Monthly Archives: February 2013

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part VIII

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part VIII
The Promenade Deck on the Mariner of the Seas

The Promenade Deck on the last day of the cruise



Departure was uneventful except for long lines at the terminal. There were fairly long lines at the airport, too, but they weren’t too bad. The lines moved.

The drive from Galveston to the airport was the same: strip malls, restaurants, car dealerships; hotels; motels and the Greek Orthodox Church which our driver called “beautiful.” She also wore a rhinestone pin which spelled out the word “Texas.”

She was our unofficial tour guide on our way to George Bush Airport. Texas, she said, has the tallest building in the world that is not located in a city. The Texans football team is one of the hottest in the country, according to her, so she got into sports.

She also told us that the cost of gas inTexas is $3.05 in spite of the many oil refineries there. I wanted to laugh when I think of the cost of gas in Pittsburgh.

It’s hard to imagine that earlier today we were on the Mariner of the Seas and earlier than that we were in the warm beautiful western Caribbean. I heard that it was still cold inPittsburghand that the snow from the week before hadn’t melted as yet.


For one of the few winters of my life, I experienced summer during the cold winter months. I recommend it.

Goodbye the pampered life.




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My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part VII

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part VII
Lollapalooza Parade

Lollapalooza Parade on the Promenade Deck


A Day at Sea

We were at sea on our last day. We planned to return to the pool for one last visit but it rained by the time I showered after my morning spinning class. The weather forecast predicted rain for the entire day. Boo!

Football fans had to watch the Bengals vs. Texans game somewhere other than the pool.

I spent the rest of the morning packing, filling out customs papers, figuring out tips for the waiters, maitre d’ and stateroom attendants. I watched the game for a while on the TV in our room. Texas won.

 We went to see the colorful Lollapalooza Parade on the Promenade Deck. Clowns on stilts, scooters, motorcycles and on foot wore brightly colored clown costumes.

We had our last dinner at the Sound of Music.

I ordered the peach and papaya soup (love those fruit soups); the seafood combo (monkfish, shrimp and scallops) with broccoli; rice and spinach; chocolate coffee soufflé; coffee and wine. Andrea ordered Caesar salad; the seafood combo; chocolate/coffee soufflé and a Coke. Andrea had her picture taken with our wait staff.

 And we said our goodbyes to Kristin and Paul.

A variety was scheduled which included the crew’s farewell to the passengers. There was comedy, slapstick, etc followed by a musical finale.

By this time Andrea and I were hooked on contests so we sat in on the Hot Seat contest.

Both contestants – with a little help from their friends – had to get all of their questions right. They were allowed to ask one person – friend or relative – for help or they could ask the audience for help. They could only ask the audience twice.

Then it was time to return to the stateroom and finalize our stuff for our departure the next day. I had a final glass of champagne from Andrea’s birthday bottle. It’s safe to say Andrea prefers mixed drinks.

We fell asleep watching Mama Mia!


Tomorrow: Farewell

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My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part VI

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part VI
Shopping in Cozumel

One of the shops in Cozumel


Cozumel, Mexico

We scheduled a hike through the jungle in Cozumel for this morning. We got up early but not as early as yesterday and met the group at the port of Cozumel. The port is chock full of shops, restaurants and bars, and quaint like the port at Roatan only bigger. 

We were told by the guide to wait at the local pharmacy but we didn’t recognize anyone from our ship. Another ship was docked next to ours; we were the only ones from the Mariner of the Seas. The driver almost left without us until the tour guide realized the mistake and came back and got us.

We reached the jungle by bus. We were given a backpack and a rice crispy bar and ser off for a fairly rigorous walk in 80 plus degree weather. The group tramped over planks, logs, and a suspension bridge. We walked a fair distance before our tour guide stopped and lectured us about the dietary habits of the ancient Mayans.

 One thing they liked to eat, because of its availability in the jungle, was termites.

Termites build nests – similar to beehives – over a period of years. The Mayans would take a stick, poke it into the nest, and the termite would attach itself to it. The hungry Mayan would take the stick out and eat the termite.

Our tour guide called himself a “descendant of the Mayans” and actually demonstrated how to eat one. I looked over at Andrea, another descendant of the Mayans, but she didn’t seem interested in trying to eat one. Maybe she just wasn’t hungry. (Unlike!)

The ancient Mayans also built plant boxes above the ground on stilts. This prevented the wildlife living in the jungle from sampling the plants. Several boxes were strewn throughout the jungle growing different vegetables as demonstration models. According to our guide, it doesn’t take long for veggies to grow from seed in the jungle.

I’m not surprised considering the weather.

There is a tree that has a sap that has been used as a binder for bubble gum. The Mayans would set up camp by these trees because gathering the sap was an overnight process. They would place a receptacle under the tree and wait for the sap to fill it up.

Our tour guide told us that the jungle was home to various birds, cats (not the domestic kind) and other animals. We didn’t see any. I was hoping we would see more monkeys because Andrea loves them.

