Monday, May 22, 2017

Regal Princess Baltic Cruise Review



 Regal Princess Baltic Cruise Review
May 22, 2017


Just the Facts:
Ship: Regal Princess (2014)
Captain: Tim Stringer
Hotel Director: Richard Harry
Cruise Director:  Kelly Rose
Ports: Copenhagen - Oslo - Warnemunde - Tallin - St. Petersburg - Helsinki - Stockholm - Copenhagen

This is my 22nd Princess cruise, the first time on the Regal Princess, and 129th cruise overall.  I am cruising with the dear wife (DW) and this is also her first cruise on the Regal.  I have never cruised the Baltic so this a certainly a cruise I am looking forward to experiencing.

Sunday-Monday / Travel /  Embarkation / May 21-22, 2017 / Day 0

KLM Airlines
We left Carnival Breeze about 8:30 am on Sunday and made our way to George Bush airport in Houston arriving about 11:00 am after parking our car at FastParkRelax remote lot.  Since we were arriving early both the KLM check-in and TSA Security was a breeze and we could relax and use the Airport wifi until boarding of our KLM flight about 2:30 pm.  First time to fly on KLM and there is more leg room and good food, but the entertainment system was not functioning and nine hours is a long time to endure a long overnight flight.  We were just happy to get off in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport at 7:00 am local time, but the worst was yet to come.  Our short KLM flight to Copenhagen boarded at 9:20 am plenty of time we thought…but no…we had a two hour wait standing in line for Passport Control.  In addition to being stressful standing for two hours after a nine hour flight we began to wonder if we would even miss the connection.  We made it but just barely, I know I will never fly through Amsterdam Schiphol again…never.  Arrival in Copenhagen was better and the baggage was a easy.  We had Princess transfers so we checked our bags with Princess and didn’t have to deal with them.  The bus from the airport to cruise terminal took about 45 minutes, but we did drive through town and saw some sites along the way.  That and the nice weather began to lift our spirits…we were certainly not in Texas any longer.  There is a seven hour time difference from Texas to Denmark. Overall it was almost exactly 24-hours in travel time from the Port of Galveston to the Port of Copenhagen. 

Monday / Embarkation - Copenhagen / May 22nd / Day 1
First Baltic Sunset
We arrived at the Regal Princess about 1:00 pm. and security was not difficult.  We finally got to skip a long line with our Elite status on Princess as we were immediately checked-in and proceeded to board the ship.  There is a WOW factor…the Lobby or Piazza area look great.  We went to our balcony cabin on deck nine and DW settled down for a needed nap and I went up the the Horizon Grill on Lido for a nice salad then a nap.  Preparations for muster drill started about 4:00 pm so we soon took our Life Jackets to our muster station and listened to the instructions.  Our bags also arrived just before safety drill…yea.  The Horizon opens for dinner at 5:30 so we went up to eat about 6:00, DW had a great Salad and I had a very nice Pasta.  After dessert we found the Cloud Nine Bar, this is the specialty designed bar for Elite and Suite guests.  Great h’orderves as usual and I ordered a Mojito ($5.75).  This is a much better space than having this daily Elite event in another space or lounge.  DW found a nice new nautical top to purchase in the shops while I listened to a great Jazz group in the Piazza.  We returned to the cabin and watched us sail away from Copenhagen and it felt good to shower off all that travel and get into relaxing clean clothes as we sailing into the sunset and enter the Baltic sea.  The day got better as it went along…a nice first day on the beautiful Regal Princess.

Tuesday / Oslo / May 23rd / Day 2
Regal Princess & Akershus Fortress
Smooth seas overnight and we both slept very well.  We had room service delivered about 8:30 am and we ate our breakfast as we sailed up the Oslo Fiord on this bright sunny and somewhat chilly morning.  We were docked by 10:00 am below Akershus Castle. This is our second visit to Oslo so we are enjoying our morning and allowing it to warm up a bit before debarking and it did became a beautiful Spring day.  I had lunch in the Horizon Grill: Lamb with mint jelly, Brest of young hen from carving station, Mashed Potatoes, Meatballs in tomato sauce, and more.  We left the ship about 1:00 pm ready for our lovely day in Oslo.  The primary cruise ship pier is well within walking distance of the city center, but I was a bit lazy and we did the Hop-on Hop-off train.  My plan was to get to the Royal Palace, one of the highest points in the city then walk down hill the rest of the day.  The train did get us fairly close.  Palace tours of the interior do not begin until June, but we enjoyed the beautiful grounds, wonderful views, and the Changing of the Guard.  As we were on the backside of the palace and looking through the back gate we noticed a limo pull into the main entry (yes into the interior entry) from the back doors.  Unusual we thought but as we determined later as we walked down from the palace they were picking up King Harald as his motorcade then passed us as we approached Karl Johans Gate.  We spent time on the beautiful boulevard and park enjoying ice creme and the weather.  As we headed back by Oslo University we noticed the motorcade and some activity so we got luckily into the inner photographer station and only waited a few minutes and King Harald V appeared.  Hello King of Norway…nice  to see you.  Following our visit with the King we took the HoHo train around to Acker Brygge the location of the former old docks and now restored as trendy boutiques, shoppes, restaurants, and businesses. The area was packed with locals enjoying the exceptionally nice weather. I enjoyed several Ringnes beers and DW an Elderflower Spritzer at Lekter’n a famous very Norwegian Bar & Restaurant.  It was good beer and a great people watching experience.  After beers we walked along the docks, visited City Hall, enjoyed a Crepe, and returned to the cruise terminal arriving back on the ship after 6:00 pm.    I went to the Horizon Grill about 8:00 and they have an excellent dinner set up including wine service…very nice.  I attended the Norwegian Folk Show in the Princess Theater at 9:00 pm it was nice…I’m pretty familiar with the costumes since I live in a Norwegian community.  Amazing that it is still daylight at 10:00 pm…we are so far north and approaching long days…beautiful late views, we got to see a sailboat race across the harbor from our balcony side we don’t sail away until 11:00 pm.  It was a wonderful day in Oslo.

Wednesday / Day at Sea / May 24th / Day 3
Østbroen Bridge
Again very calm seas over night and another good nights sleep. We again had room service for breakfast.  Princess is one of few cruise lines that serves a nice warm breakfast sandwich option for mornings, most are just a continental breakfast.  I also had melon and citrus as well as hot milk.  It’s another sunny day and we are enjoying a relaxing morning with wonderful views from the balcony on this sea day. We went to lunch about 1:30 in the Horizon Court…they have really altered the menu to offer a large variety of Asian foods since half the guests are Asian.  Interesting.  I worked on airport transfers for the end of the cruise and got those arranged, but used a lot of my internet time.  I’m still on the original 250 minutes allotted to the Elite guests for now.  At least the internet is working very well this week.  With the hourly system guest do log out when not online.   We also had an easy afternoon but I did a walk about ship and guests were sitting in the sun on Lido Deck and there were activities all over the ship.  We went to dinner in the Concerto Dining Room…very classy room with wonderful place settings and table cloths…we actually had a table for two at a window.  Tonight I ordered: Shrimp Cocktail, Spaghetti Carbonara, Yorkshire Pudding: Roast Beef with Horseradish-Carrots-Peas-Potatoes, and two desserts: Ice Creme selection and Vanilla Creme Brûlée.  We retired to the cabin after dinner and about 10:00 pm we sailed under the famous Østbroen Bridge. It was very cool as the ship’s horns played the theme to the Love Boat as we passed under…got a kiss from my sweetie too.  It was a very nice relaxing sea day on the Regal Princess.

