Carnival Paradise - 12/27/2010

Decided to take the keiki's for a cruise for their Christmas present.  Just a little 4 day from Long Beach on the Carnival Paradise, hitting Catalina and Ensenada.

We were actually scheduled to do this last year when the Swine Flu thing hit, and all the Mexico cruises were cancelled.  We ended up going on a 7 day cruise on the Carnival Splendor to Canada.  Which was awesome.

But, they have been bugging me since then to take them on another cruise, and since I got back from the  Norwegian EPIC last week, the pressure has intensified.

So, here we go.  I have done this ship or a sister, on this itinerary, at least a dozen times.  Catalina is a fun little stop, even though I took the kid's on a day trip there just a couple months ago.  And, unlike some, I kind of like Ensenada.  Not much to do but buy trinkets with the nephews and neice.  I am thinking Hussong's is out of the question.

The Carnival Paradise has undergone the "Evolutions of Fun" treatment since I was on her last.  New waterslide and such, and the Adults-only area.  I believe the kids club area has been upgraded some, as well.  So here's my chance to scope out all that stuff and report back to you.

I will be, of course, posting daily from the ship.  So, stay tuned.

And if you are looking for a quick get-away cruise from the West Coast, or anywhere, just give us a call at DAVE HOLMAN TRAVEL SERVICES, 760.265.3687, or check us out at http://www.facebook.com/DaveHolmanTravel


Norwegian EPIC, 11/27/10 boarding day

I took the Spirit Air red-eye, LAX to FLL. Got into Fort Lauderdale at 7:30. Upon arrival at Fort Lauderdale I used the Go Shuttle to get down to Miami. Rather than the usual van, they put me in a limo with a couple from San Francisco, and another young man. Turns out the couple are frequent NCL cruisers headed for their first trip on the EPIC, and the young man is a dancer for the Jean Ann Ryan company (that used to do all of NCL's stage productions), and a veteran of several NCL ships, who was headed to South Beach for vacation. So, some nice conversation about all things NCL.

We got to the Port of Miami about 9 am. Wandered around the port awhile, as they were nowhere near being ready to let us on the ship. Considered walking down to the Celebrity Eclipse to greet my cruisemate Alyona, but it was docked completely at the other end of the pier, at least a mile away. Settled for getting some Ginger beer from a catering truck and watching the chaos of people coming and going. Alyona called about 9:30 that she was getting ready to debark the Eclipse. She asked me if I thought she should grab a cab to the EPIC or just walk. I told her I would recommend the cab. She walked. And showed up about 10:30, looking like she had walked a couple miles dragging 200 pounds of luggage. Probably because she had.

So, we went thru the amazingly smooth boarding process in about 10 minutes. The EPIC is so large, they actually use 2 different terminals to board, which makes it much more efficicent. We sat around the lobby for a few minutes, and right at 11:30 we got onboard. Our stateroom was not ready. But another new (to me at least) thing they are doing is setting aside a lounge so people can check their carry-ons until the staterooms are ready, instead of having to lug everything around the ship for a couple of hours. Nice.

We did some basic exploring, checking out the ship. I have already had the opportunity,during the Inaugural in July, to see the whole ship, so I played tour guide. Checked out the rock climbing/rapelling wall, and signed the "if you die, we're not responsible" waiver, so we can do all sorts of stupidly dangerous things for the rest of the week.

So, the theme of the day has to be the VIP treatment I am getting from the staff here. I have to tell you, I am not really used to this sort of thing, and I am not sure why the people here have decided to be so darned nice, but it is kinda fun!

As I was walking around I was accosted by Dennis Prguda, the Hotel Director. I have never met him, but he recognized me, as Klaus had told him to be on the lookout, apparently. Anyway,he let me know everything was set up for the little travel agent Sailaway Party I had set up. And extended greeting from Klaus, who won't be getting on the ship til we get to Roatan.

Finally, the lack of sleep on my part and the hike with luggage on the Siberian princess' part, was catching up to us, so we went to see if our cabin was ready, despite the fact they had not announced anything yet. Sure enough, our Stateroom was ready, so we took a little siesta, before heading down for our carryons to begin unpacking. By the time we got back up, my big suitcase was already there, so I used the Muster Drill time to finish unpacking. Now, you know I would never advocate anyone violating Coast Guard regulations or anything, BUT....Oh,and in the room waiting for us was a nice bottle of Tres Pasos (I think) Malbec wine from Argentina. I know nothing of wines, being a teetotaler, but The Cruise Girl assures me it's good stuff. The first little perk.

At the end of the Drill, we headed up to Spice H20 to get redy for the Sailaway party. I was met there by Tracy and Cat from Group Events. They had set aside some tables for us, and even helped wtih blowing up balloons. They really were helpful and fun. About a dozen or so fellow agents showed up for the party. Excellent bar service from Arvind. And two bottles of champagne, again comped. Again, I didn't partake, but every one else seemed to enjoy.

So, we sailed off right on time, and with South Beach in the rearview mirror, we left the party to do a little more exploring. Alyona ran into a couple she had met the previous week on Eclipse. Amazing how things like that happen. Nice couple, hardcore dancers apparently, who seem to make an impression everywhere they sail. We talked a bit, then had to go down to reception to get our keycards fixed.

Finally, after a day of walking around, We decided it was dinner time. I had managed to spend nearly a whole day on a cruise ship without eating, in striking contrast to my last trip on the EPIC when I managed to eat 11 meals in two days. We went to the Manhattan Room. Shared a table with a nice couple from Louisiana, compared travel sotries and had a pretty good Chicken Piccata and a Grilled Swordfish that was excellent. Started with a French Onion soup that was, frankly, just sad. So, stick with the Swordfish! Also the Tempura mushroom starter was very well done. After dinner we headed back to the room, were greeted by a tray of canapes, again a little gifr from Dennis.

We fully intended to head back down to the Manhattan room at 9:30 for dessert and Legends Unplugged. They were doing the Motown Revue that I enjoyed so much on the Inaugural. Bat, caught up in conversation, we talked right past it. Now, you all know I am just a travel agent dabbling in this whole internet/blogging thing in case it turns out to NOT be a passing fad. But my friend Alyona is an actual internet maven, with a half dozen websites (including www.norwegian-epic.com if you want to get her take on the EPIC) and stuff. She attempted to school me in all this stuff. What I actually understood was fascinating. Anyway, we finally decided to run up to the buffet for a midnight snack before setting up the video camera. On top of my usual blog/facebook/twitter posts this week, I have set up a YouTube channel, and will be adding video to my repertoire. Be shre to check that out!

So, after the film session, it was shower and bed. This whole "stay up all day/take the RedEye/Party on board the next day" thing is not as much fun as it used to be!~

Anyway, Sunday is a Day at Sea, and I will let you know all about it tomorrow!


Norwegian EPIC, 11/27/10 Debarking Day

As a final act of kindness, the good folks at NCL hooked me up with the gold luggage tags. So, I slept in til 8, spent a bit of time by the pool, drinking coffee, then mosey'd on down to the Bliss Lounge at 9:15. Two minutes after I got there, a lady came in and asked me if I was ready to go, and escorted me down the back way, on the crew elevator, so we could take cuts and be off the boat in under 5 minutes. Of course I then had to get thru Customs and wait a half hour for my shuttle to the airport, so I am not convinced of the value of the whole "Priority Disembark" thing...Anyway, got to the airport (MIA), picked up the rental car, and headed north to Fort Lauderdale. I love Fort Lauderdale. So much better,for me, than Miami. More laid back beach town. Parked the car in the parking garage at the Beach Plaza, wherein lies HOOTERS, world famous for the great food and free wifi. It was still early, so I took a walk from there down to a little past Las Olas, and back. It's about 80F and sunny, the beach is getting crowded on a perfect Saturday, and just sitting in the sand for a minute is very restful. And I need the rest. I didn't get to bad til 4:30 last night. After a week of this, I am tired. And I have all day to mess around before my 8pm flight home. So, after the beach stroll I went back to Hooters, got me some fried pickles and Buffalo Shrimp. I don't know why O'Sheehan's doesn't serve fried pickles. An obvious oversight on NCL's part.

Sat around for an hour or so typing up the Last Day at Sea post, then moved downstairs, where the Plaza has some nice patio furniture right in front of some outdoor electric receptacles. Plugged in and charged everything, while people watching and deciding I love my life. After that little exercise in battery charging, and gratitude, I did a few more circuits from Las Olas to the Ritz and back, taking breaks to sit on the beach or the wall and just soak in the sun, before deciding it was time to get some grub and head to the airport.

This last week was a pretty good example of why I travel. A little break from the everyday. A little luxury. A little exercise, and a little rest. Meeting new people and making new friends. Running into old friends from previous travels and renewing the friendship. Going to cool places I have enjoyed before, and seeing new places I haven't been before. OH, and playing with monkeys.

I have a huge list of people I want to thank. I can't think of any particular way to organize the list, so I am going to just put them down in chronological order. I am also going to forget a few - please don't be offended. So, THANK YOU to:

Jacquie, Klaus, Amanda, Dennis, Sean, Tracy, Kat, Mike, Paul, Cat, Hannah, Natalie, Aisha, Jessica, Rashida, the current cast of Second City/EPIC troupe, Roadside Louie, and each and every Duster, the Legends cast, Rod, Britney and Michael, Courtney and Arvind, Dan and Sharon...and thanks also to Patti, Patty, Patricia, Glenn, Rob, Ervin and Craig. That's not a complete list, but you get the idea.

