Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Amazon Adventure & Galapagos Discovery - Ecuador


Amazon Adventure & Galapagos Discovery - Ecuador

I’m traveling to Ecuador for a 12-day land based Travel Adventure.  I’m traveling as a solo with the help of a tour operator: Exoticca.  

January 16, 2024, Tuesday / Travel Day

I began this Adventure with a 6:00 flight from Tampa to Miami. Then from MIA direct to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and the 2nd highest Capital City in elevation in the world. It’s an hour's drive from the airport to the city center, but my driver made it faster with his standard 4. It was like a Le Mons race with hills, valleys, roundabouts, mountains, tunnels…everything. I was at the Rio Amazonas hotel at about 3:30 pm. My room is on the 10th floor with a great view (photo). I made a trip to the Pharmacy and then had dinner in the very nice Hotel Restaurant. I had a Canoera Traditional, a sample platter of Ecuador's most favorite traditional dishes. Some I liked and some not at all. Very interesting though. There have been no signs of problems or unrest that I can tell and everyone seems to be going about their business. I had a very nice ten hours of sleep which has helped my cold/sore throat that I picked up on my recent cruise. A very interesting travel day, but actually easier with my last minute flight changes to American Airlines.

January 17, 2024, Wednesday / Quito to Amazon

I woke early feeling much better and ready for my first day of sightseeing in Ecuador. I went down to Reception and took my larger bag for them to hold, then checked out and went to breakfast at about 7:00 am when it opened. A selection of Ecuadorian dishes, eggs, fruit, and leche caliente, a nice surprise. We had an Exottica tour meeting at 8:00 then our first official tour rolled off at 9:00 am. We have eleven people in our tour group, a driver and our guide Carlos. We went to visit the downtown Plazas and Squares which are a UNESCO-designated historical area. I can see why, it is beautiful. We first visited a very stylish hotel for a Chocolate demonstration. Ecuador has the most golden cocoa pods in the world. Interesting. In the old town, there are many beautiful Public buildings, the old National Bank, the Presidential Palace, and Beautiful Churches. I have to say it is one of the most unique city centers I have seen. We then began our drive over the Andes Mountains an interesting experience in itself. The higher peaks were of course above the tree line and similar to crossing the Rocky Mountains back home. Once across you drop down into the Amazon Rain Forest. It becomes very green with a jungle canopy and fast-flowing rivers that are within the Amazon basin. We stopped in the village of Quijos to eat at Restaurant Gina. Most ordered the fresh trout from the local stream next to the village, I had mine fried, also an excellent Blackberry Juice. It was very good. Soon we arrived at our destination: the Hakuna Matata Amazon Lodge. A very nice facility in a very remote location, in fact, we could not cross the local bridge in a vehicle, so we walked across and were taken by motorcycle the rest of the way to the lodge. That’s a new experience. I have a nice cabin very close to the large palapa-style restaurant/bar. Great forest views from there as well as from my cabin. We had dinner at 7:00 pm and offered a night walk following. I had the meal and skipped the walk enjoying a local Pilsner beer and using the internet. I turned in early and enjoyed the sounds of the rainforest and the rain that fell in the middle of the night. It was a great first real day in Ecuador.
January 18, 2024,   Thursday / Amazon Basin 
I woke to fresh rainforest air and the sounds of wild birds this morning and then went to our 8:00 am scheduled breakfast. I had Watermelon, Papaya, Pineapple, Fresh Egg, Bread, and an interesting local fresh fruit juice. The group did a short walkabout tour and I stayed and updated this blog and did some business (no WiFi in the cabin). I have had my experiences in rain forests so it's good for those who haven’t experienced it. Some did a more extensive extra tour as an add-on. I did my walkabout in the immediate area noticing the flora…very pretty. I love my free-standing cabin and the Rainforest sounds here, it reminds me somewhat of the ranch, but the continuous sounds of running water were amazing. I had a very nice lunch of Tilapia, Fresh Salad, Rice, and Soup, they prepare everything fresh so always a home-cooked meal. After lunch I tested the swimming pool, it is continuously fed by a spring so always fresh water. It was a bit cool but refreshing, and the sun peaked out as well. I had my Ecuadoran Coca-Cola (sweeter) as my afternoon beverage. At 7:00 pm went to dinner and I had a special Amazon cocktail…very nice Jennifer. For dinner, the appetizer was the best, an individual casserole with Hearts of Palm, a Pork Chop entree with Scalloped Potatoes, and root vegetables. Dessert was a mixed berry soufflĂ©. A nice final dinner at Hakuna Matata. I retired early and will pack in the morning.

