Sunday, April 17, 2016

Mrs. Weinstock's bouncing baby boy does the canal (again) and then some

In 2006, Barb and I and friends Jane and Rick Moser took a 15-day cruise from Miami to San Francisco. We arrived in San Francisco exactly 10 years ago today. This is the story of that trip:


The saga starts on February 11, 2005 when I received a message from my friend Rick Moser. It said, in part:
I wasn't going to say anything until later, but I ran across this cruise for April 2006 that just was too good to pass up.  It's on Celebrity's Infinity from Ft. Lauderdale to San Francisco.  It's a 15 night cruise with enough at sea days to please me. Just wondering if you and Barb would have any interest in this cruise.
Now, the end points suggest either a trip through the Straits of Magellan at Tierra del Fuego or through the Panama Canal. Since I'd already been through the canal (in January 2004) I was rooting for the former, but that would be impossible to do in 15 nights in any boat that I'd like to be on so I knew it was the latter.

In any event I figured that the whole idea was moot because there was no way that Barb would agree to such a trip. It would mean over two weeks away from our (then) 10 year old daughter, Lizzy, and the most we'd ever been away before was two nights (three times: one of which was to attend the wedding of Rick and Jane's daughter Alison.) But what the hell, I asked her anyway. Speaking of the great inferno, it froze a little that day. While I expected to hear, "that's nice, but it's too long", what I really heard was "sure, that sounds like fun!"

So before she could change her mind, I booked Sky Suite 6118 on the April 2, 2006 sailing of the Celebrity Infinity from Ft. Lauderdale to San Francisco. The Mosers had already booked Celebrity Suite 6104 which was much bigger, with a separate bedroom, a living room with a table to seat four, floor to ceiling windows curving out from the side of the ship, a computer terminal, etc. We had briefly considered the adjoining/connecting identical suite 6106 but I knew that Barb would enjoy having a balcony, hence our choice of room.

With the reservation made, we had to figure out how to deal with Lizzy who we couldn't exactly leave at home alone. Maybe if she were 11, but definitely not at 10. :) The grandparents came to the rescue. Harland and Toni Lytle agreed to spend the two weeks with Lizzy and our dogs Lacey and Rosita so that we could get away.

The above was all completed by March 3, 2005. Then the planning and waiting began.

Mind you, all of the above happened prior to our 2005 Alaskan cruise (with Barb's son Chris, his then-wife Amy, and their two kids, Christopher and Chase), and also prior to the Mosers 2005 Hawaiian cruise. But had we waited the great rooms we reserved would not have been available. (There are only 8 Celebrity Suites, and 32 Sky Suites on the whole ship...which carries 2,000 passengers when full.)

As the cruise got closer, we began planning shore excursions for the various ports. The ship would be stopping in Aruba, transiting the canal and stopping for a few hours near Panama City, then Costa Rica, and three stops along the Mexican Riviera. We eventually settled on a sunset cruise plus a day of car rental in Aruba, a visit to the Panama Canal Visitor's Center the evening after the transit of the canal, a hike through a rain forest in Costa Rica, snorkeling in Huatulco, Mexico, nothing (Jane signed up for a turtle release program) in Acapulco, Mexico, and nothing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Getting to the Ship

We started on our trip by flying to Florida. Getting to Florida was simple. US Airways and Southwest both offer nonstop service in that market. Coming home from San Francisco was a different matter as both required stops. I eventually decided to book first class tickets on US Airways using frequent flier miles. We'd fly into Palm Beach to spend the night with my parents who were wintering in Boca Raton. Almost as soon as we had all booked our flights Celebrity notified us that the ship would be leaving from Miami instead of Fort Lauderdale. Not a huge distance, and not a huge problem...but a bit of an inconvenience.

So on April 1, 2006 we said goodbye to Lizzy (and hello to the grandparents) and got in the taxi that was awaiting us at 7:30am for the quick ride to the airport. The flight was totally uneventful (the best kind) and we arrived at West Palm Beach on time. From a previous trip over President's Day weekend, we knew that the sleeping accommodations in my parent's apartment were not comfortable so we had elected to stay at a nearby Marriott. We had a nice lunch with them on the way from the airport to the hotel, and then spent the afternoon at their apartment, and all went to dinner.