I enjoyed the walk but it was so hot that my backpack stuck to my back.

Our next stop was the Grand Beach Resort. We ate a buffet lunch there under an open air tent: chicken; oranges; mangoes; fries; rice; tortillas chips with salsa; fish and desserts. As usual, everything was delicious. I’ve been to Central America several times and I only remember one mediocre meal. A friend and I joined a tour to Mexico shortly after college during Thanksgiving week. Our hotel served us a Thanksgiving meal that was consisted of tasteless flat mashed potatoes, some kind of pumpkin pie, stuffing and corn. The turkey was okay.

We rushed to the beach to work on our winter tans. You’d think we’d never been to one. I don’t know how much was made by Nature and how much was created by humans but the beach was absolutely beautiful. The sky was cerulean, the sand was white and the sun shone brightly. Sailboats, paddle boats and swimmers dotted the blue sea. Parasailing was popular. Andrea found a large shell with barnacles which I almost poached but decided I didn’t have room for it in my suitcase. We walked along the sand for a while but spent most of the time sun tanning.

The staff was setting up a bingo game when we started to leave. There were shops and a water park, too.

We stopped to shop at the stores and kiosks by the port. The store clerks practically strong-arm you into their stores and get mad if you decline to buy anything they try to shove down your throat – especially anything expensive. (They fussed when they learned we were from Pittsburgh and professed to be Steelers fans.)

One employee personally escorted us up a flight of steps to a row of shops.

 “I don’t want an escort,” I told him. “I can go up by myself.”

“If you don’t want to buy anything, that’s ok. I’m just doing my job,” he said.

I didn’t want to contribute to Mexico’s unemployment rolls so I relented. Another store clerk tried to sell me a ring for a couple of hundred dollars. I’m not expert enough to know if a stone is genuine or not.

“I’ll give you twenty dollars for it,” I offered. Of course, he got mad.

Andrea looked at the less expensive jewelry. You can buy any quality at any price. I told her that if she didn’t buy a piece of jewelry from Mexico, she would regret it. So after a lot of dickering going through many stores, she bought a silver bracelet. By then we were tired of shopping.

There was a strip of beach with beach chairs not far from Senor Frog’s restaurant. We lay out there until it was time to go back to the ship.

Later, Andrea got her first-ever massage at the ship’s spa. The appointment lasted well over an hour because it included a consultation. For those who may want to know, the ships’ special for that day was $99.

This was the Mariner’s second formal night. The fashions this evening weren’t any different from the previous formal night but this time, many people seemed inclined to change after dinner.

Any time there was a college football game, especially a Bowl game, (actually any football game) it was shown on the giant TV in the pool area. It was hard to watch any of them at length because of everything that was going on.

Royal Caribbean neglected to show the Cotton Bowl on the big screen so they had to show it at the Internet café to mollify the crowd. It was a little awkward since the computer screens weren’t big. The staff fed them cookies and pizzas to keep them happy. Since many of the passengers were fromTexas, it was fitting that Texas won.

 Dinner time included another show where the restaurant staff was introduced to the guests. The workers come from all over the world.

I ordered chilled peach soup; lobster tail with shrimp and mashed potatoes; low fat cherries jubilee (minus the flambé; I found out that that isn’t done anymore); coffee and the rest of the wine. Andrea had Caesar salad; lobster tail and shrimp with mashed potatoes; rainbow sherbet with a cookie and a Coke.

We went to the Whitney Houston Tribute afterward. The singer wore a one shoulder blue sequin gown with diamond cuff bracelet and dangling earrings. She channeled Whitney Houston very well and the audience responded loved her singing.

The Quest Game show at Studio B was next on our events’ schedule. The ship’s activities director divided the audience into six sections. We were in section #5. Two people from each section volunteered to be the section leaders for the “team.”

Then she would say something like “I want five belts from five men in your team.” And five men would race to give the group leaders their belts who would rush up to the activities director to show her the belts.

Her requests didn’t stop at belts. At first, the director asked for innocuous stuff like women with piercings; a woman who can do a somersault (Andrea showed her

prowess for our team); the hairiest male back; a woman with a tattoo (Andrea showed her “Dream” tattoo on her wrist); etc.

Then, she requested four people from each team to participate in a race but they had to row on their bums. Andrea was one of the rowers for #5.

Another activity involved five women giving up their bras. Then the group leader or team member had to wear the bra preferably on top of their clothing.

Everything was timed so the faster, the better or you could run out of time.

Another request required two men from each group taking off their trousers and putting them on backwards. They had to face away from the crowd when they did this because one participant on a previous cruise wasn’t wearing any underwear.

“One of my staff is still undergoing therapy over that one,” the director declared.

The finale required that one male dress like a female complete with make-up, clothes, stockings, shoes, jewelry, etc. Members of the team were allowed to help with their transformation.

These “Drag Queens” were asked to give their names and occupations. The responses, of course, were funny.

