Carnival Legend Cruise through Western Carribean 2009

*Note to Facebook folks – there are a lot of pictures that won’t make it into the facebook note. Please click on the link to see them.*

It took me a while to organize the pictures that I wanted to post along with this blog entry.

Back in November Michelle and I took a cruise with our friends Polly and Stu. As luck would have it our cruise departed November 8th and just missed Hurricane Ida on our way out to the Grand Cayman islands. In fact our departure was delayed by a couple of hours I believe for exactly that purpose. The folks that had just come off the ship had said that they had encountered very rough seas.

DSC_3336Our ship was the Carnival Legend, cabin 5281, and we shared a balcony with Stu and Polly (cabin 5277).  The first night was VERY rough. I absolutely loved it. The tops of the waves were being torn off by the wind and looked like that fine icy snow you see blowing around on a crisp day up North. The ship was rocking so intensely that it was difficult to read in bed with your knees up ’cause of the force you had to exert just to keep them from falling over!

DSC_3350The ship was well appointed and we marveled at the cabin facilities. Everything was functional and just worked as it was supposed to. Our room steward (Natalia) was very pleasant and did a top notch job of keeping our cabin clean and stocked.

Another great surprise was that the mini bar prices were nowhere near as outrageous as I’ve seen in the past ($2 for a soda, $7.50 for a mini-bottle of booze).

The shows and activities on board were OK, but not spectacular (‘though I rather enjoyed the Monday night Jazz show) of note was a pretty bad balancing act (not naming it) that I would have thought was an SNL parody if I hadn’t known it was serious.

The dining room offerings seemed to go between extremes. The Caesar salads were uniformly bland while the potatoes were excellent, the ribs superb and filet mignon  was tough and lackluster. The offered dessert of melted chocolate cake was excellent and the hot chocolate was always inspired.

There was an ongoing language issue with staff unable to understand basic inquiries or not knowing the answers and making something up so we would be on our way (in the wrong direction usually). This is something that Carnival needs to work on.

Grand Cayman Island

PICT0021We did not schedule any excursions in the Grand Cayman Islands, preferring instead to just lounge around on the ship and then head out to shore for a late day drink and meal. We found a great little place called Rackam’s Bar that was close to the port but relatively quiet.

Cozumel

We elected to do the “Ruins of Tulum” as our shore excursion. I heard after we had booked this trip that the “ruins” tour in Belize was better than this one. Even without experiencing the Belize tour first hand I have to say that I’m confident that it’s probably the way to go.

DSC_3353We started with a 40 minute boat ride from the port which featured a great guitarist / singer who kept us entertained, we then spent about 20 or so minutes on a bus where we met our guide, Raul. He was very engaging, kind of like a Mayan Robert Deniro. Really, he was one of the high points of the trip. This stopped briefly at a little artisans place where I picked up some shot glasses. I really am a sucker for shot glasses…

DSC_3383_edited-1The ruins themselves were modestly interesting. Everything was roped off and sealed so you could not touch or really experience anything.

If you have ever wanted to climb a Mayan pyramid then this is definitely *not* the tour for you.

DSC_3420_edited-1There are some interesting lizards and I’m pretty sure that every tour group that goes through there gets an entirely different story from what I heard listening to some of the other groups going through there.

Belize

From everything that I read Belize was the place to go. It’s not nearly so tired as Mexico and it’s way more mature than Isla Roatan.

Bak a bush 001 (98)_edited-1We decided to do the “lost world canopy tour” in Belize. This involves 5 zip lines and 2 rappels at a location that is about a 40 minute bus ride on smooth road and about a 20 minute ride on one of the bumpier roads that you’ll ever ride on. Surprisingly, and I kid you not, the bumpy bus ride is pleasant, almost invigorating.

The canopy tour was a lot of fun, made so not only by the obvious professionalism and care for safety taken by the crew there but also by their easy going and frank manner whenever we had a chance to chat.

This trip was a little pricey at about $100 per person but I think it was worth the investment. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Bak a bush P3210073If I could have my ‘druthers, I’d have spent all of our shore time in Belize. There were many other excursions that appealed and all of them seem to get a thumbs up from folks who took them. Polly and Stu elected to go Quad Vehicle riding that day and they had a great time too.

Isla Roatan

We had a catamaran excursion planned for this port that we ended up canceling at the last minute since it was raining that morning.

Instead, when the rain let up later in the day we went into the port to wander around a bit. There is a quaint cluster of shops and restaurants immediately within the port grounds. We elected to head out into the village to see what it had to offer and were immediately assailed upon leaving the port by offers and solicitations of all kinds. Everybody leaving the port ended up with an entourage of children – usually about 3-5 who would hover and attempt to cajole you into each establishment that they had a deal with.

