Saturday, September 14, 2019

MSC Meraviglia Cruise Review - Baltic

MSC Meraviglia Cruise Review
September 15, 2019

Just the Facts:
Ship: MSC Meraviglia
Captain: Roberto Leotta
Hotel Director: Guiseppe Pane
Ports: Copenhagen, Denmark - Helsinki, Finland - St. Petersburg, Russia - Tallin, Estonia - Kiel, Germany -  Copenhagen, Denmark.

I’m cruising as a solo. This is my second of four consecutive cruises on the MSC Meraviglia, my 11th MSC cruise and my 146th cruise overall.  I do have some clients and new cruise friends sailing.  I will have sailed 40 consecutive nights on board the Meraviglia. 

Sunday September 15  /  Copenhagen  /  Day 1

Floating Island dessert
Smooth sailing overnight. I was up periodically checking NCAA football scores…Oklahoma’s game was at 2:00 am Central European Time.  I was up for the day about 8:00 am and went by Guest Services to pick up my new Black Sail Card for this cruise.  So easy when doing a B2B in the EU as no waiting to do the customs thing as in the USA, you just go pick up your new card.  I had a nice breakfast with a large table of German guests most leaving the ship today.  I did have to go by and register my credit card to my sail account since I have a new card.  Easily done and there is a machine by my cabin corridor.  Then to the cabin to watch the highlights of the OU vs. UCLA football game.  The Sooners did well, but I knew the score at 3:00 am and was confident it would hold up through the game.    It’s rather cool and windy today and I’ve decided not to try to go into Copenhagen today, just stay on board and enjoy the ship.  I went on a walkabout so that my cabin steward could clean the cabin and when I returned I had a clean cabin and Champagne, deluxe fruit basket, and a fruit bowl. Nice to feel like a VIP.  I had not had lunch in the MDR as yet so today I ate in Waves, the usual Breakfast restaurant, on my deck five.  I ordered: the Madison Salad (DW would like this), the Roast Veal in Rosemary Sauce, and the Floating Island for dessert.  So glad I took waiters recommendation on dessert, it was really special (poached egg whites floating on vanilla creme anglaise, caramel) and unique to me. Try it if you get an opportunity.  See Photo.  After lunch it was to the cabin for afternoon nap time.  Boat drill for those boarding today woke me from my nap, but it was still a nice nap.  Dinner was nice tonight, I ordered:  Lasagne Bolognese, the Oven Roasted Prime Rib of Beef entree, and Warm Apple Strudel with Ice Creme for dessert.  I retired soon after dinner tonight as I had some projects to finish since I decided to purchase the unlimited internet for this cruise.  A little business, but I’ll enjoy having the WiFi for news and sports too.  It was another good day on the MSC Meraviglia.

Monday September 16  /  Day at Sea  /  Day 2
Production Show: Way
Generally smooth seas overnight with a little more movement than previous nights.  Sometime early during the night I strained ligaments or pulled some muscles in my knee/leg and it was painful, could be the ACL.  Barely could hobble to the bathroom.  Nothing to do but hope it improved.  Only slightly better in the morning, I had to hop to the door to receive more goodies being delivered. Breakfast was out of the question, but at least I have fruit to enjoy this morning.  A hot shower and heat on the area helped, at least I could walk with a limp by lunch. I wanted to experience the Panorama Restaurant and had a nice table center at the aft windows.  Great view.  I ordered: Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls, the Club Sandwich, and Tropézienne for dessert. I sat too long and had to limp back to the cabin.  I discovered I was an hour off on time this morning, we are now on Helsinki/St. Petersburg/Tallinn time.  I knew we would change but overlooked the notice on the Daily Program.  I had a nap after lunch…nice I don’t do that at home.  I went up to the Brass Anchor for a couple of Stella Artois and ran into friends.  Dinner tonight was good, perhaps the best menu from last week.  I ordered: Tortelli as a starter, the Leg of Lamb entree, and rhe Choco-gianduja Sundae for dessert.  The entree was very good.  I did attend the production show tonight: Way.  Live orchestra, dancers, and feature singers preform various Broadway and show hits. They even had a can-can number for me.   I enjoyed the show very much.  I retired following the show and my leg/knee/back is much better. I hope it’s fine for tomorrow’s excursion in Finland.  It was a great Sea day on the MSC Meraviglia.

Tuesday September 17  /  Helsinki, Finland  /  Day 3
Higher seas in the Baltic overnight and I slept well… 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

MSC Meraviglia Cruise Review - Norway

MSC Meraviglia Cruise Review
September 8, 2019

Just the Facts:
Ship: MSC Meraviglia
Captain: Roberto Leotta
Hotel Director: Giuseppe Pane
Ports: Copenhagen, Denmark - Geiranger, Norway - Flam, Norway - Stravanger, Norway - Kiel, Germany -  Copenhagen, Denmark.

I’m cruising as a solo. This is my first of four consecutive cruises on the MSC Meraviglia, my 10th MSC cruise and my 145th cruise overall.  I do have some clients and cruise friends sailing.  I will have 40 consecutive nights on board the Meraviglia. 

Friday & Saturday /  September 6 & 7 / Travel

Kong Frederik Hotel - Rådhuspladsen in background
I finished packing Friday morning and we were soon off for DFW airport about 11:15 am.  We took a new route going up Hwy 67 to Hwy 287, than onto the somewhat new Hwy 360 toll road.  We stopped at a very nice Chick-fil-a for lunch then took 360 on to DFW airport.  The DW was so sweet to drop me off at DFW as it’s not as easy as Waco, my usual departure airport.  I was through customs and at the United Airlines gate well before boarding.  When they asked for volunteers to check carry-on luggage to final I did so, one less bad to worry about.  The flight to ORD in Chicago was fine but I had a long lay-over before the 10:30 pm flight on Iceland Air. I needed the time as the terminal change took 40+ minutes  I did have a nice greek pita dinner at ORD while waiting.  I was able to get a nice seat upgrade and the six hour flight went very well.  The flight landed in good order about 10:15 am local time at Keflavik, but only an hour before the flight to Copenhagen, but the Keflavik airport is very efficient.  I cleared EU customs and was at the gate 40 minutes before boarding.  This final almost three hour flight  went well and I again had a good seat.  Allowing for two more time zone changes I was finally in Copenhagen by 4:15 pm.  Unfortunately after waiting for baggage I had to admit to myself that neither of my bags had arrived.  Many know that moment of dread at the beginning of a long holiday when this happens.  And both bags…what are the odds?  I went to the SAS baggage services office and after waiting with number in hand finally made it to an agent.  She typed away at her computer for a long while  then told me scanners indicated that one bag was on a carousel  different than the one for my flight.  It was my large original checked bag.  The bad news is the small carry on bag that I voluntarily checked at Dallas/Fort Worth never arrived in Copenhagen and it could not be readily found anywhere.  May still be at DFW for all we knew.  As a part of my annual Travel Guard travel insurance I have a lost bag service included, my SAS lady actually called them with all the details of my lost bag.  Hopefully it will be found, it had my new clothes purchased for this trip and my favorite dining room khaki slacks that I have worn on over 60 cruises.  The nice lady did send me away with a parting gift of over 600 Danish Krone and a men's toiletry kit.  I assure you the whole time I was waiting for a clerk no one else was given anything.  She did her best, but it could not be found.  Hopefully it will be.  I was well over an hour past the time I told the hotel I would arrive so I continued on my way.  The metro station at the airport is VERY easy to use.  I took the M2 metro train (~$3) to Nørreport Station and then a 15 minute walk to the hotel stopping at the Copenhagen Cathedral for photos along the way.  I am staying at the Kong Frederik hotel.  A very nice hotel located in an old historical building near Tivoli Gardens and the Rådhuspladsen or City Hall Square.  Very happy with hotel and location.  I ended up enjoying several Danish beers in the old beautiful lobby area this evening, a relaxing ending to a LONG and somewhat frustrating travel day.