“My name is Sweet Tits and I drive a rig,” one man responded.

At the end, they paraded the stage, dancing, strutting or trying to strut and singing.

There was party at the Solarium by the pool. I don’t remember what Andrea ordered but she liked it. I had a Brandy Alexander. (Unlike!)

Tomorrow: A Day at  Sea

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My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part V

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part V
The Mayan Pyramids of Lamanai

One of the Mayan pyramids at Lamanai, Belize


Belize and the Mayan ruins

We woke up at 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. (guess who woke up first) to meet the group touring the Mayan ruins by 7:15 a.m. at the Savoy Theatre.

We descended to the pier and took a tender to theport of Belize City, the capital of Belize. This port wasn’t as quaint and as pretty as the one in Roatan but it was still nice. It was large and busy.

From the port we boarded a bus which took us through part of the city.  There are hotels and embassies closer to the harbor. As we pulled away toward our destination, we passed a largely residential area. Homes are made of stucco and are either white or painted in different colors; in some cases, they are a dingy gray.

We also passed the home of an Amish family. Apparently, the Amish have been living in Belize, farming the land. They have been known to move, buying cheap land  on which to farm.

Like Jazzy, our driver told us some facts about Belize. It was once a British colony and was called British Honduras. Belize is now a part of the British Commonwealth and has a Parliament and a Prime Minister. (Its current government is similar to Canada’s.)

Education is compulsory up to the age of 14; wearing uniforms is mandatory.  Some students go on to high school and from there to college. English and Spanish is spoken as well as Mayan. The Spanish spoken in Belize includes some Mayan words.

Most consumer goods are imported.  Short on resources? Tourism, of course, is big.

Like the British, drivers here used to drive on the left side of the road. When cars were imported (mainly American cars) with the wheel on the opposite side, the authorities decided to switch to driving on the right side. They, like the Hondurans, haven’t adopted too many traffic signs and signals to continue the um….upgrade.

It must be fun, driving in Central America. (My husband had fun driving in Rhodes years ago and they don’t utilize signs, either.)

We finally arrived at the restaurant/ gift shop/dock where our boat awaited us at the edge of the rain forest. We were served coffee, really good lemonade and ginger cookies while everyone took a potty break:)

            We boarded a flat boat with a white canopy overhead.  At the time, I thought it was great to have that so the sun wouldn’t bake our heads.

We snaked our way through a calm winding river. We saw monkeys, exotic birds, a variety of trees and crocodiles. Everyone would get excited when our tour guide pointed them out to us (the crocodiles, not the trees).

After about 45 minutes or so of fast driving in a drizzling rain (which sprayed our faces and everything else with a fine mist), we reached the archaeological site of Lamanai, part of the ancient civilization of the Mayans. There was a greenish gray cast over the buildings. Although a lot of the vegetation was bright green, the denseness of some of the trees and the periodic rain gave almost everything that shade of color, too.

The rain abated and we followed our guide to the ruins. It wasn’t a flat walk, either. Steps (similar to terraced steps) led to leveled ground that led to more steps until we reached the first pyramid. Before we reached the first pyramid, it began to rain heavily. I guess they don’t call it the rain forest for nothing.

Four pyramids remain standing here; two are in better condition than the other two. Even so, stories are missing even on the ones in good shape. This only underscored  how tall the pyramids truly were.

The one in the best shape is the one tourists climb the most.  All the steps including the ones which bring you up to the level of the pyramids are steep. As I started to go up one steep step to hear the tour guide talk about the history of the ruin, I slipped and fell. I don’t know if the soles of my sneakers were worn to smoothness or I didn’t anticipate the steepness of the step but I sustained two bruises. The one wasn’t a deep cut although I bled but the other bled and instantly swelled up, too. One of our tour guides was trained in First Aid so my wounds got treated. Fortunately nothing was broken and I was able to walk without a problem.

We reached the pyramid that was almost intact as the rain got more intense. It didn’t stop anyone from climbing it, though. Here the steps are steep but some are steeper than others. I guess precision wasn’t an issue or the steps have worn down unequally over time. There is a rope running down the middle of the steps so climbers can hang on, too, although some came down on their rear ends.

I didn’t climb to the top.  My accident told me not to but I had climbed the pyramids in Mexico years ago. Andrea climbed to the top. She said the view up there was awesome. You could see the rain forest for miles around.

It was a nice gesture to her Mayan heritage. She stayed up there for a little while, too. Some day, we’ll go to Copan in western Honduras to see the Mayan pyramids there.

It started to rain again as we went on to the other pyramids. There was one more pyramid that some people climbed although it wasn’t as tall as the previous one. Several stone bas relief at all the pyramids provides photo opportunities for anyone who doesn’t want to climb or is done climbing.

The rain abated as we walked back to our boat. Then it started to rain again on our journey back and this time, it rained harder. (I guess this is the definition of a rain forest: start, stop, start, stop…) Our driver – a NASCAR candidate if he would ever want to pursue that career path – drove so that the spray from the winding river got us even wetter. The back of his loose white shirt billowed behind him. It was fun, though. It felt like the boat was going to tip sideways as he swerved to the right or left.

