A quick tour

The train ride was easy and uneventful. They served a breakfast snack right after we boarded in Cologne, and a lunch snack just after Brussels. Since we were in the Premium class, we were able to fill out a form and pre-request a taxi for €7 extra. It was nice because the taxi line stretched from outside all the way into the middle of the station.

We took the quick taxi to the new hotel, Hotel Paris Bastille Boutet. It’s near the Bastille Plaza, and in fact we drove right through it on the way to the hotel. I planned to take a quick nap and then go out, but I realized I would just skip everything if I didn’t go out right that second. I consulted Google Maps for the best way to get about, and I decided on going to the Louvre since it was a straight shot without multiple line changes. I turned left out of the hotel and walked about 10 minutes to the Reuilly – Diderot Metro stop. The ticket machines were easy to switch to English and accepted credit cards, though I had to use my pin. I barely have to use it since it still hasn’t taken off in the US, but luckily I remembered it. Tickets anywhere in Zone 1, which covers most of Paris, were €1.90 each way.

The train arrived quickly, and there wasn’t a large crowd since it was about 1pm on a Friday. I got to the Louvre 7 stops later and walked up onto one of the side entrances. Although lots of people were taking pictures here, it wasn’t the view I had in mind when I thought about the Louvre. I made my way around to the front and took a picture with the pyramid in the background:

I didn’t realize how huge the Louvre is, or that it had been a place previously. I guess I need to do a little more studying before going to new cities so that I know what I’m seeing. I didn’t feel the need to join the throngs and see the Mona Lisa today, but maybe next time if I spend longer there. I hear there are also other pieces of art in the Louvre as well 🙂

After looking around the square a bit, I walked along the Seine parallel to the Tuileries Gardens, which are also pretty huge. It’s cool to imagine what it looked like in the old days when the Louvre Palace was one of the only big buildings around. I knew the Eiffel Tower was a pretty far walk, but I figured I could get close enough for an identifiable shot today. This was all mainly a recon trip to make sure I didn’t waste time figuring out transportation next time when I have enough time and am awake enough to actually see things. Anyway, here’s La Tour Eiffel in the distance:

I walked on the Seine as far as the Place du Concorde, which looks so much like the copy in Vegas that Google Lens thinks that’s where I was. I took some shots, enjoyed the scenery, and walked back to the Metro. 7 stops later I was back on Rue Reuilly for the short walk back to the hotel. I was pretty beat by the time I got back, and I slept a good 7 hours until 11pm or later.

I stayed up until breakfast the next morning and met the captain down there. The breakfast was pretty good, with eggs, bacon and sausage as well as some fruits, meats and cheeses. All-in-all it was small for a €22 breakfast, but not bad when you don’t feel like going out early in the morning. The captain and I had an enjoyable time talking about airplanes and guns, although we both managed to spill the lid off the orange juice, much to the hotel waiter’s chagrin. I think it was clogged with pulp and made you turn it over more than usual, causing the weight of the liquid inside to pop the top off and spill OJ all over. Anyway I’ll know better for next time if I decide to eat here again.

He went to Paris…

Our second stay in Guangzhou was shorter than the first. I had time to take a nap, go to breakfast, take another nap, then hang around in the room until the late wakeup call. The captain chose to do a long, long, short, short rest cycle for the trip to Cologne, meaning we had about 3.5 hours on, 3.5 off, 2 on then 2 off before getting back in the seat for the landing. At the last company we used to split all the flights right in half, but current fatigue studies suggest breaking the rest periods up can be more beneficial than only one long rest. I slept pretty well during our first rest, and then while we were up front for the short period we got to see a lot of China. The weather was beautiful, and it was easy to see the many towns, military bases (we think) and other odd buildings that just seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. On the second rest I just read the whole time, and then we got back in the seats for the landing. The approach was one we don’t often have to fly, meaning the normal level of micromanagement was knocked up a notch. I didn’t mind it as much because it was something unusual for me. The landing turned out to be a lot less eventful than it seemed like it would be after all the talking preceding it. We got to the hotel and I set an alarm to wake up at 4:45 to meet at 5:30.

