Norwegian Pearl, Western Caribbean, 03/02/2012. Cozumel

The artist formerly known as Swims With Horses, shall now be known as Swims With Dolphins. Belly to belly. Yes, it was a girl dolphin, and yes, I checked. More on that, later.

But to put the day in a somewhat linear fashion:

Slept in til 6 yesterday morning...which, with the time change back one hour for Cozumel was 7am the day before, so, yes...it IS sleeping in. I'm gonna blame it on the White Hot party til 1. Not on my advanced age.
Anyway, so, I got up, ran upstairs for some morning coffee, came back and Michille was up and headed to the gym to put in 4 miles in the squirrel cage, while I wrote up my daily post. We went to breakfast a little later than usual, as the ship didn't get to Cozumel til after 9, and our excursion wasn't until 10. Went with a repeat of steak and eggs, while Michille ordered the frittata I had yesterday. Both were perfect, as usual. I have to say the Cagney's thing (a Suite perk on NCL), is totally worth the price of the suite accomodations. While we've only hit it a couple times for lunch, the breakfast there every morning, compared to the main dining room or (ewww) the buffet is just light years apart. Quiet, refined, impeccable service, fresh ground and pressed coffee...all of it just makes for an awesome day starter.

So, we got done just in time to catch the tender over for our excursion at the Solaris Delphinarium. I will say, I was a little leery of a repeat of yesterday, when I saw how many people were going on the excursion. But it wasn't a problem, as they split into, like, 6 groups and each group split into 12 different stations, so that it was, basically, 8 humans per dolphin, and nearly an hour in the water with them. They got us split into groups, gave a briefing on the basic hand positions to get the dolphin to hug, kiss, high-five, and belly up and let you climb onboard for a short swim. We then got in the water with Elena, a 2 1/2 year old female dolphin who was born on site (capturing wild dolphins is no longer permitted in Mexico). Our trainer then called people up for the various interactions. First a little peck on the cheek, then the kiss. And then some double hand (or, in her case, flipper) high fivin. He alternated that with sending people out farther in the lagoon to float with one hand out, and Elena would swim around and turn belly up so you could grab first one fin, and
then the other, and once you were hanging on, she'd turn on the speed for a bit. Nearly lost my trunks (as did a few of the others), but frankly I didn't much care.

How awesome to be that close to such a beautiful and powerful animal. Anyway, we also did a little huggy thing, where she would rest her nose on your hand and let you pet her back. And the whole group in a line in the deep water, and she would run back and forth down the line, letting everyone pet her as she went by, and then got back on the shallow ledge as the trainer put her thru some paces, like splashing us with her nose, "talking" as we waved our fingers, spining as we twirled our hands, and clapping her fins as we applauded her, and also, in a more serious vein gave us some up close and personal tutorials on dolphin biology. From pushing on the "melon" to make her exhale and do various vocalizations, to an upclose
look at her 88 teeth and tongue. He even had her roll over and went down the length of her body pointing out the subtleties of her anatomy.

So, I am not sure if it was quite as good as the horse swim thing, but it was miles ahead of Stingray City! I am, once again, really glad I took the opportunity, and would recommend to anyone paying the extra to get in the water with a dolphin and actually interact with them, as opposed to the "touch 'em from outside the tank" encounters you get from Sea World.

After the Dolphin Swim we headed back to port, and did some shopping. We've both been putting off the necessary souvenir shopping at every port, and this is the last one, so it just had to be done. We managed to blast thru it in about 20 minutes, aided by a bite to eat and some music at Senor Frogs for a starter. Seriously, Senor Frogs here on the South Terminal is just a beach shack, but the party was in full swing. We ordered a couple $14 drinks and a plate of appy's that included fajitas, chicken strips and quesadilla, and talked to a nice couple from London. The table next to us was a group of 8 from Oz who had a stack of shotglasses in the middle of their table at least 10 feet tall. They were having a dancin' good time, and showed no signs of slowing down...they may still be there. But it did help me figure out what's wrong with
the nightlife on this ship: No Aussies! Anyway, fortified with some grub and drink, we hit the t-shirt shops and got our shopping done in record time, then headed home to the Pearl.

The rest of the afternoon was lazing and reading and writing. And a 3 way phone tag operation, to make a plan for dinner. We already had a 7pm reservation at La Cucina for the two of us. Carol called, and her and Pat and Pat's party invited us to join them in La Cucina at 8. We compromised on 7:30. So I changed my rez to 7 people at 7:30. Then got a call that Pat's party wasn't joining us. Convinced Pat to hang in, and we were 4 at 7:30. Didn't bother to change the rez, and later ran into Tony wandering the halls, and invited him and Lisa and Dolly to join us. He said he would check with them and show up or not. So the 4 of us got there at 7:30, the rest did not. We went ahead and started without them, and they showed about 7:45. So, it was a good dinner, with lot's of interesting and/or vulgar conversation. And with that many of us, it turned
in to full on family style, with much passing around of starters and salads and pizza so everyone could try everything.

