road through some small towns, or a visit to the volcanos or what was called 'the Pompeii of the West', archeological ruins that had been buried in ash), a free shuttle bus would take us from the ship to a nearby visitors center, handicraft area and beach club. That sounded nice so we opted to do that. Actually, we initially had wanted to hire a taxi to drive us the approximately 20 miles to the Guadalupean border, thus completing our Countries of Central America Collection, but that timely news article made us rethink our plans.

We discovered that this visitors center, handicraft area and beach club were actually a compound, surrounded by 12 foot high fencing topped with razor wire, that housed some of the port workers. It was simply a grassy area with some shade from palm trees and a small pool and steps down to a brown sand beach. The pool and the beach were watched by life guards, which was a good idea as the ocean was warm but very rough and not really safe for swimming. Bewides, it was squeezed in between the freight boat and a refinery billowing black smoke. The water was not very tempting at all. 

There were a few tables selling local crafts (I bought some hand made soap) and some chairs and a few loungers had been set around the grass, but there was no food nor beverages, which I consider kind of unforgivable. It was a hot day, especially in the sun. We all just sat around using the free WiFi (honestly, this was the biggest draw), though a few lucky crew members had time off and enjoyed the pool too. We walked along the beach, reached by steps from the compound, but didn't linger there. If it hadn't been for the WiFi and the enjoyment of talking with fellow passengers, we would not have stayed as long as we did. We had been told that there might be a few taxis available at the compound, but we didn't see any when we arrived. There are very few taxis, so passengers really are limited to taking a ship's tour which all involve a long bus trip. And when we were interviewed about our impressions of the port, it was hard to find nice things to say. 

But it's early days for them still. Nicaragua certainly has their act together regarding cruise ship tourism. Hopefully Acajutla will too, although I'm not certain there was anything to see within a short distance of the port. San Juan del Sur at least had that. Passengers returning from tours reported spending from 4 to 6 hours of the day sitting on a bus, not exactly our favorite thing to do. 

It was open seating tonight in the Club Restaurant as the ship was not scheduled to sail until 7pm. We had decided early on to simply eat at the Panorama Buffet (thankfully it was not the Bistro Trattoria tonight). We cleaned up for dinner and sat on the dock side of the Promenade Deck to watch the sunset, a hazy bright red one that is typical of a polluted sky due to the nearby refinery. I will give the tourism board its due; they certainly tried hard to make the visit a success. All tour buses were accompanied by trucks carrying armed police (or military) to keep passengers safe, and the last buses to return were greeted by Day of the Dead mimes and live music. We pushed away from the pier escorted by the two fire boats and their arches of water. Yep, they tried hard. 

We had a quick dinner sitting on the Panorama Terrace and then attended the 7:30pm performance by violinist Chris Watkins, a finalist in Princess' Entertainer of the Year contest a couple of years ago. He was superb and very entertaining. 

And that was our day. We are surprisingly weary tonight despite (or maybe because of) a totally unproductive day. Next up are three sea days in a row. If this sunny and warm weather continues, and provided the wind behaves, they should be relaxing and enjoyable. A week from tonight we'll be sleeping in our own bed, and, despite the fact that this has been our shortest cruising season in six years, I'll admit I'm ready to be home, albeit for a short time.  I was not ready to leave after the Christmas cruise but things change. We've already set our sights on moving on to something new for the rest of the winter. 

After we sort through three months worth of mail, that is. And upload nearly 1000 photos to this blog. ;-)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Day 93: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Today's port will likely end up being the sleeper hit of this 17-night cruise. We were fortunate that, although the winds were high and the tendering tricky, we were, in fact, able to get into San Juan del Sur today. We awoke and looked out the cabin window at the side of a mountain with water sprays as the waves crashed against it. That was a nice way to start the day! G was on the first tender over while I was still getting into my day. I enjoyed some slow time and went to the Club Restaurant where I had well done poached eggs (love them). G returned shortly after and I accompanied him to the Panorama Buffet where we sat on the Terrace. The swell from starboard to port was high, and we watched the ship roll from side to side as we sat there. G said the tender ride was bumpy but not too rough ao we returned to the cabin and packed for a non-beach day. 

