My Cruise Diary … (Part4)

April 8th 2010 (Thu)

Today was our day at Cabo San Lucas, a place we have heard a lot about. To avoid the fate at Mazatlan, I woke up even earlier and got to see the ship arriving at Cabo. I woke up the family soon after and we all got ready. We were supposed to report for our Cabo Tour (“Boat Ride to Land’s End”) at 8.30AM. This time for breakfast, along with the other “healthy” items, I added one egg, sunny side up. Hey, arent we supposed to have a “heavy” breakfast? ๐Ÿ™‚ We had a great view of the Cabo bay from our breakfast table. We noticed that there was another Cruise ship, a slightly smaller one,ย in the bay (Holland America’s ship). At 8.45AM (after waiting for a few minutes at the Princess Theatre), we were ushered into a “Tender” (the small boats each Cruise Ship has).

The Tender ride was interesting. We all felt the full “force” of the sea. We were soon herded to our Catamaran, for the 45-minute boat ride to the Land’s End. The Tour Guide (a lady) was amused by Joe singing “Wheels on the bus …” at full volume! Looks like the rhyme is popular in “Me-hi-ko” ๐Ÿ™‚ Except for the flies, the ride went well. Forget the flies, the views were just out of the world. And the rock formations were just great. I think I must have taken over 500 snaps just there! They served us Pineapple and Orange juice. Note: Photography is not my strength. The photos, I am sure, does not do justice to the views …

A view of the Land's End, Cabo San Lucas ...

We were then taken to a van, for the ride to a restaurant called Da Giorgio, a few miles out of town. From this restaurant, which had great sit-out areas, we could see the Sapphire Princess in the bay. Like a model, in a fashion show, I noticed that the ship kept turning round and round! Was it intentional or was it due to the turbulence?

View of the Cabo bay, from Da Giorgio ... You can see Sapphire Princess and the Holland America ship in the bay ...

Once we got back to the Harbor, I bought some souvenirs from a gift shop. We then sat down for a so-so lunch at an eatery right at the Pier. Though the food wasnt that great, it had nice shade and we could do people-watching at will. After lunch, Rhea pushed us into aย huge toy store. We could only come out, after we agreed to buy a Mexican doll for her. Soon after, we boarded the Tender to get back to the Sapphire Princess. I noticed that there was now a 3rd ship in the bay, Coral Princess.

A couple of days earlier, I had applied for the “Ultimate Ship Tour”, which Princess claims is a “lottery”. Only 6 people will be selected from among the 3000 passengers. Today, I receive the letter confirming my selection. One part of meย was happy that I got in, the other part of meย was thinking, maybe there are only 6 interested people in the whole ship! It costs 150$. To me, it sounded very exciting. Who wouldnt want to see the inner workings of a massive Cruise Ship? The Tour was at 1PM on Friday.

At 1PM, I went to watch an Ice Carving demonstration on Deck14. Two guys were toiling away. I must say, it did not look like dolphins to me! They said it was dolphins, so I guess it must be ๐Ÿ™‚ While the family was taking a siesta, I went to Deck15, had a Coco Loco cocktail (Coconut Rum, Coconut Milk, Syrup and Pinapple Juice) while watching the Ship move out of Cabo. I then went for a quick stint at the Gym.

At A338, I watched a movie called “The Core” for a while. I could not understand how Hillary Swank wounded up in this one. At 6.45PM, we went to the Princess Theatre for a show called “Do You Wanna Dance?” . The show was supposedly at 7PM and there were no one there, except for 2 old ladies. I thought that this show must be really unpopular. Then I figured out that the show was at 8.45PM! We walked out and the old ladies told me that they were aware the show is only at 8.45PM. Well, whatever works for them … ๐Ÿ™‚

At Horizon Court, I tried Beef Wellington for the first time. The dish was alright, although I did not like the Horseradish Sauce that went with it. There was also some excellent Salmon Pizza. I did not think that fish would have gone well in a pizza. After dinner, we headed back to the Theatre. The show was excellent. They even had an “Indian” piece and I thought the dancers (no one from India) did quite well. The loudest cheers were for the Irish piece though. That was just fantastic.

After the show, the family retired to A338 and I went to Explorer’s Lounge to see the standup routine by Steve Moris (of “The Beach Boys” fame). He played some mean guitar and the Lounge was overflowing with people.

April 9th 2010 (Friday)

Today was our last sea day (last full day of our Cruise). We woke up as late as we could. After yet another massive breakfast, we walked around a bit. At around noon, Rosemary and Joe went for a Cooking Demonstration at the Princess Theatre (after dropping off Rhea at the Pelicans) and I went for the Ship Tour. There were 6 of us, 5 gents and one lady. The Ship Tour Guide, Mike, was excellent and had quite a few interesting stories to tell. We went to the backstage (of the Princess Theatre) and met some of the cast, then went to the Galley and were shown around by the Head Chef. We were given some drinks and chocolates. While standing on the Theatre stage, I could barely stand straight. There was so much shaking (the movement of the Ship)! I could appreciate the performers even more. Next came the storage area, the Laundry area, the Printing area (where all the menus for all the restaurants and the daily Princess fliers were printed), Hospital area and the Control Room. I was most amazed by the Laundry Room (there were a couple of Indian guys, among the 10-odd people toiling away over there). The sheer amount of soiled clothes coming in, was a sight to behold. Each time we soil a towel or table-cloth, it lands up here! No wonder it is recommended (by Princess) that you try and reuse towels atleast a couple of times before asking for it to be washed.

