Must be time for a cruise

It’s cold, rainy (thank you, God, for the rain in California!!!!) and it’s time for the annual “Girls Cruise” with my mom and sisters. It grew to 8 this year: Mom, me, sister Robin, (Laura is staying home to help take care of her mother in law who just had open heart surgery), Laura’s two daughters, a friend of one of the daughters, Mom’s friend Amanda, and my daughter #2, Layne. We will meet in Houston on Saturday and cruise out of Galveston on Sunday on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. Ports of call are Roatan, Belize City, and Cozumel. All places we have visited before but the ship is a new one to us and a class higher than we have sailed on in the past. My travel sites shows that the cruise is near capacity, so will be interesting to see how RCCL handles a crowd. We have always been pleased in the past at the efficiency and professionalism shown by Royal Caribbean, so we anticipate more of the same.

I love cruising…the level of service, shows and activities onboard, room service, unpacking once and visiting multiple places…what’s not to love?!

Just yesterday I quoted a cruise for two ladies taking their mother on a special 75th birthday cruise. What a fun way to celebrate their mother and make memories that will last a lifetime.

What about you? Have you cruised before? What’s your favorite part?

Liverpool, days 1&2

Out of Fresno, it takes three flights to get to the UK. Heck, out of Fresno, it takes three flights to get to most places, but that’s another story. 🙂 Marilyn and I took a 6am flight out of Fresno and went through LAX, Washington DC/Dulles, and finally to Manchester, UK. Marilyn wasn’t amused about a 3am wake-up time for a 6am flight, but there are really no other good options and it’s always a better idea to get an early start when leaving Fresno. We easily made all connections, and even met up with my husband at LAX and chatted for a bit, so that was fun.

The cross-Atlantic flight is not bad – just under 7 hours – though neither of us got much sleep.

Once at the hotel, we were fortunate to have our room ready at 8am (yay!), unload our things, freshen up, and head out to find food and walk off the flights. I had English fish & chips at The Lobster Pot for lunch, a huge serving that I could not attempt to finish. After some time to email (me) and nap (Marilyn) in the room mid-afternoon, we headed out again just as an attempt to stay awake to help transition to UK time. We had dinner at Ed’s, a UK franchise with delicious burgers and shakes. Not that we tried a shake (we didn’t, though I did drool a little in watching others’ ice cream creations), I mean, but they’re famous for them, so they must be good!

Day 2:

We got a decent night’s sleep, Marilyn more than me, but enough to move on for the day.

Marilyn arranged ahead of time to have a massage at Lush spas and had a wonderful time! I can never relax and enjoy a massage (I know, I’m a loser) so I did some window shopping and caught up on a little work in the hotel. More shopping and a late lunch at The Lobster Pot [again] where I had chicken curry over chips and Marilyn had chicken kebab. 

The tour guide, Tony, arrived this morning, after his original flight was cancelled on Sunday. We’ll work together on some logistics in order to be ready to lead a group of 22 Beatles Fans on their 7 day Pilgrimage tour. It’s going to be a fantastic time!

Dinner at Brown’s is delicious (seafood linguine) but isn’t complete without Sticky Toffee Pudding with ginger ice cream and caramel sauce. I fell in love with this last year and pretty sure it might have been even better this year. In some countries, food this good is surely illegal. Sigh. 

Time for bed. Hopefully we both wake up tomorrow feeling rested and fully adjusted to the current time!

Blowing the dust off this blog.

From the looks of my blog, I haven’t traveled since February. That would be a serious shame, wouldn’t it?! It’s also not accurate. I simply haven’t travel BLOGGED since then. Let’s see…I took a road trip from CA to TX with daughter #2 and granddaughter #2, flew to both Iowa and Texas for daughters #3 and #4 college graduations, and a few other quick trips. All good trips, but too fast and very little time to blog.

I have also started working part-time in the travel industry. Because I LOVE to dream about different places, it made sense to sign up under a host agency and start learning the planning side. I love it! I have also been working in a customer service role with, the company I took a tour with last October. I am able to combine the two jobs to help tour participants make travel arrangements, in addition to adding on some other activities. Maybe at 51, I am finding my niche?!