San Juan del Sur is set on a large, picturesque bay surrounded by mountains.  We tendered over to a barge and from there walked onto a dock. The waterfront is being renovated and I suspect that when it is finished there will be a pier for tender boats. The waterfront is edged by restaurants and beach bars with outdoor seating, and there is a long, very wide brown sand beach that narrows considerably at high tide. We walked along the waterfront and eventually crossed the main street to look at the vendors' stalls. I immediately spotted a bracelet made of woven bugle beads for $5 that I thought I needed. G encouraged me to buy a matching necklace for $15 but that I didn't need; I've already purchased two this season, on Murano island in Venice and on the beach in Barbados. 

We walked back a few blocks into town then, and were immediately taken with the several very small hotels (I think they were called tiendas, but I'm not sure about that) with just a few rooms opening onto small courtyards with narrow pools and fountains. They were furnished in simple but beautiful Nicaraguan style. Then we saw several simpler hostels and were beginning to wonder what the draw was in San Juan del Sur. Another block down we figured it out; there were dozens of 20-somethings from all over the world gathering at adventure shops and loading school buses and pickup trucks with surfboards for trips to the nearby beaches. The area is a worldwide Mecca for surfing. Finally, all the hotels and hostels made sense. 

We walked though several markets (mercados) to look at what they sold (and thought of you Marlene). They were similar to the small stores we saw on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) with enough food to live on but most of it processed. On a bench outside of a store was a lady selling avocados out of a bag. I saw an English speaking guy wearing flip flops drive up on a dirt bike and buy 7 or 8 of them, hang the shopping bag over a handle bar and leave again. The whole place had a very laid back and hippie-ish atmosphere. 

We saw a father and son with a cart filled with oranges and they were making fresh squeezed OJ they served in sandwich-type plastic bags knotted around a drinking straw. We had seen others drinking these and wondered what they were, so we each got one. Yummy!  Eventually we were getting tired of walking and hired a taxi on a corner in town. Jorge offered to drive us up as far as he could to a tall statue of Jesus high on a mountain overlooking the bay. Called Christo de la Misericordia, it stands 24 meters high and is 110 meters above sea level. For comparison, Corcovado (Christ the Reedemer) in Rio de Janeiro is 38 meters high and stands 709 meters above sea level. Christo de la Misericordia was opened in October 2009 and houses a small chapel at its base. 

Jorge drove us up extremely steep and broken roads and then we climbed up about 100 extremely steep steps to the base of the statues. It was very windy up there, but the views were spectacular. We could see the entire bay with the Pacific Princess at anchor and the surrounding mountains dotted with houses. The houses on the nearby hillsides were large and new and many had pools, but they must have been second homes. The locals live way more simply. We spent about 20 minutes taking photos and climbing even higher up the base of the statue and then walked back down those extremely steep steps (always harder) to where Jorge was waiting for us. 

He drove us back into town and dropped us at a restaurant with seating right on the beach, and we ordered local beers and plantain chips and settled in to uss their fairly high speed WiFi. Though we had had great (but windy) weather to that point, every so often the winds picked up even more and rain showers moved in, and the waves crashed even harder on the beach. The last tender back to the ship was at 4:15pm, and at 3:30pm we settled up at the restaurant and walked back to the tender loading area. We were in our cabin by 4pm and washed up just enough to crash for a few minutes before we got cleaned up for the evening. 

We skipped the PES Lounge and went directly to dinner in the Club Restaurant. As soon as we had eaten, we realized how tired we were and decided to skip tonight's entertainment (comedy magician Martin Lewis) and the Festivals of the World Day of the Dead party afterwards (some passengers made masks in a craft session hosted by Entertainment Staff members yesterday) and simply returned to our cabin to watch some video I'd downloaded in Fort Lauderdale. Tomorrow is another new port for us (for the life of me I can't remember the name of the El Salvadoran town we'll be at) to be followed by three days at sea. If they are as smooth and sunny and warm as what we've enjoyed so far on this cruise I think I'll manage just fine. And if they aren't...well, a week from tomorrow we'll be home. It won't be warm but it may be sunny and it will definitely be smooth.

Life is good. :-)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Day 92: At Sea

You know, the funny thing about this season is how slowly it seems to be moving for us. I remember reaching Day 90 in prior seasons of cruising and it felt like we had left home just a couple of weeks earlier. The only explanation I can come up with is that we have had such distinct sections to our season. After the start / restart at the beginning, the Mediterranean portions have kind of blended together (and have interestingly become much more favorably memorable, as thoughts of shipwrecks and cold and rain...and Italian toilets have faded from our minds and we are left with charmed memories). Then there's The Crossing section, perhaps not quite so favorably remembered, though Gibraltar and Funchal and Bermuda are still standouts. It was followed by the holiday Caribbean cruise (perfection from start to finish) and now this one. It seems like this has been going on forever. Maybe it feels that way to you, too. ;-). Still, you're tuning in. Thank you for that!