After the dinner we cruised the chocolate buffet but go no pictures as we were about a minute late and it was a complete madhouse. I know I said I was gonna do this in a linear fashion, but...I lied. I have to throw in this one: We were ready for dinner too early, and had no fabulous goodies to speak of (no champagne, at least), so we decided to do a photo-shoot. Went from the room to the elevator to the hallways, atrium, etc doing some glam shots of Michille. I made the unfortunate decision to try a nod to crass commercialism and asked her to pose in the perfumery, in front of all the racks of scents available. For some reason (probably because SHE wasn't the center of attention) the young lady working there decided to tell me that taking pictures in the store was not allowed. Now, I can't for the life of me think why anyone would give a shit, but, fine. Michille took it personally though, and told the lady she just lost a sale (and she did, we were in the store earlier, and Michille found her favorite perfume considerable cheaper than she gets it at home, and was planning on stocking up). I just smiled and walked away...Michille, on the other hand, glowered and walked away. Then smiled. And laughed. It was kinda fun. And, seriously - someone needs a little re-training on customer service. Sadly, I did not get her name.

Anyway, back to the line: All during dinner Carol tried to drum up interest in getting a group together to do the Quest. It's a kind of scavenger hunt for grown ups, and a lot of fun. And I really tried to make it. I stopped in the casino, though, and had the first good run of the cruise when my number came up twice in 4 spins, and I walked away $150 to the good for the session. Not quite even for the cruise...but not down too much. And, by the time I got done with that, it was 11pm and I was just tired.  No Quest for me, this time.

So, home sweet home, and rest up for tomorrow, our final day, and a day at sea!

I'll be posting late tomorrow, as I'll wait til I get on the plane to write up the days adventures... but stick around!


Norwegian Pearl, Western Caribbean, Day 5, Grand Cayman

So, we rolled out at for an early excursion to Stingray City. A hurried breakfast of Smoked Salmon Frittata for me and Crab Cakes Benedict for Michille.

Then down to the theater to get on the first tender over to George Town, where we got on a bus to the boat to Stingray City. I hopped into the front seat, and had a nice conversation with the driver, mostly comparing the difference in driving styles from Jamaica to Grand Cayman, and the politics of the day, of course. That was good. I always take the opportunity to engage locals in some conversation. It is a primary reason for travel, imho.

Anyway, so we got to the dock and got on the boat, and I knew right away this was not going to be a magical mystery tour, like swimming on a horse...For one thing there were 6 cruise ships in Grand Cayman yesterday, which is about 4 more than there should be. Since we got across early, it wasn't obvious, but by the time we got back Georgetown looked like Times Square on New Years Eve. What a zoo. There were also too many people on our boat, and the sales pitches started the minute we cast off from the dock. Now, don't get me wrong, I know folks gotta make a living, but you can pretend you are interested in providing an interesting experience, and throw in the photo package and DVD as an added bonus, rather than make it so
obvious your only interest in me is whether or not I'm kicking down $30per, after I've alread paid $50 just for the opportunity to be there.

Stingray City, for those of you who don't know, is a protected cove off the coast of Grand Cayman, where for generations fishermen have come to clean their catch, and throw the scraps overboard. Over the years the wild native stingrays have gotten used to being fed, and very comfortable with people. So, they are not exactly tame (and people do get barbed from time-to-time, usually as a result of doing something stupid), but they aren't aggressive, either. They will come right up to anyone with squid in their hand and suck it in. And they will bump up on you if you don't feed them, rather like a dog begging for a treat. And you can, if you are gentle about it, pick them up, pet them, hug them and kiss them on the nose.

So, we got there and Stingray City was packed. There must have been, minimum, 250-300 people on the sandbar. I had been to Stingray City, back in the day (about 1984), and we were out there with two other small boats, and probably 40 people altogether, and it was pretty cool. Yesterday, it was just a flock of sheep feeding a flock of rays. They kept us packed in, bumping each other, and rays bumping everybody, AND they ran out of squid quick. Kind of annoyed with the whole thing, I wandered off and was doing a lazy backstroke, minding my own business (cuz just having a nice swim in the warm Caribbean can
make any day okay), when the captain started yelling at me to get back with the group. There was yet one more boat trying to get in to anchor and let yet one more bunch out on to the sandbar. And, it wasn't so much that he wanted me to get out of the boats way; I can understand that...but I wish he would have told me to swim over to the other side of the boat, rather than to get back with the group. Clearly, if I had wanted to be with the group, I would have been with the group. I knew where they were. I was TRYING to get away...and he just didn't "get" that...

