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!