Pardon the poor quality. Lazy me just scanned the official photograph. The 6 of us with the Captain, at the Bridge of the Sapphire Princess ...

We were then taken to the Bridge. We met the Captain, and were provided with Champagne and more snacks. I was very impressed with the Bridge area and felt sorry for the two “lookouts” (two Philippino guys who had to stand for a 4-hour shift and look out for any “danger” (e.g. a whale)). At the Bridge, we were shown around by a Croatian guy (2nd in command). At around 4PM, the tour came to an end.

I then spent a few minutes writing recommendations for the various Princess Staff who treated us very well. After dropping the recommendations off at the Passenger Services, I returned to A338. By this time the Ship was galloping along and there was significantly more shaking. Rosemary was feeling a bit queasy. I was not feeling that great either (my problem was a headache). For dinner, at the Horizon Court, I had my lightest meal of the Cruise (Rice, Salad and an Indian Curry).

We then went to the Princess Theatre and watched a bit of a music show by Steve Moris. Most of the songs were old classics and he was encouraging the crowd to sing along.

Rhea had a Pyjama Party at 8PM. Rosemary got her back at 10PM and by that time myself and Joe were already asleep.

April 10th 2010 (Saturday)

By around 8AM, the Ship arrived at San Pedro. The breakfast was our last meal on the Ship. I did my regular Sausage/Egg routine ๐Ÿ™‚ย We had finished all the packing beforehand. After breakfast, we went down to our designated area of departure (Deck7, Explorer’s Lounge, for us). By around 9AM, we got out of the Ship. I thought the staff arranged the departure of the guests very well.

Curious Fact: While the passengers enjoy a week-long Cruise, most of the Staff (who are on 6-12-month contracts) have to head back on the next Sapphire Princess Cruise in another few hours! In a span of 2-3 hours they have to clean every area and get the ship in top shape for the next set of 3000 passengers! Imagine doing the same routine over and over for 6 months, with almost no significant breaks in between! I got a lot of inside information (like this) from Mike during the Ship Tour.

Back at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), after a cab ride with a driver from Grenada (Man, is USA diverse!)), we had some time to kill for our flight was at 1PM only. By around 4PM, we were back home after a truly wonderful Cruise Experience!

It took only a couple of days before my “Travel Juices” started flowing again and I started to look forward to my next adventure!

My Cruise Diary … (Part3)

April 6th 2010 (Tuesday)

Today is our day at Puerto Vallarta, a port town towards the South-West of Mexico. Before the family woke up, I had finished packing for the Shore Excursion (tickets, charge cameras, identification documents etc.) and also had a few rounds on Deck14 with a cup of coffee in hand. Later, while we were having breakfast, we saw dophins swimming alongside the ship! The kids were pretty excited …

I am seeing a trend with my breakfast. Sausages and eggs are a staple! For obvious reasons, this is not something one can have on a daily basis. But on vacations, I treat myself to heavy breakfasts.

My typical breakfast during the Cruise ... Awesome for the tastebuds! Awesome for the body??

The family then went on Deck15, to see the ship arrive at the port. We started seeing land and it was pictures galore. At around 9AM, we all left A338 and went down to Deck4 as instructed. Man, was it crowded! Also, we felt the Mexican heat for the first time. Holding on to Joe in this heat wasnt easy. Very soon we set foot in Mexico for the first time and we parted ways. Rosemary and Rhea went for the “Kids Dolphin Encounter” tour and myself and Joe stood in line for the “Puerto Vallarta – City and Coastal Drive” tour. I was carrying Joe in one hand, had a pretty heavy backpack (snacks for Joe, water etc.) and the tour guy was asking me to fill up some “form” with the other “free” hand, while walking! I tried to tell him, “Yeah! You try doing it …”, but the language barrier did not help ๐Ÿ™‚ Inside the bus, it was all nice and comfy. Our guide was Raul and I must say, he was very entertaining and made the tour a real treat. He is a native of the town and I noticed that he called Mexico, “Me-hi-ko”.

We soon reached Malecon (the beach walkway). There were beautiful sand sculptures on the beach. It was very hot and sunny.

The Sand Sculptures at Malecon ...