Thursday  /  Warnemunde, Germany  /  May 25th / Day 4
Schwerin Castle - great excursion
Calm seas and another good nights sleep. We had an early room service breakfast as we needed to meet our excursion at 7:30 am.  We booked the Regal Princess’ Schwerin Castle, Lake Schwerin Cruise & Rostock excursion and were on the bus and on our way by 8:00 am. We had an hour+ drive to the town of Schwerin located in a forested area with several lakes and a historic castle in the Mecklenburg area of northern Germany.  Our first stop was for a photo op of Schwerin Castle from above the beautiful park area, after which we enjoyed a 30-minute boat ride on Lake Schwerin, Germany's third-largest lake with unique views around Schwerin Castle.  Leaving the boat we had a walking tour of the city of Schwerin, the old market square, and Schelfstadt district, popular for its very old half-timbered houses.  We then boarded a trolley train for a short tour of other areas of Schwerin.  Finally it was time to visit the very unique Schwerin Castle itself.  We enjoyed a guided tour of the former living, social, and ceremonial rooms...now used by the palace museum to exhibit pictures, sculptures, furniture, weapons, medals, jewelry and other objects d'art. We saw the grand living quarters and the ceremonial rooms including the ancestral portrait gallery and the beautiful throne room.  After the tour we had lunch at a local restaurant along the lake shore adjacent to the castle.  It was a nice meal and following we boarded our buses for the drive to Rostock.  We had a tour of Rostock then stopped for an inside visit to St. Mary's Church, the most famous of Rostock's seven medieval churches. Constructed in the 13th century, St. Mary's features an exquisite, working astrological clock that is today maintained by the mathematics faculty of the University of Rostock.  We arrived back at the ship about 5:00 pm.  After a brief cabin visit we went down to the Club 6 Lounge as it was both Shrimp Fountain day and Cosmopolitan cocktail day for the Elite guests.  We did take advantage of both until the 7:00 pm last call.  We went down to the International Grill for a dessert and cookies, our first visit there, but DW discovered some perfect vegetarian snacks there so we will return.  While on deck five we visited the Gelato Shop and I enjoyed a nice sampling of gelato while listening to Prestige the wonderful jazz group performing in the Piazza.  No need for dinner tonight so we retired to the cabin to relax from such a busy excursion day.  We turned our clocks forward one hour tonight and will be the same as the next four ports.  It was a great day in Germany and the Regal Princess.

Friday / Day at Sea / May 26th / Day 5
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well, almost too well, I didn’t get up until after 10:00 am.  We did play the special Sleep Music available on the interactive TV system for the first time so that may have had a part in the nice sleep.  We have a special luncheon at noon so I had some fruit and a cookie for breakfast.  The Captain's Luncheon was for the Elite passengers with the most days traveled and I was very happy that I received the invitation. We met at Sabitini’s on deck five and everyone had their photo taken with the Captain as we entered. We had individual printed menus and place cards…very classy.  As a starter I ordered the Symphony of Seafood: Cured Salmon, Ahi Tuna Poke, & Lobster Medallions.  My entree was Sterling Beef Chateaubriand with Napoleon Vegetables, the other choice was Pan Seared Halibut.  DW had the Freshly-made Leek and Potato Ravioli,  For dessert we had Love Boat Temptation:  White chocolate and peach melba mousse, raspberry rose center and sable breton.  They also served a selection of Petit Fours.  My food was outstanding and prepared perfectly.  DW did some shopping and I returned to the cabin with the mementoes of the luncheon and to do the paperwork for our debarkation transfer.  This afternoon we watched the recent movie The Accountant with Ben Affleck, a great movie.  One that would never be shown at the Cliftex back in Bosque County. 






Monday, May 15, 2017

Carnival Breeze Cruise Review May 14, 2017

 Carnival Breeze Cruise Review 5/14/17

Just the Facts:
Ship: Carnival Breeze
Captain: Vincenzo Alcaras
Hotel Director: Damir Mrsic
Cruise Director:  Schwartz
Ports: Galveston - Cozumel Mexico - Belize - Isla Roatan - Galveston

This is my 70th Carnival cruise, the 6th time on the Carnival Breeze, and 128th cruise overall.  I am cruising with the dear wife (DW) and this is her first cruise on the Breeze.  i am looking forward to the updates on the ship as the Breeze has just come from a dry dock the week prior.

Sunday / Travel /  Embarkation / May 14, 2017 / Day 1
Newly added Alchemy Bar
We left the ranch about 8:00 am well after our former usual scheduled departure time as I have found it easier to take our time and board after the initial rush.  We stopped at the Waller Buc*ees and then arrived at EZ Cruise Parking about 1:00 pm. We were shuttled with our bags over to the ship soon afterward.  Priority works very well at this time as we bypass the long line outside the terminal. We were checked in at the ViFP priority check-in area and boarded about 1:30 pm.  it was a smooth process.  DW checked her bag And I wheeled my large duffle on board with me to our cabin on Main deck (deck two) and relaxed for a bit and then began setting up.  We did go to Lido for a lunch, Mongolian Grill for me, then returned to finish cabin set-up before muster drill.  Our muster location for the Safety Drill is inside the Ovation Theater.  Following we went to the Alchemy Bar for a cocktail. The Alchemy is newly installed and located in the Ocean Plaza area.  They actually sell some beers and wine due to its location in center of the ship and being the only bar in the area.  We had a nice visit with the Alchemists Brian and Antal. Very soon we were sailing away and we took a walk about the ship to familiarize DW with the Breeze and get a soft serve ice creme.  We did notice the new Pandora retail shop on board. DW’s bag was delivered by the time we arrived back at the cabin and we met our cabin steward Ferry.  We had a nice lazy evening.  We watched the movie Keeping Up with the Jones’s and ordered room service…I had two wonderful BLT’s. So no MDR nor Welcome Show for us tonight, but a nice relaxing and restful evening.  It was a very nice first day aboard he Carnival Breeze.

Monday / Fun day at Sea / May 15th / Day 2
Damir, DW, Milan, Moi at Diamond party
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I went up to Lido deck to get a nice Huevos Rancheros breakfast from the Blue Iguana, very nice.  I took a continental breakfast back to the cabin for DW.  We relaxed in the cabin and watched a movie while preparing for the Diamond Guest gathering at 11:00 am in the Piano Bar.  We were sitting  in the outer area of the Piano Barr 88 when they opened the door for the Diamond event. It was good to see crew that I know including Hotel Manager Damir and Beverage Manager Milan.  There were only four Diamonds in attendance.  We had a nice visit with the Captain about Sicily. They served very nice h’orderves & a dessert and of course the Bellini cocktails were very good.  We did take advantage of the full hour of hospitality.  The piano bar on Breeze is unique in that it can be closed for a private party or in it’s usual open concept with areas extending into the promenade.  We went down to the Blush Restaurant for the final hour of the Sea Day Brunch, I had the Tomato Soup and the Hey Pork Chop with Banana Creme Pie for dessert.  When we returned to the cabin there was the usual chocolate plate for ViFP’s delivered on Captains Cruise Elegant night…the rest of the afternoon was cabin time for movies or nap as needed.  We had decided we were not going to eat in the MDR this cruise, so about 7:30 we went up to the Lido Marketplace for dinner.  I had Spaghetti Carbonara, Stuffed Chicken Breast, Roast Beef, Baked Potato, Fresh Broccoli, Mushroom Soup, and Key Lime Cake.  A great meal.  Following dinner we went to the Piano Bar 88 to meet Milan for cocktails. I was able to visit with my favorite Carnival bartender and friend Jana. I successfully sneaked in the bar and ordered a Jana-88 cocktail from the server so she didn’t see me or know I was there until she got the order.   A nice surprise.  We ended up staying for a full long set of Piano Entertainment by Gregg.  It was a fun evening, thank you Milan, Jana, and Tatiana.  We retired after 11:00 pm to the cabin.  The Platinum/Diamond gift was delivered tonight: a compact travel backpack.  It was a great sea day on the Carnival Breeze.

Tuesday / Cozumel Mexico / May 16th / Day 3
Puerto Maya Pier
Smooth seas overnight and we both again slept very well.  We were docking at Puerto Maya pier about 7:30 am so that was basically a wake up call as they began announcements about 8:00 am.  I went down to the Blush MDR for breakfast.  The assistant Maitre’D recognized me and asked why I had not been to the MDR…they have a two top table for us.  Maybe soon.  As guests were filing off the ship I had a nice breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, ham, hash browns, melon, and more.  The Breeze is the only ship in Cozumel today so it was easy to get a taxi when we left the ship about 10:00 am.  We went by the San Miguel church, then Antonio’s Barber Shop for my much needed haircut.  DW did some shopping then we ended up at  Woody’s Bar & Grill our Cozumel HQ.  The Coca-Cola’s, Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Bohemia beer, fast internet, and live music by Pako were great as usual.  Before leaving town we purchased some pharmaceuticals then taxi back to Puerto Maya.  We were early so shopped a bit and purchased some Vanilla at Cinco Soles.  Smooth process boarding and we were soon resting in the cabin from the very warm day.  Our cabin was a very nice 68°.  About 4:00ish I had a Guy’s Burger and DW Guy’s Fries.  The Playlist Production tonight was 88 Keys one of the better shows in the Ovation Theater.  As we have seen the show several times we enjoyed the evening doing a little walk about on deck and noticed the large number of guests watching the outdoor movie on Lido deck.  We relaxed this evening in the cabin with our own movie time.  It was a very nice Cozumel Day.