And, now, I am sitting at the Quarterdeck on Las Olas, chowing down some nachos and reluctantly deciding it's time to head to the airport...

Norwegian EPIC, 11/27/10 Last Day At Sea

Last Day at Sea

I totally overslept. Not only tired, but they took back that hour we got Sunday. Pretty much, up, hit the coffee, type for a minute and head to Trivia...coulda skipped it. The mighty have been brought low...the old women got us again...not fair having to answer late 19th century questions against people who were there. Just sayin'

From trivia at Bliss to the O'sheehan's for my last English Breakfast. Still good. Final Bingo session was next. Had to show up for the free cruise raffle. Not playing. So far this has not been a good gambling week. However, I did win the Cruise, and then the Slot tournament. Okay, PSYCH!!! That was just an exercise in creating my own reality. But I did sit next to a nice couple and compared notes on our week. And got sucked in to playing the final blackout game. Hey, it was only $5. And Aisha and Hannah both asked me to. I probably could have resisted either one, but not both. Not only didn't win the cruise, I didn't win the bingo game either. After bingo I went to see how my score was holding up on the Slot Tournament. I was in 3rd place to start the day (it's a week long qualifier). As I watched, I slipped further and further down the leaderboard. I almost succumbed to Casino Hostess Sharon's urgings to get in again, just in case...but I didn't...and then, on the LAST spin, of the LAST qualifier, I got bumped off the board. I mean, really? Behind by 400 points with FOUR SECONDS left, this lady decides to hit one for a 1000 points and eliminate me? Oh, well.

Lunch time. Hit the buffet for some pretty good lamb curry and veal patties. Headed down to the room to do a little pre-packing, until Blackjack tournament time. This too is a week long qualifier. I played it smart and waited til towards the end. When I got there $5000 was the bottom of the board and the leader had a little over 12,000. In six brilliantly played hands I was at 10,700. The guy next to me had 11,000. I had to bet before him, so I did the only thing I could do, and went all in. He did the same. I had two face cards against the dealer's 8. Guy next to me get's dealt a 16 and has to hit. He busted. I am at the top of the board. So they started the final a half hour later, and I get to pick my seat, which is always nice. First hand the Dealer gets 21. second hand the dealer get's 21. Third hand the dealer has an 8 and I have a pair of sevens. I had no choice but to split them and pray. My third card was a 7 as well...and I had only one $100 chip left, so I had to hit 14 and bust. then I got a 4 on the other hand, and felt pretty good when I pulled a 9. Then the dealer hits to 21 AGAIN! So, now, 3 hands in and I have $100 left. Things picked up, and I did manage, thru some lucky double-downs to build it back to $1200, and actually finished in third place. Given how the first three went, I felt prety good about it. However the difference between 1st and 3rd is like the difference between $500 cash, and a new T-Shirt.

Back to the cabin to drop off the shirt. Decided I would really like to see Blue Man Group one more time before I had to leave. Called Rashida and had her hook me up with seat for that, and reservations at Moderno, the Churrascaria. Blue Man was excellent, of course. I did see that, while the basic show is the same, there is some variation from performance to performance. They do ad-lib some of it. So, going twice in a week isn't a bad idea, necessarily. AFter the show I headed to Moderno. They were wonderful over there. The hostess, when I got there, told me she could seat me right away, or, if I wanted to wait a few minutes, she would get me a better table. I wasn't starving so I decided to wait. She seated me right at the window, overlooking the stage in the Manhattan Room below. That was kind of nice, compared to being out in the middle of the room. Just as I was perusing the complimentary wine menu, one of the couples in the NCLU group with me walked in, with three other people they had met on the cruise. I decided to order a bottle of wine, and they asked me to join them at their table. Deciding good company was better than a "good table", I moved over. Good call. The others were a couple, and his sister. Turns out the wife works for NCL, in Operations. Of course, she doesn't know anyone I know at NCL, and vice-versa, but it made for good conversation.

Hmmm...now I really digress. Moderno was as good as I remembered. All of the meats were just perfect. The garlic beef was especially memorable. If I could have I would have gotten a doggie bag for some of that! The filet was also "cut it with a fork" tender, and the ribs were brilliantly seasoned, awesome with a little chimichurri, and also falling off the bone. So the conversation turned to moans, sighs, and oohing and ahhing for a while. I finally had to pull myself away, lest I be late for the Cruise Director's big show: Paul Skally Does His Best To Be Funny, or something. No, seriously, just giving him a hard time. He was pretty good. And he really is one of the better cruise director's out there. A real nice guy, he spends a lot of time out and about the ship, talking to passengers, buying drinks in the club, etc. He has the kind of personal touch that leaves people felling good about the whole cruise. I have been on cruises where the CD is mostly just an annoying voice over the PA, and the ocassional talk from the stage, where they don't run any chance of passenger contact. I much prefer this style.

I won't bore you with, nor do I remember in any detail, the last couple hours of the evening, as I made my way around the ship, trying to find passengers and crew to tell them "thanks" and "good-bye". I found an incredible number of them. Took me til 1am. of course, bags were supposed to be out in the hall by 1am. Just made it. In fact, they were coming down the hall when I set my bag out. Then I committed a rookie mistake that is inexcusable in a veteran cruiser like myself...as I set down the bag, I lifted my back foot and let the door close, locking myself out. So, my final official act was going down to Guest Services for a new key. After that, I ended the night in the Casino. One of my fellow TA's, who I had run into all week, was down on a particular bank of penny slots she had told me about, and we sat there til 4am playing, until they finally kicked us out, as we were, basically, back in Miami.

I should have Debarking Day's post done in a couple hours...stand by please!


Norwegian EPIC, 11/27/10, Cozumel

Up on deck early for my morning coffee. We ran through some rough-ish waters last night, and windy today. Not a good beach day. Had a quick bite at the buffet, ran off the ship, hit the plaza, bought the magnet and some souvenir's for the keikis, and right back on the ship in time for the 10:15 Trivia. Of course, we won...it's become a habit. However, most of the fun was taken out of it by Cruise staffer Meaghan, who is entirely unclear on what "freestyle" means. She leans more towards "military school" cruising. She was signing the little activity things, before we started. Someone pointed out that EVERY other staffer had been signing them after. She actually wanted their names, so she could report them for doing it "wrong"...After all, they have rules on how to run activities, and it's important to follow the rules, you know? And all of us were looking at each other, thinking, "Really, dear? REALLY? you want us to denounce your co-workers so you can score points with the boss and maybe get a ribbon at the next Hitler Youth meeting?" She then proceeded to read each question the exact number of times allowed by the rules, and refuse to answer anyone who wanted her to clarify something...My gues is she won't be in the Cruise Staff business long. But she can always get work as a bureaucrat, somewhere.

My plan had been to lay in the sun and read a book all morning, but the sun wasn't cooperating, so I lounged about the cabin, with periodic runs upstairs for coffee, and walks around the public decks talking to people. I had a nice conversation with the barber, Liz. As I mentioned briefly, in a previous review, one of the cool things the EPIC has is a plain, old-fashioned Barber shop. For the guys who don't care to engage in aromatherapy, hot stone massages and the like offered in the Spa. Just three barber chairs. Real barber pole out front. Shave and a haircut. Anyway, one of the barbers is Liz from Australia. She is quite engaging and funny. She was the perfect antidote to Meaghan. If I hadn't got a haircut three days before I came out, I would have sat down and got one, just to continue the conversation. It has been quite busy, too, with someone in a chair nearly every time I've gone by this week.

So, lunch was a burger and hot wings at O'Sheehans. Not much else open on a port day. I actually spent a good part of the afternoon working the evening schedule to try to figure out how best to do all the stuff I wanted to. I had fully intended to eat dinner at Cagney's or Moderno, but just couldn't find the time slot. Having already told some of the Second City cast I would be at their show, and one of my trivia partners that I'd do the SVEDKA Ice bar, etc.

So, long story short, after the late trivia game (wherein we were de-throned by some upstart old ladies, and that's all I got to say about that), I met trivia mate Craig at the SVEDKA Ice Bar. When the lovely Rashida showed up to get us in, she suggested going to the Manhattan Room for dinner at 9:30 and hanging out for the Dancing With the EPIC Stars competition. So, that solved the "when do I fit in dinner?" question. So..I finally made it to the Ice Bar. It was cold. I hate cold. But I managed to stay in all of 15 minutes or so. It is a neat little room, though, with the bar and the glasses made of ice, and some little benches made of ice (thankfully, covered with fur cushions, and a couple of very cool ice sculptures. A bear on one side, and a Viking looking dude on the other. About 7 feet tall. Oh, and a big old flat screen tuned to ESPN, as though someone might want to hang out for three hours and catch a game. Got pictures of all of it, tossed down a
strawberry concoction that started as juice and ended up as a slushy...rather the opposite order of the rest of the universe.So, I am glad I did it...but doubt I would do it again. I will note that the one place on the whole ship where I saw a serious flow problem on the Inaugural was here. The original SVEDKA Ice Bar concept was to allow groups of people in every hour on the half hour, and allot them 45 minutes in the bar. Unfortunately the door of the Ice Bar is at the very narrowest hallway on the entire ship. When 30 people were standing in line, and then all putting on parkas at the same time, it totally blocked traffic. I knew it would be a problem, and also predicted NCL would fix it soon. Sure enough. They have scrapped the schedule, gone freestyle, and it works much better. Now they have put a kiosk and coat rack across the hall, before the narrowing, and just man it 4 or 5 hours a night, and let people come and go "whenever". I am assuming most people don't actually stay a full forty-five minutes, so it works out just fine.