January 19, 2024,   Friday / Amazon - Center of the World - Quito   
I again slept very well, I enjoy life in the extreme country…although I would not want to live in the Outback again. At home, we have a sound app that plays water sounds when we go to bed…not needed here. Our meeting time to check out and for breakfast is at 7:30 am. this morning. I woke up, packed my small bag, and went to breakfast. We had bread and jam, a wonderful fruit bowl, and scrambled egg with yucca biscuit. Very good. I had the first motorcycle down and thus first to the bus arriving just before our luggage on a bicycle cart, it was good to see my bag before we left. We were soon off and stopped at a small Highland Village to view the unique cooking of fish and chicken in heavy leaves over charcoal. Also visited an outdoor market with fresh fruits and vegetables so there was plenty for all of us to share on the bus. The Yucca and small Bananas were my favorites. I bought some Ayahuasca, a native cure-all I had previously read about and the guide had mentioned as well. We’ll see. We stopped at a Hummingbird Sanctuary That was interesting. A group of birders from the USA entered after us so I asked I asked if any had checked off Painted Bunting…none had. I hope Mr. Crocket is taking care of the seven sets I had established on the Ranch…he said he would. We began climbing the Andes Mts. with views of beautiful waterfalls and heavy forests. It was very cold at the summit. As we crossed over we transitioned from the Amazon basin into the Central Valley. We next visited the Center of the World where it was sunny and warm. This is a very nice park area with a monument and information about the Equator. Lots of tourist shops, restaurants, exhibits, and even lamas. Very clean and somewhat Disney-esque. I got a new Panama Hat, a good meal, and a great Ice Creme. We arrived back in Quito at about 5:30 pm and the hotel had a Welcome Drink for us and distributed our luggage, I had the same room as before. My plan is to rest, relax, hot water, WiFi, and then a good sleep before tomorrow's excursion. A great day in the 
Highlands of Ecuador.
January 20, 2024,   Saturday / Quito - Otavalo Tour 
I did not sleep well with urban sounds compared to previous jungle nights. There is no A/C so imperative to leave the window open, but you get the sounds of the city. There was a lot of activity too, more than a few days ago as things have returned to normal in Quito. I went down for breakfast at about 7:30 am and had Leche Caliente, Scrambled Eggs, Empanadas, Fried Plantains, Watermelon, and Pineapple. I finished and then boarded our 8:00 am. bus (same Guide & Driver) and our full-day optional excursion: Otavalo and Quilotoa Crater Lake excursion. An early stop was in the Cayambe area famous for biscuits...there are a dozen plus restaurants featuring these unique biscuits and they are very good and different. We sampled three different style servings...well worth the visit. We then went to Quilotoa, the westernmost volcano within the Ecuadorian Andes and its two-mile wide caldera presents a stunning panorama with its lake in the center. We took an open-air boat ride around two islands located in the middle of the lake. Fun and interesting. Next a shopping and lunch stop in Cotacachi, I had a fantastic meal at La Marquesa. First, the indigenous entertainment was great and I enjoyed a Pilsener beer...I then ordered a Potato Soup with a large Avocado and Cheese, then a Fried Trout topped with Shrimp served with Fried Potatoes and Salad. The trout was served differently (flattened) than at Gina's. It was excellent as was the soup. My best meal in the country by far. Our final stop at about 3:00 pm was at the famous Saturday Otavalo Market. The entire main Square and several streets between are filled with Artisans, Crafters, Local Farmers, and various other types of vendors. This is the real deal and not manufactured flea market junk. Some vendors were leaving so some real bargains were available, I bought a Mohair Blanket and a couple of Dolls early on so had time to sit at a balcony bar overlooking the square and people watch. The native dress was common and the small indigenous people were numerous…I didn’t take photos although some were dressed out for it and accepting tips. Amazing. We left at about 4:30 for the two-hour trip back to Quito crossing the Equator for the second time today. Every stop today was a highlight. I made some notes and retired straightaway knowing I would be up early on Sunday.
January 21, 2024,   Sunday  /  Quito to San Christobal, Galapogos 
I woke at about 2:00 am…this will be a long day but I had six hours of sleep. I began by updating my Blog from yesterday's great excursion and then packed for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. Check-out and on the Bus by 4:15 am for our hour journey to the airport. There was an Exottica agent who organized and helped us in getting the Galapagos entry documents ($20) and inspections done. She had also preprinted all our flight boarding documents. I was at the gate one hour before our 7:05 am. boarding. A smooth morning thanks to Exottica. The flight was uneventful and at about 10:00 am we landed in San Christobal. We deplaned down a staircase and walked over to the small terminal to be processed. The entry tax / National Park fee of $100 is paid and then we watch the luggage show: all luggage is placed in rows on the floor and a sniffer dog goes by all. Our group, the Llamas, were met by our local guide and team loaded on a bus and at our hotel, 
The Blue Marlin, within minutes. We were assigned our rooms, changed clothes, and off on a guided orientation walk straightaway. We are just three blocks from the Malecon and central pier so easy access to the entire village. We walked along the Malecon to Playa Mann where all went about their own way. I went directly into the water as I needed a cool off. Yes you do share this beach will the Galapagos Sea Lions…very interesting. After cooling off I had a $6 lunch (will explain in notes) of Beef Broth & Potato Soup, Ceviche, and a Drink sharing a table with fellow Llamas. Following a second swim at Mann’s Beach I slowly walked back towards the Malecon and town. So much to see along the way, Sea Lions dominate here and the mothers are birthing now, Pelicans, large Galapagos Lizards, a variety of Birds, and more. I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon around the Blue Marlin Pool with the wonderful sea breezes. At about sundown, I walked towards the Malecon just looking for something to eat, and stopped at The Burger House which had a very eclectic menu, and decided on a large taco/burrito combination of meats entree. It was served with ranch beans and plantains. It was both interesting and good.  After such a long day I retired.  It was a great first day on the Galapogos.