I rolled over in the dark and checked my phone to see how much time was left. My phone was dead, which I really didn’t see coming. As long as I leave it in airplane mode, I can usually make a very long distance flight and still have plenty of use in the room before charging it. My watch hadn’t died, and was surprised to see it was 5:21pm! I managed to get downstairs in 9 minutes and meet the captain. He wanted a drink first, so we went to the hotel bar, where we met another crew who was planning to head out to eat. We joined them for a good meal. I had Schnitzel “Berne,” which was ham and a cheesy sauce on the schnitzel. It was excellent! We followed with a quick Guiness at one of the two Irish Pubs in the Heumarkt Square, and then the other crew headed off to bed. The captain and I walked to the train station to scope it out. We decided it was an easy enough walk, but with our luggage we preferred to take a taxi.

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was ready to call it a night, though the captain stayed at the hotel bar to listen to the musician they had there. I passed out almost right away and woke up about 3 in the morning. I wasn’t able to go back to sleep, so I just kept reading. I’ve been running through the Jack Reacher novels, which are thin on substance but easy reads. They’re great work books because I can put them away for weeks and easily pick them back up again the next time I’m on a plane, or wide awake at 3 am.

We met this morning around 8 and took a taxi to the train station. It turned out to be less than 8 euros which is not a bad deal. We scouted out the gate’s location and then decided to find the lounge in case we have more time the next time we do this. It turned out to be outside the train station in a little store front that barely advertised the name of the train company. It was a small lounge, good for getting out of the crowds but not much else. Having found our target, we hoofed it back to the train station, where we had to wait less than 5 minutes before it arrived.

Since we traded in a plane ticket, we were able to buy premium class tickets on the train. That includes wifi throughout the 3.5 hour journey, which is the reason I’m writing this now. Between writing and eating the small airline-style breakfast, I’ve managed to kill one hour of the trip. Hopefully the weather in Paris will allow me to see some of the famous sights since I’ve never been there before.

Back to China

After the excessive amount of sleep the night before, I wasn’t able to go to bed very early in Japan. Part of the problem was the room temperature. Instead of a thermostat with a number, there’s a rheostat that goes from cool to warm with no numbers. I guessed how cool I wanted it, and I guessed wrong, waking up at least twice to turn it down more.

When the phone call came in to wake me up, I was sound asleep and dreaming. Luckily I had mostly packed the night before, giving me extra time to stand under the shower and wish time would stop for a bit.

There was a delay that caused the captain to be behind on his preflight. That gave me a lot of time without interruptions, and surprisingly I was able to complete all my duties promptly. Later he said it was my “best leg” and that I was “finally up to speed,” a backhanded compliment that was really saying “I didn’t say anything the last 4 legs but I was unhappy with your performance.” I had to chuckle a little and bite down hard to avoid saying it had a lot to do with not being interrupted. I don’t know if they’re trained that way or that’s part of the captain persona here, but they mostly have the habit of seeing that I’m in the middle of something and demanding my full attention to whatever they’ve decided to interrupt me with. A great example of this myopia occurred approximately 3 seconds after I told him my electronic flight bag had failed and was rebooting. “Ok, I’m ready for the performance numbers now.” “Do you want me to come over to your side and run them on your EFB?” I asked.

On a lighter note, when we’re outside Chinese airspace and try to request digital ATIS, the message comes back “TIS REJECTED.” I’m sure it’s something like “terminal information services” or whatever, but in my mind I always hear a pirate saying, “Arrr, ’tis rejected matey!”

Anyway I’m back in Guangzhou and took a short nap before enjoying the executive floor breakfast again. Man, I thought I had a big room the lst time I was here, but this is huge! It’s a true suite with a 1/2 bath in the living room and then a full bath with the bedroom. Max is eating dinner way over there in ‘Murica, and then we’re planning to try out Planetside 2 together.

So much for the streak!

Ok I managed to break my 1-day posting streak because I was just too tired when we landed in Narita. I was tired when I woke up in Guangzhou, though I’d slept a solid 7 hours before the trip.

The trip was relatively uneventful, though the captain continues randomly flying the airplane for me for no reason. I get it, I’m new, but rather than proceeding from a presumption of competence and correcting mistakes, he just does things for me and says he wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. I was, but somebody else’s hand was in my way!