From the SVEDKA Ice Bar to Spice H2O for The Battle of the Sexes game show...kinda lame...I had run into Cat earlier, she told me I should do the Pub Crawl Reunion with her. Just tag along as a cheerleader. So, I figured "what the heck" since the contest wasn't working for me. So, I ran down to Maltings to join the pub crawl, only it wasn't happening either. Not enough people signed up, so the few who did sign up got to go into Howl at the Moon for some free drinks. I ran up to the room and got the latest plate of strawberries, and brought them back down to Cat and Hannah. Listened to Howl at the Moon for a bit until it was time for dinner. On the way to The Manhattan Room I ran into my Trivia buddy, and his new friends Grant, Melissa and Rita. They had all eaten, but decided to join me for dessert and a show. We got a table right on the dance floor. Not sure if that was random chance or if Rashida arranged it.  The "Dancing" competition was a blast. Two of my tablemates, Grant and Craig both had their names drawn to compete. Most of the dancing was done by the staff "pros" of course. Mike Guida was quite good at making mad, passionate love to his 50something partner, while Shane was getting in touch with his inner stripper/rodeo cowboy with his hot little
partner (thanks for the wardrobe malfunctions, Shane!). But best of all was Hannah. She is at least 6 feet tall. Before she put on the 6" spike heels. So, of course her partner was Lam, a pretty good dancer who topped out at 5'6", max. She was actually throwing and carrying him. They won, hands down, although Mike and his lady came in a solid second, and I am waiting to hear if I am invited to the wedding.

After the "Dancing" competition, I headed towards the VIP Party at Bliss...nice. They had the ropeline, and the "list", and the Men in Black guarding the door. Lot's of fun. The first part of the party went til midnite, when they started the male stripper revue. My first thought was to skip it, but after witnessing Mike's dancing shirtless in the contest I decided I could handle it. Besides, they had Natalie and Stephanie from the Cruise Staff go-go'fied (if that's not a word, it should be), and dancing in the cages alongside the stage...little something for everybody. After that, it went to the regular, nightly party. I hung out for a while schmoozing with Paul, the CD and some of the entetainers, then went with a friend to the casino for a minute of futility, and down to Fat Cats to catch Roadside Louie's last set. Over to O'Sheehan's for some late night Buffalo Wings, and noticed it was 3am...actually 4 since we're back on Eastern Time...so I decided to call it a night.

Probably no post til tomorrow, late. I have hours and hours to kill in Fort Lauderdale before my flight home, so I will wrap it all up, then.

CIAO for Niao, peoples


Norwegian EPIC, 11/27/10, Second Day at Sea

I slept in until nearly 7 this morning. After typing up the Costa Maya report, I went for breakfast at O'Sheehans, AGAIN. 
Lolled around until 9:30, when I went up for the big Bridge Tour. We were shown around by Carl, the Navigation Officer. First off, the view from the bridge is awesome, of course. It is also huge. All the way forward, and center is the Helmsman's station. Different than other arrangements I have seen where the helmsman is behind the cockpit. Carl explained that this made communication with the cockpit easier. Then the cockpit itself, a two man station, surrounded by every kind of gadget and geegaw you could imagine. While the ships course is nearly always laid in to the auto-pilot, and the controls used to maneuver manually would fit on a Wii controller, every conceivable bit of information needed to keep an eye on things surrounds each chair on three sides. Behind the cockpit is the "radio room"...actually an open space, but filled with all the radios, phones, and computers to communicate everything and everywhere around the ship. At the back, center is the safety station where all the monitors and alarms fills a good 10 foot square area. From cabin smoke alarms to monitors for breaches in the hull, if anything bad happens, they know it here first. Moving to starboard is the chart table and more comm equipment (and a very high tech coffee machine, no more three pot Bunn apparatus emitting the smell of burnt coffee), and then all the way over the side steering station, protruding over the edge of the ship, this has a clear view all the way down the side of the ship, as well as a glass floor, to see the side straight down, and some large flat screen monitors that are fed by cameras showing the areas blocked by the life boats. All of this is duplicated on the port side, to allow docking from either side. Between the center cockpit and the port station is a giant conference table. Also against the wall there was a continental breakfast set up, so I assume the table is for breaks and meals as well as Staff Meetings. I know I am more fascinated by all this stuff than most, so I'll get off it now...but it was cool to see, and Carl was good at answering questions and seemed to know what all the lights, switches, buttons and screens were for, so all y'all can rest assured you're in pretty good hands on board the EPIC.

Finished up the bridge tour just in time to hit the first Trivia contest. Ah, sweet, glorious VICTORY! Finally. We took down the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by the huge margin of 19 to 18. Self esteem issues resolved, I went up to soak up some rays by the pool and listen to music til lunch time. Lunch was at Wasabi Sushi Bar. The sushi itself was excellent, but I have to say I don't really like the whole set up there. First off, I don't know how much more it would cost to hire some actual Japanese sushi chefs vs. putting bandanas on Filipinos and pretending, but it can't be that much. Secondly, if you are going to go the faux-Japanese route, at least teach them to say a few words of Japanese...a little "konichiwa" and "Domo aregato, tsomotsai" goes a long way towards making it feel like a "real" sushi bar. Also, the bar itself is built up too high and opaque, so, while you can see their heads, you can't see them actually making the sushi. And finally, telling your waitress what you want, and having her write it down and hand them the slip is inefficient. I much prefer to order my time, direct from the chef. I have been in sushi bars all over Asia and the West coast of North America from Canada to Chile, and watching the preparation and socializing with the chefs and other customers is an integral part of a good sushi experience to my mind. But, as I said,the sushi itself was excellent, and the prices are very reasonable...about half what I pay in my local places.  After lunch I did a little more Bingo, to no avail. Just to prove it wasn't a good day for gambling, I left there and dropped a few bucks in the casino. Went down to the stateroom for a minute and found another bottle of wine and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries. I think I now have enough wine and NCL corkscrews for my next "Cruise Night". Thanks, Klaus. It was time for the Digital Scavenger Hunt. Lot's of fun, but I hooked up with a couple of people that were too old to cover the whole ship in half an hour, so we fell short of victory. But that filled the time til the next Trivia contest, where our dominance continued. We won, convincingly, again. Just to prove it wasn't a fluke. Spent a little more time topside til dinner. Now that I have discovered Taste is nicer than I thought, I figured to give it another try. For some reason I decided to start with the French Onion Soup. The offering in the Manhattan Room was not a fluke. They just really on't do a very good French Onion soup. But the little potato salad and shrimp appetizers was very good, and against my better judgement I had the special of the day. A pork burrito. Mostly I ordered it because my waiter Frederick spent so much time explaining to me what a "burritos" is, obviously reciting from a script, and having no idea I grew up in a Mexican restaurant. It was actually a lot better than I anticipated, with a real tortilla rather than some spinach wrap or something, and smothered in a passable Ranchero sauce. A little cheese on top is all that was missing. Finished with a chocolate truffle cake. Very good.

After dinner, I went and got the chocolate strawberries, and as is my wont, took them to Hannah and Cat, my new best friends from the cruise staff. They were doing the karaoke in the Bliss Lounge. I endured a half hour of karaoke waiting for "The Weakest Link" game. The random draw for contestants yielded four dumb people, plus Rob, one of the guys from the other good trivia team, and myself. They should have re-named it from "Weakest Link" to "Rob and Dave and the four HATERS". After the first round, wherein me and him are the only ones who got any correct answers, there were two votes to eliminate each of us, forcing a five question Sudden Death round. I shaded him, 4-5, and he was eliminated. After Round Two, I was eliminated by unanimous vote of the othe four. They carried on for a couple more rounds,and finally ended up with the two finalists who had given a total of three right answers each, in the whole five rounds. As Hannah was having the crowd pick a winner by acclaim, a bunch of my buddies from several of the trivia teams started chanting, "Bring Dave Back"...It was kind of funny, but poor Hannah decided she couldn't violate all the rules in my favor...despite the chocolate strawberry bribe earlier...and one of them was declared the winner.