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all bad. I did get to fed and pet a few rays, and that's fun. And my friend had never been there, so it was a new experience for her (and one you can't have anyplace else). Of course, on the way back, the guides who totally ignored us when they could see we weren't buying anything, had to give a speech about the importance of tipping...

But - we got back to Georgetown, and by now every ship had disgorged every passenger, and every one of them was looking for a drink, a ride, or a t-shirt. We made several abortive attempts to shop, lunch, and/or get a cab out to Hell, but it was just too chaotic. We decided to just head back and lunch at Cagney's. So we did. About noon.

Lunch was a hamburger for her, and the Ahi tuna burger for me. Feeling we deserved it after Georgetown, we decided dessert was in order as well. I got the marinated berries and mango, she went with the carrot cake. They were both excellent, as were the burgers.

For the afternoon she went off to read, sunbathe and get a manicure. I bopped around looking for something to do, tried to write a little, but wasn't feeling it, and mostly just walked around the ship. Ran into some of my colleagues and had some discussions, and it seemed the consensus that Grand Cayman with this many ships kinda sucks as a cruise port. At one point Tony Winkler, the Hotel Director, sat down with me at the Great Outdoors where I was having a coffee, and we talked for a few minutes, him inquiring how I was enjoying the cruise, and how well Anoop, the Concierge, was taking care of arrangements for me and all that...just a basic schmooze thing, and I didn't think too much about til later...but I'll come back to that.
After sailaway I went to the casino for a minute, had no luck, and went on up to the room to get ready for dinner. When I walked in, it was just WOW!!! Earlier in the afternoon, we had gotten a cheese platter as part of the whole Partners First thing. Nice. But this time, I came in and there were two platters of cheese (brie, gorgonzola, cheddar), fruit (grapes, melon, strawberry, kiwi), and a bottle of Moet and Chandon.

So, we sat on the balcony for a while, watching the ocean, feasting on goodies and have coffe(me) and champagne(her), and decided life doesn't get much better than this. Talked and ate and drank, and lost track to the time. All of a sudden, we were almost late for dinner. We probably would have still been on time, but we managed to rush out the door and both leave our keycards behind...so we had to track down a steward to let us in and retrieve our keys.

Dinner was at the Teppanyaki. Everyone else, including the Captain was already seated when we arrived. I have to admit I got a little thrill out of making Captain Myres wait for me...I just hope I am not persona non grata at this point. hee hee hee.

The Teppan was fabulous. Our chef was funny and skilled, as usual, tossing his utensils and telling jokes and all that. Which would have made it a good dinner, regardless. We had the added bonus of some of the best food I've had in a while. I am not sure when was the last time fried rice really got my attention, but even that was marvelous, as was the miso and salad, the veggie appetizer and the steak and shrimp. All of it was tasty beyond description. And all of it was presented beautifully. Michille got another dozen shots of serious food porn. You really will have to check out the photo album I'll be uploading as soon as I get back home. In the meantime, take my word for it.

After dinner we bopped around looking for something to do...again, there just wasn't much (don't get me wrong, NCL is doing everything they always do, but no one is participating. A great band or DJ with 3 people on the dance floor is just, well....lame). I am seriously starting to think a load of Holland America passengers got on this ship by mistake. However, as we were talking by the pool, we saw them setting up for the White Hot Party, NCL's signature "do". We went back downstairs and my roomie decided to call it a night, and I decided to at least check out the White Hot. Stopped in the Casino and talked to my friend, Pat for a few minutes, then headed up to the pool deck for the party. All I can say is, by the standards of the nightlife on this ship, it was quite jumping. But compared to other ships I've been on...not so much.

But, as I said, it's the biggest crowd of dancers, drinkers and onlookers I've encountered all week, so I decided to dive in. Found some of my friends out on the dance floor and had a good time acting up for a while. So, I am glad I went, but I still made it home by midnite, which is pretty early for me on a cruise.

So, that was my day. Tomorrow is Cozumel, where we're going to swim with some dolphins, and I sincerely hope that is more

like the horses in Jamaica than the stingrays in Cozumel.

I will let you know.


Norwegian Pearl, Western Caribbean, 02/29/12, Jamaica

Okay, one word for you: Swims With Horses. I think that will be my new name. But, more on that later.

We got up, I went typing while Michille went treading. Her workout and my blog post coincided nicely and we went up to Cagney's for breakfast. Today was Eggs Benedict, nicely done. Oh, and have I mentioned Cagney's serves Lavazza coffee in a very nice French press? Strong and tasty!

