Apropos of nothing

 I thought this entry deserved its own, rather than lump it in with the Live From the Getaway series.
One thing I have learned in life is there are two kinds of people when it comes to dealing with challenges:  Those who say "It can't happen", and those whose instinctive response is "How do I make this happen?"

And in the world of customer service, the former have no business.  Too many people in service jobs these days don't even realize the reason they have a job is to think, try, and overcome.  You could program a machine to endlessly repeat "We can't".  Employers could get a chimpanzee to work cheap if all they wanted is someone who looks cute in a uniform.  You are there because they WANT someone who can draw outside the lines, when necessary, to keep customers satisfied, and returning.
Oh, and p.s. - yes, you probably are smarter than your supervisor.  The reason he/she is your boss and not the other way around, is he/she has a history of actually figuring shit out.  It's almost never necessary to resort to rocket surgery.  Even limited intelligence, with the right attitude can figure out what needs to be done to keep the clients happy.
Now, one of the reasons I have always enjoyed cruising with my wheelchair user brother is this "can-do" attitude amongst cruise ship staff.  Our very first cruise was 33 years ago on the Carnival Tropicale.  That's over 10 years BEFORE the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed in to law.  The doors on that ship were 22" wide.  His wheelchair was 26" wide.  We figured out (because I am the latter type of person, which is why I've managed to deal successfully with my brother for 35 years, while most of his family is the first type, and would have let him languish in a facility, where he probably would have died 30 years ago) how to work a standing transfer, standing him up, collapsing his chair, opening it back up on the other side of the door, and doing a swivel/pivot in to the chair).  More importantly, the crew on that ship figured stuff out, too.  There were 2 steps down in to the main dining room on that ship.  And no ramps, anywhere.  The first night, the maĆ®tre d' sent a couple busboys over, they each grabbed a wheel, and carried him down the steps.  Without us even saying a word.  And for the rest of the cruise, every time we walked in the dining room, a couple staff came over to get him to his table.  That kind of service was a major selling point on cruising.  And it's always been that way.  Not only have ships vastly improved in terms of accessible cabins, ramps and flat thresholds, etc, but in most of the industry the staff and crew are both A: more familiar with wheelchair users and how to best accommodate them, and B:  Of the "How do I make this happen?" mindset.
Sadly, this last week I had a run in with that first type of person.  I am sorry, but this deal with the strobe light in the ceiling just didn't have to be an issue. 
First off, it's completely unbelievable to me that the light can't be switched off when necessary.  If that is true, it's the worst bit of engineering since engineering was invented.
Second off, it's completely unbelievable to me that no one has the ability to remove the bulb.  If that is true it means these two ships (Breakaway and Getaway) will have to be scrapped when the bulbs fail (as light bulbs generally do, eventually), since I have been told in most solemn terms that they are REQUIRED by ADA for the passengers safety.
Third off, it's just not that hard to cover a light.  Which is what I finally did, just before two guys from engineering showed up with some cardboard and duct tape.  My apologies for my attitude when they showed up and I assured them I had an even better solution, because I am not burdened by the title "engineer", but do have an above average IQ.
Finally - Norwegian Cruise Line, a few years ago, in response to several lawsuits over ADA, instituted "Access Officers".  These Access Officers were supposed to be the "go to" person for disabled passengers with issues.  Sadly, the program is a complete and epic fail.  To quote from Norwegians website:
"Once you have boarded, you will be met by staff who will have all of the information that you conveyed to Norwegian Cruise Line either directly or through your travel professional. Staff will be available throughout your cruise to see to your needs. Norwegian Cruise Line has Access Officers who will be the primary go to person for all of your needs. Norwegian Cruise Line also has a centralized internal corporate resolution staff to assist the Access Officer, available by telephone 24 hours a day."

Well, swell, except the "meeting" turns out to be a two page letter with the name of the access officer (no direct extension to call), and a list of where the accessible bathrooms are around the ship.
Twice since these Access Officers were born, I have cruised Norwegian with my brother.  On the first, the person was scared to death of disabled people and would not make eye contact with my brother.  It took a phone call from a Vice President of the Corporation to get her to meet with me. 
And on this one, the Access Officer was a nice lady, but definitely in the 1st category.  When I FINALLY got her to respond, after Guest Services was completely unhelpful, all she could offer about the seizure inducing strobe light was "We can't do anything".  Well, gee...is your job to hide behind ADA (which, of course, cruise lines routinely assert doesn't apply to them when they are being sued, but then want to use as a reason for their policies when they think it's in their favor) and say "We can't", or to fix problems for disabled guests by asking yourself "How do I make this happen?".
I think the reason the program is pointless is that it is assigned to certain job titles, period.  Personally, I would ask for volunteers, and perhaps give them a small stipend for taking on the added duties.  Persons With Disabilities really need to have someone who is sympathetic and understanding of their needs...not just a few minutes from someone who has been told to handle this task whether they like it or not. 

In that sense it's kind of like the kids programs.  All the kids camp counselors are self-selected people who actually LIKE children, as well as being trained specifically to handle them.  They aren't just assigned from the general staff and told to deal with kids all week every week.  I am sure you can see what a disaster that could be.
Anyway...that's enough from me.  I will continue to recommend Norwegian to many, if not most of my clients.  For the able bodied, it is a great cruise line, with much to recommend it.
Those with disabilities, however, will continue to be sent to Princess and Royal.