Sunday September 8  /  Embarkation  /  Copenhagen  /  Day 1
Hans Christian Andersen
I was up early so took advantage of the fast WiFi to catch up on news, football scores, and get this blog started.  No news on lost bag though. about 9:00 am I went down to the restaurant for the breakfast buffet.  Lots of typical Danish went fresh breads, cheeses, meats, etc. although they did have bacon and an egg dish.  Afterward I walked down to the Rådhuspladsen and took photos of the Hans Christian Andersen statue and entry to Tivoli Gardens.  Then back to hotel to use that fast WiFi until the noon checkout.  I took a taxi to the port (275DKK) arriving before 1:00 pm and was amazed looking at the MSC Meraviglia for the first time: large, sleek, & impressive.  No wait going through security and I was handed a group 9 boarding card.  As I entered the waiting hall they were boarding group 3, but they did have an express line for Black Cards so I was processed strait away. As easy an embarkation as I have experienced.  You enter the ship on deck five and they have areas set up to purchase drink packages, spa services, and dining specials.  So easy to go to my cabin since it’s on deck five (yes I planned it).  The cabin is very large for an interior with a lot of floor room. There were some VIP gifts awaiting…thanks MSC-Miami. Cabin storage is adequate for myself as a solo, but only two drawers inside wardrobe…may not be enough for two.  I went up to deck 15 and the buffet for a light lunch then returned to deck 5 where I registered and linked my credit card to my shipboard account as you do on all MSC ships then went to guest services about my lost luggage.  They were very helpful, I gave them the information that was given by the SAS airport baggage for them…they loved that,  It’s not really responsibility of cruise lines to find the lost luggage but most actually do their best to get it for the guest.   From MSC I was given a card for 40% off purchases in the logo shop and was offered free laundry until my bag arrives.  Very nice.  There are very few TV stations available in English and no American networks, but that’s really to be expected on an international ship.  A great feature though is the virtual portholes available on the TV screen.  You can choose between starboard or port side view…very nice.  It was soon time for safety drill and my muster location was in the center of the Galleria just up one deck on six.  This is the shopping mall/restaurant area with unique ceiling that displays graphics.  During boat drill it is a deck plan of the ship with muster stations.  After boat drill it became the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  Impressive. I returned to the cabin and contacted my two very nice clients onboard and made arrangements for dinner.  Although we were linked we weren’t assigned together (unique booking situations on MSC) but it was sorted out and we have a nice four top table for this week in the L’Olive d’oro dining room on deck six. We met for dinner and it’s nice to have english speaking friends to enjoy dinner.  I ordered the salad, the pasta, the Prime Rib entree, and for dessert the Strudel.  All good.  After dinner I enjoyed two Cosmopolitan cocktails at the Infinity Bar before retiring to the cabin for needed rest after a very long and busy day.

Monday September 9  /  Day at Sea  /  Day 2
The Brass Bell on deck 7 - Great Pub with beer variety
Smooth seas overnight with just enough movement for a very enjoyable nights sleep. The bed is ideal and very comfortable. I have four nice pillows, so very adequate.  I awoke about 7:30 am and about 8:30 went to the MDR for a proper breakfast. This is too easy as the morning MDR is on my deck and an easy stroll across the lobby.  I sat with two German couples and one Austrian couple who spoke English.  I ordered a Fruit Plate and Eggs Benedict with a side of Bacon & Hash-brown potatoes.  I was served Hot Milk that is not always easy to get on other cruise lines but very common on the MSC and the Meraviglia.  After breakfast I finished cabin set-up converting 220 plugs to 110 and a charging station for my laptop and iPhone, put up magnets, and stored items for the duration of the cruise. I received an email from AIG lost bag service that my bag had been found in Chicago.  I took that information to Guest Services and they were appreciative as didn’t have that information.  Stravanger, Norway is the goal to be reunited.  Since this was the second day MSC gave me a €100 credit.  WOW.  I will get some shirts from the Logo shop.  I send my laundry in this morning and hopefully it will be back tonight as that’s the only jeans I have and I have an excursion tomorrow.  I received an invitation to a reception for noon  today in the TV lounge on deck seven.  My friends were there and as far as I could determine this was for the English speaking passengers on board.  We had complimentary Champagne and many ships officers were introduced.  I noticed an English style pub across the way so the three of us headed there and enjoyed a couple of Stella’s on draft.  As far as I can tell this is the only location on ship with a variety of draught beers.  They also accepted my drink vouchers left over from previous MSC cruises so a win win here.   I went shopping this afternoon, the Boutique prices were very dear so even with discount over may budget.  I ended up getting a couple of t-shirts at the MSC Logo Shop.  They had very small and very large sized t’s on sale 2 @ €20  so that worked for me.  I enjoyed apéritifs with Maria at the Infinity Bar, she make a good cosmo…and takes drink coupons!!  My friends were at table 880 at 6:30 on this Captain’s night dinner and we enjoy a nice dinner, better than last night.  I ordered a new and different Escargot served in a puff pastry, the Tortelli pasta as a starter with Marcarpone & Asparagus, the Leg of Lamb entree, and the Choco-gianduja Sundae for dessert. All Very Good.  I returned to the cabin and my laundry was back...thanks for the great service Meraviglia.  Rest in cabin befoe excursion tomorrow.  It was a great first full sea day on the MSC Meraviglia.

Tuesday September 10  /  Geiranger, Norway  /  Day 3
Came to Norway just for this view - Geirangerfjord
Very calm in the North Sea overnight and I slept well…I woke very early at 5:00 am but I had 7 hours counting a late nap yesterday.  I went up on deck very early (6:00ish) to get a since of where we are docked as the sun comes.  We are actually at Geiranger at the end of the fjord, a bit surprised we sailed through darkness, but they have a LOT of excursions to offload. I was so near the Market Buffet I popped in for some hot milk and ended up eating a light breakfast as well.  I had a fresh omelette and nice bacon…it was good but not as good as the MDR. I’m sure I’ll be staying with the Dining Room for breakfast in the future.  This early you see crew members (3 different) you have already met and it’s nice to be greeted by name. GS wanted to update me on the lost bag, but no internet today as we are so deep into the fjord we have very little sky to catch a satellite.  We are docked on a floating dock…this is new…it really speeds thing up for the large ships such as the MSC Meraviglia.  There is also a lot more to the little village than when I was here last about five years ago. My excursion: Mountain Road up to Dalsnibba meets at 10:15 am. This was the road I did not take when here previously and we stopped at one of the most popular photo locations in Norway where I took photos of the ship and fjord below.  Most will recognize the setting.  But we were only 1/3 of the way to the top of Mount Dalsnibba.  Enjoyed the beautiful scenery including: a deep Mountain loch, a Glacier, and fresh fallen snow.  One of the most windy roads I have traveled. We made it back down about 1:00 and we have an on board time of 1:30. I had just enough time to purchase the obligatory refrigerator magnets. A bit of a line to board the ship as most of the excursions returned near the same time. Once on board I had time for one Perone beer at the Brass Anchor before they began making departure announcements. We left about 2:30 pm to allow time for guests to enjoy sailing through the actual famous Geirangerfjord during our return in daylight hours.  It was quite spectacular.  I believe there were more waterfalls than my previous trip in the fjord, but the area is already receiving some snow.  Dinner time comes even before we are fully out of the fjord, but it’s much wider now and we have WiFi.  Fewer at dinner tonight I guess many are watching the scenery… I ordered the Tuscan Soup, Linguine with Shellfish, the Grilled Beef Sirloin Steak, and Arroz con Leche (cinnamon rice pudding) for dessert.  Julius didn’t recommend the steak and he was right. The other items were good, soup the best tonight.  Still skipping the shows and tonight no cocktails as I have internet work to do on upcoming cruises and rest and relax rest of the evening.  It was a fantastic day in Norway.

Wednesday  September 11  /  Flaam, Norway  /  Day 4
Beautiful Norway
Smooth seas and I slept very well. We were docked about 7:00 am in the beautiful little village of Flam.  This is a new port for me so looking forward to seeing as much as I can.  I went to the MDR for breakfast about 7:45 am and sat with a very interesting German couple.  I enjoyed the three Eggs with bacon and the company.  My meet time for tour is 9:15 and I’m doing the Norwegian Falls & Dramatic Sceneries by Train excursion or in layman terms the Flam Railroad plus.  My friends are doing this as well. We began by walking to the Flaam train station and settled into our seat in the narrow gauge rail passenger car.  Lot’s of lovely scenery and we stopped at a waterfall for a photo opportunity before arriving at a proper rail station.  Here we boarded the regular Norwegian Rail for our trip to Voss.  Very nice cars and nice train, I wouldn’t hesitate to travel rail in Norway.  In Voss we stopped for nice lunch buffet at the Fleischer’s Hotel located next to the train station.  Time for a nice Haas Beer and hotel Wifi in the lounge before boarding buses for the journey through the mountains back to Flaam.  Again our first stop was at a unique waterfall before journeying through beautiful mountain passes and along rivers and lakes.  Amazingly beautiful. We also went through the 2nd longest tunnel in Norway and what to have been the third longest as well when we popped out at Flaam. It was a wonder excursion, a bit damp and a bit dear, but prices for everything in Norway are expensive.  I still had a slight buzz from the Haas beer so stopped by the Brass Anchor for a couple of Peroni beers to maintain.  Back to cabin to update blog and prepare for dinner.  6:30 came early, barely made it on time for dinner.  Tonight I ordered:  Vesuvius Salad, Cannelloni Pasta Tuscan style, Risotto Pescatora, and Cherry Clafoutis Creme.  A good dinner.  Following I retired to the cabin to finish some work.  It was another great day in Norway.