BTW (By the way, and this will be another GPS-worthy sea day post), I know I often omit the comma I included in the prior sentence, but the reason is pure laziness. Or let's call it time savings. When I type this post while lying in bed with my iPad on my chest, it is simply hard to reach the comma key unless I really, really need to (like that time). The '.' key would be even harder but I have my keyboard shortcuts set to insert a '.' when I double space (a sentence that will be entirely clear to iDevice users and not at all clear to everyone else). 

Anyway ;-) back to today. We were not awake early. We had managed to go back out last night for the Love Boat Disco Deck Party (totally overshadowed by the same parties held on big ship with MUTS, but perfectly charming in a Pacific Princess sort of way). These dancers are so darn much fun to watch (and even nicer in person), but I said to G last night that they had to be dying in those 70's costumes with the women wearing full Afro-style wigs. They said today that they were. The same weather that made it possible to hold the party on the pool deck (warm with no wind and rain) made it insufferable for them to dance so energetically. They are troupers!

We met up in the Panorama Buffet (G got there first but was waiting for me in the air conditioned inside; he said it was too hot on the Terrace!) and I had just a piece of toast and cottage cheese because I new there would be plenty of food today. But we struck up a conversation with a wonderful couple from Fort Myers, Florida, and talked and talked and G ate cereal and ate cereal until finally I had to utter those familiar sea day words: "Hurry up and finish eating so we can go to lunch". And we did go to the Club Restaurant where I had white bean minestrone and a spaghetti with seafood and some of the bottle of Ancient Peaks merlot we had opened last night in the Bistro Trattoria. And we lingered so long over lunch that we almost (but not quite) hung out there until the 2pm Grapevine Wine Tasting. I shared my whites with G and he his reds with me and by the time it ended at 3pm, I was feeling more mellow and laid back than I had in days. 

We were entertained all day (in fact, we opened our eyes this morning and looked out the window to see a large bird looking back at us) by brown boobies and masked boobies who surrounded the Pacific Princess by the dozens. They swooped and dove into the water for fish but become airborne again after being in the water more clumsily than frigate birds. I took a photo of the ship's webcam shown on our cabin TV that showed at least eight birds right in front of the bridge. After the wine tasting, we sat on the Pomenade Deck for a few minutes to watch the birds up close. 

Tonight was the second formal night of the cruise (and the Captains Circle party, but I am abstaining from all things Captains Circle this cruise) and our dinner in the Club Restaurant was wonderful. We both had chateaubriand accompanied by more wine and I had a vanilla soufflé with Godiva sauce for dessert (because the end is near and I don't get soufflés at home). The sea was so calm today and the sky so cloudless that I saw the green flash at sunset as the last of the orange sun disappeared into the water. I think it's only the third time I've seen that, and it was quite exciting. Tonight's entertainment was production show Stardust and we sat on the opposite side of the Cabaret Lounge tonight than we usually do and it seemed a very different show.

We move clocks back an hour tonight to CST. Captain D hinted, in his matchless way, that we may have trouble getting into the tender port of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua tomorrow due to high winds. Apparently the Island Princess was there today and encountered 45 knot winds and a difficult tendering situation. It makes no difference to us whether it's a Nicaraguan port day or a sea day. This itinerary could have been so much better than it is; the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama instead of Santa Marta, Columbia (not the nicest place), Huatulco, Mexico in lieu of either our Nicaraguan or El Salvadoran port stops, Cabo San Lucas instead of La Paz.  But we have sun and warm weather and that's what we're here for.

And, finally, a couple more nuggets of knowledge about the World Cruise... Have I mentioned there are dance instructors and a bridge instructor on board?  Christian Heim (of the classical music lectures) is also a psychiatrist, and his two recent lectures, which I haven't attended, have been on relationships. There is a craft instructor onboard and the crafting sessions on sea days are very heavily attended and different than the usual Princess crafting sessions. That I haven't been feeling participative this cruise is an understatement and I have not attended any of these sessions. 

