Novmber 11, 2012: Happy Veteran’s Day
Our trip started off smoothly with our flight to Seattle at about 9am. We stopped for coffee and danishes in the Fairbanks airport’s cafe. That was a mistake… My gingerbread latte had a slight taste of mold and our danishes were only okay. But alas, we had some food in our tummies before we reached 10,000 feet and breakfast would be served in first class. Ohhhh, first class is lovely. I wish I could always afford to fly first class. Plenty of legroom, only two people per row, it was heavenly. Over the course of this flight, we decided that we would go to the mall in Seattle during our long layover, since the times for the train/bus and the cost of a cab to the Space Needle/Experience Music Project were outside acceptable means.
We went to the Westfield Southcenter Mall once we landed in Seattle (early!). It was just a 10 minute cab ride and much, much cheaper than our other destinations were. Our first destination was lunch. We had Philly cheesesteaks from Charley’s Grilled Subs. It definitely hit the spot for me, and it wasn’t something that we have in Alaska. And then we wandered. For three hours. There were lots of stores, but not a whole lot that we both wanted to go into. We had ice cream from a Ben & Jerry’s stand. I think it was Britton’s first time seeing Ben & Jerry’s sold by the scoop. Del-ish-ous! Why isn’t the Coffee Explosion flavor offered in pints?! We did go to “Max Rider” which is a 4-D ride, kind of like the ones at DisneyWorld. We chose the Arctic Race. It was a pretty good use of 15 minutes. The ride didn’t make me sick like the last time I had gone on one. The really funny thing is that there are cameras facing you while you ride, so people outside can see what’s going on. One gentleman in particular commented and said it looked like a wild time.
We continued to wander awhile longer until we decided we were bored. We walked outside and were in the process of calling a cab, when we noticed there was a bowling alley across the way. So, bowling we went. I think Britton beat me in the only game we played, but it was nice to play a game in a clean, well-kept facility. It was then we took the cab back to the airport, and only so soon because all of the billiards tables were taken.
Back at Sea-Tac, we did what any bored flyer does. Rode the tram to Burger King! Last time we checked, the BK on Post was being remodeled, so we have to get it while we’re out. We used the time waiting for our flight to recharge our devices. On the flight to Los Angeles, we were served a chicken salad. It was ok. Upon arrival into LAX, we got our bags easily. While waiting at baggage claim, I noticed a SuperShuttle drive by, fortunately. Otherwise, we probably would have walked the wrong direction to attempt to find the next SuperShuttle stand. We waited just a few minutes until the Long Beach shuttle came by and it got loaded up, all 9 seats were taken. We were the last stop and eventually made it to our hotel just before midnight. Check-in was easy and all we wanted to do was sleep.
Monday, November 12, 2012: Embarktion
We took our time getting up and going in the morning, missing breakfast. We checked out of the hotel just before 11, and the nice employee let us store our larger bags until it was time to call for a taxi to take us to the pier. The entirety of the pre-trip, all Britton could talk about was In-&-Out Burger. Fortunately, there was one within walking distance of the hotel. We took the long way to walk there, but first we stopped at Ralph’s, which is apparently a Kroger store, because my Fred Meyer Rewards Card worked there! I needed contact solution, because I wasn’t sure if my bottle was going to make it for the entire trip. (It did, I used the very last bit on the last night, but it was nice to have a full bottle at home the next night.) In-n-Out Burger was pretty good. We both had our burgers and fries “animal style”. Their milkshakes are delish! And only $1.99! We wasted a little more time by walking aimlessly around the area before going back to the hotel. Britton was being lazy and convinced me to jaywalk in Long Beach! Eeek, and on a fairly blind corner. I was a little nervous, but we made it successfully!
Our cab driver was super informative. He told us about the different areas of town, places to see and things to do.
At the pier, our big bags were whisked away by a porter and we didn’t see them again until dinner time. The first stop was a check to make sure our boarding pass was accurate. The next stop checked our passports and got us our Sign & Sail cards… aka the room keys. We were told that there would be a mandatory safety meeting just after 4:30pm (the latest time you could get on the ship), we didn’t think much of it at the time. So we entered on the Empress Deck, which conveniently was the deck our cabin was on. We first wandered down the “odds” side of the ship and then learned that evens were on the other side. And we got to cabin E-110. And I put my card in (the light turned red), but I apparently was pushing on an open door, and we walked into someone else’s room! Hahahahaa whoops! We then learned that our cabin was actually E-10.
