Thursday, March 31, 2011

Panama Canal Trip >> Travel Day, Florida and Cruise Day 1

Panama Canal cruise catch-up.....
Today, March 31st, is the first day we’ve had internet access on the ship.  The internet was down “fleet wide”, so I’m behind on the trip details.  I’ll do my best to remember what we’ve done and experienced so far.  Because I’m behind in my documentation, there will be more spelling, grammar and omission errors. This post is going to be long and I might break it up into two parts.  Please pardon the mess...
Monday March 28th, 2011

We got up at 0245 hrs to head for the Portland Airport (PDX) at 0330hrs.  Everything was smooth sailing.....found a parking spot quickly, shuttle to airport, check in (suitcase at 50 lbs!), good seats together on the flight.  Short flight to Denver where we got off the plane for breakfast, then back on to Austin.  In Austin we had an hour to get to our next gate.  No problem it was 2 gates over.  Flight started out late as it came into AUS late.  Flight should have been about 25 mins late to Fort Lauderdale (FLL), where our original flight was suppose to land at 6pm.  Unfortunately a thunderstorm sat right over the airport and we circled the area for almost an hour waiting for it to break.  When we got low on fuel, they diverted us to Fort Meyer where we sat on the tarmac for almost 2.5 hours, wondering if they were going to cancel our flight and leaving us 178 miles from Fort Lauderdale.  Everyone handled the delay well, cell phones were out and people were surfing the web.  On a moments notice we were told we had 5 mins to prepare to take off, we were going to hit a small window in the storm.  30-40 mins later we were on the ground in Ft Lauderdale around 9pm.  Unfortunately my poor Aunt Mary and Uncle Dan waited for us for 3 hours in the baggage claim area of the airport.  Airports have very limited facilities in that area of the airport.  You’d think they’d at least have a bar.  
After meeting up with Aunt Mary and Uncle Dan, they drove us north to their place in Melbourne Beach, about 2.5 hours to the north.  It was dark and we were tired, there wasn’t much to see on the way there.  The four of us chatted and got caught up.  The last time we were together was 6 years ago in Las Vegas for my cousins wedding.
Arriving in Melbourne Beach, we dropped our luggage in our rooms, took a tour of the house and had sandwiches and beer for dinner.  We chatted some more around the dining room table before going to bed some time after 1:30 am.  We hoped for good weather upon waking as we only had one day before we were to head back the Ft. Lauderdale to board the ship.
Tuesday March 29th, 2011
Woke up around  8:45 am to sunny skies, yeah!!!!  No clouds in sight.  We ate breakfast and got moving so that we could take advantage of  clear day.
Dan said we were going to go kayaking on the Indian River in Hobie kayaks.  Awesome!  I’ve been wanting to try one to see if I like the “powered by foot pedals” kayaks.  We borrowed kayaks from the neighbors and walked down to the end of the street where we had access to the river.  Dan showed us how to set the kayaks up and launched into the river.
The river is actually part of the intercoastal waterway and is brackish and has a slight tidal influence.  The river is alive with jumping fish and diving pelicans.  We pedaled north and checked out a little canal that goes between a row of expensive houses.  How nice to have your own kayak canal, I could live like that.  All the porches in the area are screened off to protect the humans from bugs.  Apparently the no-see-ums can still make it through the screening.  Luckily, they weren’t in season now.  In the canal area I had a fish jump and almost land in my boat.  Just ahead of me a snake swam in front of Dan and my Dad.  I watch a squirrel climb up a screened porch and gecko’s were frequently seen sunning themselves on the screens as well.
While on the river we kept our eye out for manatee’s and dolphins, neither of which we saw during our time on the water.  We’ll have to try it again some time.  Dan told us about the time he hooked a tarpon while fishing on the ocean side.  He related how the fish pulled him far out to sea and he was towed by it for close to 3 hours before it broke off the hook. 