Chuck and David Weinstock enjoy a pre-cruise day together
Sunday, April 2 we woke up excited about the imminent departure. I went downstairs to get Barb her usual two cups of coffee. The waiter gave me a tray containing two unsealed cups, some cream and a bagel and cream cheese. As I was getting on the elevator the door started to close and the steaming hot coffee ended up on my wrist (slightly) and on my shirt, mostly. After cursing and getting new cups (this time carried by a waitress) I made it back to the room, removed the shirt and discovered a nice red burn on my stomach. My parents showed up for breakfast and while I was dining with them the original waiter slipped me some Solarcaine for the burn which made it feel better at least. It was something like a good sun burn.

We had arranged for a limousine to pick us up at 11am and then pick up the Mosers who were staying at an Embassy Suites in Fort Lauderdale. As we approached the Mosers hotel my cellphone rang. Caller ID said it was Rick wondering were we are. I told him to look up as I could see him while we are talking.

After we loaded up the van (and I do mean load up) we were soon on our way to Miami and the Infinity. At the Port of Miami things were a bit confused as I believe there were 7 ships (at least 2 Royal Caribbean, one Norwegian, and 2 Carnival ships and one more in addition to ours) squeezed (if that's the right term given the size of these things) into a 6 ship port. Or at least so it seemed. All of the other ships had nice buildings that led directly from the pier to the ship. We had a tent. But the check in went very smoothly and we were soon on board and inspecting our living accommodations for the next 15 nights.


Our room was really nice. We were on the starboard side of the ship a bit aft of center. The room had a nice bath with tub, a huge closet area, a very comfortable slightly larger than queen-sized bed, a desk with chair, a sofa, an easy chair, a table, and a good-sized balcony. It also had a television, and a mini-bar. In addition to the stateroom attendant, it also came with the services of a Butler. Our Butler, Manuel Moreno, was from Honduras and was a gem. He had 18 rooms (I think) to take care of, but no matter what we needed he was there with a smile. We got very used to the service. Our stateroom attendant, Fernando, always had a smile as well...but we didn't see him very often. We think he must have slept under our bed, because whenever we left the room, it seems as if it got tidied up instantaneously.

After we explored the rooms, we headed up to deck 10 where a vast buffet of good things to eat for lunch awaited us. We each enjoyed the first of many many meals aboard and then visited the onboard Spa in case one of us required an emergency massage or something. By then it was nearly time for the mandatory lifeboat drill which took entirely too long in my opinion (given that the ship did not sink). We assembled in one of the lounges with our life jackets on and then were escorted to a lifeboat station. The whole drill took about 30 minutes. Aside: with crew there were about 3,000 people on the ship. There were, perhaps as many as 8 lifeboats on each side of the ship (possibly fewer I did not really count) they were all labeled "capacity 150". That suggested a shortfall of spots in the life boats. However, there were lots of big life-rafts contained in special canisters. I'd rather not have to use either, but I think I'd prefer a life boat.

The ship was supposed to sail at 5pm, but around that time we were notified that sailing would be delayed due to some late arriving luggage, etc. In fact, we didn't leave until ALL of the other ships had left around 8pm. In any event, it was well after dark and we were "cheated" out of the view of Miami at sunset from our ship.


We had chosen the 2nd seating for dinner which was scheduled at 8:30pm. The Mosers hosted us in their room about 7:45 for drinks. Barb, who was a vodka/tonic/lime drinker added gin/tonic/lime to her repertoire. I stayed with Diet Coke that night, but added beer on subsequent nights. By then it was nearly 8:30 so we headed to the Trellis restaurant on deck 4. We were assigned to table 400 and were led off to what we expected to be a table for 4. We kept going deeper and deeper into the dining room until we ended up at a premium location...right against the floor-to-ceiling (two deck ceiling) windows at the stern. But, egads, it was a table set for eight. This would never do. Oh well, we'd change it tomorrow.

Shortly thereafter we were joined by four of the nicest dinner companions you could imagine. They were Barb and Roger Williams of Carmel, California, and Dorothy and Bill Ashton from Piedmont, California. After that first dinner, all thoughts of changing to a table of four were gone...apparently from both sides because we all enjoyed each others company.