Thursday September 12  /  Stravanger, Norway   /  Day 5
Swords in the Rock - Stavanger Norway
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well, I’m sure the Advil-PM helped that I took for some muscle relief.  I was up about 7:30 am and I feel good considering all the activity yesterday.  I had a note from Guest Services so I went by expecting to be told that they would have the missing bag today in Stavanger.  Surprise!! They had the bag. It came aboard at Flaam and that’s such a small and remote port…what a journey that bag must have taken.  It had Oslo and Bergen tags so it went by air that far and must have gone by rail or ferry the rest of the way to Flaam. Amazing.  Thank you MSC for such a wonderful job.  I went to the MDR about 8:30 and saw the Hotel Director, he knew the bag had come when I praised the GS department.  This morning I sat with some nice Germans by a window and had Eggs Benedict with extras, a nice breakfast.  I took a walk on deck as we were sailing into Stavanger to see the island that Cleeng Pearson was born.  Cleeng is famous in Norway as the Father of Norwegian Emigration, and saved many from hunger in the 19th century.  He is buried at the Norse Church only four miles from my ranch in Texas. I got a poor excursion time of 5:00 pm and I would not have booked it had I known, but it rained in the middle of day and I used my Spa time this afternoon so it turned out fine.  Pizza day for lunch and I tried something new: a charcoal pizza…it’s a black dough…I have no idea how they make it.  Good pizza though especially with a beer.  I met my excursion at 5:00 pm, it’s called: Stavanger Sightseeing & Swords in the Rock.  Of course I was only interested in the Swords in the Rock and that is the first place they took us.  The monument itself was impressive, but the park area around them need some TLC.  On the tour we saw some of the affluent areas, the Beach, the University, historic Wooden Houses, the Harbor, Downtown, and more.  I noticed most of the homes had nice manicured lawns and something that I knew from living in a Norwegian community:  Norwegian know how to build rock walls.  Very impressive rock walls around homes, gardens, businesses, and parks.  Using very large stones too…very impressive.  Because the excursion was during my dinner time as soon as I returned I booked the Butchers Block Steakhouse for tonight at 8:30.  I started with cocktails at the Infinity Bar with Maria.  Nice with the entertainment in the lobby.  I ate inside the Butchers Block although half the tables are out overlooking the Galleria.  I ordered the Hearts of Palm as a starter, the Sirloin Steak entree with mashed potatoes & asparagus, and Banana Pudding for dessert.  Excellent especially the steak, perfectly cooked. I popped into he Brass Anchor to remind them that they had charged my beer on account when I had given them coupons and that place was packed, I guess I hadn’t been out late before tonight.  All the lounges were packed with happy guests.  I actually ran into my friends and some new German friends on various decks of the lobby area. Party night on board the MSC Meraviglia.  I returned about 11:00 ish to update blog and cabin time.  Stavanger was fine, but It was a great day on board the MSC Meraviglia.

Friday  September 13  /  Sea Day  /  Day 6
Meraviglioso Amor
Smooth seas continue and I slept very well overnight.  I went to the MDR about 8:40 am for a smaller breakfast just two small pancakes and bacon.  Service has been great each morning in the MDR.  Then some business to take care of…I’ve been very easy on the WiFi time…just halfway through my allotment of 2500 MB and two days to go.  At 1:00 pm they held a Welcome Back cocktail reception on deck six for members of MSC Loyalty Club.  Very nice with Prosecco seved and you get a complementary photo if you wish.  This afternoon I actually had a two hour uninterrupted nap…wow…maybe I can stay up until 11:00 again.!!  The thing one gets excited about once they get a little older.  I went by the Infinity Bar for pre-party cocktails with Maria, nice cosmopolitans, then at 5:15 pm it was up to the Sky Lounge for the Gold and Black Card Party. First time I’ve seen Gold included but it was a very manageable crowd.  I thanked Giuseppe the Hotel Director again, and I also thanked the Beverage Manager for honoring the MSC drink vouchers that have been paid for prior to the program being discontinued.  That has really help me this cruise keeping my costs inline and will next cruise as well.  I enjoyed a few Aperol Spritzers and the company at the party…great fun.  It was now time for our 6:15 dinner.  Full room tonight and I ordered: the Caesar Salad, Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms, Herb Encrusted Beef Tenderloin, and Baked Alaska & Coconut Tapioca Pudding for dessert.  All very good.  I finally made it to a Theater production show this evening: Meraviglioso Amor a show featuring romantic Italian love songs.  I had great seats on row 3.  Of course Con te Partiro brings down the house as a finale.  Great show and I’ll catch up on the ones missed on the next cruises.  I retired after the show to update blog and get some news.  It was a very fun sea day on the MSC Meraviglia.

Saturday  September 14  /  Kiel, Germany  /  Day 7
Roast Beef at Carving Station
Again smooth seas overnight, but I had trouble getting to sleep.  It’s a transition day here on the MSC Meraviglia and most of the passengers are leaving the ship today and a new group will board including some more clients.  The MDR was open very early so I had to get in before the 8:30 am close.  I had a nice three-egg and bacon breakfast. About 10:00 am I debarked from my deck 5 and took a shuttle to the ferry into Kiel.  About an hour total for this process, but only €10 return fare from MSC.  First stop was for a Coca-cola and WiFi in a very nice shopping mall area in the city center. Nothing special in Kiel other than it’s sailing history…no old town as everything was leveled in WW2…nice modern mall and a good transit location for ships and trains. I went to a trendy place Vapiano on the downtown pier for a couple of the local beers Krombacher, it’s a nice beer. No Wifi, but a view of the ferry so I can relax while waiting to return to the ship. The second beer went down quick as I saw the MSC ferry arrive. This boat was full of crew, transit guests such as myself, and new guests who came by train.  Once back on board I had some Pizza including the new Charcoal pizza that seems to be the new trending thing.  Notice the Roast Beef in photo...also three whole sirloins to be sliced on lower left...very nice items on today's Welcome Buffet.  A very nice sweet plate was left in my cabin, no card but I suspect it’s a B2B gift, but it was very good, a great dessert after my Pizza time. Walked around the ship watching the new guests who boarded today and had a nice visit with the Hotel Director.  Our new friends were at dinner, we now have an eight top table for the six of us in the same restaurant and with the same waiter.  Tonight I ordered: Gardener’s Minestrone Soup, Artichoke Risotto, the Oven-roasted Veal Leg Goccia d’Oro entree, and Warm Apple Crumble with Ice Creme for dessert.  All good.  I’m somewhat retiring early as magician is feature and not my thing, but will listen to music on deck five before sleep.  It was an interesting transition day on the MSC Meraviglia.  My NEW cruise day begins tomorrow.

I have cabin 5097 a port side forward interior located on deck 5. Only a few guest cabins on this deck as the lower Atrium deck (mid ship) and the Main dining Room (MDR) -Waves Restaurant are all located on deck 5.  The cabin is just one deck below theater, Galleria, & Main dining rooms, and one deck above the port gangway.  A great location. It is somewhat spacious cabin for an interior.  It has a push button safe, twin/king beds, two night stands, wall lighting at bed, a small refrigerator, seat at dresser/desk, and TV with interactive features.  There is a large wardrobe with two drawers upper shelves and large hanging area with two doors.

The GS (Guest Services) staff is very friendly and nice. I see them each morning as I leave my cabin.  Our MDR waiter Julius is very efficient. My cabin steward was wonderful. Overall the crew is more friendly than the old MSC.  Most cocktail servers and bartenders provided very good service. Officers very friendly and helpful.

Dining / Food / Bars / Entertainment
Entertainment is the strong suit of MSC with very nice production shows and live music in most all venues. Cirque Du Soleil is a unique special show and you do pay a premium for that venue. In addition to the production shows they have ‘fun’ events scheduled every night in the various lounges. Also the Dome shows in the Galleria each night. The MDR dinners are good to very good, Buffet food is good to excellent depending on selections. The Marketplace pizza station, bread station, and salad bar are excellent. The MSC Meraviglia has some very beautiful lounges and bars with live entertainment, I try to visit most. My favorites were the Infinity Bar and the Brass Anchor this cruise

Black Card
— I received a dinner in a specialty restaurant, a Chocolate ship, two private Cocktail Parties, Champagne & Chocolate strawberries, a logo gift of a travel bag, a photograph, and more.   Good program.