Wednesday / Belize / May 17th / Day 4
Reflection in Cucina Restaurant window deck 11
Again very calm seas over night and another great nights sleep.  I went to the Blush MDR for a repeat of yesterdays breakfast, it was even better.  I barely made it to the Banana bread station before they took them off, but I bagged the rest for DW and the cabin.  Beautiful day today in Belize and guests are tendering away to get to shore.  We’re going to stay on the ship.  We enjoy staying on the ship on some port days as you have better use of the ship; however, looks like a lot of other guests have the same idea today as the pools are relatively full. It was very warm on deck so in the pool was a relief.  Just after noon we went to the Cucina Del Capitano for a nice Italian lunch. You select your own pasta, sauces, and toppings in a pasta bowl that is prepared for you. I had two Pasta Bowls as I like two different styles: A linguini with tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes only, and Bowtie pasta with chicken, sausage, onions, & zucchini with Bolognese sauce.  Sides are bread and Caesar Salad.  It was a very good lunch and free during the day, there is a service charge for the premium menu in the evening. The food was very good and it was not too busy on this port day.  This afternoon we had a Better Call Saul marathon.  I had previously downloaded season one so we watched the first four episodes.  A very good show.  At 7:00  pm we went down to the Piano Bar to visit with Jana and Tatiana before they get busy and enjoy some cocktails.  DW had not seen the show Flick so we got seats in upper center to enjoy the show.  It’s probably the most unique show on Carnival with the use of fans and graphics.  I had seen it several times on the Breeze and Vista and thought this the weakest cast, but still a good show.  After the show we retired to the cabin and ordered room service.  I wanted to try the delivered Pizza and it arrived in about 40 minutes.  It was awful, but at least I now know.  The Pizza Plus station on Lido has much better pizza. Fortunately I also ordered Buffalo Wings and they were good although not great.  Based on tonight and previous orders, the french fries are the only good items of the ‘pay’ portion of menu, I will stick with the tried and true items on the free side of room service in the future. We watched another late episode of Saul before retiring.  It was a nice port day ON the Carnival Breeze.

Thursday  /  Mahogany Bay, Roatan Island, Honduras  /  May 18th / Day 5
Calm seas with a few rolls overnight and another good nights sleep.  The ship thrusters woke us about 7:00 am as Mahogany Bay is a difficult bay to enter for large ships. We were docked by 8:00 am but we are being lazy this morning.  I did go to Blush MDR just before the 9:00 am closing for a wonderful Eggs Benedict breakfast.  DW had room service breakfast.  We got off the ship and only walked around a few shops and the craft area of Mahogany Bay port area.  It was very hot and humid day so we returned to the ship's cool Lobby Bar for a wonderful Mango Daiquiri.  Then we both and a wonderful lunch, I had a great Mongolian Grill and she a Taco Bowl from the Blue Iguana.  Soft Serve ice creme for dessert.  The rest of the afternoon was a Better Call Saul marathon of three episodes.  We went up to the Lido Marketplace for dinner about 7:00 pm.  I had every entree offered in the MDR and two of four (Breaded Chicken and Turkey from carving station) were excellent.  Salad and Baked Potato sides and Apple Plum Pudding for dessert.  After dinner we stopped by the Piano Bar for a cocktail with Janna.  The primary entertainment was Hasbro, the Game Show, but we retired to the cabin for DW’s regular network TV shows and I updated this review and worked on a possible fall trip to the Balkans.  It was a relaxing day in Roatan and the Breeze.

Friday / Fun day at Sea / May 19th / Day 6
Alchemy Beer - a first
Smooth seas with only a few minor bumps overnight and I slept very well. I was up early and had a good internet connection…it has been poor wifi most of the cruise.  I went to the Blue Iguana for Huevos Rancheros for breakfast and DW had room service as usual.  It’s a beautiful day and very pleasant on deck this morning. There are a lot of activities today: Towel Animal Theater, The Military Appreciation Gathering, Trivia, Ice Carving, Bingo, and more.  We did a walk about and enjoined the sea air this morning and we had Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ.  I enjoyed the pulled Pork Butt, BBQ Chicken, Slaw, & Bread. DW had the Macaroni & Cheese (served cold…more of a macaroni salad), Potato Salad, & Slaw.  It is an improvement from Jimmy’s C-side BBQ.  They also serve Beef Brisket, Sausage, Greens, BBQ Beans, and more.  This afternoon we did several more episodes of Better Call Saul.  About 4:30 pm I went up to the Alchemy Bar and had a few Pilsner Urquell beers.  The first beers I’ve ever been served at an Alchemy Bar.   I also tried a new cocktail (for me) a Death in the Afternoon a Ernest Hemingway inspired drink consisting of Absinthe and Champagne.  Very dry, very strong, and very good.  The Breeze Playlist Production show tonight was:  County Road,  a journey of the Ramsey Boys singing selections of the places they visit and people they see…Carnival really needed a new country themed production and this will please many guests and good choice for the Breeze.  We really just had a few assorted snacks this evening and again skipped the MDR.  Not really missing it and now actually making an effort to skip it this cruise...just for a new experience.  Good music and comedy on the ship tonight and I did catch the Carnival Breeze orchestra section (Yes a live band on the Breeze) in the Ocean Plaza.  It was a relaxing and Fun sea day on the Carnival Breeze.

Saturday / Fun day at Sea / May 20th / Day 7
Smooth seas overnight and we had a nice sleep on this our final sea day. We had room service
Our porthole cabin
delivered about 8:00 am and about 10:15 am I went down to the Blush MDR for a proper Sea Day Brunch.  I had banana nut bread, the fruit plate, steak & eggs, bacon side, potatoes, and more.  It was a very good and filling breakfast.  Guests were on deck enjoying the perfect weather this morning.  DW began some packing.  We did a mid-day walk about and amazingly the lines for Blue Iguana were longer than I had ever seen, I guess many waited until the last day to try it.  Also a big line for the Chocolate Extravaganza.  We watched a few more episodes of Better Call Saul in the afternoon then I went up for a Guy’s Burger about 4:00pm.  The big event for us today is the Diamond Platinum party at 5:00 in the Limelight Lounge.  We had as many cocktails as we wished and they provided nice hors d'oeuvres and entertainment.  Also nice seeing the officers and staff again. Schwartz, the Cruise Director, did a good job and i actually won the award for senior Diamond on the cruise with 508 days. DW had 248.  It was a party night for us as we went by to visit Jana and Tatijana in the Piano Bar and the Alchemists at the Alchemy Bar.  A fun evening on everyone’s last night on the ship.

Sunday / Galveston / May 21st / Debarkation

Smooth seas overnight going into Galveston and I heard the thrusters very early so we were docked well before scheduled arrival.  We left the cabin about 8:30 and were off the ship quickly.  There was a long line through U.S. Customs but it wasn’t a long wait. We rode the shuttle to the EZ Cruise parking lot, stopped for  McDonald’s biscuits, then gas ($2.09) and was on the Causeway off the island at 9:30am.  We drove to George Bush Airport and parked for our next adventure: a flight to Europe and a Batic cruise.

Cabins
We had cabin 2221 a Porthole located on deck 2 far forward on starboard side.  I love it. It was the coolest cabin I have ever had actually dropping to 65° at one time. Great shower pressure and water temperature too.  I was originally booked as a solo in a 1A just a few cabins forward, but upgraded to this one at final pmt time…so glad I did since DW joined me on the cruise.  It’s fine for two people with the three section wardrobe, couch, swipe type safe, one electrical outlet (two plugs) on counter/dresser, Telephone on desk, Small Stool at Dresser, Kleenex dispenser, and Hair dryer in drawer, and small flat screen TV with the interactive features.  There is an empty refrigerator. My cabin steward was very good, the cabin was always clean and ice container filled.

