Friday, December 31, 2010

Eqinox Transatlantic Cruise October 2010 Journal

This is my cruise journal for the Celebrity Equinox 31 October 2010 Transatlantic cruise. I sailed on the inaugural cruise of the Equinox last October 2009. It was a fabulous cruise and my first transatlantic. As I said in last year’s journal, it was like a roller-coaster ride: as soon as I got off, I wanted back on again, so I booked the Equinox for 2010. In fact, I booked the Eclipse TA for October 2011. Of course, these cruises were enhanced with fellow Cruise Critic passengers. Warning, this is a long trip report.

28 October 2010, Thursday

Louisa and I met up at Dulles international airport – Tony and Lucy (our dog) dropped me off. I had purchased a neat hand scale to weigh my bags. With the airlines charging for overweight luggage, I wanted to be sure I didn’t go over the limit and pay any luggage fees. I was traveling with a large 29” spinner suitcase and a carry-on bag. Louisa was sure her bag was over 50 pounds. A man saw me hook up the scale to her suitcase and said he was interested in seeing it. I asked him if he could lift the suitcase for me. Sure enough, it weighed 55 pounds. Louisa moved some things around and I added a few items to my carryon bag.

After check-in, we had drinks at the bar near the gate. Larry and Anne (from Kauai) joined us. They had arrived from LAX and were on our flight. We had a nice time with them. They bought our drinks, which was a nice treat. Thanks! We had also ordered fried artichoke hearts with aioli sauce, which hit the spot. There were several other cruise critic members on our flight, so we chatted with them at the gate.

We encountered lots of turbulence during the first portion of the flight. It smoothed out once we started to cross the Atlantic. A flight attendant came up and I showed her my USAirways ID card to see about getting some complimentary wine. She looked at my seat number and said, "32B and C, yes, we know about you, the Captain told us." A friend of mine is a captain for United and Tony had contacted her to see if she was flying our flight. She sent a letter to the captain on board asking if he could help us out. We enjoyed a few glasses of wine. Later during the flight, the captain came up to me and introduced himself. We talked for about 10 minutes. It was nice of him to take the time to chat with us.

Our flight landed about 20 minutes early but the taxi to the gate seem to take forever, reminding me of the taxing at Charles de Gaulle in France. After a quick check-in with customs and gathering our luggage, we met up with John, who had arrived from Boston. I hired Stefano from Rome Cabs to take five of us to Hotel Parlamento in Rome. The price was right: 60 euros plus tip for all of us. It took about an hour to get to the hotel, as we hit rush hour in Rome.

Hotel Parlamento (Via delle Convertite, 5) was in a great location: Close to the Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps, and around the corner from via del Corso, the famous shopping street. Just half a block away is a bus station, at piazza San Silvestro. The hotel has a tiny elevator, so it took a while to get all of the luggage up to the 3rd floor. Then there’s one flight of stairs to the hotel lobby. Our room (#94), one flight up from the lobby level, had a view of the inner courtyard. It was very quiet at night, so I didn’t mind the lack of views. The room was small and a tight fit with our luggage, but Louisa and I arranged the room so that we could walk around. Twin beds, on the soft side, were comfortable. Lighting was poor but I wasn’t surprised. Most hotels I’ve stayed in while in Europe seem to use low wattage. The room had a flat screen tv., a small table, and end tables next to the beds. The bathroom was a nice size with a large counter top space. Lighting could be better but we had a window for light and fresh air. Small shower and bidet.

Next to the lobby/check-in area is a small breakfast room. And on our floor, there’s a doorway to the rooftop terrace. Some of the rooms have direct access to the terrace. This was one area we used during the late afternoon or evenings, enjoying a glass of wine or two, or to simply sit and write in my journal.

Since we were staying just three nights, we didn’t unpack too many things. We headed out and explored our area. For lunch near the Spanish steps, Louisa and I enjoyed a tasty 10-euro antipasti buffet at Ristorante ala Rampa. You fill your one plate up for the 10-euro price. I had fresh mozzarella, meatballs, grilled eggplant and zucchini, white bean salad, calamari salad, marinated octopus, sautéed spinach, etc. Everything was delicious and I actually had too much on my plate. There were many other choices to select for lunch.

The Spanish Steps were packed with people sunning themselves, as it was a beautiful sunny day. I went inside the church at the top, Trinita dei Monti. It was my first time there. Not as spectacular as other Churches' in Rome. The weather was on the cold side, so I was glad that I brought my London fog heavy jacket. We walked along via del Corso and window shopped. Fancy shoes, boots, and elegant dresses were on display.

Later, we met up with John on the terrace for some drinks before dinner. For dinner, we dined at Colline Emiliane (via degli Avignonesi, 22, 00187 Roma, Italy +39 06 481 7538)‎, which was located about a 15- minute walk from the hotel. It’s a small restaurant located close to two other favorites of mine (Gioa Mia and Hostaria Romana). I enjoy finding local restaurants that serve authentic cuisine. Colline Emiliane serves classic Bolognese dishes. I was hoping they would have lasagna Bolognese, like I had in Bologna a few years ago. It was served with green lasagna, which was heavenly! This restaurant didn’t have it but the menu had many other great choices. The three of us shared a couple of plates of mortadella and proscuitto. Both were excellent and sliced ever so thin. I had the tagliatelle alla Bolognese, which was delicious, along with a side dish of sautéed spinach and garlic. John and Louisa enjoyed their meal. With house red wine, our bill came to 27 euros each.

On the way back to the hotel, we swung by the Trevi fountain, always a crowded scene with people tossing their coin (or two) into the fountain for a future return to Rome. Back at the hotel, we ran into Christine and Paul, so the five of us had some drinks on the terrace, including some limoncello that I made and brought with me.

It was an easy day for us, but relaxing.

29 October 2010, Friday, Rome Italy

What a beautiful day! Last year in Rome it rained a lot. This morning was clear and crisp. I slept well thanks to half of an ambien pill. The wine and limoncello the night before might have helped too. The hotel serves a simple breakfast that includes fruit, yogurt, croissants, cheese, crackers, cereal, coffee, tea, and juice. It was just enough to get you going for the day. The breakfast room is pretty small, but it seemed to work out okay with people arriving at different times.