Highlights of the Cruise
Geirangerfjord cruising and Excursion
Scenic Mountain Excursion from Flaam Norway
Butchers Block Steakhouse
Black Card Benefits

Monday, July 1, 2019

Carnival Vista Cruise Review

Carnival Vista Cruise Review

Just the Facts:
Ship:  Carnival Vista
Sailing:  December 1, 2019
Captain: Vittorio Marchu
Cruise Director: Matt Mitcham  -  Brand Ambassador:  John Heald
Ports: Galveston - Costa Maya, Mexico - Cozumel, Mexico - Galveston
Weather:  Very nice typical Caribbean weather

This is my 3rd time to cruise on the Carnival Vista, my 71st Carnival cruise, and my 144th cruise overall.  I am sailing solo. I booked only a few days before sailing and it was a very good value so I had to do it.  This is my first Carnival cruise in over two years and three months, so I’m sure some thing will be different.

Day One—Monday—Embarkation

Kindall, Matt & John during safety briefing!
I have enjoyed the departing later and arriving later at the pier scenario on previous Galveston cruises so again did so.  I left the ranch about 8:00 am and headed south to Galveston skipping my usual first stop in Hearne and drove through Houston stopping near Friendswood, TX at the local Chick-fil-A.  This served three purposes: added some gap time to port arrival, rest stop, and of course some great Jesus Chicken.  I do like their sandwiches.  I arrived at EZ Cruise parking about 12:30 and I was shuttled over to the Carnival Vista fairly quickly arriving at security about 1:00. No lines using Priority at this time so fairly quick through the boarding process.  You use your boarding pass to get through security and your cabin key is at your stateroom door when you arrive.  It was barely before the 1:30 cabin opening but my cabin was Priority ready.  I had already eaten a nice lunch so need to rush to the Lido buffet and since I rolled-on my duffle I was ready to set up my cabin.  First thing out was my fan and soon I was relaxed and unpacking.  Very nice interior cabin but limited storage unless your traveling solo as I am.  I pre-purchased a Wifi package and sent myself a gift of Bar Credit with some Carnival Gift Cards I had left over from previous cruises.  I made it to the Red Frog in time for a beer before muster drill and ran into some Diamond/Alchemy friends who also booked late.  My muster station D-3 was in the main MDR so it was an easy process. (photo above by Capt. Vittorio)  After drill I met a group of friends at the Alchemy Bar and it was only a short wait until they opened.  Unfortunately we have the Texas liquor laws that effect many cocktails but we made do.  As the moderator for the Carnival Alchemy Bar FB page I become familiar with comments about all the Alchemists and I was able to meet Mr. Aleksandar Petkovski.  He was new to me, but really lived-up to the comments and has a great following so must be a good Alchemist...and he is very good.  After enjoying two custom cocktails, I retired to cabin to rest and prepare for dinner.  I’m doing basically Anytime Dining, but they allow Diamond guests to go strait to the MDR whenever they are ready for dinner.  Jana, who I have known for many years is the Matre’D and really got me a great table when I went down about 8:00 pm.  I was joined by a long time Diamond friend so it was very nice.  The menu is the same as when I last sailed the Vista 2+ years ago.  I ordered:  Shrimp Cocktails (3), Roasted Tomato Soup, and the Grilled Pork Chop entree.  For dessert I ordered the Caramelized Phyllo With Caramel Cream, a Tiramisu, and Buttered Pecan ice creme as a sampler.  The Tiramisu was great.  After dinner I went to the Ocean Plaza and listend to the Jazz group Powerplay that was joined by brass section Triple Play of the orchestra for a few sets.  Very nice music but the highlight was when a young mid-30ish couple got up to disco much to the chagrin of their two pre-teen children.  They were great dancers but the crowd soon noticed the faces of the embarrassed children that stole the show.  The singers portable mic allowed her to join the kids and sing from their table.  It was a ‘had to be there’ moment that I really enjoyed.  I returned to the cabin went straight to sleep after a busy travel and first day on the Carnival Vista.
Day Two—Monday—at Sea
Vista Atrium area
Very smooth seas and I slept vert well.  About 9:30 am I went up to Lido deck passing through the very busy Marketplace breakfast buffets on the way to pool deck and the Blue Iguana for breakfast.  It was not as busy at BI and in fact I got two Huevos Rancheros with fresh fried eggs straight away.  IMHO one of the better breakfasts on Carnival ships.  I went down to the main lobby atrium area to Guest Services and I must say that this is the most disappointing area of Carnival Vista.  The atrium is very plain and has no Wow factor at all.  Most cruise lines feature this area of the ship some even having crystal staircases, not the case here.  I hope this is resolved by the time that the new Carnival Mardi Gras sails.  I spent the rest of the morning updating this review and doing some financial business.  The sodas I sent to myself and Chocolate Covered Strawberries were delivered midday so a snack before lunch.  At 2:00 pm I went up to deck 11 and the Mongolian Grill lunch in JiJi's.  Good and bad about the grill in its own dining area…you can not pick out the exact quantities of each item, more of one than another as you order from checklist.  It was very good, but I prefer more vegetables and meat and less noodles.  I can try to write that on order next time.  I did a walk about on deck just as we were experiencing a brief rain shower that sent guest scurrying about.  It did make for a short line at Guy’s so I had a plain sample burger…doesn’t count as official Gut's Burger yet.  A bit of a power scare this afternoon when the ship lost power for a short while…announcements where made by Matt and hopefully all is well. I relaxed in the afternoon then prepared to meet friends in the MDR for the Captain’s Gala dinner (formal night),  We met at 7:30 and were seated at a nice 6-top table.  I ordered the Sicilian Meatball Soup (excellent), a Spaghetti Carbonara (as starter & also very good), and the Slow Cooked Prime Rib as my entree.  Just after we finished our starters the ship began to lose power, off and on, fortunately our waiter grabbed our entrees and we enjoyed them in the low light.  Soon we had lost all power…oh my.  I was just happy we had been served and we were lucky that we moved up our dining time to 7:30 from 8:00 pm.  No dessert tonight.  Power was out about 40-45 minutes but they were able to restore it so most on late dining were able to eat even though it was later.  I decided to get back to the cabin and turn the air down as low as possible just in case we lost power again.  I had my Swedish Fish and Coca-cola for dessert tonight.  It was an interesting sea day on the Carnival Vista.

Day Three—Wednesday—Fun Day at Sea
Captain & Hotel Director keeping an eye on me at Diamond party.
Smooth seas overnight and no more power problems that I know.  We are still moving very slowly at only ~10 knots on the limited power we have.  This we knew thus the extended 8 day cruise as it takes longer to get to Mexico and back at these slower speeds.  The ship does go into dry dock when we return. I went down to the Horizon MDR for breakfast when it opened at 8:00 am.  I had a nice share table with nice guests and ordered: Hot Milk, Melon, Eggs Benedict, Bacon, Hash Browns, and Tomato Juice.  The Eggs Benedict were hard boiled, probably prepared before opening and overcooked while under lamp.  Service was great though.  Back to cabin as the stock market closes at noon today and I’m trying to add to a position, the internet is faster with yesterdays upgraded plan so that helps. At 11:00 am I went to the scheduled Diamond Guest reception held in the Limelight Lounge.  There are 47 Diamonds on board and about that number at the event.  It was good to meet old and new Diamond friends and Carnival friends including Capt. Vittorio Marchu, John Heald, and Hotel Director Alina, my new favorite.  I had  several Elderflower Spritzers and nice H’orderves.  Thank you Carnival it was a FUN gathering.  I went by the Pig & Anchor Smokehouse about 12:45 on the way back to the cabin and had a nice light lunch before my planned afternoon nap in the cabin. My nap went very well…I slept until 6:00 pm.  I again met friends at 7:30 at the Horizon MDR for dinner. Matre’D Jana got us an aft facing table so we could watch the sun set.  We had a Romanian waiter that recognized me so I showed her photos of food and sites from her hometown Brazov after we ordered.  Tonight I had: Shrimp Cocktail, Beef Lasagna (as starter), Mixed Greens, and the Braised Short Ribs entree.  For dessert I ordered the Cheesecake and Pot De Creme.  We were finished with dinner by 9:30 and I am rested so a full selection of activities on the ship this evening.  The feature show and Playlist production Studio VIP leads into the big White Night Party in the Atrium and later on Lido deck.  A real majority of guest are dressed in all white this evening and having a lot of FUN.  Casino and Comedy Club was also busy in addition to other entertainment in the lounges.  When I returned to the cabin there was a nice gift from the Brand Ambassador, Thank you, and I had a nice Ginger Ale and then retired.  It was a very nice day aboard the Carnival Vista.