We then walked to the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On the way, I noticed that I had to change Joe’s diapers. We went into the public restroom in the City Hall (which was on the way) and because it was not very clean, I somehow managed to do a diaper change while ensuring that neither Joe nor my backpack touched anywhere! By the end, I was sweating like an NBA player after a Double-Overtime game ๐Ÿ™‚ After visiting the church, I entered a candy store (forced by Joe!). Most of the candies were marked 35$, 40$ etc. I thought, “Man, these guys are fleecing tourists …”. It turned out to be in Mexican Pesos ๐Ÿ™‚ That was better … I also bought a big bottle of water as Joe was looking a bit uncomfortable. As with any tour, then came the “Tourist Trap” part. We were taken to a Jewellery Store (“the best in town …”, “great discounts …” blah, blah …). They gave us some pretty lousy Margaritas and what was supposedly Pineapple Juice. I think I accidently have a 2-year-old some alcohol (because both the glasses tasted exactly the same)! Joe suddenly started to look very comfortable and happy, which confirmed my fears! ๐Ÿ™‚

While we were waiting for the other tourists to come out of the Jewellery store, I went into a store across the road and bought some painted tiles as souvenirs.ย  They looked awesome.

The painted tiles looked great. I bought two of them ...

Soon, we embarked on the Coastal Drive. The villas and hotels were very nice, with spectacular views. Apparently, the real estate prices have gone through the roof (recently), because lots of foreigners were buying vacation houses here. During this drive, Joe fell asleep (it was his regular nap time). This meant that I couldnt get down at a few scenic spots. We were supposed to be back at the ship by 2PM and I noticed that it was already 1.30PM. After the coastal drive, we went to a seaside restaurant where we were supposed to get “free drinks”. I took a risk and went a bit down the street where a crowded roadside food stall was present. I ordered a few different kinds of Tacos (by “pointing to the menu” of course!) and they were great!

The roadside Taco Stand. Not only was the food awesome, it was a steal (price-wise) ...

I forced Joe to drink a lot of water. By the time we got back to the port, it was 3.20PM (ship leaves at 4PM!). But since it was ship’s own tour, I was not too worried about missing the ship, only about Rosemary and Rhea being pissed off waiting for us. Luckily, both of them had a great time with Dolphins and were in a happy mood. Rhea tried to coax some souvenirs from stands right next to the ship. I was thinking, “Yeah, right! Buy souvenirs from stalls right next to the ship. I am sure that will be economical”. I somehow managed to wiggle out of that “dangerous” situation. Princess staff (including our guy from Goa) were handing out “cold towels” to wipe our faces with. Nice! After the security checks, we were soon back in A338. After a while, we went up for a coffee/tea break. We had a nice view of the harbor. There was a Wal-Mart in that part of town. Wal-Mart is there everywhere!

While Rosemary took the kids to the pool (and fed them their Ice-cream Cones), I stayed back and watched some TV (“The Office” and “Paul Blart – The Mall Cop”). It was “Italian Night” at Horizon Court. We had Chicken Ravioli, Roast Pig, Garlic Shrimp, Scones and some Italian Pastries.

We then went back to A338, freshened up, and left for the Princess Theatre, for Alexander the magician’s, “The Illusion” show. I noticed that there was such a crowd that many people were standing. Pretty much the whole ship seemed to be there. By far the most crowded show during this Cruise. Seemed like the guy had his share of “fans”. The show was very good. Rhea liked the show so much that she insisted on us buying the magician’s DVD (sold just outside the Theatre). But, unfortunately, it was all sold out in minutes.

Well, that was that.

April 7th 2010 (Wednesday)

Today was our day at Mazatlan, a small coastal town with a lot of history. For breakfast, I found a new combination I liked very much (along with my staples, mentioned above). Corned Beef within a small 9-grain bun. It was so good, I even got Rosemary to like it. We missed the ship docking at the port, because it arrived by 6AM or something and by the time I went to Deck15, the ship was already docked. We were all booked for the “Mazatlan – Old City Tour and Papantla Flyers Show”. By 10AM, we were standing in line to get into the Tour Bus, which was air-conditioned and very spacious. This time, the tour guide was a Mazatlan native, by the name Alma. She, like Raul, was a very good guide. She started off with some basic history of Mazatlan and apparently, it is known as the “Shrimp Capital” of Mexico (and even South America). On the way, she had the bus stop at a Fish Market and showed us the huge Shrimp.

The huge Shrimp! Alma had all of us take a real good look at it. I had a feeling that that Shrimp belonged somewhere (my stomach! ๐Ÿ™‚

We stopped at a famous local Catholic Church, with some nice artwork and architecture. Alma was telling us that there were 3 Cruise Ships at the dock that day and over 9000 tourists flooded Mazatlan that day. Please note that Mazatlan is a town of about 600K people. “Mazatlecos” is what the locals are called and they eat Shrimp without too much care for cholesterol, heh heh!. I noticed even Alma says “Me-hi-ko”.

She then takes us to a view point, where we have nice views of the sea. There are lot of vendors hawking various souvenirs. This time Rhea pinned me down and I had to buy a couple of items for her. I felt bad for the hawkers who were trying their best to make a living out of their meagre earnings.

A local vendor selling his wares ...

Apparently, Mazatlan is also a famous destination for Mardi Gras revellers. Like Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan also had a lot of nice houses with spectacular views. It seems the humidity at Mazatlan reaches close to 100% during July-August. To me, it appeared to be a quiet town with friendly people. Lots of people from USA and Canada retire there. The coconut trees, the houses etc. reminded me of Kerala. For this tour, the “Tourist Trap” was a store called “The Silver Bucket”. After getting some real lousy Pina Colada (for “free”, which explains the quality), we wait outside and roamed a bit here and there to pass time.

