Monthly Archives: September 2014

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sea Day and Gourmet Cuisine

Thursday, September 18th – Sea Day

Well, we’re on our way to our last island stop before Australia — Noumea, New Caledonia.

Tonight, for dinner, I finally broke down and had the Chocolate Melting Cake. CMC is Chocolate Melting Cakea daily fixture on the menu and when my sister-in-law, Brenda, cruises with us, she has it EVERY night. Quite the chocoholic!

Knowing you can have the CMC anytime frees you to enjoy all the other delectable specialty desserts, several different ones each night – cherries jubilee, cream cakes, brulees, pies, and a million different ways to prepare all the fresh tropical fruits. Yum!

Dessert is an experience, but for me it doesn’t hold a candle to the appetizers, salads, soups, and entrees offered—probably because I’m stuffed by the time the sweets course rolls Dinner Menuaround. The meals Carnival offers are fabulous—gourmet every one. From Chateaubriand, prime rib, filet mignon, seafood Newburgh, shrimp fettuccine, pork, beef, veal, chicken, ribs, fish—continental breakfast, omelets, to-order grills, buffets, a coffee bar, lunch buffets, lunch in the dining room, afternoon tea, evening buffets, dinner buffets, midnight buffets, pizza-24-hours, ice cream 24-hours, not to mention room service. There’s also a specialty steakhouse (it costs extra) you can enjoy for surf ‘n turf. Oh yeah, there’s also the “DIDJA” treats – as in did you ever try this? Escargot, alligator fritters, frog legs, and on and on.

It’s no wonder the cruise administrators claim the average passenger gains a pound a day! You could literally eat non-stop for the entire cruise!

Not me. I learned long ago to control hedonism like this … or it will control you.

I’m an early riser, but then who wouldn’t be when you set your clock back every other day? It’s oatmeal and fruit for me, and maybe one cup of coffee. (Their coffee is so strong I swear it will take the hair right off your chest, or maybe put hair on it.) Lunch might be a sandwich from the Pillow Chocolatesdeli, a hot dog from the grill, or a slice of pizza. Dinner is where I spend my calories (refer to the incredible menu I mention above!). Wine with dinner and water. Lots of water. No sodas and no tea. Even the chocolates they place on your pillow when turning down the bed each evening is off limits, at least until we get back home. We’ll have a whole bagful from this trip.

Can’t wait to see what gastronomic delights we get to try in Sydney!


Wednesday, September 17th – Suva, Fiji

Coincidence? Happenstance? Chance? What are the odds of random circumstances coming together in a confluence of time and space?

My mom and dad were married in November 1941, one month before Pearl Harbor was bombed. He joined the Army and served as a First Sergeant during World War II, stationed for most of his service time in the Fiji Islands. Later, toward the end of the war, he was sent to Germany. Dad seldom talked about his time in Europe, but he often spoke of the beauty of the South Pacific islands. My sister, brother, and I used to spend hours digging through Mama’s Hope Chest, oohing and aahing over the things he brought back for her—handcrafted jewelry made from coral, shell, and different woods, sea shells he’d polished himself, strange coins, photos of him and his buddies fishing and climbing coconut trees, and postcards. He sent Mama postcards—lots of postcards—over the three long years he spent in Fiji because a soldier’s correspondence was often redacted to maintain secrecy.

One of the photos he sent was photo of a local chieftain’s daughter. She was a beautiful woman … with a stunning likeness to my mother–the hair, her smile, even her eyes. Mom didn’t care much for it, though. I didn’t understand why back then, but I figured it out as I got older. The woman in the picture, the curvy dead ringer, was topless! <smile>

My sister, brother and I LOVED plundering through Mama’s Hope Chest. We marveled over those trinkets for hours. Fiji was a strange, exhilarating, thrilling land, the stuff of fantasy for three kids growing up in Mobile, Alabama. We had no perception of the world back then, no idea how far away the islands were from us. But we carried those memories all our life. I wish I had a dollar for each time one of us said, “Wouldn’t it great to see Fiji…”

Today, we docked in the main city of Suva. Fiji, as it turns out, is comprised of 332 islands. It saddens me to think how much history has been lost as I have no way of knowing which island Fiji - Dancer 2he was stationed on for all those years. Fiji is lush and tropical with one foot firmly entrenched in the present while the other clings to their heritage. Outside the main city, there are only villages, each led by a chieftain. Some of their laws seem almost prim—like how women must wear tops that cover their shoulders and bottoms (skirts or pants) that reach below the knee; how men in the village must also cover their torso and shoulders, but can’t wear pants—instead they wear traditional sari-type wraps; and how no one walking through the village can come within ten meters of the chief’s house without calling out for permission. Our guide assured us the times are changing. I can’t help but feel a little sad about it.