Dining / Food / Bars / Entertainment

Both Main Dining Rooms are nice especially the Blush Dining room, but for the first time ever we did not eat in the MDR a single night. The Blue iguana for Burritos and Guy’s Burgers are excellent.  The buffet food is pretty standard fare, but selected entrees are very good.  The saucers for coffee cups as well as tablecloths are now gone from breakfast tables. The Mongolian Grill and Cucina del Capitano are great options for lunch or dinner at a fee.  The new Alchemy Bar on the Breeze is in the Ocean Plaza a bit different.  I also thoroughly enjoyed my aperitifs at the Piano Bar with Jana.

Crew
The entire ship crew are very friendly, they themselves can make the cruise more enjoyable for the guest. Waiters and Cabin stewards especially very friendly. They always seemed to have a smile on their face and eager to please the guests. The excellent training by Carnival is quite obvious.  The Ship Officers are fantastic…they really seem to enjoy working as a team and are very friendly.  i have never had so many crew call me by name on any previous cruise.

HiGHLiGHTS OF THE CRUiSE
Diamond Guest Cocktail Party with Captain & Senior Officers
Carnival Breeze Crew members
Cozumel Day
Platinum / Diamond Party


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Carnival Imagination Cruise Review

Carnival Imagination
Cruise Review  March 5, 2017

Just the Facts:
Ship: Carnival Imagination
Captain: Bruno Palomba
Cruise Director: Alex Degmetich
Hotel Director:  Guna Chellam
Ports: Long Beach CA - Catalina Island CA - Ensenada MX - Long Beach CA
 

This short  four day cruise is the fifth of five consecutive cruises for me.  This is my 69th Carnival cruise, my first cruise on the Carnival Imagination, and 127th cruise overall.  I am cruising as a solo with a group of friends (Snoozemates).  The Imagination, an older Fantasy class ship, recently received the 2.0 upgrades and other extensive changes in a late 2016 major drydock.

Sunday / Embarkation / March 5th / Day 1

The new Horizon Court Buffet
I left the Norwegian Jewel my cruise home for 14 days about 10:30 am very near the last guests to leave the ship.  Two friends (the very last to leave) and I took a taxi ($30) from San Pedro Cruise Terminal to the Long Beach Cruise Terminal…less than a 15 minute trip.  We dropped our bags with the porters and proceeded to the VIFP check in and immediately saw our friends completing their B2B arrangement so our timing was perfect.  They had warned us that check in was behind at Long Beach certainly one of my least favorite ports to check in since you actually wait outdoors.  We finally boarded again meeting our friends doing the B2B at the lobby bar.  Everyone was in a good mood especially after a cocktail or two.  We ate at the newly remodeled Horizon Bar & Grill located aft on Lido deck.  I had a Grilled Rubin sandwich and a Tuna on white sandwich, thus the two plates in the surprise photo.  After lunch I went to the cabin and both of my bags had arrived (that was efficient) so I did my cabin set up.  Much smaller cabin area this cruise from last.  I attended Safety Boat Drill, my Muster area was A and met in the theater. We were sailing about 6:00 and heading south I assume looking for warmer weather for tomorrows sea day.  About 7:00 pm the group met at the Alchemy Bar, it was very busy.  The bar is located in the old cigar bar location…very different.  We have 8:15 dinner in the Spirit Dining room located aft. The Maitre’D arranged a nice 11- top table for our group and even offered complementary Sparking wine for the table.  They have never had nine Diamonds in one group or table before tonight. Thank you Ian.  The traditional Welcome Show was at 10:00 pm in the Dynasty Main Lounge.  It was a good day for seeing friends on the Carnival Inspiration.

Monday / Fun Day at Sea / March 6th / Day 2 
Captain & Senior Staff' toast.
Smooth seas overnight and I was up early. I have the Green Eggs & Ham breakfast scheduled for 8:45 but at 7:40 I went to the Blue Iguana for a Huevo Ranchero…just in case…it was good.  At 8:45 I met friends for the Green Eggs & Ham theme breakfast.  At first the kids were rowdy, but soon they were preoccupied with all the colors and decorations.  We were visited by Thing 1 and Thing 2, then Sam I Am, then the Cat in the Hat…they are of course accompanied by a ship photographer ($).  I actually had the Steak and Eggs breakfast similar to what you would receive on the Sea Day Brunch. A friend actually ordered the Green Eggs & Ham…someone had too.  It was interesting and I now know what happens at this event.  I did the Parade and Book Reading on previous Breeze cruise so I now have the full Carnival Dr. Seuss experience. Rather cool out on deck today so found the gang in Lobby Bar, it’s actually my favorite bar on a Fantasy class ship and a great place to people watch.  Very interesting passengers on this sailing with 80% Blue and Red cards. I bet the average age dropped by 50 years from my last two weeks on the Jewel.  After a ginger ale and visiting it was to the cabin for a nice wee nap.  I went up to Lido for a very good Guy’s Burger about 3:45 then to Cherry of Top for some Swedish Fish.  At 5:00 pm we went to the Piano Bar for the Diamond Party, in addition to the 11 in our group, there were two or three other guests.  They were very generous with the complementary cocktails and the h’orderves were nice.  The Captain and senior officers who attended were very generous with their time.  They continued to serve us until almost 6:15 and we stayed until 7:00 since the entire group was there…it was a great party. I went to the cabin to change for dinner and I say our group looked impressive in our matching black Hawaiian shirts this evening.  Dinner was good, I ordered Broiled Sea Scallops on Risoto, the Baked Stuffed Mushrooms, Minestrone Milanese, Barbecued Spare Ribs, and shared a Blue Crab Ravioli.  Ian and his team again poured Champagne for us.  Very nice meal and the Scallops were a new dish to me, maybe a west coast thing or new menu item.  We were finished in time for the 2nd seating of the first production show: Divas in the Dynasty Lounge.  It was an interesting and very busy first, last, & only sea day on the Carnival Imagination.

Tuesday  /  Catalina Island, CA  /  March 7th / Day 3
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I was up early and watched the sun rise on the ship
Tourist in Avalon
camera from the comfort of my bed while updating this review.  Nice, but I would have been awoken
anyway when the ship dropped anchor at 7:10 am outside Avalon Bay as my cabin is far forward.  I went down to the Pride Dining Room for a nice Eggs Benedict breakfast, then to GS to purchase a voucher to LAX, spoke with the Hotel Director for a bit, then a walk about on the upper deck for a photo of Avalon.  The weather is better than I expected so I have decided to tender onto the island after all.  I was on a tender that arrived in Avalon about 11:00 am and began to walk to the main shopping district and saw friends on the way.  It’s a very interesting and pretty town. I visited with friends, looked at some shops, walked out on the pier, and took a photo of our ship.  I took a tender back early to beat the crowds and any long lines and was back on board about 2:30 in plenty of time for a Guy’s Burger.  I was visiting at the lobby bar and ended up entering the paper airplane contest, another first.  The group met about 4:00 pm in the lobby for Mimosas, etc. from all the bottles of champagne accumulated.  During the cocktail hour I used my two VIFP vouchers for cocktails at the lobby bar and enjoyed the entertainment. Roma and Edward the bartenders make a great team.  Another bartender working relief was Sebastian who had been my head waiter twice on previous cruises.  I actually prefer the Lobby bar to the Alchemy on this this ship, a rarity for me.  Dinner tonight was good, I ordered: the Beetroot Carpaccio (2), the Iceberg Wedge Salad, the Sliced Beef Sirloin entree, and shared a Steak Taco entree.  For dessert a wonderful Carrot Cake. During dessert and following we were entertained by the Magician Vlad from Russia.  He did several very entertaining feats of magic for us. It is very nice being at the ‘A’ or Diamond table.  The Love and Marriage Show was the primary entertainment this evening, but I passed and had some cabin time before retiring.  It was a very nice day on Catalina Island and the Carnival Imagination.