Norwegian Getaway, 11/29 - 12/6 NASSAU, BAHAMAS

Nassau was a complete Charlie Foxtrot. I had a van scheduled (and paid for) to take us to Atlantis, and join up with the rest of the agents for a tour/site visit. Gerard Lewis (Courteous Transfers is the company) was supposed to pick us up at 11am. The company came highly recommended and I can't for the life of me figure out why. We were downstairs about 10 minutes early and waiting in the designated spot. Now, I understand Island time, so I wasn't too concerned when he wasn't there at the stroke of 11. But when I finally called him (at international roaming rates) around 11:20, and he was surprised and embarassed that he had forgotten us, I was not too happy. But he assured us he would be there in no more than 30 minutes. So, no big deal. But then 30 became 45, became 60. At 12:20 I decided to walk across the street to VIA to find a decent wifi signal, get some work done, and forget the tour. As I was crossing the street, I heard the esteemed Mr. Lewis calling my name. So, what the heck. I figured I had missed the original tour, but didn't think I would have an issue taking a later one, as I have heard Atlantis does pretty much non-stop tours.

 So we climbed aboard the scariest POS van I've seen in years, and headed to...the gas station. Yeah. Gerard needed gas to get the 4 miles to Atlantis. Fortunately, he did have a dollar for the bridge toll. We got out at Atlantis, and headed in. First stop was at Guest Services, who had no idea what tour tickets I was talking about, but did give me the wrong directions to the ticket office. Which can't be reached by wheelchair. So I perched Steve on the steps, and went down to talk to them. They had no idea what I was talking about, but they did call Guest Services to confirm that no one on the whole property had any idea what I was talking about. And here's the thing: I paid a nominal sum for this deal a couple months ago. At one point the organizer said she would be sending an email with meeting times/places for the tour. Then there was an email that we would be given our tickets/times at the cocktail party Sunday evening. At the cocktail party it was explained that we would be meeting at some other time/place to get our tickets/times. And the organizer told me, personally, that I could go to (I THINK), the Reef Tower to get my tickets/tour. It could be she said the Beach tower. But in the end, it doesn't even matter, because we checked with the Reef Tower, the Beach Tower, The Royal Tower and the Coral Tower. I am pretty sure those are the only towers available, and none of them had a clue what I was talking about, nor had they heard of the organizer personally, her company name, or the Norwegian Getaway. At this point I don't even remember waht I paid , but it's not important, as it's trivial compared to what I paid for the van to get here, so I could log a couple miles pushing a wheelchair around several miles of hotel lobby. All in all it was over $100 completely pissed away, as at this point (about 2:30, I just called Gerard back and told him we were ready to go back to the ship.

 He showed up relatively promptly. Put Steve on the lift and it wouldn't go up. Given the condition of the van, I wasn't terribly surprised. With much fanfare, and some weird story about telling someone he would charge their battery for them, Gerard set about removing the battery from his van, and replacing it with one sitting by the front seat. So, yeah, if you ever wonder whether you should do business with this company, consider that they carry extra car batteries in the front seat. But eventually he got the van restarted and the lift operating and we made it back to the port without a stop for fuel. Finally got back onboard around 3:30, and Steve was too tired to eat. I on the other hand, was famished. So I put him down for a nap, and headed to O'Sheehans for some wings and some fish and chips, which never fail to lift my spirits. I was joined there by one of the people in the Reunion group who of course asked if we had gone to Atlantis. I gave her the quick version and changed the subject. We chatted for a bit, and I went back upstairs to check on Steve. He was still feeling tired, so i left him and went on a quick spin to get some pictures around the ship.

Dinner tonite was LeBistro. We toyed with the idea of going back to La Cucina or Teppanyaki, but in the end decided to stick with the plan and hit each one of the alternative dining venues. When we got to LeBistro, a couple new friends, Kim and Karen were there, so we joined them at a table for 4. Dinner was good (although the rack of lamb is still too small a serving, requiring 3 starters), but the conversation was better. Looking back on it, during the whole week Steve and I only dined alone twice. We had Kim join us at Illusionarium, Lisa and Karen at Moderno. At Ocean Blue we were alone, and again at La Cucina. We were joined by the lovely family from Chicago at Teppanyaki, Cagneys was a whole group dinner, and now, Kim and a different Karen at Le Bistro. And with the addition of Karen, only half of us were travel agents, so the conversation was actually just normal stuff!
So, yeah...I had the rack of lamb, with the grilled asparagus, onion soup and the salade gourmande (with the smoked duck in it) to start. Steve did the grilled asparagus and Cocquilles St Jacque before the grilled swordfish entre. All were excellent, although just one more chop, to make it a 1/2 rack instead of a 1/3 would be good. IMHO.
Dinner took us well over two hours, and we knew debark and get home would be a loooooong day, so we turned in early.
I also assumed getting a transfer to the airport and then to our day room hotel would be a major hassle, and I was not dissapointed.
But that's a story for a different day.

Overall, I am going to give this cruise an 8. Most parts were a solid 10, but a few things were just too bad for words. So...yeah.

I'll let you know how the get home day works out.


Norwegian Getaway, 11/29 - 12/6, DAY SIX - AT SEA

So, yesterday was our final day at sea. After two hectic days in port, it was kinda nice to just relax a little. After popping out of bed at 7ish, we got ready and headed to breakfast at O'Sheehans, of course (I mean, we have a regular table now and everything). After breakfast a quick detour to the Shore Excursion desk, where Greg was again extremely helpful in getting the charge for yesterdays tour corrected. Then another trivia. Since I was late and missed the first 3 questions, I only got 13 right. I am pretty sure I would have had 16, and 15 was the winning score. Oh, well...I didn't really want a coozie, anyway.