We passed the Amish farm and farmer on our way back. I’m so used to seeing them in Pennsylvania and Ohio, that the sight was almost incongruous.

The restaurant had a buffet lunch waiting for us: delicious spicy chicken; homemade cole slaw; rice; rice and beans; chips and homemade salsa; rice pudding and cake for dessert and beverages. Alcohol was available at the cash bar.

I bought a hand-carved wooden bowl. Hand-carved wooden products are typical crafts found in Honduras and Belize. Then we drove back to the port in Belize City.

Of course, there are an abundance of trinket, crafts and T-shirt shops here. The tender took us back to the ship. We had a little bit of down time so I got to see Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp.

For dinner that night, I ordered chilled strawberry soup; lamb shank with mashed potatoes; low fat chocolate cake with mint chocolate cream; wine and coffee. Andrea selected tomato mozzarella caprese salad; lamb shank with mashed potatoes; tiramisu and Coke.

RC staged a ‘70’s Dance Party on the Promenade that night that was a lot of fun and later, a song and dace concert which was very good, too.

We returned to the casino afterwards where Andrea lost her $20 and stopped to hear Latin Music.

Tomorrow: Cozumel

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My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part IV

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part IV
Native Dancing

Honduran dancers


Roatan, Honduras

It was fitting that we landed in Roatan, Honduras on Andrea’s birthday. The sky was bright blue and the sun shone warming the earth to 82 degrees. We ran to the pool to watch the ship as it reached the port after breakfast. I got choked up thinking of the time 18 years ago when Mike, Jeff and I went toTegucigalpa, the capital, to adopt Andrea. The port looked like a quaint picture post card which is not what I expected.

I expected it to look like Galveston harbor but I think wiser business-oriented minds decided a port on an island which is a tourist destination should look nicer. The shops’ façades were painted blue, green and yellow and lined the length of the harbor. Native dancers and singers greeted us and posed for photos with whoever was interested in a photo opportunity.

There was a large Christmas tree and a large picturesque “Welcome to Roatan” sign that everyone posed in front of, too. We walked around and browsed the shops until it was time to meet our tour guide.

It wasn’t hard to find her. She held a large sign that read, “Glass Bottom Boat” and we all lined up behind her.

Her name was Jazlyn but asked everyone to call her Jazzy. She loaded us into an air conditioned bus and held our interest talking about Honduras and the Bay Islands of which Roatan is a part.

“What language do you think is the official language of the Bay Islands?” she asked us.

Sensing that this was a trick question, I answered, “Not Spanish.”

The Bay Islands were originally a British not a Spanish possession.  So, English was spoken before Spanish although many people speak both and some know one language better than the other. Some speak and understand one and understand but don’t speak the other. Jazzy didn’t say how many knew which language better. I think she said children learn both languages in school. On the mainland, Spanish is the official language.

When she found out that Andrea was born in Honduras, she gave her a fist bump.

Our first stop was the Village of West End where we witnessed another performance by native dancers. These people like the ones who greeted us at the port are members of the Garifuna tribe. The have their own language (Arawakan) in addition to the English and Spanish languages of the Bay Islands. The Garifuna tribe traveled to Honduras from the Caribbeanin 1797.

They performed dances that their ancestors brought to the New World. The lead dancer got Andrea to dance with her (and I have the photo to prove it).

We had time to browse the shops for handmade dolls; jewelry; woven hammocks; clothing; painting; wooden bowls and vases; shell art; and more.

I asked the clerk in English if I could use my card. (I know they take American cash.) She didn’t understand me and had a young woman I guessed was her daughter answer my question (which was that they credit card company would add 12% to the bill). So I found someone who knew more Spanish than English and another person who knew both. Not a scientific survey of Honduran languages, I admit.

Restaurants were scattered among the shops including a Thai Restaurant called Tong’s Thai Island Cuisine. (There’s a Pizza Hut and a Bojangles somewhere on the island but no McDonald’s.) At the end of the main drag is a small white frame Baptist Church complete with steeple just like many rural churches from long ago.

The town’s main road is brand new. However, the local authorities forgot to add stop signs and traffic signals when they finished construction. When we walked down a street and a vehicle zipped by, we jumped on the sidewalk. The sidewalk consisted of an edge made of cement while the sidewalk proper was filled with dirt.

The road ran parallel to the beach which was dotted with small piers. I assume that there is a stretch of beach where you can lay out and get a tan but I didn’t see it or should I say “them” because I understand there are a lot of them. 

Divers (and there are a lot of them, too) and fishermen take boats out during the day. There are canoes, sailboats, row boats and motorboats.

Fishing and tourism are the main industries on the islands.

