Our cruise bill…Our last full day aboard ship..

Based on our accumulated bill for Thursday, January 17th and expected charges for this evening, cash tips we’re leaving the waiters, cabin steward, etc., we will have spent an additional $1210 (we budgeted $1450) over and above the cost of the cruise, our balcony cabin with one queen bed, for a grand total of $6755.48. 

Our average cost per day at $450.37 for all expenses, was much higher than we’ll experience on future cruises. This Panama Canal cruise is more expensive than other cruises based on the cost the ship incurs for its transit through the canal. They estimate their bill to be between $350,000 to $450,000, due to variables Panama charges for each transit. Of course, this expense is rolled out into the fare.

We have so much enjoyed this experience that we have no regrets about the cost. When we’ll arrive in Belize in 12 days, the cost of living will be more economical over the next almost three months. The rent for our little house on the beach is only $1275 a month. Of course, we’ll report our actual costs after the cruise to Belize ends at the end of this month and our costs after our time in Belize.

It’s Wednesday night at 11:00 pm. We just arrived back at our cabin after another fun evening aboard ship.  As much as we’ve branched out, trying new things we found ourselves, like most other cruise passengers, working our way into a familiar routine which is irresistible when at sea for 15 nights.

Awakening each morning no later than 7:00, we’d shower, dress and meander to the 11th deck for coffee and buffet breakfast in the Island’s Café, an enormous, efficient, spotless, well-staffed restaurant offering a wide array of breakfast foods from all over the world.

Tom, off his gluten-free diet during the cruise (he’ll be back to normal when we get situated on land soon) loaded up on eggs, bacon, sausage, a few little Danish pastries, and a glass of much-missed orange juice.

My daily choices, limited by my continuing commitment to stay healthy, is not only a low carb gluten-free diet, but eliminates all grains, starches, and sugar.

Surprisingly, I’ve been able to enjoy many foods aboard the Celebrity Century.

These many past days my breakfast has included Eggs Benedict (minus the English muffin), topped with guacamole, a side of smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers, and sliced tomatoes plus 3-4 slices of bacon, Asian garlic beef, and a plate of grilled non-starchy vegetables. 

Having checked with the chef to ensure all of these items met the criteria of my way of eating, I enjoyed my two huge plates of breakfast each day plus a three-course dinner in the formal dining room each night (gluten-free and sugar-free items are designated on the menu). Leaving the ship feeling well and nary an ounce heavier, I am thrilled they so easily accommodated me.  

On the other hand, Tom, also eating only two meals a day (no snacking), leaves the ship still wearing his size 34 pants with only a few pound gain which surely will be lost once we get to our own cooking when we arrive at our beach home in Placencia Belize on January 29th. 

Tom surprised me by ordering Oysters Rockefeller for his first course at dinner tonight, enjoying every morsel. Every night at dinner he’s tried new foods, many he had refused to try in the past.

Staying healthy and fit is vital to the success of our continuing world travels over the next few years.  As Norovirus ravaged our ship, we stayed mindful of frequent hand washing, avoided handshaking and touching public areas. 
We not only dodged a bullet without a single incident of seasickness (without medications), even in the past three days and nights of rough seas but also survived the Norovirus outbreak. 

We stuck to our plan of no more than one hour at the pool in the sun each day completely avoiding sunburns. We walked no less than 10,000 steps per day, per my FitBit pedometer. We attended no less than one educational class, more often two, each day, and managed to see no less than four movies throughout the cruise.

Every night aboard the ship, we attended the 9:00 PM entertainment in the Celebrity Theatre. The first three nights we dined alone, after which we decided it was time to dine with other passengers, sitting at tables designated for meeting new people.  Each occasion has been an opportunity to enjoy the conversation and companionship of people from all over the world. 

At the end of every evening, we’ve reveled in what we jokingly referred to as “another boring day is Paradise,” not only in quality time spent together, but in making new friends and learning the history of unfamiliar areas of the world.