At dinner we were attend to by a waiter, Zelyko Avarmovic (Z for short), and an assistant waiter (I'm sorry that I never got his full name ... he was known as Semi for short.) Z was from Croatia, I'm not sure that I ever learned where Semi was from. We couldn't have asked for a better duo than Z and Semi. The routine became something like this:
  • We'd sit down somewhere around the table.
  • Z'd take our napkins and put them in our lap and hand us the "book" which was the menu for the evening. We were not to put our own napkins in our laps.
  • He'd then tell us which items he thought were best, and which should be avoided. We'd ignore this advice at our own peril.
  • We'd order...ladys first then the gentlemen (and then Rick and myself!)
  • Bread would be served.
  • Semi would bring Rick and I (and later Bill) iced tea. After the first or second night I decided I didn't like the standard iced tea and asked if he could make me some from Earl Grey or something using hot water and ice. From that night on he automatically brought me my own special iced tea.
  • We'd place our orders for an appetizer (usually 4-6 choices), a soup (usually 3 choices), a salad (usually 2 choices), and entree (usually 5-6 choices). If we didn't like the choices, a shrimp cocktail appetizer and a Caesar Salad were always available for those courses.
  • We'd be served each course in turn. We'd eat.
  • We'd be handed the "book" again and Z would bring over a tray of "pictures" (the actual desserts) for us to choose from. There'd usually be 4-6 choices plus various ice creams and cheeses.
  • We'd order and eat dessert and say good night to the other two couples.
Dinner was always good (with a few entrees not working out well, but they could be replaced in real-time.) The quality was not quite up to the first Royal Canadian Pacific rare-mileage trip, but was very, very good. Dinner lasted around 90 minutes, sometimes longer, but the time flew because of the conversation. It was a magical time of day for all of us.

Immediately after dinner, we headed to the welcome aboard the Celebrity Infinity show in the Celebrity Theatre which occupied the bow of the ship, 4th and 5th floors. The theatre was incredibly well equipped with comfortable seats and excellent sight lines. We enjoyed, but were not overwhelmed by the show.

The Daily Routine

Unlike some cruises, this one did not always have a midnight buffet. They had waiters passing food out in all of the public rooms between about 11:15pm and 12:15am but not a true buffet except every once in a while. We were always so stuffed with our late dinner that we never once participated. On this first night we just went to bed after the show. The bed was so comfortable and the motion of the ship so gentle that I would fall asleep every night without any significant trouble and sleep soundly through the night.

The first two full days were sea days. We fell into a routine of having a small breakfast served for Barb by Manuel in our suite, while I'd get dressed and go to the buffet on deck 10 where I could make my own selections. Most mornings I'd just have some cereal, sliced pineapple, and occasionally an egg and/or bacon. But they also had a station at the rear of the ship that was produced wonderful waffles. It was a joy to eat breakfast outside on the rear of deck 10.

During the day there were a whole lot of activities...more than enough to keep us all busy, but the one we liked best was relaxing, either in our suite or by the pool or elsewhere on the ship. I spent a lot of time watching Ingrid tanning herself by the pool. Barb spent a lot of time relaxing on our balcony...especially the first few days when she slept a lot...catching up on much needed rest.

Some afternoons Rick and I would play a couple of games of Rail Baron on his computer. We'd play three handed with the computer playing (under the name Dave) as one of the three. We probably played a total of eight or perhaps a few more games. I'm happy to say that I won the majority of them, with Dave coming in a close second because Rick won none. But whose counting? (Aside: it had been a long time since I'd won any game against Rick and/or Dave... the real Dave that is who was in Arizona at least part of the time we were sailing.)

The general rule for dress in the evenings was this: on sea days the dress would be either informal (jacket for gentlemen) or formal (tux or dark suit for gentlemen). On port days and the first and last night the dress was casual (no jacket needed). There were only 3 formal nights and the first was one of the first two sea days. I believe it was on one of these sea days that we made a wonderful discovery. On this particular night the late dinner seating was treated to a pre-dinner show in the theatre. As I recall we did not like the particular show and left it early. As we were walking down Deck 5 we heard some wonderful music. As we approached a lounge area we discovered it was coming from a terrific string quartet from Poland called the Serenada Quartet. We spent much time sitting and listening to them as they evoked the image of the orchestra playing as the Titanic went under in our minds. Oh yes, the drinks in the lounge were also quite good.