It was a little unnerving, though Michelle commented afterward that it was a worthwhile experience to see such naked capitalism. But we quickly ended up retreating back to the port for drinks and conversation. This is one place where I’d only trust the cruise line shore excursion offerings instead of trying to work out something in port. The folks here need the dollars the tourism brings, but they are far too aggressive in trying to get them.

Overall

PICT0010All in all I really enjoyed the cruise. I would definitely visit Belize again any time to explore what they have to offer. I like the cruise lifestyle and being able to just relax on the ship. There is always food available and room service is part of the deal if you prefer to spend time in your cabin. As we were cruising with friends, we often got room service in the morning and breakfasted together out on our balcony. The balcony, by the way, is something that I will be sure to get on any cruise I take in the future. It was great to be able to just hang out there and chat or think with nothing to break the reverie.

PICT0041_edited-1And, when you tire of being on your own, you just head out to the public parts of the ship and enjoy the sights and sounds of the other cruise passengers. As always, we bumped into some odd and interesting folks that add color to the experience and make it that much more memorable.

In Las Vegas for TAM6

Ooh La LaTAM6 is “The Amazing Meeting” ‘s 6th incarnation. Since I’ve been listening to and reading about many of these folks for years I thought it would be a lot of fun to attend this year to see these folks live and interact with some like minded folks.

TAM spans Thursday through Sunday but my chief interest was with the core Friday and Saturday presentations so that’s what I signed up for. Michelle and I flew down on Wednesday so we could enjoy some time in Las Vegas doing some of the “strip” stuff together before I went off to attend the TAM presentations.
As luck would have it, my mother decided she could join us, so Mich and her could have fun together when I’m not there. For the uninitiated among you, Mich and my mom get along together famously so this is actually a *good* thing… just ask her yourself! 🙂

On Wednesday (June 18) Mich and I arrived in Las Vegas at about 3:30 pm and immediately headed out to do a bit of exploring on the strip. Wow! It’s as hot as I remember from my last trip back in 2001. Every time you go outside it’s as if you are opening an oven door. 106 degrees and 5% humidity. Oh yeah baby!

Anyway, after bopping over to Treasure Island to pick up our show tickets for that night (Mystere) we headed over to Margaritaville and enjoyed some libations and split an excellent club sandwich (I recommend it).

Mystere was superb. I’m not sure if there’s a bad seat in the house. I sat 4 rows back from the stage about 45 degrees off of center. What a spectacle that was!

This is the third, permanent venue (not in tents), Cirque de Soleil that I’ve seen and I would recommend any of them. As amazing as Mystere was, my absolute favorite so far is “O” and I would go back and see that one again any day in a heartbeat.

Just one gripe so far, I’m sure this applies to all the hotels here, but I’m staying at the Flamingo (since that’s where TAM 6 is being hosted and I wanted to be close to the action) and MAN, do they ever nickel and dime you to death for EVERYTHING! When I got to my room and tried to access the internet I found that there was a daily charge for it ($13). In checking back to see the room descriptions I see that I had interpretted “Internet Data Port” as meaning actual access rather than merely the (needed to be paid for) potential for access. I haven’t had to pay for internet access in a hotel room in years.
Also, I just came back from attempting to access the fitness center where I was surprised to find there was a $10 a day access fee. Since I had shown up with just my workout clothes room key and my iPod I was not in a position to shell out for this. I’ve *never* had to shell out for a fitness center before.

I suppose it’s truly a capitalist venture. Not everybody who uses a hotel room needs internet access and far fewer still take advantage of the fitness center, so it could be argued that it makes sense to have folks pay for exactly the amenities that they use.

Thursday had us exploring the city (visited the Stratosphere – it’s definitely past its prime). As with the last time we were here, Caesar’s Palace is always entertaining. Enjoyed lunch at “Mon Ami Gabi” one of the restaurants associated with the Paris Casino and Hotel. On the outdoor patio you can watch the fountains of the Bellagio hotel go through their gyrations, something we really love.

That evening we attended “The Blue Man Group” show and, as expected, we loved it too. We saw them when we were last in Las Vegas and they didn’t disappoint this time either. Always lively and fun! Afterwards we had dinner in the Venetian “The Grand Lux Cafe” – another recommendation from me – the food is great. And the server girls in the casino are sporting easily my favorite outfits on the strip.

James "The Amazing" RandiFriday saw me at TAM 6 so Mich and my mother went on the town. Check out my Flickr set for pictures and some brief opinions from TAM 6. I won’t go into the content because, frankly, many others have already done that and they do a better job of it than I would. I *really* enjoyed watching the recording of “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe”, Neil deGrasse Tyson gave a great talk and, surprisingly, Alec Jason’s talk about forensics was fascinating. In truth I have to say I loved pretty much everything. The exceptions I noted in my Flickr stream.