January 22, 2024, Monday / San Christobal, Galapagos Islands 

I slept well, the room is air-conditioned by individual units. I wish the hot water worked as well. Breakfast is served from 7-9 AM and I went at about 7:30. It’s a set menu of Egg & Cheese omelet, a strip of bacon, and a large croissant. Clever that it can be eaten as is with Jam & Butter or can be made into a breakfast sandwich for those on the go. They served a small pitcher of Leche Caliente (without requesting…wow). The Llamas met at 9:30 for our full-day scheduled tour. We went up into the Highlands to visit Galapaguera, the home to amazing giant tortoises. MWF are feeding days where they place fresh greens out in various locations and the tortoises come in from the wild to feed. There will be many found at the primary feeding locations. They also have a Nursery Area where the young are allowed to grow before being released. They are quite small when young. These are the tortoises that put the Galapagos on the map. They are amazing to see. The next stop was at Puerto Chino to see seabirds, but I took advantage of the beach as I had already been walked out. The Sea Lions already had the choice spots picked out but I found one and enjoyed the clean fresh waves… Afterward, we returned to the hotel for a two-hour break, I had a Hamburger next door at a cafe and rested. We left at 3:00 pm for the short drive to La Loberia for two hours of snorkeling and swimming. I just used my swim goggles but I went further and saw much more than most. I saw numerous fish as expected and a lot of small to medium-sized (18-24”) sea turtles that were swimming around individually and in groups. I then had beach time and watched the Sea Lions train their young. It was very nice. Once returning to town many (7) signed up for the 360 water tour around the island on Wednesday. I stopped for a Chicken Shawarma with Fries and Soda  ($9) from El Arabe (Jordanian) as I knew I wouldn’t go back out this evening after a long day. It was a very good day in the Galapagos.

 January 23, 2024,   Tuesday  /  San Christobal, Galapogos Islands 
I slept well on this 
day of leisure. I went down to breakfast at about 8:00 am, the same breakfast as previous days. I went to get/be measured for equipment for the 360 cruise tomorrow then enjoyed a Coca-Cola with ice on the Malecon. Great weather day at about 82° with ocean breeze. I then lounged around the pool before taking a long hike to Playa Punta Carola. Long walk but has nice water and a beach. I was able to swim with Sea Lions and Sting Rays. I was safe as I went with new friends and was able to stay in the water for a good while. A long walk back stopping for a Coke at Playa Mann then a Czech-style beer at the Post Office Restaurant on the Malecon. I saw a Heron and was told sea birds do land around there after sunset…so that became my dinner plans. After washing off all the sand I returned to the Post Office for beer and a great Fish & Chips dinner (photo). No sea birds though. I then retired early to prepare for my busy full excursion day tomorrow. I did get in over 13,000 steps in on this day of leisure…

