Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Westbound Panama Canal Cruise - April 30 - May 17, 2017

I wanted to go somewhere I have never been for this trip.  I got really lost in planning and couldn't choose anything - I was going in circles.  I don't even remember how I ended up stumbling across this cruise, but it really fell into place for me.  After a couple of months of looking, I finally decided that this was it.

The dates worked well for my vacation time booked.  The price worked (our dollar is still terrible to the USD so that hurt), though it was still very pricey for me.  I thought the perks were good and I accepted the deal at the end of 2016 (Dec. 30th).  I paid $4300 USD or $5800 CAD at the time of booking, so call it $6000.  My credit card also added 3% on top of that since it was billed in USD.  My price was doubled because I was solo, but I understand that.  I wanted to be alone for this trip.  I sometimes enjoy that and this was one of those times.  My flights costed me $450 CAD for both legs all inclusive, and I got a hotel in Ft. Lauderdale for $100 CAD all in.  It also included a free airport shuttle, free full breakfast and a free shuttle to the cruise port.  I thought this trip was a positive thing to look forward to in 2017 and hopefully,  a good way to get rid of the previous bad, trying year's memories...

I chose an Ocean View room for myself and was assigned #3005.  My perks included an Unlimited Internet Package - YEAH!!!!, an Unlimited PREMIUM Drink Package, and a $350 USD Onboard credit.

Below is the itinerary.  I booked this on the Celebrity Infinity through Crucon.  $50 of the onboard credit was "return customer loyalty" from Crucon.

Sunday, April 30th:

I had a red-eye out to Toronto.  My flight time was 11pm here arriving at 6:30am local time in Hogtown.  I managed an hour or two of sleep.

Monday, May 1st:

We were to be off to Ft. Lauderdale at 8:30am, however, because of bad weather, construction and low visibility in YYZ, we were delayed an hour.  I didn't mind.  I had a fire exit seat and no one beside me so I was able to stretch a little and catch Zzzzzz's.  We got to FLL about 12:15pm.  I called the hotel shuttle and they were there within 15 minutes.  They weren't far from the airport and I was all checked in to my room an hour later.  I arranged for the shuttle to take me to the cruise port at 10:30am the following morning.

There was a "Tiki Bar" outside of my room!

My first trip to Ft. Lauderdale in the late 80's for "Spring Break" was where I encountered my first tiki bar.  I drank "Rum Runners" then, today I just had a glass of Pinot Grigio.  I had lunch and chatted with a couple that were on my flight and also going on the cruise.  It was edible, but I knew I was going to leave the premises for dinner.  I had a Falafel plate which is below, served with Feta, Tzatziki and Hummus.  It was quite muggy and humid today, but certainly not as humid as some of those Florida days can be. I was fine to sit outside.

I stayed for 3 drinks and went to my room.  I needed a nap.  The pool area was nice too.

The room was perfectly functional and clean.  The A/C worked awesome and I was down and out in no time.  I awoke three hours later, freshened up and decided to go have dinner.  I saw my lunch friends back at the tiki bar.  They told me they had dinner at the hotel and said I was smart for making other arrangements.  The place I chose was just down the street at a resort on the marina and just a couple of minutes of a walk away.  It was called "Rendezvous".

I was seated outside and the setting was lovely.

I eat conch a lot when in Florida and all types of preparations of it. They had an evening special of "cracked conch" so I ordered it.  When the manager dropped it off to me, he told me I had made a very wise choice and said it was fantastic. He did not lie.  Honestly, this was the best I've had so far. Just like fried clam bellies in New England.

YUMMO!  I couldn't stop eating eat and after 3/4 through, I was full, but still had dinner coming.  Below is the Mahi.

Stuffed mahi $26
 8oz. mahi filet stuffed with crab meat and topped
 with roasted red pepper cream sauce. 

For my side, I got the garlic smashed taters.  This dish was also delicious!  The mahi was moist, broccoli crisp tender and steamed.  The crab inside and sauce was perfect.  I got most of this to go, and took the conch too.  I figured I'd forego the free breakfast tomorrow and have this instead.  The room had a fridge too.  I was planning to iron my wrinkly clothes, but instead, just wrote this trip report up and went back to bed.

Tuesday, May 2nd:

I awoke early.  I showered and started ironing.  I was told be checked out and ready to depart by 10:15 so I was and left the room at 10am.  The shuttle ride went smooth and easy.  I was checked in and on the ship by 12:15pm.  I went to the bar and had a cocktail.