One one of the formal nights, Rick and Jane treated us to dinner in the U.S.S. United States, the specialty extra-cost restaurant. Dinner here was a 2 hour and 30 minute extravaganza in the tradition of the old transatlantic ships and well worth the extra fare. On one of the informal nights we had dinner in the casual dining alternative restaurant located up on deck 10 in the buffet area, but serving essentially a reduced version of the menu from the main dining room with no significant dress code.

Other opportunities to eat included a pasta and salad bar open most of the day and well into the evening and a really excellent sushi bar open every day from 5:30pm to 8:30pm. There was also a hamburger and hot dog stand open all afternoon and into the early evening, and a more healthy choice restaurant (which we did not partake in!) open at various hours in the Aqua Spa area.


The entertainment on the ship was of mixed quality. The quartet above was the highlight in my opinion, but there was also a terrific ventriloquist, a really good violinist, and a fellow named David Meyer who played a electronic xylophone...who wowed us. The production shows were of mediocre quality though they had their moments. Some of the entertainment was just plain awful the most obvious instance being a fellow named Elliott Finkle (son of Fyvush Finkle of Picket Fences and Boston Commons fame.) He may have been an excellent pianist once but there was something clearly wrong this time. Rick and I thought it might be carpal tunnel because we both saw him shaking one hand during several pieces. When he played slow he was excellent, but when he played at all fast he would miss lots of notes. And the night he played as the main attraction all of his pieces except one were major jazz production numbers with the Celebrity Orchestra. The Celebrity Orchestra was, by the way, a really good versatile house orchestra that we always enjoyed listening to.


After the two sea days we had a day in Aruba. We had elected not to purchase any of the day time shore excursions there because we felt we could do just as well by renting a car and exploring on our own. In retrospect this was probably the right decision. Rick had reserved a car from Hertz and off we went. We saw a natural bridge and abandoned "fort?" a light house, etc. before we went off in search of a public beach. The highlight of the sightseeing turned out to be the view of a young lady in a very skimpy thong bending over to put on her sandals or something right outside the window of our car. One could say she was almost mooning us.

Aboard the Sunset Cruise, Rick, Jane, and Barb
We found a beach near the Radisson Hotel and spent a while in the sun before we decided to have lunch. While we had lunch a big rain storm came, but by the time we were finished so was it. We picked up our stuff on the beach and headed downtown to turn our car in. Although the Hertz guy was supposed to be there he wasn't. There was also only a creative space to park in. The upshot was that while Barb and Jane went off shopping and I went to an Internet Cafe, Rick was stuck waiting for the Hertz guy (who had been watching an "important" soccer match on TV instead of showing up where he should have.)

The Sunset off Aruba
After assembling on the ship we then got off again to do a sunset cruise which was really a big nothing. They had an open bar which served any drink you wanted, but the all were made from the same basic ingredients...just a different coloring. :) Definitely not worth it.

The Panama Canal

For many the highlight of this cruise was the transit of the Panama Canal. Since I had done this "once in a lifetime" trip in January 2004 it was, perhaps, not as much of a special attraction. On the other hand, during the 2004 transit I was a passenger in a puny day boat built in 1914 holding around 80. We were dwarfed by the other ships that went through the canal with us (some we shared a lock with). The Infinity was infinitely larger...a so-called Panamax ship meaning that it was the largest size ship that could fit through the locks of the Panama canal. Apparently the citizens of Panama were about to vote in a referendum to see if they want to put in new, larger, locks alongside the current ones.1 There are a lot of ships that are too big to go through the canal. They have the choice of going around the long way or offloading their containers (if they are carrying containers) onto special trains run by the Panama Railroad to the opposite coast for reloading onto another ship.

Transiting the locks of the Panama Canal
At any rate the view point for this transit was much different. Whereas I spent a lot of time looking up at concrete in the locks on the first transit, I spent a lot of time looking down into the trailing and following locks in this transit. It was well worth it. However, I will say it again: if you've been through one Panama canal lock, you've been through them all. The novelty wears off quite quickly!

