Live from MSC Lirica, Day 9

So, today was a Sea Day...and pretty typical...I am still impressed by the ability to get a table around the pool, even when everyone is here. Getting through the crowd to get from one end to the other was a challenge, since so many people are apparently offended by "rows", and feel the need to move their chair so that it is anywhere but in line.

Most of the day I just lollygagged around the pool, read a little and tried to recover from yesterday's stress.

Last formal night was tonite. I had the Veal Rack. Everyone else at the table had lobster, which was big, but looked and was reported to be a bit dry...which is why I don't get lobster on cruise ships...I don't remember the last time I had a good one.

The rest of the meal was fine. AFter dinner and a brief appearance at the Cocktail Party, of course, it was back to the casino....I still think it's the best room on the boat, the dealers are uniformly good, friendly, and I have now added Bulgarian to my list of languages, thanks to Christo, who taught me "Blago dari-a" (sp)..Thank You, in that language. Don't know when I might have cause to use that again, but I do like learning new words and phrases in every language I can find someone to teach meThe midnight buffet was to die for tonite - really awesome spread of meats, cheeses, fruit and veggie carvings, some bread baked in fish and crocodile shapes, tons of desserts, etc...A nice effort.

Tomorrow I will be in classes the first half of the day, and packing the last half, so I think I will wrap this up tonite. I will be posting a full review when I get home Sunday, so stay tuned if you are interested, and I will try to tie this all up in a nice little package.

Happy Sailing, Everyone.

p.s. two things - yesterday in all the confusion, anxiety and anger I committed two serious blunders...first off, when I dropped the rental at the airport I left my 44oz cup in the car...now I am stuck here for two days drinking from the little shot glasses they use on board (I knew about the cup thing, which is why I had the cab stop at a BP on the way to the port to pick up a Big Gulp), and, worse, I failed to buy a refrigerator magnet, which really is a big deal for me...I have kept my collection pretty well over the years, and this is a serious miss...oh, well.


Live from MSC Lirica, Day 8

You know, I always advise friends and clients that to truly be a traveler, you have to roll with the punches, go with the flow, don't let stupid stuff ruin your vacation, etc, etc, ad naseum....I am having a hard time taking that advice....

I am so p....ed off right now at MSC I can't really find the words....Somehow a day has been cut off our stay in San Juan...and pretty much everyone on board is as surprised as our group that we are sailing off tonite, rather than have another day in PR. I am telling you, if you go to MSC's website it says we are in port until 2am Friday...if you look at the roll call here for this cruise, you will see there was considerable discussion of this very point and that more than one person called MSC or their TA's to get clarification. And let me tell you, they could have cancelled any port on this cruise, and I would have been okay with it....all those little Caribbean islands are pretty much the same after a while, but Puerto Rico was THE reason I am on this boat. I have planned for months to bring my brother here, where we lived as kids, and see certain places and things that he remembers like it was yesterday, and talks about frequently. And bright and early this morning all that went out the window, and I had to scramble to re-assemble my whole vacation...the fact is there is nothing they could do at this point to make it okay...If MSC right now, refunded my entire cruise fare, I still wouldn't feel anything but cheated, lied to and ripped off.

Those of you who have been following this thread would probably agree I have been fair and even handed with MSC...I am reporting the few problems honestly, and giving praise where it is deserved, but I can tell you right now I will never book a client with MSC under any circumstance, period.

So, enough of that rant, because even this is not enough to knock me off my stride.

After digesting the news of our change of plans, (well and cussing for a few minutes), I ran over to the Hertz office down the street and arranged for a car...I prefer to do this sort of thing on the spot, when I can see the actual car, and know that it will work for us, rather than book in advance, because I always seem to get the "or similar" model, which is typically a Yugo.

So I got us a nice Dodge Caliber, room enough for the four of us, and with the station wagon thing in the back to make loading and unloading the chair easier, and off we went, to terrify the little old ladies...Those of you who consider white water rafting or zip lines to be "adventure travel" really need to get a car in San Juan THAT"S adventure....my poor mother and old aunt from Wichita, Kansas were white knuckling it the whole way thru town. I have driven here before, many times, and kinda like it...it speaks to my "inner F1 driver". Anyway we made it thru town and out to El Yunque, the rain forest, where my dear aunt just had to wonder if "it rains here all the time, because the last time I was here, it was raining too"....-Um...Duh? What part of RAIN Forest is tripping you up? So after an hour or so of oohing and ahhing at plants, flowers and rain, we went to Luquillo Beach, which is not only one of the most beatiful beaches around (and also where me and my brother were baptized a hundred or so years ago), but also has a "Sea without Barriers" Wheelchair Accessible beach, one of only a handful in the world, and it was AWESOME...my brother has not been in the ocean in I don't know how long, it was worth the 2000 miles in the air and 1000 miles more at sea to see it. We have a pool and jacuzzi, with hoists, so he get in the water often, but there is just something about soaking in the ocean.

