Bluewater Blog Day 7&8

30 11 2011

Blue Water Blogging Days 7 & 8 – Panama City

Tuesday-Wednesday, 11/29-30/11

 

Hi everyone!

 

After our introduction to Central American culture on Costa Rica, we again returned to the Coral Princess for a sea day yesterday. Our days have now settled into a routine. After being out for a long day in Costa Rica, we slept in. For those of you who are accustomed to seeing us on line at 6 am, you realize what a change in routine this is for us.

 

The attraction for the day was the brown boobies and frigate birds who are flying past the ship grabbing the flying fish that are startled by the ship’s passage. The brown boobies were so named because since they first discovered ships, they rest on the rigging and were easily caught by early sailors. We were told that boobie is a form of Spanish meaning stupid.

 

The boobies and frigate birds gracefully glide through the air on the wind, easily passing the ship. When they pass by, it is hard not to be amused by their clown like faces and expressions.

 

We also enjoyed another wine tasting by the sommelier. The feature was Caymus Reserve, which sells for $155 a bottle. If you choose to buy a bottle on board, the sommelier will happily open it at your table. This will not be happening for us, but we did enjoy the taste. The other discovery was Spellbound by one of the younger Mondavis.

 

Today we visited new and old Panama City. Old Panama city was destroyed by Henry Morgan the pirate, who is not held in high regard since he killed and enslaved hundreds of inhabitants. No need to look for Captain Morgan rum in Panama! Only ruins of old Panama City are left. The inhabitants attempted to discourage Henry Morgan by burning the city. The problem was it was impossible to burn the gold. The city was then moved to a different area, and that city is still in use today. 

 

New Panama City is known as the Dubai of South America and includes a Trump Tower. Just like Dubai, an island is being built to make more land to build on. Panama City is an interesting mix of sky scrapers and older buildings. Since Panama City is also a World Heritage site, many older buildings are being gutted and rebuilt saving only the facade.

 

Panama City is a regional banking hub with over 100 banks having a presence. One side of town has luxury auto sales and another has shopping areas for the poor. The year 2014 is a magic year. That year, the expansion of the canal will be complete, the subway system of Panama City will be complete, and many renovation projects will be complete – or so everyone believes. Unless new projects are found, the double digit expansion of the economy will fall to 4% because so much construction will stop. It is hard to imagine so much will be completed in three years.

 

Since Princess made its reservation a year ago, we will make our transit of the canal tomorrow. We plan on champagne breakfast in our stateroom and made our sign to hang off our balcony so the ship videographers will capture us on the cruise video. (Since our puppy is now more mature, we are hoping he will not eat this one like he did our Transatlantic DVD.) More shortly on the Panama Canal backstory!

 

Yvonne & John





Blue Water Blogging Day 6 – Costa Rica

30 11 2011

Blue Water Blogging Day 6 – Costa Rica
Monday 11/28/11

Hi all –

Imagine that you could see the butterflies from a zoo-like terrarium in San Francisco or elsewhere around the country, the scarlet macaws (like parrots) from the pet stores, and the houseplants sitting on your sunny winter windowsills and experience them in the wild. That, my friends, is Costa Rica!

Our day in port was long and intriguing. We began with a long bus ride through the city of Puntarenas out into the countryside. What first struck us is how poor everything appeared, but we learned appearances can be deceiving. The main export of Costa Rica? I doubt you’ll guess it – more revealed later!

Costa Rica was formed when volcanic activity (part of the Ring of Fire circling the Pacific Rim) caused a land bridge to form between the two American continents. When this occurred, animals, birds and insects began a migration between north and south that caused a unique blending of species in this very green country. And luckily, the humans who eventually settled here in larger numbers did not mess things up!

The first thing you’ll notice outside the cities is the massive amounts of verdant green. As we visit this side of the country (the other side being on the Caribbean) it is the beginning of the dry season, and river levels and rainfall are dropping. However, unlike back home when dry season means no rain, here it means instead that the rain only falls for a few inches each week – not inches in a day! This makes everything lush even when it’s ‘dry’.

Next, you’ll notice that it seems that some trees have lost their leaves. Again, unlike the deciduous trees at home that are bare during our winters, these trees lose their leaves to ensure their survival when water isn’t as plentiful. The interesting thing, though, is that many of these same trees are now blooming like crazy!