A slightly different view from my 2004 trip through the canal
Ships line up and can wait for days to go through the canal unless they have paid extra (10% I think) for a confirmed reserved time. Obviously the cruise ships do this. I'm told that we were late for our slot, but that they let us in anyway. The cruise line paid over $200,000 so that our ship could transit. (Aside: they won't let you into the canal until the money is in the bank.)

Sailing in Gatun Lake
After we got through the three Gatun locks, we sat in Gatun Lake (which provides all of the water to operate the canal) for a fairly long while before we sailed towards the other end of the Lake and the famous Gaillard or Culebra cut and the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks. The cut can handle two ships passing but operate it in one direction at a time because an accident would be disastrous to the whole canal. This resulted in further delays and we were late arriving at our tendering site on the Pacific side at Fuerte Amador. As a result of this delay our shore excursions were canceled. Barb and Jane elected to ride the tenders to the port to see if they could pick up some souvenirs (they did) but Rick and I elected to stay on board. We actually ended up being the only two at our dinner table that night!

The Peace Bridge
We left this port sometime around 11pm.

Costa Rica

The next day was a day at sea. I believe that this was the night that we made use of the table in Rick and Jane's suite and had a private dinner. Not because we didn't want to dine with the others, but because we wanted to try it. Our butler (who was also the Moser's butler) Manuel served us dinner exactly as we ordered it and even provided a bottle of wine on the house. Very impressive.

The next morning we arrived in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. At this point we were docked next to the Seven Seas Mariner a luxury ship a bit smaller than ours. My parents had been on a week long cruise on the Seven Seas Navigator, but that was an even smaller ship built from a former Russian weather ship. We would see the Mariner at all of the rest of our ports (except for San Francisco.) Usually it would leave a port ahead of us, but then we'd pass it sometime at sea and arrive at the next port ahead of it.

We walked into the town area just off the pier and bought some souvenirs, but it was HOT and we decided to get back on the ship until it was time for our shore excursion which left in the afternoon.

Jane Moser and Barb Weinstock prior to our rain forest hike
Afternoon came and we boarded a bus for a 1.5 hour ride to a resort in the hills of Costa Rica. Here we stopped for water and a comfort break before heading a short distance up a fairly steep hill to where the trail through the rain forest began. We each picked up a walking stick for support and then began a tour through this protected rain forest while our guide pointed out features (including army ants) as we walked mostly downhill across three wire suspension bridges that moved in interesting ways as we walked across them.

After the third bridge we were walking down hill when we encountered a sign that said "Danger" just ahead of a hairpin curve in the trail. As I rounded this curve successfully I was wondering what the danger was all about when my left foot slipped on some gravel. Unfortunately my right foot did not slip (or all I would have suffered is gravel burn down a portion of the path.) Instead, according to witnesses, I landed on my ass with my right ankle twisted and then bounced (hence the title of this report) to my left where my neck hit a rope that was conveniently strung to keep me from falling totally off the hill into a valley (ravine?) below. This was not exactly the kind of trip through the rain forest that I had expected. Did I mention it hurt like a son of a bitch?

Barb and Rick Moser just prior to my "bounce"
The guide and others helped me up and I was pretty sure I hadn't broken anything because nothing was flopping around. On the other hand I also couldn't put any real weight on it so I had to be helped down the rest of the hill...which took a lot longer than I had hoped (or is that hopped?) From there it was back onto the bus and back to the resort where the others went to shop for things or drink at the bar. Barb brought me a beer and a bit later, even better, the guide brought me a paramedic who checked me out and gave me Motrin. The combination helped. When we got back to the ship I went to see the ship's doctor who took three x-rays gave me more powerful Motrin and a support stocking, told me it wasn't broken, and charged me $158 which I thought was surprisingly cheap. They also lent me a cane which I kept for the rest of the cruise.

I was faced with the problem of showering at this point. The tub in our bathroom was raised enough that I foresaw problems getting in or out with my bad ankle. For the rest of the trip I would go to the Aqua Spa at the front of Deck 10 and use the stall showers. It was a longish walk (hobble) but it seemed much safer for me in the end.