January 24, 2024, Wednesday / San Christobal, Galapagos Islands 

It was pouring rain when I woke at 6:30 am. Not encouraging for the biggest excursion of the trip scheduled today. It was improving by the time I arrived at the Tour Office. Seven of our 11 plus five others are sailing on a San Christobal 360 Tour…i.e. sailing completely around the island. This is the most popular tour here @ $180 pp. and over 8 hours in time, We met our guide, Christopher, picked up our gear bags and walked down to the pier at about 7:30. am We then took a harbor water taxi to our Boat…and we met the Captain & Crewman. There is a government official to ensure life vests are used, but once he is off they come off. Soon on our way for the longest sailing period of the day doing a little fishing to Bahia Rosa Blanca. We were shuttled ashore in a Dingy and walked across a volcanic outcropping to a sheltered bay. Here we snorkeled and saw numerous Sea Turtles and fish. Upon return to the boat we were served the raw Tuna we caught earlier…actually very good. From here we sailed to Punta Pitt, passing a pod of Whales, where we were served lunch and watched Red-Footed Boobies. The next stop was at Bahia Sardinia, a beautiful beach where the group went snorkeling, but I swam into the beach and enjoyed that, eventually the group walked over to me returning from their snorkel, humorous as it looked as though I was hanging with the sea lions. We stopped at Cerro Bruno a large outcropping and a photo opportunity. The prime photo is through the arch with Kicker Rock in the background. Also here were some Blue-footed Boobies. The best and final destination is last: Leon Dormido or Kicker Rock (photo). This is a series of very high huge rock outcroppings located off the main island of San Christobal. This is the best snorkel opportunity in the Galapagos. This is deep water which allows for a variety of unique opportunities. We saw huge Sea Turtles, Tiger Sharks, Sting Rays, a variety of Fish, and at the very end the Hammerhead Shark. WOW. What an experience. We received a towel and began sorting our gear on the way back to Puerto Baquerizo arriving at about 4:45 pm. This was one of the best excursions I have ever done and very glad that I did it. After cleaning up I went to Giuseppe’s for dinner: Nona’s Meatballs, and a nice Salad. Then the final walk along the Malecon as I returned to the Blue Marlin. An outstanding day.

January 25, 2024,   Thursday  /  San Christobal to Guayaquill
I woke early so began to pack and was at breakfast at about 7:00 am. The newly arrived Exottica Group had questions and is not getting the extra day on the island. I’m glad we got it. Our airport shuttle is at 10:50 am and we were at the airport straight away. A small wait once there but soon on our way to Guayaquil.  I got an upgrade to seat 2A and boarded first actually.  I was also first off the plane. A first for me on both.  We were picked up by Hotel Shuttle in Guayaquil and we stayed ay the Wyndham Garden Hotel near the Airport.  I have a very nice king room and it will be very nice to take a hot shower, and sleep in a large clean bed.  At about 6:00 I went next door to a Red Lion for a nice Hamburger and some Coca-Cola.  Very nice way to decompress from the trip.  An easy travel day.

January 26, 2024, Friday / Guayaquil, Ecuador

I slept very well and I have a late check out so easy morning repacking as I’ll check both bags through to Tampa. I enjoyed this hotel and took the 11:00 am Airport Shuttle. AA is not open as yet so time for KFC. I was kind of pleased with myself: I ordered from the kiosk, paid by iPhone, and got my food…simple. However, I had to have the lady next to me open my mayo packet…Oh well…not quite independent? I got through security and check-in without a problem and to my gate two hours before departure. Smooth process and a nice Airport. We arrived in Miami at about 7:00 pm and had the huge process of customs and secondary security. My Tampa flight was a little late and only an hour flight but still midnight before arrival. The DD and DW picked me up and we were home at about 1:00 am. Long day, but the trip was well worth it.

Exottica, the Tour Operator
I was very pleased with Exottica. I thought giving us an extra day in Galapagos was better than staying in Guayaquil where there could be security concerns. They handled last-minute airline changes very well. Exceeded expectations and I will travel with them again. I’m setting up Bosque Travel as an affiliate.