The one thing that we don't like is that the Panorama Buffet on sea day evenings is not a buffet at all, but the Bistro Trattoria, which I understand is what is usually done on the World Cruise. It features sit down dining with covered tables and wait service, with a limited menu that changes every three days.  The first night we went, it took 30 minutes to get freshly made pizzas that are supposedly personal-sized but I ate just a slice and a half and the rest was waste (though very tasty waste). I would have much preferred simply getting a slice of ready made pizza. And last night we had the lasagna which truly was personal-sized but the meal still took longer than a buffet would. I guess we don't grasp the concept of why they need two sit down dinner venues plus a specialty restaurant but no buffet on sea day evenings. And we miss the ability to simply wander through later in the evening and get a cheese plate to enjoy with wine. But it must be popular, since they offer it every year. 

Could we ever do a World Cruise?  Absolutely, positively no. The ratio of sea to port days is just not to our liking. And we have now done one segment of it and have replicated two more of the five segments on other cruises (transatlantic and transpacific). I can see us possibly doing the Hong Kong to Dubai segment someday, if it still exists, but even the Dubai to Venice segment has seven sea days in a row through the Middle East. But everything we do, whether or not we would repeat it, provides a learning experience and this first segment of the World Cruise has certainly been that. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Day 91: Panama Canal

We are wiped out tonight after a full day of transiting the Panama Canal. Not that we actually played a role, of course, but we were up at 5:30am and outside most of the day. At 7pm we are already in bed...with an alarm set for 9:30pm. Tonight is the Love Boat Disco Deck Party on the pool deck, and the weather looks like it will be perfect. 

Just as we walked in the Panorama Buffet around sunrise, a torrential rain moved in and we couldn't see anything outside the windows. Luckily, it was not a harbinger of things to come, and we were gifted with a full, vivid rainbow as soon as the rain stopped and the sun returned. Aside from a couple very light, very brief showers in the morning, the day alternated between sunny and partly cloudy. It was actually cool by Panamanian standards, which means it was pleasant for us unless we were in the sun for an extended period of time. In fact, it was the best and most comfortable weather we've enjoyed on any of our transits. 

We started the day significantly behind schedule. It seemed we were approaching the first Gatun Lock at glacial speed for nearly two hours. We got quite a kick out of the number of pilot boats that dropped off- and picked up- people, most of whom we suspected were line workers. We were standing on the Promenade Deck and couldn't hear the commentary that lecturer Bill Fall was making from the bridge (today was his 50th Panama Canal transit on a cruise ship!) but didn't want to give up the peace and space we had...and the ability to easily cross from one side of the ship to the other through the forward elevator lobby. We watched as the ship's photographer and videographer climbed down the Jacob's ladder onto a waiting pilot boat and eventually saw them standing along the locks, recording the ship's transit and taking passenger photos. 

The Panama Canal workers are part PR people. Most of them waved and smiled for photos, and it caused me to recall that my very favorite photo of our first transit on the Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas in 2002 was of a mule driver bending down to look up out of his window and give me a big smile and wave. We saw who we call 'the rowboat guys' who attach a line from the ship to the line from the mules (the 55000 ton locomotive-type vehicles that hold the ship centered, forward and aft, in the locks). They are especially friendly and photogenic, and know that they are a novelty in the increasingly modernized Canal. 

Speaking of that, we clearly saw the entrance to the new Panama Canal, and even saw a NeoPanamax freighter transiting the Gatun Locks. The canal is on the east side of the original canal near the Gatun Locks but on the west side after the Culebra Cut through the Continental Divide. We saw the same freighter making its way out of the last set of locks at the end of our day as we passed under the Bridge of the Americas. 

We alternated between the Promenade Deck (Deck 5), the walking track on Deck 10 and the Panorama Terrace at the ship's aft on Deck 9 while we transited the three Gatun Locks, and grabbed a quick, light breakfast while we were near the buffet. On our first transit, the Radiance OTS was the largest ship that had ever transited the Panama Canal and we were on only its second transit. We have a photo of me standing on the Promenade Deck reaching out over the side and touching the lock wall. There was only 2 feet of gap on either side of that ship. On the Pacific Princess we probably had 12 feet. It's the smallest ship on which we've ever transited the canal. 

When the Pacific Princess entered Gatun Lake, we settled on the shady side of the Promenade Deck in loungers and watched as we passed by the 'islands' (actually the tops of the mountains that were covered with water when the Chagres River was dammed to form Gatun Lake and provide the water to operate the Panama Canal). We also kept an eye out for new NeoPanamax freighters, which are absolutely massive. 

