03-09-2018 through 3-12-2018 Ahhhh….Three Days of Heaven

We are on vacation.  We are at a very nice resort on the Cancun coast.  What, oh what should we do?  Pools? Beach? Which pool?  Which beach?  Ah, life can be so difficult when on vacation.  Finally, after our two busy sight  seeing days, we were ready to relax and enjoy some of the delights of Vidanta Riviera Maya.  Because, in spite of my whining, it was really a very nice place, and there was much to enjoy.

We decided to begin the morning with the breakfast buffet at Havana Moon, the bright turquoise restaurant that I found on that first morning walk around the resort. At 7:30 AM there was still plenty of room, but after we were seated I noticed that the tables were filling up fast and the lounging steps covered with cushions on the far side of the restaurant were filling quickly with waiting customers.

The buffet was huge, with many interesting foods, not all breakfast.  The watermelon and pineapple were fresh and sweet, the special fresh squeezed papaya/orange/pineapple juice was worth two glasses.  I don’t remember another thing that we ate.  Pastries were so-so, once again, the star was the fresh pica de gallo that I put on something I ate, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was.  We don’t eat enough to make a huge buffet really worth the price, but I am glad we tried it once.  The view was nice, and we watched the sun  peek through the darkening clouds as we enjoyed our coffee, and the really great service in spite of it being a buffet.

I still wasn’t aware of the secret method of securing a pool chair, but with the threatening storm we got lucky and snagged two lounges where we deposited our shoes and wraps and slipped into that gorgeous water.  Just after we got in, there was a water aerobics class beginning, right in front of the stairway that was our only exit out of the water! I wasn’t about to exit that pool up those steps in front of all those people!  We swam around a bit, checking out the pool bar, watching kids play ball, and watching the sky get a LOT darker and listening to thunder.

Finally decided that swimming during a thunderstorm wasn’t the brightest choice and we headed home to enjoy the heavy tropical rains from the comfort of our room.  Cards and books kept us entertained until a crazy wild racket started up in the jungle around us.

It sounded like some kind of yelling, or weird construction equipment. I went outside to try to figure it out and eventually found the cause of the ruckus.  We were surrounded by a couple dozen chacalaca birds.  Related to chickens, they travel in groups of a dozen or so, aren’t very good at flying, but hang out in the tree tops. It seemed kind of strange that they hadn’t been around until now, but from this time on they were a constant presence in our part of the jungle.

When evening arrived we looked outside and said, “Nope, we aren’t tackling that walk again in that rain”.  Room service was a phone call away, and we were shocked when they showed up 15 minutes earlier than they had said, with some truly luscious salads, gorgeous presentation, lovely service, and a flower for the table.  It was no more expensive that going out to the restaurants, and was a delightful way to end a rainy day.

By Friday morning I had finally visited with a few people here and there, and learned that I needed to be at the pool or the beach by 7am or so with towels in hand to save chairs.  I know this seems quite awful, but truly, it is the only way to get any place at all to spend a day at the water at this resort, and is an accepted practice.  Once again I made the 2.5 mile round trip walk at 8am, and even then many chairs were already gone, but I did have some choices.

Mo wanted to go back to the infinity pool that we found on our first day here, and I found two great chairs with a sheltering umbrella right in front of the water but away from the shallow sandy part that draws all the little kids. We spent the rest of the day in our lovely spot, entertained by the people around us, families and kids having conversations that seemed like they should be a bit more private.  One family was discussing at length how their father should set up his will while the father was getting his birthday massage at the spa. 

A tiny lady not five feet tall, from Montreal, got in a verbal fight with 3 tall, thin, yes very bitchy women, who didn’t like the towel method and tried to remove her towels from the chairs she was saving for her friends.  They thought they knew the rules and made no bones about it, very loudly, but the tiny lady won.  We were all cheering her on.  I told her I would count on her to watch our chairs while we went swimming!

We were also entertained by two iguanas that seemed to be regulars, hanging around the pool.  Panchito was bigger and incredibly colorful, and her husband Pancho was darker and smaller.  People said they had a clutch of kids around the corner somewhere but we never saw them. 

It is amazing how the hours can slip by with sunshine, getting in and out of the water whenever we felt like it, swimming a bit, and finally enjoying the 2 pm happy hour with nachos and two for one pina coladas for me and zombies for Mo.  I thought two for one meant a pina colada and a zombie, so was a bit taken aback when the waiter delivered 2 of each drink for us.  Good thing they weren’t very strong.