Fresh fish is caught every day and is a feature at all the restaurants. Residents also grow their fresh vegetables. Banana, bread (first time I heard of such a tree), coconut, cashew and other trees grow everywhere. A vegetable peddler drives around with a variety of fresh veggies in back of his truck daily. Cashews are abundant and roasted from April through July.

Our next stop was the Glass Bottom Boat which was waiting for us at one of the piers just beyond the village.

We all squeezed in the bottom of the boat which predictably was surrounded by glass. We watched sea life pass us by: sea grass, scuba divers, turtles, various fish…they all coexist happily many feet under the sea’s surface.

As we drove through rural hilly Roatan, Jazzy gave us more information on the educational system on the islands.

There are several schools including a Seventh Day Adventist college. (There was a Seventh Day Adventist school in back of our hotel inTegucigalpa when we were there for Andrea’s adoption.) There are bilingual schools and uniforms are mandatory. As a result of the school system, almost everyone (except one store clerk) speaks some Spanish and/or English. This only applies to the Bay Islands because of its history as a British possession.

There are no school buses. Students walk or use public transportation or, if they live in a remote area, take a cab to school.

Our last stop was the cameo factory. One of three cameo factories in the world is located in Roatan. The other two are in Milan, Italy and Japan. The setting was veryquaint. The factory/studio was on a street that was parallel to the shore. A small flagstone courtyard and an iron bell bordered the property on one side. The bell hung from a wrought iron arch and was another backdrop for photo opportunities.

The crafts people carved beautiful designs on shells of all shapes and sizes similar to scrimshaw. Some pieces were turned into jewelry.

The rest of the neighborhood was residential. The stucco homes (some of which are built on stilts or blocks); tropical flowers and sunny weather looked just like the photos in travel magazines only this was for real.

We could see the Mariner of the Seas and another ship from Holland America docked at the harbor from the cameo factory. Andrea and I walked along the shore, taking pictures and drinking in the sea, sun, palm trees and beautiful flowers.

When the tour was over and we returned to the harbor, Andrea and I ran to the ship to get the cash we left in our vault on the ship.

We spent the rest of the day shopping at the port. There were the requisite tourist shops including a perfume shop (fairly decent prices for brand names), carts with souvenirs and Honduran fast food. A three piece band consisting of three old men played for our musical enjoyment. (They were very good actually.)  We didn’t buy too much because I have a lot of stuff from our previous two trips to Honduras.

Our real objective was lunch and we wanted to eat at a Honduran restaurant not the Windjammer. We found one above the perfume shop. The food was good but the service was very slow. We ate chips and salsa with hot peppers and chicken fajita  with rice and beans – typical Central American fare.

By late afternoon it was time to return to the ship. I didn’t want to leave and I don’t think Andrea did, either. The scenery was too sunny, beautiful and relaxing. When we returned to the Mariner, we decided to get some sun by the pool late as it was. The days are warmer in the Caribbean in the winter but they are also shorter just like they are up north. Andrea ordered an alcoholic Mango Tango (Like!) in another souvenir glass as we watched Roatan recede in the distance. (I just drank wine.) We could see cars wind their way on roads that wound through the hills of the town. Lights slowly lit up the harbor as the Mariner made its way toward Belize.

At the Sound of Music, the wait staff greeted us like they were truly glad to see us. Considering what I tipped them at the end of the cruise, I guess I would feel the same wayJ

On this particular evening, I ate Moroccan chicken salad for an appetizer; sirloin steak with string beans and baked potato; low fat key lime pie for dessert; coffee and Pinot Grigio.

Andrea selected a shrimp cocktail for the appetizer; a vegetarian calzone; Coke, a chocolate parfait and was also given a chocolate brownie as the wait staff and Kristin and Paul (who were celebrating their wedding anniversary) sang “Happy Birthday.”

It was time to see what was happening around the ship. We saw a musical variety show and then headed for the casino – another milestone for her to experience upon turning 21. They didn’t ask for her I.D. when she changed her dollars into quarters bit I offered the info that she was celebrating her birthday. Maybe the gambling age is different than the drinking age? That doesn’t make sense; maybe just lax or they figured she was with me.

She played $10 on some kind of coin game and ended up with $20. Not bad for her first try at gambling while sipping on a Pina Colada. (Like!) I had wine as usual.


Tomorrow: Belize and the Mayan Ruins


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My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part III

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part III
Beatles Concert

Remembering the Beatles Concert


New Year’s Day

We returned to the pool after waking up late. This time the sun was much hotter. We’re obviously inching closer to Honduras. Yay.

I went to a Pilates class this afternoon after the Fab Abs (Men Only) Contest which was as funny as the women’s competition. The litmus test for me when it comes to an aerobics class is whether I sweat or not and I did sweat in this one. I think that when aerobic instructors get their certifications, they also get a license to kill us. It was a fairly tough class although I think the instructor held back a little.  He was  Africa; I loved listening to his accent.

We went to our favorite restaurant and chatted with Kristin and Paul who are great people. I loved talking to them and listening to their views and about their family.