The short guy (in black pants) had unlimited energy and worked the crowd pretty well. Rosemary got enticed into the store (which had nothing much inside) and got a "free bracelet", which was nothing more than a piece of iron/steel bent to look like a bracelet ๐Ÿ™‚

We then were led by Alma to see the Papantla Flyers. It was a 45-minute show by a group of Native Americans. We all enjoyed the show and this particular show was for tourists from the Sapphire Princess. There were some “Mexican Carnival” dancers, which was a waste of time and looked like some people jumping around after a few drinks ๐Ÿ™‚ At the same time, there also some trememdous rope tricks by a Mexican Cowboy.

The Papantla Flyers, doing their performance ...

Rhea won another round against me (I.e. I had to buy her more souvenirs!). By the by, the Papantla Flyers is a World Heritage Show. After the show, we were taken back to the Port. After tipping Alma well, we moved to a Mexican eatery at the port, for lunch. Though the food was pricey (no wonder, since it was right at the port), it was good.

Since there were 3 Cruise Ships docked at the port, they took us in a tram to each ship. Carnival Spirit, Royal Carribean’s Mariner of the Seas and of course, Sapphire Princess were at the dock.

The 3 Cruise Ships at the dock, at Mazatlan ...

We went to A338 and had a quick siesta. At 4PM, after having some coffee/tea and snacks. we dispersed. Rosemary took the kids to the pool. I went to a 10 mile jog (Oops, an “extra zero”, I meant “1 mile” ๐Ÿ™‚ ) on the Jogging Track. The Jogging Track was a bit more crowded today. After a shower, the family went in search of the Sapphire Library. Unfortunately, the Library was closed (closes at 6PM), but we checked out the place. We then dropped Rhea at the Princess Pelicans. We went to check out the food at Horizon Court. We noticed that there were some yummy-looking desserts like Lime Souffle, Creme Brulee and Swiss Cake. But we did not care for the main courses and hence decided to have dinner at Santa Fe Dining Room and then come back just for the desserts.

We went to the Princess Theatre to see the another Music/Dance Show. It was so-so, nothing spectacular. We left early and went for dinner, to the Santa Fe Dining Room. We had French Onion Soup and Beef Sausage Jambalaya for Dinner. I went to Horizon Court and got a “Dessert Platter” to A338 and we had the desserts in the room.

We retired soon after …

My Cruise Diary … (Part2)

April 4th 2010 (Sunday)

Had a pretty bad night. Tossed and turned quite a bit and I dont think it was the ship’s movement. Especially when you lie down, it is no different from the feeling on a train.

Easter! Noticed that there is a Daily Mass at the Ship’s Chapel, at 8.30AM. We could not make it though …

Not that I was not eating non-vegetarian or anything, but I looked forward to eating today ๐Ÿ™‚

Woke up at 5AM and went for a jog on the jogging track. Not a soul in sight. It was wierd to walk through areas which are crowded during normal times. I noticed that there were quite a few Indians among the ship’s Deck Attendants and they were cleaning up the pools and decks. Due to some overnight rains, the track was a bit soggy and one had to be careful. I had a peaceful jog for a while and then went to get some coffee. I chatted with a guy from Goa. He was very friendly and helpful and I kept running into him throughout the Cruise.

This Ship had around 3000 passengers and there were two other Indian families. One of the families were quite friendly (They dropped by our table when we were having breakfast and enquired about our plans at the ports. I told them the details and also why I went for those options. They were from Los Angeles and like us, were Cruising for the first time). The other family, from Fremont, California (!), gave us the typical “Desi Treatment”, which is: Ignore and look through the other people … Over the years, I have perfected a facial expression when I walk around office corridors etc. This expression allows me to react one way or the other when I come across another person. If the other person acknowledges my “partially friendly” expression and says “Hello” or some such, I react correspondingly. But if the other person gives me “the treatment”, then I react the opposite way ๐Ÿ™‚ With this Fremont family, it unfortunately was the latter. After a couple of pass-bys I got frustrated and the next time we crossed each other, I went for my “I will hurt you bad!!” expression and that did the trick ๐Ÿ™‚ They approached me and we chatted a bit.

Since my family wakes up much later, I went for a 7AM Stretching Class. The view from the Aerobics area was fantastic. It looks out to the front of the ship.

The Aerobics Room. This room also had a few TreadMills ...

The instructor was a guy from South Africa and I realized that I am no good at stretch exercises. My body ached for a while after the session. I also wanted to go for the Step Aerobics class at 7.30AM, but could not get hold of the props in time. The people who could not get into the Stretching class andย were waiting patiently, took everything in a flash! Vultures! ๐Ÿ™‚

Returned to A338. All of us got ready and went to Horizon Court for a heavy breakfast. How heavy? See this …

Breakfast: Cottage Cheese, Assorted Cheese, Scrambled Eggs, Bun(s), English Sausage, Chicken Links, Bacon and Fruit ...