It’s now 12:30 pm on Thursday. We just finished packing all of my clothes in the following manner:

1.  Clothes for the next cruise beginning on Monday, January 21st on the Celebrity Equinox for eight days on our journey to Belize, kept in a separate suitcase. Thus, my other bags won’t be opened during the cruise.

2.  Clothes to wear tonight for dinner and the show

3.  Clothes to wear getting off the ship tomorrow and over the next three days in Boca Raton, Florida.

4.  Clothes to wear to board the ship on Monday. Goodness, that’s confusing. We’re done with that.

After a break for a walk, we’ll go back to the cabin and begin packing all of Tom’s clothing plus all of our miscellaneous items and toiletries. Tonight before 11:00 pm, our tagged bags are to be left outside our cabin door, (the cruise line provided the luggage tags with instructions left in our cabin a few nights ago), clothing and toiletries set aside for the morning when we disembark at 9:30, our designated time.

Tomorrow morning, our friend Carol will pick us up at the pier in her huge SUV (thank goodness) to bring us back to her gorgeous home in Boca Raton, situated on the Inner Coastal Waterway. Weather providing, we can enjoy time relaxing by her pool after we get our laundry done and repacked. Thanks, Carol!

We’ve had one great day after another. We promised each other we will never stop being grateful, continuing to treasure each day on its own merits, as if it were the first day on a journey of a lifetime.

The Celebrity Century???  Small with 1800 passengers, a little rough at sea.  Food? Magnificent!  Service? Extraordinary! Ambiance?  Pleasant, a little dated but very nice.  Would we consider Celebrity a cruise line, we will seek out in the future?  Absolutely!

Since this was our first of eight cruises, we don’t feel expert enough to provide a comprehensive review. Once we have a few more experiences under our belts, we’ll assess all of the cruise lines and ships we’ve experienced, sharing our thoughts with our readers.
Stay tuned! Lots more to follo

Walmart in Mexico?…What?…

Last night’s view from the deck of our ship, the Celebrity Century, overlooking another ship in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Over the years, we’ve chuckled that we aren’t the best photographers. Our subjects are usually off-center, blurry, and often unrecognizable. Laughing about our lack of photo-taking skills over the years, we’ve depended upon family members taking photos of memorable occasions, storing them helter-skelter on our computers, marveling at the fact that they are actually exist.