We got to our room and turned off our cell phones and dinked around for a bit. We watched the “Fun Ashore Fun Aboard Presentation.” It was pretty helpful, since we didn’t really know what to expect. After the presentation, we decided to add the La Bufadora excursion while we were in Ensenada. We wandered for awhile before the announcements started coming on for the MANDATORY SAFETY MEETING. At this point, I started panicking a little, it was really close to the time in which we had scheduled our massage. But alas, it seemed that everyone was going to the safety meeting, so we went to our Muster Station. After it was over, it was 5:25… 25 minutes after our massage was scheduled. We went up to the spa to see what was going on. Unfortunately, someone, somewhere had screwed up, but fortunately, we could reschedule to the next day, at 7:15pm.
In a combination of being hungry (and emotional because of that), disappointment, and having teary-eye-syndrome, I kind of started crying. So we went back to our room to calm down for a few minutes before going to dinner.
Dinner the first night was in the Mardi Gras dining room. We were shown to our seats quickly and tended to very well. After we finished eating, our waitress found out it was our honeymoon and asked if we wanted to celebrate that night, or the next night. I opted for right then and there. Our waitress gathered up fellow coworkers and they sang “Happy Honeymoon [kissee kissee]” to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” It was hilarious, and we were recognized by those sitting around us later in the cruise. On our way out, we were asked if we’d be willing to change tables, as the other couple who had been scheduled to eat with us had canceled their cruise and there was a family of four that had been split up. We accepted.
That evening was the first night Britton played at the casino. Since I didn’t really feel like losing money, I went to the Paris Lounge to see what was going on there. I learned about places to shop in each of our ports and what to watch for. It was a little boring, but also informative.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012: Catalina Island, CA
On Tuesday, we chose to eat breakfast in the dining room. My oh my, service is slooowwwww when you’re very hungry. But, the food was tasty, and I suppose that is what matters. We went to breakfast at 7:30am and were finally finished close to 8:20am. We got to see some wildlife, including dolphins and seals, while waiting for our food.
The port of Catalina is too small to dock into, so there is a process called tendering. Essentially, it’s a small taxi service that takes you from the ship to the shore. We didn’t really have to wait in line to get onto one of the taxi boats, which was nice. It was all a little stressful, for my time-management side. We got to the pier before it was time to meet our excursion, so we wandered a bit. We didn’t immediately see the sign for our excursion and wound up walking to the other side, only to be told that we’d be meeting back where we came from.
The first excursion for us was the “Wild Dolphin Adventure.” It was fun, keeping in mind that the dolphins are in fact wild and not caged, trained animals. We were handed waterproof jackets to wear to “keep us warm” but we opted not to wear them, since it was about 75* already. After a quick safety briefing (as required by the US Coast Guard) we boarded the little boat and set sail. We saw mostly common dolphins and a few seals and sea lions. Unfortunately, the dolphins were feeding and therefore weren’t very interactive, but it was still pretty neat, because they tended to feed right next to the boat. Our captain told us about some of the history of the different camps on Catalina Island, including where the opening scene of Jaws was shot (even though the movie took place on the East Coast).
Once back to the island, we went to a recommended store called Del Sol. Their technology allows everything they sell to change colors in… you guessed it, the sun. We bought quite a bit of stuff and ended up getting a $50 gift card to use online. We continued to walk around and found a coffee shop/wine bistro/art gallery that was pretty neat. I had a white chocolate macadamia nut frappechino and Britton had strawberry cheesecake gelato. There were the most interesting mobiles in there made from drift wood. One would have come home with me if the price tag had been right.
After wandering through each of the stores looking for a pint glass (because we collect them), we found an arcade. There was a lot of time still before we had to go back to the ship, so we dinked around and spent $15 in tokens on various games. I think we wound up with 225 tickets, but gave them to a kid, because we didn’t want to redeem for any of the cheap prizes. They also have this interesting little bowling alley. It’s a combination of bowling and skeeball. The balls are just a little bigger than skeeballs, but they aren’t as big as a bowling ball and don’t have finger holes. The lane is a lot shorter and the pins are on strings. It may have been my best game of “bowling” ever! Britton let me win this time.