Wednesday / Ensenada, Mexico / March 8th / Day 4
Smooth seas overnight and again I was up early to see the sunrise. It will be a beautiful day.  It will be
Sign at La Bufadora
a beautiful day.  I went to the MDR for a nice full 3-egg breakfast then met our group for an Carnival excursion at 8:30.  We were off at by 9:00 in our bus for the 45 minute trip to La Bufadora.  The vendors were interesting, but the waterspout was a pretty much a dud today. The Pina Colada and Churos from street vendors were good.  We returned to Encenada and stopped at the The Riviera Cultural Center a former resort hotel casino built 1929/30.  It was a very interesting complex, I enjoyed the vintage photos of former Hollywood stars who visited.  This was final stop of the tour and the bus actually dropped us off in front of Hussong's.  We arrived after 1:00 and most of our friends were already there so it was catch up time. It was packed when we arrived, but gradually cleared.  I  usually have the margaritas and had a few, but drank Bohemia Blanca beer.  I also enjoyed the Mexican food from next door and visited the Gift store down the street.  It was another fun meeting at Hussong's.  I taxied back to the ship and  was back on board by 4:00ish and had time for a Guy’s burger.  I then took a wee nap before meeting the group.  For dinner tonight I ordered the Escargot, Pumpkin Soup (too salty), Italian Wedding Soup, and a NY Strip Steak.  Dessert was Bread Pudding Cake (too dry for me), although overall it was a good dinner.  We were visited again by the Magician, he did some amazing tricks.  It was farewell for the group tonight. Some went to the Production show Epic Rock, some to the casino, and some retired to their cabins.  It was Fun day in Mexico and on the Imagination.


Thursday / Long Beach, CA / March 9th / Debarkation
I woke early as we docked in Long Beach and got the bags out to pack.  First I went to the MDR at
Long Beach
7:00ish for a final breakfast ordering something different: Poached Eggs…they were good. I witnessed a rude guest, he walked in and began taking off his backpack at a series of tables and a waiter called him on it saying he needed to be seated by the hosts.  He got into an argument with waiter  saying we was going to wait for friends and asking the waiter for his name and acting very bossy to him, I actually yelled across two tables and told him that there were no waiters assigned to that series of tables as they are on an isle and would be bumped by bags on this debark morning.  I also called him a ‘jerk face’ … I have no idea where that came from I don’t recall ever using that term before today.  I thought the waiter would nod or something to me since I had his back, but he was flustered by this time.  I was packed by 8:30 pm the time to clear cabins but waited another twenty minutes to roll off…they did allow a little Diamond shortcut since I’m already on the correct deck for debark.  Captain Bruno and HD Guna were near the exit so I got in a final farewell to the two of them. Customs went quickly and I was outside and heading to the shuttle bus to LAX…they left as soon as I boarded.  I was at the airport by 10:00 am…a very smooth process.  It will be good to be home after this 40 day cruise adventure.


Ship
Tonnage: 70,367 GT - Length:     855 ft - Beam: 103 ft - Draft: 25 ft 7 in - Decks:     10 - Speed: 21 knots - Capacity: 2,056 passengers (lower berths) 2,634 passengers (all berths) - Crew:     920 - Carnival Imagination is a Fantasy-class cruise ship operated by Carnival Cruise Line. Built by Kværner Masa-Yards at its Helsinki New Shipyard in Helsinki, Finland, she was floated out on July 1, 1995

Cabin
I had cabin E7 an interior porthole cabin located on Empress deck 7 far forward on starboard side. The cabin is a standard Porthole/OV space, with twin or queen bed. It has a swipe type safe, three-section closet, one chair, one electrical outlet, Telephone on desk, Small Stool at dresser/desk, Hair dryer, and small flat screen TV with the interactive features.  There is no refrigerator. The cabin is great for me as a solo. My cabin steward, Christian, was very good, the cabin was always clean and ice container filled.

Dining / Food / Bars
Recently upgraded to Carnival’s now standard 2.0 upgrade she has all the dining and bar options one would expect on Carnival: Guy’s Burgers, Blue Iguana Cantina, Alchemy Bar, Red Frog Rum Bar, and more.  The Horizon Lido Buffet is much improved as well.  I found the food adequate and really like the 2.0 additions.

Crew / Other
Crew were friendly, helpful, and efficient. The Carnival Hub iPhone App is wonderful, especially for checking your account balances.  I found the internet Wi-Fi worked very well.


HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE

Sailing with the Snoozemates
Diamond Party

Hussong’s 
Dining in the MDR: The attention from staff, head waiter, magician, etc. more than the food 
Catalina Island

Diamond Party - Carnival Imagination

 Click here for link to great photos of this cruise from ZydecoCruiser



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Norwegian Jewel Panama Canal Cruise Review


Norwegian Jewel Panama Canal Cruise Review
February 19-March 4, 2017
Just the Facts:
Ship: Norwegian Jewel
Captain: Pelle Fredriksson
Cruise Director:  Iain
Ports: Miami - Cartagena - Panama Canal Transit - Puntarenas - Corinto -
Puerto Quetzal - Acapulco - Cabo San Lucas - Los Angeles (San Pedro)

This cruise is the forth of five consecutive cruises for me.  This is my 6th Norwegian cruise and first one in many years, my first time on the Norwegian Jewel, and 126th cruise overall.  I am cruising as a solo.

Sunday / Embarkation / February 19th / Day 1

Tsar's Palace Dining Room
I left the Carnival Vista my cruise home for eight days about 9:50 am and walked over two berths and around a construction area to the Norwegian Jewel dock arriving outside the Terminal about 10:15 am.  I dropped my large bag with a porter ($3 tip) and took my carry-on and backpack with me.  They opened the terminal about 10:45 and I proceeding through security and check-in was a breeze.  However there was a long hour + wait before we could board the ship.  I was an early zone and boarded about 12:15.pm.  I made it to my cabin and dropped my bags then proceeded to the Garden Cafe for the lunch buffet.  First impression with the food is very good.  I fixed two plates: one with a variety of Asian Foods from a Mongolian Grill station and the Steak from the carving station.  The Salad Bar looked good as did the Pastry area.  I’m sure that I will find my buffet favorites and other food venues during the cruise.  My cabin, located aft on deck 11, is very spacious with nice decor and wood trim.  I set up my cabin with my cruise hack items and what clothing I did have.  This being a new ship to me I reviewed the Freestyle Daily, Deck Plan, and other information carefully.  Soon my luggage was delivered so I finished cabin set up and I have ample storage, I am very pleased with the cabin.  I did my first walk about and made a call home from upper decks while I have phone service in Miami, but soon was interrupted by the announcements for Boat Drill set to begin at 4:15 pm.  I continued my tour but headed towards my muster station located in the Tsar Palace MDR on deck 6 aft.  I really like the decor of this room.  Following the drill I returned to the cabin and prepared some laundry for the ‘Press Only’ special, purchase the unlimited internet package (expensive), and reviewed the dining options.  With ‘Freestyle’  dining we do not have a set time or dining room so learning this system will be different.  I do have the UBP Unlimited Beverage Package as a bonus to the cruise fare so it will be interesting to see how that works over the next 14 days. I met friends for cocktails in the Shakers Martini Bar on deck 6, then we proceeded to Tsar’s Palace for dinner.  The beautiful room and elegant tablecloths were very refreshing compared to what I have experienced the past three cruises,  For dinner I ordered the New England Crab Cake, a Green Salad, the Prime Rib and Sliced Pork Loin entrees. For dessert I enjoyed the Pistachio Crème Brûlée and the Cherries Jubilee.  It was a great meal.  The primary entertainment tonight is the Welcome Show, but it didn’t fit into my freestyle schedule so didn’t attend…it did seem to be a bigger show than other lines.  I personally retired to the cabin soon after dinner.  As I perused the TV channels I noticed that they have both Fox News Channel and MSNBC as news options, something not seen on Carnival…a nice variety.  It was a interesting day of discovery on board the NCL Jewel.