As an otherwise digitally adept person, I’ve always accepted that my lack of photo-taking skills was purely a result of a lack of interest as to how a camera works.  Tom, not particularly handy with digital equipment in general, followed suit.
As our blog has grown, we’ve both agreed that we must make an attempt at photo taking and editing photos as needed. Mistakenly, we have assumed that our new digital phones could suffice as a photo-taking medium for our travels, having taken a number of reasonable photos here and there.
Live and learn. With poor Internet connections on the cruise, XCOM Global wasn’t always working close to land as hoped, the former ease we’d experienced uploading photos from our phones to our laptops, we realized that we needed to buy a camera now as opposed to waiting until we get to Europe, our original plan.
As our ship, the Celebrity Century, an under 2000 passenger ship small enough to fit in the Panama Canal, makes its way from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean via the Panama Canal six days from today, the scenery will be worth sharing. 
Yesterday, as we neared the pier in  Puerto Vallarta, we saw a Wal-Mart!  Ha! Here we are on the first leg of our worldwide adventure on our first outing off of the ship and they’re within walking distance was a Walmart. Good grief!
Not Wal-Mart shoppers in general, we were suddenly excited about the prospect of walking to the store, about 1/2 mile from the pier to purchase a new camera.  Surely, they’d have familiar brands and, it would be a good experience for us to make a
purchase in a non-English speaking country.
No English indeed. Not a word. The busy store, jammed with locals and few tourists had price signs in pesos.  Oh, oh, I didn’t bring my phone with my money conversion app.  We found a bank inside the store asking the conversion rate to discover that about 12 pesos were equivalent to a US $1. 
The camera selection was limited.  My brain was scanning through my memory of the hundreds of cameras I had researched online and their prices. 
We decided to buy a familiar brand at a low price. If we didn’t like it, we’d replace it when we
arrive in Europe in April.  Our purchase, a 16.2 mp Samsung ST66, digital, 5x zoom, 4.5-22.5mm, 1:2.5-6.3, 25 mm. I have no clue what some of these numbers mean. We’ll learn. We have all of the time in the world. 
Walking around Puerto Vallarta wasn’t ideal.  The cab drivers continually barked at us to take a taxi downtown to the shopping area. With no interest in shopping in general, let alone after the hour spent in Walmart waiting for the camera to be rousted up from their “warehouse,” we were ready to walk back to the ship with unruly traffic whizzing past us as we walked the narrow sidewalk.
Thirsty and unable to find a cold drink without ice (we were skeptical of the local water), we made our way back to our ship, sweaty from the heat, and anxious to cool off with a cold icy drink in the air-conditioned comfort of our cabin. We charged the new camera, took a few photos, showered, and dressed for dinner.
In any case, we were glad that we’d ventured out, proud of our purchase at US $102, pleased to find the familiar USB and electric plugs in the box along with instructions in English.
Again last night, Tom ventured into foods unknown and tried the shrimp and scallops risotto.
Having heard Chef Ramsey extol the virtues of a well-made risotto, he was ready to give it a try.  I had made it a few times over the years with him thumbing his nose at the prospect of a single taste. Last night, he marveled at the exquisite taste. I bear no resentment. He’s stepping outside the box.  I’m thrilled.
Tom’s risotto.  He loved it!

After the delightful dinner in the Grand Dining Room, at 10:00 PM we attended a hilarious comedy show in the Celebrity Theatre as the ship rolled from side to side. 

After dining on a big meal of Caprice salad, braised lamb shank, wedge salad, and Tom’s uneaten Brussels sprouts, I felt queasy for the first time since boarding the ship, resting my head on Tom’s shoulder from time to time during the show.    
My Caprese salad.
We both had a fitful night’s sleep.  By 6:30 am Tom was showered and dressed ready to head to breakfast in the Island’s Cafe while I languished in bed trying to muster the energy to get up.  How could I be so tired? 

I haven’t exerted much energy these past four days, other than two high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions in the ship’s health club and the approximate 10,000 steps we walk daily according to my FitBit pedometer.

It must be the winding down after many months of preparing to leave, both the physical and emotional toll, or perhaps, just a poor night’s sleep after all.

Forcing myself to get up after Tom left for the restaurant for coffee and to read his online daily newspaper, I managed to meet up with him a short while later, still sluggish but ready to enjoy the next two days at sea.
By 1:00 PM, we’d managed to attend two classes, the second in a series of five informative and well-presented sessions on the history and culture of the country of Panama and the building of the Panama Canal.  Our second course was by geology/paleontology professor, Dr. Connie Soja on the Coral Reefs of the Mexican Riviera. 
How enriching, during this time of new discoveries in our lives to be learning more about our world? Our mutual interest in these and other such topics all become relevant to our travels.  We couldn’t be more content.
With yet another 12 days on this cruise followed by another 8-day cruise to Belize, we are comfortably settling in, not into a cocoon so prevalent in our past but into a wider scope of wonder, experimentation, and new experiences.
It’s good. It’s very good. Photos will follow.

Never been cruising?…What????…

Many have laughed when we say that we have never been on a cruise and now, we’ve booked eight cruises.  How risky, they say.  We ask, “What’s the risk?”