That evening we ate at “The Eiffel Tower Restaurant”, again in the Paris Hotel. We had a great view of the Bellagio Fountains which are truly breathtaking at night.
The meal was incredibly expensive, but in Vegas you largely do get what you pay for. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a filet mignon as wonderfully tender as the one I was served. Exquisite!

That night I came down with a terrible cold and ended up missing the 2nd day of TAM 6. I was very disappointed (frankly I just slept and blew my nose all day) I REALLY wanted to hear Phil Plait’s and Michael Shermer’s talks. I understand there was a problem with the audio recordings made of TAM and that there is a chance that the DVDs may not be available for that day. I’m keeping my eyes open, I hope they are able to piece those together from audience-captured audio.
Just as bad, I missed Penn & Teller’s show that night. Mich ended up going alone as my mom had already purchased tickets to see Elton John that night.
Michelle as quite thrilled that she was seated only a couple of rows away from Adam Savage (one of the few TAM folks that she would recognize). Penn & Teller’s show was, I am told, fabulous too. 🙁 Next time!!!

Later Saturday night Mich came in after having won something like $80 on the slot machines (I was still recovering from my cold so I stayed in), but my mom came in at some crazy hour (2 am?) after hitting a jackpot and cleared $2,940 (before $900 was expropriated by “da gummint” – something puzzling to a Canadian where winnings are not taxable).

So Sunday morning started with a grand room service feast which we enjoyed before packing up to head back home.

Trip to Ellijay

Over there over here fallsWe spent the weekend at a great little cabin up in Ellijay, Ga.
The cabin was located on a really steep hill on 6 acres of property. It was very nicely appointed, having everything you would need to spend a week there except food. We took the opportunity to visit and hike in a couple of local parks, Fort Mountain the first day and, after a great twisty-turny drive, Raven Cliffs Falls.

The hikes were pretty long for me, I’m not much of a walker (I run for exercise, drive everywhere else :)) but it was a satisfying romp in the woods and I got some nice pictures out of it. Click on the picture of the falls to see more.

Charleston, South Carolina

We’re here in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina eating breakfast at “Joseph’s”. The food portions are generous and the atmosphere convivial. There is a live band playing sax, clarinet and guitar about 15 feet from us.

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Here is a link to the growing album. I’m trying to blog more or less real-time.

We had a bit of a SNAFU when we arrived last night, they assigned us to a room that had plenty of space, but few amenities:

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There were a couple of other hiccoughs but I used the “comments” section on their internal website and the manager called us this morning to apologize and is moving us to a new room. I’ll let you know if things are great now.

Savannah, GA for Thanksgiving

We met up with the Naidus in Savannah over Thanksgiving. We spent a couple of days at the “Westin Savannah Harbor“. Hint, if you’ll be spending a lot of time in your room, shell out the extra $30 a night and get the River view. The golf course view is OK, except it’s really the “parking lot, marsh, roadway *then* golf course view”. 🙂 No worries for us since we spent so little daylight time in the room but it *does* explain why there were no images of that view on their web site.

Check out the pictures here:

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Largely the place was a ghostland for Thanksgiving. I was *very* surprised. The River Street that I was expecting is completely packed, you know tourists in the sidewalk, kids in their parent’s cars cruising up and down the boulevard. So we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Since we arrived later in the day we were looking for a place to eat right away, but most places were either closed, or their kitchens were closed.

Fortunately, a friend at work told me about

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Kevin Barry’s (Irish) Pub. They were open until the wee hours (at least *much* later than we were going to be up), but they had some great live music – Irish songs, of course.

We ended up at the Bacon Park Golf course before heading home. Not one of my best games, but I’ve been unable to practice much lately at the driving range…

Overall a great trip and a nice diversion. We only spent the Thursday and Friday there so we still had the rest of the weekend available for getting the Christmas decorations culled (still haven’t set those up yet!).

Chocomap!

ChocomapIf you know me, you know I love chocolate (yeah, yeah, and fries too..), King sent me this link to a resource that shows a little promise.

Heh, maybe someday this will grow into a useful resource. I took a peek and couldn’t find any of the places I like. Most notably absent is Rheo Thompson Candies in Stratford Ontario (their milk chocolate mint smoothies are out of this world!).