A well fed croc

Our tour ventured out on the Tarcoles River, and in addition to dozens of different kinds of birds flying around, the best part was the crocodiles! Yes, being up close and personal with 12-15 foot long ancient beasts was a thrill! They have no natural predators other than man, and since they bring tourists, everyone seems to feel very kindly towards them! You can imagine, though, that seeing an open mouth on one of these babies from 6 feet away (he was cooling himself, or so we were told) was awesome!

We lost count of how many crocs we saw. Suffice to say that we got a ton of pictures of birds, iguanas, and adult to baby crocs, and we have a newfound respect for them. Do you know that they can eat once a year and be satisfied? This would explain the locals fishing in close proximity to the beasts! Guess it’s not feeding day for the year!

After a snack of fresh local fruit including pineapple and bananas, we headed off to the rainforest tram and hike. This company has preserved hundreds of acres in different places in the Caribbean rainforest for these nonprofit reserves. Everything they use to build the trams, like the towers, are flown in via helicopter. No path is cut under the wires and all is left in a pristine and natural condition. No replanting is done – Ma Nature just does her thing!

Small gondolas are strung through the rainforest canopy and you see more iguanas (in trees to escape from their predators like bobcats down on the rainforest floor), trees and flowers. Massive heliconias (think long hanging versions of birds of paradise), gingers, morning glories, and an array of other flowers were evident everywhere we turned. Things like philodendrons grow to be trees here, or they vine up the existing tree trunks into the highest parts of the canopy. We even got to see our own houseplant varieties in the wild! (Note to self – do NOT transplant these to larger pots and go easy on the fertilizer!)

Perhaps most interesting were the leafcutter ants. Trails of these creatures are everywhere, and you notice them because pieces of bright green leaves are marching across the ground or up trees! Cue the Disney music! They don’t eat the leaves but use them to grow fungi in their nests, and that provides their food supply. We have pictures of the ant crossing signs – no joke!

Part of our hike took us through the serpentarium, and we learned more about the ways to tell the difference between poisonous snakes and non-venomous ones. That was about as close as we wanted to get to native snakes, thank you very much! Some were pretty, but you wouldn’t want to find yourself eye to eye with one on the hike as it suspended out of a tree!

Back to the whole issue of poverty. When you come here via ship, don’t let what looks like poor hovels and lots of debris in the streets dissuades you from coming back. We arrived on a Monday early morning. Many families have places near the harbor for weekends on the water. (Yes, they are right on the Pacific coast beach.) In the major cities and the interior, families pack up themselves and their pets along with a whole lot of friends and head to their cabanas on the beach for the weekend. While they may not look like much, these cabins are actually worth a lot of money. Looks can be deceiving!

Are you ready to learn about the chief export? Microchips!!! Intel has a huge facility here (as do others)! Costa Rica is also a major manufacturing site for very intricate medical equipment and devices and other fine-skill production. Yes, they also export bananas, pineapples, mangoes, and a whole lot of agricultural products, but the skilled labor here is even more highly valued.

We are intrigued by the people, who seemed to be very welcoming, and the country, which is gorgeous! Costa Rica by itself is a destination not to be missed!

Yvonne & John





First Cruise: Food

27 11 2011

No matter how hard you try you can’t avoid being tempted by the varieties of food offered on board. After all, one of the highlights of a cruise is the food, lots of it and all excellent. Food is available 24 hours a day. The food from the buffet to the specialty dining is meant to delight. Here’s a summary of the stuff you can enjoy!

Breakfast
There are many ways to start break your fast: a sit down full service meal in a dining room, breakfast in the buffet, breakfast in your stateroom, or a light breakfast in one of the locations like the specialty coffee bar. Some days a pastry and mocha is enough; on others, the buffet line makes you want to load the big oval plates to the max!

If your preference is a full service breakfast, show up during service times in the breakfast venue and will be seated with others arriving at the same time. You will order from an ala carte menu.

Most passengers chose the convenience of the buffet for breakfast instead. We normally have breakfast and lunch in the buffet, to both control calorie intake and to allow us to have a flexible schedule.

You can also have breakfast in your stateroom. Room service is complementary on most cruise lines. You may have an option of a champagne breakfast with a service charge, and often there are specials on holidays like Mother’s Day where a unique and sumptuous multi-course menu is served on your balcony or at your cabin table. Look out for the special menu offerings as these are usually unique and extensive ‘events’ that may take you hours to even dent!

Lunch
At lunch you also have the option of flexible seating in a full service dining room, buffet dining, or other complementary or specialty (additional charge) areas on the ship. Pizza is often complementary. Depending on your cruise line, burgers and hot dogs are available in a complementary or additional fee venue.