I was whipped when we got to Narita, but like always the act of checking in and getting to the room woke me up a bit. After chatting with e, I went to the convenience store in the hotel and bought a bit of food. After eating I messed around on my phone a bit, then climbed into bed to take a nap before meeting up for dinner. Well, by the time I finished reading Facebook and a good bit of Jack Reacher, I didn’t go back to sleep until 3pm. I woke up at 11pm, then again 1 am, and finally 4 am! I don’t know why I’ve been so knocked out because I slept pretty well in Guangzhou.

Today I’ve been trying to get Max hooked up with Planetside 2, but as soon as we started trying to work on it the internet went crazy. When I left it last night, it had about 1GB to download and install. I assumed it would be ready today. When I finally connected, there was no shortcut to the game, so I ran the install repair again. The stupid computer kept saying there was no internet even though I was connected to it through–you know–the internet! I tried multiple times before giving up. We spent at least an hour resetting the jetpack, turning the router off and on, and restarting the computer. No luck. I could connect via TeamViewer, but the computer said it couldn’t connect with the Planetside server to complete the install. It’s frustrating because there are so many possibilities for error as I connect from Japan to a computer running OpenDNS servers through a router, through a Verizon Jetpack. Any one of those could have an error, but everything looked fine by my end. There’ve been Verizon outages reported in the news the last few days, but I can’t find out if there’s an error in Kissimmee, FL.

I finally gave up and told Max to turn everything off and go play. I asked him to turn it on again when he gets home. Maybe the reset will fix everything and we can finally install this game. I really hoped to play it with him today! After giving up, I went to breakfast for the first time in this hotel. It’s a pretty standard western/Asian mix, and there was plenty of good food to eat. I’m back in the room now at 8:40 am Monday morning, and my wakeup call comes at 7:30pm. Tonight is a short trip back to Guangzhou, so I’ll be ok even if I don’t get a ton of sleep before the flight.

Back in the saddle…for awhile, at least.

It’s been 5 years since I posted anything here. I’ve been on a lot of adventures since then that have been documented in thoughts, pictures, and my #1 fan’s blog. She suggested I start writing again instead of deleting the blog as planned, so I’m jumping right in rather than trying to recap the last 5 years.

Sunday, March 4, China Time

I’m in Guangzhou near the end of a 48-hour layover. We came in at 3 in the morning and leave at about 1am. That sounds bad until you realize it’s a fairly decent schedule back home, meaning I’m not yet totally out of sync with E and the boys. Just wait, my schedule will be totally screwed up by the time I get home! 😉

International travel is fun, and I do enjoy the time even when we’re off cycle from the world. I spend a lot of time awake at night and sleeping during the day, and usually I’m unwilling to go outside in the city in the middle of the night. I think that just makes sense. So what do I do? Yesterday we got to the hotel by about 3:30 am after a 3-hour flight from Singapore. I intended to stay awake until at least breakfast, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. The layover in Singapore was short, and I chose reduced sleep so that I could see a bit of the city. The captain had lived there previously, and he had a lot of cool stuff to tell me about while we walked around. Anyway I took a little nap, leaving the shades open and my phone on so that I wouldn’t sleep too long. I missed most of my notifications, but at about 7:30 a text woke me up and I got ready for breakfast.

The China Hotel by Marriott gives us access to the executive floor where a decent breakfast is served. I ate breakfast alone, expecting the captain to join me. I think he was more tired than me last night and was probably still asleep. After breakfast I returned to the room and had almost a 2-hour conversation with E. That’s unusual for us, not because we don’t like talking, but because bad internet, China blocking calls, random schedules, and E’s normal life often prevent us from talking so long. We got her setup with two nights in a hotel, something we haven’t done since Mother’s Day last May. I try to give her a complete break from the RV and us every few months so that she can enjoy some of the solitude I do when I’m on long layovers in big hotels. I definitely try not to rub it in, but the single hotel room I’m in now has more living space than our whole RV. It is nice just to hang around in PJ’s and read, play computer games, etc.

Speaking of games, I spent some time playing one of my new favorites, Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds, or PUBG. It drops 100 players into a map and then shrinks the map over time, Hunger Games-style, forcing players to run into each other eventually. It’s a lot of fun, but I enjoy it more when I can play with one of my online friends cooperatively. I also love playing Watch Dogs 2. Although I finished the single player mission, it’s still fun to connect to other people and chase them around or hack them when they’re trying to complete missions, just like they did to me.