Our rooms were ready really quick too, so I went and dropped my heavy stuff off.

By the muster drill, my luggage had arrived too.

We were sailing by 4pm.   I unpacked everything and went to explore the ship a little.  I found the martini bar and had a "Sapphire French 75" martini before the early comedian show. He was funny and I had great laughs.  Jim Colliton from Boston.

I met my new friends from the hotel and we decided to go to the main dining room for dinner together at 8pm.  We didn't have to wait and were seated immediately.  Two other couples joined us.  We had a really enjoyable evening.  Food was good to very good and I think everyone was quite pleased.  Below was a beet salad.

My shrimp louie salad with guacamole

My jerk chicken was really tasty

The rest of the table all had prime rib though one had salmon and said it was cooked perfectly.  All but two of us went to the lounge as one wanted to karaoke.  He was very good.  A lot were not, and I bailed and went to bed.  I was asleep pretty quickly.  

Wednesday, May 3rd (Seaday):

I awoke early and by 8am went to the gym.  It was really busy.  I got on a treadmill.

The view was really nice but OMG, it was soooo HOT in there.  I was dying.  There was no A/C and it felt horrible.  I only lasted a couple of kilometers and I was soaked and had to get off.  I felt like I was going to pass out.  I went back to the room and showered.  After that, I went to the jogging track and managed to power walk a couple of more kilometers.  40 minutes of exercise would have to do for today.  I went for a light breakfast in the buffet.  Everything was good.  I wandered the ship, stopped by the casino and left a small donation.  I saw other Canadians who I met when we were at the cruise terminal so I had buffet lunch with them.  I had a piece of coconut fried chicken and salad.  It hit the spot.  Then I went and read a book on the same deck as the track.  Well, I only read a sentence, but I laid and got some sun for a couple of hours on my whitey legs.  I loved having the unlimited internet package - so great!

I wandered more and spent time at the martini bar again.  I talked to a lot of nice, fun people.  The bartender was from Bali and took very good care of me.  Below is a Dirty Grey Goose martini.

I had dinner at one of the pay restaurants which is called the "Tuscan Grille".  I used my onboard credit to buy a package of 7 dinners which was $219.  I planned to dine at one every seaday.

The setting was nice with many tables getting a view over the ocean.  It was still light out at 7pm.

I started with the pork belly appetizer. The bring you fresh basil to mix into the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, though my waiter forgot my vinegar.  It was okay as the oil was delicious.

I had the pork belly as my appetizer.  This was heavenly - I ate every last piece and could have licked the plate!

Black Pepper Bacon Berkshire Pork, Sweet & Spicy Glaze

I asked my waiter if I could have a very small portion for the pasta course and he said no problem.  He showed me a plate that was probably a quarter portion and it would be perfect.  I got the lasagna.

It was perfect and if I had been given a larger portion, I would have ate it all.  I cleaned the plate again!  The "wine guy" came by and recommended a pinot grigio wine that would go with my pasta and fish course, so I agreed.

Grilled Branzino Lemon, Thyme, Rosemary, Spinach, Olive Oil

It was amazing as well.  I polished it all off.  They offer to remove the skin if you don't like it, but love that so I ate it.  I could not have been happier.  There was a server there from Bosnia and he was so fun to watch, just charmed the pants off everyone there.  Had service polished to an art form.  Very impressive.  For dessert I had a Café Brûlot.  They did this table side.  I tipped her a few bucks for that.

She used Sambuca and Amaro Montenegro which was different than I've had with brandy.  It was very good nonetheless and that finished dinner, a couple of hours later.  I tipped $20 and told them I would return again.

They brought me a complimentary limoncello before I departed.

I went back to the martini bar for one final drink and then took it to the late comedian show.  Below I was waiting for him to take the stage.

Again, he was entertaining and funny.  After that, I went to my room and slept.  I was exhausted.

Thursday, May 4th (Seaday):

I awoke early to rough seas. I was at the front of the ship this time and don't know if that is why I could feel it so much.  I felt a little nauseous but that could be with all the drinks yesterday as well.  I have to be careful with martinis.  I wrote the trip report as I hadn't done it since getting onboard.  I decided I would go have lunch in the main dining room today at noon, and then go for a walk on deck after.  