Some lines like Holland America have upscale specialty dining areas also open for lunch. At the time of this writing, Royal Caribbean’s very popular Johnny Rocket is an extra fee venue. For us on Princess, all of the food for lunch is complementary and again, we enjoy the buffet most of all. The menus change daily and there’s usually a theme for the day. Today there was poached salmon, salmon in pastry, and made to order pasta specials in addition to many hot and cold selections.

Dinner
Most lines will give you the choice of a set dining time (early or late) know as traditional dining. When you book your cruise, you will be given the option of seating times, early or late. Also popular is any time dining, know by different names on each line. The best part of anytime dining is the freedom to decide when you want to eat each evening. The worst part is that sometimes you have to wait and on Princess, you receive an electronic pager to notify you when your table is ready. And yes, you can decide to dine with others or at a private table!

If you are a lobster fan, one formal night is usually lobster night. Check with your waiter to make sure you don’t miss it. Depending on the length of the cruise, one or more of the dining nights will be formal night. Some people really get into formal night, with tuxes and ball gowns. If you do not want to dress up at all, it is a good night to visit one of the specialty restaurants, to head for the buffet, or to enjoy room service, which is also usually complementary. If you are not uncomfortable being less formal on formal night they will not refuse to seat you in your regular dining room. We are finding more men showing up on formal night with just a shirt and tie, or even just a Hawaiian shirt. It will depend on the mix of passengers on your cruise.

The waiters may push bottled water in the dining rooms and even the buffets. These are at extra charge and you can ask for regular tap water. The ship will distill water so it is safe to drink and in most cases better tasting than municipal water. We normally only buy bottled water for shore excursions.





Bluewater Blog Day 5: Food

27 11 2011

Blue Water Blogging Day 5 At Sea – FOOD!!!
Sunday, 11/27/11

Hi Everyone!

Those of you who know us well know that we live to eat. Good food is one of the pleasures of our lives. So of course, we sampled the specialty fine dining venues on Coral Princess. It is hard to imagine that the specialty restaurants are not more popular on board ships, you will get meals that would cost over $100 per person back home, all for a fraction of the cost.

Specialty Fine Dining
Bayou and Sabatini’s are the fine dining specialty restaurants on our current ship, the Coral Princes. Bayou serves Cajun and Creole cuisine and is the ship’s steak house. Sabatini’s features Italian cruise. A cover charge of $20 per person applies and will be one of the best spent $20 of your life.

Fine Dining at Bayou

Bayou has a New Orleans inspired ambiance, including nightly live jazz. In addition to Cajun and Creole cuisine, steak choices range from a 10 ounce beef tenderloin filet to a 22 ounce porterhouse. Surf and turf is also an option, and despite Yvonne begging for a small portion of lobster tail and tenderloin, the amount of food that was delivered was inspiring. John had the 10 ounce fillet which was perfectly cooked and so tender, it could have been cut with a fork. Buying the fillet alone back home would have cost $20.

The entrees are accompanied with family style sides to share, including fried green tomatoes, succotash, and potatoes. Per the sommelier’s recommendation, we had the fried peach pie, and agree it is one of the best desserts on the ship (no small feat). Also per the sommelier’s recommendation we accompanied the meal with Elements by Artesa, a balanced, complex meritage of Sonoma grapes.

The beginning of the meal at Sabatini's

If you have been on Princess before and experienced Sabatini’s, gone is the gut busting Italian eating marathon. Sabatini’s has recently been changed to an ala carte menu, and the pasta serving is now more reasonable. The pasta course changes nightly. Just like the other dinner venues, you have choices of appetizers, soup or salad, entree, and dessert. The pasta course is chosen by the chef each day. We started with a bottle of Barolo that made our mouth water just on nose alone!

For appetizer, John had an artichoke soufflé. Yvonne couldn’t decide between the soft shell crab and mushroom tart. Ivan, our server, asked permission to choose for her. She got the server’s choice of mushroom tart AND the soft shell crab! The mushroom tart was Ivan’s favorite and was the first indication we should just trust his recommendations.

John had duck that was accompanied with a candied fruit soaked in mostardo. That candied fruit was so awesome that John is already on a quest to find a recipe to reproduce it. Yvonne believes you can never have too much lobster and had her third such entree of the cruise. Lobster tails arrive in their shells and part of the table service is removal of the shells. At least tonight, the tail was not as huge as it had been at Bayou earlier in the trip!