After breakfast we went out on deck. A little windy and cooling as we head back to Florida. Ran into Lisa and Karen, and accompanied them downstairs to the photo gallery to look at pictures. I have been respectably successful in avoiding having my picture taken, so that didn't take long. I did, however find two nice pictures of some other couple who obviously didn't know their stateroom number. Which gave me an idea. In future, I think I'll tell all the photographers I DO want a picture, and then just give them random cabin numbers, so I'll pop up in various folios around the ship. Call it "taking photo-bombing to the next level".

That took us to snack time so we ducked in to Savor for some popcorn shrimp and scallops gratin before heading up to the cabin for some down time. Rene, our steward, was in the middle of making up the room, so we sat out on the balcony and just enjoyed the wake and the clouds for a bit. Then laid Steve down for a bit before a late lunch. I finally convinced him we needed to eat at the Flamingo grill, and I am really glad I did. Amongst the other Caribbean-inspired dishes the had what they called Puerto Rican-style roast pork, but which might be more familiar to you as "Lechon Asado". And they NAILED IT!

In case you aren't aware, everywhere in the Spanish speaking world "lechon" means "lunch", and is the generic word for anything you might eat in the middle of the day. In Puerto Rico, the highly seasoned (mostly garlic and pepper) and spit-roasted whole pig is so ubiquitous it is called "lechon asado". Strictly translated "roasted lunch". Like, you don't even need to specify what it is you're roasting or having for lunch, because there really isn't anything else worthy of the name.

When I was a young boy, growing up, in Bayamon, there was a lechoneria across the street from our house. Two guys would walk past my house every morning with a whole uncooked pig on a spit. When I got home from school, I would go grab a plate of the by-now-nearly-gone lechon and a piece of bread. The owner would save me a few pieces of the skin, too, because that is absolutely the best part. The seasoning! the crispy skin! and the mostly-rendered layer of fat right underneath! Throw a little in your mouth, bite down and the fat just flows, carrying the flavors, while your teeth hit the crispyness. I know it's a cliche, but "A party in your mouth" is the only way to describe it. I have tried over the years to replicate this dish, and I have come up with some pretty close dishes, but never QUITE perfect. The thing is you have to have at minimum a whole butt roast or the like, with the skin on, and a way to cook it that gets all the skin crisp. Regular pork roast cuts, or ribs or whatnot can be good, but they can't be just right.

So, I watched in bemusement as the guy in front of me at Flamingo went to great pains with the tongs, to remove that part from every chunk of meat he put on his plate. Because, you know what? Without that top skin/fat piece, lechon asado is just, well...roast pork. I happily scooped up his orts and leavings and ran back to my table and was transported to 1971 Bayamon. The seasoning was right, the skin was crisp on the edge of too-hard-to-bite-thru, the fat was half-burned/half-melted...but I digress. Wow, did I ever digress. Back to Planet Earth, now.

After the late lunch it was time for the Blackjack Tournament. Things started off really well, and I racked up about $5000 in the first 4 hands. I was just behind the leader and the two of us were thousands ahead of the rest of the table. In the last 3 hands, I was dealt 14, then 12, then 13. Managed to push once, and lost the other two, while the leader was dealt a 10 that he successfully doubled down on, a Blackjack and finished with a 19 dealt against the dealers 17. So that ended badly, and I decided against entering again. Some days you just aren't feeling it. But while we were there Steve and I hit a couple of slots and managed to lose the rest of the money I had won on Sunday. So, me and the casino are exactly even this week. I think I'll leave it that way.

By now it was almost time for our big group dinner, so we headed back to the cabin, threw on some nicer clothes and headed to Cagney's. When I got to the cabin, I had a nice cheese/cracker tray and a bottle of wine from the Access Officer by way of an apology for the Disco At The End Of The World fiasco. Nice. So I had a bottle of wine to take up and share with my colleagues. Which I did. Cagney's was it's usual awesome self. Steve had the shrimp cocktail and the lobster and shrimp entre, with a little side of creamed corn. I went with a Ceasar Salad (or, as they call it a "Mexican Ceasar Salad", which seems somewhat oxymoronic, since a Ceasar Salad is a Mexican salad created in Mexico [at Ceasar's, of all places!]). And then the bone-in ribeye, rare, with some mushrooms. And Cagney's Fries, of course. All were as good as I've had them at any other Cagney's. Cagney's is back to being my favorite Norwegian Speciality restaurant. Moderno gave them a run for their money for a while, but...I don't know...I guess the novelty of churascarria has worn off. Desert was the raspberry creme brulee. Typically, excellent.

So, yeah, great food, and some interesting conversation with some colleagues, and dinner took almost 2 and a half hours. Steve was feeling tired, so I tossed him in bed, and headed up to the Glow Party. When we got back to the cabin there was a tray of chocolate truffles from the Hotel Director. Just because, I guess.

Stayed at the Glow briefly, but wasn't feeling partyish, so I headed on home at 11. We have a big day planned at Atlantis tomorrow, and I decided I needed to rest up for that.

Which, of course, I will tell you about in painstaking detail, in my next post.

So, TTFN, mes amies! And just to warn you, tomorrows post will probably be delayed...once these minutes are up, I ain't buying any more internet. I'll wait til I get onshore and find some wifi somewhere.