While taking the kayaks back we learned about fire ants.  What I thought previously was that they build mounds and you’ll be able to avoid them because you can see the mounds.  Well, they don’t always have mounds.  What I say now is if you are in the south and see small red ants, believe that they are fire ants.  We did not get “involved” enough with the ants for us to have any real problems with them.  Another good rule here is that all plants are poisonous.  Again, no trouble there, just a warning.  
Dan and Mary have pictures of a mother bobcat and her two cubs cleaning themselves in their back yard.  They are bigger than you would expect too. 
After lunch the weather was still good so we walked down the street in the other direction, east (Dan and Mary live on the barrier islands, off of HWY A1A) to the walk on the beach.  The beach was beautifully littered with seashells.  I’ve never seen so many whole and different shells on any beach.  A few are coming home with me, one is quiet big.  The water was in the lower 70 degrees, which was “cool” for the locals.  The beach wasn’t crowded but we saw a few fisherman and kids playing the surf.  Mary pointed out Doug Fluties beach side home.  Mr Flutie apparently grew up in the area and a local ball field was named after him.  We met a few local friends of Dan and Mary and sat for a chat.  We walked back to the house for pool side beers/margaritas and snacks, along with family history chat.  Aunt Mary is my dad’s younger sister.  Being that she is 10 years younger than my dad, there’s a lot she doesn’t remember about her father and grandfather.  I enjoyed learning about the Prenner/Haskins/Toth side of the family.
For dinner Dan and Mary took us to Coconut Cove, a german restaurant on the Indian River.  The locals rave about the food here and we weren’t disappointed.  I had a pork loin in bernaise sauce that was divine.  
After dinner, I needed to go to bed, still worn out from the long travel day.  We were so lucky to have this perfect weather on our one day with Dan and Mary.  They have a beautiful home and were fantastic hostesses,  I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality.
Wednesday March 30th, 2011  
Cruise Day!
We got up early and headed to the Melbourne Airport where we picked up a rental car and Dad and I returned to Ft Lauderdale.  During the 2.5 hour drive we took in the Florida scenery and made our way south the Port of the Everglades.  Not much to comment on.  The drivers on Interstate N95 remind me of my experience in San Diego, where they either drive too slow or too fast.  Aunt Mary states it’s the sunbirds that slow everything down.
We were taken to the ship by our rental car agency and even though we boarded an hour earlier than we wanted, we had no lines to wait in.  Very impressed with the check in process.  Kudo’s to Princess, Carnival: Take note.
Our room is a balcony room on the Cribe deck (deck 10), on the starboard side of the ship.  The room is nicely arranged, with a bigger closet area, but smaller living space than my previous cruises on Carnival.  The deck however is much bigger, fitting 4 chairs and table vs a tight fit for 2 chairs on Carnival.  The shower is VERY small, much more so than the Carnival ships.  
After checking out our room we headed to the Horizon Court Buffet and had lunch.  The food seems much better than that available on Carnival, yum!
After lunch we unpacked and participated in the mandatory muster drill.  Again, Princess has a nicer way of doing the drill -- there was no standing on the deck in rows, sweating in the humidity....yeaahh Princess!
After muster we prepared for our dinner seating in the Bordeaux dining room.  We mis-read the Princess Patter newspaper and went a half an hour late.  We heard it from the Hostess and the waitress, about the importance of being on time.  The next day we received “mail”, also requesting that we be on time.  Sheesh, the newsletter was confusing!!!!!  We will be on time.
My dinner:
Appetizer: fruit, nuts and cheese plate, pina colada soup.  Main course: to honor my husband I ordered the prime rib with roasted vegetables.  Very good, especially the accompanying sauce.  Dessert: Mango-Passion fruit souffle with some kind of white sauce and hazelnut ice cream.
The food was very good.  I think Princess out does Carnival for dinner as well.
After dinner we went to the “Welcome Aboard” show in the Princess theater.  The dancers sang and dance a couple of numbers, the staff was introduced, and a comedian performed -- he was good and funny.