So, after that we got changed and back in the car and back to town, where I real quick drove thru Bayamon to look at our first home here, and decided to skip Rio Piedras, where we lived for a lot longer, because I was not entirely sure where that house is (I think the neighborhood may have been torn down to expand the University there...I am certain I remember what street we lived on, and have not been able to find it on any map, paper or virtual), and it was getting dark, so we just came on back to the ship, tired, hungry, but happy.

Of course I then had to drive all the way to the airport to drop the car off, because the local office doesn't do after hours drops, and this is just one of the added complications of not being here in the morning, so I could drop it off a hundred yards from the boat where I got it. And avoid a $20 cab ride, as well.

Anyway, I really am tired, and still a little miffed, so I am going to stop now, get some sleep, and tomorrow enjoy a sea day, and hopefully put the bad feelings away, and just remember the good parts of today....


Live from MSC Lirica, Day 7

Antigua - nice, hot, good shopping, fun people...but at this point I am kinda focused on Puerto Rico...and now they are saying we will be there at 9am, instead of noon, so that's a REAL two days...cool.

In an effort to stay out of the casino (apparently some people think I live there), I allowed myself to be talked into (I am such a sucker for a pretty face) going to the show tonite "Theater of Love" ...it was pretty much what I expected, and I was ready to go after the first set of ballet to romantic music. The next number was equally boring, until the piano and player levitated about 8 feet up off the stage, and did a slow front flip, while the player continued on...and then reversed for a backflip, and the guy never missed a beat...okay, THAT was pretty cool!!! and then some pretty interesting acrobatics set to music, so I ended up staying for the whole show. After the show, we went down to the Beverly Hills Lounge for "Stefano", who is billed as playing "Guitaround the world", which, I don't know, would seem to imply a wide range of guitar styles...Turns out he covers the entire musical spectrum, form Frank Sinatra all the way to Dean Martin.....now, this is not a problem, as I love Ol' Blue Eyes, but Stefano really needs to bill himself as "Guitaround North Jersey, 1952-1961", just to be accurate.

Anyway, all this frivolity was preceeded by a dinner of Chicked and Pistachio terrine which was just too much like cat food for my taste, a pretty decent asparagus risotto, and really good Saltimbocca, which I haven't had since I lived next door to an Italian restaurant in Long Beach, back in the late 80's.

I am getting burned out, here, but a few random thoughts about MSC, so far:

The bath towels are bigger than the bathroom...really huge, plush bath sheets, very nice.

This is the perfect sized cruise ship, for my tastes - big enough for plenty of activity, small enough that after 6 days I know most of the staff, and fellow passengers at least well enough to nod and say "Hi" too.

The pool area is as big or bigger on this 1500 pax ship than on some 2500-3000 pax I have been on, and consequently, I have NEVER, NOT ONCE, been unable to find a table or lounge chair around the pool...NEVER...Quite a change from some where every chair is taken by sunrise...

The Animation Team is a really nice touch...about 10 young men and women, who conduct poolside games, and engage in various antics at unexpected times and places (last nite one of them was in a bathrobe in the lobby, laying on the floor clutching a wine bottle), and are all very friendly even off duty when you see them. They all stop to talk and tell you what's coming up, etc....really cool.

I have never seen a Cruise Director (until now) who had time to read a paperback over lunch at the buffet EVERY DAY, nor have I ever met one who totally ignored passengers as they passed by....and I know she speaks 5 languages, so that's not the problem....Seriously, I am not one of those who tracks CD's from ship to ship, and compares notes or anything, (however, I do know all of the Casino Hostesses and most of the Dealers. LOL) but I have talked to a few of them over the last 28 years, and all of them are A: Affable, and B: Busy...I am just sayin'

Anyway, tomorrow is Puerto Rico, and I will let you know how that goes

Live from MSC Lirica, Day 6

St. Lucia, nice place, but I wouldn't want to live here...as a port stop it is pretty good as there is plenty of shopping in walking distance. We spent a couple hours in the Central Market, picked up some shirts, a hat, and of course a refrigerator magnet...My steward finally noticed and asked about them (I have developed the habit over the year of hanging them on the ceiling by the door of my stateroom, as it is the only reliably metal surface in the room.) My poor brother is in a bit of pain...dealing with the curbs and all, I managed to get his leg up under the wheelchair, trying to cross the busiest intersection in town...my bad...but he is a trooper, and will be fine tomorrow) None of these little islands have decent sidewalks, or crosswalks or anything. Oh, and St. Lucia was HOT!!! Kinda nice (it's been tooooooo long since I was too hot, but I did get a bit sweated up with all the walking)

After our jaunt to town, we went up to the cabin and I did run into one of those silly customer service issues that MSC is kind of famous for. I called room service and tried to order some Iced Tea (oops, won't make THAT mistake again). The conversation went something like this:

Hello, Room Service, may I help you?
Yeah, I'd like some Iced Tea please, for two.
We don't have Iced Tea
Uhhhhhhhh, okay....you have tea right?
Yes, sir, we have hot tea
Okay, and you have ice, right?
Yes, but we don't serve Ice Tea from Room Service, sir!
Okay, so you have ice...and you have tea...so, pretty much all we need is something to put it in, yeah?
Sir? Excuse me?