By this time Howl at the Moon, the dueling piano bar act, was on at Headliners. Went in for a few minutes. They were good, but the crowd was still light. Headed over to Fat Cats, but Roadside Louie and the Dusters had the night off. So, back to Howl at the Moon. It was getting a little livelier, so I hung out til 10:30 when "Zouk" started up in the Bliss Ultra Lounge. Zouk is a caribbean/reggaton themed party. I was having a perfectly fine time watching and schmoozing. Then the girls from the cruise staff dragged my creaking carcass out on the dance floor. Mike was passing out hats. I think I looked pretty stylish in the neon green plastic fedora. I am not sure where in the Rule Book it says you can't take a break once you take the dance floor, but it's apparently the policy here...every time I tried to slip away, someone else dragged me back. So, a couple hours of hard time on the dance floor. And leg cramps this morning as a souvenir.  The party wound down about 1am and I took the opportunity to run into O'Sheehans for a spinach dip nightcap. Bliss was
winding down so I decided it was time to finally get to bed at a decent hour.

And that, as they say, is that...be back tomorrow to report on our day in Cozumel.


Norwegian EPIC, 11/27/10 Roatan, Honduras

Roatan is beautiful, hot, and muggy. Started the day with another excellent breakfast at O'Sheehans, and then hung around the ship til the 9:15 Trivia. We did beat the Fabulous Four, finally. However, a new team showed up and beat both of us, so it's #2 again. Unbelievable.

Good thing I had fun ashore, or my day would have been totally shot. My mission today: To play with a monkey.

After the Trivia debacle I got off the ship, wandered the port area shops for a minute. Got the magnet. I decided to walk into Coxen's Hole (the main town) and find an ATM to get some Lempiras. I was accompanied, more or less willingly, by a couple young guys looking for work as a guide. Actually worked out okay. I had a bodyguard to the bank, the rest of the guys left me alone, and it only cost me 100 Lempiras (about five bucks). Got back to the port and found the free shuttle over to one of the zipline places, where they have a bunch of Capuchin monkey's and a few other native animals like Acouti's, and some interesting local flora.

For a grand total of L260, me and Alonya got the ride, and free run of the place. The monkeys were very cool. They had one little guy, about 6 months old, Diego, who just clung on to everyone. I was afraid my roomie was going to try and adopt him. One of the larger ones jumped on my shoulder, stood still for a picture, then reached into my shirt pocket and, finding nothing interesting, took off and refused to talk to me the rest of the time I was there. The others managed to snag sunglasses, and attempt to swipe jewelry. They really are fun little guys, and even in a short time, you can see they all have individual personalities.

We stayed an hour or so, declared "Mission Accomplished" and caught a shuttle back to the ship. It was waaaay hot and humid. I tried to sit up by the pool and read and relax, but the heat drove me indoors. So I headed down to the airconditioning.As I got off the elevator, who else but the one, the only, the inimitable Klaus Lugmaier was standing there talking to Dennis, the Hotel Director, and the F&B Manager. He has just come aboard here in Roatan, after being on the Norwegian Pearl for a bit. We talked for a few minutes, I told Klaus how wonderfully Dennis is taking care of us, etc. Dennis told me he has read my first few posts...which got me wondering if I had yet said anything I shouldn't have. Seriously, even though they are doing all these wonderful things for me, I still feel the need to be objective, lay out, honestly, the good, the
bad, and the ugly. While I am a travel agent by trade, I attempt to apply journalistic standards to my blogging. One of the reasons I am upfront about the perks I am getting, is the old "full disclosure" thing. I try not to be a cheerleader, but in all honesty, other than a faulty door lock which caused us to have to get our keys re-done twice on Day One, there simply haven't been any problems on this cruise...so far.
Now, back to the story. I found a quiet spot at Bliss (you know...MY BED!), but actually started dozing off, so I went on back to the stateroom and took a nap. Guess that whole "you're still young enough to party til all hours" thing was a bit of a stretch. An hour in the rack and it was Bingo Time again. The bingo master on the EPIC is Mike Guida, Asst. Cruise Director. I have known him since he was on the Norwegian Star out of Los Angeles, which I have sailed a couple times. I got to know him and all the Cruise Staff pretty well during my PhD@Sea cruise. I was solo on that one, and spent a lot of time with them in the various activities. When I did the EPIC Inaugural, I ran into him again...by now it seems we are old friends. So, another wasted hour of not winning anything. I probably should know better, by now. But I will probably go to
the next one, anyway.

After bingo, it was time to get all gussied up for the evening. We had reservations for the Legends in Concert Show, and then dinner at the EPIC Club. As much as I like the Freestyle approach to dress, I kinda wish NCL would maybe suggest a night or two when getting fanicified was more encouraged than others. At this point, I am almost feeling it is inapropriate to go formal (even though, being freestyle would mean it would be okay any night, so few men dress for dinner in even a coat, that you just feel overdressed). So, I put on the silver jacket, pleated-front shirt, ruby studs and cufflinks...even the cumberbund. And 10 minutes later stripped down and started over with just a dark suit. I know most of the cruise lines have relaxed their dress codes because some guys whine about having to looking decent, but it's come to the point where those of
us who DO like to look good feel out of place. Oh, well...I am pretty much swimming against the tide here, I know.

So. On to the Legends in Concert. Incredibly good. I have seen the Legends Unplugged thing in the Manhattan Room, and it is good. But the full on show is at a whole different level. Besides really talented performers, the band is awesome, and the sound and lighting, etc, is top notch. Likewise the dancers/backup singers are very talented, especially given the variety of styles they have to go with for each show. We have Rod Stewart, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson with us this week. Rod Stewart (with whom I got a picture the other night at the Manhattan Room) is terrific. And I love the real Rod Stewart. The Britney impersonator was good, leaving aside whether Ms. Spears is truly a Legend or just an object lesson in
why trailer trash shouldn't have access to too much money. And, again, I am not a big Michael Jackson fan (somehow I lost respect for him as he morphed from a talented, young Black man to a Diana Ross look-alike to a syphilitic 12 year old Vietnamese hooker), but the guy who does him on Legends is quite good, with the voice, and the dance moves, and the crotch grabs. So, yeah...I would have opted for more Rod Stewart and less Britney and MJ, but, in terms of talent and production values, Legends in Concert is outstanding.

Also outstanding was our dinner at the exclusive EPIC Club. Definitely a couple steps up from the Main Dining Rooms, though in all honesty, my last trip to Cagneys was on a par with this. Our table wasn't ready when we got there, so Radisha (sp) gave us a quick tour of the Courtyard area. I have already had the opportunity to check it out, and if you want details they're in my posts re: the EPIC Inaugural. It was Alyona's first time up, so that was nice. About 10 minutes into the tour, Radisha got a call that all was in readiness, so we went on in. I started with an excellent Ahi Tuna Poke - diced tuna and seaweed, with a light, sesame tasting dressing, well presented in a tall martini glass. Then a nice gazpacho, very rich, with a bit of some sort of chopped shellfish floating on top, served with a little garlic crostini. I also tried the polenta
cake and asparagus. That came with shredded porcini mushroom on top, and sitting in a bit of mushroom gravy. I have always loved polenta (going back to my childhood when my Oakie mom just called it corn meal mush), and this one was right up there on my list. For the main course, we both had the lobster and snapper dish, served with rice pilaf and a nice buttery sauce. We also split a plate of the Gulf Shrimp with Gnocchi Romaine, just because seafood seemed the theme of the day. The shrimps were nicely grilled and served with another butter sauce with garlic, tomato and scallions. Even sharing we couldn't quite finish the shrimp. And for dessert I had the Mocha Chocolate Mousse. Again served in a martini glass, on top of a
raspberry and vanilla sauce, with a hazelnut crunch at the bottom. An interesting combination, and tasty once you got the sauce and crunch all whipped in. Overall, a great meal, and I do want to thank all the people who made it happen. Oh, and Radisha also let me know that the Bridge tour is on for this morning at 9:30. I am looking forward to that, and again, would like to thank the people who set it up for me. Details to follow.

Spending nearly two hours over dinner made us a few minutes late for the White HOt Party at Spice. I sent the dancing queen up ahead while I took the remains of her bottle of wine back to the cabin. I can stand to miss the first dance...she, apparently, cannot.  No, seriously...we had an actual fight about it...or would have, til I remembered the magic words, from my days as a husband:  "Yes, Dear".  The White Hot Party is a signature event for NCL. All the cruise staff and dancers dressed all in white, some of the ladies with angel wings attached, and most of the crowd in white. Music blaring, lights flashing, people dancing. And on the EPIC, all done at the outdoor nightclub with the giant video screen, which adds a very definite South
Beach feel. I danced for a minute and a half or so, and it was time to run down and catch Second City again. Another good show. Back up to White Hot for another minute of dancing and schmoozing, then down to Fat Cats to catch Roadside Louie's last set. Back to White Hot, which was breaking up by then, sparing me the need to dance any more (and, frankly, sparing other's having to witness me dancing). The party moved over to Bliss Ultra Lounge. Got a chance to talk to some of the performers from Legends and tell them how much I enjoyed the show (without the foregoing political commentary). Met a nice 21 year old kid from New Jersey on his first cruise. We discussed crew/passenger fraternization policies. THAT brought back some memories. Sadly for Ervin, things have changed since my first cruise, back when I was 21. 28 years ago. I also met the Cruise Director, Paul Scally for the first time. Nice guy. Amidst all the fun, I completely failed to notice it was 3am. When I came to that realization I was first proud of myself...then just felt tired. Decided to throw in the towel. Gotta get up tomorrow and do some stuff before the Bridge Tour! Then I am going to
take it easy...for real this time...no, really!