At noon we went to the Club Restaurant for a serious lunch and then returned to the Promenade Deck as we passed through the Culebra Cut (the hardest part of the canal to construct as it involved cutting through the rock of the Continental Divide) and under the Centenario Bridge. We had left the Gatun Locks nearly 2 hours behind schedule but time was continually made up as we transited the rest of the canal. We went through the single Pedro Miguel Lock about 40 minutes behind schedule. There was much to see between the Pedro Miguel Lock and the first Miraflores Lock as we crossed Miraflores Lake and made up even more time. We could see mule and tug boat maintenance warehouses and storage, and various canal offices off the port side. 

After that, it seemed like no time at all before we were entering the first of two Miraflores locks. There is a large visitors center located on the Miraflores Locks, and there was a crowd of people standing on several viewing decks watching us. The bridge gave a quick toot on the ship's whistle and the crowd went wild. It was quite fun to see, and the Pacific Princess eventually repeated it and the crowd went wild again. They were taking pictures of us and we were taking pictures of them and waving and it was the best part of the transit. We passed under the Bridge of the Americas exactly on time, and the Regent Seven Seas Navigator that had been following us all day was shortly behind us. 

After a last look at the new canal, we turned to the east to view the huge metropolis that is Panama City. We had last been through the Panama Canal in 2007 and were shocked at how the city has grown. It's called the Dubai of South America for a reason. There are probably over a hundred stunning new skyscrapers, some with very unique architecture (a twisted green glass skyscraper...I'll upload a photo). We sailed past the freighters at anchorage on the Pacific side awaiting their turn to tranist the canal. While cruise ships reserve specific daylight times to transit, freighters may wait a few days at anchorage and then transit the canal at night. It operates 24/7/365. 

We just couldn't do a big dinner in the Club Restaurant tonight and went to the Bistro Trattoria that is the Panorama Buffet on World Cruise sea days. We ordered from a more limited menu and had just lasagna and dessert, and watched from the Panorama Terrace as the last light of the day faded and the lights of the Regent Seven Seas Navigator came on. After a quick nap, we'll be up partying in a couple of hours. 

While we have done full and partial Panama Canal transits, I am partial to full, westbound transits from Fort Lauderdale to California, probably because that how we did our first one. G likes the partial transits too, because, frankly, the Gatun Locks, three in succession, are probably the most impressive. But I think seeing the carved rock ledges of the Culebra Cut provides the best reminder of just what the builders went through over 100 years ago. Given the heat and rains and crocodiles and mosquitoes, it must have been horrendous work. 

Bill Fall told us that it costs $134 per passenger to transit the canal, plus the cost of the ship itself (based on displacement). Both G and I think it's the best excursion anywhere. :-)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Day 90: At Sea

If anyone had happened to look at the Pacific Princess webcam last evening, they would have no doubt noticed that the Pacific Princess remained docked in Santa Marta, Columbia overnight, sailing at 6am today. Captain D announced yesterday afternoon that a medical evacuation needed to take place from the ship (our second in two days!) and the ambulance had not yet arrived. Then, later, he announced that the combination of high winds and nightfall had made sailing unwise and he had decided to wait until this morning. He assured us that left plenty of time to make our reserved transit time of the Panama Canal tomorrow. 

Beyond that, I don't have much to report. We have not yet celebrated my birthday yesterday; I simply haven't been in the mood. However, we are quite excited about our Panama Canal transit tomorrow morning. We attended lecturer Bill Fall's talk on the Panama Canal operation in the Cabaret Lounge this morning and listened to it again late afternoon when it was replayed on TV, and though we thought we knew how the Canal worked, today we learned how much we didn't know. We have heard that the webcams at http://www.pancanal.com have been a bit hit and miss lately, but in case they are working tomorrow, we are scheduled to enter the first Gatun lock around 6:45 to 7am EST. Certainly the ship's webcam will be working and will give a good bridge perspective of the transit. 

Hopefully I will feel chattier tomorrow night as there will be much to report. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Day 88: A bye day in Aruba

We seem to get the worst news while in Aruba. First Sandy Hook and now the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting. I can't shake this awful feeling tonight and need a day or two away from writing newsy notes about cruise happenings. Life just isn't feeling very good tonight. 

Thanks for your understanding.