And, what better time to blow the dust off of my blog than to take a good trip?! I’m in the UK the next two weeks with my friend, Marilyn, who wanted to take the BeatleTour again. We arrived yesterday, 10/3, and I will kick off our tour blog with my next post.

Til then…


Norwegian Jade, Western Caribbean Cruise, January 23-30, 2016

Norwegian Jade, Western Caribbean Cruise, January 23-30, 2016

Previous blog entries discuss the cruise on a day-by-day basis. This is simply my overall impression of Norwegian Cruise Lines, and particularly the Jade ship.

Jade: The ship itself is beautiful and in good repair. It features a Hawaiian theme, having spent several years cruising in Hawaii. There is a beautiful ceiling on deck 8 with large glass hibiscus flowers covering the area. Touches of Hawaii can be found everywhere. As a Hawaii lover, I appreciated and enjoyed those touches of beauty.

Cabins: Our party of four consisted of myself, my two sisters, and our mother. We paid roughly $700 for a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise out of Houston, Texas, and in adjoining ocean-view rooms. The cabins each each had a spacious (for a cruise ship!) closet with 16 coat hangers. One twin bed had a trundle bed underneath, as well as a pullman bed mounted above, so a total of four could share a single room, in theory. (When it comes to four women getting ready in the morning and using the bathroom, mirrors, etc., NO THANKS!) Six roomy drawers, five deep shelves, a safe, beach/pool towels, and a decent hair dryer (1150 volts) were all pluses, as well.

Dining: Here is where NCL loses points, and lots of them. To start, there is now a $7.95 charge for room service (with the exception of coffee/pastries in the morning). Cruise prices have increased over the years, and to see service options actually decrease is disheartening. Unfortunately, I’m just getting started. The big joke about cruising is that people eat 24/7. While that may be true for some people, I really only want meals at around that particular mealtime and am not looking for a midnight buffet or something similar. There are two main dining room options on the Jade – the Alizar (casual dinner) and the Grand Pacific (slightly more formal, breakfast/lunch/dinner). Our experiences in the GP (three dinners) were very disappointing. Two nights we chose prime rib as our entrees. Once the entree was served, we had to request the promised-on-the-menu horseradish. We were served straight horseradish and had to request sour cream and mix it ourselves with the horseradish. Not a big deal, except that it took 5-10 minutes for the sour cream to arrive and be served and the prime rib (covered in brown gravy – yuck!) was then cold. When you are serving prime rib, it is a given that patrons will request a creamy horseradish sauce. Be prepared for this. I understand that they are preparing food for more than 1,000 people, but this is part of the experience. Our first night we requested (and received) iced tea. Bad mistake because it was instant, but we did have lots of refills that first night. On the second night, I requested a lemonade and was brought one (no ice). When it was gone (after the salad), my glass was removed and no refill offered. The final night, we were never asked if we would like anything to drink but were served four glasses of lukewarm water with no ice. We flagged down a head waiter to request a refill during our entrees. Again, they were busy, but this is their job. This is what they have been trained to do. Lots of head waiters were wandering around, acknowledging guests, but doing very little. (Personally, I have my own theory that head waiters are not needed because, well, they generally do nothing.) I witnessed one head waiter greet a table and have an exchange over a battery-operated candle that was not working. He took a working candle from the next table and swapped it, then tried several times to get the non-operating candle to work. When it was obvious it would not work, he left it on the table and walked away. But I digress… Our final night we ordered bananas foster. According to the menu, it was to be served with vanilla ice cream and a dark rum sauce. We received bowls of sliced bananas in a sauce that had a strong lemon flavor (???) and no signs of vanilla ice cream, melted, or otherwise. We ate a couple of bites and left. Because NCL features “freestyle” dining, you may come and go, which is nice for timing, but it also means different servers each time. I have always enjoyed a seating time with the same staff who learn your names and preferences. It makes me feel special to show up to dinner to see a glass of iced tea, extra lemons, shrimp cocktail for my mother, etc. None of these things happen with freestyle dining. It really depends on what you prefer in cruising and what “makes it” for you. I enjoy the personal touches. I can stay home and serve myself delicious iced tea with good OR bad service!

Other complimentary dining options include The Blue Lagoon, the only restaurant with 24/7 service available. The menu is quite limited, but if you need a 2am snack, TBL is your place and you can choose from English style fish & chips (delicious fish, cold fries), a hamburger, salad, etc. Service was always friendly and we found the breakfast servers to be quite accommodating, refilling coffee regularly.