Max turned 13 this year, and I decided to make it a priority to find a game we could play together. After some searching I decided to try the free-to-play Planetside 2. It’s a massively multiplayer first person shooter. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of players running around battling each other. I thought it would be fun to play that with Max. I downloaded it here first and played a bit to see how it would go. It’s not at all bloody, and by default there’s no talking and very little typing by other players. That means Max won’t see or hear a lot of bad words, although when I joined a team the kids there felt the need to cuss every other sentence. I tried to install it remotely from here, but with the Chinese firewall and the RV poor connection lately, I haven’t been able to finalize it on his laptop yet. Hopefully it will finish downloading tonight and we can give it a try tomorrow after church there while I’m in Japan.

So there’s my attempt at a reboot of the blog. It’s 10am here in China on Sunday morning, regardless of what the post time stamp indicates. I had my executive floor breakfast and am making myself stay up until at least noon. Tonight’s another relatively short flight over to Narita, then I’ll be back here again.

Day 5 – Grand Cayman

Our best–and worst–port.

I have 66 pictures for this one but won’t flood this board with all of them.

We woke at 6 and opened the window to another beautiful morning as we tendered into Grand Cayman. We had a leisurely room service breakfast and then made our way to the tenders. We’re not sure why, but the front elevators to the 0 floor were disabled and the stairway was blocked. We were about to make our way to the aft gangway when a crewmember said “shhh” and let us downstairs. We must have totally missed the daily announcement while eating breakfast, so I’m not sure if the front deck was supposed to be shore excursions only or something.

The tender ride was uneventful. I got some good looks at the Conquest, Magic and Liberty although I wasn’t able to get all 3 in one shot.

We hadn’t booked an excursion with the ship, so I started looking for a tour operator for Stingray City. One inside the terminal area was asking for $40pp so we kept moving on. Once outside we found one offering the same tour for $40pp and “the baby” for free. That was great because Jack doesn’t swim and doesn’t particularly like being in deep water, even wearing the vest you see in the Montego Bay post above. We waited about 15 minutes while the guide tried to sell other tours before she gave up and just called the driver. A taxi picked us up near the terminal and stopped at a hotel before continuing to the dock. The place seemed almost residential, but I saw vans for other popular tour companies and wasn’t worried. The taxi driver passed us off to the real tour guide. We wound up with Carib Select Watersports (carib select dot com with no spaces). There were a total of 19 people on the boat including the captain, our guide and another American expat who was apparently learning the trade.

I won’t spend a ton of time on the ship vs 3rd party tour, but I will say this: every tour operator goes to the exact same sandbar for their Stingray City tours, and that’s ok. This picture should give you an idea of what the crowds and gorgeous water looked like:

Keep in mind some of the tours had people packed in like the tenders. In fact they looked like tenders. We had 16 or so guests on a decent-sized boat where we never felt cramped.

The SC tour is pretty standard among the companies: you get in and stand on the sandbar while stingrays swim all over and everyone tries not to act scared. The tour operator holds a stingray and each family takes turns holding and kissing it while another tour person takes pictures. Then you take another picture with the stingray “massaging” your back.

They also provided us with squid that I’m told the stingrays would suck right out of your hand. Mine never made it that far because a large, aggressive fish snatched my squid before a stingray could come along. The birds were pretty aggressive too:

After 20-30 minutes at the sandbar, the captain was supposed to take us to one of two snorkeling spots–his choice. Instead we did two. The snorkeling was great at both, but the second had a larger number of fish right near the boat. I took lots of pictures and videos with my new Canon Powershot D20 underwater camera. Here are a few examples:

At the first snorkeling stop, we tried to do it with Jack which turned out to be a bad idea. He was trying to hold on hard enough to penetrate flesh, which made it difficult to move around with him. The water was deep enough that I needed to tread water. It was easier with the fins but still work. Eventually I got him comfortable enough that I could hold him on one arm while I snorkled and took pictures with the other. At one point I was watching an eel under the coral, when it decided to come look at me. I wasn’t in a position to wait and see his intentions, so I took off while keeping Jack above water. It’s kind of amusing so I’ve linked a youtube video here:

Overall we had a great day. The boat provided cold water and juice and was comfortable enough. We decided to buy the guide’s $60 CD with 17 pictures of us. The phone and email are on the envelope so that you can get a replacement if the disc breaks or doesn’t work when you get home.