The owner of the hotel, an older gentleman, invited my friends and me to some wine and snacks later in the afternoon on the terrace. There were a dozen of us at the hotel that were going on the cruise. This was such a nice offer.

Today was a day of Churches. First Louisa and I visited the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, which is a crypt with displays of many bones and skulls (over 4,000 Capuchin friars). There were four or five rooms. Many of the bones were made into shapes and designs, which hung on the walls and the ceilings. It’s probably not a place for everyone.

Next we headed to Santa Maria della Vittoria, a Baroque church, where the famous Bernini statue of St. Teresa of Avila is located. I had missed this church last year, as Tony and I had arrived at the wrong time – it was closed for lunch, so I was glad to be able to see the exquisite and sensual looking statue. St. Teresa is about to be pierced by an angel’s arrow, the symbol of God’s love, or so I’m told.

Heading south, we had lunch at Trattoria Monti (Via San Vito, 13a, Tel: 06.446.6573), a nice local restaurant. It’s close to the Santa Maria Maggiore. I had the rigatoni with pecorino cheese, minced sausage, and black pepper. The pasta was perfectly ‘al dente’ and delicious.

Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the largest churches in Rome. It has a beautiful coffered ceiling, thick columns and wonderful mosaic tiled flooring. The last church of the day was San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains). I had been here before, but wanted Louisa to see Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses.

We headed back to the hotel, walking past the Colosseum, Roman Forum and took pictures along the way. Louisa and I headed to the terrace for our afternoon wine party with our friends. Roberto served red wine and chips/crackers. We ended up drinking four carafes of wine! It was getting colder as the sun began to set. We invited a young woman to join us. Cate was sitting outside at another table. I also invited her to join us for happy hour the next day with the cruise group.

For dinner, Louisa, Christine, Paul, John and I had dinner at Gioia Mia (Via degli Avignonesi, 34, tel 06.4882784), my forth visit there. Packed as usual and fast service, as the owner likes to turn the tables to take the many customers. Reservations are a must! Louisa and I shared a ½ liter of white wine. We all shared a plate of antipasti. All of us ordered the papparadelle alla gran duca (wide ribbon pasta with ham, mushrooms, cream, tomatoes and cognac), which was excellent, very flavorful and one of the house specialties. 18 euros per person.

After, we walked to the Trevi fountain and stopped in a couple of stores and sampled some liquor. Back in our room, the five of us had some wine before retiring for the night.

30 October 2010, Saturday, Rome Italy

It was another beautiful day in Rome. Having been here several times, I decided on another easy going day. After breakfast, Louisa and I headed over to Trastevere. On the way over, we swung by Piazza Navona, which was quite active with tourists and street vendors, as well as visited the market at Campo dei Fiori. It was also crowded with food vendors. It made me wish we stayed in an apartment so we could cook some Italian dishes.

In Trastevere, we walked around the area, did a little window shopping but didn’t buy anything. Clouds started to roll in and it got cooler. For lunch, we dined at Roma Sparita, which was recommended to me two years ago by my friend GB (editor of where I have several articles published). When I had asked him for restaurant recommendations, he told me, “If you want to eat in Trastevere, ONLY do Roma Sparita!” Just a few months ago, I was watching No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. He had dined at this same place! The name of the restaurant was never mentioned, but his review was so interesting that I searched his web site and found out it was the place my friend recommended to me! Located in the corner of a simple piazza and next to a church, we dined al fresco. Louisa and I ordered fried, stuffed zucchini flowers, which had mozzarella and anchovy inside (should have ordered more!). I had the tagliolini cacio e pepe, which was a pasta dish with pecorino cheese and pepper served in a crispy parmesan cheese bowl. Simply delectable! Louisa had the fettucini with mushrooms, which was also very good.

Completely satisfied with our lunch, we walked to the Santa Maria in Trastevere church before heading back over the Tiber River. Louisa had enough of walking, so we took a taxi to the hotel. The ride was welcomed.

After our rest in the hotel room, we walked to La Curia di Bacco near the Campo dei Fiori for our pre-cruise get together with fellow cruisers. I had set up a happy hour for 50 people (about 40 showed up) that included antipasti and wine. Everyone had a great time. Food was fine, but I’ve had better antipasti at other bars, but it served us well, as we needed a large place to take all of us.

For dinner, my same dinner group dined at La Sagrestia (via del Seminario, 89. Tel: 06 67 97 581). I think I had one of the best meals in Rome on this trip: Seafood pasta that was baked in parchment paper. It had calamari, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster. It was in a very light red sauce. The seafood was tender (the lobster didn't taste right, so I avoided eating it) and the linguini cooked properly. I also had an appetizer of bruschetta with a tartufo spread. With wine, it was 20 euros per person.

Another walk past the Trevi fountain, Louisa picked up a bottle of limoncello for the cabin. More drinks on the roof top terrace. A nice end to our time in Rome. Tomorrow we head to the ship for our 15-night cruise.

31 October 2010, Sunday, Rome Italy

It was time to pack up and head to the ship. Louisa and I did most of the packing last night. Of course, we didn’t unpack too many things anyway. I didn’t sleep well, as I was concerned about the bus service I hired to take 39 of us to the port. I wanted things to run smoothly, unlike last year’s problem. When I got up, I used Louisa’s phone and re-confirmed the pick up time. I was told, “Yes, the driver will be there at 11:30am.” I corrected her saying I requested an 11:00am pick up time.

The breakfast room was crowded with us cruisers having our last breakfast and others just checking in to the hotel. We met Debra and Tom, who had arrived from their hotel, so they joined us for breakfast. Mr. Chini didn’t charge Debra and Tom, saying they were my guests. I found all of the employees at the hotel to be friendly and provided very good service. In fact, after showing Debra and Tom our room, they said they would stay at Hotel Parlamento. They didn’t like the service where they stayed.

Debra and Tom helped us take our luggage downstairs. At one point, Tiziano told me, “Come see me before you leave. I have to kiss you.” What a flirt! He was one of the younger men at the hotel. Downstairs all of the cruisers were waiting for the bus. Thank goodness everyone showed up. Everyone was chatting up a storm and at one point, I saw a woman look out her window wondering what the noise was all about. Apparently the building holds two hotels and apartments.