I wanted to add them but they seem to only want the actual chocolatiers to do that. I’m pretty sure this site won’t *really* take off until they encourage chocolate *lovers* to keep it up-to-date. It’s been my experience that “artistes” and the computer savvy crowd frequently do not overlap…

Great Zip line in Africa

I’ve done a much smaller, but still thrilling zip line up in Collingwood, Ontario:

3rd Person:


1st Person:

But this looks to be a very slick one-up on that experience. Holy cow!  The speed really does not come across in the “zipper’s” footage so I’m glad they had a camera in the landing area so you could see how fast you can go!

Updated Collingwood Treetop walk videos

I just added these videos to YouTube as a more practical way of hosting them.

These are from our August 2005 trip to Canada where we visited Collingwood and did the Treetop Walking Adventure.

This video shows my perspective of the zipline at the end of the walk. I inverted myself to get a more exciting perspective:


This video shows the same scene but from the ground:

Celebrity Zenith Gulf Cruise

**Update 1/18/2006 – Finally got the pictures developed and posted. Check out the gallery **

Mich and I recently came back from a cruise through the Western Caribbean (Gulf of Mexico) on board Celebrity Cruise Line’s Zenith ship.

This is only our second cruise, the first being back in 2002 when we did a Carnival cruise on the Fascination to the Bahamas.

I’ll post pictures as soon as we get them developed. My little DiMage X50 camera is still in the repair shop recovering from damage sustained after a couple of drops to the floor during the Halloween party. Hopefully we’ll have it back this coming Thursday. In the meantime we’ve dusted off our old film camera (and we picked up an underwater disposable for the cruise shore excursion).

Overall we enjoyed this cruise. It was billed as 4 nights and left Miami on December 22nd (2005) at about 5 pm. So really there are about 3 1/3 days of cruise enjoyment. Since you dock at 8:00 am the last day there really isn’t much you can do but wait to get off the ship.

The first stop was in Key West, Florida. We had heard that there was nothing terribly spectacular to see unless you enjoy marine museums so we loitered on the ship in the morning and had a satisfying breakfast before heading out to explore. Never having been to Key West before any and everything there was going to be interesting. We decided to walk the streets with the purpose of ending up at that “You are at the Southernmost point of the Continental U.S.” marker and getting our picture taken there.

The weather was pleasant for us, probably mid-60’s but feeling warmer in the sun, so we were able to wander around in short sleeves comfortably. We didn’t have very long in Key West so after our photo op and exploring a few local shops, we stopped off at a coffee shop and Mich enjoyed her Java fix while I indulged in an oversized cinnamon bun.

The next stop was in Cozumel, Mexico where we indulged in the “Clear Kayak and Beach Snorkle Combo” hosted by the Uvas Beach Club and Marine Park. This was interesting for anybody who is new to kayaking or snorkling but, given Cozumel’s reputation for gorgeous reefs, was very dissapointing on the scenery front. The sea bottom was mostly sand punctuated with largely unspectacular rock outcroppings. We did get to see some little stingrays and, to Mich’s satisfaction, a reasonably large starfish. But for anybody already comfortable and familiar with snorkling and kayaking I’d have to recommend passing on this venue. The guide and the folks working at the venue were all great but there was really very little to see in the water.

Since our ship docked off the port outside of the city, we paid our cab driver an additional $6 to have him drive us into town rather than back to the port after the kayaking so we could explore there.

Cozumel city was VERY quiet that day, this was the 24th of December after all. All the shops were open but there were much fewer people wandering around than I expected. After the girls finished exploring the local shops (OK OK because the local shops were closing and they couldn’t look any more) we headed to Carlos N Charlies, a local hot spot for some drinks before heading back to the ship.

We met Jan and Miera (I’m sure I haven’t spelled that right…) at our dinner table on the cruise ship and had coincidentally all chosen the same shore excursion so we hooked up for checking out the city. They are the other folks you will see at our table in the pictures.

One thing I would change if I could would be to have stayed in Cozumel much later. We were there for most of the day, but the departure time of 8:30 (it changed several times so I’m not sure what it ultimately ended up being) was a little soon for my tastes as I was enjoying the “scenery” at Carlos N Charlies.
Speaking of which, I’d like to thank the girls from our cruise ship who were also in the bar and provided the entertainment for the evening. Carlos N Charlies was pretty quiet when we arrived until they showed up. I think we’ve got some pictures so I’ll post some representative ones when they are developed.

The Zenith itself was a pleasant ship, a little smaller than the Fascination, which is all I know to compare it to, but plenty large enough for us. The Zenith is an older ship that is apparently due for renovation so it wasn’t all sparkling and new. The stateroom was clean and service was pleasant. All the of the ship’s staff that we encountered were helpful and polite.

Our favorite haunt on the ship was the Cova Café. For Mich the Coffee was great, for myself it was the Hot Chocolate Melange that comes as my highest recommendation.

We would definitely sail with Celebrity again.