After we got back to the terminal, the fun began. For some reason the Conquest’s line snaked all through the terminal while Magic guests were walking right on. We waited in line for about 45 minutes, occasionally sending one parent (ok, always Elle) to buy some snacks and cold drinks. The people around us were friendly and chatted with us from time to time. Every once in a while someone would try to enter the line in the middle, but they usually went to the back when we pointed out we weren’t the end of the line.

As we approached the gate, more and more people tried to cut the line. Several people were quite put out that the line applied to them. I don’t know if Carnival is supposed to offer platinum guests priority boarding, but they weren’t. A few crewmembers approached and asked if they could cut so that they could make their shift on the ship. The people in front of us let them go, and I was ok with that. Also a port security officer escorted a family with a young baby right in front of us. Again, no big deal here.

Then, just as the guard was about to allow our group to walk to the next tender, a large group of mostly employees rushed the gate. I saw Ram the magician among others. There were also regular passengers who decided to take advantage of the confusion and rush the line as well. I know they were regular pax because one group of these bags of d–I mean wonderful humans–wound up right in front of me. I saw their blue S&S cards same as mine. What made it more annoying to me was the way they kept loudly justifying it to themselves and all who could hear. They didn’t feel the least bit bad about cutting us off after our long wait in line. They kept looking back for their friends who were stopped to see if they managed to cut as well. They were also able to cut before we made it to the tender.

I don’t remember this being as much of an issue on other cruises, but we saw a fair amount of rudeness on this trip. We had people walk up when we were clearly waiting for an elevator and step between us and the door as soon as it opened, often not allowing those inside to leave. The next morning in Cozumel an old man cut in front of Elle when we were about 30 people back from the gangplank because she paused 10 seconds to get out her S&S card. We even had an older gentleman far in front of his family step right between Max and Elle as we were boarding the elevator in the parking garage on the way out. Elle said, “are you really going to jump in and break up my family?” The guy had no response.

With the day in the sun and water, the long wait and watching Jersey Shore board the tender, we weren’t in the best of moods when we got back to the ship. We took the elevator up to 9 and passed through the pool area on the way to our room. Elle and Max stopped to talk and I stepped to the side–outside of traffic I thought–and nearly smacked a lady with my backpack. Elle said loudly enough for her to hear “Ted, watch out, you almost ran into that lady.” As I was saying oops or something equally stupid, she felt the need to get in my face and say “You almost hit me with your backpack!” My witty reply was, “maybe you shouldn’t walk behind me then!” I sure showed her!!!

The thing is, I’m a pretty decent guy, and I try to be cognizant of my surroundings so I don’t do what I just did. But everyone was hot and sunburned and tired of the tender experience, so we let our tempers go. I am sorry I almost hit her, but ma’am, if you’re here, please realize I don’t have eyes back there and can’t help it if you walk so close a normal turn on my part almost hits you.

That just about finished me for the day, happy thought gone. I sulked for a bit and decided a Guy’s burger might cheer me up. It was pretty good, but I still didn’t feel like playing nice. As I came out of the restroom next to Guy’s, another man pushed past me through the door instead of waiting 1 second for me to get out. I snapped “don’t let me get in your way” and almost started my second fight of the afternoon. I was so tired and mad that my great day in Grand Cayman was now this, but I didn’t want to go to sleep at 4pm because I’m a big boy and don’t need a nap.

In the end I wound up staying in the pool area while Max went down the waterslide over and over. I got a couple of DotDs to relax a bit, but I was really too tired and cranky for that to work well. I brought my second drink in the hot tub right below the slide, and it was HOT! We own a hot tub at home, so I’m familiar with the US-mandated 104 degrees F tub. This was much hotter than that. As I sat down I could tell with great detail exactly where the sun had eaten through the sunblock.

I was there a few minutes before Elle came to get me. Camp Carnival had closed early before dinner because no kids were there, so she still had Jack with her. We went back to the room to shower and get ready for dinner. I was so whipped I couldn’t stomach the idea of putting on my suit again for elegant night #2. We also made the boys skip Camp Carnival that night. We decided on pizza and root beer floats (root beer from the bar, ice cream from Swirls). That was a nice, relaxing dinner, and Jack was sound asleep in the cabin by 8:15, with Max soon after. In closing, here are some more from gorgeous Grand Cayman.