It had been raining all morning, but at least the weather held out until today. I took Debra and Tom to the nearby grocery store to buy some wine to have while on the ship. On the way back, I ran into Tiziano who said, “Don’t forget, I need to kiss you goodbye.” I’m all smiles. Upstairs, I said my goodbyes to the staff and Tiziano got his kiss.

The bus was parked a block away at the bus area, so everyone had to haul their luggage. It took a while for the driver to load all suitcases and had to open another compartment to add the last five pieces. Note to self: If I use this company again, the maximum number of people should be 34.

An hour or so later, we arrived at the port. It continued to rain. Not long after, we checked in and were on our way to the ship. It was very windy and rainy, so not a nice start to the cruise. On board, we received the standard glass of champagne, a nice touch.

This was Louisa’s first cruise, so I was quite excited for her and so was she. She loved our room (cabin 9261) and the views from the balcony. Surprisingly, our room was ready. We met our room attendant, a very quiet man from Thailand. Our cabin is in a very good location: near the elevators and library, port side for a sunny balcony (although it was hot most of the day), and just four decks below the ocean view café. The hallways were quiet. It was also a concierge class cabin, so a bottle of champagne was sitting on the table in an ice bucket.

After lunch at the ocean view café, I took Louisa around to see some of the ship. The Equinox is in excellent shape, still looks brand new. At 3:30pm, many of us gathered at the ocean view bar for our early sail away party. It was very cold and windy, so we moved to the sky observation lounge. Being Halloween, many wore masks. I made masks for Louisa and me but ended up not wearing them. I saved mine for next year’s cruise. The sail away party was lots of fun. Many people showed up and the bartenders couldn’t keep up with our drink orders.

The muster was at 5:15pm. Louisa and I went to Michael’s club, same location as last year for Tony and me. It lasted just 15 minutes and then we were back in the room.

Dinner was at 6pm, which I wanted to try. After two days, Louisa and I felt it was just too early for us so we switched to late. For dinner I started with the crab Louis with avocado, the caprese, the mushroom cappuccino soup and then the prime rib. Oh my, the cut of meat was huge! I could only eat half of it and I like to eat. It was a great dinner to start this cruise.

Later, we ran into Tom and Debra at the Quasar bar. They were dressed in Halloween costumes. We had drinks in their cabin. They had a large balcony, so we stood outside for a while. The wind was really blowing and you could see swirls of water in the air. The ship was rocking but it was a fun rock. We had a fun night.

1 November 2010, Monday – Livorno, Italy

What a miserable day! It rained all day long! I hired a private tour company (Tuscan Sunshine Tours, 50 euros pp plus tip) for the day to take eight of us to Lucca and Pisa. The company’s name didn’t help. We docked at 7:00am and were off the ship by 7:30am (Louisa and I ordered room service for breakfast). In my group were Larry, Anne, Elizabeth, Eric, Laura, Jeff, Louisa, and me.

Franco drove us to Lucca, which was about 30 minutes away. It was just drizzling when we arrived in Lucca. Too bad for the weather - Lucca is such a beautiful city to enjoy in the sunshine. Franco started our tour with a visit to the Cattedrale di San Martino, a church located on the south-east side of town. I loved the smaller columns on the façade of the building, as they are in different designs: candy striped, checkered, zigzag, floral, knotted, and even plain. Inside, you can see a painting by Tintoretto, the Last Supper, which was done in the late 1500s.

Franco took us for a short walk down a few narrow streets (in the rain!) to Piazza Napoleone. Surrounding the square were large trees, very pretty, but not so in the rain. Walking north, we visited San Michele and San Frediano, two other important churches in Lucca. Nearby is the Roman theatre, now a beautiful oblong shaped piazza. People were setting up booths for various shopping products. Also going on in Lucca was a large comic book convention. Apparently this yearly convention is quite popular. Many young kids were dressed in costume of their favorite comic book character. I have a photo or two of the piazza from several years ago – it was a sunny day, so I wasn’t overly disappointed that I missed out on some good photo ops.

The group split up for a few hours. By then it stopped raining and all of us were hopeful. Louisa and I stopped at a bar for a snack before heading up to walk along the town walls. Lots of people were biking and walking their dogs, but it began to rain again. Louisa and I just couldn’t stand it. Instead of our original plans to buy a panini and eat on the go, we decided to go to a restaurant I had been to before. I also decided not to climb the Guinigi tower (it has a tree growing on the top). Along the way we stopped in a leather store, where I purchased a beautiful purse. On display were the materials that the owners used to make their purses, belts, wallets, jackets, etc. It was nice to know I purchased a hand-made product.

By now, it was pouring! Louisa and I ran into a ceramic store to wait out the rain. It did not let up at all! We stayed long enough for me to buy a small ceramic bowl. There were may beautiful things in the store. I love Italian ceramics! Knowing the restaurant was just one block away, we made a mad dash to Trattoria da Leo (Via Tegrini, 1, tel 0583 492236). We were drenched. My shoes and socks were completely soaked and my umbrella as well. It was great to be in a warm and inviting restaurant. The waiter gave us napkins to sop up our wet socks, so we were very grateful. Our lunch consisted of local soups, which we felt would be the best on the menu to warm us up. And they did. My soup, minestra di farro, was made of faro and spelt, close in taste to a lentil soup. It’s a local Lucchese specialty and was full of flavor. Louisa had a soup that was similar to a split pea soup. We shared a side dish of baked fennel that was topped with parmesan cheese. Simply made yet wonderful. With a half carafe of wine, our lunch was 12 euros each. We sat for the longest time not wanting to leave the warmth of the restaurant.

We headed back to the van and fortunately for us it was just drizzling. We got back to the van early but the rest of the gang was already there. I guess they had enough ot Lucca and the rain.

Our next stop was to Pisa. I wasn’t interested in going there but a few wanted to climb the tower. Louisa and I were done for the day and decided we would just sit in the van while the rest toured Pisa. Franco was kind to us and took us for a short drive showing us the area and marina in Pisa. I saw a sign for Livorno and was temped to ask him to drop us off at the ship but decided that would cost him extra in gas. Back in Pisa, he bought us hot tea at a café where we sat for a while.

On the way back to the van, Louisa and I walked by the tower and took the obligatory photograph. On the way a young Italian said to me, “Ciao sexy.” Smiling, I said, “Louisa, did you hear that guy?” “No.” When I told her she said, “Wow, you must be desperate.” She thought I meant one of the guys who were selling umbrellas. “No! The good looking Italian!” We both laughed.