On this particular evening, I ate Moroccan soup with lamb and vegetables; foccacia and tomato salad; salmon with asparagus, broccoli and potatoes; wine; coffee but no dessert (no room).

Andrea picked  Moroccan soup; an Indian dish with vegetables and different kinds of bread and rice; Coke and no dessert.

We headed to the Beatles Concert after that.  It was so much fun. The John, Paul, George and Ringo imitators encouraged singing along, clapping and toward the end, a Conga line even though there is nothing conga-esque about any of the Beatles’ songs. Oh…and they encouraged screaming, too. There never was a Beatles concert that didn’t have screaming so why should this one be any different?

I knew the lyrics to all the songs so I croaked along. This surprised Andrea. I don’t know why. I’ve been a Beatles fan since I was 13. That was a long, long time ago.

One of the singers asked the audience, “Which Beatles’ song has been recorded more than any other?”

“Yesterday,” I answered. I was right. (I didn’t get any prize for my knowledge, though.)

 Next, we went to a trivia game which was also a lot of fun. The audience divided itself into teams. The game host asked questions like “What is the one phrase that all men (or women) want to hear?” The answer from the majority in the audience was (believe it or not), “I love you.”  The second most popular phrase was, “I’m going away for the weekend.” The winning teams had to guess the majority answers.  Prizes included things like mugs, mouse pads, etc.

We went to the Comedy Club but the comedian was only mildly funny. I heard comments from the women in my gym class that he was very funny but I guess we all have our off days.

Then, at the stroke ofmidnight, Andrea turned 21. Her first legal drink was a Margarita (Unlike!) at the Dragon’s Lair. The Dragon’s Lair has an upper and a lower level.  You can look down to the lower level and it looks like a lair. It has a medieval look with stone walls and stone entrances like the ones you see in medieval European architecture.

The DJ announced her birthday and the waiter, who waited until it was exactly midnight to serve her drink, gave her a souvenir glass to keep. I had to take bunches of photos to commemorate the occasion.

We passed the art gallery on our way to the Dragon’s Lair and one of the employees started chatting with us. When I told him it was Andrea’s birthday, he gave us a bottle of champagne.

A lot of her friends back home sent texts of their birthday wishes to her and of course, she had to respond. I’m glad she pays her own phone bill.

Tomorrow: Roatan, Honduras



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My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part II

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part II

New Year's Eve party supplies

Hat, crown, beads and noise makers for New year’s Eve celebration


It’s the last day of 2012 and we’re spending it on the Mariner of the Seas sailing the Western Caribbean. Early in the morning, it feels like any other day on board a cruise ship.

We ate breakfast at the Windjammer and sat by the big picture window watching the sea go by. All we could see was waves of blue sea for miles and miles (and I mean blue).

We couldn’t stay away from the shops before going to the pool. I bought a party dress because tonight is formal night. I promised myself that I wouldn’t but anything for my self but it was a promise I didn’t have to keep. The dress is short, sleeveless, and black with silver sequins at the neck and hem.

The pool was very busy this morning. The upper level has a track for walking and jogging. It was a little cool but it didn’t stop anyone from trying to get a tan, jump in the hot tubs, eat frozen yogurt, swim, drink, and watch the Fab Abs (Females Only) Contest.

About eight women of all ages, sizes and shapes strutted – or tried to strut – their stuff. The one thing they all had in common was guts and in the end, the oldest woman in the group won the cup: a RC mug.

Andrea had never seen an ice show before (hockey games excluded) and so we went to see the4:30show at the Savoy Theatre at one of two theatres on the ship. I wasn’t expecting it but it was a good entertaining show.

The costumes were very colorful. Each skit or set had its own theme and color scheme: black, sliver and white for the Russia Cossack routine and rainbow colors for the Clowin’ Around skit, etc.

Waiters and waitresses took your order for drinks and bring them to your seat. (Please don’t forget to add a tip.) Andrea had to order a CokeJ

Pretty soon, though, she can order something else.

It’s just unofficial observation on my part but there are a lot of families on this cruise as well as the requisite senior adults and/or couples. I don’t know what I expected.

 We were riding the elevator after the show when I heard Andrea say, “Aww…”

I looked down and saw a small pink baby carriage. I peered under the hood and saw a long-haired puppy. I’m not sure about its breed but she wore a pink ribbon in her hair.

“How does she like the cruise?” I tried to hide my surprise at the dog’s mode of transportation.

“The first day was an adjustment but she’s getting used to it now,” her owner responded.

Later, I asked Andrea,

“Who would want to bring her dog on a cruise?”

“She just loves her dog,” Andrea said.

Another woman carried a fake dog with her wherever she went.  Sometimes her husband/companion held it for her. I assume the dog was battery-operated because it would move its long-haired head slowly. The dog looked like a sheep dog only smaller.

I wondered if this was some kind of therapy for the owner.  She was too old to play with toys.