Day 4 – Montego Bay

Wherein we act like rookie tourists.

As was our tradition by now, we had room service breakfast on the deck. We kept messing with the arrival time to make sure it got there after everyone woke up but before we were starving. 6-7 usually worked, but the longer we cruised, the later Max stayed up and the later he wanted to sleep. The front blinds are required to be closed from sunset to sunrise to avoid glare on the bridge below. I usually opened them when we were ready to wake up, and that helped Max to stir.

After breakfast, we proceeded to our second tradition, second breakfast. The room service breakfast was pretty good and offered the opportunity to fill up, but it doesn’t have hot food. We usually had croissants with cream cheese and jelly, coffee and hot chocolate, chocolate milk for the boys. Then we’d put on clothes and walk over to the buffet to pick up some bacon and eggs to finish off the meal.

Today I spent a while on the deck watching us follow the Magic into port. After the Magic docked, we turned to park perpendicular to her. This is one of the shots I captured from the deck showing what a gorgeous day we had:

I took a few shots of the Magic as well as we docked.

The weather in Montego Bay was gorgeous as you can see from the pictures. We made our way off the ship and discovered we needed to shuttle over to the main terminal next to the Magic. There were two options right off the Conquest: the “free” shuttle and the purchase for the hop-on, hop-off bus. The HOHO allowed use of the sign and sail card but didn’t have a price displayed. We heard some others saying it was $19 per person, but I never got the price directly so YMMV.

We elected to use the “free” shuttle. I keep putting it in quotes because the driver spent the whole time reminding people to “take care of your drivers.” Like many, I’m tired of the tendency to turn any job into a tipping job. When my tips help cover the salary, such as the cabin steward or a waiter, it’s a lot more palatable. When someone is fully compensated for serving ice cream or driving a bus or whatever, I don’t see why they should put out a tip jar or practically demand a tip, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

We made it to the terminal and joined the crowds from the Magic making their way out. We intended to take a taxi to Doctor’s Cave Beach, spend a few hours, then taxi back for lunch and naps.

As we left the terminal, there were throngs of people being shuttled onto buses. I told several workers we we not on a tour and just wanted to go to Doctor’s Cave Beach. They kept saying no problem and herding us toward the next bus. I seem to remember small taxis at Falmouth 12 years ago, but there were none to be found here. As we were herded close to a bus, I told the driver we wanted to go to Doctor’s Cave Beach and get off. He of course said no problem and continued to pack people into the bus. Because I expected a short trip, I allowed him to direct me to the back while Elle and the boys sat up front.

After stuffing the bus to the limit and closing the door, the driver said, “I’m going to make you a deal. I’ll drive you around all day and show you the best beaches, take you to the best shopping, etc, and it will be just $15 per person. Does that sound good?”

I was hoping Elle would object, but when she didn’t I stupidly stayed silent amid the partyers on the bus saying yes. I figured Doctor’s Cave must be one of the best beaches and we could just duck out there. Naturally I was wrong. I knew we were in trouble when we passed right by DCB and turned away from the coastline. I didn’t want to be a jerk and stop the bus, but in hindsight I should have done just that. Not only is an all-day bus tour not a good option for my 5- and 8-year-old boys, the adults really didn’t want cranky kids hanging around them all day.

I kept expecting him to stop somewhere close where we could just walk back to DCB, but it didn’t happen. Before long we were far away on a highway and I figured it was safer to stick with him than get out on the side of the road. He took us all the way to the White Witch golf course and let us out at the top to take pictures. I went for the nearest golf club employee and set up a taxi to return to DCB. It took long enough that our original driver was ready to go just as we were walking away. He ran up to us and said if we were leaving we could just pay him now. I gave him some $ for the ride and he tried to get us to pay him $15pp. I told him my kids couldn’t do an all-day tour and there was no way I was paying all-day tour prices to strand me somewhere I didn’t want to be. He stopped arguing and left with the $ we’d already given him. The new driver tried to talk us into going somewhere else but backed down when I said we are getting off at DCB and nowhere else. He actually was trying to be helpful, but I was not going to get scammed twice in one morning.