As we drove back to the port, the clouds began to break up and we could see spots of blue sky and a rainbow. I had collected everyone’s money and paid Franco. Happy to be back on board the ship, we changed out of our wet clothes and got ready for the evening.

Dinner tonight: Escargot, salad with gorgonzola, chicken saltimbocca; cigar tres leches for dessert. Later we met new friends Ken and Victor and Rob and Carlos at the martini bar.

2 November 2010, Tuesday, Cannes France

A cloudy day today but I think everyone on the ship was thankful it wasn't like yesterday. Most of the tours from Livorno to Cinque Terre had been cancelled, so those tourists were very disappointed in their day. I wonder what they did instead.

Louisa and I had breakfast in the cabin again, as it was another early wake up call. I booked a private tour for eight people (Louisa, me, Debra, Jon, Alan, Anita, Dennis, Virginia) to visit a few hill towns. Dennis wasn't feeling well and remained on the ship, but Virginia still joined us. Everyone met near the passport bar before boarding a tender to get to Cannes.

Our guide, Alain, met us and whisked us away for the day. We had a nice drive from Cannes to Nice as we drove along the coastal road. Beautiful sailboats and yachts were docked on various places. Money showed everywhere in these towns. Still fairly early, the towns quietly woke up.

As we arrived in Antibes, Alain asked us if we wanted to see the outdoor market. We voted for no, as we wanted as much time in the hill towns. I told Alan we didn’t want to do any shopping. I ate my words. While at one of the stoplights, I looked to the left and saw a small kitchen shop and in the window display was something Louisa and I had used in Provence last year: Acrylic lemon presses. We were at dinner one night and our meal was served with sliced lemons that we could press and pour onto our fish. We looked everywhere for these presses and even asked the waiter if we could buy them. He said no, so anytime we were out shopping, we kept an eye out on this nifty gadget. I couldn’t believe my eyes! There it was in one corner of the window begging to be purchased. As Alain continued through the light, I quickly turned to the others and asked if I could have 5 minutes so I could purchase the presses. I jumped out with my wallet and walked quickly to the store, bought a set and ran back to the van where it had pulled over and out of the traffic lane. I was thrilled that I finally had one in my hands. I should have bought two sets, but didn’t think of it at the time. If I had more time I would have browsed the store, as it had lots of neat items.

Passing through Nice and a quick stop for photo ops, we headed to a lookout point for Villefranche. Along the way we passed Elton John’s house…or I should say one of his homes. At the lookout point, Alain told us it was a pick up joint for gays. Interesting bit of information. The views from above were excellent. Villefranche is a beautiful port town, very colorful, and hidden in a small curve of the coast line.

We were getting anxious to see some hill towns, so Alain took us to Biot. Before getting to the center of town, we stopped at a glass factory. This area is known for its glass with little bubbles. A defect in the glass-making process is their signature design. Some of the pieces were gorgeous but also very expensive! None of us bought anything.

Biot is a very small yet charming medieval village. The town was pleasant to walk around and it wasn’t crowded with tourists. In the center is the Place des Arcades, where you can sit and relax.

Next we drove to Vence, just 19km away. Larger than Biot, it had a lot of charm too. There were cafés at the Place Clémenceau and a church across the way. We spent about an hour here walking around the town.

4km away was Saint Paul-de-Vence. This was one place I did not want to see, as I had read it was a beautiful tourist-trap village. I wanted picturesque, delightful, small, and characteristic. Alain, during our email correspondence, kept assisting that it was a town not to be missed. I had told him no thanks, but during our drive he asked the entire group, so we ended up going there. Yes, it was a picturesque town but there was no charm due to the many shops and shop signs down every street and tourists. I did manage to head off from the main street and was able to take some photos that I was hoping to take. It seemed that Alain kept pushing the shopping. I suppose he didn’t realize were not the typical tourists that wanted to shop. We wanted to see the towns themselves.

Our last stop was my absolute favorite, Tourrettes-sur-Loup. This perched town was beautiful and what I expected for a French hill town. It was a quiet place with very few tourists, as well as some shops (although not obtrusive). The main street is the Grand Rue that begins at the parking lot, goes through the village and to the other side. I found delightful scenes around every corner. Too bad that it was an overcast day. We encountered some sprinkles, but nothing like yesterday in Italy. This is definitely a town I would like to see again in the sunshine or to even spent a night there.

Lunch consisted of simple panini’s while standing under an arch while it rained. At least it rained briefly. The main restaurants were expensive and we didn’t want to take a lot of time at lunch.

Back at the port we thanks Alain for the tour. He did a good job but next time I hire someone I will stand my ground about where I want to go. I don’t think anyone stepped inside a shop in Saint Paul-de-Vence.

Tonight was the first formal night. There were three on this cruise. Around 5pm, Louisa and I met up with friends Bruce, Gail, Sharon, Jack and others in the observation sky lounge for happy hour drinks.

For dinner, Louisa and I had switched from early to late dining. We sat with Christine, Paul, Harvey, and Connie. 6pm was just too early for us. Dinner: Beef carpaccio and rack of lamb. Lamb is one of my favorites!

3 November 2010, Tuesday – Barcelona, Spain

Ah, finally, sunshine! In fact, we had sunny days the rest of our trip. I didn’t have a lot of plans for Barcelona since I had been there several times before. I just wanted to enjoy the sights of the Gothic quarter and Las Ramblas. Louisa and I took the local bus to town, as it was too far to walk from where we were docked. Celebrity had a shuttle service for 6 euros round trip, but the bus was half the price. We ended up waiting a little longer but chatted with a few people in line.

The bus dropped us of next to the Columbus monument and we walked up Las Ramblas. Nearby on the left is Placa del Rei, a beautiful square with lamp posts designed by Gaudi. In the center of the square is a large fountain where people can sit and enjoy this spot.

As we walked along Las Ramblas, we saw several human statues already at work and others getting set up with their makeup and clothing. We saw some interesting ones: A headless chef, a Yoda-like character that floated in the air (easy to figure out), an invisible man with floating sunglasses, a fruit stand, a baby in a carriage (annoying guy) and the creature from the movie Alien – he scared a little girl into crying as he leaned towards her.

One section of Las Ramblas has several flower stalls with lots of colorful flowers and plants. There’s also a bird market but that was further up the street.