So, after breakfast we got off the ship and walked in to Ocho Rios (we had 90 minutes to kill before our excursion). Stopped at a few trinket shops, didn't buy anything, got some nice pictures, and fended off the drug dealers. Ochie has changed over the years that I have been coming here. While the net number of drug dealers working the streets probably hasn't changed much, they are a tad more aggressive than I remember. And while there are some new "malls", including the one where Margaritaville is, and where we walked around for a bit, all that new storefront has really done is make the old part older and less attractive. Anyway, and, long-story-short...not impressed. While I don't usually go for the ships excursions, I did this time, for Michille's sake, and I have to tell you - GOOD IDEA!!! But for that the day would have been not so good.

BUT - we got back to the port, found our excursion group and loaded up into a minivan. Very nicely, there were only 11 of us on this trip, rather than a giant busload. We drove out to Chukka Cove (about 20 miles from Ocho Rios, almost to Mo' Bay).

After a short wait and a quick safety briefing we mounted up and moved out. Our main trail guide, a gentleman by the name of Nicolo, and I talked for a few minutes, I told him I was a middling fair-horseman, though not on English saddles, being a Western type. But he put me on one of the more spirited horses, a bay by the name of Expression, who was a great horse, but not a follower. He had a habit of taking his head, and trying to bite Nicolo's lead horse and/or just take the lead. Once I realized why he was ackin up, we got along fine. Nicolo put me directly behind him, and Michelle next. He really was an awesome guide, who took a particular interest in us. As we headed out he was telling me all about the indigenous flora (mango, banana, almond, achi, etc). This was all pretty much him and me, as even Michille, one back of me, only got to hear about half of the conversation. We rode around Papillon Cove, where the Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman movie of the same name was filmed. After determining that I had, in fact, seen the movie, he pointed out the famous "cliff" that McQueen jumped from (it's a lot less impressive in real life), and some of the other memorable areas. He also took Michilles camera and got a BUNCH of great pictures of us (okay, mostly her) along the cove.

We then continued on thru the jungle and came out on the beach, and walked the horses thru the shallow water to the staging area for the swim portion. Now, I have to be honest with you - had the excursion ended right there, I would have felt I probably got my money's worth. But this was just the setup for the "good part". We dismounted, took off the goofy helmets and put on goofy flotation belts, and re-mounted. Michille got on her same horse, but I had to switch out, as Nicolo explained that Expression was a little wild for swimming. So, anyway, as we got to the water, Nicolo gave Michille's camera to Squishy (one of the trail hands), and the two of them had a full on photoshoot at waters edge. Now, as most of you know, I usually travel alone because, frankly, I don't like people.

This trip is an exception, and there are definite advantages to having a friend along, especially one who is a traveler, but not a jaded and world-weary cruiser like myself. It was pretty much worth the price of admission just to see her light up as her and her horse vogued for the camera...and THEN we actually went in the water!!! And I am not talking about the horse walking in the water...I am talking about the horse swimming in I-don't-know-how-deep-water, while you are essentially bareback (they have a small blanket, no saddle), hanging on to the reins and trying to keep your balance. I have ridden bareback, and holding on to a horse with your knees is not all THAT difficult...but doing it with the water pushing you back is quite an exercise. I never fell off, but I came close a couple times. In fact, everyone managed to stay on...but there were quite a few close calls. Despite that, it was GLORIOUS. Thats the only word that comes to mind. I love horses. I have ridden horses all my life. I have owned horses. But I have never rode a swimming horse. And, I have never felt as close to and "a part of" a horse as when we were crashing thru the ocean together. Wait - I have another word to add to "glorious" - MAGICAL. Yep. Mystical and Magical. Anyway...whether you are a horsey person or not, I have to heartily recommend that if you ever get the chance, take it. And if you ARE a horse person, FIND the opportunity.

So, anyway, after probably only 10 minutes of frolicking in the surf, we got back out of the water (with a bunch of more pictures) and dismounted again, to hang out while the other half of our group got in the water. When they were done, we all mounted up (back on Expression, I was), and headed home, again with commentary from Nicolo on the plant life, and the life and death of Bob Marley, and Jamaica's government, etc. He even told a few riddles....All in all, I am going to say a couple of the best hours of the last 5 years, at least. And something I would absolutely do again. At the end of it all, as I was giving Nicolo and Squishy a little toke for how much they did to make it an outstanding day, Nicolo asked if we would be back tomorrow...I honestly started to calculate what it would cost to spend the night in Ochie and fly to Grand Cayman on the morrow to catch up with the ship. Alas, it's not to be.

Anyway, one of the things I have been looking forward to for months was lunch at the Village Jerk Centre. I've eaten there every time I've been to Jamaica, going back to 1984 on the cruise where I met my first wife. I'd like to say I fell in love with her there, (and it was kind of our first "date"), but the truth is I fell in love with Jerk and Red Stripe on that trip. Sadly, my Red Stripe days are over...but a good plate of Jerk still makes me nearly weep. So, we ordered a combo plate with ribs, jerk chicken and jerk pork, some Festivale and rice & beans. It was nearly as good as I remember. I also had my first (and second) Ginger Beer of the trip. My buddy started with a Pepsi, and then we noticed that Red Stripe now makes a Light Apple Beer, so she broke down and decided to try one. Until the bartender noted they also make a ginger-flavored brew...so she had one of those instead...and THEN the apple.