Lunch was nice - service was good and the portions were right.  I had the mushroom soup which was really good.

Below next, I had the salad with white balsamic vinegar dressing.

For my entree I had the seafood brochette (2 prawns and a scallop in the middle).  All was very good.

I took the picture below, to show how the water was like a wave pool.  Obviously, I missed the wave, lol.  At least I knew it wasn't just the previous nights martinis making me feel motion sick...

When I exited the dining room, I went out on deck 4 and thought that it would be perfect for walking.  A few others were already doing that, but it was nothing like upstairs and it was the whole length of the ship.  A lady told me that sometimes it goes all the way around and that would be perfect.  It was still fine and I power walked for 45 minutes.  There was a great breeze too, loved it.  I felt better!  I went for "Afternoon Tea" in the buffet.  Below is smoked salmon sandwich, a veggie sammy, quiche and a chicken empanada.  All good.

I met my hotel friends for dinner at Qsine tonight.  I was glad they agreed to join me as the dishes are meant for sharing.  It would be hard for one person to get the enjoyment of sharing many dishes... 

They ask to have a captain at your table (I was elected) and made our selections on the iPad.  It was difficult as there was a LOT of choices.  We chose two each to start as it was suggested to order between six and eight dishes for us.

The opening "pull apart" bread, yummy & warm

Sushi Lollipops with squeeze bottle Wasabi Mayo & Soy.  The side dishes were Ginger and Salmon Tartar

Tres Ceviche - I liked nothing about any of them.  To me, worst dish of the evening

These were escargots stuffed with lobster swimming in garlic butter.  The cones were the bread for dipping.  How could one NOT like this dish?

Salad Greens with Goat Cheese, and this was fantastic - everything about it, including the dressing but the cheese was the star!

Salmon Catapalana - We all enjoyed this very much.  

At this time we heard another table getting lamb chops, so we ordered them, which was something called "M's Favorites".  They told us they would hold the sliders and see if we wanted them after.

This was a Mediterranean feast!  Little samples of everything like Falafel and Hummus and Tabbouleh.  Above was the lamb chop and Chicken Kofta.  This was probably my favorite course of the evening.  We never had the sliders, but one did have dessert.  The menu came on a Rubik's cube thingy.  

He chose the "surprise" on the top right and got some citrusy, chocolatey mousse or something like that.  He said it was lovely.

Their charge was $35 each.  This was dinner number two of my package.  Of course you tip on top.  I tipped $20 for both dinners.  And then, it was off to bed.  Had to get up early tomorrow.

Friday, May 5th (Cartagena, Columbia):

We arrived and were clear to leave about 8am.  My wake up call was for 6am.  I had breakfast delivered to the room to save time.  Very convenient - though cold, but I didn't care.  I knew there was no lunch on this tour.  The guide's directions were precise and easy to find.  I was excited.  First time on the continent of "South America" and a new sight to see!  I arranged this through a couple on "Cruise Critic" and they happened to be on the tour too.  I thought that was great and was happy to meet them.  Nice, nice people too.  They were with a friend and she was also very convivial.  Below is how my ship looked while walking to the shuttle

Dora, had 2 tours today.  Dora in fact, turned out to be our guide too.  I recommended my "hotel friends" to do this and they ended up on the second tour.  We walked through a bird sanctuary first on the way to her van(s).

Our first stop was supposed to be "La Popa" but it was closed due to a "slide" I think she said and had to be repaired first.  I still got a shot of it (below) as she pointed it out while driving by.  This apparently had the best views in Cartagena.

We went to a fort called "San Felipe".  I engaged the "vendors" and had them swarming over me like flies.  Very aggressive like the markets in Mexico.  My tour group totally blamed me and I guess they should have.  I felt sorry for them - the vendors.  I got a magnet and T-shirt for $8 USD.  I was happy.  The vendor blew me a kiss when we were leaving.  We walked around the fort...she gave us the opportunity to walk up, but no one in our group of fourteen was interested as it was hotter than Hades with the humidity and I didn't even want to be outside!

Like I said, we did a "walk around" first.  Lots of people and traffic.

Big Ass Avocados!

Below are some shots of Castillo San Felipe.

Dora took us for a pee break and a drink.  I chose a Colombian beer.  It was cold.  I am not a beer drinker...

And then we were off to "Old Town".  I love banyan trees as below.

The streets reminded me of San Juan, Puerto Rico or New Orleans in the French Quarter.