At this point, we almost went back to the ship, but instead decided to walk to The Casino. We decided that even if we couldn’t go inside, that the view up close would be worth it. Oh man, it was totally worth it! The building is awesome. The word casino is derived from an Italian word meaning a place of gathering and entertainment. So, here there isn’t any gambling. The building was built to entertain though. Downstairs was one of the first auditoriums for silent films. There is an authentic super old pipe organ (I wish we could have heard that live) that is still played before the showing of every film. Last week, the movie being shown was Argo. Upstairs is one of the few circular ballrooms. There were windows around most of the sides, so there was almost a 360* view of the island and ocean. In between the levels, is five feet of insulated space, designed so that sound wouldn’t be an issue. We were told that 1,200 people could be ballroom dancing while the loudest action film you could think of was playing and neither group would complain due to sound.
After this tour was over, I really wish we had time to visit the museum, but it was time to start heading back to the ship. We tendered back and dropped things off to head to the Lido deck and get some food. On our way to the buffet line, they were calling for ten men and ten women to participate in the Last Man Standing. It was super fun. The first challenge was to stand in a line with our team and hold hands. We had to get a hula hoop from one end to the other and back. Our team won! Half of the other team was eliminated. Then the next challenge was to pass a ball, neck to neck, down the line. I failed at this one. I was not really comfortable trying to get the ball, because it meant putting my boobs into another mans chest. (LOL). So our team had to do an elimination challenge. This time was to toss ping pong balls into a net. The two people with the highest number of points moved on. I was eliminated. BUT, in the next challenge, an old lady who didn’t want to get wet ran away, and I got to come back! The 3rd major event was to fill a bucket by filling a cup with drippings of a wet towel. Our team won again! The last challenge was 3 teams of 2. The first person had to put on a shirt, dive into and swim to the middle of the pool and back, get out, take the t-shirt off, put it on your partner, put three balloons into their shirt and dive and swim. If you lost a balloon, it was a 5-second delay if you didn’t retrieve it. My team didn’t have any penalties, but we also weren’t the fastest. We got second, while Britton’s team got third. It was still fun to be recognized as participating in the Last Man Standing!
Then we had a little bit of food and went to Name that Song trivia. We were a little late to trivia, but still had fun trying to guess some of the songs. We went back to our room and changed for the formal night.
In the new dining room, we didn’t know that we should just find our table, because we didn’t know where our table was. Eventually we got our food. I had a cold strawberry soup as an appetizer that was delish! It was like eating a melted strawberry milkshake. I had the lobster and shrimp entree and finished before Britton had even started. We were in the works of being late for our massage!
We skipped dessert and ran to our room to change into more comfy clothes before heading to the massage. We weren’t too late, so that was comforting. We first went into the relaxation room before going back to our massage room. We had two wonderful ladies who worked every inch of us and loved every minute of us. We were definitely relaxed and I can’t wait to have another one.
After the massage, we laid in our room for a little while before deciding to go to one of the comedy shows. We watched Lowell Sanders do his skit before calling it a night.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012: Ensenada, Mexico
Upon waking up in Ensenada, we had a little more understanding of what to expect. We opted out of the seated breakfast and went to the buffet instead. That was an awesome decision, because it allowed us to eat more food and have a little more variety. Ensenada has a large enough port that tendering wasn’t required, you just walked onto shore.
We overestimated how much time we needed for breakfast and debarking, so we had about 25 minutes to wander the area on shore. I decided to get some sunglasses because we were headed on our Jeep Adventure. We saw lots of neat things that may or not have been made in Mexico. I saw some Mexican vanilla that I wanted to buy, but a nice lady overheard me and suggested looking in town because it would probably be cheaper.
For our Jeep Adventure, we weren’t able to drive ourselves, since the company required you to be 25 years of age. No big deal, we were paired up with a nice couple from Arizona. Neither of us can remember his name, but her name was Margarita! I loved it. We had a guided tour, by Luis Gonzalez, both on the highways, 1 and 3, as well as on some dirt roads to see the countryside outside of Ensenada. Eventually, we worked our way to Monte Xanic, a winery. Our tour guide, who was fantastic, also was able to talk us through the process of this particular winery. The red wines take approximately two and a half years before they are ready for sale, while the white wines are just a few months. After the tour, we were taken up to the tasting room to sample. Rebecca was very knowledgable and helpful in selecting choices that she thought would match up with our tastes. We tasted five wines (even though we were only supposed to have two each.. yay for sharing!): 1. a Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc 2009; 2. Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2010; 3. Chardonnay 2011; 4. Chenin Blanc Cosecha Tardía 2011 and 5. Merlot 2010. Each and everyone of them were very delicious. We purchased one bottle to bring home with us.