I had been offering for months to buy lunch there for any of my travel agent friends who cared to join me, and I must say, I was a little disappointed that no one showed up. Oh, well...their loss.   On the flip side, I was so wiped out when we got back to the ship, I fell asleep and missed the group photo I was supposed to be in...

So, we started walking back to the ship. One beggar woman followed us out of the Jerk Centre, and started by offering to braid Michille's hair. About the 264th person of the day to do so. Next she noted the medical condition she needed money for. Not interested, I told her. Then, I am pretty sure she was offering up sexual favors to me (I went from "your husband" to "sexy man", while Michille was demoted from "nice lady" to "blondie" [a generic and slightly insulting term for pretty much any white girl, but especially funny considering her RED hair]). When that was a non-starter she flat out asked for a dollar. Upon being refused even that, she got pretty snarly, and I think offering up some voodoo curses. So, if I am found dead in my bed or choke on a chicken bone in the next day or two, she's probably the culprit.

One more brief stop on the way back for Michille to get a coconut, something another friend told her was a must do...I've been there/done that, and don't really like straight coconut juice, though I did a few sips just to get the sugary ginger beer taste out of my mouth...plus I am pretty sure it's a prophylactic against Voodoo curses from Jamaican crackheads.

We arrived back to the ship without further incident, and I took the opportunity to make a phone call home, get some reservations for excursions and dinners, etc.

Oh, and another bottle of wine showed up from somewhere, apparently to match the, now, THREE trays of chocolate strawberries...seriously, how many of these things can two people eat? I totally appreciate the gesture, but my table is piling up...

Anyway, after sailaway from Jamaica we got not-quite-dressed-up, and went to La Cucina for dinner. La Cucina is NCL's rustic Italian eatery. By the way, before I go any further, y'all might have noticed we are eating in the alternative restaurants every night. There is a reason for this: DISCOUNT! Seriously, one of the things I most hate hearing from clients is that cruise lines, most especially NCL, because they have by far the most dining options, are "nickel and diming" people because they give you choices of where to eat. In my mind, all these restaurants are just a bonus opportunity. You can still eat as well, with all the included dining choices, as any other mass market cruise line. But for a few bucks more, you can elevate your gastronomical game on NCL. AND, as I said, that's at their regular prices. BUT, get this: all the speciality dining on this cruise has been discounted. Apparently revenue is down, and they're dropping the prices to get people in. So, Moderno, which should have been a $25 meal (and is a steal at that price) was only $18. Sushi was a la carte, but we both filled up for $26. Le Bistro, again, normally $25, I think, was only $14pp. And La Cucina last nite, normally a $15 cover charge was NINE DOLLARS PER PERSON. Now, before I go on with the details of what we had for dinner, maybe reread the previous posts, and what we ate, and put those prices on the meals. Or just start from here: $9 in my friends deli will get you a whole pastrami, a bag of chips and one of her wide variety of speciality sodas. Or, that same $9 at La Cucina will get you antipasti of quiche, sun dried tomatos, black and green olives, prosciutto, and marinated peppers. And a carpaccio and arugula appetizer. And tomato and fresh mozzarella slices. And a seafood fettucine that included mussels, squid, salmon, shrimp and scallops. ANd top it off with an entree like Saltimbocca. Which, by the way, was done to a turn this time. My last outing at La Cucina, on the Norwegian Star, I complained of it being too sagey. This one was perfect, with just the right hint of sage. So, I not only got a better dinner, I am vindicated that the previous time, it wasn't quite what it should be.  Or, for that same $9, you could have gone a different direction (as my partner did), and ordered (after the antipasti and bread), some Pasta et Fagioli, the Insalata La Cucina, a salad of mixed greens with figs, pancetta and some other stuff. And then a small Margherita pizza (which, by the way, was really fabulous, based on the piece I stole). And then a Spaghetti Carbonara. Oh, and add to those a big bowl of strawberry ice cream or a piece of ricotta cheesecake.

Now, tell me $9 is too much to pay for a cruise ship speciality restaurant...

okay, rant over.

So, that's what we had for dinner. And then, after dinner, an hour of feeling just how sore all that horseback riding can make you, until it was time for Second City. I love's me some Second City. Their big show in the theater is mostly sketch with one improv thrown in, as opposed to the lounge show, which will be later in the week, and pretty much all improv. But the sketches were good, and the final audience participation number was cute and funny.

After the show I ran into the casino to check my blackjack turney standing, and, amazingly I am still #2 on the leaderboard. OF course there will be a bunch of qualifiers on Saturday, and I could fall fast, but based on the results so far, I think my score might just hold up.