This statue is called "Fat Lady". It was created by sculptor Fernando Botero, a famous artist from Medellín, Colombia.  He specializes in creating people with exaggerated shapes.  Rubbing it is supposed to bring good luck (I didn't, lol). OR, perhaps, it is a sculpture of me after I finish all the eating and drinking I've been doing on this cruise!  😜

Below, the ladies with fruit baskets on their heads, want you to take a picture with them for money, of course.

A man walking with his "burro"

Performers in the park, by donation

Every street was pretty

The Pope.  Dora said almost everyone in Cartagena was catholic.

The green one is called Guanábana. The red ones are Tomato de Árbol (Tree Tomato) which apparently taste like kiwi & tomato.

Dora was pointing at the Pitahaya (Dragon Fruit).  She said it was very good if you are constipated...

Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa - 5 stars for this one

And then we were off for a drive through the "new city".  Dora said that people no longer had siestas during the day because a lot commute to the new city for work and businesses didn't shut down anymore.  She dropped us back to the bird sanctuary and we were on our way back to the ship.

The couple from Cruise Critic called my room when we were back and invited me to dinner with them and their lovely friend that evening, so I gladly accepted.  

Tuna Tartare - it was okay

Ham & Split Pea Soup - I liked this

Lamb Kebab - it was a little tough

Dinner was a "miss" tonight overall.  However, the company was so much fun, I didn't care at all.  I was happy and had such a good time.  They had late seating and we were there till after 10pm.  We were all tired so exchanged hugs and went to bed.

Saturday, May 6th (Colon, Panama):

I had my wake up call for 7am. I had time to go have breakfast in the buffet before my tour left at 9:30am.  

Don't let this picture of the port fool you, the area was very seedy around here

I chose a ship tour for Panama City and Gatun Locks.  Our guide was a local Panamanian and told us lots.  We went to Gatun Locks first.  Being honest, I didn't know much about the Panama Canal, other than it was a narrow passage.  I learned that it is a 80KM waterway that transports goods between the Atlantic & Pacific oceans. The "locks" are water elevators. These raise the ships to allow crossing the Continental Divide, then lowers them back to sea level on the other side.  I was very fascinated.  I was also miserable from the HUMIDITY.  It was horrible.  More than once over the last couple of days, I felt like I was going to pass out.

Gatun Locks started in 1913.  Our tour guide told us that the visitor center will close permanently after our visit today.  The locomotives tie up to the ships and guide them through the passage.  The water rushes in and raises the ship.  The ships go through the passage way.  

The canal is on the left, the locomotives go up on those tracks on the right.  You could only marvel at the engineering of this, I was so impressed.

And then we were off to Panama city which is on the Pacific side.  It was an hour long drive away.  Our guide told us there is no welfare there so if you don't work, you don't eat.  She also said that is part of the drug problem with the Caribbean sea being right there.  She explained 20% of the population is unemployed.  She said there is a stark contrast in the population there - people with too much money or not enough...  She said they have no bills but only coins.  Their currency is called the "Balboa" and looks like a Canadian "Toonie" and is in fact, made by Canada for them.  I got one in change and it looked just like our toonie.

Panama City 

We sat here for 15 minutes first.  We were given a bad sandwich and ate in the small van. I understand it was because it was so hot outside, but this felt really uncomfortable.  She had said seconds before that right across the street a beer and ceviche could be had for $5 USD.  I would have liked that choice.  We walked through Colonial Panama.  There is also a Chinatown nearby as well.

So about this time, it was kind of creepy - there were vultures swarming in the sky everywhere.  I felt kind of weird, as my mom had me watch Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" when I was like four or something and I've been terrified of birds ever since...

I didn't hear the guide.  Everyone was rushing up to listen to her as we walked along and I ended up just hanging back.  That was one part of the tour I didn't like - the only way to hear the commentary, was to be right beside her...we stopped for pee break, but had to pay $1 USD or buy something from a store.  I bought a fridge magnet and was able to go first.  

Below is the memorial for the 22,000 French people who lost their lives in the construction of the Panama Canal back in the late 1800's.

The building beside the memorial below, was apparently once a prison.  A young girl was having a photo shoot there now.