Hasta Luego, or Dosvidanya, or something.


Norwegian EPIC, 11/27/10, Costa Maya

Before I get on to yesterdays activities, I want to mention something I forgot in my previous post. I also got an invitation to the Captain's Cocktail Party (more goodies) in the EPIC Lounge, the private lounge in the Courtyard Villas area. Sadly, it conflicted with my reservation for Blue Man Group, so I just had time to run in, shake some hands, and get down to the show. Still, it was nice to be invited.

So, Costa Maya: one of the things I dislike about cruising. A totally artificial port. Nothing more than a shopping mall built by the cruise lines. Not that this is new. I sailed on the Crown Monarch way back in 1988 or so, (the first of two years they were in operation). On that ship we were carrying pallets of lumber to finish construction of their private beach thing in Labadee Shores, Haiti (Later sold to Royal Caribbean, when Monarch folded). But I just don't see the point (from a cruisers perspective...I do "get it" from the cruise lines point of view...). So, up at 6:30 to type and send the Day at Sea post, then off the ship for a quick run thru the gauntlet of shops (I do have to have my refrigerator magnet, after all), and back on in time to hit O'Sheehans for an English Breakfast. If you don't know already, I love a good English breakfast, and I am pretty sure that hearty morning meal directly contributed to the rise of the British Empire. NOw I think of it, I suppose, since it's served in O'Sheehans, it's probably an Irish Breakfast. Wonder what happened to the Irish Empire? But I digress. NCL does a pretty good job of it, with fried eggs, beans, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, and sausage bland enough to be English. The only false notes were the clearly American bacon (not necessarily a bad thing, I like "real" bacon better than the English stuff), and the "hash browns", which is actually two of those little patties that are a cross between McDonald's hash browns and Tater Tots. Still and all, a nice way to start the day.

AFter breakfast I went up for the Trivia contest in the Bliss Ultra Lounge. My team came in second. Who knew that it snowed in the Sahara back in 1979? I mean, really.  After the contest, I went out to the Pool Deck. One of the things I do love about port days, artificial or otherwise, is that it clears the ship out, so there is room enough, and time, to do things on board, without lines and crowds.

I hit the waterslides first. On the two day Inaugural I never got a chance...just too much ship, and not enough time. So, the green slide is blindingly fast and awesome, and the Bowl Slide is close to the coolest thing, ever. Thru the tube and into the bowl, couple laps around the bowl, and then flushed out the bottom like a, well, you know... Lot's of fun. Did both of them three times, then sat and read for a while, hopped in the jacuzzi for a minute, and finally got too hot (I know, that's a problem a lot of you wish you had here at the end of November), and went down to the stateroom to change and kick back for a while.

When I got to the room, there were a couple more invitations from the Hotel Director...talk about your full court press! This time it's for the SVEDKA Ice Bar. Now, again...not a drinker...and besides, I HATE being cold. But in the interest of  informing you, the reader, I am going to bite the bullet, put on the parka, and freeze my cojones off for a half-hour. I was resisting going, but Alyona already had a reservation (After all, 17F is a spring day in Siberia, so it's no big deal for her). I will try to get some video, as well as pictures.

Also an invitation to dine at the EPIC CLUB, the exclusive restaurant for Courtyard Villas guests. THAT I am really looking forward to. I am so glad I bothered to pack some (more or less) formal clothes. Pretty sure the shorts and flip-flops thing doesn't work up there!

After a little cool down and kick back, I decided to find some grub. Nothing on the buffet was calling to me, so I went to O'Sheehan's (quickly becoming my favorite place onboard). This time I tried the Chicken Pot Pie. Not bad...a little thin, but not bad. Ran into a colleague there, and had some nice conversation, though. Then back up to the Pool Deck for an hour of Jimmy Buffet tunes at the Waves Bar. I had the bartender, Courtney from Jamaica, whip me up something fruity and tropical. I have no idea what all he put in there, but it was refreshing. Nice guy, Courtney, and he knew all the Jimmy Buffet tunes, too...

At 3:00 there was another Trivia contest in Bliss, with Hanna from Oz - my team came in 2nd again. This is getting annoying. Some of you know I am pretty good at the Trivia thing, but there is a group of 4 guys, all Mensa members, that know EVERYTHING, between the 4 of them. I am either going to intimidate them by trash talking, or beg to be let on the team, before too long. I am not at all cool with coming in second.

Back up topside for a little music, then down to get ready for the night. Dinner was at Taste, one of the main dining rooms. I have to tell you, I didn't think I would enjoy it. The part of Taste that is visible from the front door, and from above, where it's open to the small rear atrium, is all very sleek, with white walls and black furniture. While it looks "modern" and "cool", it doesn't look "appetizing". However, upon entering, I found out the sides of the room are completely different, with alternating red brick columns and stained glass windows. The furniture is a deep red. On the whole, very homey, almost rustic, and very much a nice atmosphere for dining. I had the Meze Mediteranean appetizer, a lamb sausage wrapped in grape leaf, with feta and peppers and a swoosh of hummus some whole chickpeas and a drizzle of some kind of herb laden oil. Small, and tasty. Followed that with the duck and noodle appetizer. I have had this one before. Just your
basic cold noodles with greens and pieces of smoked duck, but the ginger soy dressing is to die for. At first it's very sweet, with chunks of papaya or something, but then the touch of crushed red pepper appears at the finish, and all of a sudden you realize it's quite piquant (and, overall, delightful). The main course was prime rib. Tender, and exactly the medium rare that I asked for, with some julienne carrots, broccoli and a twice-baked potato alongside. Also very good. For dessert, I had the strawberry cheesecake. Not the best I ever get, but passable. Towards the end of the meal, the Maitre d' (Michelle) stopped by and we did the "I know you from somewhere" thing, until we settled on the Pride of Hawaii, where she was running the Italian restaurant when I was on her, back in 2005 ("her" meaning the Pride of Hawaii, not Michelle [just to be clear]).

Then it was on to the early show of Second City. As always with the improv thing, parts were hilarious, other's not so much...but it really depends on the audience, and the suggestions they give. The Players are uniformly brilliant, but they have to work with what they get. Next stop, Fat Cats Blues and Jazz Club. The band is Roadside Louie and the Dusters, and they are very good. I shot some video, and if it's suitable, I will post it. Frankly, the lighting in Fat Cats is excellent for the band, and awful for video. Ditto the sound...it is great in the room, but it's a bit overpowering for my camcorder...Louie was agreeable to letting me post some clips, but we both agreed only if the quality was good. So, look for that on my YouTube channel, and if not, you can check out the band at http://www.roadsidelouie.com/ . Book 'em for your next Bar Mitzvah or something.

After Fat Cats, I went over to the Manhattan Room for another dessert and Legends Unplugged. The show started with Rod Stewart doing "Forever Young" and "Sailing". He was excellent. Like Madonna on the inaugural, I ran into him in the lobby after the show and had to get a picture with him. Also like the Madonna impersonator, a very nice and personable type.  So, then back to Fat Cats to shoot a few more clips, over to the casino where I turned my $96 into an even $100 (well, at one point it was $200, but, you know how that goes). Then up to Bliss Lounge for a minute to witness some forgettable Karaoke, back to Fat Cats one more time and then to the 11pm (adult) show of Second City. Much funnier, overall, than the early show. Both the players and the audience were looser and more lively. Up to the pool deck for some air, and caffeine, then finally back to Bliss Ultra Lounge where Karaoke had been replaced by DJ D-UP or whatever. Had to visit "my" bed (yeah, that's right, MY bed). I love that bed and that Ultra Lounge... Listened to some music, watched some dancers, and felt quite proud of myself that I made it past midnight. I have finally overcome the jet lag and red eye flight! Woo Hoo! Finally turned in, at 2ish, so I could get a few hours of nappy time till we get to Roatan.

Stay tuned, and I will tell you all about it tomorrow!

OH, by the way, I have been so tired, I have forgotten the gratuitous self-promotion at the end of my last few posts. If you need help booking a cruise on the Norwegian EPIC, or any boat in the NCL fleet, or any boat in any fleet, or any travel that doesn't happen on a boat...CALL ME! Dave Holman Travel Services, 760.265.3687, or at daveholmantravel@verizon.net. And follow me at http://www.facebook.com/DaveHolmanTravel.

And now, as I type this up at 7am, I see Roatan off the port side. Beautiful. Tropical. GREEN. Gotta go find some monkeys!

Til tomorrow, then...


Norwegian EPIC, 11/27/10, First Day at Sea

Norwegian EPIC - Day at Sea #1

So, up at 6ish, on to the pool deck to type up the boarding day adventures, and to let the czarina sleep. Oh, yeah, and to get my nicotine and caffeine levels up to the appropriate range.

It was a bit cloudy and cool when I got up, 8ish, and over to the buffet for a little breakfast. The buffet on the EPIC is really nicely laid out, with several omelette stations and no lines to speak of. The usual breakfast stuff. The sun finally came out, so I hung out by the rear pool for a bit, then decided to see how the casino action is. A little roulette turned $100 into $96...not bad for an hours work.