We left our towels and wandered off for a walk around the lagoon, checking out the beautiful gardens and boardwalks on the way to the flamingo park where we sat and watched the birds for some time.  I have never seen flamingos feeding before, watching them drag their beaks in the water to strain out tiny crustaceans was fascinating.

We continued along the pathway to the crocodile enclosure, but it was hard to get photos through the heavy fencing, which I was very glad was there.

The pathway around the lagoon led to the Lago Restaurant, home of the huge buffet and entertainment show that was touted as something not to miss while at the resort.  There was another show that we chose to miss, the Joya Cirque de Soleil, something that Vidanta is known for, with the theater specially built on site to house the acrobatics venue.  The shows were pricey, with $100 USD per person for the Mexican Fiesta and $130 per person up to $175 per person with dinner for the Joya show.  Neither of us had any desire to part with that much money for entertainment, so we skipped both of them.  My daughter said Joya was a fabulous show and worth every penny, so if you ever go, you might want to consider it..

One of the additional benefits of our Grand Luxxe upgrade was access to the fancy Grand Luxxe pool and the Burger Place there at poolside.  Reviews for the burgers were high, but we didn’t think much of the uppity pool.  It was long and narrow with everyone lined up on top of each other.  Not our style at all.  We did think we might try to get there before 5 to try the burgers for our supper, but by 4:30 our tummies were still full from drinks and nachos and we decided instead to amble back home. 

Later on in the evening, the thought of a burger kept coming up  and we decided to order just one to share, via room service.  That burger was huge, and excellent, with fries, and of course the ever present group of little dishes of condiments, and with half each it was a perfectly decent supper right in the comfort of our home space.

Sunday morning dawned with gorgeous blue skies and a lovely breeze.  I so enjoyed my morning walk to the beach, taking in the fresh smells of the thick jungle along the boardwalks, and the sea breezes.  We decided that on this, our last day, we should enjoy the beach.  Arriving at 7:30 AM I found two perfect chairs facing the ocean, under a lovely palapa, and just steps from the entrance to the big pool.

On this morning, picking up some bits for our breakfast, I discovered orejas, the Mexican version of palmiers that I later learned are a Mexican staple that can be found all over Mexico.  Why, oh why didn’t I find these monstrously good things sooner?!  Talk about addictive.  I ate half, and then another bite and another until I ate the entire thing, and it wasn’t small.

We were in our beach chairs by 10, enjoying the sunshine, the gorgeous water, the lovely breezes, and the delightful shade of our palapa.  We sat doing nothing at all, then read a bit, walked up to the nearby pool just behind us for a swim, back to our chairs to sit some more.  A perfect day on a beautiful Mexican beach.

Later in the afternoon I went walking along the water, noticing the thick algae that lined the shoreline after watching people with rakes trying to clear it.  I found a sign explaining the presence of the ugly stuff.  Sigh.  We certainly didn’t want to swim or snorkel in that water, although I did see many people out in the waves beyond the brown stuff that had bits and pieces of garbage here and there.  I kept imagining what my feet might run into on those rocks in that water.  No thanks.

Still, with the clean, cool pool so close by for cooling swims, we had a perfect day on the beach.  In the late afternoon we ambled home to clean up for dinner.  We chose to save our one big special dinner outing for our last night at the resort.  With several very high end restaurants to choose from, it wasn’t an easy choice.  I read the reviews, and hemmed and hawed, trying to decide if we wanted a really fine steak at 100 bucks a pop, authentic Spanish food, (which we aren’t that familiar with enough to take the chance this time around), Blue Fish, which sounded wonderful, but the reviews were less than stellar, the French restaurant which we had checked out earlier and looked just too stuffy, and finally Tramonto, an Italian restaurant that had a lot more than pasta.

Tramonto was a great choice.  We walked to the Grand Luxxe and were lucky enough to get a shuttle to the restaurant, located on the second floor overlooking the pool.  What a delightful dinner!  The ambience wasn’t as Italian as I had hoped for, but it made up for that with fabulous service and truly wonderful food.  I had mouth wateringly tender osso bucco with a green herbed risotto and sauteed mushrooms.  Mo had a perfectly wonderful filet mignon. The salads were fresh and so artistic, and the bread basket was filled with all sorts of creative crackers and breads, including some parmesan crackers that are so popular now since they contain no flour.  Yummy.