Everyone will tell you that I didn't let this incident ruin my (or their) cruise. I'm rather proud of that. I even made it to dinner in the dining room that same night.


The next day was a day at sea and the second formal night. This was the evening that Rick and Jane treated us to the specialty restaurant as mentioned previously. I looked splendid in my navy blue suit with one dress shoe and one sandal if I do say so myself. :)  Dinner was excellent. The "boys" had the Steak Diane, while the girls had a very nice seafood dish.

The next day we were docked in Huatulco, Mexico around lunch. This is a "manufactured" resort much like Cancun was and the Mexican government did a wonderful job with it. The resort was about 10 years old. We had booked a snorkeling trip as a shore excursion for all of us. I decided that my ankle could not deal with the lack of support when walking on sand and with a Doctor's excuse was able to cancel out at the last minute. The others went on the excursion and had a great time after dealing with burnt feet (Rick, when his sandals broke). I spent some time in the port area looking around and enjoying the atmosphere and music as I hobbled around with my cane. Everyone agreed that I had made exactly the right decision to not do the excursion after they came back from it. But they all enjoyed it.
The Seven Seas Mariner and Celebrity Infinity in Huatulco
Sometime either before or after Huatulco (I think) both us and the Seven Seas Mariner (we were about to pass her at the time) were buzzed by a propeller plane that looked like a small AWACS plane. I assume, but am not certain, that it was a Mexican government plane.


Not very far from Huatulco is Acapulco, where we docked the next morning. Here we were with another Celebrity ship, the Mercury, in addition to the Seven Seas Mariner (which was tendered because we used up all the dock space.)

Chuck, Barb, Jane, and Rick in Acapulco
Shortly after arriving Rick and I went to use the advertised Internet cafe on the pier. It turned out to be on the second story, up a spiral staircase. I actually made the climb only to find that I could not actually use my computer when I got there. (Rick was nice enough to carry it for me.)

Jane and Barb at lunch
After retrieving the girls from the ship we decided to hire a car for four or so hours in the afternoon to see sights including the famous cliff divers. The driver quoted $25 a person for a van but said that he would only go when two other people joined us. We asked how much it would be for the four of us to have the van to ourselves. It was $35 a person which was a no brainer to us. So we hired Sergio and his van and he took us to an old hotel (which used to be a premium hotel) overlooking the whole bay. After we took our pictures, we got back in the van and went to the area where the famous cliff divers perform. We were given the choice of having lunch in the shade while watching them, or standing in the sun while watching them. The lunch was more expensive, but also a lot more comfortable with great sight lines. The lunch with awful, but we didn't care. Seeing the divers may be trite, but it was still very impressive. Much more enjoyable than a bull fight!

A cliff-diver mid-dive
Then Sergio took us around town showing us the market, and other sights as we headed to the Hard Rock Cafe for Barb and Jane to buy t-shirts, etc. Then we stopped down the street at a restaurant with wireless Internet so that Rick could take care of some business, and then it was back to the pier and on to the ships for some well deserved drinks and string quartet! Although the ship was in port into the evening, we spent the rest of the day on board and enjoyed relaxing except for Jane who went of on a Turtle release program, but managed to make it to dinner albeit a few minutes late. It turned out that at this dinner only Rick, Jane and I were there. Barb decided to skip dinner and the other two couples had made the trip to Taxco, a silver town in the mountains "near" Acapulco.

Cabo San Lucas

After another day at sea, we arrived at our last port before San Francisco, Cabo San Lucas, at the end of the Baja Peninsula. This is where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. Swimming in the Sea is fine. Swimming in the Pacific is deadly. The water where they meet is rough and I had previously elected not to participate in the shore excursion because of sea sickness fears. However, I intended to go ashore and look around while the others went off to "Lands End".

This was a port in which we were tendered (along with the Seven Seas Mariner and a Carnival ship). As suite passengers we had priority tender passes, but it still took us an hour to get called to our tender. This was actually the worst planned thing on the whole cruise.

As I was getting ready to board the tender, I saw that it was jumping around badly in the rather rough water and was trying to figure out how I would not be sick from the ride, and more importantly how I would board the tender without putting strain on my ankle. I chickened out. Barb later told me that I, again, made exactly the right decision as getting aboard was not simple even with two healthy legs.