And, finally a run to Bliss to check on signing up for the Murder Mystery Lunch. I have tried to do this on my last two cruises with NCL, and was too late to get in. Finally, SUCCESS. It better be good.

Now, I am blissfully weary from a grand day and a grand horse ride...

Back in 24 hours!!!


Norwegian Pearl, Western Caribbean, 02/28/12

Norwegian Pearl, Western Caribbean, Day 3

So, the day started well, up bright and early and up by the pool, type- type- typing. I finished up just as my partner got back from an early hot stone massage treatment. Then over to Cagney's for breakfast. Steak and eggs for all my friends! Both the steak and the eggs (and the potatos for that matter) were perfectly done.

Bopped around, checking things out til 11 when we had a Bridge and Galley tour set up.

The bridge tour was interesting, if somewhat abridged (see what I did there, with bridge and abridge?), because there were 25 or 30 of us. And then down to the Galley for a brief tour by the Pearl's Executive Chef who goes by the humble name of Messiah. Honest, that is his name. I hadn't the nerve to ask him if his parents were Joseph and Mary. But he did give a nice tour and explanation of the major workings of a cruise ship kitchen. Sadly, we didn't get to go into the pantries and walk-ins, as I did on my galley tour of the Star. Oh, well. After the tours there was a little reception with champagne and canapes at Bar Central. We then ditched the group and went for lunch at Cagneys. We both started with the Pumpkin Soup, one of my favorite's here on NCL, and I had the Shrimp and Scallops on a bed of artichoke and mushroom risotto. Excellent. Michille went for the Ahi Burger that had a hunk of tuna big enough to feed a small village. Then went down to the Excursion Desk to get set for riding and swimming horseback tomorrow in Jamaica. THAT promises to be a fun time.

After lunch Michille decided to cross one more thing off her life list and do a little rock climbing. As most of you know, this isn't really my sort of thing, since climbing a 30' tower of plastic with pre-set footholds is just not the same as climbing actual rocks at Joshua Tree or the Dead Man Hills back home. But, we ran into Carol, a travel agent friend from Canada, who joined us at the rock wall. Michille did get to the top and ring the bell, as did Carol (who has done a lot of rock walls, apparently), so it was a successful outing. Then back down by the pool to listen to some music and people watch and have a drink.

Finally, it was time for our little Scavenger Hunt. Put together by another agent friend, Tony, who made it quite a bit more difficult than the one's the cruise staff usually put on. So, we spent an hour and a half, all over the damn boat trying to find all sorts of stuff, and cheating creatively when we couldn't. At the end we went up to the Great Outdoors to find we actually tied for 1st place on points, but the other team beat us in time, so we were awarded "first loser" status. Oh, I mean, 2nd Place. Nice plaque...whatever...

It was then time for the Captains Cocktail party so we ran and got dressed for dinner as quickly as we could, only to arrive at the party 2 minutes after the Capt had to go...So - Dinner at Le Bistro! Though as a meat and potatoes kind of guy, I think Cagneys (or maybe Moderno) is the premier alternative dining venue on NCL, a lot of folks would argue it's Le Bistro. This is the first time I've been there, but I am thinking they may be right (ask me again Friday after I have dinner at Cagney's). It is a lovely room, very elegant, with rich furnishings and nice artwork on the walls. We ordered, between us, the Quartes Cornets (4 cones filled with four different confections, like duck confit, roast duck, etc), the Mussels Whatever that were really good, considering I am not a huge fan of mussels, a Four Mushroom soup, a salad of roast duck, endive and something...and one other thing that escapes me at the moment. But I remember they were all really good. For the entree I had the Filet de Boeuf, which was possibly the tenderest piece of beef I've ever had, and Michille went with the Duck. She seemed to enjoy it. Enough that she didn't offer to share. Though she did offer to eat a piece of my filet...

Between the food and the ambience, we managed to spend over 2 hours eating and conversating, and it was, in all, a delightful evening. A little more down time in the room, and then over to the Spinnaker Lounge for a 70's Party. Again, I am going to say...it's a pretty tame crowd on this cruise. While there were more people dancing and hanging than I've seen the first couple days, it was still not quite POPPING. But the music was mostly okay, and I'll say I had a good time, overall...but by the time the party was over...so was I. So, off to bed to (hopefully) get a good nights sleep and get ready for a big day in Jamaica.

Stay tuned...

oh, by the way, you know I have to get in the plug once in a while, but if you are looking for a Western Caribbean cruise, or any cruise on NCL, or any cruise on any line, or frankly, any kind of travel, anywhere...CALL ME!!! Dave Holman Travel, 760,265.3687 or daveholmantravel@verizon.net.

See ya!