Dessert was so much fun.  I ordered the tiramisu, having read a bit about it in a review and I didn’t want to miss the spectacular presentation.  The dessert arrived in a rather unassuming looking round ball of dull chocolate on a white plate.  After placing the plate, the waiter brought forth a pitcher filled with molten chocolate and began to slowly pour it over the ball.  Slowly the hot chocolate melted a hole in the top of the ball, revealing the globular heart of the  tiramisu hidden inside.  It was fun to watch, but oh, so incredibly good as well.  I never get all excited about tiramisu as some people do, but this one was exciting.  With our truly perfect Italian coffee it was a delightful end to a delightful meal.  We even got a shuttle all the way back to our room in the dark, another delight.

With our Mexican week coming to a close the next morning, we stopped at the concierge desk for our final checkout.  It was surprisingly smooth, with a the bell boy picking up our luggage at 10AM as we exited our room, taking it to the main lobby where we would meet up with it once again as we boarded the taxi for the airport.  It seems as though all shuttles are going to the Main Lobby, and this morning it was no exception.  The bell boy at the lobby arranged our cab, $35 USD to the airport, luggage loaded and we were comfortably transported to the Cancun airport and dropped off at our departure terminal.

Leaving Mexico was MUCH easier than getting into Mexico, and we were checked in and through security in a very short time.  With a couple of hours to kill before we boarded our plane, we found a place to eat on the other side of security where we split a sandwich to share with a good Dos XX beer at the Guy Fieri restaurant, with his shows playing on all the tv’s.  Sure didn’t feel much like we were in Mexico!

The flight home was completely uneventful, with too many clouds to see anything at all.  Mo and I had booked aisle seats across from each other, and with the very full flight, that was a good choice.  We both love not having to crawl over anyone to get to the restroom. During the flights, I reviewed some of my blog notes, finished the book I was reading, and did nothing at all for part of the time. 

I can barely remember de-planing in San Francisco, where we had to pick up our luggage, go through customs, and then again check our luggage on to Medford.  For a time there was a bit of worry about missing the flight, but by the time all was said and done we landed safely in Medford a few minutes early.  Such easy flights, both coming and going! 

As I said at the beginning of these stories, in spite of some of the moments of frustration, overall it was a perfect little week long vacation in Mexico.  Not too expensive, easy, and really quite nice.  I find that looking back on the memories and the photos, gives me a chance to realize just how nice it was. Is that a bit like labor?  You forget the hard parts and just remember how good it all is!  Good enough to do it again.

1-26 and 1-27 2014 Cruise Like a Norwegian

We are back in New Orleans where it is 68 F and very foggy.  This is the first of several posts about our Western Caribbean Cruise

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansOur first cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines left the Port of New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, right on time at 4PM.  We have cruised with other lines but never Norwegian, and after reading the reviews and hearing a few stories from friend Maryruth, we didn’t have any expectations for anything other than a simple cruise to escape some of the cold weather on the mainland.  I had heard rumors about the food being ‘not-so-great’ and had my own hesitation about spending a week amidst those primary colors that so characterize this NCL ship.

delightful hallwaysI was right about the primary colors.  They are everywhere, but instead of being jarring they are energizing.  Actually, it’s a lot of fun walking the long hallways on this ship, with bright turquoise doors, brightly colored fish on the carpet, and warm teakwood walls.  In fact, that brilliant turquoise is everywhere….in the tiles on our bathroom floor….in the brilliant velvet seats in the theater… in the main Atrium lobby mid-ship. 

With no expectations for luxury, imagine my delight to find that the bed in the stateroom is one of the best we can remember on any cruise in the last 11 years.  We had no need to beg for a piece of foam to make it tolerable, with the firm, non sagging surface nicely cushioned and honest to goodness real feather pillows.  With calm seas last night, I slept like a baby. 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansThe embarkation process was interesting, with much longer lines before the security checkpoint than we remembered in the past, but once through security the boarding process was quick and efficient.  Unlike other lines, NCL not only takes the ID photo at the check in desk, but also registers your spending credit card at that time.  No extra work required. 

We had read about the restaurants, and knew that we wanted to try at least one paid restaurant.  Having already decided on the Brazilian steakhouse, it was convenient to make a reservation at a desk along the walkway to the ship, even before we boarded.  Once we entered the ship, there were bright balloons and banners everywhere, and a LOT of noise and a LOT of people.  Everything seemed very festive. 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansGoing on a cruise does require an ability to set aside a distaste for crowds, at least for a time, and just relax into the fun of watching all the crazy people who go on a cruise.  This particular cruise seemed much different than others we have experienced in several ways, the kind of people cruising being one of the most notable.  Although there are people our age along, there are also a great number, the majority, of younger folks.  So far no one has been particularly boisterous in a negative way, but the high energy and willingness to have a good time is clearly evident.