The moral of the story, of course, is something I’ve learned all over the world, from Colombia to Germany to Thailand: don’t get in a taxi until you’ve agreed on the destination and the price. Now, The party people in the bus seemed like they were in for an enjoyable day, but it wasn’t what we needed for enjoyment, and I was stupid to let myself be bullied when I really know better.

After the 45-minute, $30 detour, we arrived at Doctor’s Cave Beach. Admission was $6 pp, but she gave us “the baby” free. By this time the chairs and umbrellas were all rented, so we threw one Carnival towel on the sand and piled our stuff on it.

Doctor’s Cave Beach is nice if all you’re looking for is sand and water. There are no fancy features except a trampoline that pretty much stayed full. It was just what we wanted, and gorgeous:

We saw some lucky AirTran folks getting ready to start a nice vacation:

With just adults, we probably would have stayed longer and eaten at a nearby restaurant, but with the boys a full day in the sun usually isn’t a great idea, as we found out the next day.

The sand there was weirdly coarse. I wound up sitting on the edge with Jack for about 30 minutes while the waves splashed us. He loved that. When I stood up I found a bunch of sand had entered my shorts in the waves and then coalesced. I had two big mounds stuck in the netting inside my drawers! I had to go out in the deeper water. If it wasn’t so crowded and so crystal clear, I would have take off my shorts and washed the sand out. As it was I had to keep shaking the blobs up so the sand would go back into the water.

Also the entrepreneurs didn’t leave us alone even while swimming. There were Jamaicans swimming around trying to get us to buy conch shells. I wasn’t the least bit interested, but another couple was. That was until another cruiser said they are illegal to bring back on the ship. I don’t know about the legality but thought I’d pass the info along.

We walked to the top of the DCB steps where several drivers waited. They wanted $5 pp back to the port which we gladly accepted. The guy asked us to wait awhile so he could fill the bus, but after 10 minutes there were no takers and we left.

Oddly, the driver asked if it was ok to buy gas before talking us back. Elle seemed amenable and I said OK. After all, we were now out of the sun although sweating a lot, and we weren’t in a hurry. We got back to the port in no time and packed into a shuttle for the Conquest side.

Again the driver emphasized the tips he needed to live, but honestly I wasn’t feeling so generous after the morning we had. We passed through the terminal where some but not all bags were checked, then got back on the Conquest.

We made a quick stop by the room to drop off towels, etc then headed to lunch. I had my daily Guy’s burger and the boys and Elle ate off the buffet. Elle tried to eat a taco from the Blue Iguana, but they closed at 2:30 and we got there at 2:40. He offered to make her one anyway, but we try to respect the crew’s working hours, especially when so many other options exist.

After lunch, we napped almost until dinner time and then dropped Jack at CC while Max ate with us. For the first 3 or so nights he asked to join us in the restaurant because he liked it. Later he said he was tired of restaurant manners and wanted to eat at CC.

Meet & Greet

Before the ports I have to thank our Cruise Critic Roll Call leader, Fran aka peachcrek. She started the CC roll call and eventually organized a meet & greet and cocktail party the first day at sea as well as a group rate at a resort in Montego Bay.

It’s a good thing Fran didn’t come by plane either, because her bags must have been stuffed to the gills. She bought special presents for the 3 birthday ladies (Mrs. Thelma celebrating 100, Elle 40 and another I’ve forgotten). She also had at least 20 door prize bags that were given out. They were pretty significant considering she isn’t an employee and dragged them down from NJ for a bunch of people she’d never met. We really appreciated her hard work and friendliness.

We’d also like to thank Paul aka DeafDude for designing and printing door posters for everyone.

We didn’t stay for the cocktail party because it was time to pick up the boys from Camp Carnival. We thought the adults would appreciate us not bringing them there. It would have been fun to spend more time actually meeting and greeting everyone. We’ll have to try next time without the boys.

One Thing More

Ok, the real last one for the night. As I re-read my posts, I realize it’s possible to think I’m complaining. Since you can’t read my tone over the internet, please understand we had a great cruise and would board tomorrow if circumstances allowed. I’m trying to be realistic and report on the good and bad, things I was wondering before the cruise and things I think you might be wondering. Thanks again for the encouraging words. I will try to post more tomorrow when my schedule allows.