Our attendant dropped off an itinerary of events and other information for us. There were many parties/event scheduled for the evening and of course, a balloon-drop on the Promenade.

 At 6:30 we went to dinner at the Sound of Music, true to schedule. My dinner choices included a light mushroom and cheese crepe; a salad of winter greens with walnuts and light vinaigrette; baby rack of lamb with string beans and root vegetables and a hazelnut coffee mousse for dessert with a cup of coffee. I had a glass of Pinot Grigio.

Everything was excellent in taste and presentation and not only on this night but every night. I never had a bad meal there.

Andrea loved her choices, too: beef consommé; herb-encrusted Alaska halibut with side veggies that I can’t remember and a light strawberry banana torte for dessert and a Coke. (The day after tomorrow, she gets to really drink.)

 She ate everything so it must have been good.

While we were eating there was a parade in the lower level of the restaurant.  I didn’t see it (and Andrea had gone to the restroom) because we were on the upper level and I didn’t feel like running to the railing. It didn’t last long.

A live band played every night in the lower level.

We started talking to a couple from California sitting at the table next to ours. There names were Kristin and Paul. They were surprised that we had come all the way from Pittsburgh. They were from San Diego. They were curious about Pittsburgh.

I told them I loved the city because it has a community-oriented feel to it but I didn’t love the winters. They wanted to know why and I cited the difficulty navigating the hills when the municipal authorities can’t get it together to plow.

Kristin told me a little about the history of California which has a different history from the eastern US, California had originally been founded by Europeans who established missions to help the Native Americans.

They also mentioned how warm the weather was in San Diego. That city doesn’t really experience weather changes.

I have a photo of Mike who grew up inCalifornia and Hawaii until the age of 7 or 8, wearing shorts and a T-shirt on Christmas Day. This was when my father-in-law was in the Navy and stationed in California.)

Of course, we also talked about the Steelers, Chargers and Penguins.

There was down time until the festivities began so we went back to our room. Andrea took the opportunity to re-do her hair for the zillionth time.

There are several bars on some of the decks. We stopped in and listened to the music and moved on to the next one (except Ellington’s because Andrea isn’t into jazz).  Some of them allowed smoking so we didn’t linger too long in those. Smoking makes me sick.

We passed the Champagne Bar on the Promenade deck.

 “On January 2, we’ll go in there first,” I said to Andrea.

After that we dropped in the Dragon’s Lair (Michael Jackson Tribute); Latin American dance music; Country and Western Music at Studio B and the party on the Promenade deck where the balloons will drop. Fittingly for us, the balloons are in black and gold.

The Promenade consisted of wall-to-wall people – young, old and in-between. 

Waiters and waitresses were giving out free glasses of champagne. One underage kid picked one up and the waiter took it right off of him. A jazz band played and they were very good.

The crowd was proportionately as large as aTimes Square crowd although the Promenade is a bit smaller. Now I know how it feels to be sardines or anchovies stuffed in a can. At the count down to midnight the balloons dropped one or two at a time – a malfunction of something or other, I guess.

Clink! Clink! of the champagne glasses. All of a sudden, the remaining balloons dropped all at once. Auld lang syne was over by then. Balloons were batted back and forth or the kids stepped on them.  Pop! Pop!

We revisited our previous stops but most of the crowd on the Promenade deck didn’t die out until much later.

A note on the fashions of the evening: there was mostly short evening gowns were prominent although there were long gowns, too, on women of all ages. The color black dominated as did silver and gold sequined attire; white and neutrals like champagne were and beige were favored, too. I didn’t see too many bright colors although I remember a long, yellow gown floating by. I think I saw red, too. I saw some lace and dotted Swiss material, sheer tops, sleeveless gowns, and skinny straps but not too many strapless numbers. Women were wearing platforms, high heels and flats.

I wondered how the puppy in the buggy celebrated New Year’s Eve. Finely ground filet mignon with a magnum of Perrier water? Just wondering.


Tomorrow: New Year’s Day


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My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part I

My Big Fat Caribbean Vacation Part I
Glass Chandelier

Glass Chandelier




A walking zombie – that’s what I was going to become but Andrea and I agreed to stay up from Saturday night into Sunday morning and beyond. We arrived at Pittsburgh International Airportaround 2:00or3:00 a.m.Sunday, December 30, 2012.

I kind of snoozed on a couch on the upper level or watched people arriving to do the same thing I was doing. I’m naively surprised at the number of people flying at that time of night (or is it day)? Eventually, we went down to get zapped for weapons of mass destruction otherwise known as a security check and then headed to the waiting area for United Airlines.

I tried to snooze in the flight to Houston,Texas but it was uncomfortable. It couldn’t be because I slept sideways in my seat.

Once we arrived at George Bush Airport, I had to go hunting for Royal Caribbean employees who were to guide us to the motor coach which would take us to Galveston.

After much searching and telephoning, he found us. We chatted with a couple from Edmonton, Alberta until we boarded the bus.