Norwegian Getaway, 11/29 - 12/6 ST THOMAS

Our day in St Thomas started badly, but improved over time. Rolled out early, got some coffee, and realized I had never received vouchers for our 9am excursion. "Accessible St Thomas" was the only wheelchair accessible excursion on offer from Norwegian when I was preparing for this trip, so I booked it. So, I was there at the excursion desk when they opened to inquire. They told me the excursion was cancelled, and that everyone had been notified of same, which was not true. I ran back to the room and checked thru 200 saved and deleted emails, and nothing. Looked thru my phone log for a call from NCL (I know all their numbers), and nothing. Finally I checked my bank account, and, sure enough...the $98 had been refunded on the 28th. Which would be when I was busy getting across the country to board the ship, and not obsessively checking bank balances on the off chance someone was sending me money. So, I was a little pissed and stewed for a while. Then I decided to try and see if I could make some other arrangements. Heading back downstairs, we ran in to Sean Wormhoeringer, the Hotel Director, taking pictures with all his staff. They saw us and ran over to get a picture crowding around Steve and I, so it was hard to stay mad. But I did explain the situation, and he immediately went to get Greg, the Shore Excursion Manager. He repeated what the desk guy had told me, and I assured him I had NOT received any notice. He also told me he was not aware of any other excursion I might book on my own. He was apologetic and all, but basically said there was nothing he could do. So we gave up the dream, grabbed a little breakfast and headed out to the mall to do some shopping. Hit my favorite gourmet grocery to stock up on some sauces and condiments that I can't ever find in California, went to the bank to restock the cash supply, and we were in a souvenir shop getting some trinkets for the keikes when Greg walked in and asked us if we were still up for an excursion. He had managed to arrange a private excursion starting at 12:30. Obviously the answer was "yes". So we paid for our purchases, went back onboard to lay Steve down for an hour before heading back and finding our tour guy.
We loaded up and headed out. In an 18 passenger minibus, with just two of us. Went to a all the usual spots to get pictures (Mountain Top, Magen's Bay, etc). Being just us, and having done our shopping earlier, we basically ran thru the 3 hour tour in 2 hours, which was fine, as Steve had been up a long time, and got back to the ship around 2:30. Steve was exhausted (mountain roads are hard work). We did have a great time, the guide was cool, and I am VERY appreciative of the extra effort Sean and Greg went thru on our behalf. Now I have to talk to someone about the $248 charge on my account.
So, I laid Steve back down for a bit before we got dressed for dinner. Back up around 4:30, tooled around the ship until our dinner at Teppanyaki at 6. We went in and took our seats, and were joined by the loveliest family from Chicago. In one of those things that happen on ships, we were already acquainted with two of them. A couple days ago, sitting in O'Sheehans, someone came up to me and said "Good presentation" or something. The lady at the next table with her daughter asked if I was on staff, as the senior staff had just done a thing in the lobby. I assured her my presentation was a little less than all that. But we chatted a few minutes as people do. And then she walked in to Teppanyaki with her husband and 2 more kids in tow. We proceeded to re-introduce ourselves. Tammy, Don, Bella (15), Miles (12) and Gabby (11). The children really were delightful. I have noticed the teens/tweens I meet while traveling are generally more enjoyable to be around than the ones I meet elsewhere. I think travel brings on maturity. And curiousity. And dampens the attitude. Which is why I recommend people take their kids places. So we all talked about the weather in our respective hometowns, what we did today, etc. Gave the kids a quick tip on chopsticks which Gabby mastered immediately, and Miles just couldn't get. Our cook showed up and started the show. He was great. Especially with the youngsters. Flipping food in their mouths, etc. The dinner was excellent. And I did get some video which will be uploaded here, when I get to a cheaper internet connection.
After dinner we moved around the ship looking for some good music. There was karaoke in the Grammy Experience that didn't suck too bad. And a piano guy at the Martinia Bar who was quite talented, but wasn't starting his Beatles Tribute set for another hour. Bliss wasn't really happening yet. So we hit the casino for a few minutes until Steve decided he was done for the day.
It was, overall, a long, tiring but ultimately excellent day.

Tomorrow is a day at sea, and I for one, and looking forward to just chilling out and resting up for Nassau and Atlantis on Friday. I'll keep you posted!

[here I go: If you are looking to book a trip, give Holman Travel a call at 760.265.3687. And keep clicking on those ads, I may have to pay for that excursion ;-) Thanks]


Norwegian Getaway, 11/29 - 12/6/2014 - DAY IN ST MAARTEN

Okay...rant first, then the great day, after.

For those of you who don't know (such as every employee at Norwegian Cruise Line, apparently), "disabled" can be a variety of things. From people who use wheelchairs all the time, to those who use them some of the time, to the totally blind, to the partially sighted, to those with no sense of hearing to those with diminished hearing, to children up and down the autism scale, to adults with a variety of physical, emotional and mental challenges. And guess what? Not everyone with ONE of those issues, has ALL of those issues. So, a variety of accomodations need to be made in designing and assigning rooms. One of these is a TDD room. Whether hard wired, or converted just by plugging a kit in to the wall, rooms for the hearing impaired have things like flashing lights to alert you that someone is at the door, or on the phone. And vibrators you can put under a pillow to wake you if someone is at the door or on the phone. Or just as an alarm clock.
In a completely different vein, you have wheelchair accessible cabins. These cabins have less furniture, so mobility equipment can maneuver, wider doors so wheelchairs and scooters can get it, barrier free restrooms and showers so wheelchairs/shower chairs/commode chairs can easily access the facilities. Ramps out to the balcony for the same reason. (Oh, and the light situation has me so twisted up I keep forgetting to ask about the water pressure. Something else people don't think about, but if you have to shower sitting down, it's kind of important to get water to go UP out of the shower head. The one is this room will not push water more than an inch vertically).