On the left past the Leicu metro is the fabulous mercat (indoor market). With so many people in town the market was hard to walk around. It seemed like every type of fruit, vegetable, meat, and seafood were on display. Some of the shops had cured ham hanging from the ceiling. They looked wonderful. I purchased a few ounces of the tasty meat to snack on.

Off Las Ramblas on Calle Ferran, there is a great place for tapas: Mikel Etxea (#15). On display on the counters were numerous types of tapas to choose from, several of which were served on slices of toasted bread. We had chorizo topped with brie (baked), zucchini slice topped with a potato croquette and roumalade-type sauce, a mixed seafood salad with green and black olives, meatballs in a thick red sauce, and skewered chunks of pork (my favorite), along with some red wine. It wasn’t cheap but the food was very good and filling.

Later we did some window shopping, bought a couple of items, walked by the Cathedral (under partial scaffolding), and then headed back to the ship. Onboard in the theatre we caught the last half of the flamenco show, which consisted of three dancers, a lead male singer, and a male guitarist. They were very good.

Our usual evening on the ship started with happy hour at the sky observation lounge, which lasts between 4pm and 6pm. As a new Captain’s Club Elite member, I was able to enjoy complimentary drinks, 90 minutes of internet access, laundry service, and other perks. Louisa enjoyed the happy hour too since she was booked in my cabin. Entertainment of the night was a card magician. He was very good.

Dinner: Oysters Rockefeller, seafood risotto, pate, and stuffed sole with vegetables topped with a tiny amount of black caviar.

4 November 2010, Wednesday, Cartagena Spain

This morning (68 degrees and sunny) the cruise critic group met at the passport bar at 9:00am for our ‘cruise critic connections party.’ Although many of us already met at the sail away party, this was the official get together. About 60 people showed up. The staff served coffee, tea, juice, and pastries. We had about 45 minutes before everyone split up and got off the ship for the day. I had talked to my point and asked for a second get together later in the cruise, knowing that 45 minutes wouldn’t satisfy people.

Cartagena is an easy port to visit, but we were docked away from the town center. The Queen Elizabeth was docked in front of the town center, where we were docked last year. There was complimentary shuttle service to the center of town. For some reason we couldn’t walk to town on our own. Maybe it was because of the roads and lack of sidewalk, but as we drove, it didn’t look dangerous. I decided on a very relaxing, do not much of anything for this port. This cruise, being port intensive in the beginning, was beginning to wear on me and since I had been here before, I wasn’t worried about ‘seeing it all.’

Cartagena is a clean city with palm trees, beautiful architecture, and a pretty pedestrian street. Along the street is city hall, shops, bars and restaurants. At the bottom end of the pedestrian street is the town hall. A few of us walked inside just in time for a short tour. The building had been restored. It was amazing to see the “before” photographs. One room had three large chandeliers and tapestries with coat of arms on the walls. It was quite colorful. The front entrance leads to a beautiful marble split staircase with a rich red carpet runner in the middle – elegant and regal looking.

We did some window shopping and admired the wrought iron balconies and marble tiled façade of the buildings; and we stepped inside one church. Being a small town, we kept running into cruise friends. For lunch Louisa and I had some fried calamari and marinated mussels along with a glass of sangria that went down too quickly. Debra and Tom had joined us, as we sat outside, people-watched, and had a good time talking.

Dinner: Crab fritters; seafood risotto with scallops, shrimp and mussels. After dinner, we hit the martini bar for some drinks.

5 November 2010, Friday, Cadiz Spain
75 degrees and clear.

Cadiz was my favorite port to visit on this cruise and it was my first visit there. Many cruisers opted for tours to Seville (1.5 hours away) but I had been there a couple of times, so I wanted to enjoy something new. The town of Cadiz juts out on the Atlantic Ocean at the end of a narrow peninsula, making it a compact town to walk around. There are large promenades along the water, as well as fortifications. There are many small pedestrian streets to wander around with lots of shops, bars, and restaurants. Parts of the area reminded me of the small streets in Seville with its white washed buildings, wrought iron work, and colorful bougainvillea spilling over the balconies.

A bunch of us walked to town and headed to the cathedral. I purchased a combination ticket that included a visit to the crypt and nearby museum. Part of the interior of the cathedral is in restoration. I climbed the cathedral’s bell tower for great city views. From above you can see the cathedral’s yellow tiled dome. The building itself is of Baroque design and is made entirely of stone. The interesting round-shaped domed crypt contains the tomb of Manuel de Falla, an Andalusian composer. The museum is pretty small but had striking paintings, sculptures and massive song books.

More tapas for lunch. A friend recommended a place in the center of town called Las Flores. Nearby is a flower market and a block away is the main market (which we missed seeing). Louisa and I shared a some tapas: fried calamari, empanadas, and meat/potato croquettes. We enjoyed sitting outside in the shade. Inside the restaurant, many men were standing at the bar eating fried seafood and smoking their cigarettes like a chimney.

After lunch, we took a walk through the market, which must have closed an hour before. There were still people cleaning up their booths. Nearby was a restaurant with a Moorish style interior. The owner came out and asked if we wanted to have lunch. I told him we were admiring the interior. He was getting a little too friendly with me and put his arm around me and asked Louisa to take our photo.

We walked along side the water on the wide promenade, passing a couple of beaches and an area with modern sculptures. In one area was the El Parque Genovés, a lush garden with sculpted trees and fountains. It’s a place to sit, relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the gardens.

Having walked all day long, we cut through town and passed a lovely large square before getting back to the ship.

The special drink of the evening was mojitos. At the mast bar, Louisa and I sat and had a round while wearing pool towels around our shoulders. It had gotten cold and windy. Marco, the bartender, flirted and joked with us. Being a little too windy, we went to the pool deck away from the wind and sat with Cheryl, Emily. They too were drinking mojitos. We had a fun time with them.

Dinner tonight: Spinach turnover, petit filet mignon (huge!), and a Caesar salad.

After dinner, a bunch of us met at the ensemble lounge for drinks (Christine, Paul, Debra, Tom, Larry, Nancy, John, Louisa & me). It’s a nice area on the ship with comfortable chairs and with performers doing jazz.

Lucky for us, we got to set our clocks back one hour. It’s great to cruise east to west, as we gain back time slowly and arrive home without any jetlag.