Our visit here was a bittersweet experience for me. The mystique is gone. I have real images in my head now—but I hope I never forget those wonderful, fantastical childhood memories.
Today is September 17th – my father’s birthday. He would have been 97.

Coincidence. I don’t think so. One of my favorite sayings is, “Things don’t just happen. They come to pass.”

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sea Day – From French Polynesia to Fiji

Sunday, September 14th – Sea Day – On Our Way To Fiji

We are in “sea-clusion.” In Sea-clusion

The first of two sea days before we reach Fiji. After the seven straight days between Puerto Vallarta and Tahiti, times and dates began to run together, however, a daily routine finally emerged. I discovered my writing muse wakes with the dawn. With all the ‘set your clocks back’ (and yes, we had another time change Friday night), it’s become too easy to rise before the sun breaches the horizon.

Something about lazing on the Lido deck (the chow hall for you non-cruisers), drinking coffee, and typing with a very few other early risers is liberating. I hear the pounding steps of runners above us as those zealous about their exercise mete out their daily punishment. Yeah, I’m not one of them.

The kitchen crew sets out morning pastries for those who can’t wait for the hot buffet to open at 6:30. Passengers shuffle in by ones and twos, their bodies still waking up. And quiet – for the most part. I mean, it’s difficult to be alone on a cruise ship transporting 3,000 passengers plus a crew of 1,800. It’s difficult to find quiet.

I do have a few favorite niches to hide in, though. As the rattle of pots and pans ratchets up, more people arrive, sleep is banished, and conversations begin. It’s the whiny crying of children too young to appreciate a cruise like this and too cranky for an early morning that usually signals me that it’s time to change venues.

I see one young couple almost every morning, in their late twenties or maybe early thirties with FOUR—count them, 1 -2 – 3 -4!—children under six. There are so many why’s I want to ask them, that I can’t begin to capture them all. For one, on a cruise with less than twenty children under age 18 total, children’s activities are almost nonexistent … which means nanny duties belong to the parent or parents 24/7. We met one young mother on our snorkeling safari that left her husband behind on the ship with their two toddlers. On our return to the boat, her comment was, “Guess freedom is over.” Turns out, they have to take turns seeing the ports. That makes me sad — one of our greatest delights is sharing in all the new sights and reliving them.

Not a knock against kids – I miss my kids and grandkids terribly. I just can’t imagine being cooped up in a room not as big as your bedroom at home with a mom, dad, and FOUR kids under age 6! (Shudder!) Why would they do that to themselves?

It did surprise us to see any kids as long as this cruise lasts. Turns out that in Australia, where most of these kids hail from, the schools are on hiatus (our equivalent of spring break) for a month. Many Aussies and Kiwis are heading home after a brief stay in the U.S.

I think one of the most surprising aspects of the voyage so far, though, has been the balmy temperatures. I think “hot” when you talk about the equator and south sea islands, but not so. Pacific ocean - foreverBora Bora temps were steady in the low 80s with heavy humidity, at least until you get out on the water; otherwise, the entire voyage has been mid-high 70s. Sitting out on our balcony is one of my favorite things to do, especially watching the sun rise or set. It’s quiet, with only the sound of the ship cutting through the waves, an occasional squawk from one of the upper decks, or my own delighted sighs.

Cruising is not for everyone. Over the years I’ve learned that people either love it, or hate it. Me and my honey? We love it.

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Island of Bora Bora – French Polynesia

Friday, September 12th – Island of Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Bora Bora – another tropical paradise. It’s pretty amazing to see the waves breaking on the Bora Bora 2reef a good half-mile offshore. I don’t know how anyone could come here and not fall in love with the island and the people. Unlike so many of the ‘spoiled’ ports in the Caribbean, the people of French Polynesia are serene, friendly, and laid back. If you buy something from them, great. If you don’t, c’est la vie. There are few paved roads on Moo’rea or Bora Bora, and what roads there are have pot holes that could swallow a child! But they speak a modicum of English, enough for the tourist to get by, and they take American dollar$.