We finished the tour with 25 minutes to shop.  Earlier I bought a vulture feather with some painted parrots on it.  I elected to sit and have a glass of wine.  My friend from home had given me a cooling towel.  You wet it, snap it and it's supposed to bring your body temperature 30°F lower.  Anyway, it really saved me!  I truly loved her today.  😎

And then we left for the long ride back to the ship.  I had an early dinner in the dining room.  It was the best meal so far from there.  I had slow braised lamb wrapped in phyllo with potato puree and roasted vegetables.  

I caught the show in the theatre which was an illusionist.  Then I called it a night and went to sleep.  The humidity and heat was draining me.

Sunday, May 7th (Cruising through the Panama Canal:

I woke up bright and early at 7am.  I did not want to miss going through going Gatun Locks at 9am.  We would also be going through the east lanes of Pedro Miguel Locks and finally Miraflores Locks.  I had breakfast in the main dining room and then went outside on deck 4 to watch.  Below is a shot of the lighthouse at Gatun Locks.

We got closer to the Locks.

The locomotives secured themselves to the ship.

Below  are good shots (and a video) showing how snug the canal passage is.  This is after the water has come in to raise us and carry us through...

Below is a ship crossing in the opposite direction.  The second was another ship where we all waved at each other as we passed each other by in the canal.

And then we were through!  This took about two hours.  We passed through the last set of locks about 5:30 that evening.  I found this part of the trip really special.  I was blown away by it and am so happy I did this.  Unforgettable...

This was getting near the end of Miraflores locks

I got a LOT of sun today.  I met my "hotel friends" for dinner in the main dining room.  We were so exhausted.  We all ate and then went to bed.

Duck Rillette

Gorgonzola & Grape Salad

Shortribs and Polenta

Monday, May 8th (Seaday):

I enjoyed this seaday.  I woke up, had breakfast and then went for a one hour power walk on deck 4.  One lady got up and said to me as I walked by that I had motivated her and she was now doing laps.  That made me feel good!  

In the afternoon,  the "cruise critic couple and their friend" were having a meet & greet for our Guatemala tour.  This was nice and we all just hung out and ended up at the martini bar and then the four of us went to the casino.  

I had dinner plans at Tuscan Grille again.

Starter Meatballs

Goat Cheese & Arugula Salad

Side dish of Eggplant Parmesan

Veal Marsala

Wow, so when I got to the main course I got really full.  Kindly, my server packed it up for me so I could take it to eat later.  He poured me a nice big glass of wine to take with me too.  I ended up just falling asleep in my room.

Tuesday, May 9th (Puntarenas, Costa Rica):

We arrived early.  I was glad I had the leftovers so didn't have to rush and have breakfast.  

I was out just before 8am and was first at the van for Odyssey Tours.  To my surprise and delight, the three from Cruise Critic were also on the tour and we had a comfy van of 8 of us.  There was Wifi too, which was awesome.  We first stopped to see some monkeys.  "Kikee" was the driver.  He didn't have good English but he was amazing at finding and calling wildlife and birds, etc.

We then went to a fruit stand for some samples and also a taste of sugar cane juice.

Back in the van, our guide Andy showed us the fruit which houses cashew nuts.  There is only one nut per fruit, which is why they are expensive.

We then left to go for a "view" picture.

We went off to resort next and had a nature walk.  Lots of bugs around here, lol.  I had a few bites from the ship.  I should have been using bug spray there too.  Some were itchy and some hurt and they liked my legs for some reason.  😠  My cooling towel was really helping here too.


Then we were off for a "Crocodile Tour" on a boat on the river.

They call this one "Osama Bin Laden" because he's hard to find.  They say he is 50 years old.  Crocs live for about a hundred years.  They are nocturnal and rest during the day.  After this, we went for lunch.  (There was no crocodile on the menu).

We were given a "local plate lunch" called a "Casado".  I chose fish which was striped corvina.  We also received some yummy mango.  After lunch we walked over to the ocean.  I put my feet in and it felt wonderful.

We went and saw some Macaws next.  I had a hard time getting pictures as they were up so high, but I did manage one.

We stopped at a souvenir shop and had a look around.  There was some lovely wood work being done there.  I quite liked this chest. I bought some coffee and a hand painted Macaw fridge magnet for $15 USD.

We saw some "howler" monkeys.  They asked us if we wanted to get out while Kikee went and called them, but no one wanted to.  We were all getting tired now.  We could hear and see them though, they sound like dogs barking almost.  We stopped to look at some crocs again and then had a city tour of Puntarenas.  Back to the dock we went.  I went for dinner in the main dining room, chose random seating and was the last person in a full table of eight.  I had turkey dinner, it was not very good or exciting.