Barb and friend in Cabo
They all had a great time on their excursion. I had a great day relaxing by the pool. It was easy to get a shaded lounge chair, and I had a hamburger, etc. while sitting there reading. (Alas, Ingrid was off the ship on a shore excursion. One can't have everything.)

The Final Days

The next two days were days at sea prior to arrival in San Francisco. I admit to apprehension about these days because I knew it would be both chillier and rougher than the rest of the cruise. I was right about both but it turned out not to be a problem more or less. I say more or less because when I went to take a shower in the Aqua Spa one night (I still didn't trust myself in the tub) my Transderm Scop motion sickness patch came off. I decided to try going without and was okay for a while (I presume because it took a while to wear off) but started to feel ill the next morning. I went to the Doctor's office and they gave me a pill (they don't like the patch) which also didn't work. I had an extra patch along and finally gave in and put it on and shortly all was well again.

Every night after we returned from dinner or the show there was a newsletter on our bed that listed the daily activities for the next day. We had noticed, but not paid much attention to, an ad for a special "Martini" tasting plate consisting of 6 different 1 oz Martinis in the Bar named (of course) Martini's. Barb, to my vast surprise decided that she wanted to try it. So prior to dinner the second-to-last night at sea we all went to Martini's. She didn't much care for most of the six, but as I recall she loved one (that she said tasted like a Margarita). The rest of us had our "normal" drinks (Newcastle Tan for me, Gin and Tonic for Jane, CC and Sprite for Rick.) But the highlight of this was the Celebrity Orchestra which was performing in the lounge a deck below (but viewable and listenable through an atrium.) They were playing dance band music and were absolutely terrific.

Barb's Martinis
Dinner the first of the two nights was the last formal night. The dinner menu was special with both lobster tails and prime rib as entrees and the traditional Baked Alaska (in a waiter lead production number) as a dessert. It was quite fun and quite good. We had pictures taken with Z and Semi and the whole rest of the table.

Farewell dinner featuring "Z" and Baked Alaska
The only negative thing about our room surfaced when we returned from this dinner. It smelled of cigarette smoke. We were able to open our balcony door and air it out, but we wondered how that was possible. We finally figured out that our neighbors on one or both sides must have been smokers. When we were in warm climates they would smoke on their balcony. But when we were in the colder weather we experienced the last two days at sea, they smoked in their room...and the ventilation system was flawed.

All too soon it was the last day at sea. This was Easter Sunday and when I went upstairs for my breakfast I found some blue dyed eggs, one of which I brought down to our suite and "hid" for Barb to find.

We spent part of the afternoon packing. Barb and I decided to keep one of our three wheeled bags as our overnight bag and to fill one of the bags only with laundry and the other two bags with whatever was left. This worked well.

Prior to dinner the Mosers decided to have a cocktail party in their suite for our entire dinner table. So at 7pm the Williams and the Ashtons joined the Mosers and the Weinstocks for drinks and conversation, and it turned out quite a show outside. As we walked into the room Jane said, look at all the dolphins! Roger said we were more or less off the coast of Monterey and it wasn't long before a whale or two were spotted as well. With the drinks, the cheese plate that Manuel provided, and the floor show outside it was a terrific send off event.

That evening was our last dinner in the dining room, and our chance to say goodbye to Z and Semi and the Williams and the Ashtons. It was hard to remember when we were (initially) disappointed to be at a table for eight instead of our table for four. We all exchanged contact information, and hoped we'd see each other in the future (as of this posting, we haven't.)

After we got back to our room we put our luggage out and before long it was gone and we were in bed with a 6:30am wakeup call. At 6:30 Manuel brought us our final breakfast and we got ready to head home. At 7:30 we went down to go through the immigration procedures only to find a line that stretched from one end of the ship to the other...twice! Luckily it moved fairly quickly and we eventually were up in our room to retrieve our remaining items and then went down to the Rendezvous Bar to wait the call to disembark. That happened about 9:30 and we quickly claimed our luggage said goodbye to the Mosers and got into a taxi to the San Francisco airport. (The Mosers were flying out of Oakland.)

