Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cruise 2009, something different

This year, we cruised out of Baltimore, and the great thing about that is that we did not fly. We drove right up to the port, where some very friendly and helpful people take your luggage out of your car before you even park. It's so easy!

We sailed on Celebrity's Mercury, which is an older, smaller ship that will be retired after next year.

Sail away night was very a cold one, so there aren't that many people woopin' it up outside, but I was excited enough to put on the coat and stuff and take a bunch of pictures. They always light up the ship so nicely.

It was a dark and stormy night...the storm was very interesting, but eventually, I must confess that it got to me. Fortunately, this bout of motion sickness didn't last that long.

Our first stop was Charleston. We later learned that this port had actually been closed because of the storm, but our good captain got us in.
Mules are so cute:) Mike & I pulled out the AAA book and we followed one of the walking tours.

I took a whole bunch of pictures, but the two things that struck us were how many houses featured these doors that lead to--the rest of the porch. Also, the crape myrtle trees. They weren't in bloom, but we were fascinated by the bark or lack of bark on these trees. I've never seen anything like them.

Step UP to that porch...

Of course, we found a brewery, and sampled a very nice pale ale and a porter.
On the way back...

OUCH! Did the storm do that?? (And has the owner even noticed, yet?)

On Tuesday, an at sea day, the weather was pleasant and it was obvious that we were getting closer to warm weather.

On Wednesday, we walked around Key West, and it was very hot, indeed.

We made the annual trek to Sloppy Joe's, of course. To see the Christmas Marlin.

After that, I wanted my picture taken with an alligator.

On Thursday, we were in Nassau. We'd made plans to visit the British Colonial Hilton there, where we purchased a day pass to spend the afternoon on the beach. There weren't very many people there at all, it felt like this was well-kept secret. I was especially impressed by the hotel chef's gingerbread town.

This was a great photo-op for the ship, showing how close this beach was. We enjoyed the day very much; the staff at the Hilton treated us as very welcome visitors, and the day pass included a nice lunch. It was all good.

Friday was supposed to be Coco Cay Day, but again, the sea was too rough to allow tendering (there's no port), so we remained on Nassau. The most interesting thing about staying put was that we got to see the arrival of The Oasis of the Seas, which is Royal Caribbean's new behemoth, holding more than 6,000 passengers. I got a picture of it next to the older Carnival Sensation (which Mike and I sailed on a bunch of years ago).
As Mom pointed out, everyone in our hometown could fit onto that ship. I'd love to tour it, but wouldn't want to sail on it. Imagine how long it must take to get off and on! Tendering is just out of the question.

Saturday was another at sea day, and the ship was a-rockin', but this time, I was fine. In fact, I got up that morning and ran for about half and hour on the ship's deck, and shared the "track" with just one other person. We were probably nuts, but it was fun; the ups and downs were unpredictable, but not so rough as to be injurous. And when else can you have such topsy turvy fun exercising? And when I tell people how much time I spend reading on vacations, they look at me with uncertan expressions, no doubt thinking that that doesn't sound like much fun, but I always look forward to it. Mike won every single Scrabble game, though.

On Sunday, it was too cold to go out, and I spent a lot of time lazing around in a lounge that was on the very top of the ship, so that I could at least get my fill of ocean-gazing. It's weird that I keep forgetting to tell people this, but I saw dolphins. I SAW DOLPHINS!! They looked like toys from where I sat, but there they were, a large group of them, leaping beautifully. They look like such happy creatures.

This year's disembarkation process was very pleasant and convenient. After we walked off the ship, we found our luggage very easily, remembered where we were parked, and yes, the car was covered with snow. However, once again, we encountered some very pleasant people who were there to dig our cars out so we could drive away as other workers were ploughing the lot.

So, two thumbs up for cruising out of Baltimore AND for this particular cruise, which we will do again next year. It will be the last year for the Mercury, and we may get to Coco Cay.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Grand Experience

Gee, we never thought we'd stay at The Grand. It's normally too expensive. This year, however, the economy and the swine flu put Mexico's tourist trade in the dumps. Since we have visited the same area in the Riviera Maya so many times, we could certainly see the difference. The resort had to lower its prices drastically, and then simply closed down the two first hotels, automatically upgrading guests who had reservations in that closed area. The company did not change its brand, however; the staff seemed to come together with the goal of wanting us to come back more than ever, hopefully to The Grand. Well, that would be grand.

This is the iconic picture of the main pool:

The other side of this pool is bevelled so as to create the optical allusion, from inside the pool, that it runs into the sea. This picture was taken from the building where we were staying, and there are two other buildings which are right on the ocean. Only one of them was open this year because of a lack of business. The beach was an especially quiet place this year.

There was another, smaller pool, which is seen here from our room's balcony. I was very happy with the view. And it was a nice balcony with a swing and comfy couch, and the housekeeping staff kept beer and other goodies in our 'frig, and the food and wine were off the charts, and one day, we even walked into our room and discovered a beautiful flower arrangement.

The most lavish thing of all was the private dinner on the beach. This is normally something that people pay extra for, but this year, the management picked two couples per night, probably people who are repeat customers, and simply awarded it.

They set up platforms and canopies right out on the beach and treated us as if we were staying at one of the Presidential Suites on the oceanfront. To say that my expectations were exceeded is grossly inadequate.

Of course, some things never change:

There was one particularly bold coati that came up to the main pool area every day. Once, it actually entered the sunbathing area with chairs in the shallow-watered shelf of the pool, where it stomped right up to a low table and stuck its snout into someone's fruity drink. I couldn't help laughing, but when a woman behind me said, "That was my daiquiri," I was embarrassed. Another woman told me that she watched a coati walk up to one of the cabinets in an outdoor cafe area, open a drawer, and help itself to a sugar packet. They are omnivores, their front paws are prehensile, and they live in paradise.

The resorts in the area would love to get rid of the coatis, but the beaches are owned by the Mexican government, which prohibits harming any of the indigenous wildlife. And, well, they're awfully cute and easily shooed away, if you see them coming. Ekim and I witnessed an encounter between this bold coati and a kitten. The kitten hissed, it charged, and it scared the coati away. I wish I had that on tape.

This is a beautiful place, but it's farewell for another year...

The kittens by the pool area, ready to claim their territory!

If you click on this picture, you can see a kitten in the bushes, ready to hiss