BUT GUESS WHAT: THE TWO GROUPS ARE NOT RELATED! People are in wheelchairs for a variety of reasons, from trauma to birth defects to acquired diseases/conditions. But they are no more likely to be hearing impaired than the general population. Likewise, the hearing impaired are no more likely to be wheelchair users than the hearing population. So the idea of combining the needs of the two groups is just, well...(the word I want can't be used for fear of offending another PWD [Persons With Disabilities] population) ...idiotic.

And here's another thing: It is not uncommon for people who are para- or hemi- or quadraplegic as a result of traumatic brain or spinal cord injury to also have seizure disorders. OH, and it's not uncommon for flashing lights to be a trigger for seizures for these folks, as well as those with other seizure disorders like epilepsy.

It is unbelievable to me that someone would create a cabin, call it "wheelchair accessible" and include a TDD system with flashing strobe lights that CAN'T BE TURNED OFF. And yet...someone did. It took several hours, and several phone calls from several departments (each one setting off the Disco At The End Of The World) to get exactly NOTHING done, except to have these nervy bastards try to quote the ADA at me. These are the same nervy bastards that routinely argue in court they are not bound by the ADA, because they sail foreign-flagged vessels. But now I have to let my brother have a seizure for his own safety because ADA requires it. Hey, guess what? I was there when the ADA was written. It doesn't really say that. trust me. If you are going to waste money hardwiring TDD systems in to rooms (and it is a complete waste of money, and is causing hearing impaired, but otherwise able bodied people to take cabins away from wheelchair users who can't otherwise cruise), how much more can it cost to put in a SWITCH?!?!

So, yeah...a great chunk of my afternoon was taken up with this. When I finally gave up finding an intelligent person (because, you know what? The light on that strobe has to be accessible to someone, somehow, because you know what? light bulbs fail and have to be replaced. Apparently when one of the 30 or so strobes on this ship goes out, they'll have to sell it for scrap), I took matters in to my own hands. I tried taping paper, then cardboard over the light. They didn't block it completely. Then, looking at the 4" round light, I remembered I had just purchased a new Citizen watch that came in a 4" round box, quite heavy duty and black...VIOLA! I have now invented a "Strobe Suppressor" which I shall patent and get rich selling to cruise lines for $200 a pop.


Today, was St Maarten. Good times! We got up bright and early, took care of business and had a quick bite of breakfast at O'Sheehan's. Amazingly, since it's been 5 years or so, one of the waiters in O'Sheehan's remembered my brother and I from the Norwegian Star. He even remembered our mother, who was on that last Star cruise with us. So we chatted with Mr. Salmat for a while, and then headed downstairs. There was someone waiting to help with getting the chair down the steep ramp (unlike in Miami), so that was nice. Wheeled over to the taxi stand and hired a van to take us downtown.

When we first got out to the boardwalk there was an old rasta lookin' guy doing pencil portraits, so I figured "Why not?". Mom will love it. The portraits kinda suck, and I only caught one word in six thanks to his mumble and accent, but, oh well. We continued on down the boardwalk, came to a souvenir store selling postcards, so I picked up 30 to send to all the wonderful people that donated to the "Send My Brother On A Cruise" campaign. And 30 stamps. And a pen. I am sure from his amused expression, we were this shopkeepers biggest single sale of the week. He also gave us directions to the nearest mailbox, so we wouldn't have to walk all the way to the post office, so that was cool.

We were looking for a spot to go inside and sit down when the lowering clouds decided to bust out a near-biblical deluge. We ran under an umbrella that managed to cut the rain in half. Looking around during lulls I couldn't find anywhere with a ramp to get inside. Finally, during a slack spell we ran around the block and found the door to the place we'd been huddling in front of. Grabbed a table, ordered a couple drinks and some chicken and shrimp sate which was delightful, and stuck wet stamps on damp postcards, addressed them all without smearing the ink too much and congratulated myself on accomplishing my mission. We tried to do a little more shopping, but I have to tell you I HATE having wet socks. HATE HATE HATE it. Back in my blue-water sailing days, I would pack for a couple weeks with two shirts, two pair of pants, foul weather gear, 3 or 4 pairs of shoes, and 12 pairs of socks. I don't care how wet my clothes are, if I can put on a dry pair of socks and shoes, I am good. So, we cut it short and headed back to the ship at noon. Donning dry socks improved my mood considerably. But then the phone rang and it was the Access Officer (returning my call from yesterday), and the whole strobe light thing happened.

That took us almost til dinner time. Tonite was La Cucina. I have to say, I hear mixed reviews of La Cucina, but I have never had a bad meal there. Tonite was no exception. We went early, and got a table by the window, so we could watch the Ruby Princess and then the MSC Divina leave, before we pulled out. I started with the carpaccio, as usual, and it was yum. Steve and I also shared a small sausage and pancetta pizza. Our server, Thanny was just incredibly awesome. She noticed my bite-sizing Steve's first slice, so when he finished that, she served him up another and stood and cut it for him. Nice touch. For our mains, I chose the Osso Bucco, while Steve went with the Grilled Shrimp. Again, the lovely Thanny de-tailed Steve's shrimp and cut his eggplant. Based on how quickly it disappeared, I gather it was adequately tasty. My osso bucco was tender and tasty. The polenta, though, was the best I have ever had at La Cucina on any ship. Whether they've altered the recipe, or I lucked out on finding a cook with a deft hand, it really was better than I ever remember. Polenta is relatively easy to prepare, but very difficult to get exactly right. Creamy, not the slightest bit grainy, flavor perfectly balanced between corn and cheese...delightful.