Monday / Sea Day / February 20th / Day 2
O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill
Smooth seas overnight.  I woke at 4:00 am so did some internet work and worked on this review for a few hours before sleeping again.  I was lucky to wake about 9:00 am in time for a proper breakfast in the Tsar’s Palace MDR.  I ran into a couple I knew so we shared a table.  I ordered an Eggs Benedict breakfast exact items as yesterdays on the Vista for comparison.  The wonderful crisp tablecloths let me know that this would be a superior breakfast irregardless of the food.  I met my cabin steward Maggie this morning, she took the press-only special laundry she left last night.Time to explore the ship and I ended up out most of the day.  I dropped a form off at the Future Cruise Desk, NCL’s is a great concept, a difference is that you receive OBC for the cruise you are currently sailing then the voucher will cover any future deposit in full. So there will be NCL cruises in my future.  I then went out on boat deck to get a coke and air, but alas NCL has Pepsi so I got two Ginger Ales and sat at a table to drink one and I was going to continue to explore with the other.  I ended up enjoying my table location, the sea air, texting with the DW back home, and viewing the Carnival Splendor that has been sailing along side of us all day. So it's now mojito time. Then a Caribbean band performed and the old folks began dancing away…great people watching.  Mojito time again. A German gentleman sat with me to eat his BBQ that gave me the opportunity to get a nice plate of grilled chicken and a grilled pork chop for my lunch.  Good food and for dessert I allowed the cocktail server to pick a cocktail of his choice and he brought a Mudslide.  Nice...this UBP (unlimited beverage package) may work just fine.  So after a nice day by the pool I had a brief nap in my nice dark cabin before another walk about the ship.  I wanted to checkout O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill on deck 8, it’s a great place.  They have  a nice bar and a nice limited comfort food menu.  I had a couple of Pilsner Urquell beers and an order of Mozzarella Sticks.  Yes hot appetizers at the bar.  At 7:00 pm I went to the Stardust Theater for Showtime featuring singer Jeri Sager a former Broadway performer.  Her show featured various Broadway hits and was very entertaining.  After dinner I met friends in Fyzz a nice little show venue on deck 7 then went to dinner at Tsar’s Palace.  There was no wait at all and it was only 8:15 the normal time for late seating on most cruise lines. We may have a plan for the rest of the cruise.  Dinner was good, I ordered:  Fried Brie Wedges, Creamy Mushroom Soup, and the Yankee Pot Roast entree.  For dessert I ordered the Creme Carmel from the menu and a Mudslide from the bar.  It was a fun spontaneous day on the Norwegian Jewel.

Tuesday  /  Sea Day  /  February 21st / Day 3
NCL Jewel Pool Deck
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I went up one deck to ‘The Great Outdoors’ food area where in the mornings they have breakfast items.  Very easy for me as it’s directly above my cabin.  I enjoyed a light breakfast as sat out on the aft rail and enjoyed the sun and wake of the ship.  Afterward I went down on pool deck and got a table in the shade..  I took my Tervis tumbler and started with ginger ale just as yesterday.  I was able to message the DW back at home on the iPhone and did some people watching.  All friends eventually found me so we had a good visit.  I tried to order a Hugo Spritzer a perfect poolside drink and they made a valiant attempt, but a bit short.  I was saved by Louis a bar server who had previously worked on MSC.  Woo Hoo perfect drinks for all.  I again had the BBQ from the grill.  Today it was Chicken and Sirloin Steaks with Paella and a Corn Relish.  Very Good.  The same Caribbean band performed a set but not as many dancers today.  It was another relaxing day by the pool but still deserving of a nap back in the cabin in afternoon.  Friends and I met in O’Sheehan’s at 6:00 for drinks.  I also had some tasty Chicken Wings.  About 7:10 we went down to Tsar’s Palace for dinner…seated almost strait away.  I ordered: Fried Scallops, Green Salad, Veal Bratwurst, Sliced Sirloin Steak, and Apple Pie for dessert.  I also had a Bushwacker as a dessert cocktail.  Very nice service on NCL…very pleased.  We even had time to catch the 9:00 feature show, but I retired to review my private tour for Cartagena.  It was another nice sea day on the Norwegian Jewel.

Wednesday / Cartagena / February 22nd / My Birthday / Day 4
Friends in Cartagena Columbia
Smooth seas overnight, but I was up early as I thought I needed to be for my excursion. I had a nice omelet from the omelet station then prepared for the day and discovered I really could have slept in as my meet time was 9:45.  At least I was able to miss the big push to get of the ship early.  About 8:45 I debarked as I knew there was a nice park area at the cruise terminal.  I was able to enjoy a very nice Coca-Cola Light and sit with the Flamingos for a while.  About 10:00 my tour was off and I was grouped with four couples from the Island Princess on a nice small bus. Our first stop was one of the two primary places I wanted to visit: Castillo San Felipe de Barajas a fortress on a high hill guarding approaches to the old walled city.  We didn’t go in it was a photo op experience but fine for me.  The next was my second priority: Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa on the city's highest hill dates to 1607 & offers a leafy cloister & sweeping views of the area.  We stopped at a souvenir area in the old city and an Emerald Museum/Jewellry Store then walked through the old town passing: Cartagena Cathedral, Teatro Heredia, Plaza de Bolívar, and a stop at the Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver, an elegant 1580s church with a museum dedicated to its namesake, a canonized early abolitionist.  From here I left the tour and took a taxi back to the pier as the Jewel leaves at 2:00 pm.  I was ready as I had seen what I wanted.  I made it back to the ship about 1:40 (10 minutes late) along with many others returning from tours.  While standing in the line to board the ship we were given: cold washcloths (nice ones), water, or lemonade...then once past security fresh bowls of ice creme to cool off....I'm liking NCL.  In addition to the sites I did make some bargains with local vendors: new sunglasses ($5), new straw hat ($5), and new Panama hat ($36) . It was a snack from O’Sheehan’s then rest and clean up time in the cabin for the rest of the afternoon.  At 6:00 pm I met friends in Shakers Martini Bar for cocktails.  The seven of us went to the Teppanyaki Restaurant, as they say: “It's not just a meal, it's an experience”. It was a very entertaining show by the Chef and the food was fantastic. I had a Filet Mignon / Sea Scallop combination.  They even brought out a birthday cake.  It was a wonderful day in Cartagena and evening on the Jewel.

Thursday / Panama Canal Transit / February 23rd / Day 5
Panama Canal - gates at locks
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well and awoke early to the Captains voice over the TV.  The forward camera on TV that I most always leave on in my cabin also allows announcements from the Bridge.  As we were entering the Panama Canal early this morning the Captain began his comments.  Soon my friends called and I watched us enter the canal and the first Gatun lock from their balcony.  Then to breakfast an lucked out with table on window. So watched us go through second and third locks then into Lake Gatun.  Very interesting process.  I had lunch in O’Sheehan’s and again a viewing window as we sailed upper Gatun Lake.  I had a walk about after lunch and went to the deck 8 viewing area (normally the crew deck) far forward, then up to the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 13 forward, and deck 13 and 12 outdoors as we passed through the Culebra Cut and under the Centennial Bridge.  Most guests were very interested in watching us pass through the Panama canal and they did have a running commentary of what guests were seeing as we passed through.  I ran into Louis on pool deck so I had a couple of Hugo spritzers.  It was late when we passed through the final three locks at Miraflores and dark when we went under the Bridge of the Americas. It was impressive viewing the skyline of Panama City at night.  The Jewel is now in the Bay of Panama and the Pacific Ocean.  Our group of seven met at 8:00ish at Cagney’s Steakhouse for dinner, I ordered the Iceberg Wedge Salad, a Baked Potato, and the Rib Eye Steak.  It was excellent…two great meals in two days.  After dinner I retired to the cabin as I was out and about on the ship most of the day.  It was a very educational day transiting the Panama Canal today.

Friday  /  Sea Day  /  February 24th / Day 6
My Cabin
Very smooth Pacific seas overnight and I slept well.  We turned our clocks back so we are now on Texas time for a few days as we sail northwest along the Pacific coast of Central America.  I went up to the Garden Cafe for a light breakfast with English bacon about 8:00 am.  Today’s goal is to do nothing other than rest and relax.  I did take a walk about around lunch time and enjoyed some BBQ from the pool deck.  Afternoon was cabin time and some work online until 3:30 when I went to the theater to watch the movie: Deep Water Horizon.  A very good movie.  About 6:30 pm I met the group at Shakers for a cocktail.  Five of us ate at Azura another of the MDR’s (included) located mid-ship on deck six.  I ordered: Risotto with Artichokes, Crab Louie, Tomato Salad, a Greek Meatball entree with Tzatziki sauce, and a Carmel Bread Pudding for dessert.  I did not discover the daily afternoon movies until today, they are consistent with entertainment with the primary daily shows at 7:00 and 9:00 pm in the Theater.  Tonight was Comedy although I have an early excursion so retired after dinner.  It was an easy relaxing sea day on the Jewel.