Tour Guides

Carlos - a native of the Highlands, was our guide for four full days while in Quito, the Amazon Basin, Highlands. He was personable, knowledgeable, helpful, translating, and always Smiling. You can tell he loves his country. One of the best, in my top five, I have had in all my travels.

Boris - a native of San Cristobal, was adequate, but too much of a hustler for me. Does his job because it's his job. A bit lost in translation perhaps.

Christopher - (360 Excursion) 20 years on the island and was excellent and friendly. He knew how to manage groups of people.

Galapagos Dual Economics

Tourism here is based on the unique varieties of animals. Beaches are nice but found all over the world so it’s the unique species of animal that is the Galapagos. For years It had primarily been affluent American and European tourists who visited; however, during COVID-19 tourism wasn’t possible. The Ecuadorian government began to allow native Ecuadorians easy access to the Galapagos. The fee was now minimal so they were the dominant visitors for the past several years and restaurants catered to them. Now that full tourism has returned there are two styles of restaurants and tours. A local lunch averages about $6, and a tourist lunch $12. I had lunch from a local stall at Mann beach and it was good, but also not the quality of the standard. But Ecuadorian food has not appealed to me in general.  The dual pricing also seen in other areas...so negotiate.


This adventure was one of my most unique and enjoyable experiences as a traveler.


Sunday, January 7, 2024

MSC Seashore Cruise Review - January 7, 2024

  MSC Seashore Cruise Review  - January 7, 2024 

Just the Facts:
Ship: MSC Seashore - 2020 - Weight: 169,400t - Capacity: : 4,540 passengers
Captain:  Stefano Aiello (Italy)   Cruise Director:  Endrigo Martin (Brazil)
Ports: Port Canaveral, USA - Ocean Cay, Bahamas (overnight) - Costa Maya, Mexico - Cozumel, Mexico
I’m cruising as a solo on this 7-day cruise. This is my first cruise on the Seashore, my 20th cruise on MSC, and my 205th cruise overall.  I do have Diamond status, the highest of the MSC Loyalty Club levels.
Sunday, January 7 / Port Canaveral / Embarkation / Day 1 
I have a 2:00-2:30 Boarding time so planned accordingly and left the Florida Villa at about 10:15 a.m. for the drive to Port Canaveral. I arrived at Park-N-Cruise at about 12:30 pm., a very efficient parking company I have used for years now and soon I was on my way to the port terminal. I arrived at Pier number 10 at about 1:00 grabbed my bags and went up one level to port security and through quickly. They had a Diamond card line and I went directly to a check-in counter. Very smooth process when arriving later and I was able to go straight to my cabin arriving on Deck 9 at about 1:30 p.m. I have a balcony cabin located all the way forward, actually the first cabin so a long walk to the forward elevator/stairwell. It is very comfortable, especially for a solo. The cabin has a Queen bed, Wardrobe, Large screen Television, a Counter/dressing table with mirror, a Small stocked refrigerator, Shelving, and drawers inside the wardrobe, a Couch, and a small but adequate bathroom with a solid glass door shower. I was able to watch the Tampa Rays game from 2nd quarter while setting up and hanging my clothes. At halftime, I went up to deck 16 to the buffet. My traditional embarkation selection Roast Beef was excellent…very moist and flavorful as well as Mashed Potatoes and Pickled Cabbage. I returned to the cabin and watched the remainder of the game before Muster Drill began at about 4:00 pm. I prepositioned myself on deck 7 so that I got my card scanned at Muster Station C (upper Theater) very early and avoided most of the crowding. I watched some of the Dallas Cowboys football game while finishing set-up. I ordered the premium WiFi package and the reception in my cabin was good. They are strict about one device…and you can not change from a Laptop to an iPhone. I arranged to get the Easy Drink package and had a few cocktails before the scheduled 5:35 pm launch of a rocket from Cape Canaveral. We began our sail away before launch but as we were still in the channel we had front row seats (photo above). As it was a later launch at dusk you could easily see the flames of Blast Off and follow the rocket as it gained altitude. As it passed directly over the ship it was just a fireball in the sky. It was quite Spectacular to see. I have a 7:15 dinner assignment in the Central Park Dining room (MDR), located on deck 5 aft…it’s going to be a long walk, but probably needed. Dinner and service was good. For dinner, I ordered the Tomato Basil Soup, a very nice Scallop Ceviche, and the Ravioli entree. For dessert a wonderful Crema Catalonia. After dinner, I had reservations for the 9:30 Variety Show but retired to the cabin. It was straight to bed and some TV after a busy day. 