Day Four—Thursday July 4th—Fun Day at Sea — Independence Day
Vista atrium today
Calm seas overnight and I slept very well.  I did not wake until 9:00 am when they made an announcement that we would divert to Cozumel to drop off an ill crew member this morning.  I hope they get medical attention as needed.  They are doing the Sea Day Brunch in the MDR but a long line when I got off elevator so I stayed on and went up to the Marketplace Buffett on Lido deck.  They had Eggs Sardou this morning so I had a nice NOLA style breakfast with Bacon and extras.  I then ate a bowl of fresh fruit outside on Lido deck aft as we were were in the Straits of Cozumel and they met the pilot boat to take the crew member ashore.  Beautiful day for deck activity and guests seem very happy.  Since there are very limited network stations on ship TV I’m glad I upgraded to the premium wifi plan, I can watch what I want on demand and get news as needed.  Friends had a table on Lido deck so I did some people watching then had a very nice Blue Iguana Mexi-Taco bowl lunch custom made for me:  lettuce on bottom, extra beef, cheese, onion, and pico de gallo, it was very nice.  We basically spent the day circling the Island of Cozumel but beautiful blue water and blue skies for it.  I made a trip to Cherries on Top to get some yummy candy then stopped by the Red Frog Pub.  I saw more friends and ordered a coca-cola to take to cabin for rest & relaxation time and sample candy.  I did make it to the Alchemy Bar for proper aperitifs this evening.  I had a Ray’s Cosmo and a Quick Fix and enjoyed them very much.  Although I haven’t been a regular, so far, I looked at the bar at one point and realized that I knew everyone there at main bar by name.  Old time Alchemy regulars.  I went to MDR dinner at 7:45 pm and we were seated right away (they were not busy) in a great feature table in center.  Thanks again Jana.  Tonight was the best meal of the cruise in my opinion.  I ordered:  Linguini with Italian Sausage as a starter, an Iceberg Lettuce wedge, Red Beet Carpaccio (2), and the Grilled Beef Tenderloin entree.  All was very good especially the steak and beets.  For dessert the Bitter & Blanc and Double Roasted Pineapple.  I especially wanted to see Caroline Picard in the late comedy show, I met her years ago and we both had our 50th class reunions this year.  I retired to the nice cool cabin to update this blog and browse the internet for a bit.  It was a nice relaxing day with good food on the Carnival Vista today.

Day Five—Friday—Costa Maya, Mexico
Vista in Costa Maya - 5 July 2019
Smooth seas overnight and I again slept well although up very early.  Beautiful weather as we approached the pier at Costa Maya.  We don’t officially arrive until 10:00 am but we were early so that always help with debarking the ship.  I did some early business online then went down for breakfast in the Horizon MDR about 9:20 a.m.  Nice share table with nice couples and Romanian waiter.  I ordered a big breakfast, Three Eggs over easy (came medium+), Bacon, Ham, Potatoes, Toast, Hot Milk, Tomato Juice, & Melon.  I actually ordered the Avocado Toast as an extra just to see what it was like and a guest ordered the Egg bowl, both of these are new items on the menu.  NEW: The Avocado Toast was very good and would make a nice light breakfast, it consisted of two pieces of toast with avocado spread over and a poached egg (correct, not over done), and additional slice of avocado. I would order this again.  I watched the old Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas dock along side during breakfast.  We are the only two ships docked here today.  We are here in Costa Maya late so I didn’t leave the ship until after the noon hour. Long walk down the pier and then through the shops of the port village until you reach the shuttles ($4) that take you to the village of Mahahual.  I made it there about 1:00 pm and walked south to Pez Quadro Beach Club now a part of the 40 Cañones Hotel by far the finest facility in the village.  Your not getting the bargain prices on beer, but a nice clean facility and bath rooms with a great bar and food.  I got an excellent table inside the restuarant/bar overlooking the beach and water and made a day of it.  I was later joined by friends old and new. They have my favorite Mexican beer: Bohemia.  I enjoyed several beers as well as a couple of Piña coladas.  The water was warm but the beach is very easy to access to cool off if needed.  I did take advantage of the beach massages too…$20 for a full 45 minutes…it was great.  Most cruise guests left early but I enjoyed the ocean breezes and some Guacamole and Pico de Gallo with the tourists staying locally.  It was very pleasant I really enjoyed the day.  I started back about 6:00 pm and was back onboard by 6:30 as requested.  By 7:00 pm I made the decision to clean up and stay in tonight with perhaps BLT’s from room service.  But I did an easy option of quickly heading up to the deck 10 Deli located on my aft elevator and getting sandwiches.  I was up and back in 8 minutes and enjoyed a BLT and a Reuben in the cabin…perfect.  Rest and sleep was the plan for evening.  It was a very enjoyable day in Costa Maya.

Day Six — Saturday — Cozumel, Mexico
Puerto Maya Pier Cozumel - Beautiful water
Smooth seas over night and I slept very well.  I’m not in a rush to debark as we sail late from Cozumel this evening. Full house of ships at both Puerto Maya and the International pier. A light shower early, but beautiful skies rest of the day.  I had a banana from the fruit bowl for breakfast and left the ship about 9:45 am.  Shared a taxi to San Miguel and went straight to Antonio's Barber Shop for my much needed summer haircut.  Martin was waiting with a cool shop on this hot and humid day.  Following my haircut I went down to Woody’s Bar and Grill and set up at table seven as I have been known to do when in town.  Mexican Coca-cola always tastes so good and I brought my yeti so the ice remained better than if we had glass on this humid day.  It wasn’t busy as yet so they watched my table and I ventured out to get a pedicure at Zensi Spa ($20), very relaxing I almost fell asleep.  Next it was over to Farmacias Similares for some medications.  With my errands complete it was back to Woody’s for another Coca-cola.  The wifi at Woody’s is very good and I appreciate that they allow me to make myself at home.  I ordered Chimichangas for lunch and they were excellent, first time to order them here, but I will again. Being a Saturday I did not have as much business to do from Coz HQ and since the heat and humidity were bad I decided to head back to the ship earlier than I had planned. I easily got a taxi ($8) and was back at Puerta Maya by 4:30 pm.  I did take my time in the port area before boarding, but I really enjoyed the cooling shower and clean clothes once I did get to the cabin.  It was nice to view the island and port on deck in the early evening hours since we didn’t sail until 7:00 pm. I went by the Alchemy Bar for a cocktail and captured a great photo of the team that I will use on the Alchemy Bar Fans FB page.  For dinner I went up to the Seafood Shack on deck 10 and had a Fish & Chips basket ($6) that I enjoyed on the outer deck.  Cabin time the rest of evening.  It was a good productive day in Cozumel.

Day Seven — Sunday — Fun Day at Sea
Vista Alchemy Bar team
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very sound until 9:00 am.  I do have a sore throat this morning that I actually felt coming on for a few days, upset with myself for not getting something at the farmacia yesterday.  It is a beautiful day and I will take it easy next two sea days.  I enjoy taking it easy.  I notice that we are making 14 knots on the return, so they can get more speed than what they were doing on the way south.  I went down to the Horizons MDR for breakfast at 9:45 and had a nice hot breakfast ordering what I thought would be easiest on the throat, the hot milk was very nice.  I am going by the axiom “feed a cold…starve a fever” so I don’t plan on missing any meals.  I was able to stream the FiFA Women’s World Cup finals this morning on my laptop and sat in the Havana Bar and watched the second half match and extra time.  The USA won over Netherlands 2-0. I was thinking warm and spicy Mongolian Grill for lunch, but cabin steward came by about 12:40 to clean so I went up earlier than I wanted and the line was of course tooooo long for me…beyond the elevators. I just stayed on elevator and went down to deck 5 to Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ, no line at all and seating.  A very nice lunch and nice ocean view.  Afterward I went to Cherry on Top for candy then the Red Frog Pub for Coca-cola.  I ended up visiting with friends in RFP a while before heading to cabin for nap time.   went to the Alchemy Bar for aperitifs about 6:00 pm, the regulars were there.  If one purchases the Cheers drink package then the Alchemy is the best value for your alcohol consumption since they have the premium alcohol and trained bartenders.  I went to the Horizon MDR about 7:30 for dinner and my party was again seated strait away at a window no less.  This was the second formal evening but very few dressed for it, one formal night is enough on a cruise IMHO.  The MDR was very busy though, good menu tonight.  I ordered:  Stuffed Mushrooms, Wild Rice, Gruyere and Chicken Soup, Fusilli with Mushroom Creme (as starter), and the Filet Mignon entree.  The steak was very good and cooked to order.  For dessert I had the Grand Marnier Souffle and Key Lime Mousse.  After dinner I did go to the Alchemy Bar for an after dinner drink, my choice was the Deal Closer.  Lots of activities on the ship this evening and kind of a bonus party night since we are taking an extra day returning to Galveston.  Guests were busy and happy.  It was another relaxing day for me on the Carnival Vista.