Saturday  /  Puntarenas, Costa Rica  /  February 25th / Day 7
My little friend
Smooth seas and I slept very well.  I woke early and watched us dock at the pier about 6:00ish for our scheduled 7:00 am arrival. I went up to The Great Outdoors for a quick breakfast and take in the views of this beautiful port then down to the pier for my 8:00 am meet time for my private tour.  The tour operator was Gio Tours and soon we were on our way in our 12 pax van on our 8-stop tour.  After a 20+ minute drive towards the Tárcoles River area, the first stop was to view White-faced Monkeys, they are amusing and one dropped down from a tree onto my head.  Second stop is at a Fruit Stand…a popular thing to do as there were many of them in this area.  I had a fresh fruit smoothie and some mangos.  The third stop was a two hour cruise on the Tárcoles River well known for it’s crocodile population.  We saw many croc’s including some really big ones as well as many birds, iguanas, and other wildlife. Stop four is for a nice lunch at a local open air family restaurant: Rice & Beans, Salad, Vegetables, Chicken (fish was gone), and a unique fresh Pineapple drink. I had a very nice Pilsen Beer. Stop five is at the private Nativa Resort (condominiums) were after a drive through the beautiful grounds came to an overlook of the Pacific coast, jungle, mountains, and Tárcoles River. Next stop was a large souvenir complex with clean toilets and snacks. Stop number seven is a grocery store…interesting and I did buy some candy. After a drive by tour of the town of Punta Arenus our final stop was at the lighthouse.  We were dropped at the ship about 4:00 pm...I highly recommend this tour operator...the van was nice and they had even had wifi.  There was some delay boarding as the tides required the ship to change decks of the gangways, but there was a very colorful local performance group (music & dance) on the pier.  I was quite tired, but a hot shower revived me. I wanted an easy night so I went up to the Garden Cafe, it was Chinese night, but I found the Roast Pork at the carving station and had a quick meal.  I attended the production show: Band On The Run with 80’s music and dance in the Stardust theater.  It was a very good show.  After the show I returned through the Garden Cafe and got a very nicely made Crepe for dessert.  It was a long and busy day in Costa Rica and the NCL Jewel.

Sunday  /  Corinto, Nicaragua  /  February 26th / Day 8
Lake Managua and the Momotombo Volcano
I woke early and watched some news on TV and worked on this review.  About 7:00 am as we entered the channel we encountered some rolling enough to make it difficult to walk and the pool flooded the Library below it. Exciting. I went down to the Tsar’s Palace for a nice breakfast: Three fried eggs, Scottish Kippers, bacon, ham, and more.  My meet time for today's tour is 9:30 in the theater and soon I was off on my Old & Colonial Leon NCL excursion.  There are 39 on a nice 46 pax bus and we off on a 1.5 hour drive to León Viejo founded in June 1524 by the Spanish and covered by a volcanic event in 1610.  It has been called the Pompeii of the Americas. My favorite site was the location of the original fort with a view of Lake Managua and the Momotombo Volcano (photo).  I was surprised by the number of active (smoking) volcanoes in the area.  Following the tour we had lunch next door in a family outdoor restaurant consisting of: Frijoles, Slaw, Beef, Chicken, Rice, & Plantains.  After lunch we were off to Leon 25+ miles away and toured the main Square and Cathedral of León, also known as Our Lady of Grace Cathedral.  The Cathedral's construction lasted between 1747 and 1814 and was consecrated by Pope Pius IX in 1860. The Cathedral has maintained the status of being the largest cathedral in Central America and one of the best known in the Americas due to its distinct architecture and special cultural importance. Both the Cathedral in León and León Viejo are UNESCO Heritage sites. I did have time for a very nice mojito in Leon before boarding the buses at 4:10 for the journey back to Corinto.  We arrived back just after our due time of 5:30 pm later than expected due to losing an hour with some bus problems earlier, but we made it and sailed at 5:45 pm during a beautiful sunset.  After cleaning up I met the gang at Shakers then we went to Tsar's Palace for dinner. I ordered: Spanish Gazpacho, Braised Stone Fruits, Mixed Garden Salad, and the Grilled New York Strip Steak entree.  I skipped dessert and retired to the cabin to rest & prepare for tomorrows early excursion.   It was a great excursion day in Nicaragua.

Monday  /  Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala  /  February 27th / Day 9
Santa Catalina Arch with Volcán de Auga
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I ordered room service as my wake up call this morning and it arrived perfectly between 6:30 -7:00 am as requested.  I watched us arrive and dock on the cabin TV as I prepared to meet my tour at 8:00 am. My NCL excursion was Antigua On Your Own and soon I was on my bus for the 90 minute drive to the Colonial city of Antigua established in 1524.  We passed several coffee plantations on the drive up into the mountains and actually drove between the Volcán de Fuego and Volcán de Auga.  You could see the old lava flows and one is still active.  Antigua is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches. It served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala and at it’s height had a population of 70,000 in 1770’s less than half that now. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  My favorite site was the Cathedral of Saint James San José Parish originally built in 1541 and reconstructed following several earthquakes in 1680.  It was severely damaged in earthquake of 1773 and only partial rebuilt.  I was able to tour the ruins of the original ($1 donation) located directly behind existing Church.  It had to have been amazing...largest in the Americas.  I also enjoyed: the Captain General Palace, La Merced Church, the Santa Catalina Arch, and the very active main Plaza of the old town. I had a very nice lunch at Restaurante El Arco located at the Arch in the old Convent building: Mango Mojito, Agua, Guacamole, Frijoles, Chips, and local Salsa.  I did a bit of shopping, but perhaps the better values were from the street vendors and there are a LOT of them.  One could easily spend a few days here in this unique location. Too soon I met our bus for the return to the ship and we were back by 4:30.  There are a lot of nice craft vendors at the port area.   I went up to watch sail away and enjoy a mojito at the Great Outdoors Deck 12 aft…it was a pleasant evening.   Later I went to the Tsar’s Palace for dinner, it was good, I ordered the Mixed Green Salad, the Beef Brisket (weak), and the Grouper fish entree.  For desert a great Banana Soufflé and the Mojito Fruit.  I needed a good rest night after three intensive excursions so I retire early.  It was a wonderful day in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua.

Tuesday  /  Sea Day  /  February 28th / Day 10
The Great Outdoors
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  The sea surface is smooth with just a bit of rolling, the Captain has said it’s a good day to watch as Turtles, Dolphins, and Whales have been seen this morning.  I went to the Garden Cafe for an omelet and I’m loving the English Bacon.  I had my Yeti filled up at the Great Outdoors with Ginger Ale and good for a relaxing morning.  The ship had a laundry special: one bag for $19.95 flat fee, so I stuffed a bag full...we'll see how that works out.  I was heading to the Pool deck BBQ when I saw them making fresh Cuban Panini sandwiches so I had one with some great beet roots for lunch.  I met friends at O’Sheehan’s at 1:00 and enjoyed a Pilsner Urquell. We saw quite a few large sea turtles in the  calm seas. The afternoon was cabin time, nap time, and work/internet time and it was productive.  I went to Shakers and had the best cocktails so far: an Elderflower Cosmo, I will only use that bartender now.  Our group had dinner in Cagney’s steakhouse again, I ordered: the Iceburgh Wedge Salad, a perfect Ribeye Steak, Beet Roots and shared Baked Potato & Mushrooms.  It was all excellent.  For dessert a Mudslide cocktail and on my late walk about had a strawberry & vanilla swirl ice creme from the Great Outdoors.  It was an easy yet productive day on The Norwegian Jewel.

Wednesday  /  Acapulco, Mexico  /  March 1st / Day 11
La Quebrada Cliff Divers (2) - double click photo to enlarge
Smooth seas continue and I slept very well.  I went up to the Garden Cafe for breakfast and have a nice view of Acapulco Bay.  I met friends who are the same excursion as I this morning at 9:00 am and proceeded to the meet location in the cruise terminal.  After waiting for others in group, (about 25) we were off in full size bus on our excursion. This was my first visit to Acapulco and I was not fully aware of the typography or size of the crescent shaped Bay itself.  Such a beautiful location.  The city is best known as one of Mexico's oldest and most well-known beach resorts, which came into prominence in the 1950s as a getaway for Hollywood stars and millionaires. Acapulco is still famous and still attracts many tourists, although most are now from Mexico itself. The resort area is divided into two: The north end of the bay is the "traditional" area, where the famous in the mid-20th century vacationed, and the south end is dominated by newer luxury high-rise hotels.  We drove the Boulevard towards and through the new Acapulco observing the high rise hotels, modern restaurants, nightclubs, international businesses (Office Depot, Walmart, etc.), and more.  We then drove through the Puerto Marqués area of exclusive resorts and the ‘Beverly Hills’ area of Acapulco with magnificent homes overlooking the bay.  We reversed our route passing back through our original route and beyond the cruise terminal in opposite direction into the traditional area where the 1950’s era hotels, fish market, and Zócalo (main square) are located.  Then we were off to see the La Quebrada Cliff Divers.  It was a very interesting show and tradition since the 1930’s. Following the cliff diving we returned to the cruise terminal.  Located directly across from the ship is Acapulco's most historic building: the Fort of San Diego, originally built in 1616 to protect the city from pirate attacks. It was rebuilt in 1776 and 1783 and parts of the moats remain as well as the five bulwarks and the battlements. Now the fort serves as the Museo Histórico de Acapulco (Acapulco Historical Museum), which shows the port's history from the pre-Hispanic period until independence.  Very easy and convenient to visit.  At 4:15 the ship hosted a Mexican Folkloric Show with a local professional dance troupe.  It was a fantastic show, but I love traditional cultural shows.  I watched a beautiful sail away from the aft facing Great Outdoor Bar as we sailed out of Acapulco Bay.  I had a simple dinner from the Garden Cafe and retired to cabin soon afterward.  Acapulco was a very pleasing and enjoyable port.