Monday, January 8th / Ocean Cay Marine Reserve / Day 2  
Smooth seas overnight just enough movement for a very enjoyable night's sleep. The bed is very comfortable with good pillows. We were docked at about 7:00 am and it is an overcast day…the Captain has already announced that we will not overnight here as worse weather is forecast for tomorrow. I went to the MDR for breakfast at about 8:15 am and had a shared table. I ordered a Fruit Plate, Danish, Eggs Benedict with a side of Bacon, and hash brown potatoes. I was served Hot Milk which is not always easy to get on other cruise lines but very common on MSC. One advantage of this far-forward cabin is that the lighthouse is right off of my balcony…so I have a great view. I did my usual Monday morning business activities and enjoyed cabin time. I went up to deck 16 just to get a good view of the island. The water here is beautiful and the Palm trees look better with every visit. This stop will only improve over time. I had Pizza for a light lunch while on deck 16. Did a walkabout and more cabin time this afternoon. I went to the Sports Bar at about 4:15 for some draft beer. I wanted to watch the NCAA football Championship game at 7:30 so I did dinner at Hola! Tacos and Cantina when they opened At 6:00 pm. I did the all-you-can-eat option @ $17.99. I did well, I ordered: a variety (5) of soft tacos (very small), Hola’s Signature Guacamole (2), Queso Fundido, Chicken Tostada, Chicken Enchiladas Entree, and a Mexican Flan for dessert. It was very good and very filling. I would do this again. I made it back to the cabin for kickoff and watched an entertaining game. I also had front-row seats for the Lighthouse Light Show. Best perspective I have seen. We sailed away just after 10:00 pm. It was an easy restful day on the Mac Seashore.
Tuesday, January 9th / Ocean Cay now Sea Day / Day 3 
Rocky seas overnight that became worse over the course of the day. I slept in and then went up to the buffet for some Eggs and very good Bacon. I had a casual morning updating this blog and doing some online business. The wind was the enemy today, we passed through the same front that hit Florida so hard today. Most of the outer decks were closed so I made a Cabin Day out of it. My cabin is as far forward as it gets so I got a lot of the howling wind noises. Interesting day. At about 5:00 pm I went down to the Brooklyn Cafe, a very nice large bar lounge, for some cocktails and people-watching. At 7:15 I went to the Central Park Dining room for dinner. I ordered: Shrimp Cocktails (2), an excellent French Onion Soup, the nice Pasta Bolognese entree, and dessert. All from the classic (available daily) side of the menu. I originally had 9:30 reservations for the variety show in the Theater, but did a walkabout and saw a new friend participating in the Lip Syncing contest so I watched that for awile, then watched the dueling Piano Bar performers (photo). All entertaining and lots of guests out this evening. I retired back to the cabin and updated myself on the news about a civil war breaking out in Ecuador. I’m scheduled to fly to Quito on Tuesday so quite interested in the news. It was a different but interesting sea day on the MSC Seashore.

Wednesday, January 10th / Day at Sea / Day 4

Smoother seas today and I slept very well. At about 10:00 am I went to the Le Cabaret Lounge for the Diamond Reception. They had small snacks on the tables and later brought Petit-fours. There was a selection of five drinks on the trays of the Bar Servers. The entertainment was an excellent Jazz duo. The Cruise Director introduced the Senior Staff, the Captain, and the Hotel Director. No leaving early at this event. I sat with two ladies who happened to be fans of this Blog so that was fun. Stopped at the Bar on the way out and had a Bloody Mary complement of the Beverage Manager. Nice. Since it was a sea day I took advantage of having Lunch in the MDR at about noon and I was joined by my new friends. I ordered the Black Bean Soup, the Tex-Mex Chicken Salad, a very nice Veal Scaloppini Piccata, and Boston Creme Pie (disappointing) for dessert. The weather is getting a bit better and I had a Cabin afternoon and a wee nap. At about 7:00 pm I did a walkabout and did a bit of shopping before attending the 3-hour continuous Variety Show in the Le Cabaret Lounge, a typical MSC production show M.O. with lots of action and less verbiage due to language barriers. I saw various interesting acts before my 9:00 pm reservation at the Butcher's Cut Steakhouse. Tonight I ordered the Smoked Tomato Soup, the Hearts of Palm Salad, and the NY Sirloin Strip Steak with a Baked Potato side. The assortment of Breads and Steak Sauces were also good as was the service. Thank you, MSC, it was an enjoyable meal. I then retired to the cabin for a contented sleep. A nice day on the MSC Seashore.