Ivan’s dessert recommendation of a Neapolitan with praline crusts instead of pastry in between the layers – three different kinds of praline each made up of different kinds of nuts – a delightful combination of three soft custards and the crunchy pralines. If you are ever luck enough to be served by Ivan from Serbia or someone who is as clearly food crazy as we are, just have him make your menu selections for you!

All of this discussion about food is making us hungry! Tonight we’re going to try to get diner in early so that we can get to bed early. Tomorrow is a 10 hour day adventure in Costa Rica which includes meals too! Yum!!!

Of course we took pictures of the food, but the satellite link on the ship makes it difficult to upload, so we will drive you crazy with the pictures later..ww

Yvonne & John





Blue Water Blogging Days 3&4 Enroute to the Panama Canal

26 11 2011

Blue Water Blogging Days 3 & 4
Saturday 11/26/11

Hi all –                      

We are definitely sailing quickly into the southern latitudes! The heat is increasing – about 89 today is predicted for the high. And the humidity is equally high, though how high we don’t know since the reading is not coming across on the Coral information channel. It says N/A, but that may just be a ploy so that passengers don’t complain about it!

The ship moves surprisingly fast over these open waters. We cover about 500 miles a day, and it’s truly amazing to watch the countries pass by on the map. Granted, we can’t see them from the ship after Mexico a couple of days ago. Just lots of open flat water surrounds us.

Even though we’ve been on a couple of trips now over open oceans for days on end, we’re still surprised at how calm the waters are. We get more waves in our pool on a windy day at home! There is barely any undulation at all today – no waves to speak of and definitely no whitecaps. The rough seas featured in adventure movies or on the news about someone trying to sail around the world single-handed appear to be a lot less prevalent than most people think, us included.

After a few days at sea, people settle into calm routines as well. There is a lot to do onboard in terms of planned lectures, activities, classes, and of course, eating. Today we’re seating ourselves in the Wheelhouse Bar, which is styled as a large lounge area with deep club chairs and sofas, lots of intimate seating, and a dance floor and band area. During the day when classes are not being held here, it turns into a home for bridge players, readers, those on computers, and many just hanging out and people-watching. The conversational Spanish class is just starting, something very popular among a large crowd here.

We attended a sommelier wine tasting the other day, this one of premium wines paired with food. It is always interesting to sit at a table of eight and hear everyone’s different opinion about what constitutes ‘tasty’ to them. There are two other wine tastings coming up on each Sunday afternoon, also hosted by the sommelier. In those, he’ll talk more about wine traits and characteristics and how that wine can be described. He also gives us ideas about other wines on the list and their appropriate pairings. We’ve found some personal favorite wines at these events in the past, ones we continue to find and enjoy once we get home.

Update – the Promenade is outside the windows, and the railing is lined with people watching turtles go by! They look small this high above the waterline, but their shells are probably about three feet across.

(We’re up to 18-minute miles around the deck now BTW, as of our early morning jaunt today! And we can walk up three flights – which vary between 16 and 22 steps – without having our muscles give out! Yeah!)

And what do we do in the evenings? We usually begin our evening watching the sunset from our balcony. While we’ve lost one hour of time so far and will lose another tonight, the sun is going down before 5 pm (and coming up about 5:30 am). We’ll attempt to attach a sunset shot here (note a ship on the horizon to the right in the shot), though since the internet connection can vary in effectiveness, we’re not sure what will come through.

A couple of nights ago, we saw a great comedian/juggler. It might not sound like much, but imagine a guy balancing on one leg as the ship moves while juggling knives and you can see the appeal! And his jokes were great, more like a running commentary on life that a stand-up routine. His artistry in his juggling act made Yvonne think about trying something similar at home – not with knives of course (maybe more like beanbags!)

Sidebar – thought the class was Spanish. It’s actually the daily trivia contest – today it’s ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and a couple of people have asked if they can come to us to google answers! Teams are playing for prizes and $$$. Fun!

Last night after dinner we came here to Wheelhouse to listen to the band, enjoy an after dinner drink, and dance. There are dance classes of different kinds on board – country-western, contemporary, ballroom. John’s dancing talents have improved and we’re now able to successful negotiate a four-count beat without stepping on each other’s toes or running into other couples. If we weren’t so busy, we’d try the ballroom classes, a different dance each day. But who has time?!?

Tonight we will be attending the Captain’s reception for Circle Club members. It’s a meet-and-greet with the captain and senior officers, with canapés and drinks provided. Then we’re off to Sabatini’s, the Italian specialty restaurant. We tried the Bayou Steakhouse the other night, and tomorrow we’ll review both of those here.