Of course, no cruise ship would be complete without “The Buffet.” I tell you, people go through here like it’s their last meal. I love Indian food and had some delicious curry and naan several times throughout the week. Salads are nothing to write home about, with dressings being the standard bottled variety French, Thousand Island, Ranch, Bleu Cheese, and Italian. There was a carving station, pasta station, premade sub sandwiches, cold salads, and other various hot options. This is a great place to people watch, if you are one of the lucky ones to secure a table near the action. People watch the dishes and ponder over them. “Do I want the red mashed potatoes or the white potato wedges? Maybe just the German potato salad? What kind of rice?” They stand. And stare. “TAKE SOME POTATOES AND MOVE ON.” Now here’s a trick. Daily there is a hot cobbler. Next to the cobbler (no matter what flavor) is hot caramel sauce. Take a bowl from the cobbler/caramel station. (If you’ve cruised before, you see where this is going.) Get caramel. I recommend two ladles full because the ladles are small. Work your way to the ever-popular ice cream station toward the aft of the ship, deck 12. Get in line. Try not to dip finger in caramel. Top caramel with ice cream. Watch other cruisers raise their eyebrows in a motion that clearly says, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Here is our last trick and the highlight of the Jade dining: the crepe station in the evenings. Just outside the main buffet area is a crepe station where a lovely “I couldn’t read the name on his badge” gentleman made crepes every evening. We love him. One night while he was on a break, another man was filling in and I asked for a plain crepe. “Do you have a plan?” “Yes, I do. I’ll be right back.” He proceeded to make my crepe while I found lemon slices (near the tea bags) and a pat of butter. We were sitting near the station and he watched my “plan” – where I opened the crepe, spread half a pat of butter, squeezed two lemon slices and sprinkled two packets of sugar inside before neatly folding it back up. Crepe Man #2 was intrigued. I watched him make a small crepe and do the same. He loved it and introduced the “recipe” to Main Crepe Man #1.

That sums up our food experience. We never went hungry (and we all admit we could exist on our extra pounds for weeks on end) but there were very few “special” or even interesting food items that made us long to return to NCL, with the exception of the crepe station.

Entertainment: Our cruise had the privilege of having a comedian named David Naster on board. He is hilarious, but goes beyond “Yeah, he’s supposed to be funny – he’s a comedian.” David’s humor goes beyond giving the audience a laugh. He has a purpose with his talks and is teaching people to be bully-proof, to laugh at whatever comes your way in life. Let’s face it – all of us have “stuff” of some sort. We may post on social media about how ‘perfect’ our lives are and say the right things when asked – “I’m blessed. I’m good. We’re doing fine.” But inside, don’t many of us have hurts and disappointments and issues of some kind? Health, financial, relational? (You’re lying if you say you don’t.) We all have a nerve of some kind, or are just very sensitive about a subject. David’s humor and wisdom teach people to find ways to overcome and accept these shortcomings and turn them around. There were other shows throughout the week, including an illusionist and several dance performances, but David’s shows were our favorites hands down.

Sanitation: Overall the ship was very clean, though we never once witnessed employees wiping hand rails and elevator buttons, as we have seen on previous cruises. To enter any dining room, employees are stationed at the doors with spray bottles of sanitizer. “Washy, washy, happy happy!” There was no epidemic (Norovirus or otherwise) on board, so maybe sanitation is relaxed in that case.

Employees: It appears that the officers and supervisors have a good rapport with the employees and we also saw higher level employees not being afraid to WORK. The employees we had direct contact with were friendly. Others we passed in hallways would occasionally nod in acknowledgement, but generally continued on with their duties.

Social: Philly Joel was the cruise director and what a personality he brought to the shows and game shows. He and his staff had fun with the guests and were able to generate excitement and enthusiasm with the audiences.

Cabin stewards: Our steward, Mario, was friendly and gracious with our requests (separate the bed into two twins), and did the best towel animals I have ever seen on a cruise. They add so much fun to cruising!