I ran into Michael, formerly on the cruise staff of the Norwegian Star, who is now the Asst Cruise Director on the EPIC, nd the Bingo Godfather. I was just planning on seing how the bingo is run, but he convinced me to stay, so I tried a round of bingo, to no avail...however I have raffle tickets, and am pretty sure I will win the free cruise.

I spent the rest of the day amazingly like I would have spent it at home, only with a 30 foot tall TV, instead of a 35 incher. As many of you know, I am a faithful member of the church of the NFL. The first game was on in the Atrium and out back at Spice/H2O. I watched the first half from O'Sheehans, whilst munching on Buffalo Wings and Fish & Chips. Good, but still not as good as the Blue Lagoon on other ships. Again, just not as hot and fresh as the Blue Lagoon, where they are cooking the food up right there. On the plus side the menu is bigger.

There was a Party Line Dance Lesson we just had to catch. In Alyona's case, to learn some new dance moves, and in my case to watch the dancers, and hang out on my bed in the Bliss Ultra Lounge. Video to follow...

Anyway, out to the back deck to catch the rest of the game, and doze in the sun, with a brief trip back to the Bliss Ultra Lounge to check out the library. One of the biggest omissions of EPIC was a library. Apparently NCL has got the message. There are now a small selection of books behind the shoe rental counter by the bowling alley, and the kid working there tells me they are in the process of putting in a real library down on Deck 5.

Between games I spent a few minutes at a roullette table, turned my $96 into $86. Back to O'Sheehans for some spinach dip and a burger. The spinach/artichoke dip was a definite improvement over what I had on the inaugural in July. Oh, and somewher in there I had a nice Lamb Curry from the buffet out back.

Anyway, down to the room to catch the end of the second game (Eagles-Bears), and get ready for the Blue Man Group. They were, of course, awesome. After the show, I tried to catch the Chargers-Colts game at O'Sheehans, with a burger. The burger was good, but the place was just too crowded, so I went home to watch the game, read a book, and rest up for the FABBA Dance Party.

That was excellent. The dancers were great, the crowd was huge, and lot's of fun. I wasn't really feeling the dance thing, at first, so I hung out nad talked to Dennis Prguda for a bit, but finally one of the dancers dragged my unwilling self out on the floor for a bit. You know I hate to disappoint the young, blonde, hot demographic, so I decided to stay and get sweated up while line dancing and doing The YMCA. After the "show" part, the music and dancing kept up for quite a while, but I finally had to sit my 49 year old self down. Chatted with some friends for a bit, then threw in the towel and headed back to the stateroom. It's hell getting old.

So, as I type this, I realize I had a pretty busy day, all in all. I thought I was just kicking back and watching football all day. But now, I see Costa Maya off the starboard side. Think I will hop off the ship for a bit, and then come back for another relaxing day...for real this time!

Hasta Manana, muchachos y muchachas!



I am reprinting this from my Facebook NOTES.  I meant to post them at the time, and just got busy...but now that I am heading out again, and getting ready to do a 7 day series on the EPIC, I thought I might give you all a preview:


I got to Newark at 6:30, hopped a bus in to Manhattan. Took over an hour to get thru the Lincoln tunnel. I wasn't aware the entire state of New Jersey was getting an early start to the 4th of July weekend by going in to the city. The bus dropped me in Times Square, and I thought to hoof it to the hotel. About halfway there, I realized I just wasn't in the mood to walk, so I tried to hale a cab - first time in my life I couldn't get a cab in New York City. Finally a Russian kid in a pedi-cab pulled up, and I said "Why not?". Suitcase in my lap, feeling very "tourist", I arrived at the Kimberly Hotel. I was running late, and my friend Marjorie, who was going with me to the little travel agent soiree next door showed up just as I was checking in.

Went upstairs to dump my bag and put some shoes on, and check out the suite. All I can say is "WOW"! I took some pictures, but they are a little grainy, as the lighting is not the best, but you'll get the idea. My little room has a full kitchen, living room, bedroom, 2 big flat screens, Wolfgang Puck coffee, robes and slippers, and bowl of Neutragena goodies in the bathroom. Having lived in hotels for 5 years, I have to say this is one of the best setups I have ever had, AND the location is excellent to tour Midtown. Walking distance to Times Square, Rockefeller Center, etc. If I could stay for a week at the rate I am getting I would jump on it. Sadly, I will be there about 12 hours.

So, After checking in I went next door to the Nikki Beach Club to meet a few of the agents going with me on the EPIC. Nice place, with long couches and lots of pillows around the walls. We were there at 9, and it was pretty quiet. I noticed later in the night, passing by, the place gets much younger, hipper and more crowded. Frankly, not my kind of place, but I did get to meet and mingle with a few people, before Marjorie and I decided to head out. It occured to me I hadn't eaten anything but a box of Crunch and Munch all day. We decided to find an pub and get some food. Walked over a block to the Pig n Whistle on 2nd Ave. Walking in was like, Deja Vu. The place was identical to Failte, Marjories favorite Irish pub, about 20 blocks south. Except with Midtown prices. We did get a table on the balcony upstairs, as it was a lovely evening with perfect weather. Had some BBQ pork sliders. Decided to try one more bar, and ended up at the Press Box. Nice place, great bartender. Pics to follow. Actually, pics at all three places to follow...as soon as I get them. Marjorie had to work today, so she hopped a cab home and I went back to the hotel, just in time for my cruise roomie, who had taked a later flight into JFK, and was just getting in.

After we got her all settled in, she was hungry, too, so...back to 2nd Ave to rustle up some more food. On the way she got a call from a friend who happened to be in the neighborhood, so we met up with her and tried the Press Box, again, but their kitched was closed. Went back up 49th and found Wollensky's Grill (the annex to Smith and Wollensky) was still serving, so we headed in and head what turned out to be a damn fine burger, with Bleu cheese and bacon. I did not get a picture of it. Sorry.

It was a little after 1am at this point, so I finally decided to head home, fell in the most comfortable feather bed I have been in, in a while, and slept like a baby til the street noise and sunshine got me up at 7. Time to head upstairs to the Rooftop Lounge for breakfast, and the OFF TO THE PORT!!!


I am going to have to do this in several installments. The Norwegian EPIC is not just BIG, it is jam-packed with so much stuff, it can't be described in a few paragraphs. And my day yesterday was filled with discovery of the ship, multiple activities, and too many food venues. There is the physical layout, and this ship has more public rooms than any two other ships I have sailed. There are also a lot of food venues, and I tried several of them. And, with the inaugural festivities and such I did a lot in a short time. I think I will start by briefly describing the things I did, and later in the day, do food reviews for all the restaurants, and describe the actual ship and it's public areas.

So, we got to the dock at a few minutes to 10am. The taxi unloading area at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal is about 20ft from the bow of the ship. It was quite an impressive sight, staring up at the EPIC. We went in to the Terminal, got in what looked like a million mile line, but actually got processed thru in 20-25 minutes and walked right on the ship. The first impression, entering the lobby was "elegant" and "cozy". Honestly, the interior of the ship is very different from other NCL ships. They are not competing with Carnival's colorful designs here, as they have on some others. The feel on the EPIC is much more, I would say, Celebrity. Not as light abd airy as Princess, more deep tones, but definitely upscale rather than glitzy.

So, we went on up to the stateroom. The whole New Wave stateroom thing works for me! The curved walls and dome lighting are so different than anything anyone else has ever done in a cruise ship, it's hard to describe. Yes, the stateroom is narrower. The purpose of the wave thing is to allow a narrower cabin, and still have adequate walk ways. But narrower isn't really smaller. The stateroom is long, with the shower and toilet on each side of the door, a good sized curved couch and bed along one wall, and the sink, closet, vanity/desk, TV and another closet along the straight wall. The balcony, while narrow, is also pretty deep, and a square is actually more usable than a wider, shallower balcony. My balcony is completely covered. There are balconies on Deck 8, between the forward and midship bulges that are completely open, for the hardcore sun worshippers, and another section on Deck 9 between the mid and aft bulges that are likewise open on top. As near as I can tell all the other balconies are completely covered, with no sightlines to balconies below. I'll have more on the staterooms later.

So, we got to the room, unpacked and took a walk around Decks 5/6/7 where pretty much all the interior public space is. I will got thru that room by room in the next note. Suffice it to say that the understated decor carries on thru most of the "Hallway", but the various rooms range from English Club-y, to the Bliss Ultra Lounge which is pure glitz, glam and hedonism.

After touring the inside areas we headed to O'Sheehan's, the Irish Pub/Sports Bar. Easily the largest sports bar at sea, with 3 bowling lanes, two pool tables, arcade games, air hockey, darts lanes, and overlooking the two story tall big screen that starts in the atrium lobby below. NCL has combined the food from the Blue Lagoon on the Jewel class ships, changed the menu up a little, and consolidated it with the sports bar. Sadly, the menu has suffered. The Blue Lagoon "comfort food" on other ships is still there, but prepared backstage somewhere, and just not as hot, fresh and delicious as I have had on other ships. Not really "bad", just kinda blah. And that's one of my favorite NCL eateries.