When I got back to my room, I found this certificate on my bed.  I thought that was great!

I drifted off to sleep...

Wednesday, May 10th (Seaday):

I woke up and wrote my trip report up to date.  I was days behind and had to do it.  I had hundreds of pictures to sort through and had to get it done before everything in my memory faded away.  I finished in time for lunch in the main dining room.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing.  (I was full after this!)

Mahi Mahi with Quinoa & Carrots

I did my hour long power walk on deck 4 after.  I only lasted 45 minutes though.  It was the most HUMID day I experienced so far!  I did outlast all the other usual walkers on that deck though, so for me, that felt good.  I was so red, people were looking at me and wondering if I was okay but I always look that way when I finish walking...I stopped and got a drink and then went back to the room and put the cooling towel on before I showered.  I love that towel!!!  The evening was with dinner at Tuscan Grille again with the single lady from "Cruise Critic Friends".  It was nice to have the company and dinner was a leisurely evening with interesting conversation.

Antipasto for Two.  The top left is Fig Jam.

Calamari (Delicious!)

My side dish of Cacio E Pepe (spaghetti with pepper)

We split a Rib Eye Steak (Medium Rare), they cut our portions for us - above is my portion.  So as you can see, if you have a whole steak, you will get a LOT of meat!

We split some Tiramisu for dessert

And then we went to bed.  We had to get up early for Guatemala and were both very tired.

Thursday, May 11th (Guatemala):

We arrived early and were at the port by 6:30am.  It was rainy and humid.  Just felt yucky.

Let me just say, today was the best tour and the best day of my trip so far.  I can only rave about it and felt uplifted by the time I experienced in Guatemala.  A big thanks to Carlos from Guatemalan Guide.  This is close to being the best excursion I've ever done - so not commercial and opposite of what the ship would offer.  HIGHLY recommended!!!  I also thank my "Cruise Critic friends" because without them, I wouldn't have known about it or done it.  This day will be long in my report, as I want to remember everything about it...

We had about an hour or more drive to Antigua, but Carlos told us a lot of history about his developing country.  Drug trafficking and gangs abound, the same as in the other countries that surround the Caribbean sea.  He said corruption in government also slows his country from progress  He has 10 dogs and 14 cats because there is no spaying or neutering and there are so many stray animals where he lives.  He takes them in and tries to find them homes but said more often than not ends up keeping them.  I saw so many dogs I just wanted to take home with me that day.  😢

We were let off in Antigua to catch the "Chicken Bus".  

It is uncomfortable because of short leg room and the drivers are like maniacs but it was a great experience riding around with the locals and school kids.  We got off at the market.  I loved it here and took a lot of pictures.  As someone who loves to cook, this was the place for me.  The sights and smells were intoxicating though not all smells were good, lol.  There was a lot of Mayans here and Guatemala has much Mayan influence.

Making Tortillas

This was lard in the big bowl here

The radishes were huge!

Pacaya Palm (a delicacy in Guatemala)

And that was it for the market.  Carlos bought some bananas for us all later.  We went to wait for our ride and saw this below, which is a form of taxi.

We were off to "Central Park".  We started at the Sanctuary.  This was a colonial section with cobblestone streets, partially restored.  We walked around quite a bit, saw a few churches and sites.  Carlos took us to a coffee shop and bought us all whatever we wanted.  The coffee was very good.

He took us to this "shop" but told us we were not there to shop, but that he wanted to show us a "Mayan God" altar.  Upon looking, the "god" had a bottle of booze in his hand and apparently there were cigarettes too.  Worshipers were welcome to sit and bring these items and pray for whatever they needed (good or bad) and have a bevvy and smoke while doing so...

No one was at the altar while we were there.  😀

These were for sale in the shop and took me back and reminded me of a computer "Adventure" game by Lucas Arts I played in the 90's called "Grim Fandango".  Hi Manny!  Anyway, I digress...

And then we were off to the best part of this day.  We were told we were having lunch at a local coffee farmer's house.  This was prepared by his family.  It doesn't look like much in the pictures but it was delicious!  Stewed chicken with a wonderful sauce, rice pilaf, homemade corn tortillas, homemade hot sauce and simple guacamole.  YUM!  We all sat and ate together and it was delightful.