Thursday, January 11th / Costa Maya, Mexico / Day 5

Finally, calm seas overnight and I slept very well. We arrived several hours early by 7:00 am as I was up using the WiFi. I slept a bit longer and then checked the beautiful weather we have today. The first real sun since we left Florida. At about 10:30 am I went up to the buffet for some Eggs, Potatoes, Bacon, and French Toast. Nice view of the Lighthouse too. I left the ship after breakfast and made my way to the taxi stand for a shred taxi ($4 pp) to the old village of Mahahual. There are four ships docked today and a mass of people at the port area. We arrived in Mahahual and I walked along the Malecon until I saw workers wearing El Faro T-shirts. That was our favorite hangout before Hurricane Dean wiped out everything in 2007. They have now built permanent Palapas and the new Palm trees now cover shade on the beach. There are so many more people than I have ever seen here, but I did get a shady table with great sea breezes. I found numerous photos in my iPhone of the original El Faro, as we went twice in 2006. The current servers were very impressed and in fact, brought over our favorite waiter from 18 years ago, unfortunately, he works at a different place now, but his grandson served me. It is much more touristy and thus expensive. I had a couple of Cervesas and a nice MX Coca-Cola, but the best was the Lobster Tacos…they were excellent. The water was excellent and the beach was nice (photo above). From the water you can see the huge Cruise Ships in the distance, Pelicans and Albatrosses flying about, and the abundant beach activities. I got a shared taxi back to the port at about 4:00 pm and soon back on the Seashore. Rested and enjoyed the sunset from the balcony until time for dinner. Tonight I ordered the Maryland Crab Cakes and Herbed Wild Mushroom Ragot as starters and both were excellent.  The very good Steak Diana entree, and two desserts: Coconut Tapioca and Vanilla Creme with Berry Coulis. It was a very nice dinner. It was a very nice dinner.
After dinner, I attended the Production Show:
The Journey. It featured the Singers and Dancers doing a set of classic songs from various European Countries. Unique costumes and a talented group and they did work in two of my favorites: the Can-Can (photo left) and Con Te Partiro. Following the show I watched the Piano entertainers as I waited for some Coca-Cola from the bar servers to take back to the cabin. I was tired from all the walking today, over 7000 steps. I also love the evening turn-down service, very nice to have a clean cabin in the evening. It was a very busy day in port and on the Seashore.

Friday,  January 12th   /  Cozumel  /  Day 6 
Smooth seas overnight, just enough rocking for a good night's sleep. I woke at bout 7:30 a.m. and we had been docked at Puerto Langosta for a while. I did some WiFi business but at about 9:30 am I was off and walking into town, I love docking at this pier, so much easier for the things I usually do when in Cozumel. My first stop was at Antonio’s for a haircut just as he opened at 10:00 a.m. Another very good haircut too. The second stop is at Zensi Spa for a pedicure…it was very nice. The third stop is at my Cozumel HQ: Woody’s Bar & Grill. I had dropped my backpack at my favorite table earlier. The good WiFi, Live Entertainment by Michael, great Mexican Coca-Cola, good Guacamole and Pico de Gallo, and Bohemia beer were very nice on this nice and breezy day. The day seemed a bit off though. I casually began walking back to the ship earlier than usual and taking an unusual route when I heard my name called on the street…it was David my usual Bartender from Woodys. He’s working at another place and he filled me in on Woody’s…seems there has been a riff in management. I wondered why I had not seen my good friend Nelly there. In fact, I had not seen the new owners either. I did stop at the Thirsty Cougar on the Malecon as a break on my walk. Manny has been there since the original owners and they do have my Bohemia as well as the view (photo from my table) and a nice sea Breeze. I made it back on board before 4:00 pm and refreshed and relaxed before our sailing away. This is one of those days that I’m glad I have a 7:15 dinner time. Dinner was very good, I ordered: two Baby Shrimp Cocktails, the Penne all Amatriciana pasta, the Honey BBQ Meatloaf entree, and a Cherry Clafoutis Creme (only fair) for dessert. After dinner I retired to the cabin, overall another great port day in Cozumel.