Norwegian Pearl, Western Caribbean, Day Two

Yesterday, our first full day on board the Norwegian Pearl, was anchored off Great Stirrup Cay. Great Stirrup Cay is Norwegian Cruise Lines first-in-the-industry private island. It is currently nearing completion on a $20+million renovation that includes a new docking facility, expanded beaches, new food service and bar stations, etc.

But first, breakfast at Cagney's (yes, I am getting the full "Cagney's for breakfast and lunch" treatment). I had the crab cakes Benedict, because they are always wonderful, and I haven't had any for a while. Michille went with the Fruits de Mer (lobster and scallops, en brioche topped with poached eggs). Both were excellent. By the way, and as an aside...Michille has an excellent camera setup and we've been taking lots of pictures, including some serious food porn. While it's too much to upload them at the snails pace sattelite uplinks give you, be on the lookout here, and on my Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/DaveHolmanTravel) next week...you'll be drooling.

We got on an early tender, and went over to the island. Personally, I am not big on the whole "private island" thing, because the cruise lines have a tendency to go over the top in "disneyfying" them. I like tropical islands and cays and keys the way God made 'em. In this case we were in luck. The whole island is about 250 acres, and only 20 or so are being utilized. There is still a lot of it left untouched. We walked quickly thru the developed area, over a bridge to the new adults-only area, and then, just a few yards beyond that some untouched coral outcroppings/tide pools. While the island is not exactly teeming with wildlife we did find some sea snails, cockles and little trilobite-y things clinging to the coral...and wading out into the not-quite-warm water, thru the underlying rock and slippery sea grass, was a pleasant little swim. So, Michille took a bunch of pictures of the snails and such, and we frolicked in the water a little, got some really nice pictures of her with the ship in the background (I'm talking brochure quality stuff here), some less-than-awesome pictures of me with the ship in the background, and generally had a nice time playing in the water.

We then decided to take the road less traveled, in this case a dirt path that goes from the developed beach all the way to a Cold War era lighthouse and landing strip installed by the Air Force when Great Stirrup Cay was used as a satellite tracking facility, back in the day. We didn't make it all the way to the light house, but we did enough to get that "desert isle" feel.
After that, and quite possibly the best part of the whole day, was the BBQ lunch buffet there on the island. All I can say is it was FABULOUS!!! Burgers, dogs, chicken, ribs, pizza, other sandwiches, salads too numerous to enumerate...and all of it quite tasty. I believe the Lime and Ginger Couscous was the first time I have ever finished a whole serving of couscous. (and having been married to a vegetarian in the 80's, I've had a lot of it thrown on my plate). I know my friend had a pile of food that would have embarassed a Marine fresh in from the field, and she plowed thru it and almost licked the plate...So, after pigging out disgustingly, we went back onboard the ship. Nice and quiet. We laid out by the pool for a bit, taking in the sun and the steel drums that were playing on the bandstand.

After that, Michille went to the gym for a class (more on that later), and I headed to the casino to sign up for the BlackJack Tournament. I also took that opportunity to turn $100 into $50 on the roulette wheel.

Coming back to the room, I got an earful about the classes at the gym. I have to tell you I am not real familiar with that part of cruising. Using the stairs and long walks ashore are enough to keep my weight in check when I overindulge in awesome cruise food. But my friend came back terrifically disappointed in the class she had intended to take. Apparently they want $30, PER CLASS to do a little working out. Now, as I said, I am far from a gym rat, but I am thinking $30 will get you a whole month of gym access most places in America. And Michille herself is paying roughly that $30/month for jazzercise classes, to which she could, (if she wanted to and was completely crazy), attend 20 times a week...

Anyway...enough of that...after the discussion of exorbitant workout class rates, it was time for the BlackJack Turney, so I headed on down, and OF COURSE, won the first round. Sorry, but this is sometimes too easy. I don't know why otherwise rational grown men get on a ship and all of a sudden think they know how to gamble. I have spent 40 years developing my skills (since my dad taught me how to play Black Jack on Sunday mornings when mom went to church, back when I was 10).

Now, I can't say that my $8400 is going to keep me on the leaderboard. Frankly I had some pretty sucky cards, except when I was able to split and then re-split 7's against a 5 and took all three hands. But it's enough to be atop the board, for now, and if I get pushed off, I'll just have to re-enter and work it harder. Pretty sure this will NOT be the cruise I finally don't have a seat at the Final.
Chilled out for a while til dinnter time which, tonite, was at the Sushi bar. Sushi was awesome. Michille and I ordered a bunch of stuff to split...some Ahi and Tako sushi nigiri, a little Maguro and Sake Sashimi and a Spicy Tuna roll and Godzilla roll. It was all done well, fresh and beautifully presented.