Okay, enough about the food.  We ALL loved it though, so good.  Nothing like home cooking and simple food, is there?  The next thing was to learn about coffee.  Now, I could go into the story, but I highly recommend you just look at the website, it explains the cooperative way of helping Guatemalan families become self sufficient.  We were at Fredy Gonzalez Vasquez' home and coffee farm.

As we walked to the coffee fields, I noticed a bamboo fence along the way.  It was an uphill walk and probably took us about a half hour.  Here and in Antigua it was not humid as we were so elevated.  

I got a good shot of the active volcano here.  It is called Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire).

Below are the coffee fields and Fredy explaining how the process works.  All of the machines are solar powered and the coffee is organic.  

Above are three of Fredy's nine kids!  The whole family works and helps out.  They are all learning to speak English too.  Then it was back to the house to taste the coffee.  Fredy's wife roasted the beans for us.  The beans do not smell like coffee until they are roasted.

The coffee tasted fantastic.  I bought some for $8 USD and you can see, there is a sticker of Fredy on it!  They ship to the USA and Canada, so please check it out if you want some wonderful coffee, supporting a great cause.  Then we made our way back to the ship.  Today had a really positive, emotional effect on me.  Fredy and his family were so proud and so friendly and welcoming.  I had tears in my eyes.  I will always remember this.  I had dinner in the main dining room with my "Cruise Critic Gang".

Spinach & Artichoke Dip (Meh)

Glazed Pork Chop with Apple.  (Good)

Friday, May 12th (Seaday):

Today was very uneventful and relaxing and I welcomed that.  I had breakfast on the deck outside.  I was under cover and it was spitting rain a little so had no one in front of me.  Very nice, though humid.

About this time I started to have some stomach discomfort.  Every one I spoke to on the trip yesterday said they had no issues, so it was possible I ate something on the ship that disagreed with me?  Anyway, my friend gave me some Imodium and I slept the whole afternoon.  I was just glad this wasn't a port day.  I felt fine when I woke up.  I went to dinner at the Tuscan Grille.

Crab Cake Cracked Pink Peppercorn Aioli, Salsa Di Pomodoro

1/4 portion of Lobster Alfredo (Fantastic!)

Broccolini Aglio E Olio

Perfect Medium Rare Broiled Filet Mignon (9 oz) with Rosemary Peppercorn Sauce

The steak was melt in your mouth.  This really was the best meal I've had so far.  It was as good as a steakhouse meal could be.

Saturday, May 13th (Seaday):

Today was a day filled with drinking and eating and more drinking.  I had lunch in the main dining room.  It was BBQ chicken and buttermilk grits.  It was okay but I would have preferred bone in and a better BBQ sauce and not so much of it.

I met my single friend for dinner at QSine on Deck 11 for dinner.  She remarked that the decor reminded her of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party setting and I agreed.

Unfortunately food and service wasn't very good tonight.  They would put a course in front of us, and as we were talking, they would come back and ask if we were done, sometimes two or three times.  I found it annoying.

This was my half portion of "Lava Crab":  Alaskan King Crab, Sweet Yellow Corn & Scallions, Kataifi with Old-Bay Lobster Sauce (This was pretty good)

This was a very strange dish that was like baby food...Vegetable Du Jatour  and there were 8 different types  You just spooned it on your plate.  I disliked this very, very much- just weird.

Our server mixed up some Guacamole for our Tacos which were next.

Taco Royale:  Black Angus Sirloin Steak, Unordinary Tacos, Caramelized Onion-Poblano.  These might have been good except the beef was chewy, it was hard to palette.  Really tough!

Slider Party:  Grilled Angus Beef Patties, Aged Wisconsin Cheddar, "Qsine Slider Sauce", Brioche Buns & Garnishes.  Our server said these were to taste like McDonalds...enough said.

So, that meal was pretty disappointing, along with the service.  I was supposed to dine there on the last evening with my "hotel friends" but I found them and asked to switch to the Tuscan Grille. They were fine with that.  I sat out on deck until almost 1am.

Sunday, May 14th (Puerto Vallarta):

My alarm went off at 6am.  My breakfast room service arrived a half hour later.  I put it aside and went back to bed.  I decided I didn't need to get off the ship.  I've been to Puerto Vallarta a few times so didn't feel like I would miss anything.  My only plan was to go to Walmart and buy some Tequila.  We were only in port from 7am to 2pm anyway.  I felt a little hung over today.  My shots below were taken from the deck.