The actual tour was about 20 minutes longer than the listed time on the website, as well as in the program on the ship. We were almost late to our next excursion: the Blow Hole Tour. Fortunately, we made it to the meeting point before the motor coach left. It was an hour drive to and from the Blow Hole, and unfortunately, I can’t tell you much, because I fell asleep. Both ways. I have a really hard time staying awake when everything looks fairly similar and the tour guide, Maru, wasn’t very interesting. The motor coach parked at the edge of a strip of street sellers. This was a little frustrating, because EVERY SHOP OWNER was trying to sell you something. Eventually, we made it to La Bufadora. This is one of the last remaining rock gysers and is also one of the largest. It was pretty unimpressive, despite all of the pictures that were showing it. The reason being? It was low tide. The tide has to be high in order for the water to get into the rocks and blow the water 60-100 feet in the air.
On our walk back, we stopped at the restaurant recommended by Mura. Habana Banana Restaurant has fantastic chips and salsa. I wasn’t super impressed by my enchiladas – I was expecting a spicier sauce, and this one was super tomato-y. Britton had the azada tacos, which were actually, really good. It took a little while for our food and we wound up having only about 10 minutes to walk back to the bus. We made it to the bus on time (mainly because there were still 4 people who weren’t there), but we managed to get some churros before getting on the bus. Those, were to die for. Very, very delicious.
Back in Ensenada, we opted to just go back to the ship instead of walking to town. I was a little bummed to not be able to get any vanilla or other little souvenir, but I certainly wasn’t going by myself. Ensenada has 121 events every year, including the start of all of the Baja races. Thursday or Friday was the start of the Baja 1000.
Dropping off the wine at the ship customs was a little sad, but I know, rules are rules. We went back to our room to drop our things off. I honestly can’t really tell you what we did for the rest of the evening. We didn’t go to the dining room for dinner, because we were so full from the Mexican restaurant, but we did visit the dinner buffet. We watched some karaoke, with the live band Soundwaves and watched the ship leave the port. I spent a few dollars in the casino, but didn’t win anything major. Britton spent a bunch of time playing blackjack and, while he didn’t walk away with anything, really, really enjoyed it.
Thursday, November 15, 2012: Day at Sea.
We slept pretty much past the seated breakfast, so we visited the buffet again. But while we were in our room, there was an announcement. It started off “There will be an emergency evacuation this morning.” I panicked, because I certainly wasn’t ready to leave yet, until it continued, “A passenger has a medical need that the doctors aboard cannot attend to. Please stay clear of the forward decks of levels 10 and 11. The Coast Guard is on their way to take the passenger to shore.” This made everyone really sad, but intrigued. It was certainly interesting and really neat to watch the helicopter come to the ship. We were on the starboard side of ship and saw the helicopter come and hover above us. From our angle, we could not see the passenger leave, but the Coast Guard waved as they left, just a few minutes later.
We played a round of mini golf on deck 12. I’m pretty sure Britton won, but I got a hole-in-one on the first hole! After that, we went to the Groove for St. Jude and donated $10 for a t-shirt and a bracelet. There wasn’t much grooving going on, but it made me feel good to donate to the children’s hospital while I was on vacation. Carnival has a goal to raise $3 million, and they’re already really close.
We were late to Classic Rock trivia and knew almost nothing, but stuck around for Movie Trivia. We didn’t do much better, and definitely didn’t win a ship-on-a-stick, but it was fun to participate. And then it was back to the buffet for lunch. I visited the Mongolian Wok while Britton had the American side of things. While we were eating, there was the Hairiest Man Competition. It was a little disgusting to watch while eating, but at the same time it was good entertainment. There were three women judges and six men to start out with. They had to dance and take off their shirts and show off their muscles before the best man was chosen.