When we’ve dared to ask what they perceive as the risk, here are the answers:

1.  Seasickness:  Unlikely, since both of us are avid boaters.  If we could avoid seasickness bouncing around in a small fishing boat on a very windy day on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota with nary a thought about seasickness, it’s highly unlikely we’ll get sick on a giant ship with built-in stabilizers.  Backup plan: we have several prescribed packets of Transderm Scop.

2.  Boredom:  Nope, not likely.  Tom and I are easily entertained. We will participate in many activities, meet people, play cards, attend classes, and relax in a chaise lounge by the pool reading downloaded books on our phones.  The options to be entertained are endless.

3.  The food will be a problem with our limited diet:  Why would the food be a problem?  We eat.  They have food.  Will we be tempted on occasion to try something we don’t normally eat? Sure.  But we’ll remind ourselves every day that our ability to travel the world is predicated upon our good health. Why jeopardize feeling well for even one day for a French pastry?  To me, it’s not worth it. For Tom, he may occasionally try a few items.  Neither of us will judge the other for their personal decisions, although we’ll continue to offer loving support on staying the course. 

4.  Tiny, cramped cabin: We booked a balcony cabin for each cruise and managed a few upgrades to mini-suites. We’ll spend little time in our cabin. Our world-travel bags currently are all in our bedroom here in Scottsdale, only slightly larger than a cabin (we measured).  We’ll stack them neatly in one area.  We’re tidy.  We’ll be fine.

5.  Extra charges aboard cruise:  As discussed in a post from earlier in the week, we’ve made decisions in advance, based on our budget as to what extras we will choose:  purchase Internet time, purchase cocktails when desired (not the overpriced beverage package unfitting a lightweight drinker) and experience one or two excursions.  (The exception to that will be the upcoming cruise to Dubai in May to see Giza, the Sphinx, and the Great Pyramids.  We’ll do all of these!)  Neither of us cares for professional massages, spa treatments, gambling, or spending money in the expensive shops. We have no room for trinkets in our bags.  We may incur a laundry charge aboard ship most likely upwards of $100 a load.  We’ve budgeted for the expenses that we anticipate and, leaving a margin for the unknowns.

I guess it all boils down to this: self-control.  We need only to remind ourselves of our next adventure, our next juicy steak topped with mushrooms and onions, our next refreshing glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon, and of course, the person we love sitting beside us who makes us laugh warms our heart and holds our hand through it all. 

Yesterday, while checking in online with Celebrity Cruise Line for our first upcoming cruise on January 3, 2013, we perused information for our later cruise leaving Miami on January 21, 2013 sailing to Belize where we’ll live for two and a half months on each of the peninsulas of Placencia and Ambergris Caye. 

We’ll be disembarking in Belize City, three days prior to the end of the cruise.  (We have written approval from the cruise line to disembark early).  We’ve discovered that the pier in Belize City is too shallow for cruise ships to dock and thus, we’ll be “tendered” to shore via a smaller boat. 

For a moment we both panicked envisioning the process of maneuvering our eight pieces of luggage, our computer and digital equipment bags, my handbag, and ourselves into a small boat.  This morning, after a fitful night we promptly called the cruise line to discover that the boat picking us up will be boarded via a large stable ramp to awaiting boats holding anywhere from 100 to 200 passengers at a time.  We’ll not only have assistance from the ship’s employees but also the staff on the smaller boats since they also assist passengers as they are boarding.  No fear!  Whew!

There’s no doubt that the simplicity of our “old” life avoided such decisions, avoided such challenges, avoided such risks.  In the perpetual search for familiarity, comfort, and ease, we found ourselves, happy but stuck in a groove we could have blissfully stayed as we lived out our lives in retirement. 

We’ve chosen “the road less traveled” to challenge ourselves, to expand our knowledge, to enhance our personal histories, and to celebrate and appreciate the amazing world and the people in it.  We’ll make some bad decisions, we’ll make some wrong turns, and at times we may wonder, “why are we doing this?”  But we’ll do this together, we’ll learn together and we’ll marvel together, always grateful and always in love.