I had lunch in the main dining room and it was really delicious.  It was lamb stew with root vegetables and mashed taters.  The lamb has been really good on this cruise.

I had dinner at the buffet tonight and sat outside talking with various friends I've met on the cruise.

I had the stir-fry which is made to order.  Later, I did my nightly donation to the casino which has not been kind to me.  My "cruise critic" friends got me to enter a slot tournament which was a lot of fun but I never made it to the finals.  Then I actually won a little on some slot play but stayed until all of it went back into the casino.  I went to bed early.

Monday, May 15th (Cabo San Lucas):

We had to tender to get to Cabo.  I went with my "cruise critic" friends.  He had got us "Tender" tickets for the first boat at 7am.  It was really windy and the water was choppy.  The ride over was fine though.

It was a wonderful day and had no humidity at all.  I was in heaven and I loved the wind!

It was perfect for walking and we walked a solid hour and a half before we stopped.  We guessed we walked about 5 miles.  We went to a Mexican Costco type place called "City Club".  I got a day pass and a bottle of Tequila for $8 USD.  I was happy.  We walked to Cabo Wabo next.  I wanted to say "I've been there and done that".

We had some beers, chips, salsa and guacamole and then wandered back to the marina to see if we could go on our boat tour to Los Arcos.  Unfortunately all water activities were postponed due to the wind.

We went to Senor Frogs and had another round of drinks.  Below was our view while sitting there - very commercialized.

Then we tendered back to the ship and went to Deck 10 to watch sail away.  We were hoping to see Los Arcos, and we did...

And then, we sailed away from Los Cabos...the ocean color was so beautiful...

I joined my friend's table for dinner in the main dining room and the food was really good tonight.

Cod (Baccalà) Balls

Mediterranean Lamb Shank

Crab Crusted Grouper

Tuesday, May 16th (Seaday a.k.a. Last Day):

I didn't have much going on today.  Finishing up my trip report, packing and puttering AND losing in the casino again.  I basically just ate and drank and drank and ate.  I said goodbye to all my favorite staff. Below was my favorite bartender from Bali at the Martini Bar.  I couldn't pronounce his name and always called him "Ijigidee".  😊

I had my final dinner at Tuscan Grille with my "hotel friends".

Beef Carpaccio - Sun-Dried Tomato And Kalamata Olive Tapanade

Classic Caesar Romaine, Pecorino Cheese, Focaccia Crouton, Caesar Dressing

1/2 order of Shortrib Pappardelle Ragu Braised Shortrib, Tomato, Fresh Herbs, Mushroom, Truffle

I ran off to see the Comedian show - finally a comic!  He was not bad.  That took me until 10pm and I went to find my "Cruise Critic friends" in the casino.  We waited for the final draws to see who won (not us) and then I went to bed!  

Wednesday, May 17th (San Diego):

I awoke at 5am as I was expected to be ready for immigration at 6:15.   The process wasn't bad.  I got assigned to a group number.  They called it, I picked up my passport and then went to customs.  My immigration officer didn't ask me anything but made a funny joke about my last name.  It was a nice day in San Diego.

I went to the buffet and grabbed breakfast and brought it back to my room.  I did all that by 7am.  I left my room just after 8 and went to deck 4 where I would wait until 9:30 for the ship shuttle to the airport.  Below is deck 4 and is where I did my laps on the ship too.  I was standing mid-ship when I took this picture.

The called me at 9am and I walked off and was on the ship shuttle to the airport.  I couldn't check in unfortunately as my flight didn't leave till 4:30pm so was told I had to come back at 1:30pm.  A volunteer shuttled me to Terminal 1 and here I sit in a restaurant finishing my trip report.

I had a very good time and was glad I did the trip - I enjoyed all that I learned and experienced.  That being said, I was ready to get off and get home.  I met some great people, like I always do on cruises and had some very memorable days and moments.  


  1. Hey Christine,

    Great blog and wonder pictures of the cruise!!!! Have you thought about being a professional photographer??? It was fun finally meeting you and spending time with you on the cruise and some shore excursions. Sorry we didn't win in the casino!!!

    Your Cruise Critic friends...Steve and Marilyn

    1. Next time, we'll win! :) I hope I do see you again in my travels. I had so much fun with you all. XO.