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansWe noticed it especially during the Sail Away deck party last night.  No stuffy people here!  Folks were jumping out and dancing and even with the cool temperatures the top decks were full of excited people having fun and enjoying the beautiful views of New Orleans as we cruised down the mighty Mississippi toward the Gulf of Mexico. The great river meanders in wide circles as it flows east and south, and a couple of hours after embarkation, we found ourselves looking once again at the New Orleans skyline. 

Mo and I laughed as we passed an old building destroyed by Katrina, that we recognized from our drive back and forth from the NAS at Belle Chasse, and waved at the MoHo somewhere nearby waiting for our return. Accompanied by a beautiful red sun dropping below the horizon, we explored the ship a bit before returning to our room where our luggage was waiting.  It is always good to see your luggage by that door!  Since we are traveling for 3 months in the MoHo, with extra space somewhat limited, Mo and I managed to consolidate our cruise luggage for the 7 day cruise to one medium sized suitcase and a couple of carry-ons.

our stateroomOur stateroom at first seemed smaller than we were used to, and the balcony holds two chairs and a very small table.  Instead of the wide open balconies on Princess, these are enclosed, with the opening to the sea outside the sliding doors more of a very large porthole than a true balcony.  However, the biggest reason for a balcony is to have the ability to open the doors to the sea, and fresh air, so the lack of direct sunshine isn’t too difficult to manage.  The other nice thing about this is that no one is looking down on us from above, and so far it seems we have been spared the invisible smoking neighbors that can ruin a balcony cruise.

around the shipOur room has drapes that are bright shades of turquoise, the carpet is orange, turquoise, and purple.  The walls are warm teak and the pictures on the walls are brilliant colors of the Caribbean.  I wonder what that is like when the ship is cruising to Alaska as it does before it returns to New Orleans?! 

Once unpacked and settled in, we found that the smaller cabin wasn’t a problem, since the bathroom was quite roomy, with separate areas for the toilet, the sink, and the shower, each enclosed by sliding glass doors.  The closet is much smaller than Princess closets, but with only one case between us, that wasn’t a problem.  Without the formal dress requirements on this cruise, maybe big closets are not a necessity.  We have plenty of room, the space below the bed is large enough to store empty luggage with ease, and there are nice cubbyholes here and there that accommodate everything.

dinner at the  Tsars Palace dining roomWe opted for our first dinner on board in the Tsar’s Palace formal dining room.  Dressed in capris and decent tops, we were a bit concerned about the written requirement that ladies wear skirts in this dining room.  We didn’t bring skirts on this cruise and certainly didn’t want to don our dresses.  We were among the more conservatively dressed people, however, and I think we saw maybe a skirt or two the entire evening.  As I said, this is a very relaxed venue, and formality and stuffiness isn’t part of the experience.

We actually loved the dining room and enjoyed all the high energy conversation and people around us.  With the reservation I made in the afternoon for 7 pm, we passed the waiting line and were shown to our table for two immediately.  The service was excellent, and the food was great.  Not gourmet, but just really good, well prepared food.  I forgot to mention that our first meal onboard early in the afternoon was at the Garden Café buffet and it was also quite good.

cruise day 1_087Sometimes on Princess, the buffet food is lifeless, without flavor, almost institution style.  Here we had great salads that were fresh and flavorful, and the flow of the food areas seemed to be much less congested and easy to navigate than we have found in the Horizon Courts on Princess.  Hmmmm….so far, NCL is doing a pretty good job of winning us over.  We still enjoy Princess, but if this cruise continues as it has begun, we won’t avoid NCL opportunities if the price is right and the destination fits our needs.

The introductory show last night in the theater was just OK, with an interesting mix of performers.  There are people from 60 countries serving on this ship and that is reflected in the entertainment venues as well.  Especially entertaining, however, was a couple from France that performed a short Cirque routine that was impressive.  I am sure we will be sure to catch that one when it is scheduled.

cruise day 2_019The cruise director seemed to address the audience as working people who were on vacation rather than retirees on a cruise.  There seems to be a lot of entertainment on board in the various bars and restaurants, but we opted for those comfy beds.  Our morning waiting around in the hotel had been exhausting.  Can’t figure that out at all, but we were worn out and ready for bed when the show ended at ten.

