a gringo's take on fatherhood and other stuff

the clueless american


Day -1 0

Posted on March 09, 2013 by TJ

The day before the cruise, my wife’s 40th birthday, we made the uneventful 8-hour drive to New Orleans. There was a marathon in town, selling out a lot of the places offering a cruise parking package. We decided on a 2-bedroom unit at TownePlace Suites New Orleans Metairie for $189 a night. We’ve traveled plenty of times with the boys, and while a single room works, we get much better sleep with a door between the two of us.

Thanks to a leisurely start from Arkansas, we arrived at the hotel around 6:30 pm. The front desk clerk frowned at the room list for a minute and then said, “I’m sorry, but we sold out of the type of room you requested. What they did for you was give you two 1-bedroom rooms that adjoin. The whole thing will cost $20 less, is that OK?” I try to stay calm when things don’t go right, but there was no downside to their mistake. We wound up with more space for less money and still got a door between us at bedtime.

Naturally we were hungry, so we started the food search. The hotel is right next to a Popeye’s (tempting) and near a shopping center with restaurants, but we wanted something more local. I fired up Yelp and in no time was reading a review about Short Stop Po-Boys. Although the restaurant was about 2 miles away as the crow flies, we had to circumnavigate the train depot and whatever else was separating us, resulting in a 10-minute trip with traffic.

Short Stop was just what the doctor ordered. They have a good variety of po-boys, from catfish to sausage to poutine (fries and gravy–on a sub!). The ordering process is a bit different. You stand around until one of the cooks is ready, they call you up and you place your order. They don’t want to check you out until your whole order is done, so you stand there watching them put your order together and then go pay. We ordered a catfish for my wife, one for the boys to split and a crayfish for me. The sandwiches took a while to prepare, but they were delicious. My wife’s originally from the region and gave it a hearty thumbs up!

After supper we were almost back to the hotel when I spotted a Baskin Robbins. We celebrated DW’s 40th birthday a week early with cake, but it seemed strange not to do something on the actual day. Normally I would have fired up Yelp again to find a local dessert place, but we were tired and my wife never says no to BR!

I was so excited I had a hard time going to sleep, but eventually I drifted off until our 5-year-old came in from the other room at 5. The kids don’t get to come in our room on normal nights, but when traveling the little one gets to come sleep with us because he’ll usually sleep a few hours more than he would on his own. Tomorrow, the cruise I’ve been planning since July is finally here!

Carnival Conquest 2/24/13 Western Caribbean Review and Pictures 0

Posted on March 09, 2013 by TJ

After a 2+-year hiatus, I’m returning to my blog to document our recent cruise to the Caribbean. Last night was a trip down memory lane as I read every post of this blog from beginning to end. It’s neat to see all the cool things I’d mostly forgotten. It’s also sad to realize all the major events that were barely documented if at all: our 1st cruise (2 years before I started this blog), our trips to London, Lanzarote, Melilla and our Alaska cruise are some of the things barely mentioned here. We used to keep a separate website for our family travels, but after the boys we found out no one wanted to look at us. That site has become a woefully out-of-date photo gallery of our boys. The old photos are still with us in storage, along with the original descriptions we wrote back then. I’m going to have to unzip that file one day and read through it all. In any event, I’m mostly posting the same things here as my Cruise Critic review. I wanted it here too so that I can read it over the years. The CC thread is here.

I’m starting this tonight to make myself finally review last week’s cruise before I forget everything. While you’re waiting for me to post more, check out my video and pictures of the Captain’s Suite in this post I sort-of hijacked: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1785683. I won’t duplicate those pictures here but might write more about the cabin, who knows?

For starters, an introduction:

My wife and I first cruised the week of 9/11 on the RCCL Voyager of the Seas in the Caribbean. Our second cruise was on the Orient Crown Odyssey in the Mediterranean. By 2006 we had one son but family babysitting was nearby so we left him for our last hurrah and did a HAL Statendam Alaska cruisetour. Son #2 had his humble beginnings on that ship, if you get my drift.

As you can see, we haven’t cruised a ton, but we’ve experienced a good range of cruise lines and destinations in our few experiences. In 2012 I retired from the Air Force after 24 years and really wanted to celebrate with a cruise, but as I didn’t have a follow-on job at the time it seemed foolish. I managed to land a good job and became eligible for vacation in Jan 2013. Feb 23 happened to be my wife’s 40th birthday, which made it seem like a good time to celebrate her, my retirement and my new job all at once.

Our boys are now 8 and 5. Our 5 yo has Down Syndrome and operates at about a 2.5-3 yo level while still wearing diapers. Both boys are good flyers, having returned from Turkey as well as other flights with no troubles . However, flying 4 people anywhere costs almost as much as a cruise.

All these facts led me to start the following search: a cruise within driving distance of Arkansas, with a Caribbean tour near Feb 23, with a respected children’s program, that would change our DS/DS’s diapers. Up until recently our in-laws lived in Louisiana, which led me to start my search there.

It didn’t take long to discover our only option was Carnival thanks to DS5. As I read the policies, RCCL requires all kids to be toilet trained, while NCL specifies they do not change diapers at any age. Carnival advertised they happily change diapers, although they reserved the right to refuse if the child is too large. We didn’t plan to park our boys in Camp Carnival the entire cruise, but we knew going in we wanted the full-day Tulum excursion. NCL and Carnival both had cruises out of New Orleans that weekend, but due to diapers Carnival was the only real option for us.

I originally booked an OS, 7248, in order to give us at least a bit of room when all 4 were in the cabin. After booking, I started researching more luxurious options for a potential future anniversary cruise and determined the Captain’s Suite to be Carnival’s most exclusive room. Coincidentally, shortly after deciding I’d like a CS “someday,” the upsell fairy called and I decided to splurge on 9202.

That, friends, is what passes for a “brief” intro from me. I’m eventually copying these posts to my blog where all the pics are hosted: thecluelessamerican.net. I started that blog to document our 2003 cruise experience and it morphed into an on-again, off-again place for me to post random musings. It has been way more off than on. Anyway, I’m signing off for now. The real review should start tomorrow.

Happy Birthday to me… 0

Posted on August 07, 2010 by TJ

Here I am at 40. I can hardly believe it.

One more dawn… 0

Posted on July 27, 2010 by TJ

The last photo from my apartment! My bags are packed and I’m ready to get home to my family. It’s going to be hard to sleep, but like with Christmas it will make the night go faster. One more day!

Single digits! 0

Posted on July 19, 2010 by TJ

After what seems like an eternity away from home, I’m down to just 9 days. I can’t wait!

July 18th 0

Posted on July 18, 2010 by TJ

Got my second paper done today, so now I have fewer papers due than I have days left. Plus, Tuesday’s a holiday so if I buckle down and actually work that day I have a slim chance of finishing. Now that the Embassy has a gym I can do my workouts during the day and have no excuse not to work on papers at night. If I do one a day after work and two on the 3 days off I have left, I might just get to Little Rock with an MBA on my record.

July 17th 0

Posted on July 17, 2010 by TJ

After a long break, I got off my keister and started working on my Master’s class again. It’s been about a month since I requested the extension until September 25th, but other than some reading I really haven’t worked on it at all in that month. It’s embarrassing what a procrastinator I am, but there’s no point to keep it hidden. I’ve been telling everyone my MBA would be done when I return, and now everyone will ask about it and find out differently. I will do my best to finish it in the next 11 days before I leave, but no promises.

July 16th 0

Posted on July 16, 2010 by TJ

July 15th 0

Posted on July 15, 2010 by TJ

July 13th 0

Posted on July 13, 2010 by TJ



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