This might be a good time to point out something I have noticed this week: The food on the Getaway, without exception, has been served piping hot. Something that can be the critical difference between excellent food and merely adequate, and something that was drummed in to me as a young Sous Chef 35 years ago. They've really nailed it on this ship.

Desert for Steve was vanilla ice cream. Because, BORING. Personally, I am not always big on chocolate, but tonite the Torta Cioccolata was calling me. I am glad I tried it finally. Although it was a tad cloying for my taste, all you choco-philes would love it. The filling was creamy, the ganache on top was firm, the crust was light and flaky, and the berries and other garnish was tasty. Oh, yeah, another unrelated, stream of conciousness note: O'Sheehan's: The 70's called and said "STOP IT" with the little sprig of parsley on every plate. Not only is it 40 years out of date, but even when it was cool, I was trained to make it big and bold, not small, limp and inoffensive. Seriously, you could save a ton of money on your annual parsley budget and NO ONE would miss it. Including the cooks.

After dinner we spent an unsuccessful hour in the casino, at which time Steve said it was time to retire. We do have an early call in the morning in St Thomas for a pre-booked excursion, so he's not wrong.

And since we do, I am typing this up at the end of the day, instead of 1st thing in the morning, so there you have it! Our day in St Maarten. As I said, tomorrow is St Thomas. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Hasta Manana Amigos y Amigas!

Norwegian Getaway 11/29 - 12/6 ST MAARTEN

So, as you know, I was up and at 'em early yesterday. Which worked out good, because there was a lot of fun to be had. Got Steve up and going by 7:30, we went down to O'Sheehans for breakfast, and then it was time for my star turn. "Tour de Force"? "Briliant"? "Dynamic and Engaging"? Maybe. Or maybe just a rerun of CruiseWorld. But it was fun. Apparently well-received. And a good bunch of agents with some great questions at the end. When I was done, a Norwegian BDM did a presentation on the latest happenings there. She did good. And was a life saver, earlier, when I discovered the Getaway does NOT, in fact, have an HDMI to VGA converter, as I was assured a couple weeks ago. But she had a laptop with VGA output. She let me use her laptop, and I let her use my mouse, as they also did not have a slide clicker. So it all worked out.

And by the time she was done it was time for 1st lunch. Steve and I headed back to O'Sheehans. He keeps resisting me on the Flamingo Grill, and I don't know why, but I'll wear him down before the week is over. He had a hot dog and I dug in to some hot wings. Wings are still good, if anyone is wondering. The rest of the day, I indulged my mancrush on Geoffrey Zakarian. Lunch #2 was a Lobster Roll from the Waterfront Ocean Blue location. DAMN! They really are as good as I remember them. A nice soft roll, stuffed with chunks and shreds of lobster meat, and drizzled with a chili mayonnaise sumthing sumthing. Along with home made potato chips. A nice snack.

Between and after the lunches we basically just rolled around the ship talking and taking in the views, etc.

About 4pm there was a scavenger hunt for the PhD@Sea agents. I didn't feel like running all over the ship any more, so I went to hang out with Tony and Lisa at the judges table, talked and waited for the scavengers to finish. The weather has steadily improved all day. Still cloudy but getting warmer. So it was nice just sitting and talking and drinking coffee. That took us right up to our 6pm reservation at Ocean Blue.




Is all I can say. I ate, once before, at Zakarian's signature restaurant-at-sea on the Breakaway the first week it opened on the Breakaway. It was good. But it was not $75 good. It just wasn't. In the year and a half since, they have steadily lowered the price, to where it is now - $39, $31.20 if you have the Ultimate Dining package. At that price point, it is absolutely worth it. Not only was the food brilliant, but the service (we had a real early rez, and only 3 other tables were taken when we got there) is miles ahead of what it was on Breakaway, when it was the "next new thing" and filled wall-to-wall when I ate there. Miss Mayette Fenomono was a darling. Prompt, attentive and very personable, engaging my brother in conversation, as well as slipping him a few extras to balance his diet. Which he probably didn't appreciate as much as I did. Add to that the food that was all done perfectly, and it was a must do. I started with the Steak Tartare. A healthy disc of chopped steak, topped with celery leaves and a subtly flavored vinegarette, along with more of those home made potato crisps on the side. Better than I remember. Steve had the grilled prawns with pancetta thing. 4 nice size prawns, perfectly rendered pancetta and greens as well as some crouton-y things. He chowed it down before I could snag any, so it must have been good. His entree was the sea scallops. They were grilled lightly and again surrounded by some green stuff and some root veggies, in a nice sauce. And some potatos Mayette insisted he should have, fearing he needed more carbs in his diet. I had the Delmonico steak, because I remember the one a friend of mine ordered and gave me half of on my last trip. I do believe this one was a tad smaller than that one, but it was still huge and cooked to a perfect rare. And surrounded by roasted shallot. Cut the paper layer off the shallot, smear some of that creamy, oniony goodness on some prime rare beef and (exclamation points). The steak came with the same potatos Steve had. Small white and purple potatos, straw mushrooms and a slightly too salty butter sauce. I also ordered a side of the chilled beans. String and wax beans with some serious red pepper and garlic. One thing you hardly ever get in cruise ship food is serious heat. I assume because most people can't really take it. These beans had a couple slices of pepper that just popped in my mouth and set my taste buds atingling. Almost a Paul Prudhomme moment. Nice!