Their arts and crafts on display are incredible, the workmanship exquisite. Shell jewelry, wood carvings, gorgeous fabrics. Needless to say, this is where we loaded up on gifts.

Bora Bora - ReefThe sea surge was high on this day, making it rough for most of the water excursions. Ours, however, was perfect! We took a glass-bottom boat — captained by a native and guided by an American ex-patriot who came and stayed — out to one of the coral reefs. My honey and I have snorkeled all along the Central American reef, around Aruba, Barbados, and St. Thomas. But here—in the South Pacific– these islands abound with lagoons while a half-mile offshore, big waves break against the natural barrier reefs. Beautiful. Bora Bora - Tiki Huts 2Hundreds of different varieties of colorful fish. Incredibly clear water. Blue water in colors I can’t even name. Our guide also took us by the famous Tiki huts that jut out over the water. We learned these rent out for $600 a night.

Of all the places we’ve seen so far, I’ve love to return to them all, but this one … Bora Bora stole my heart.

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Island of Moo’rea – French Polynesia

Thursday, September 11th – Moo’rea, French Polynesia

Pronounced Moor’-eh-ah. This island is a close neighbor to Tahiti Island and one of several in a chain. The population is much smaller on this one, so small in fact, that unlike Tahiti, there is no Lifeboatpier. This meant dropping anchor in a deep water cove and using tenders to transfer passengers from the ship to the island. Even more interesting — Moo’rea doesn’t  have tender vessels. The Carnival Legend had to launch their lifeboats for us instead. This actually provided a two-fold advantage. Not only did Carnival get to test out four of their lifeboats for a required periodic safety inspection, we (the passengers) got to experience a ride in a lifeboat.

During all the years of cruising, we would go through the lifeboat drill before sailing, but always wondered if they were seaworthy since we’ve never seen them used. We can attest they are safe!

The natives of the islands are a mix of Polynesian and French (for the most part), which means they’re a very attractive people. Brown-skinned, dark to light, and well toned – probably because they work hard to make a living.

There’s not much to Moo’rea other than lush, tropical paradise. Another volcanic isle as seen by the sharp peaks, and protected by it’s own coral reef, Moo’rea is very mountainous, very green, with amazing (I keep using that word!) water. So blue – so many shades of blue. And so clear you can’t tell the depth. Those postcards you see, the ones with impossibly blue water? They’re for rea! Amazing!

Moo'rea - SharksWe took another excursion, this time to swim with the sting rays and sharks. Yes, I said sharks! We motored out about 15 minutes (still inside the reef and protected from the ocean swells) to a sandbar where we could stand in water anywhere from waist to chest deep. Our guide this day, Francois, hailed from the smallest island in the chain – one, he says, that has no imports. They’re totally self-sufficient with no automobiles on the island. Such a wonderful personality, perfectly suited to this job. Soft spoken with his French accent, he had no end of patience for all our questions. He carried sardines into the water with him, which2014 Moo'rea - Stingrays attracted the rays immediately. Small and large, they glided through the water to reach him. Such graceful creatures, slick (not slimy) on the gray top side, and soft as the softest kid leather underneath, on the white side. They’ve obviously been fed over the years and know to come here for an easy meal.

Sand sharks circled us the entire time. We were told they’re harmless and, true enough, they never came too close. Brownish in color, they swam in schools (if that’s the proper term) of 6 to 20. Some small (maybe 2-3 feet in length), most of a medium size (4-6 feet), and a few large ones maybe 8 feet or more. Round and round in circles. Unnerving at first, but because they never intruded, it soon became easy to ignore them. (Francois is the one with the long ponytail and, yep, that’s my honey talking to him.)

Of course, sea gulls raised a racket overhead. Francois gathered us around, took a long piece of sardine, and raised his hand overhead. The sea gulls squawked, but did nothing. One larger, darker bird, however, swooped down, made a gliding run directly for Francois’ head, and picked that sardine cleanly from his fingers! Oooh. Aaaah. A frigate bird, we found out later.

We also walked along a beach area, but found it to be heavily coral – and much too painful to walk on.

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia

September 10th – Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Tahiti, the largest island in the Windward group of French Polynesian islands, has a natural coral reef that provides protection from dangerous weather. It is an exotic and lush land – and surprisingly modern. Papeete, the largest city in the islands, has paved streets, a thriving business district, policemen, jails, taxis, a rush hour that rivals Atlanta, and a McDonalds. Not what I expected, but beautiful nonetheless.