Anyway, after our nosh it was almost time for the big Inaugural Show/Celebration. Everyone was assigned different lounges/theaters/etc to view the festivities. It really worked out well, with Jeff Garlin officiating in the Epic Theater, while the broadcast cut to other venues for live sections from Blue Man Group, Cirque, the Blues Band, the dueling Piano Bar "Howl at the Moon" and Second City. So, everyone got to see a live segment, and watch all the others on TV's in their assigned venue. Very nice. Finished off with Reba McEntire in the Epic Theater, making her remarks and then putting her hand on a a heart on a big touch screen, which set off the champagne bottle breaking on the bow. Hard to describe any better, but very nicely done!

Also, for me, touching. I am not just a cruiser, but a lifelong lover of all things nautical, spending a lot of time on the ocean in everything from my little trawler, to sailing yachts, to, well...THE EPIC. The traditions around building and then christening a new ship, while they have been somewhat mangled by the modern cruise industry, still speak to me at an emotional level. No, the champagne bottle crashing on the bow didn't make me cry...but I thought about it.

So, after all that, it was up to the Sushi bar for a bite to eat, before a little more exploring. Went up to the Garden Cafe. This is the buffet at the front of the pool deck. Some nice touches there, like an ice cream station with 8 or so flavors, plus the usual soft serve. Plenty of action stations, and it appears to be well laid out in terms of flow when it gets crowded. Just outside of the buffet is an outdoor patio area with tables and chairs, then the Waves bar, probably the busiest bar on the boat. A couple of pools, bandstand and deck chairs similar to other NCL ships I have been on. We couldn't get out to see Spice/H20, the adults only pool area which becomes an outdoor nightclub at night. Macy's took over the boat for the NBC broadcast of their 4th of July fireworks extravaganza, and NBC had that area blocked off the whole trip, setting up their equipment and such. But above that, we checked out the sports deck, with a full basketball court, the "Euro-bungee", rock climbing and rappeling walls, and a bizarre contraption called The Spider, a climbing enclosure for the kids.

After checking out pretty much all the main public areas, it was time for the Sailaway. If you've never sailed from Manhattan, you really should! First we backed out of the pier, and reloaded the 5 lifeboats that had to be dropped so the ship would fit against the dock, then sailed down the Hudson, with the Manhattan skyline for a back drop (or New Jersey, depending on where you were on the ship). Then past Ellis Island and Liberty Island. Being the 4th of July weekend, sailing past the Statue of Liberty seemed like the perfect way to start. We were escorted by a fire boat, and a news chopper, and finally went under the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. I am kind of a bridge junky. I love sailing under iconic bridges with just feet to spare. In this case, approximately 24" from the tip of her tallest antenna to the undergirdings of the bridge. Sadly, there is no pedestrian access on the Verazzano, so no opportunity to converse with ship junkies on the bridge, as you can going under the Golden Gate. Anyway, that kind of ended the Sailaway for me, once we hit Long Island Sound. I then realized I hadn't eaten in well over an hour, so:

We got dressed for dinner, and found out that, unlike during regular cruising, they didn't hold out any tables for walk-ins in the premium restaurants. So, we ended up in the Manhattan Room. Which is okay, because, while all the premium restaurants were available to me, and comped, I thought it was important to check out the venues where most of my clients will be taking most of their meals. Anyway, the Manhattan Room was great, and the food was "good" to "excellent".

After dinner, a brief sojourn to the Casino. The casino on the EPIC is ginormous. Basically the entire length of the promenade from the Manhattan Room to the Epic Theater, with a brief time out for O'Sheehans. Along side the Casino are the different clubs and lounges, like Fat Cats. I figured out this was to help out us smokers. Since the casino is about the only public room you can smoke in, by laying it out the length of the hallway there, you have access from the dining rooms, theaters, shops, etc along both sides, in a reasonable distance.

Between bouts with the slots and the roulette table, I stuck my head in to Fat Cats, Headliners, O'Sheehan's, Bliss, etc to see what all was going on. Finally, at 11:30, went to the Noodle Bar for a little bedtime snack. Met two of the Executive Chefs from NCL Headquarters in Miami. One of the cool things on these inaugural events is just these little chance meetings with people from the company. We had an interesting conversation about what it takes to get 21 restaurants opened at once. From new menus and new dishes, to training all the staff, these guys were at the end of a very busy couple months. They also seemed real interested in our opinions on the restaurants. They were very receptive to the feedback, good and bad.

For those of you who haven't sailed Freestyle before - one of the features on NCL ships is an electronic board, at various places around the ship, that lists all the restaurants, and has each hour designated with a green, yellow or red light. Green meaning plenty of tables still available, yellow, that it's filling up, and red being full, or with a line, or no reservations available. It's a good system, if you don't really know what you want, but you don't want to stand in line. IF that board shows up on the interactive TV in the staterooms any time soon, I am taking credit. It seemed like a natural to me, but when I said it to one of the chefs, you could almost see the light go on.

So, after noodles and a quick look see in Bliss (which wasn't really hopping), it was bedtime. So ends DAY ONE.


So, 4 hours sleep, and now its 6:30, and I'm wide awake. This is when the whole writing thing fell apart. I am an early riser. When the sun gets up, so do I, regardless of what time I finally hit the rack the night (or early morning) before. Anyway...when traveling, I use this early time to catch up on work, and do my blog posts (and get my caffeine and nictone blood levels up to the appropriate range). So, I got up, went upstairs, got some coffe, busted open the netbook, typed four words, and some travel agent, ( who shall remain nameless), from some large 'net based agency, (which will also remain nameless), sat down at my table (there were at least a hundred empty tables in spittin distance) and began to regale me with tales of his 6 month career in the travel business. Being by nature polite (on the outside. If people only knew what was going on inside my head, they'd never talk to me), I listened, and tried to type, thinking that might dissuade him. However, he was very impressed with himself, and seemed to think I shared his opinion. Finally, I had to just get up, because it was time for the Nickelodeon Character Breakfast. I am sure he is still up there talking. But, things snowballed from there, and I was unable to get any writing done from then til this morning.

Anyway, on to breakfast. The Nickelodeon character breakfast was a lot of fun. Full Disclosure: I am the World's Greatest Uncle, and as such, have occasion to watch waaaay to many cartoons. Sadly, I am more familiar with Patrick and Sponge Bob, than anyone who has won an Emmy in the last ten years.

Breakfast was routine, with the exception of the neon green food coloring added to the pancake syrup to make it look like "slime".

During breakfast, SpongeBob Squarepants and Patrick Star, Dora the Explorer and Diego, Aang (from Avatar), and Jimmy Neutron come in, do a little musical number with the MC, Austin, and as breakfast is winding down, they call people up by tables, to go around the room, to get photos with each of the characters (and their "autographs" on the place mats). Kind of fun. I have a great picture with Jimmy Nuetron (who is taller than he looks in cartoons), and then my camera died. Fortunately, a travel agent friend took some photos for me, and I am waiting for her to email them to me. I will definitely post them.

After the breakfast, I went to the Garden Cafe for breakfast...couldn't help it, I just had to have an omelette. Then down to the Atrium Cafe for some custom coffee. Finally I got going on the "Backstage Pass" thing.

We were given a card with 20 different venues all over the ship, and had to get them stamped by NCL folks waiting at each place. While I would have toured the ship in any case, it was nice to have a little structure. While finding the 20 on the list, you have to go past EVERYthing on the ship. Suffice it for now, that I will post later, details of the ship and it's various areas, but it took me every bit of 4 hours to find and visit everything on the list.

After that, I hit the Sushi Bar, and then met up with some colleagues to tour staterooms. They had attended the Murder Mystery Lunch, put on by Second City. I did not attend, but from everything I heard it was a lot of fun. Anyway, on to tour the staterooms. NCL gave us all a list of staterooms that would be open during the day. Pretty much one in every category, from Studios, to Spa Suites, Family Balconies, and the Courtyard Villas. Again, took us over an hour to find them all, and I will detail my findings, later.

Upon finishing up there, it was crunch time, as we had an early reservation at the Charascaria, in order to make the Cocktail Party, etc. So, I let my roomie go up to try the Epic Plunge waterslide, while I tried to track down whether or not I had a reservation for the Cirque Dinner and Dreams. While talking with the chefs the night before, one of them offered that he might be able to pull a string and get us in (with only 217 seats, and four shows, for 2500 guests, it was THE hot ticket on a two day cruise). Sadly, even Executive Chefs couldn't get us in. A little disappointing, but, in retrospect it was all to the good since I would have had to miss dinner at the churascaria, which was the highlight of the trip, food wise. So, we got dressed and headed in. I will give a full review later, but for now, let me tell you it was the best meal I have eaten in months, if not years. Excellent in every respect.

Next there was a private cocktail party for the 100 of us who won the trip thru an essay contest put on my NCL University. It was in the Bliss Ultra Lounge. Bliss is a very cool room, with a great vibe. Among other things, there is a large canopy bed on one side. I couldn't help climbing on the bed, and having all the ladies sitting around the edge lean in for a few photos. At least 6 people took shots, and I am waiting for SOMEONE to send me one. PLEASE! Anyway, we sat around and nibbled on various appetizers and the Grand Prize winners of the contest were announced. After that I mingled a bit, and ended up being interviewed by Mike Bradecich, one of the Second City Troupe who does all the videos for NCLU. I won't bore you with all the details, but the identity of the Dean of NCL University is a closely held secret, and, like many of us, Mike was trying to find out...or he knows, and was deliberately feeding the mystery...either way it was fun, and who knows, the video of the event may pop up, somewhere. If so, I will definitely post it.