After the show, Dad and I went our separate ways.  He took off for dancing and I hit the gym.  Yes I did.  I felt bad about eating the souffle and the ice cream, and wanted to erase some of those calories.  I had the gym to myself and ran on the treadmill for 25 mins.  After the workout, I was headed back to the room to shower, but got stopped by the movie on the deck on the big screen.  I pulled up a lounge chair and watched most of “All About You”.  11:30pm, I headed back to the room before the movie was over so that I could get a shower and wash my hair before Dad came back.  I wasn’t fast enough, Dad was back and getting ready to study his spanish.  I did my thing and read before falling asleep.
Wednesday March 31st, 2011 
Today!  Had breakfast in the dining room early so that we could go to the Zumba class on the deck at 9:15am.  The breakfast in the dining room wasn’t very good.  Not many choices and the quality was poor.  Carnival beats Princess in that regard.
Zumba on the deck was fun but hot!!  I’m terrible at coordination, but when all else fails, I just keep moving.  We’ll be back for more Zumba.  
We split up again, and will meet for lunch at noon.
I was hot and sticky after Zumba, so took a shower and got ready to go swimming in the Lotus pool.  On the way, I started a load of laundry.  $1 each to wash and dry clothes.  Seemed to work fine, not crowded yet.  About 5 sets of machines.
Swimming was refreshing.  I like the Lotus pool room because it’s a pretty setting with soothing music playing.  It’s also covered and most importantly, air conditioned, although it’s not cool by any means.  It’s just not hot and humid.  The pool was nice and has a current to swim against.  It’s not hard, but enough that you have to noticeable work harder to get to the other side.  The pool is at least 5’ 3” deep and no kids.  It’s a nice oasis.  The ice cream bar is in the same area.  :*)
We split up again, and I headed to beginning country western line dancing.    Yeah, I can pick it up after a while, but by the time we add the fourth dance, I’ve forgotten the second one.  I’ll continue with it tomorrow and see if I can get some of it to stick in my head.  Dances were the Elvira, the Cupid Shuffle, and something that is really hot in clubs right now....can’t remember the name.  Lastly, the Macaraina (sp!!!).
After dancing I popped in to see Dad playing bridge and then checked out the internet.  It was finally working!  Hence, here we are.  I took the lap top back to the Lotus spa area and worked on this update until it was time to get ready for our first formal dinner.
Dressed in a nice, short, black cocktail dress with a bolero jacket.  Dad in a sport coat and slacks.  We headed for dinner and were there before the doors opened.  Ha Princess.
Our waitress is Natalya and she is from Ukraine.  This is her first cruise so she is nervous about what she is doing.  
Tonight we dined with our Canadian couple from the first night, Dave and Lorraine, and were joined by a Las Vegas couple, Bill and Jean.  Jean talked Dad’s ear off.  I enjoyed conversations with Lorraine and Dave.
My dinner tonight: 
Appetizer: crabmeat quiche, chicken wonton soup.  Main course: cornish game hens with vegetables.  Again, very yummy sauce on the bottom of the plate.  I laughed when I saw the birds because they were the smallest game hens I’ve ever seen.  If we buy 22 oz hens in the store, then these were probably 11 oz birds.  I don’t mind the small sizes of the courses, it just allows you to try everything without filing up on one item.  For dessert: Bananas foster flambe....yummy delicious rum sauce.  Dad had nutella ice cream.  It was bland to me, but made the nutella sweeter.
After dinner I returned to the cabin to work on this blog and change into more comfortable clothes. Dad’s off to check out the dance scene and then watch a movie on the deck.  During the movie popcorn is available and at some point they come around with cookies and milk.  Even though the wind is blowing, it’s still warm and muggy.
That’s all for now.  Gonna go to bed early tonight, maybe finally get caught up on sleep.   Tomorrow another day at sea.  Tonight the boat is slipping SW between Cuba and Haiti.  During the day, Cuba was easily visible from the port side.  Seas have been great, with only slight up down motion noticeable.  While I said it was “hot” today, the report said 75 degrees.  It must be the humidity that makes it feel worse than that.  Tomorrow is suppose to be 81 degrees, and it’s only going to get hotter the further south we go.
Until tomorrow! Hasta luego mis amigos!

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