....So...I finally ordered hot tea, and called the steward to fill my ice bucket, and had a bucket of iced tea, rather than the pitcher I had hoped for - but I did get my iced tea, and unlike some people, I pretty much refuse to let it ruin my day...but it is exactly the kind of obtuseness that gets MSC bad reviews, and they really need to figure out a way to get their people to be more flexible. Again, they are all very helpful and friendly and all, but they don't seem to want to get creative in serving customers...they do what the book says, and that's it. Oh, well...at least they appear to be hearing the complaints and working on it at the Corporate level.

Anyway, so, after all that it was time for dinner which included tonites Risotto of the day, which was PUMPKIN!!! and it was excellent, maybe the best so far. Also a corn and chicken veloutte that was very forgettable and a rack of lamb that was a tad overcooked (and with lamb even a tad overcooked just changes the flavor to "mutton")..So, not their best effort tonite, but not really "bad"...

Tonites entertainment was a magic act - good, but not spectacular, pretty typical cruise line magic act fare...except for the python.

And then back to the casino, where my winnings tonite pretty much covered my losses last nite, so I am probably down less than a hundred for the trip so far (which is excellent, for me) Oh, yeah, and the whole Jack Nicholson thing reared it's ugly head....I am often told I look like Jack (hopefully they mean when he was younger and sexy. lol). Personally, I don't see it, but whatever...anyway, a couple of the dealers have been joking about it, and calling me Jack, and "Meester Neekoleson", and tonite one of them brought out a camera and we had a "photo op" out in the hall in front of the Casino...I think some people thought there was an actual celebrity on board, as they all giggled and took pictures of each other, while I did my best Jack Nicholson wry look.

And now, my friends, it has been a long, hot day (hope you Northerners are jealous), G'nite!


Live from MSC Lirica, Day 5

Hey all, great day in St. Maarten...weather was about perfect...every time it felt like it would get too hot, one of those scattered clouds would come across and cool it down to "perfect" again.

Got off the ship first thing this morning and set up a tour for the four of us with a guy with a wheelchair-ramped van. Turns out on this island that is half-Dutch and half-French, populated mostly by Africans and Indians, our tour guide was "JOSE"...from Puerto Rico originally, so during the slow parts of the drive we compared notes on P.R. (I used to live there, many moons ago, for those who don't know me)...Talk about your small world, huh? So we drove up to Orient Beach, and over to Marigot on the French side, and pretty much covered the island in an hour and a half, then stopped in Phillipsburg for cigarettes and rum and other goodies....12 bucks a carton for smokes, so I feel like I hit the jackpot!

By the way, and apropos of nothing, we were all alone at the dock this morning; by the time I set up the tour the Celebrity Summit was pulling in; and by the time we all left to get on the van, the Costa Atlantica was docked. And right next to us was a Dutch Navy frigate...so it got pretty busy at the terminal by the time we came back from touring.

Back on board we had a lite, late lunch...again, Bacon and Spinach pizza is better than it sounds...that and a hot dog and I was ready for nap-time. We went and chilled in the cabin and watched Iron Man in Italian for a while, til dinner, which was the best I have had so far.

Prosciutto (sp) and Melon appetizer, clam chowder (tasty but a bit thin), and the best risotto ever, with bits of sausage and mushrooms...very hearty...followed by a nice filet mignon that was cooked a perfect medium rare, and quite tender. And then, of course, the Ice Cream of the Day, which was NOT RUM RAISIN!!! woohoo, but a sublime mint chocolate chip that went perfectly with the dark italian coffee they serve...have I mentioned that the coffee is great? I drink a gallon or two a day of coffee, and consider myself an expert on the subject.

After dinner we went down to the Beverly Hills lounge for a little ABBA contest (those of us who had way too much ABBA in the 70's are getting way too much ABBA again in the "oughts"...must be a karma thing), which honesty compels me to admit, I aced, even though it is embarassing to say it.

And now I am just killing time waiting for tonites show, which is something operatic...something tells me I won't stay for the whole thing, that the song of the roulette wheel will pull me away, but, you know, gotta try that high brow stuff once in a while, just to prove to yourself you really don't like it...

Tomorrow, St. Lucia