For dessert I had the bergamot panna cota, which was actually better than I remembered, topped with a small scoop of raspberry sorbet and fresh berries. Steve had the sorbet trio (Creme de Cassis, coconut and strawberry), and Mayette hooked us up with an extra desert of truffles to split. All in all, a fabulous meal. I highly recommend you dine at least once at Ocean Blue, on your next Breakaway/Getaway cruise.

So, after our 2 hour meal, we took a turn around the ship, looking for some music. The Grammy Experience offering this week, Shannon somebody, had a terrific voice, but she was singing ballads, and I was already teetering on a food coma. So we didn't stay there long, as I didn't want her to get the wrong idea if I fell asleep during her show. I will, though, check her out again at some point this week. The guy at the martini bar playing piano was kind of the same issue. Bliss on the other hand was, well...I refuse to say too loud, because I am NOT too old, dammit. But it was a little hip-hoppish for that moment. So we took one more spin around, ran in to a few more friends, and finally decided to call it a night, as we have to be up and about early for St Maarten today. So, an episode of Criminal Minds and it was OVER.

One final note. Not to be a downer, but Norwegian still fails when it comes to wheelchair passengers. There was NO ONE to offer assistance getting Steve's chair up and down a ridiculously steep gangplank in Miami. Crew just watched me, and looked concerned. The "meeting with the Access Officer" the website says will happen is, in fact, a letter detailing where the bathrooms are. And apparently every accessible cabin has the stuff for the hearing impaired, like a phone vibration thing that shakes the whole ship and a strobe light on the ceiling that turns the room in to the Disco At The End Of The World every time someone calls or rings the doorbell. AND, they tell me it can't be disconnected. Which I don't believe (pretty sure they are just too lazy and don't really care).  If it is true, it's the worst ship building decision since a British company hired an Irish yard to build the Titanic. And here is the thing: Not only will that strobe light quite possibly trigger a seizure in my brother at some point in the week, it is EXTREMELY insensitive in the implication that anyone with any disability has to be treated like they have all other possible disabilities. It's called "stereotyping". Kinda like if they only piped show tunes in to the rooms of gay cruisers, or only had Hennessy and malt liquor in the mini-bars of Black cruisers. Oh, and I am all for water conservation, but one of those things all y'all able bodied types don't think about is that if you shower sitting in a chair, it is necessary to have enough water pressure to spray, UP. At least a couple inches. Not here...
Anyway, /rant off. Looking forward now to getting off in St Maarten. The view from my balcony is AWESOME, as we have backed in to port.

By the way, as well as plugging my agency, because that's what I do, I would like to just let you all know - if you click on an ad or two under this post, or along the side or whatnot, you'd be helpin' a brutha defray the cost of running this blog. What you do with that information is entirely up to you. Just sayin'

TTFN, mes amies


Norwegian Getaway, 11/29 - 12/6 - DAY TWO at sea


Good Morning!

I have to start this entry a little differently. In order to explain, I need to start by telling a Deep and Abiding Affection Story. It never rose to the level of Love Story, because Death intervened. And it plays into the story of the rest of my day, yesterday.

Short version: A little over 4 years ago I met Alyona Toulenkova, a.k.a. The Siberian Princess. We first met online and a few months later sailed together on the Norwegian EPIC. The first few days of that cruise were quite magical. And then, about midweek, I came back to the cabin late and tripped (once again) over some shoes. Alyona was a lot of things, including beautiful inside and out, but "neat" wasn't one of those things. So, she woke up as I was muttering about her stuff all over our cabin, and I blasted her, and she overreacted a bit, and the next few days were less than magical. The last day of the cruise she finally told me about her cancer, and the ordeal she had been through, which left her a bit emotional, and told me she had kind of flashed back to her ex husband who often woke her up coming in late and berated her. So, cool...I understand. But I also decide I don't need than kind of drama in my life, so we pretty much ignored each other for a year or so. During that time she told me she had decided to become a travel agent, as a result of our late night conversations on the EPIC, but, again, I pretty much blew her off as a dilettante. She surprised me by throwing herself in to it, and succeeding. That's when my feelings started to change. I love it when people surprise me. And I especially love it when I tell them they can't, and they do. And that's the kind of person she was. The fact the girl had no "quit" in her is why she lasted as long as she did. And also why we slowly rekindled our friendship. So, fast forward to CruiseWorld 2013 in Fort Lauderdale. We were talking in the month leading up to the show, and met there and spent pretty much every minute together, and it was kind of magical again. She had lost her hair a few months before in her 2nd round of chemo, but quit wearing wigs and was sporting a short hair look with incredible confidence. We had some of our late night arguments about the world wide web versus social media and the parasite loading of pelagic versus non-pelagic fish, etc. Neither of us ever lost an argument, because that's just the way we're built. And we made plans for her to come over to my agency. And to get on the Norwegian Getaway pre-inaugural. Which I did, and invited her. And those two days were beyond belief. In retrospect, I realize it was a case of the flame flaring up before it's extinguished. She was not just vibrant, but positively radiant.  Several people who met her those few days were shocked when she passed, as they had no clue she was even a little sick.

 A few months after our Getaway trip, she went back in to the hospital and never left. During her last few weeks, we spoke a few times and texted a lot. Some days she was sure she would be home in a day or two. Other days, deep in delirium, she would text absolute gibberish. Or worse, a couple times...Russian. Anyway, in late April, just weeks before her 42nd birthday, she finally beat the cancer and went home to where ever Siberian Princesses go when they leave here. And I missed her. Badly for a while, but you know...life goes on. And as I said, it never really rose to the level of Love Story. And in my mind, I know that it probably never would have. Just because of the kind of guy I am and the kind of woman she was. But I am a little pissed we didn't get the chance to find out.