This morning we slept till 7, very late for us, but with no cat walking on our head and no dog clicking her paws on the tile, there was nothing to wake us at 5. We are on deck 8, right by the elevators, so are doing well at avoiding getting lost.  The Garden Café is on the 12th deck and again, we found the breakfast to be flavorful and delightful.  The bacon actually tasted like bacon and the watermelon was fresh and perfectly ripe. 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansTaking our coffee to the aft covered patio, we relaxed and enjoyed the slightly warmer breezes coming from the Gulf.  Still sweatshirt weather, but much warmer than New Orleans.  Took to the track to walk a mile, then down to the shopping area to see what was on board.  This area is much different than the individual shops on Princess.  Here the duty free shop is one large venue and has the usual mish mash of cutesy stuff for sale, as well as liquor and cigarettes, candy bars, sweatshirts and perfume. 

Wandering back to our room, I decided I wanted a good cappuccino and stopped in at the mid ship coffee bar.  We managed  to get to the central atrium just in time for the cooking demonstration, yet early enough to snag a couple of comfortable chairs.  I must say that this was the most entertaining mid-ship show I have ever seen.

first morning at seaOf course, I didn’t have the camera with me….so I don’t have any kind of record of the fantastic demonstration put on the by sushi chefs, making a California Roll recipe, and then passing around perfect bites and an entire plate of beautiful sushi that was shared by the lucky recipient in the front row.  That demonstration was followed by the Executive Chef who seared a perfect filet and then made a fabulous green peppercorn sauce as accompaniment. Perfect little bites of filet and sauce with the potato au gratin were again passed around the crowd.  The final demonstration was of a delightful little French apple dessert with caramel, and of course we all got a bit of that as well.  The highlight of the show, however, was put on by the knife wielding tableside chefs of the Teppanyaki Restaurant. 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansOf course, they were tempting us to pay the various fees for the 8 specialty dining  venues that range in cost from $15 to $30 per person and as much as $99 for some fancy French 9 course dinner.  Some folks are not happy with the paid venues, thinking that a cruise should provide this kind of dining experience as part of the package cost. There are two formal dining rooms available with no extra charge. This cruise was relatively inexpensive, and for the cost we are getting a great deal.  I am willing to pick and choose from more luxurious meals if I wish to do so.

I must leave in a few minutes for my pedicure!  Can’t hit the beaches of Cozumel with chipped toenails! 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New Orleans inside the Spinnaker LoungeLate afternoon:  The seas are still calm, and with our east facing cabin on the port side of the ship, we are in the afternoon shadow.  The warmth in the air seems to increase with every hour.  I am from the west side of the US.  Disliking humidity is supposed to be part of the western genetic makeup, and like most anyone else, I don’t particularly like 99 percent humidity and 99 degrees on a hot summer day.  But there is something about being enveloped in warm, moist, tropical air that smells of sea and flowers that is so incredibly soothing.  My skin, dry and cracked from winter cold and dry air, sucks up the moisture like an old cactus that hasn’t seen rain in a year.

cruise day 3_009My time in the spa was delightful, with a pampering foot massage to accompany my pedicure.  Surprisingly, it cost no more than such treatment costs back home in Klamath Falls, without the addition of a sea view and a few flying fish to entertain me here and there. 

Mid-afternoon Mo and I decided to go to the pool deck, and while there was the usual shortage of deck chairs around the pool, Deck 13, just above the pools, had a couple of chairs for us near the railing with a view below.  Mo settled in with her book and I went back down the stairs to the pool.  There are two pools mid-ship on deck 12, with one designated for adults only.  There were a few people in the water, but no one was really swimming.  I jumped in and had enough room to do a few laps after I adjusted to the chilly water.  Diving below the surface, I was surprised to come up for air with salty water in my eyes.  These pools are salt water from the ocean, crystal clear but very salty.  The salt makes the water especially buoyant, which is fun for swimming and just floating on your back looking at the sky.

Cozumel sailaway with a reggae band on the pool deckBeside the pools are hot tubs, popular on this moderately cool afternoon, and a nice fresh water shower to get the salt out of your hair.  Back to my deck chair in the sun and a bit of an afternoon snack.  Are you getting the idea?  The people around me are basically irrelevant.  They provide visual entertainment to go along with the very good Latin band that is playing poolside.  Some folks are really enjoying the Spanish lyrics and singing along.  Mo reads, I nap until I get too chilled from my wet swim suit and suggest we might go back to our cabin.

As I watch the sky, feel the air, and listen to the music, I keep thinking of all those people I know who say they would hate to go on a cruise.  Too boring, too confining, too many people….all the usual responses of non cruisers who insist it must be just awful.  I am an outdoor person, I love to hike and bike and kayak, I love camping in wild places, boondocking in the desert, and yes….I do love a good cruise!  Especially with interesting skies, calm seas, and warm air.  Cozumel sailaway with a reggae band on the pool deck