Resting, wandering around and just enjoying the ship was a good chunk of the afternoon. We visited the Fun Shop for a few souvenirs that I wanted to have to remind us of the trip. We watched the $5000 BINGO game. In order to win $5000, your blackout bingo had to be finished by the powerball number, O63. Unfortunately, it was called too early. But the next best prize was $2000 if your blackout occurred before the 50th ball was drawn. The winner did receive the $2000! Good for them. The boards all had numbers for the Freespace. It was neat because the number could be electronically checked on screen. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve never played bingo before, but I loved that factor.
We went back up to the casino for a little while before going to the Rhapsody in Blue lounge for some Sports Trivia. We’re pretty sure the lady that won, cheated. It seemed that she was writing in her answers after the right one was called (and scratching out her original answers). There were several, very, very obscure questions, like “What year was badminton played at the Olympics?” and “What football team burns a stake in the center of their field at every home game?”
Dinner was in the dining room. The table next to us realized that the water glasses were made of crystal, and therefore would whistle. It got fairly old, really quick, but at the same time, I was resisting the urge to join in on the fun. For dessert, I had the melting chocolate cake again, and Britton had the Baked Alaska.
We rested a little while before going to the Las Vegas style show “Shout.” I loved it! It was a celebration of music from the 1950′s through the 1990′s. I really wish we could have taken pictures of it, but like most shows, photography was prohibited. The costuming, the music, the medleys, the light effects, the pyrotechnics, all of it was fabulous. We shared our booth with the couple we went on the Jeep Adventure with.
And last but not least, we went back for some more comedy shows. The first show was Doug Williams, followed by a different set by Lowell Sanders. I think the best part was at the end of Doug’s skit. He called up a lady from the audience to play his hands while telling a story. She definitely did very feminine things and it just made it even more hilarious.
Friday, November 16, 2012: The really long wait!
We chose to do Zone debarkation, which meant we were able to put our bags outside our room the evening before and not worry about them until it was time to leave. We went up to the Lido deck after leaving a thank you note for our Room Steward, Ronny. (Rooms were always clean and that aspect of the trip was phenomenal). But first, we stopped by the Rock and Roll Lounge to pick up our bottle of wine. While waiting, we broke out the deck of cards we bought from the casino. Britton killed me at a game of cribbage, but I think I won every game of Go Fish.
Debarkation was really easy. You swipe your Sign & Sail card at one stand and stand in another line for Customs. Customs was super easy for us. I don’t even think he looked at our card. But he did ask us what our names meant. I told I didn’t know, but my parents got my name from the movie License to Drive. He looked at me, rolled his eyes and said “ohh god” because the movie is pretty cheesy. And then we picked up our bags and continued our way out to find the shuttle to the airport. We were off the ship and on the shuttle by 9:15am.
It was a short half hour ride to the airport, compared to the many stops on the way to Long Beach, and we arrived wayyyyyyyy toooooooo eeaarrrlllyyy! Like usual, we weren’t allowed to check our bags until 4 hours before the flight. Since we didn’t want to carry our bags around Los Angeles, we opted to just hang out at the airport. Fortunately, there was a large food court outside of security that we found some coffee at. For awhile, we just checked email and facebook before deciding it was lunch time. We were going to eat at the grill place, but at $20/plate, it wasn’t worth it, especially not at the end of the trip. So, it was to PF Changs’ for Chinese.
We spent the majority of the afternoon playing cards. And finally it was time to be able to check our bags. So, we made the journey back to our terminal and checked the bags and went through security. At the gate, we recharged our devices. I tried to watch some tv shows on my iPad, but the darn announcements over the loudspeaker prevented me from hearing anything. At about 5pm, we decided to get some more food. We opted to eat at Ruby’s Diner. If you’re ever in Terminal 6, DON’T EAT HERE! It took 45 minutes to get our food, and while it was pretty tasty, totally NOT worth it. There was no organization with the staff and it was kinda frustrating. Fortunately, we went before I was super hungry, so I didn’t freak out on anyone.
Eventually, we boarded and were in the process of leaving the ramp, when the tow-bar broke! Luckily, the maintenance check was super easy and we got out pretty quickly. When we landed in Seattle, we were listening to the Nanooks hockey game when goals 4 and 5 happened in 45 seconds! We arrived at the gate for our second flight just in time. They hadn’t quite opened general boarding, so didn’t have any lines. I slept this flight and we got home just fine.
Overall, the trip was wonderful and I can’t wait to go on another cruise.