And the reason I am telling y'all this is that yesterday, running around the ship, every where I went, I thought about her. Starting the first night at Illusionarium, I was distracted remembering her almost making me late. Walking up top and seeing the ropes course I remembered her conquering the cold and her fear of heights to walk the plank with us. Sitting in The Grammy experience recalling how much we enjoyed Nestor Torres. Etc. And finally, she was in my dreams last night, which is why I am up at 5am typing this.

So, yeah...it was a great day onboard the Norwegian Getaway, but a little melancholy and nostalgic for the good old days, 10 month ago.

It started with jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn and typing up yesterdays entry. Then Steve and I headed to breakfast at O'Sheehans. On a lark I stopped and threw $20 in a poker machine and hit a $200 hand while distracted by talking to a couple other travel agents that were also heading to breakfast. So that's cool. Then we took in the Morning Trivia and we got 16/20. It took a team of 6 to beat us with 18. And then a turn around the pool deck, which just wasn't happening. Gale force winds and high seas have the boat rockin' and rollin'. It's not BAD bad, but enough that outdoors isn't pleasant. So back inside for a little lunch at Savor (Steve's call, I want to try Flamingo), then back to O'Sheehans to watch some football before a little nappy poo for the big guy, in preparation for a big evening. Which commenced with a Cocktail Party for the Reunion Cruise attendees. That was fun. From there we went to the Captains Cocktail Party. Talked to Sean a bit, and then Capt Tommy, who seems like a nice guy. Also got a chance to thank the Concierge, Adrian, for his phone call Saturday morning and following up on the little boarding snafu. Then Lisa Shindler and her friend joined Steve and I for dinner at Moderno which was, as always, a fabulous way to induce a meat coma. We are setting the clocks forward tonite, and my big presentation is already too early at 9am, so I decided to forgo the night life and hit the rack at about 10:30, so I could toss and turn a few hours, dream about Alyona, and finally give up the fight and get up at 5 to type this and then try and get Steve up and going for my 9am thang. Which is just a reprise of what I did at CruiseWorld 3 weeks ago, but still...I never sleep well, and am always a bundle of nerves before a public speaking thing, so there you have it...My day, and a slice of my life, all before the sun comes up. Hopefully after that I can relax in preparation for a big day in St Maarten Tuesday.

Which of course, I shall tell you all about, here.
And in the meantime, the obligatory plug: If you are looking to book the Norwegian Getaway, or any Norwegian cruise, or any cruise, or even a land package, I now have agents literally from coast to coast, standing by to help you. CAll me at 760.265.3687 or email me at daveholmantravel@verizon.net, or find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/daveholmantravel, and I will connect you with an agent near you!


Norwegian Getaway, 11/29-12/6 DAY ONE

So, when last we spoke, I was sitting in the airport detailing JetBlue's lack of communication re: wheelchairs. As I was typing that, the Norwegian rep (for the shuttle to the port) showed up. As I am checking in he asks if Steve will be able to climb the stairs in to the bus. ummm....NO. But there was nothing on his list to indicate he had a wheelie customer. A quick phone call, and it was taken care of. In a short while we headed to the port in an appropriately lift-equipped bus.

Upon arriving at the port, I presented myself to the folks at the priortiy checkin area, and THEY had nothing on their list indicating I was expected...At this point, I am wondering if anyone in America takes their job seriuosly any more. I mean...people call this the Information Age, and yet, 3 times in 12 hours I run into the inability to get a little piece of information from where it is to where it needs to be. In this case, however, I was able to email the good people onboard, and also talk to a supervisor real quick, and just about the time I weaseled my way in to a key and a seat in the lounge, I got a phone call from Adrian, the concierge, asking where I was and telling me someone was looking for me. I told him I had it handled, but it's so good to see someone following up so quickly.

In any case, we got onboard the ship with the first group up, and headed straight to Savor for some lunch. We were both tired and hungry, but we decided hunger wins. Steve opted for the fish and chips, I had the omelette. Both fine. We were joined by a couple travel agents I know, and chatted and ate. Another agent came over to say hi, etc. And I looked over at Steve and he was litterally falling asleep in his chair. So we decided it might be nap time.

While chilling in the room, the phone rang and it was Rashida, my favorite hotel director's secretary, since back on the EPIC! She apologized for the mixup at boarding, told me that she personally had given our keys to the appropriate people, etc. I assured her I already knew it was the shoreside contractors that screwed that up. She then asked if we would meet her in the Atrium at 5 so she could get us in to Illusionarium early for a good seat.

Now it was time for sailaway, so I got Steve up and dressed and headed to Spice and we joined all the agents here for the PhD@Sea Reunion Cruise in bidding Miami farewell. Fun re-connecting with friends in the business.

And then it was time to go meet Rashida, which we did, and she run us down the crew elevator to the back door to Illusionarium, where we had a lengthy discussion about the best seat in the house. We were finally ensconsed at our table and waited for the show to begin. I saw Illusionarium back on the Inaugural. It's a great show if you like magic. It's even a great show if you just like the special effects. This time I had the added bonus of having a friend performing. Caryl Dimmare is a member of some of my Facebook groups, and she joined the cast a few weeks ago as the bird guys assistant. She actually tracked us down at lunch and introduced herself. So, one more internet connection turned into a real person. The dinner was good, too. A nice tenderloin and shrimp combo.

But by the end of the show, I was seriously dragging. Sad to say, I was in bed by 8pm. On the brightside, I've now been up since 5, and I am ready to face the day!

I'll let you know how it turns out