Did a little more time in the Casino before heading to see Blue Man Group. Quickly becoming the signature event of the EPIC, Blue Man's first and only show on the high seas is as good as the land based show I saw in Vegas a while back. Amazingly, since we weren't anywhere close to the head of the line, when we walked in there were two seats, front row, almost center. Had to put on the poncho and everything. The Epic Theater, where they performed, seems to have been purpose built for them. The acoustics were excellent (which is necessary as they are LOUD, and bad acoustics would make the show painful), the sightlines all unobstructed, and at 650 seats, perfectly sized. Big enough to allow a full stage, small enough to feel intimate, at least compared to some of the 2,000 showrooms now common on cruise ships. Again, one of the high points of Freestyle crusing. With so many different, small venues, doing all sorts of entertainment, there is NEVER a crush of people. The only exception to this is the Ice Bar. More on that later, though I suspect they'll have that fixed soon.

If you have never seen Blue Man Group, it's kind of hard to explain. It is music (mostly drums), lights, comedy and effects. It is also a Rohrschach for the audience. I have heard people describe it as mindless fun. I have heard others discuss the depth of the cutting social satire. It is all that, and more...or less...depending, I suppose, on who you are. Which is the real genius of it. Anyway, it was well done, with very high production qualities, especially considering it is done on a ship. And the fact you can see them "free" as part of your cruise is awesome. I know in Vegas we paid over $100 to get in, for the cheap seats.

After the show, I went back to the casino, managed to give back all the money I won on Friday night, and then ran into some friends who were looking to get some dinner. Shanghai was full, and I remembered someone told me the Legends in Concert were playing in the Manhattan Room, so we headed over there. We ran into a couple other friends, and ended up with a table for 8, and one more dinner. Good food. GREAT SHOW. Legends is the oldest celebrity impersonation show, having started in Vegas 20 some years ago. They now have a dozen or so theaters around the country. The talent changes all the time, so you never know who you might see performing. On this particular show we saw Madonna and Elvis, who each did a couple tunes. They were both good. But then the back up singers started (actually I think one of them was Tina Turner, but she didn't do any Tina at that show), and they were awesome. They performed for a half hour or so, but the highlight was a Motown Revue, with music by Gladys Knight, The Temptations, the O'Jays, etc. They were excellent and I just loves me some 70's Motown. On the way out, one of my tablemates was chatting up Madonna, so I went and got a picture with her. I guess to put with the harem shots in Bliss. By the way, the young lady looked like Madonna back in the 80's when she was still hot, not like the Skankapotamus she has become. Just sayin'.

I then went down to the room for a bit, to try and write, but that wasn't happening, so back to Bliss. The party was just getting started (it was only 10), so I ducked into Headliners to check out the dueling piano bar show, Howl at the Moon. Excellent. There are actually three of them, two guys, one girl, with two pianos, and the third person alternating with drums, guitar, whatever. Their motto or tagline or whatever is "You say it, we play it", and it really does seem, between them, they know EVERY song ever. From the 50's to now, from rock to rap to country to crooners, they played every request they got, period. And very "high energy" with it.

I also got to see a near cat fight, which is always good on a Saturday night. Seems an agent from one of those large online agencies brought the company mascot along. Now, I don't want to give the name away, but assume, for the sake of argument that a travel agency had a roaming...hmmm...lets say...Elf as their mascot. Only this was not an elf. Anyway, so, the lady put's her not-elf on the piano to enjoy the show. Some other group of agents decide it will be fun to swipe the not-elf. They proceed to perform various violations and molestations upon the not-elf, all for the camera. I am sure they thought they were just dealing with a commercial mascot, and having a little fun. Apparently the young lady (okay, young and very, very drunk lady) saw it as the desecration of a sacred object. She attacked with a venom and fury usually reserved for religious fanatics. I really thought (okay, HOPED) there would be fisticuffs, despite calmer heads from both groups trying to de-escalate. Fortunately the lady from the not-elf company ran out of cuss words, was reduced to insulting the other sides hair styles and wardrobe, and it just fizzled out. But it was fun while it lasted.

So, another stroll thru the casino, and back again to Bliss...by now (1ish) it was finally hopping. The DJ was excellent, the cages were occupied by dancers, etc. While it was a bit loud (or I am a bit old), it was full and everyone was having a good time. Spent a while schmoozing. Back out to the Casino, and then a late night stroll top side, to enjoy the beautiful summer night. Back to Bliss, etc, etc,

Finally gave it up at 3-ish and headed home to sleep for a minute.

Thus ends DAY TWO

As we know, all good things must come to an end, and so did the Norwegian EPIC Inaugural. Once again bouncing out of bed too early, I had some coffee upstairs by the pool, and admired the Manhattan skyline. Then packed up real quick and tried to pick up a land based wireless connection. Have I mentioned that the internet connection was shut off late Saturday night? I was trying to check in for my flight home and kept getting an error message that my account was inactive. I finally went down to the pursers office to see if anything was wrong, and to the internet cafe to see if I could use one of their terminals. Nothing. Oh, well.

I was also wanting to check on some deposits and such, and finally just called my bank, and THAT was a mistake. How come errors only happen on holiday weekends? Anyway, I couldn't even figure out what the problem was without getting online, so I just bit down on the anxiety, went up for breakfast at the Garden Cafe, and to say goodbye to some of the wonderful people I had met over the weekend. Accomplished both.

Finished packing, lazed around the balcony til 9:15 (we had to be off by 9:30, so I was milking it, as I had a 3pm flight out of La Guardia). Finally made my way off the ship and called for a $20 shuttle ride, with $30 in my pocket. I was told they would be there around noon, and I still couldn't get online. Folks in New York are pretty zealous about securing their network connections. So, we started walking, looking for a Starbucks or McDonalds or something. Finally, after slogging a couple blocks, we asked a guy who pointed us in the right direction. Found Starbucks, logged on, discovered the problem (which could have been fixed on the ship, since it was an NCL issue, but of course I didn't know that). Amazingly, I got hold of someone at the bank, got kicked up to a supervisor who managed to fix the problem while I was on hold. So, three cheers for Chase (not my favorite bank, but they bought my favorite bank out of bankruptcy, so there you go). Next stop was a Chase ATM to take advantage of my sudden reversal of fortune, and pick up a little lunch money.

Walked back to the pier, about a half hour ahead of my shuttle and watched the chaos of three ships in port, one of which (the EPIC) was carrying everyone for the big Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks show.

The shuttle showed up on time, and I cruised around Manhattan picking up the rest of the vanload, then off to La Guardia, where I was doubly grateful at Chase for fixing the problem, and at NCL for turning off the computers. Had I checked in and gotten my boarding pass the night before, I would not have been offered a first class upgrade for $100. And I actually turned it down, until I tried to go thru security, and, for the first time in my life, had someone make me put my rolling bag in the little measuring box...and insist it was too big and had to be checked! The same bag, going on the same planes it had fit in just fine on Thursday!

So, I was going to have to pay $25 so my bag could ride in the belly - now the upgrade seemed like a much better idea...it was only another $75 to sit up front and eat actual food, and stuff. So I did.

And the flight attendant on the first leg, Leah, was just a doll. She obviously slipped thru the cracks at American Airlines. She was under 50, unbleached hair, a light dash of makeup, rather than a trowel load, and a pleasant demeanor. I am sure she won't last at American if she keeps that crap up.

But she did whip us up a pot of iced coffee, and share some of the chocolates I had stashed in my tote. So, the LGA to DFW leg of my trip was the best flight experience I have had with American in at least ten years.

Of course, as karma would have it, the DFW to Palm Springs leg made up for it. Starting with a standard issue late middle aged, bleached out, worn out and pissed off at the world Flight Attendant (whose name I still don't know because she never announced it, and on her name tag it was covered by her "PROUD UNION MEMBER" ribbon). Then, 20 minutes into the flight an electrical fire smell permeated the cabin, and the attendants were all scurrying about trying to find out if we would live or die. I am not a nervous flyer by any means, but when the phone rings, and your attendant get's that panicked look, and not only takes the cart back to the galley, but puts everything away, and secures all the doors? Unsettling at best. The First Officer came out of the cockpit, went to the back, there were various panic inducing whirs and clanks, the air went off for a minute, he resumed his place in the cockpit, and the smell went away. But I would like to thank the idiot Captain, and all the crew for NOT ONCE just getting on the PA and SAYING: "Okay, folks, we had a little problem, but it's fixed, we're not going to die today, please resume breathing". Obviously, whatever it was, was handled, but, you know, after you scare the piss out of people and make announcements to unplug all your stuff from the DC sockets, etc, a little reassurance might be in order. Instead they all just went back to work, like nothing ever happened. Oh, well, what are you going to do? And, all's well that ends well, I made it back to Palm Springs, and then home without further incident.

So, there you have it...the latest installment of "What I Did On My Summer Vacation".

As I said in earlier posts, I am working on some reviews of the various restaurants, and a detailed description of the public rooms and the various stateroom types, so...STAY TUNED!