Day Eight — Monday — Fun Day at Sea
Carnival Vista - Sunset and Calm waters
Smooth seas overnight, this entire cruise has had as smooth of seas as I have experienced in a while.  We seemed to have slowed to about 11-12 knots with beautiful weather.  I was up very early…still a sore throat…so rest.  I did go down to the Horizon MDR for the Seaday Brunch about 10:00 a.m. and with just a short wait Jana got me a nice aft facing window table in the center.  This is my first experience with the NEW American Table Sea Day Brunch menu.  The Soups and Chicken are gone but they have added breakfast/brunch burgers and fine-tuned items.  The Steak & Eggs are still still a main choice.  I ordered hot oatmeal and hot milk again that felt wonderful on my throat.  I did go with the Steak & Eggs and both were prepared to order and correctly.  I also got a Huevos Rancheros plate just to sample and enjoy, it was also good.  It was a very nice and hardy breakfast for my final proper breakfast of the cruise.  I’m spending the day streaming some Netflix and relaxing. The Platinum/Diamond Party was held at 5:00 pm in the Liquid Lounge.  It was nice and a full room of people.  Usual Carnival movie and introduction of senior cruise staff. I spoke with the Hotel Director and she approved my plan for debarking in the morning (I’m sleeping in).  I only had Tito’s with ice as I wanted no mixers or fruit on my throat.  After the party I went to the liquor shop and bought some items to use up the cash balance of my OBC (on board credit).  This late on final day your allowed to carry away your liquor purchase.  I met friends at the Alchemy Bar for a final cocktail there then to the MDR for the final dinner of the cruise about 8:00 p.m..  It was a good menu, I ordered:  Escargots Bourguignonne, Caribbean Pepper Pot soup, Penne with Shrimp and Bacon, and the Prime Rib as an entree.  The Prime Rib was excellent, Pasta not to my liking, others good.  Traditional cruise Baked Alaska was the primary dessert tonight.  Final good byes to friends (including John Heald) this evening, it was nice to see so many old friends.  I was approached by a Ray’s Cruise Blog fan in the Alchemy, I really appreciate people telling me that they enjoy my Blog.  It was a FUN final sea day on the Carnival Vista.

Smooth seas overnight and we were docked very early.  As Hotel Director Alina promised they did not do early announcements inside the cabin, but with all the door slamming it was hard to sleep past 8:00 am.  I took my time this morning hoping most guests debark at usual times and I’ll be able to just roll off at my convenience. This is possible as they will not be boarding guests today due to the Vista going into dry dock following this cruise.  They did make the first in-cabin announcements about 8:15 am encouraging self-debark people to leave. I got out my bag and packed and had a banana from the fruit basket although they extended debark morning breakfast on the Lido buffet.  I rolled off about 9:45 a.m. and true I did not stop once I left the cabin as the line moved fairly well, but it was still rather busy, I think I should have just gone off at 7:45 a.m.  Too many had the same thoughts as I did.  U.S. Customs was easy…basically a wave through with my Passport Card. I was shuttled to EZ Cruise Parking by 10:15 and on my way north.  I stopped at Galveston Raceway ($2.33gal) for fuel and was off the island about 10:30 a.m. I took I-45 to the I-610 Beltway, to US-290, to Highway 6 to Bosque County.  I did stop at Chick-fil-A in College Station for a nice and interesting lunch. It was cow Appreciation Day and if dressed as a cow you received a free meal.  It was busy but fun.  Home to Twisted Oak Ranch at 2:50 p.m..

It’s great to sail with Captain Vittorio Marchu because I can use his great photos in my daily review.  I usually have to think about what to use but his are so good that I have to use his.  I suspect that Radu also being on board has inspired Vittorio to do more photos this week.  They have been brilliant.

As an older/experienced cruiser my activities will be much different from a newer cruiser as I will be doing fewer things on board simply because of the 'been there done that' factor. There is a variety of Activities, Shows, and Entertainment on board ship, but frankly I don't have the energy as I once did...Priorities do change over time. I do love to visit with guests and friends and of course I still love to cruise!!

Builder: Fincantieri Monfalcone, Italy
Maiden Voyage: May 1, 2016
Tonnage: 133, 500    Length: 1055 ft
Capacity: 3900 guests (double occupancy)  Crew: 1450

I have cabin 6447 an interior cabin located far aft on deck six on starboard side.  The room is a standard size interior with: key pad safe, hair dryer, refrigerator (empty), bench stool only, large flat screen TV, and good lighting. Small, simple, and well designed, but a lack of storage IMHO.  The air conditioning & water pressure worked very well, but I’m glad I brought my personal cabin fan for circulation.  Ideal as a solo cabin, maybe tight for two  guests.

Overall very good. My cabin steward Sidi and her team from the Philippines were very good I always had ice and clean cabin.  I didn’t have an MDR wait team, as I had a different waiter (usually) each night, all MDR staff were excellent.  Jana the Matre’D was very helpful.  The bartenders in the Alchemy Bar were fantastic. 

Highlights of the Cruise
Fun day in Maulhual Mexico
Cozumel Mexico -very productive day as usual
Alchemy Bar -even though I didn’t spend as much time there
Cabin Time -cool, mostly quiet, dark, & restful

Monday, June 10, 2019

Oklahoma 50th Class Reunion Weekend

This is not my normal travel review, only a short trip and not very exotic location, but I had such a wonderful time that I wanted to document it for myself as the weekend was so full of marvelous memories.  The DW and I are traveling to Oklahoma City for my Del City High School Class of '69 50th class reunion.  I'm also revisiting the famous Oklahoma Onion-fried hamburgers of my youth.

June 6th 2019  -  Thursday  -  Midwest City
Lizards - Class of '69
A nice day for travel.  We left Twisted Oak Ranch about 9:30 am and after a brief stop at Gary Creek Ranch to drop Maisie, our dog, we were heading north towards Oklahoma.  As a fan of good hamburgers I am combining my reunion with a tour of Oklahoma's famous onion-fried hamburgers.  First stop is in Ardmore Oklahoma at the Hamburger Inn in old downtown Ardmore serving burgers since 1938.  This is one of the original onion fried burger diners as the burger is a depression era innovation.  I ordered a double onion fried with fries and DW ordered Cheese Tots.  Good.  Also great pie and breakfast here.  We continued north to Midwest City and my DS/BIL's (dear sister/brother inlaw) new house.  Of course my DW had just recently decorated the home so she was very familiar.  We have the Africa room.   Only a short visit as we were soon off for our first function.  In High School I was a member of a group of twelve fun friends who decided we would really enjoy our senior year.  We had our signature look of v-neck sweaters, our own parking spaces, our own seats (row 1) in the auditorium, and more.  We were called the Lizards and we had the Lizard reunion in Edmond Oklahoma at Ted's Cafe Escondido.  Very good food and we had our own function room.  We had nine Lizards with spouses attend and it was a fantastic evening.  Each member in turn had to review several subjects including: founding of group, meeting your spouse, outlandish activities we did senior year, and more.  The memories were jogged and what a way to begin the reunion weekend.  A fun day.

June 7th 2019  -  Friday  -  Oklahoma City
Sid's Diner - El Reno, OK
My BIL fixed us a wonderful breakfast with his signature Pecan & Blueberry Waffles...very good.  We had a relaxing morning and the DW had a decorating / shopping project today.  So I was free to travel with a Lizard brother to El Reno Oklahoma the 'Onion-fried Hamburger Capital of the World'.  El Reno has an annul O-F burger festival and three excellent diners/restaurants featuring the onion-fried burger.  We chose Sid's a diner and I think the more traditional of the three.  I again had a double and onion rings.  It was fantastic and well worth the drive.  We then drove out to the old Fort Reno cemetery to see the graves of early military soldiers from the Indian Wars.  I checked into the host hotel, Hilton's Embassy Suites in the Medical district, about 3:00 and soon the DW was dropped off from her day of shopping.  The first official Reunion event was at 5:00 pm at the HeyDay Center in Bricktown, the great entertainment district in OKC.  It was a good Welcome Mixer and it was great seeing classmates.  I did have a new drink: Loaded Blue Moon.  I had some of the families season tickets for the Oklahoma City Dodgers so walked across the street and canal to the Bricktown Ballpark.  I was really more interested in seeing the ballpark architecture, statues of famous Oklahoma baseball players, the billboards, the local fans, and happenings on the field and concourse than the game itself.  It was fun, and we got to visit with DCHS class of '69 'MrBaseball' and his DW who attended with us.  We bailed in the 7th inning and drove the short mile back to the hotel to rest.  It was very enjoyable Class of '69 mixer and fun evening overall.