After dinner we took in the comedian, Rod Long. He was fairly good, though a little low key. Between his rather low energy delivery, the very comfortable double chaise lounger in the Spinnaker, and all the sushi, I was having a hard time staying awake. After the comedian, we took in the big show in the main theater. "That's Entertainment". It was rather hit and miss. Some parts were excellent, some just fair. The male singers were, frankly, weak. One of the female singers, on the other hand, had a great voice and presence. A couple of the dancers were, likewise, quite good. All in all, I give the show a "7".

We then cruised down to Bliss Ultra Lounge, which was, again, NOT popping. I have to say, so far, I am a little disappointed at my fellow passengers. The night life on this cruise is not quite up there with most of my NCL experiences. The lounge is great, the music good...but no one is there. Maybe it will get better as we go. I hope so.

Anyway, at that point we hit the casino for a few minutes; no luck; decided to call it a night

Tomorrow is a day at sea, and we have lot's of stuff lined up, like a bridge and galley tour, so it should be a good day...I will absolutely let you know!



Norwegian Pearl, Western Caribbean, 2.26.12 BOARDING DAY

Norwegian Pearl, Miami 2/26/2012 Boarding Day

So, let's see...we got in to FLL at 6am on Virgin America. Flight was uneventful. Got a limo to take us to Miami. Of course it was way to early to be at the port, so we decided to breakfast at Bayside Marketplace. Actually, the Holiday Inn at Bayside. So, we had a little breakfast, then availed ouselves of the lobby to plug in and recharge all the electronics (and sneak in an hours sleep). Anyway, at 10 we grabbed a cab across the causeway to the Cruise Terminal.

They weren't quite ready to let us on board. We were first in line thru security, and then the 2nd couple to get checked in. So we headed upstairs to wait til it was time to get on board. And waited. And waited. And they just kept letting more people OFF. I was getting concerned we weren't going to make it onboard in time for our big luncheon at 12:30, and was texing back and forth with some of my agent friends who were still downstairs stuck in line when another agent friend waltzes by and tells me I need to get a visitors pass just like hers, and go ahead and hop on the ship!...

So, a little confusion and consternation later, I found Isis Ruiz, the NCL person running the lunch boarding thang, and we all got on and sat down in time for lunch at the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace is the larger of the two Main Dining Rooms on the Norwegian Pearl, and done up in a tsarist Russia theme, with portraits of Russian nobility, and a beautiful ceiling mural, and faux-Faberge eggs all around. Nice room. Great lunch. A sample menu, with dishes from the various speciality restaurants, I will probably cover most of them at some point during the week, as I think I intend to eat in each of them.

After lunch we found our stateroom and waited for our luggage. Burn out was setting in, after being up for a day and a half. The balcony cabin is pretty standard NCL. Forward, and up on deck 10, we have a small couch, double bed, more than adequate closet/drawer/shelf space (which is saying something because we both, I think, packed more than normal for a week of fun in the sun...actually, I have no idea what's "normal" for her...but I overpacked, for sure).

By the time all the luggage showed up it was time for the Muster Drill. We did that, came back to finish unpacking, and were greeted with sparkling wine and fruit from the Captain, and a tray of canapes, as well (part of the Partners First stuff). So, I let Michille have the caviar, I ate the shrimpies, and she started on the bubbly. By this time we were sailing away, and rather than join the big deck party, we opted to stay on the balcony, enjoy the sailaway and get some great pictures as we floated out to sea.

Finally, it was time to dress for dinner. We decided on Moderno, NCL's quickly-becoming-signature speciality restaurant. Modeled on a Brazilian churrascaria (or, steak house), it was first installed on the EPIC, and is now being rolled out, fleetwide. Along with 10 or so kinds of meat, it has THE BEST salad bar, ever. Just sayin...as a meat eater...I could make a meal out of the salads available. Midway thru our grilled meat fest, Anoop, the concierge stopped by to introduce himself. There was also a phone call from Hotel Director Tony Winkler, so it appears the full VIP thing is on, this cruise. Gotta love that.

So, after dinner we looked for something to do. And we looked real hard. Apparently everyone was tired or something...kinda disappointing. We went from Moderno to Bliss Ultra Lounge, and there was some karaoke going on, but it was pretty quiet, overall...and then up on the Lido to see if anything was happening there...not so much. Down to the Casino. It was fairly full, but none of our friends were there, and...yeah, wait for this: The smoke was quite bothersome. I have been about a month not smoking, and I reFUSE to be one of those A-holes that starts carrying on every time someone lights up within a mile...but it was thick, and I am not really all that immune, yet, so we left there. Back to Bliss...still not happening...floated around the ship some more, before finally deciding it just isn't Party Night, and headed home about 11 to catch up on sleep and conversate for a while...nothing quite like a warm night on the balcony with a friend.

And, of course, thanks to the early bedtime, we are both up and raring to go at 5:30 am today...

I'll tell you all about it tomorrow!