Saturday, January 13th / Day at Sea / Day 7 

Some rolling seas overnight, just enough rocking for a good sleep. I had a relaxing morning the went up to the Buffet at about 10:30 am. I had French Toast and Bacon with milk and sat outside on the aft…beautiful weather today. I then walked across the Bridge of Sighs to the Sky Bar for a spicy Bloody Mary and enjoyed the aft view with the wake. I took some Coca-Cola back to the cabin updated this blog and did some research on my trip to Ecuador on Tuesday.  Having some problems since the troubles and one flight arriving after curfew. In the afternoon I went back to the Buffet for a Hamburger and Fries. You build your own and they are very good. Still great weather but I know later we have to pass through a cold front. But the most sun we have had on the ship so guests are happy and outdoors on this final sea day. We had another Diamond cocktail event (photo) at 5:30 pm in the Le Cabaret Lounge, basically the same as the first one. I then went by the Brooklyn Lounge for my cocktails prepared by I Gusti then to the MDR for my 7:15 dinner. It was Italian Night and the tables were nicely decorated with an Italian-themed menu. I ordered Arancini, two entrees: Bistecca alla pizzaiola and Chicken Parmigiana, with Tiramisu for dessert. It was very good other than the dessert although all the desserts have been weak. I will try the Pistachio Ice Creme next visit in February. I retired to the cabin to watch the NFL Wildcard game between Miami and Kansas City played in -7° with -30°wind chill. Wow. I tried to sleep, but difficult this night. It was a nice find sea day on the MSC Seashore.

Sunday, February 14th / Port Canaveral / Debarkation
Fair seas overnight, but I did not sleep well, too many last minute changes to Ecuador plans. We arrived on time and were docked just after 6:00 am. I finished packing and was at the self-debark location at about 6:45 a.m. We began leaving at about 7:00 a.m. and thanks to facial recognition we were soon on the street. I was on the parking shuttle bus by 7:30 and on the road by 7:50 a.m. Stopped for groceries, and was home before 10:00 a.m. Easy Peasy. 

Maiden Voyage: 2017  /  Gross Tonnage: 153,500 tons
Passenger Capacity: 5179  /  Crew: 1413  /  Length: 323 meters/1060 ft
Max Cruising Speed: 22 knots  /  Avg Speed 21 knots
Installed power: Diesel (40,000kW)  /  Propulsion: Twin propellers
17 passenger decks  /   Builder: Fincantieri
Godmother: Sophia Loren

I had cabin 9004 a starboard side balcony located on deck as far forward as you can go with a long walk to the forward elevators. Storage is fine if solo. The toilet seems smaller perhaps because the glass shower doors restrict movement. The cabin has a push-button safe, twin/king beds, a large padded headboard, two small nightstands, wall-mounted wall lights, a large mirror, a small refrigerator, a small table/bench (unusual), and a nice TV with interactive features. My cabin steward Ariel was very good.

Dining / Food
The dinners in the MDR are very good, service and settings were wonderful. I love the tablecloths. Our wait staff were excellent, very pleased with the service. The buffet food was good to very good. Not as many selections as in the past, but the food variety was fine. Favorites: all the Pizza, all the Pasta, Guacamole, Hamburgers, and Salad Bar. I only did one specialty restaurant: The Butcher’s Cut and it was very good.  I may say the the Seaside food seems better than the Seashore.

Comments - MSC Cruise Line
MSC is very different than the usual American cruise lines and if you're looking for the same experience it will be much different. You may like the differences or you may be very unhappy with the differences. As an experienced cruiser, I love different. If you don’t like change or are not flexible you will probably NOT like sailing a European cruise line. Following are my personal observations on sailing MSC: 

MSC Pluses
Beautiful Public Rooms, Good MSC Production Shows and entertainment, Quality and Beautiful Themed Bars, Nice Cabins, Hot Milk readily available on buffet and MDR, Attentive bar servers, and Good MDR Breakfasts.  Tablecloths.

Changes since Covid
Announcements are now only in English
Fewer children since they changed the ‘Children sail free’ promotion.
Many more American guests result in more: Scooters, Wheelchairs, and complainers.

Highlights of the Cruise
Rocket Launch from Port Canaveral
Hola! Tacos and Cantina
Port Days in Cozumel and Costa Maya
Butcher’s Cut Steak House