First Days at Sea

Last one for tonight:

After watching the Mississippi for a long time, we attended the Camp Carnival orientation and then it was time for dinner. We chose early dining and were assigned to the Renoir Dining Room on 4 mid. Our waiter Gede and his assistant Imade were excellent throughout. I was a little bit disappointed with the seating because when the crew entertains, most of the action is on the 3rd floor where the anytime diners sit and we didn’t have much to see. Also, the windows of 4 mid would look out onto the liferafts, so they are covered.

A little Carnival hiccup with dinner: somehow Carnival’s computer system decided we were travelling with a 70ish-year-old couple, presumably one of our parents. We weren’t, but that glitch got us assigned to a 6-person table with only 4 people at it, fewer when one or both boys ate with Camp Carnival. On the second night, the Maitre d’ came by to question us about our missing parents. We had to work to convince him we weren’t traveling with anyone else. He was then upset the mysterious couple had skipped dinner twice without bothering to notify him. If they showed up to dinner the first night, I can’t really fault them for seeing the two boys and quietly moving on without saying anything. After all, they were not related to us despite the insistence of the Maitre d’ 🙂 Despite the troubles, Jan (Pronounced Ian) was super-friendly and gave a us a good recommendation for Doctor’s Cave Beach on Jamaica.

I’ve read a lot of lukewarm reviews about the food and I would tend to agree. Not bad considering how many people they’re feeding at once, but nothing spectacular either. In general, hot foods arrived slightly warm. The only steam I remember seeing at the table is when I had hot coffee. Although I should have expected it, I was surprised to see nearly everything from the dining room menu at the Lido buffet. Other than the friendly and attentive waiter service I don’t think there was a large benefit to choosing the dining room over the buffet. In fact the buffet items might be a little hotter since you can get them right off the heating tray.

As others have reported, the dress code was very loosely followed. I saw just about every “not permitted” item in the dining room and swimsuits in the Lido buffet. I honestly didn’t see the big deal with swimwear in the Lido buffet since it sits right between two pools. I think it’s a bit optimistic to expect a deck full of swimmers to run back to the room and change before stepping in the door to get an ice cream or a lemonade.

In an effort to finish this review sometime before the end of time, I’m going to try to speed along a bit. The two days at sea were fairly rough, enough that the crew kept promising it’s not usually like this. Starting right after we exited the Mississippi, the Captain’s Suite shuddered every time the ship hit a wave a certain way. If you’ve ever lived near an artillery range (I have), it was kind of like that: a loud boom like we hit something along with the whole cabin rattling and shuddering. Despite the roughness the days got better as we went along. The first sea day was warm enough to wear shorts with the sun up, and the second day was approaching hot.

I posted several questions on John Heald’s Facebook page before departure, and as a result Carnival surprised us with a ship on a stick and bottle of champagne on the first sea day. I honestly wasn’t posting asking for a gift, but I think the entertainment department must send something to everyone who posts there.

The first days sort of blurred together with lots of reading, a nap every day, and the occasional nip of rum in our cokes. The first sea day we attended the Brits show after dinner and were surprised to see Max and the others his age sitting two rows in front of us. By the by, for anyone who was there, Max was the “young man” trying to answer the question about the game conquers. He actually learned about that game in school and was trying to answer, but the senior citizen who thought he was the young man kept yelling over him 😉

From a musical standpoint the Brits seemed well done, but the whole live action and cartoon mix didn’t work for us. For large portions of the show we were sitting in the theater watching a cartoon sing a prerecorded track with no live people in sight. Even if there was someone backstage singing for the cartoon, it was strange. We’d attended every show of the other 3 cruises but decided the Carnival shows weren’t quite for us.

One thing that was very much for me was the Alchemy Bar. I wanted to try it after reading the menu on We were lucky to get the “Master Mixologist” on our first visit. She made all her drinks without having to measure, and they tasted great. As someone who generally sticks to either beer or rum and coke, I appreciated that she could talk me into trying new things. I would have spent a lot more time there, but Elle doesn’t really drink so I try not to drag her to bars too much 🙂 The Alchemy Bar was also one of the few places we wound up talking with fellow cruisers, something we enjoyed on our other cruises where we always sat with a group of strangers at dinners.

I realize I’ve been rambling the last two days, but it should be a bit more structured when I get to the three ports. Please post any specific questions you have and I’ll try to answer them. Thanks again for the encouragement, and the help identifying the Jackson Barracks and the Chalmette battlefield.