June 8th 2019  -  Saturday  -  Oklahoma City
Lunch at 1492 - OKC
I had a very nice hotel breakfast and then visited with classmates this morning.  For lunch the DW and I took the events chief organizer and an old 'sweetheart' out to lunch at 1492 a very trendy restaurant with a Latin/Mediterranean/OkieMex menu.  It's located in the new revitalize Mid-Town area of OKC and I was impressed with the neighborhood and food.  We ordered the specialty appetizers and various entrees.  All very good.  For dessert we had to have a Tres Leches cake and it was amazing.  Afterward we drove through the downtown area before returning to the hotel.  Not much time to rest before events began to unfold.  The hotel has a complementary happy hour so many classmates began early for apéritifs.  Our banquet area opened about 6:30 pm so the party moved there for the evening.  It was a nice large room with a nice bar set up and well decorated with DCHS memorabilia. Impressive.  Dinner was salad, a steak entree with vegetables, and nice dessert choice of Chocolate or Creme Cheesecake.  Our entertainment was Ronnie Kaye a very popular disc jockey from our days in the 1960's in OKC.  He was fantastic and had most of the crowd up and dancing.  I've never seen so many old folks dancing the night away.  There was plenty of time to visit classmates, see the old yearbooks and photos, and enjoy the evening.  Everyone really had a wonderful time.  Seems the next Class event will be in two years and will be a cruise...this will be most classmates 70th birthday year as well.  Yes I will be organizing that.  We retired about 10:45 p.m., no way I could make it to midnight, so the 81+ year old Ronnie Kaye outlasted me.  It was a great day with great old friends.

June 9th 2019  -  Sunday  -  Midwest City
Sunday School 50+ years on
About 7:00 a.m. we were wakened by alarms on the TV and from my telephone.  Seems a huge thunderstorm was passing through the Oklahoma City area.  DW was going to get to experience some typical Oklahoma weather.  This was not a tornado warning so not the full weather experience. Breakfast in the hotel was again good and a lot of classmates there to visit with as well.  The weather began to clear and we packed and checked out about 11:00 a.m.  We drove to Del City and met up with two of my old friends from Church 50+ years ago.  Eight of us had a delicious lunch at Ted's Cafe Escondido in Del City.  Another wonderful meal and visit.  At 2:00 pm we went to the beautiful  Del City Community Garden to meet other members of our 50 year anniversary Church youth group.  The weather was now completely clear and pleasant as we had an informative garden tour conducted by my BIL the Gardener and founder.  Another good reunion with friends.  Afterward we returned to the house in Midwest City and later visited with other family and friends.  Another great reunion day.
June 10th 2019  -  Monday  
J&W Burger & Fries
We slept very well and decided to head south by 9:30 am.  We drove to Chickasha and ate an early lunch at the J&W Grill.  Another of the original Oklahoma Onion-Fried burger diners.  These burger have more onions than the previous two and they apply onions twice in the cooking process.  I had a double and half order of fries, DW had tots.  Very very good burgers.  Hard to judge the best of the three, it depends on your 'like' of the onions.  Sid's and JW are best for me.  If your keen on the onions then JW,  if you prefer fewer onions then Hamburger Inn, if you want the middle ground then Sid's is you place.  Basically Hamburger Inn cooks the onions on the meat, Sid's mashes the onions into the meat, and J&W mashes the onions into the meat and then adds them on the meat again.  Four hour drive home from Chickasha and we traveled basically the old Chisholm trail (Hwy 81) most of the way.  Home by 4:00 pm.  An easy travel day home.

Truly the entire weekend was a highlight, but the Lizard gathering on Thursday night was a great prelude for the weekend.  The official events were wonderful and certainly exceeded my expectations...I thought it was an exceptional weekend.  As for food I enjoyed my Oklahoma onion burgers and the lunch at 1492 was really fantastic.  Of course visiting with Classmates, Friends, and Family was the best highlight of all.

More Photos:

Thursday:  Lizards & spouses

Friday: Fort Reno Cemetery

Saturday:  Ronnie Kaye

Sunday:  Del City Garden

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Liberty of the Seas Review / April 21, 2019

Liberty of the Seas Review  
April 21, 2019

Just The Facts:
Ship:  Liberty of the Seas  /  Class and Type:  Freedom Class Cruise Ship
Maiden voyage: May 19, 2007  /  Tonnage:  155,889  /  Length: 1112 feet
Cruise Director:
Ports: Galveston, TX - Cozumel, Mexico - Gerogetown, Grand Cayman - Falmouth, Jamaica
Weather:  Very nice typical Caribbean weather

This is my 5th time to cruise on the Liberty of the Seas, my 29th Royal Caribbean cruise, and my 143rd cruise overall.  I am sailing solo. I booked only a few days before sailing and it was a good value, enough that I had to do it.

Day One—Sunday—Embarkation
Sail away from Galveston  (click to enlarge)
I have enjoyed the leaving later and arriving later at the pier scenario on previous Galveston cruises so did so again.  There are so many VIP’s that it now actually creates problems at embarkation…so the later arrival is a much smoother process. I left the ranch about 7:45 am and headed south to Galveston arriving at EZ Cruise parking about 12:05 and I was shuttled over to the Liberty of the Seas fairly quickly. Unfortunately I discovered a huge glitch to my plan…they had not yet begun boarding.  Apparently there were over 2500 (non English speaking) foreign nationals that had to be processed though U.S. Customs and Border Security and that was not happening easily.  They did not have everyone off the ship until 1:30 and did not begin boarding until almost 2:00 pm.  By this time there was a mass of people ready to board.  It looks like this cruise will be a repeat as the vast majority of the guests look to be Mexican nationals, primarily extended families with lots of children. They did seem to take the delay in stride, better than experienced cruisers for sure.  I luckily had a line place holder so I was able to sit for half the waiting time and finally made it past security where the D+ status was recognized.  It was then 3:00 pm but I was on board soon afterward.  I dropped my bag in my cabin and went straight  to Lido where they were trying to close, in fact I insisted that they open the doors for me.  The staff should have known that with no guests from 11:00 am until 2:00 that there had to be many hungry guests still boarding.  Not a good move by Lido staff as they were delaying boat drill, the excuse they were using to close.  I was again lucky to get something to eat.  I went straight to my muster station on deck four, had my card scanned, then went into the lounge to sit and await safety instructions that was done in Spanish first, then English.  It was 4:45 when drill ended, I know exact time as the bar there opened and I had a complementary ginger ale and Mai Tai using my D+ card and bartender asked me the time.  Wow I can finally relax and not fight the unfortunate embarkation situation.  By the time I finished my cocktail the elevators were somewhat cleared and I was at my cabin and began unpacking.  Looks like everyone made it aboard as the ship pushed off and began sailing just a bit late.  Luckily I’m able to watch Galveston slip away from my starboard side balcony cabin.  Relaxing on my balcony I knew that as bad as the boarding process was today that it could have been worse if not for some luck and my cruising experience.  Since I rolled on my bag I began to unpack get set up for the week. There is a lot of room and storage especially for just one guest. I purchase the surf & stream Zoom internet package ($55 with discount) a reasonable price compared to Rotterdam earlier this month. I finished cabin set up and was cleaned up for dinner cocktails by 7:00, but as I looked at my card to confirm dining I see that I have a 5:30 dinner…well that wouldn’t be possible or even doable today.  I went up to deck 14 for cocktails and also surprised at how empty was the Diamond Lounge.  Usually they are using half of the Olive & Twist main lounge for overflow, but not today.  Very different day.  The good news was that Alexander made top notch Cosmopolitans…thank you sir.  About 8:00 pm I went to the Marketplace buffet on deck 11 for dinner.  I had roast beef from the carving station, a freshly grilled pork chop from specialty area, a small chicken marsala, nice mashed potatoes, and vegetables.  Rice pudding for dessert.  A nice meal.  Afterward I returned to the cabin went straight to sleep after a busy and somewhat difficult day.

Day Two—Monday—at Sea
Solarium adult pool
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I went down to the MDR for breakfast about 8:20 am and had a very nice fresh egg breakfast with hot milk too.  I spoke with a Maitre’D and no tables available for late main sitting, but she changed me to MyTime dining and said I should be fine from 8-8:15 pm and there should be sharing tables available.  The pool deck was already busy when I did a walk about mid-morning.  I did some travel agent business the rest of the morning, looks like two bookings to complete.  I went up to the Windjammer for lunch, they had nice Texas style ribs at the carving stations, the highlight though was a pistachio creme puff…it was wonderful.  Great weather with a breeze that keeps it nice and cool. The pool deck is body to body and this is a cruise of firsts this afternoon.  I have never seen so many little kids in one hot tub, I’ve never seen so many adults in a large hot tub at one time, I’ve seen chair hogs, but never choice table hogs in the buffet, I’ve never seen that many guests in the adult solarium pool, and I've never seen so many beautiful Latin ladies lined up in one continuous row of sun loungers on deck 12...I thought it was a advertising shoot. But everyone is in good spirits, must be that latin persona and the rum punch.  Heather, my cabin steward came by late, I’m last cabin on her list, but that’s fine I can work with that, I’ll just get early ice as needed.  Afternoon was cabin and balcony time.  Really nice to have that private balcony when public decks are so full of people.