6 November 2010, Saturday, First Day at Sea

Being a ‘port intensive’ cruise, everyone was so happy for our first sea day. There’s always lots to do on a ship but you can choose to do just a little or cram it all in. Celebrity has a new format for their list of events, which looks like the t.v. guide, so it makes for easy reading and to see if there are any overlaps of events.

I started my day by walking outside on the ‘track’ for 45 minutes. Eight laps equal a mile but I added a few rounds of the upper deck to get some stair-climbing in. I did this on during the sea days and was happy I came home one pound lighter! I ate and drank what I wanted but didn’t go overboard.

Our second cruise group get together was at 10:30am at the passport bar. It was a good turnout. Some people chose to meet later for a camera talk, which I arrived after lunch. I had gotten a list of people together who wanted to meet up and talk about their cameras and get some pointers how to take better pictures. Several people had emailed me saying they were looking forward to my lecture! It wasn’t a lecture but a forum, although I certainly appreciated the compliments.

For lunch, I enjoyed the brunch that Celebrity serves. Lots to choose from (except no crab claws this time).

In the afternoon, about 90 people participated in the cabin crawl where we visit some cabins to see the various layouts, larger balconies, and suites. Of course, in the suites, you could hear people sigh, ooh and ahh. Some day! This was the largest crawl I’ve done; I created three groups of people and staggered them by 5-10 minutes. This way the hallways weren’t packed with one large group. It was a lot of fun. One suite had glasses of champagne and snacks.

Having some on board credit to spend, Louisa and I went to the spa to make reservations to have massages, which we made for later in the week. Outside the spa area two young women were giving complimentary 5-minute massages. That was such a tease, but nice.

The Sky observation lounge was crowded with elites enjoying happy hour.

Dinner: A mouse paté; shrimp, scallop and avocado salad; stuffed chicken breast, which was breaded and served with green beans and carrots.

It was Nancy’s birthday, so we celebrated in her cabin with Larry and friends.

7 November Sunday, Tenerife, Canary Islands

Today was 66 degrees and clear, although it sometimes felt cooler. I had booked a rental car but later canceled the reservations, as I decided to take the tram to La Laguna in the morning with a visit to Santa Cruz in the afternoon and not mess with parking and filling the car with gas. However, I regretted not keeping the car, as 99% of the stores and restaurants were closed being a Sunday. Friends Bruce and Gail joined us, and their new friends Mary and Don.

Celebrity provided shuttle buses from the ship to the entrance of the port, otherwise, it was a 15-minute walk. At the tram area, we had to buy our tickets from a machine and had some difficulty. It turned out the machine was broken, so we had to jump the tracks to buy our tickets. I went over, bought mine, and went back to the other side. Don was the last to buy tickets, as he allowed another couple (Diane and Murray from Canada) to step in and buy theirs. I turned to Mary, “Oh look, Don is being nice and allowing that couple to buy their ticket before him. He’ll probably miss the tram.” In the next minute, the tram was coming towards us and it was moving fast! The doors opened and I got on board, while Louisa walked up to the front (from the outside) to tell the driver to please wait. Don and Bruce began to jump the tracks to our side. Seconds later, the doors began to close and I realized the rest wouldn’t get on the tram in time, so I moved quickly to get off. Nope, the door shut in my face, I couldn’t open it, and the tram began to move. So, there I was leaving the station looking at my friends through the window. I began to laugh and I waved. Diane and Murray were on board and realized at that moment what happened – had they bought their tickets last, my group would have made it on board with me. I could have gotten off at the next stop and walked back but decided to chat with my new friends. I knew the others would eventually catch up to me.

La Laguna sits way above sea level so it was much cooler than in Santa Cruz. Diane and Murray talked to me while I waited for the rest of the group at the end of the line. I thought they were going to tour around with us but actually they decided to wait with me until the rest of the group arrived. I thought that was very nice of them.

Our visit to La Laguna was pleasant. The town is listed as a world heritage site by UNISCO and was once the capital of Tenerife. Much of the architecture in town is of Mudejar design, which is a combination of European and Muslim design. The buildings are colorful and the walls of the entrance ways are tiled.

I was hoping to catch the 10:30am tourist office walking tour but many places were closed. The rest of the group arrived after 10:30am, so it was too late. I figured out later that there probably wasn’t a tour that day. We walked around the town, visited the oldest church, Iglesia de la Concepcion, (mass was in session), stopped for drinks, and visited the indoor market. I had lost my sunglasses the previous day (I always bring two pair of sunglasses but didn’t on this trip), but I was able to find a pair at the market for 3.90 euros. Cheap but stylish! Outside the market were many people enjoying their Sunday afternoon. There were kids on bikes, people hanging around talking to friends, and shopping for food. The town came alive in the afternoon.

Last year I saw a dog poke his head out of the corner of a second story window. He was people watching or just getting some fresh air. Well, I saw him again! Same window, same corner. I guess the owners keep that window open for him.

Most of the stores were closed but I was able to purchase some local sauces (mojo rojo and mojo verde) at a souvenir store. They are tasty sauces that you can use for cooking, spread, or dip. Last year Tony had packed the jars that we purchased in his carry-on bag, forgetting about airport security. Of course, they were taken away. I was so upset, but they were inexpensive. When he works (airline pilot) he’s able to bring home liquids in his bag. He just forgot they were in the carry-on. I made sure these jars were nicely wrapped and packed in my checked bag.

We all had lunch at a small Turkish restaurant. The food was tasty and quite filling. In fact, Louisa and I should have split a sandwich. After, we took the tram back to the port and walked back to the ship. We decided it wasn’t worth walking around Santa Cruz since everything was closed. Being the last port before sailing across the Atlantic ocean, we made sure we got back to the ship early enough. Don’t want to miss the ship at this port!

Back on board, several of us went to Erick and Jen’s cabin (small suite with a large corner balcony) for a sail away get together. They ordered several platters of food from their butler but Louisa and I only had a couple of small bites. We had plans to dine at the Silk Harvest and knew we had to go easy on the food. It was a pretty sail away from Tenerife. Beautiful sunset. We looked out knowing we had seven days ahead of us at sea. Nice!