Freestyle Daily: Each day of the cruise, you are given a “Freestyle Daily” newsletter with the following day’s activities. This piece of literature is your ticket to information – food, activities, shows, games, sales, etc. Unfortunately, NCL/Jade is in dire need of an English proof-reader, as there were instructions given about “Draw attention to your personal belongings when in port” and lunch buffet being available from “11pm-close.” NCL, if you’re reading this, please contact me for a quote for this job. This is just one example of typos. Another sentence instructed people to “draw attention to your personal belongings” when in port.

Gratuity: You are charged roughly $14/day for gratuities and I am not sure if NCL employees just take for granted that they will receive this and that they need not try to impress, or if there is a gap in the training of employees, but NCL needs to raise the bar on customer service if they want to be considered again in my traveling.

So in summary…if you are new to cruising, NCL might impress, but once was enough for us and we will return to Royal Caribbean in the future. The service just makes all the difference for our crew.

Days 6 & 7: At Sea

Thursday and Friday were “at sea” days. Thursday was quite cloudy and windy, then winds kicked up late morning, foiling any real efforts of sunbathing by the pool. Friday was nicer, but since we were getting closer to Texas, the temperatures were dropping a bit, as well. We did very little, but continued our quest to find good food on board. I hate sounding negative, but it just did not impress. We found an evening crepe bar in the buffet where they make beautiful crepes and offer nearly a dozen toppings like canned pie filling. Now why ruin a lovely crepe with canned pie filling? I asked for a plain crepe, found a pat of butter, two lemon slices, and a couple of packets of sugar and made something delicious. The crepe maker watched and made his own and declared it a keeper. 🙂

One of the highlights of the week for us was the comedian they had on board, David Naster. We enjoyed his shows and the messages he was making. Aside from being funny, he did a show on becoming bully-proof that is an excellent message for junior high and high school teachers. Really an excellent entertainer – clean, funny, and suitable for all ages. I have ordered one of his books and hope it will be there by the time I work my way home on Sunday.

Back to port on Saturday morning. We will hang on to our luggage and walk off the ship on our own instead of being delayed throughout the morning. We have a 10+ hour drive back to Lubbock and need to get an early start.

Day 5: Roatan, Honduras

An awesome day today on the beach at the Paradise Beach Hotel! We arranged transportation through Margot Mejia who lined up drivers to drop you off and pick you back up. Unfortunately, our driver, Dale, did not come back at the appointed time so after waiting 40 minutes, we needed to hail another taxi to get back to the port. Since our agreement with Dale was for him to be paid upon return to the port, regrettably we had no way to pay him.

Back on board we had a snack, a nap, then went to a “Name that Disney song” game. We could have used Taylor’s Disney knowledge for extra points, but we won the game by naming 14 of the 20 songs!

Dinner at the complimentary Jasmine Chinese restaurant was ok with portions that were so huge we left with probably 2/3 of the meal still left on the table. It was fair but I have to say Panda Express has more flavor.

The next two days are “at sea” days and then we disembark on Saturday morning. 

Jade/day 4: Belize City

The good part about a stop in Belize is that it is BEAUTIFUL! The bad part is that it is a 35 minute tender ride from the ship. I always ask to be the last one to board so I don’t sit on a swaying boat any longer than necessary. There was a lot of confusion and delay with getting the ship cleared today and tenders started much later than the anticipated 9:00 time. It made for some good people watching time and seeing those who can go with the flow vs. those who were upset about the delay and pushing to the front of the line because they felt entitled to get to their excursion before the rest of us. Interesting for sure. 

I had a last minute change of heart and did not join Laura and Robin for the cave tubing. After hearing about it, I’m confident I made the right decision! They had fun but it was a long difficult day and they had no time left to shop at the port. I’m not a big shopper but I do enjoy looking for odds and ends of fun things to take home to a couple of people. Mom and I shopped and had lunch at the port and returned to the ship for a nap (me) and some sketching (duh, her!). Dinner again tonight at the buffet and we are back to the room early tonight. Laura is napping and promises to wake later to play cards with Mom and Robin. I’m blogging and hooked on a coloring app, so enjoying a quiet, restful evening. Tomorrow is Roatan and we have a 5 minute tender ride to the dock and only about 6 hours in port. We plan to take a taxi to a beach for the day, but we are all so tired tonight that I’m doubtful we make it an early day.

My travel blog. Where do I wanna go next…