Tuesday, August 15, 2017


We are home recovering from our cruise. I've been working ten-hour days every day since we made landfall. I figured everyone worked extra hours to cover for me, so now I'm giving everyone else as much of a break as I can. I may have overestimated my abilities....

The cruise was a blast, as all cruises are (other than the occasional diarrhea cruise, which thank God we have avoided so far). We drove over to Miami a couple days early and booked a hotel in Brickell that was basically walking distance from the port. Our first day there (Thursday), we ventured out to find some food. The front desk guy basically told us to just start walking straight down the road until we found whatever we were looking for. We ended up in a Brazilian restaurant where no one spoke English. (If you ever find yourself in a "foreign" restaurant where the entire staff and clientele are Americans, RUN!) As is standard these days, there were TV's everywhere. I'm not sure when people became so addicted to screens that there has to be a TV hanging on every available inch of wall in every building, but I've accepted that the battle is already lost.

And get off my lawn!

Ahem. What was on the TV's had us cracking up the entire time we were there. It was some bizarre telenovela that combined Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Pirates of the Caribbean with some Mayan Vampires thrown in. I'm pretty sure that even if we spoke Portuguese or Spanish or whatever language it was in, it still would have made absolutely no sense to us. But it was still fun watching the crazy jump-cuts between a 16th-century British country house, a pirate ship, and Mayan human sacrifice while eating dinner.

The next day (Friday), we jumped on a van that took us to a bus that dropped us on an air boat that did a lot of this:

We were in the front of the boat, which steers from the rear, so it was like riding on a bar of soap. I was holding the camera pointed straight ahead the entire time (except when I had to throw it behind me to keep it from getting drenched with the water coming in over the side). So yea, the parts where it looks like I'm pointing the camera out the side of the boat? That was when the boat was going sideways. Which was most of the time. We only saw a couple small alligators because it was too hot out even for cold-blooded reptiles. The park has some captive breeding going on, so we wandered around a bit checking that out. At one point, we both felt the hair on our necks stand up. We turned around to this:

It's an odd feeling to have something sizing you up for lunch....

When we got back to Miami, the bus dumped us off right outside Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, so we headed in for dinner where I got revenge on that croc by munching on some of his cousins. We wandered the waterfront a bit, listened to some jazz, then hopped on the people-mover-thingy to our hotel and crashed. It sucks not being able to handle the sun and living in Florida of all places. Maybe we should move to Seattle.

Saturday was All Aboard!! the Carnival Vista for fun and frolics. This is our first mega-ship, the flagship of the Carnival line. The upside was that I had the best mac-n-cheese EVAAAAAR! Unfortunately, there was a lot to be disappointed in, like a lack of staff and too many people in too small of a space. There were the same number of stairwells and elevators as there are in ships half the size, so getting anywhere was a royal pain. Room stewards only hit the rooms once a day instead of twice. Takes forever to get food in some areas. The buffet had limited selection. Even main dining was a disappointment unless you wanted to pay an upcharge for the "specialty meals". All of which is supposed to entice (force?) people into the "specialty dining restaurants" that cost extra. I know it's a first-world problem, but it just isn't what I expect from a cruise. And the ship is just over a year old, and some of the public areas are already looking tired. I realize that sea air is hard on everything, and that people, especially the low-brow types that are drawn to Carnival, are even harder on things. But, as we were reminded 50 times a day, we were on the Flagship of the Fleet. I would expect a little extra effort from the maintenance department.

And the rocking. A ship can only be so wide and so long and still be able to use standard port facilities, so they keep making them taller. Any wind or swells whatsoever and it's rocky-rock, rocky-rock, rocky-rock. Kinda makes you wonder about the stability of the thing if it ever encounters serious weather. I know the cruise lines are very good about ducking and dodging around storms, but stuff happens.