Dinner: As I said, I knew we had to eat lightly during the say. This restaurant you must go hungry and early. Last year, ten of us had 8:30pm dinner reservations. We all waddled back to our rooms after 11pm. I made reservations for 6:30pm, which was perfect. Louisa and I dined with our original dinner mates John, Jane and Tony, and Jen and Kevin. All of us were eying certain dishes on the menu but I zeroed in on the sushi. Our waiter said, "If you will allow me, I will choose for you. You will enjoy 90% of the menu." And we did: Pork ribs, spring rolls, shumai, cream cheese wontons, salt n’ pepper ike & ebi (squid and rock shrimp), chicken lettuce wraps, a wonderful assortment of sushi and sashimi (my favorite), red curry duck, salmon and scallop stir-fry, etc. Assorted desserts including caramelized bananas. Everyone loved the variety of foods. The chef came out too to make sure we were enjoying our dinner. It was a filling dinner and I took a well needed walk around the ship afterwards.

There won’t be a Silk Harvest on the Eclipse next year (my cruise next fall 2011), which is a shame. It's such a popular place and the food is some of the best on the ship. Qsine is replacing this restaurant, which is a contemporary tapas-like place where customers will order their food via an ipad. Celebrity is certainly going with today's technology flow.

The entertainment of the evening was the “Flava” of the Med, which was held pool side. There were lots of dancers and singers performing various Mediterranean music: French, Greek, Italian, etc. It started close to 11pm, so we didn’t stay long.

Sea Days

People have asked me, “What do you do on a ship with so many days at sea? Don’t you get bored?” Not at all! You can relax the entire time or you can dive into all of the activities and lectures the ship has to offer. Many people bring books (or kindles) to read, some bring board games, but the best part is getting to know your fellow cruisers, which can turn into lasting friendships.

For me, I would work out in the morning, walking the track for 40-45 minutes and then have breakfast. Later I would participate in an activity or two or listen to a lecture. Other times I would write in my journal or read my book. And of course, many of us enjoyed the nightly happy hour in the sky lounge.

Since we did have six sea days, I’ll just do a quick write up of each day:

8 November, Monday, At Sea

Everyday on the ship there is always a sale at the stores. Today was “Mediterranean Market shopping.” Most of the items were cheap souvenirs. Instead, I bought a clear plastic cocktail tumbler that light up at the bottom. I had seen them last night at the Flava party, in which fruity, frozen drinks were served. I figure I could use it in my office and pretend I’m on a cruise ship someplace.

I organized a bridge tour for some friends. The tours are short, about 15 minutes, but always interesting to do.

For a cruise critic group event, we had a wine tasting party at 2:30pm. Those that participated brought a bottle of wine (per couple) from their hometown. Louisa brought a nice dry chardonnay wine from Virginia. It was a lot of fun! There must have been 20-25 bottles for everyone to try. We were given the sky observation lounge for an hour and the staff provided wine glasses and bottle openers. About an hour into the event, the area was taken over by trivia players, so we gathered the bottles and moved to a corner of the room to continue our party.

Formal night again. Dinner: Tuna carpaccio, French onion soup, and Duck a l'Orange.

Evening entertainment was the dazzling Cirque du Soleil show with acrobatic performers flying around in the air above the stage and audience using various ropes and wires, extravagant costumes, and a contortionist, which always makes me cringe. She was amazing. The show was very similar to last year and with the same Wow factor.

9 November, Tuesday, At Sea

Morning exercise routine and breakfast.

11:15am lecture in the theatre: “What do Astronomers do?” I really enjoyed the lecturer.

Noon – lunch in the dining room with friends. It’s nice to sit and be served, rather than go through the buffet at the ocean view café. I found the food in the dining room to be much better than at the buffet, although there’s a wider selection to choose from.

Window shopping at the stores. I bought a blue topaz ring, 50% off. Bought a different one another day.

2pm cruise critic group gift exchange in the Quasar bar – everyone brought a gift from home ($15 limit). I brought a Maryland recipe book.

4:30pm cocktails with Bruce and Gail in their cabin with their friends. Lovely rainbow outside.

Clocks turned back 1 hour.

Dinner: Steak, baked potato and green beans.

10 November, Wednesday, At Sea

Morning exercise routine and breakfast.

10am Lecture “The Berlin Airlift” – very interesting and I learned a lot. 11:15am – lecture “The Moon” – Fine, but didn’t stay entire time.

Met friends for lunch in the dining room.

1pm – Captain’s Club Celebration in the sky observation lounge with food and cocktails: Prime rib, sushi bar, crepes, fruits, etc.

2pm cruise critic slot pull. Everyone that participated ($15) ended up with $29. Exciting to watch and participate.

6:30pm. Dinner at the Muranos specialty restaurant ($35 supplement): Dinner was just as wonderful as last year. This is the place to go for fine dining with elegant service. I reserved the small wine cellar room, which has a table for 10 people. It's set off from the main dining room, so we had some privacy. The dinner group included Louisa, John, Tom and Debra, Erick and Jen, Harvey and Connie. Dianne and Doug had canceled, as they were not feeling well.

Our waiter started our evening with the amuse bouche, a small fried, breaded crab ball. When it comes to cruising, everyone knows it’s okay to order more than one appetizer, entrée, or dessert in the dining room. I didn't think this was possible at Murano's. However, I was told that yes, you could ask for a second appetizer. Instead of asking for two, I asked the waiter for a larger portion of foie gras. He said that the portions were the same size, but that he would serve me a double portion. I was a happy woman! This melt-in-your mouth delicacy was served with a filo pastry filled duck rillettes, equally delicious.

For my soup, I had the lobster bisque. The waiter set down the plate, already garnished, and poured the bisque into the bowl. I really liked the special small touches they provided during our dinner. Service is impeccable. Next I had the rack of lamb, coated with a mushroom crust. I sampled a small variety of cheese from the cheese cart and orange soufflé for dessert.

Everyone had a great time and enjoyed the atmosphere and food at Murano's.