I am sure all the workout in the morning was a total waste ๐Ÿ™‚ But hey, I am on a vacation, right? We then left Rhea at the Pelicans and went for the “Ports and Shopping” presentation at the Princess Theatre. Now, this was a true mistake in my humble opinion. There was hardly any talk of the ports, but the entire hour was filled with propoganda about various jewellery stores at the ports and how to ge there. They kept enticing the crowd with the offer of a “Free Bracelet”! I must say that the lady they had doing the presentation was very good and she even had me thinking about some purchases … ๐Ÿ™‚ After a while I decided that enough was enough and left the theatre, forgoing the precious “bracelet”. I had to do some nifty cajoling to get Rosemary out of there ๐Ÿ™‚

Already, I have seen Princess staff from South Africa, Chile, Brazil, India, Phillipines, Italy etc. This seemed like a truly “International” operation. Later on I came to know that 60% of the Staff were from Phillipines! 20% from India and the rest from various other parts of the world.

I went to the Passenger Services at Deck6 to rent Walkie Talkies, so that we can stay in touch while doing separate things, if needed. It costs 4$ per unit, per day. The lady at the counter was having trouble setting it up, and was asking me if I knew how to operate it! After some trial and error, we figured it out. Over the day, we found that this was totally useless and unpredictable. By evening, I returned it.

At 11AM, I leave for the “Time For Men” grooming session, on Deck15, Lotus Spa. The lady’s name was Yolonda and she was from South Africa. After some basics about in-grown hair and the layers of skin etc., the 1-hour procedure started. I could smell eucaplyptus in pretty much everything (Princess gets a rebate for bulk orders of eucaplyptus fragrance, it looks like … :-)). After the 120$ session, the lady started with her “Push the products” part. If I picked OptionA, with X+Y+Z, it costs 325$ only. If I picked OptionB, with W+X+Y+Z, it costs me 460$ only. Blah Blah … How did I manage to squeeze out of there? Well, that is my “trade secret” … ๐Ÿ˜‰ I then tried the Steam Room and, though I expected it, it was HOT!!! After a shower, used the Walkie Talkie to contact Rosemary. After 4-5 tries and after disturbing the tranquility of Lotus Spa, I finally got hold of Rosemary (who was somewhere on Deck14 pool area. We all (Rosemary had collected Rhea from Pelicans) went for lunch. After the super-heavy breakfast, I did not have much appetite. So, I went for some pastries …

A sampling of the pastries from the Horizon Court ...

Back at A338, I had a 2-hour nap. Rhea had an Easter Party at Pelicans from 1.30-3.30PM. At 4.30PM, we went for coffee and some pastries and managed to get a seat by the window. It was time to take Rhea to the pool. While Rosemary watched her, I and Joe went for a talk on Mexico. It was a presenation Princess calls Scholarship@Sea. I am a sucker for such things ๐Ÿ™‚ Well, the talk about Mayans, Aztec, terrains of Mexico etc. were interesting. When Joe started to get a bit cranky, I had to leave. Meanwhile, Rhea was having the time of her life in the pool. I got Joe an icecream cone and we watched some Ping Pong games going on. It was a pity that there was a line of people waiting to play. I could have easily stood out in that particular crowd of players … Obviously, Americans (excluding Asian-Americans) are not that great in Ping Pong.

Back at A338, I watched a bit of Ben Stiller’s “Meet the parents” on the TV. Many people dont like his style of comedy, but I think he is hilarious!

Tonight is the 1st Formal Night. We all dress up and go to the Decks5/6/7, which is where the party is. Atrium of the Sapphire Princess! You can check out the snaps in Facebook, if interested. This was a very enjoyable evening. After some thought, Rosemary had decided to wear a traditional Indian Sari, Rhea a gown (which she had managed to squeeze out of me), Joe a nice pant and shirt and myself, one of my formal suit sets. In hindsight, Rosemary wearing a sari turned out to be a good and very well appreciated decision. The moment we exited the lift, on Deck6, it was as if people were in the midst of some celebrity. Random people were coming up and requesting photos. When I tried to slide into the photo, it was politely (indirectly) indicated to me, “No sir, we did not mean you! Just her …”. To save face, I acted as if I never intended to be in the picture and drifted away. Rhea and her gown were also a hit (It better be, for the $$$ I spent on it :-)). So, like two unwanted souls, myself and my small buddy Joe roamed around till the “stars” became free. Meanwhile the staff were serving champagne and various snacks. As with any formal party, we did the hello/chit-chat/bye routine. It was nice to see 3 levels packed with people dressed formally.

At around 9, we went to the Vivaldi Dining Room for the Formal Night Dinner (we had made a prior reservation). The food was quite good. I had a glass of Merlot, while Rosemary and Rhea had some Strawberry Sorbet. We had Quail and Venison Salad, followed by Rack of Lamb, for dinner. Rosemary and Rhea then had a sampling of the various desserts.

After dinner, we went to the Princess Theatre for “I Got The Music” Dance Show. The dancers danced to songs by Tom Jones, Barbara Streisand, Britney Spears and Neil Diamond. Joe slept in between the show. When I carried him off to Deck12 (from Deck6), we got the customary “So cute …”, “Oh, look at him …” etc. comments. I was thinking, “Forget him. Look at me, carrying him from Deck6 to Deck12, climbing countless stairs! (the lifts were all jam packed)”.