Thursday  /  Sea Day  /  March 2nd / Day 12
Pool Deck BBQ
A bit of rolling seas overnight.  I was up in the night and did some wifi work before returning to sleep.  We turned our time back one hour last night so I was ready at 7:30 am when the NYSE opened for a few trades, different.  Then to Tsar’s Palace MDR for a proper breakfast: Fruit, Eggs, Ham, Bacon, and Dollar Pancakes.  My big bag of laundry was returned and they did a great job, it was delivered in a long basket and all neatly folded. I had a nice walk about and spent some time in a chair outside on deck 7 people watching.  This would be an outdoor promenade similar to the old ocean liners and not as common on cruise ships.  It’s nice to have a lower deck that you can walk completely around the ship.  There are a high number of foreign guests on this cruise, in fact probably the majority, and they really use that outer deck, even playing shuffle board games.  Interesting.  The weather is also cooling somewhat as we head north.  I’m so glad I checked on the pool deck BBQ as they had Pork Fatback today.  It was by far the best BBQ on the cruise so far.  They also had a great English Trifle dessert in the Garden Cafe.  This afternoon I caught up on some needed online work then did some whale watching from the Great Outdoors aft.  About 6:00 pm I went to Shakers for a few of my special cocktails  and the gang was all there, then to the Tsar’s Palace MDR for dinner.  I ordered the Creme of Cauliflower Soup, Tomato Salad, and the Sirloin Steak Diane entree.  The production show was an All Star Variety Show with the production cast,  dancers, and comedian.  It was a nice sea day on the Jewel.

Friday  /  Cabo San Lucas, Mexico  /  March 3rd / Day 13
Mr.Cool in Cabo  (what two locals called me)
Smooth seas overnight and I again slept well.  We arrived early in Cabo this morning before the 7:00 am scheduled time and they began tendering a few minutes early. I went up to the Garden Cafe for an Omelet and English bacon and had a great view of the Cabo point.  I was in the cabin just after 7:30 and heard a standard debark/tender announcement from the CD which I interpreted as “if you come now it will be easy” so I did.  It was walk down and walk right on the tender, no waiting at all.  Of course it put me there very early…well before our tour time but I bought a Coca-cola light, visited with guests, and was able to get the Wi-Fi code from Senior Frogs to pass some time.  My tour was a Whale Watching Tour off the coast operated by Magna Oceanus and purchased through ShoreTrips.  The double-decker catamaran sailed by sites such as Lover's Beach, Sea Lion Colony, and Cabo Arch. We had a delicious lunch and generous domestic open bar.  We did see whales with an occasional full breach, very nice.  The Cabo Harbor is a very busy place with boats and tenders of all sizes coming in and out and we were the only cruise ship today.  I can only imagine what it would be like with two or more ships. We were back well in time for the tenders and our early scheduled 2:00 pm departure from Cabo.  I went up to the Great Outdoors for sail away...and lo the gang was there, I'd been suggesting it as it's perfect location.  I had some Pilsner Urquell beers and enjoyed our sailing around the Baja and begin our sailing north up the Pacific coast of Mexico. I went to Shakers, the cocktail bar, and had one of my favorites, then the group went to Tsar’s Palace for dinner.  I ordered New England Clam Chowder, a Crab Souffle, Mixed Green Salad, and two entrees: Prime Rib with Baked Potato & a lightly Grilled Flounder.  Stardust Showtime featured the show Le Cirque Bijou tonight. It was a fun day in Cabo and the Jewel today.

Saturday  /  Final Sea Day  /  March 4th / Day 14
Shakers Cocktail Bar
Smooth seas overnight and I slept off and on then up too early.  I did go to the Tsar’s Palace MDR for a very nice Eggs Benedict breakfast.  I went up to The Great Outdoors for a Yeti size ginger ale and saw friends that had a table so it was whale watching from deck 12 for a good while.  We saw several whales breach, kind of rare from a cruise ship, but we are in the prime time of year and the migrating lanes sailing up the Pacific coast of Mexico  It’s getting cooler but it was very nice sitting in the sun.  We stayed until after noon then got grilled baby back ribs from the pool deck BBQ.  They were excellent, perhaps not as good as the Fat Back, but they did save the best two items for the last two sea days.  After lunch it was movie time, I watched The Magnificent Seven (2016), a new very good ‘western shoot ‘em up’ movie.  After the movie it was cabin time.  I went for a cocktail as usual at Shakers on deck 6, then met the group at the Teppanyaki Restaurant for dinner.  Thought we'd make our final dinner a memorable one at the best restaurant on the ship.  I again ordered the Filet Mignon / Sea Scallop combination.  It was another great show by the chef and another great meal.  It was a great final sea day on the Norwegian Jewel.

Sunday / Debarkation / March 5th
I was up early and watched us back into the channel and port terminal on TV and later from on deck.  The terminal looks much better than when I was here last and we are docked next to the USS Iowa battleship.  I had my final breakfast with English bacon from the Garden Cafe on lido deck and tested the cool weather outside.  Much different weather than I have had for a month+ at sea.  I completed my packing then to meet friends, debark, and begin another wee adventure.

Ship
Tonnage: 93,502 GT - Length: 965 ft (294.13 m) - Beam: 106 ft (32.31 m) - Draft:  27 ft  Decks:  15  Speed: 25 knots - Capacity: 2,376 passengers - Crew: 1,100  -  This ship entered service on 4 August 2005. She was constructed at Meyer Werft Shipyard in Germany and was christened in November 2005 at Port of Miami.  Her godmother is Melania Trump, spouse of U.S. President, Donald Trump. 

Cabin
I had cabin 11147 an interior located on deck 11 far aft. When I booked this long ago I was still recovering from my tropical disease Schistosomiasis (caught in St. Kitts) so I had booked a handicap cabin.  I had forgotten that I had, but will enjoy it.  Basically the difference is: more floor space, emergency buttons, and bench in bathroom.  The cabin has a double bed, a push button safe, three-section closet, two chairs, two electrical outlets on counter/dresser and two at TV, Telephone on nightstand, Hair dryer at counter/dresser, and small flat screen TV.  There is an empty refrigerator. My cabin steward, Maggie from Columbia was very good, the cabin was always clean.

Dining / Food / Bars
Huge difference for me with the Freestyle dining on NCL.  There are NO set dining times anywhere, but the option to dine in six or seven dining venues or six premium venues with an extra cover charge.  I really like the Tablecloths in the primary dining rooms…very classy compared to Carnival Cruise Line.  They also have one MDR with stricter dress code and one MDR with more casual dress code.  Something for everyone.  I like it.  The food was very impressive, but also different to me so change is good.  They did have a REAL steak, among other nice entrees offered every night on a set menu if you wished, or the daily menu that changes with special entrees.  Very impressive menus.  The pool deck BBQ on sea days is great.  Two 24 hour ice creme machines. There are 16 bars on board, my favorites were Shakers the martini bar and The Great Outdoors bar on Lido aft.

Crew / Other
Most crew were friendly, helpful, and efficient. The NCL iPhone App is wonderful, especially for checking your account balances.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISES

Antiquia, Guatamala
Teppanyaki Restaurant
Costa Rica 8/1 Tour
Cagney’s Steakhouse
Tsar’s Palace Main Dining Room
Cabo San Lucas Day
Acapulco Day
Old & Colonial Leon in Nicaragua
Cartagena Columbia Excursion
Transit of Panama Canal
UBP

Panama Canal Certificate