Check in was easy and we got in line to go through security at which point I discovered that my cell phone was missing. Either it fell out of my pocket on the ship (in the lounge probably) or the taxi. The phone was not recovered.

Our flight home was via Charlotte due to US AIrways not understanding the value of their (former) Pittsburgh hub. We left San Francisco a bit late, but arrived in Charlotte more or less on time. The flight was fine, but the movie was awful (Cheaper By the Dozen 2). Luckily I wasn't tempted to watch because the audio in Barb's seat didn't work and I let her use mine. The dinner was not as good as the worst of what Z served us (a Red Snapper that a fork couldn't cut.) We grabbed a quick snack in Charlotte, left on our flight to Pittsburgh on time, and arrived at the baggage claim about 11pm.

I had previously decided that it made no sense to disrupt Lizzy and her Grandparents at 1am and had booked us into the airport Hyatt for this last night. We checked in at about 11:45 and after showers, etc., it was 1am before we turned off the light. I had set the alarm for an 8am wakeup and it dutifully went off at 7am! Oh well, operator error. I finally woke Barb at 8:30, and called our taxi for 9:30 and we were home by 10:15 to happy dogs (Lizzy was in school). After saying goodbye to Barb's dad, Harland, I went off to a busy afternoon of work while Barb picked up Lizzy at the end of the school day. The reunion was a happy one but it took a while for things to get back to normal.

Both Barb and I would do this trip again in a minute (given the right timing etc.) We were really happy the Mosers thought to suggest that we join them because we almost certainly wouldn't have thought about it on our own. This was also a good, if a bit traumatic, experience for Lizzy and a great time for Harland and Toni and Lizzy to spend serious quality time together.

1 As I post this the new locks of the Panama Canal are expected to open in early Summer 2016. Another trip to Panama might be indicated for 2017.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

And the last shall be first

Next week (on April 12), we "celebrate" the 71st anniversary of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Of course, among many other things, FDR was characterized by his polio. I'm taking this occasion to write this small reminiscence of my experiences with the polio vaccine.

And his little dog Fala
When I was growing up in the early 1950s summer was a great time for kids except for one thing...the ever present threat of contracting polio. I was too young to really know anything about this, but I imagine the possibility worried my parents. Then, in 1954, the world changed dramatically. The vaccine invented by Jonas Salk and his team at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine made it safe for kids to go swimming in the summer again.

From the point of view of a six or seven year old the vaccine wasn't that great a thing as there was a massive campaign to vaccinate every child in the country. Vaccination ment needles. Needles meant ouchies! Oh, and did I mention that protection required multiple doses spread over time?

At any rate one day at school we were all loaded up on school buses and taken to Highland Park hospital where we again lined up and received our first dose. By the time it was time for the second dose the powers that be decided that the vaccine could be safely administered at our grammer school. Instead of being bused to the hospital we were lined up in the gym.

This pretty much sums things up from a kids point of view
And now I come to the point of this story. My last name begins with "W" and all of my life when things are done in order by name mine is called last or nearly last. Not this day. Someone had the bright idea of having us line up in reverse alphabetical I was among the first to get my injection. The bright side of this is that we didn't have time to get scared watching the others get their shot. We could exaggerate the pain (that's my story and I'm sticking to it) and scare everyone else in the class instead.

More on the vaccine

Although I wasn't aware of it, there were problems with the vaccine in some parts of the country. It seems that at least one manufacturer didn't follow correct procedure to make the polio virus inactive. As a result at least 250 cases of polio were caused by it.

Subsequent to the invention of the Salk vaccine, came the vaccine developed by Albert Sabin that relied in a weakened (but not inactivated) virus. This had the advantage of being administered orally as a single dose as opposed to the three doses the Salk vaccine required. This vaccine also led to herd immunity as the live but weakened virus was spread through the community.

This virus was not without its problems and when my daughter was given her polio vaccinations in the 1990s I discussed (with her pediatrician) the idea of giving her a dose of the Salk vaccine to provide protection against any ill-effects before giving her a dose of the Sabin vaccine. He agreed that this was a reasonable thing to do and I understand it is now common practice. (It may well have been common practice then, but I'm still proud I thought of it!)