April 5th 2010 (Monday)

Woke up early (well, as far as I am concerned, this is a “cliche” ๐Ÿ™‚ I wake up early every day) and myself and Rhea went for breakfast. At 9AM, we left Rhea at the Pelicans. Myself and Joe then went for a presentation by a lawyer about “Prosection versus Defense” (Scholarship@Sea). Dont worry, I am not planning on murdering anyone ๐Ÿ™‚ It was interesting to learn about the basics of how a case is fought in the court and all the mind games that goes on, reiterating whatever I have “learned” from movies.

I then went and bought the official Formal Night photos (The family looked great and I did not look too bad) and got a free Scrap Book, which would have been more aptly named if you left out the “S” from the name. I also bought some fantastic pictures of the Sapphire Princess. There was a shot taken in the dusk, which was just spectacular. The price was also spectacular!

We then went and watched Rosemary do her pottery (Scholarship@Sea). She was doing fine and was very focussed on it. We decided to leave her alone and went down to the Deck6. While roaming around, I felt the urge to have a drink. Ordered a Pomegranate Martini and chatted with a guy from Canada. He was shocked to see good ol’ Joe sit at the bar. We talked about the recent Winter Olympics and how well the Canadian Hockey Team did.

I then entered myself into some Raffle (I never win these anyway). At 11.30AM, we went to see Nobu Haihara paint (Explorer’s Lounge). He did some demonstrations. The way the Princess host was talking about him, I thought I was in the presence of Michelangelo. He seemed a very good painter, though.

Joe and I went to the rear of the ship (Pelicans area), where he did his routine on the steps and around the pillars. At around noon (after collecting Rhea from Pelicans), Rosemary and the kids went for lunch. I went to Horizon Court and took my lunch to A338 (Breaded Shrimp, Clam Chowder, Roast Beef, Pastries and Fruit). Took a nap till 3PM.

At 4PM, we all went for Evening Tea at Pacific Moon Dining Room. It was an okay experience, nothing great. I was still groggy from the nap. Since Rhea was insisting on going to a pool, I offered to do a quick inspection of the other pools. I noticed two things, the pools at the rear were jam-packed with people and also (since we were appraching Mexico), it was very hot. So, we decided to stick to the indoor pool, Neptune’s Reef Pool.

How to make a fool out of yourself in the pool:

Today was my turn to accompany Rhea in the pool. I had previously noticed lots of kids having fun in the pool. I am not a great swimmer. I only recently learned how to swim and I am still struggling with vertigo when I look into deeper waters (for e.g. while snorkeling in Hawaii). I changed into my swimwear and jumped into the pool, somewhere in the middle. Rosemary and Joe were standing nearby. There were many other kids and grownups around. Now, I am expecting my feet to touch the bottom (how deep can a pool where kids are enjoying be, right? Wrong! It was freaking 7ft deep and my feet not touching the bottom, contrary to my expectations, sent me into panic mode. Though I know how to float etc., all those lessons went out the window ๐Ÿ™‚ After a lot of wild swimming, I managed to get out. During this while, Rosemary told me that I had this embarassed look on my face! Princess does have the depth indications on the side of the pool, as does every other pool I have been in, which I had wisely ignored. Over-confidence did me in … The high-end Hotels I have stayed in all have either the entire pool or majority of the pool at depths of 3, 4, 5 Ft etc. I wonder why cruise ships have 5.5Ft as the minimum depth.

After offering all the people their “Evening Entertainment”, I scooted off to another pool (Coral Reef’s) on Deck14 … ๐Ÿ™‚ There, I did much better (because I knew what to expect … He He!).

After the customary Cone Icecreams, we went to see the movie “Up” (which won some Oscars in 2010) at the Princess Theatre. As soon as we got in, we got complimentary Lemonade and Popcorn. Nice! The big screen was a bit shaky though. After a while, I and Joe left to watch Carlos Oscar (the standup comedian) at the Explorer’s Lounge (Deck7). He cracked jokes about a variety of stuff. I had a “Wallstreet Journal” Martini (Bacardi, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Pomegranate Juice etc.). We then return to watch the ending of “Up”. Seems to be an emotiional movie …

We all then went to the Pacific Moon Dining for dinner. Rosemary had Smoked Barbequeue Duck with Vinaigrette (appetizer), Wonton Soup with Herbs and Grilled Beef Tenderloin with Truffle sauce (main course). I had Crabmeat Quiche with roasted Chilli Mayonaisse (appetizer), Chicken and Spring Onion Soup, and Roasted Cornish Game Hen with Potato Ragout and Mushroom (main course). Rhea and Joe both selected Fish sticks and the inevitable soda. For dessert, the family had Chocolate Volcano.

We then walked around Deck14, where a Mexican Fiesta night is in full swing. Thereย was live music and people were dancing away.

Live music at the Mexican Fiesta Party ...