Tahiti - Tahitian BandWe were greeted on the pier by a group of Tahitians in native dress, singing and dancing. From there, we caught a boat for a tour of the Tahiti Lagoon, all the way out to a peninsula at the end of the island. On the way, we saw amazing palm trees, luxurious homes on the waterfront, and lots of canoes. Lots.

Apparently canoeing is the national pastime. There were 1-man canoes, 3-men and 6-men canoes. Even some outriggers. Eight oar strokes and switch to the other side, eight more and switch again. An aquatic ballet, a precision tuned machine, a beautiful work of art. A single-man canoe came along our boat and raced us. He actually outdistanced our boat! We learned they bring their kids into the water at a very young age and teach canoeing and water safety iall through school.

At the far end of the island, we found a most remarkable phenomena – a black sand beach! The islands in the South Pacific are of volcanic origin, which means ash. It also means most of Tahiti - Black Sand Beach 2the islands have a natural coral reef barrier all the way, or at least partially, around the island. This allows the sea surge to break a distance from the island proper, which protects the inhabitants and built up areas along the shore. It’s an amazing sight to see six foot waves crashing a half-mile offshore.

Anyway, back to the beach … our guide warned us the sand could get very hot when the sun emerged from its cloud cover. We found out firsthand just how hot. I now know what “hot foot” means. I’m sure we were a sight with our lily-white skin among all these dark-skinned, well-toned bodies as we hotfooted it across the sand to the water’s edge!

On the return trip, our guide took us outside the reef where he could increase speed. I can’t adequately explain the thrill when we happened upon a … WHALE! One broke the surface not
fifteen feet from us. The captain cut the engines while we waited for the whale to resurface. WhaleImagine our delight when a second whale surfaced! A moment later, one after the other, they came up blowing, dove back under with a complete showing of their fantastic tails! The guide explained that meant they were going deep and probably wouldn’t resurface in our area. We also saw dolphins doing a leap-and-dive race with us for awhile.

A very satisfying day.

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Day 7 of 7 Crossing the Pacific

Tuesday, September 9th – Day 7 of 7 – Sea Day

The natives are restless … those passenger-type natives on the ship. We’ve been gently rocked to sleep every night, baked in the sun every day, eaten until we don’t want to eat anymore, and been entertained until we’ve become picky about the talent. Time for a change.

There’s an electric buzz in the air, an excitement. Tomorrow we reach our first South Pacific port of call in Papeete, Tahiti (French Polynesia).

SPF 50I, for one, am looking forward to the seeing Tahiti, though I’ll also miss the sea days. I’ve often told my honey how nice it would be to take a Cruise to Nowhere! Just sail out on the ocean for a week with no distractions and no interruptions. He says I missed my calling. I should have been a hermit. I didn’t take it as an insult!

Tonight we’ll do something different – pack a bag for a shore excursion. What to wear … what to wear …

One thing ALL the shore tours advise is SPF 50 or higher! My fish-belly white complexion needs Panama Hatall the help it can get to protect it from the (apparently) ultra-strong solar rays in this part of the world. So be it. Slather – check. Sunglasses – check. Hat – check.

And today’s towel creation …  I’m not sure, but I think it’s an elephant!Towel - Elephant

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Day 6 of 7 Crossing the Pacific

September 8th – Day 6 of 7 – Sea Day

I heard a group of ladies complaining today that there wasn’t enough to do. I am amazed. Let me explain why by listing some of the activities available: bingo, cruise talks, treasure hunts, hairy chest contest, bean bag toss, bridge, Mahjongg, backgammon, movies, books in the Spalibrary, art auctions, spa time (facial, pedicures, manicures, peels, waxing, hydro massage, hot stone massage, eyebrow threading, Swedish massage, couples massage), trivia contests, dance contests, swimming pools everywhere, a serenity deck for those over 18 years, dominoes, photo gallery, photo contests, professional photographers, lessons in just about anything you can think of (making those cute towel animals, how to create your own videography journey, wine 101, photography, dancing, arts and crafts), tours of the galley kitchens, the bridge, below decks, life as a crew member.

I can’t  recall all of the day activities, and that’s before we get to the night life. There’s a big show at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. in the theater every night (dancers, singers, a magician, a hypnotist, a juggler/acrobat, a ventriloquist, a talent show, comedians galore), specialty bars tucked away Casinoin all corners (blues, jazz, modern, piano, country), small venue comedy show (both for family and adults). And of course there’s always the casino (slot machines, poker tables, roulette, blackjack, Keno, plus a few I’ve never heard of … but there was nothing for these poor ladies to do.