Suffice to say, one never has a chance to get hungry here unless you lock yourself in your cabin, and even then, there’s room service! We’ll talk about the many food options available tomorrow as well! Now, maybe it’s time for lunch – it’s been almost three hours since breakfast!

Yvonne & John





Bluewater Blog Days one and two

24 11 2011

Blue Water Blogging for Days 1 & 2

Thursday, 11/24/11 

Hi everyone – 

It’s been a lazy but busy couple of days aboard the Coral Princess, so lazy that we haven’t been inclined to write our blog.  As we write this, we’re out in the open ocean west of Puerto Vallarta.  And as it’s formal night, today is busy yet again.  But first, let’s catch you up on what’s happened so far. 

 

Almost There!

Our flight to LAX was uneventful with a little space to spread out – about the best that you can hope for these days.  Before we even reached baggage claim, we were met by a Princess representative who checked us off for our transfer to the ship.  With big bags located and turned over to the staff, we boarded a bus and wound our way through LA traffic to San Pedro, where the cruise ships dock in the industrial port area.  Check in as an Elite Preferred Princess member was quick and after a short wait in the VIP lounge, we were on board and in our cabin by noon.  It couldn’t be easier!

 The Coral is a smaller ship – narrow without the large center area that typically houses interior cabins and shorter than the last ships we’ve been on, short enough to fit inside the length of the locks.  Along with its sister ship the Island, it was build specifically to sail through the Panama Canal.  Instead of long straight halls on the cabin decks where you can see from end to end on the ship, it has a series of corners in and out, which makes distance harder to gauge.  It’s very easy to get around the ship, though – everything feels like it’s close by and quick to get to.

 We played the scavenger game designed to introduce you to the features of the ship, and quickly moved through the different levels to get our cards stamped.  Lunch was in the Horizon buffet, again smaller than on ships in the larger classes but that gives it an easy intimate feel.  Horizon is where we usually hang out for breakfast and lunch, and it seems to be very popular with the crowd on this voyage. 

A word about that crowd.  We have seen one child so far – an infant of just a few months’ age.  The number of canes, walkers, wheelchairs and scooters is pretty remarkable.  There are some younger couples on board, but the for the most part, we’re feeling very young in comparison to most of the other guests!  Such a novelty!  That was evident at the sailaway party, which was kind of quiet and as soon as the drawings for the scavenger prizes were done, the group got very small! 

What do you do during a sea day?  Many people we talked to before the trip were curious and wondered if they’d be bored.  The answer:  If you’re bored during a day off at home, you might be bored here, but only if you want to be!  There is so much to choose from that we’ve had to plan for the things we really want to make sure we do! 

Here are some examples of how we keep busy – and remember, it’s only part way into our day 2: 

  • Coffee in La Patisserie in the morning
  • Bingo with a progressively larger major jackpot – starting at $1000
  • Lectures on topics related to the trip or other interesting subjects, like the “Ring of Fire” volcanoes that surround the Pacific Rim and feature prominently in the countries we’ll be visiting
  • Lotus Spa appointments
  • Power walking on the Promenade around the ship – 2.8 times around equaling a mile (we’re up to a mile and a half in just under 30 minutes as of today)
  • Whale watching (saw two pods yesterday as we were walking)
  • British style pub lunch
Fine Dining at sea

Dinner at the Bayou, with surf and turf made to your specifications

 

  • Lots of stairs to climb or go down if you choose them (we have goals set here, but we’re not sharing those yet!) 

If none of that sounds exciting, there are plenty of places to park yourself and read, write, or just people watch.  There is seating outside of each of the lounge areas, lining windows alongside the Promenade, outside on the upper deck and on the Promenade itself.  And for us, there’s always our big balcony too!

 Right now, we’re counting down to the Sommelier’s Wine Club Event, a tasting of premium wines served with canapés.  Then a bit later, canapés will be delivered to our mini-suite, so that we don’t starve (!) before the formal dinner tonight.  Yes, since it’s Thanksgiving, there is turkey included on the menu selections tonight! 

And for those of you who are football enthusiasts, you’ll appreciate that the three key games played stateside today are being broadcast on the big outdoor screen in the Movies Under the Stars area midship on the pool deck!  Haven’t been able to find the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade though… 

Tomorrow, we’re trying to plan nothing to do.  More soon on how successful that is!!! 

Yvonne & John








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