The family return to A338 (tomorrow is our first Port Day) and I return to the Princess Theatre to watch “Its Complicated” (Alec Baldwin, Meryl Streep and Steve Martin). It was an okay movie, but afterย a while I got really tired and returned to A338.

My Cruise Diary … (Part1)

As I mentioned in a previous blog, after some extensive research, we decided on a spring-break cruise with Princess.

I had booked this cruise in Oct 2009 and made all the payments at that time. After which, there were several months of email harassment from Princess, in which they were counting down the months as if, (a) I could not count (b) We are going to Mars on a one-way journey,ย and not to Mexico. Each time, the emails come with some red tabs indicating “Please review” or “Please confirm” or some such. Seemed like they love to have their customers review the same invoice and its details over and over again. Well, over and over it was …

April 2nd 2010 (Friday)

Good Friday. After returning from Church, we had an early dinner and went to bed. A couple of weeks before this, I had booked the airline tickets to Los Angeles. Also, packing was completed earlier, for all of us. The idea was to leave this day free of any last-minute tensions. This is my typical style ๐Ÿ™‚ I do not like last-minute hurry-burry.

The luggage ... All set and ready to go ...

Reconfirmed the cab for the last time, for 7AM PST tomorrow.

April 3rd 2010 (Saturday)

Rhea woke up almost at the same time as me and started “packing her bag” (with pretty much all her toys, books etc.). After doing some intense negotiations and bringing it down to a few items which fit into a small shoulder bag which she herself can carry, we all got ready. 7.15 … 7.30AM … No sign of the cab. Thanks, Raj! My calls kept going to Raj’s answering machine. This guy was someone I had used multiple times in the past and I never had any issues. In fact, I used to tip him well for his services. Finally, we decided to use the Long-Term Airport Parking and drive down ourselves. I could do this easily, because I had left a “1 hour buffer” time. I was planning to leave home at 7AM PST and the flight was at 9AM PST. I was glad that I did not leave the schedule too tight and intentionally kept some buffer time. The downside? If the cab was on time, we would have had around 45 minutes to kill, at the airport. Not that bad in my opinion, if you consider the other end of the spectrum: Missed flight, mad rush to the Cruise Terminal in Los Angeles etc. Since this was supposed to be a nice and relaxing vacation, I did not want to deal with any of that.

After the customary struggle through the Airport Security (thankfully, no stretching exercises this time!), we had some breakfast at one of the eateries near the Gate. Its funny how Rhea is immediately “starving” once she enters places like Airports and Theme Parks. The kids were quite excited and kept making a ruckus.

I love SouthWest. No frills, but great customer service. I do not recall a single incident where I had to deal with bad service during my travels with them. The fact that their prices are great and that they allow up to two baggages for free helps! ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, after a comfortable flight during which I noticed that the flight magazine had an indepth article about Cruising (nice coincidence!), we arrived at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) by 10.15AM. This was Joe’s first flight where he had a seat of his own. He was looking all serious and “grown up”, though his expression when the flight took off was hilarious. Next up was a cab ride to San Pedro World Cruise Terminal. I noticed that there were several Princess staff (in their prim uniforms) waiting to take passengers who opted for the “Airport Pickup” from Princess. A good option, if you love to pay a 40-50% premium for this service, when compared to a regular cab. Our cab driver was from Armenia and we had a chat about his experiences in US. USA in general, and California/NewYork in particular, are a true cultural hotch-potch.

Armenak's (Cab Driver) ID ...

As we were nearing the pier, we could see the top of the Sapphire Princess, over the buildings. Once we got to the pier, I struggled with the bags a bit, which happens to be a routine I am very familiar with and one which I do expect during family travels.

Princess attendants came over and took the bags from me pretty quickly. Whew! During the checkin, they gave us a “Cruise Card” each. They linked it to my credit card and we were supposed to use it for: (a) Identification (b) Room Key (c) Credit Card. I thought this was a cool idea. This way, we need not carry around our purses and IDs while on the Cruise.

As expected, the ship looked massive. We entered the ship through Deck4 ...

As soon as we got into the ship, attendants (with their massive smiles) showed us to our room. Our room was on a level they call Aloha, which was Level12 (or Deck12), towards the center. I had booked an Interior Cabin. The room had two twin beds (with bunk beds on top), table, chair, dressing area, shelves and a bathroom. All efficiently crunched into around 200 Sq.Ft. (which the Cruise Line claims to be “spacious”).

Since we had got into the ship earlier than most passengers, we spent the time exploring whatever we could. We then went to Deck14 and had some cocktails. There was a great view of the Los Angeles Harbor.

 

We noticed that pretty much everyone who was coming to Deck14 were walking briskly through one door. What was behind that door? Horizon Court. Sapphire Princess’ 24-hour Buffet! Thats when I noticed that it was just 1.30PM. After a lunch consisting of Roast Beef, Shrimp Salad, Wontons (they were great), Gobi Curry (Desi!), 12-grain buns, Roast Turkey, Rock Fish Fillet, Sardines, Blueberry Crepe and a portfolio of fruits, we went to our “stateroom” (not my name, that is what Princess calls it!) A338 for a 1-hour power-nap. The buffet had many other items, but I stuck to the items which I though I would like. We are trying to teach our kids to not waste food, so we all think hard and take food which we can realistically complete. I must say I struggled to finish the Rock Fish Fillet thoughย ๐Ÿ™‚

The lunch buffet .... My plate ...