Day Three—Tuesday—Cozumel, Mexico
Guacamole at Woody's Bar & Grill
Rolling seas overnight with high winds until we entered the Straits of Cozumel and then it was much smoother. It also looks like another perfect beautiful day.  We were docked and gangway open about 7:00 am.  I was awake so I thought I would leave early.  I had a banana from my fruit bowl and left the ship about 7:45 am. I had no problem at security nor getting a taxi that early ahead of the of majority guests.  I was in San Miguel about 8:00.  I thought that local time would be an hour later, but they changed last week and are now back on CST so I’m a full hour ahead of schedule.  It was a beautiful morning in the plaza and I made my way to El abuelo Gerado for a nice Yucatán breakfast.  In northern Mexico and Texas we have Huevos Rancheros, but it the Yucatán the local breakfast dish is Huevos Motuleños.  The eggs are sunny-side up on a tortilla with local sauces and extras, and served with plantain and frijoles negros.  Very good food and they had wifi as I passed some time drinking a Coke.  My barber Martin saw I was early (Facebook) so he came by and opened up his shop located next door so I could my hair cut strait away. Thanks Martin.  After my haircut I went down to my Cozumel HQ at Woody’s Bar & Grill.  I got my favorite table 7 and had a very busy morning in the Mexico office. Quoted a cruise, made final pmt. on river cruise, and deposited a cruise. Also my new phone plan includes Mexico so an added bonus if needed.  I had my nice Mexican Coca-cola then eventually Woody’s fine Guacamole & Pico de Gallo with a Bohemia cerveza.  I made my visit at the pharmacy for antibiotics then went to Zensi Spa for a much needed Pedicure since I ran out of time last visit.  Zensi Spa was wonderful...nice and clean, friendly staff, and the price was right @ $20USD. I took a taxi ($8) back to the pier about 3:30. I appreciated the fact I brought my personal cabin fan when I got back to the cabin to cool off and rest.  The feature show Saturday Night Fever was tonight at 6:00 and 8:30 in the theater, a good show but I have seen it a few times and passed on attending.  After a few hours I was hungry since I didn’t have a full lunch  today so I went to the MDR for YourTime dinner about 6:00 pm.  I ordered: the Escargots à la Bourguignonne, Spaghetti Bolognese, and the Braised Short Ribs entree with Crème Brûlée for dessert.  A very good meal.  After dinner I went up to the Diamond Lounge for my Cosmopolitans before retiring to the cabin.  It was a productive day in Cozumel and on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Four—Wednesday— Georgetown, Grand Cayman
A Grand Cayman Tender view from above
Calm seas overnight and I slept very well although up early.  The weather is again perfect. I went to the MDR this morning for a nice breakfast trying the Eggs Benedict with Bacon, Hash Browns, mixed Fruit, and my hot milk.  Very good breakfast and we arrived at Georgetown as I finished.  We are anchored along with the Carnival Paradise, NCL Edge, and a Pullmantur ship today, but I have decided to stay on the ship.  Today I’m starting to binge watch a popular TV series I missed (living in the country with limited access) called MadMen.  I enjoyed doing this last cruise and we still have two full sea days coming so I hope to see a lot of it before we end the cruise.  I did break for a late lunch and they served a Mongolian Grill plate and Hearts of Palm salad from Jade.  I also found some large Minute Steaks in the Windjammer so a very nice meal for a port day. The rest of the day was cabin time and streaming video.  The wifi is actually very good, much better (and cheaper) than the Rotterdam wifi on previous cruise.  I watched sail away from Georgetown, some day they will have a pier here, but the tendering seems to be improved.  I skipped cocktails this evening and only had light snacks since I had such a nice late lunch.  More Madmen this evening and I actually completed the full first season today…I very interesting show.  It was a very relaxing day on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Five—Thursday—Falmouth, Jamaica
Historic Falmouth Cruise Port
Fair rolling seas overnight and I slept well.  Nice weather as the breeze kept it fairly nice all day.  We were docked at the Falmouth cruise terminal by the time I went to the MDR for breakfast at 8:30 am.  I had a nice fresh 3-egg breakfast with ham, sausage, bacon, hash brown potatoes, and fruit.  I have no excursion planned but about 10:00 am I went for a walk around the Historic Falmouth Cruise Port.  Created in 2011 and located in Jamaica's north coast town of Falmouth the port is positioned between the popular ports of Ocho Rios (60 miles west) and Montego Bay (18 miles east).  The port is well guarded and closed to locals, save for Jamaicans who work at the dozens of shops and handful of restaurants. With a faux-Georgian terminal building leading to a large square bordered by red-roofed, Caribbean-style buildings housing various businesses, the port may strike you either as attractive or as artificial and Disney-esque, depending on your point of view. Most guests visit Margaritaville, I had a malt from the DQ and listened to the live local band performing in the courtyard area but was back on the ship by noon.  We were the only ship so it was not busy today.  After a nice lunch from the Windjammer I had serious binge watching time in the cabin.  I’m watching MadMen and to me it’s more relaxing than a book that many guests seem to do on a cruise.  The view from the cabin was very nice too.  I went up to the Diamond Lounge for nice cocktails this evening, the usual guests and servers were there.  Still amazed at how few Diamond guests are on this sailing.  About 8:00 pm I went to the MDR for dinner, not a sharing table, but the two tops are basically the same as they are so close.  I ordered a very nice Crab Cake, the Spaghetti Bolognese (my pasta as starter), the Sliced Roast Beef entree, and the Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert.  I retired after dinner.  It was a very nice day in Falmouth and on the Liberty of the Seas.

Day Six — Friday — Day at Sea
Smooth seas over night and I slept very well.  I did my blog/review updates this morning before going up to the Windjammer for breakfast.  The pool decks were already filling up with guests when I walked by them after breakfast…as the weather is great. I had balcony time this morning before I started my binge viewing of Madmen videos.  I was able to get through the entire season three just taking a break for lunch and dinner in the Windjammer.  I even skipped cocktails this evening.  They have plenty of activities on the ship today such as  Arts & Crafts, Sudoko Challenge, Music Trivia, and Liars Club, but I’m preferring my primary activity today.  When you have a LOT of cruises your really do not feel any pressure to do anything or worry that you are missing something.  You have the freedom to do whatever you wish.  I really enjoy catching up on these great TV series that I missed when we really didn't have Wifi in the country.   I was another very relaxing day on the Liberty of the Sea.

Day Seven--Saturday--Day at Sea
Main Dining Room at breakfast
Smooth seas overnight and negligible movement in the cabin and I slept very well.  Another beautiful day today as we sail north in the Gulf of Mexico.  I went to the MDR for a very nice breakfast, the eggs, ham, bacon, toast, potatoes were all good.  After breakfast I had a walk around and enjoyed the sea breeze.  Balcony time and videos when I returned to the cabin.  About 3:00 pm I went to deck 12 and Johnny Rocket’s for lunch/dinner. They brought an Onion Ring & French Fry combo straight away and I ordered a Route 66 and an original hamburger.  I liked the Route 66 much better (mayo, fried onions & mushrooms) and my Vanilla Shake as well.   After lunch it was cabin time and I finished season five of Madmen.  I really enjoyed it very much. I packed for tomorrows debarkation and skipped dinner, but it was off to say farewell to friends made in the Diamond lounge and final Cosmopolitans for the cruise.  Activities on the ship today included:  the production show-In The Air, Battle of the Sexes, Dreamwork’s Parade, 3D Movie, and more. It was a relaxing and great final day on the Liberty of the Seas.


Smooth seas overnight and we were docked well ahead of the Captain’s time stated yesterday.  I suspected they were beginning Self-debarkation early so I went down about 7:30 am and basically never stopped longer than a few minutes at any station along the way.  They make good use of the deck 4 open deck with the ship check-out outside just before the gangway.  Customs went easy as well.  It was a mess when I debarked in October.  I took the EZ Cruise shuttle to the car, but I had a panic when I could not find my car keys.  I always put them in my backpack, but overlooked them a dozen times before I actually found them exactly where they were supposed to be.  Even with this 20 minute delay I was still on the road and on my way about 8:30 am. (Galveston Raceway gas price $2.55) and off the island about before 9:00 am. I took I-45 to the Beltway, to 290, to Highway 6 to Bosque County.  I did stop at Ama’s Restaurant in Hearne for great brunch Migas.  Home at the ranch about 1:45 pm..