The drive to Galveston is about an hour and a half long so I figured I would see the realTexas. The real Texas is flat. Living in Pittsburgh, I always notice flat terrain. Other areas of Texas may not be but this stretch of road was flat. Grassy areas were brown but there was a lot of greenery otherwise. There was an endless series of strip malls, auto repair shops, hotels, palm trees, restaurants and a Big Fat Greek Orthodox Church. The round gold dome and the mosaic icon over the doorway told me this was definitely not a restaurant. Next to it was a couple of white buildings with freestanding white columns. Well, some were standing and the rest lay on the ground. I guess the columns gave the property an “ancient ruin” look.

We zipped through the city of Houston for about 10 minutes. My third snooze was interrupted by our arrival at Galveston harbor. Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas was docked next to a ship from the Carnival line. Waterslides stood on top of Carnival’s top deck ready for those passengers who didn’t suffer from vertigo.

The customs house in Galveston was painted white with blue trim. It was a far cry from the dingy customs house in New York harbor that I remember from my childhood. There must have been thousands of people checking in and boarding their respective ships but the lines kept moving.

Once on board, we went straight to our stateroom. It was small but nice with a TV and a safe. We looked around the ship. It was beautiful and even elegant. Each deck is decorated differently and there are lots of sculptures, paintings, watercolors, bas relief, vases, prints, ceramics….There are marble floors, hardwood floors, carpeting, tile….

There are two sets of elevators: one is enclosed while the other is all glass. From the glass elevator you can see the core of the ship which consists of decks 3 through 8. (Below deck 3 is uninteresting although the ship’s doctor is located there.) Above 8 is one more floor of staterooms and above that is the pool area. The pool area has two decks (9 and 10) and the gym, spa and game room are on that upper deck, too. The very top (which we never got to see) contained the miniature golf course, basketball court, etc.

 When we first boarded the ship we entered via the Top Hat and Tails Restaurant which looks exactly what its name implies. It’s no burger joint. The waiters held wine lists which they were eager for us to look at.

(“I’m putting on my top coat; I’m tying up my bow tie, dancing my tails…” Fred Astaire sang in Top Hat. Check out all his dance routines on YouTube.)

Our next stop was deck 5, called the Promenade. The area was decorated with a giant Christmas tree and other holiday decorations. From deck 8 where our room was located you can see several floors below with a huge colorful cascading glass chandelier that I came to photograph a lot as its centerpiece. The chandelier has several components as it hangs from deck 8 down to deck 3.

We ate lunch at the Windjammer, the super duper buffet of the Mariner.  Purell hand sanitizers grace the front entrance and the hosts practically insist you use the sanitizer before you enter the restaurant.

The shops weren’t scheduled to open until the ship sailed so we went to check out the pool area. It became our favorite spot, or one of them, during the trip.  There’s a giant TV, two bars on each level, hot tubs, deck chairs galore and a pool, too.

A band was playing and an activities leader (whatever they call them) was teaching the crowd line dances. I didn’t participate but Andrea did only she didn’t need the lesson. It was fun to watch, though a lack of sleep was starting to up with me.

Then it was announced that everyone had to attend a mandatory fire drill. All it involved, though, was having the passengers walk down the steps to their designated area (ours was the Sound of Music Restaurant) where we learned how to use a life jacket.

Our designated restaurant for dinner was the Sound of Music Restaurant which displayed costumes from the play/movie (reproductions, I’m sure). There was one discreet Purell hand sanitizer stand at the entrance. We have a preplanned reservati on for6:30 pmevery evening. I thought that it was beautifully decorated much like Top Hat and Tails. The waiters/waitresses wore black pants, white long sleeved shirts and black vests. Andrea giggled when the waiter placed a napkin on her lap and held out her chair for her to sit. 

I chose a bottle of white wine, a Pinot Grigio to be served every evening until it runs out. I sniffed the bouquet and tasted the wine before the waiter poured me a glass. Since I only drink one glass per evening if at all, it should last a while. On our first evening, I had the catch of the day which happened to be bass and it also happened to be a low calorie selection.

 Andrea selected a vegetarian Indian dish. I had the watermelon gazpacho soup and she chose the Tortilla soup. No dessert for either of us although I had to have a cup of coffee. I hadn’t had coffee since the morning of December 29, 2012!

Our ship finally sailed at5:00 pmto no fanfare. I expected to hear bells, whistles, fog horns, and/or fireworks…something. We pulled away from Galveston which gave us a landscape view of the city. It is nondescript (no hills) but I snapped a photo as we sailed away. It’s a town that exists because of the harbor, IMO.

The shops opened and we did a little bit of shopping. All the stores are located on the Promenade deck. We were looking for conditioner. the first shop we went into didn’t have any. What?! No hair conditioner? Panic set in! But we found some in another shop.Whew!  Other people were shopping for hair conditioner, too.

We also visited several lounges (two more days before Andrea can legally drink) just to see what was going on for a while and then we crashed.


Tomorrow: New Year’s Eve




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