At 3PM, we had the Security Drill and had to go to our “Muster Station”. That is where we are supposed to gather when a “Titanic” happens. We all went to Deck7 Explorer’s Lounge (which was the Muster Station for A338) and went through the drill of wearing the life jackets etc.

Rosemary and Joe went back to the room for a nap. Rhea and myself watched the “Sail Off”. It was exciting to see how the ship manouvred itself out of a “parking area” and turn itself like a car and then go off to the open sea. Pretty much everyone, except Rosemary and Joe, were on Decks 14/15/16 to watch this event.

Rhea then insisted on swimming (all the other kids were). She seemed to have a blast in the pool. After her swim, she was quite famished and Rosemary took her to the Savoy restaurant (Deck6), where she had a Hot Dog. During this time, Joe looked after me in the room (:-) ), while wolfing down theย “welcome” chocolatesย …

We all then went to the Princess Pelicans (Deck15), which is the play area for kids 3-7. Since Joe is not yet 3, one of the parents would have to be around in his case (like a Play School). We signed up the kids, which is a one-time process. Since Rhea had her dinner already and they had some Party for the 3-7 -year olds, we three went back to the Horizon Court for dinner. This time around, I had Smoked Salmon Fillet, Marinated Mushrooms, German Potato Salad, Beef Salad, Coconut-Vanilla Pudding (this dish was really something! And I am not a guy who is that fond of pastries …), and a variety of fruits (strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe etc.). I wish I had more stomach for the pudding … ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

By this time, the ship was well on its way and it was water all around us. The ship was shaking much more than what we had thought. Anyway, we had the medication, just in case one of us fell sea-sick. At 10PM, Rosemary went to pick up Rhea and soon after, we called it a day …

Note: If you are interested in photos of the trip, please check me out on Facebook.

Finally (!!), a Cruise experience …

After waiting in the fringes for a long long time, we took the plunge and went for week-long cruise. As I was mentioning to people that we are going on a cruise (or that we had just returned from a cruise), I noticed that many people were/are “thinking about it” … Since we too “thought about it” for a long time, I understand the “Should We?” mentality. Having done it (and milked whatever experiences I could possibly get out of a cruise (check out the photos)), I can safely suggest to all the people sitting on the fence: Go ahead and take the plunge!

Disclaimer: I do not work for Princess or Carnival or Seabourn or Cunard or Royal Caribbean or NCL or Disney or Holland America etc.

It is just that I felt it was a very unique experience and one I thought would have been a loss for my family if we had not done it.

Will it clean out your pocket? Yes! It could (and did, in my case ๐Ÿ™‚ย …

Are there aspects about it which you may not like? Yeah, sure. Just as with any vacation.

But is it worth it? YES!

Having set the groundwork, let me move on to two blogs on the subject.

(01) My Cruise Diary …

(02) Tips on Cruising … (Based on our experience)

Sweden โ€“ Final Itinerary

I plan to arrive at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport by 11PM. I have booked a bed at the “Jumbo Hostel”. After I read about it, I decided that I have to try this! A Boeing-747 converted to a Hostel? Man, thats something …

Overview (Dont want to bore people with all the other data I have collected, which probablyย only a few (like me) will find interesting): The land of ABBA, IKEA and Ericsson. Sweden has one of the lowest poverty rates in the world and a great standard of living (like all the other Scandinavian countries). Though it is a part of EU, there is a lot of internal debate about it. Also, the currency is not Euro (Sweden uses Korner). More than 75% of Sweden is wilderness. Stockholm (with close to 2M people) has around 14 islands connected via a slew of bridges. I think that will be nice to see. Sweden has boundaries with Norway and Finland. Interestingly, Sweden has one of the largest road networks in the world!

Day1 (July 13th (Tue), 2010):

AM:

– Vasa Museum: The great warship from ancient times.

– Nordic Museum

PM:

– Skansen Open Air Folk Musem

– Royal Canal Boat Tour at around 6PM

– Will try a Smorgasbord at one of the recommended Restaurants for dinner

I have booked a bed at the famous Af Chapman Hostel. What’s peculiar about this? Well, it is a 3-masted Sailing Ship! Isnt that something? Let us see how it goes …

Day2 (July 14th (Wed), 2010):

AM:

– City Hall: I will take a guided tour here.

– Changing of the Guard, at around noon.

PM:

– Royal Palace Museum

– Walking Tour through the Old Town

Note: I need to see how I can squeeze in a quick trip to the Millesgarden sculpture museum (sculptures by Carl Milles). I will take it as it comes …

At 4.30PM, I have to check in at the Silja Cruise office, for the cruise ship ride to Helsinki (Finland). As I mentioned in my Norway blog, I am not jotting down all my notes here. I dont think it will be of any interest to the majority of people. But if it is, please ping me. My friend Baiju is currently based in Stockholm and I plan to make some adjustments so that I can spend time with his family (It is still in the works :-)).