And even the cruise director was making jokes about how crappy the theater was. Flat seating on the main floor? How many fractions of a percent did that brilliant move save on the construction costs? And don't even get me started on the stupid little drink tables screwed into the arms of the seats. They are right where your arm goes, which means that every last one of them is bent, making them completely useless as drink tables. But some ass-hat in management won't allow the maintenance guys to just get rid of the useless things. And thanks to giant pillars all over the place, about half the seats have no view of the stage. The cruise director offered to meet us there at midnight with sledge hammers for a little "repair party". I'm not sure he was actually joking.

But. And this is a very big "but".

The crew was great. They ran themselves half to death trying to get everything done without enough staff, always smiling, knew us by name after the first day, etc. And our favorite place on the ship was listening to Elizabeth in the piano bar. In our comments to the cruise line, we told them that "Elizabeth is a goddess and should be allowed to drive the ship." I'm not sure that's going to happen, but if it does and you're reading this, Elizabeth, give us a couple short blasts on the horn, K? And the Debbie Frost Whip dance craze will live forever. (Sometime when my post isn't already tl;dr, I'll explain that.)

The first day was taken up with boarding and getting settled, then a full day of sailing. We woke up Monday morning in Grand Turks. We didn't bother getting off the ship because a) we've been there before, and b) other than sitting on the beach or sitting in the bar/restaurant at the end of the pier, there really wasn't much to see. So we stayed on board and enjoyed short lines for things like the buffet and the SkyRide.

Next on the itinerary was La Romana in the Dominican Republic. We went through the Cueva de las Maravillas National Park. As is now typical, no photos are allowed in the cave due to concerns about blinding the bats and damaging the cave paintings. Of course, the Googles has 'em. The description of the shore excursion had some blah-blah-blah about steps. What we should have noticed was the number of steps. During the entire cave tour, you are going deeper and deeper in.  When you exit, you are greeted by a single staircase of some 200+ steps. We stopped about two-thirds the way to the top to try to breathe. Some young snot with his LL Bean Hiking Shorts (tm) and his LL Bean Hiking Stick (tm) and his LL Bean Hiking Boots (tm) that still had the tags attached says, "Oh, we're taking a break?" Yea, ya little shit, 'cause as soon as I can stop panting, I'm gonna toss your scrawny ass back down to the bottom of the stairs. Which I totally would have said to him, except I was busy trying to get enough oxygen to my brain so I could see.

After that we headed up to Altos de Chavon, a replication of a 16th Mediterranean village. It had steps. Not as many as the cave, but too many.

Debbie wanted me to climb down to the bottom of the amphitheater for a photo. I told her, "You first!"

Nice place to just hang out, but other than a gift shop and a guy charging to have your picture taken with his donkey, I'm not sure what really goes on there.

Next up: Aruba. The short version; Central Arizona with iguanas. After the whole Stairmaster routine the day before, we were looking for something easy, so we took an island bus tour. The first stop wasn't bad, just some uneven ground. And no steps.

Then the second stop was a giant boulder with these:

Not just steps, but irregular, uneven, crooked, stone steps.

And then this:

And this:

And then back to the ship.

In Curacao, we did another cave. This one was privately owned rather than a national park, but they had done a good job developing the cave. It was a much smaller and younger cave system than the one in the Dominican Republic. Very few full columns, but still a very nice cave. The best part was the guide shutting off all the lights when we were in the back of the cave. Always a good time for anyone who hadn't been in a cave before. Which included Debbie. I thought that she had been in a cave when she was a kid, but that must have been one of my other wives.... Again, no photos allowed and, likely because it's a private cave, I can't find any online. I do have a picture of (you guessed it) stairs!

The next stop was an ostrich farm. This little guy is the only chick that survived this year. They don't know what happened. Probably some sort of virus. Blood and tissue went out to various labs with the hope that they can come up with some sort of vaccine that can be given to the adult birds which will give immunity to next year's brood.

The babies are cute. The adults... well....

So after all that, it was two days at sea that consisted mostly of sleeping, eating and hanging out with the Goddess Elizabeth in the piano bar.

Then, back to reality....