In actuality, there is as much or as little as you want to do. The choice is yours.

Today’s’ towel animal … an Anteater!

Towel - Anteater

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Day 5 of 7 Crossing the Pacific

Sunday, September 7th – Day 5 of 7 – It’s about time

We set our clocks back an hour last night – the third time in six days. And we’re not done yet!
It’s funny what a big deal we make over losing or gaining an hour of sleep back home. The groans in the springtime when your body didn’t like the lost hour. The blissful smiles in the fall, knowing you get to sleep in an extra hour before church on Sunday. We thought a gradual easing back would be a piece of cake, but it’s not. Guess what? Your body doesn’t adapt in a matter of days.

The morning after the first time change, I woke at 6:10 a.m. After the second change, my eyes popped open at 5:15 a.m. This morning, the third change, it was 4:05 a.m. Pre-dawn lightSunrise at Sea filtered in through the partially open curtains, gray and weak, but enough to illuminate the narrow walkway. I swayed my way to the bathroom, crawled back in bed, and then lay there with my mind racing. Fifteen long minutes was about all I could take, so up I got to hang out on the balcony for a most amazing sunrise over the Pacific.

One thing I know for sure after this past week, mind might work over matter, and you might fool your body’s internal clock for one hour, maybe two. Three though? Not so much.
I hate thinking ahead to our 20-hour return flights home, and how long it will take to adjust back to the 18-hour time change.

Towel beast of the day …  a peacock!

Towel - Peacock

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Day 4 of 7 Crossing the Pacific

Saturday, September 6th – Day 4 of 7 – Ho Hum! Another Sea Day

This cruise has been an eye opener in many ways. Today, I want to share some things I’ve learned.

People—no matter where they hail from—are creatures of habit. At first, I thought it funny Lido Deckthat people scope out and claim “their” spots in the big dining area. Every morning, I see the same couples having breakfast in the same locations. Many will rise earlier that they would be willing to do back home, just to claim their preferred seats. (Reminds me a little bit of church. J )The only exceptions I’ve been able to find are those who come late to the feeding trough and have to take whatever is available. That’s when I realized – I’m the same way!

People, again across cultures, have a single focus on self and rarely see outside their space—unless forced to. How is that a man wearing a backpack that sticks out a foot or more will back up in the elevator to make room for a newcomer, only to squash you behind. Oblivious.

Another thing I’ve noticed, one that reassures my faith in the goodness of man, is that more people, by far, will put a limb in danger to hold an elevator door open so others can enter than will punch the close door button to keep them out. (Funny, at work it’s exactly opposite.)

In every crowd there are always a few loud, obnoxious people who know it all and want you to know they know it all. These people inevitably have voices that pierce every corner of their space, voices that cannot be tuned out.

People—some all the time, others only now and then—practice what I call the “ME NOW” philosophy. In other words, it’s all about me, my needs, my wants; now. The Library on this ship is a particular irritation for me. This is the first cruise ship we’ve been on where they put the Internet Café inside the Library. Now a library by definition means quiet. Right? Not here. People come in to use the internet and express their irritation loud and long—gotta make sure everyone knows their frustrations, right?—about the impossible connectivity problems. Rude. Bad manners. Obnoxious. Discourteous. Offensive.

And speaking of the internet, some of the things people say are plain ridiculous. “I can’t believe Carnival won’t invest in better technology.” “I paid good money and they’re wasting my minutes.” “This is ridiculous. It’s the 21st century, for heaven’s sake. We should be able to connect to the internet anywhere in the world.” – Get my drift?

The list is long and, while funny at first, it leaves a sour feeling when you realize there’s no end to selfish idiocy. Do your homework people. We checked with our provider  and knew going into this cruise we wouldn’t have coverage after Mexico until we reached Fiji. The ship’s bulletins spell it out. The Cruise Director has made repeated announcements. We’re in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, no land for thousands of miles, not to mention civilization. The ship is totally dependent on satellites to provide internet connectivity. And satellites are tricky in this part of the world. I mean, think about it. Why would the powers that control satellites route them over an almost totally unpopulated area? And they require constant tweaking to maintain connection because, guess what? The ship and the satellites are all moving, each on a different course. But it’s still all about ME NOW.

Towel Art of the day — a Sea Monster!Towel - Sea Monster