Clocks turned back one hour

11 November, Thursday, At Sea

10am Veterans Day/Remembrance Day. This was a fiasco. I had requested that Celebrity have an event for Veterans Day/Remembrance Day, like I did last year. I asked if the cruise director (CD) could give a speech and provide a place for veterans to be able to spend time together. Nothing was posted in the Celebrity Today flyer, and I only heard about the time/location from another passenger. Because of the lack of announcement, attendance was small. Everyone that showed up waited in a conference room next to the Observation sky lounge that had chairs set up along with a podium. About 20 minutes later, I made a phone call to the onboard event coordinator asking when the CD would arrive. He showed up 10 minutes later. We were moved to the lounge, but still waited. By 10:45am, I needed to leave; the CD still had not started the event. I found out that the CD gave a poor speech, certainly nothing that made the veterans feel appreciated for their services. Many people were upset. I think Celebrity should make November 11th a standard event on board their ships and show the respect veterans deserve.

Louisa and I attended the Elite wine tasting event. There were four wines to sample, two reds and two whites. This was a repeat event, as the Captains Club hostess screwed up the original event by having it in the Tuscan Grill dining room. What was she thinking? There were over 700 Elite members on board the ship and the dining room probably held 200 people. Last year it was held in the dining room. Many of us were turned away at the door, and quite rudely. After a few of us talked to the Concierge at guest relations, he apologized and assured us there would be a second one and that he would personally escort us to the dining room.

3:30pm Another cruise critic event was the pub crawl. Not sure how that went, as I didn’t attend. I believe it’s a poker game/drinking event.

5pm was my massage. I felt like a noodle when done. I wish massages weren’t so expensive, otherwise, I’d have them all the time!

12 November, Friday, At Sea

Today was the second brunch. Lots of the same foods as the first brunch, but a few additions, to include a delicious chicken pot pie.

4:30pm cocktail party in our cabin. Bruce and Gail, who I have sailed with three times now, always invited me to their cabin for drinks, so I wanted to play hostess for them and some friends. Louisa and I ordered some canapés, and picked up some cheese/crackers and other goodies from the ocean view café. Christine and Paul (their cabin was next to ours) ordered food from room service, so we had a nice spread of food. We had our room attendant open the partition on the balcony between cabins for extra room.

13 November, Saturday, At Sea

The seas: Three days ago, the captain told us that he would be changing his course due to the tail end of the weather from the last hurricane in the Caribbean. He also stated that the swells could get as high as 12 feet, which seemed like nothing at all to me. Anytime I looked out onto the ocean, I tried to figure out the height of the waves and swells; however, it was really difficult to do so, especially being so high up on the ship. We ended up heading in a south-west direction and skirted Cuba before hitting Florida, about a 250 mile difference from the original course. I loved the rocking of the ship and didn't find it uncomfortable, except to say everyone swayed left and right as they walked down corridors. I loved lying in my bed being rocked to sleep each night. Today the captain said it would be the worse of the three days and recommended that women not wear high heal shoes. It was formal night, so I don't think woman listened to the captain. I did hear that some people were seasick, but really, it wasn't anything serious.

Galley tour 10:00am. A glass of champagne is served to start the tour, which lasted 20 minutes or so. This is always fun to do, as you can watch some of the cooks in action.

Cooking competition followed in the theatre. Two cruisers competed with chefs helping them to cook their dishes.

Skipped the elegant tea (3:30pm).

Drinks with Larry and Anne in their cabin. NICE aft cabin!!

Formal night – Lobster for dinner!

14 November, Sunday, At Sea

Breakfast in the elite lounge.

Third/last cruise critic party in the late morning. Lots of hugs and “great to meet you” comments. At least a dozen Hobgoblins will be cruising the Eclipse next October 2011 with me.

Lunch in the restaurant with Louisa, Tom, and Debra.

Pool-side the remainder of the day.

15 November 2010, Monday

I woke up at 6:30am and felt sad. The cruise was over and it was time to vacate our cabin and ship for new passengers. As I opened the curtains, another cruise ship was just pulling in. There were four ships total, so I knew it would be a busy morning.

Louisa and I had our last breakfast at the ocean view café. Lox and bagel for me. We said our goodbyes to friends that we saw.

Group 19, 8:25am. Instead of waiting in the Tuscan Grill with the other elite members, we went to the dining room with Christine and Paul. Getting off the ship was very easy, but it took a long time to get inside the terminal. Apparently there were only three customs agents handling two ships in one large terminal area. Many people complained about the long wait and also having a hard time finding their luggage. Luggage was placed in the wrong numbered area. Fortunately for Louisa and me, we found ours in the right spot and at the end of the group of luggage. Very easy to see. Unfortunately, a wheel was missing from Louisa's newly purchased spinner suitcase, which made it difficult for her to pull it.

Erick, Jen, Louisa and I shared a taxi to the airport. We asked the man at the curb for a van, but he squeezed us in a large car. The taxi driver was very upset, but it wasn't our fault. He took the long way to the airport, making a right turn and down the road that hugged the port, rather than going straight, which we all knew, and told him so. He said, "Do you want to tell me how to get there?" What choice did we have? The ride was about $18, so the longer route didn't add to the cost too much. Still, it was upsetting. On the way to the airport, as we were on I-95, we saw a man on a bicycle peddling between the two right lanes! We were all stunned to see cars swerve over to avoid hitting the man! He must have been on drugs.

Check in took a while. I was hoping that I could flash my USAirways employee ID card to avoid the $25 luggage fee but it didn't work out. It's a shame that a large company like USAirways doesn't take care of their own employees and dependents. The flight home was so full and the overhead bins were full that they took my carry on bag and had it checked (and about 20 other passengers too). I had to scramble before handing it over and took out my valuables and shoved them in my large bag/purse.

The flight home was fine. We landed at Washington National where Louisa took a taxi home and Tony picked me up.


Great, great cruise! I loved the ports, loved the sea days, and enjoying meeting new friends. We were all disappointed in the weather in Livorno and Cannes, but were happy for the sunny days on all other days.

If I ever do a cruise again from Rome (Civitavecchia), I most likely spend a few day outside of Rome. Having been to Rome several times now, I’d like to spend time elsewhere.

My absolute favorite port was Cadiz. It was such a beautiful city. I definitely want to return to the French Riviera and visit more hill towns. Tourrettes-sur-Loup was my favorite town.

Well, that’s it for now….until my next cruise next fall. I’ll be sailing on the Celebrity Eclipse out of Southampton, England to Miami. The itinerary will be Le Havre, Cherbourg, a day a sea, Vigo Spain, a day at sea, Ponta Delgada (Azores), and six days at sea. I’ll be spending four nights in London prior to the cruise. I can’t wait!


No comments: