Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 9: Epilogue

  Becky revives me (or at least I thought so, she says I never blacked-out).  We limp to baggage-claim and miraculously, not only are all 3 bags there, but the rum (in luggage bag 3) is unbroken and in-tact (though each box opened and rifled-through).  Good enough.
  Our car starts and we get home at 11pm.  The cold air feels pretty good.  We check the house and everything's okay and I crash to sleep.
  Next day (9) I feel really sick so I go to an Urgent-Care clinic.  After an hour I'm seen and they do a test on me.  Turns out I contracted Influenza Type A.  The one that killed 100 million in 1918.  It's a fast-hitting, no-joke virus that evolves very rapidly. H1N1 a few years back was one iteration of it, but it's evolved since then, its fatality varies.  I'm not sure which strain I contracted, as it was an international cruise with a large European influence, but let me tell you it hit me harrrd.  I was put on a surprise anti-viral drug called TamiFlu because I had only had the virus for under 2 days which they said improved my life expectancy greatly.  My fever was 101 (not bad, though I suspect higher the night prior as I was drenched in sweat on those planes).  I feel bad I may have possibly been a carrier for other plane passengers.  My immune system is very strong.  I tried very much not to cough or sneeze on anyone or even near anyone.  Influenza Type A loves to travel by-air.  Whatever strain I had wore me down.  I was also given Mucinex-D.
  Day 10:  My tongue turns white and I suspect a yeast infection due to my immune system hitting the rocks and go back into Urgent Care.  Doc says it's not yeast but pure bacteria.  I had tried rinsing with hydrogen peroxide, and Scope but it wouldn't come off.  I also have now, medium-bronchitis.  I was prescribed Prednisone (steroids) for my failing heart and lungs and oddly the doc gave me anti-fungal for my tongue but told not to use it until certain other conditions existed in my throat or mouth (white spots).  These did not occur later, however.  I notice a scratch I had received on my thigh was getting oddly extremely itchy and starting to come back.  Chancre sores were appearing in my mouth.  Cold and freezing, then very hot.  Very dizzy.  Vomiting.  Congested with a killer headache.  Aches like I ran a marathon twice.  Peeing water out my butt.  Gums were receding.  Barely eating.  No appetite.
  Day 11:  Becky urges me to eat and makes me some Yankee Pot Roast.  The red meat really helps as it's got chocks of protein and the potatoes are good.  I start to gain some consciousness, though my tongue burns like knives.  She recommends rubbing salt on my tongue and after a few days it helps and the white goes away and the next day there's no pain.  I'm starting to be able to breathe again.
 Day 12:  Still coughing pretty good, though nothing's coming up like the evergreen-colored dice (literally) I was hacking up before.  Still feeling bad but at about 50% now.
 Day 13:  Out of the TamiFlu.  Cough lingers.
 Day 14:  Cough seems worse.  I have one more dose of Prednisone to aid with the bronchitis, after that it's over-the-counter stuff.  I buy some Robitussin DM for that and will rely on the Mucinex-D for the rest of it.

  I can only imagine how badly everyone else faired on that ship.  Becky's strain (I suspect she had Influenza Type A as well) was a bit more benign, though she's been suffering at a lesser rate than myself by what seems to be half at least.  I suspect it incubated and evolved while it was in her before it bit me, as we probably share similar antibodies by now (15 years and all).  It's possible, however I contracted it from any of the other 3000 inmates, it's hard to tell.  Towards the end, everyone was seemingly dying with sickness.  The test group of 3000 probably allowed the virus to evolve and mutate easier as we were all trapped in a rather humid, enclosed environment.  Who knows what strains we had?  H15N/A?  One can't help but remember Samual Coolridge's, "Four times 50 living men, with every thump, a lifeless lump, they dropped down one by one."
  I think that any cruise longer than 4 days might be a curse.  I think, therefore it's vital to get immunized from common diseases like the standard flu-shot Influenza Type ABC and maybe a few others like Malaria and what-not, depending on the regions before heading out.  The virii mutate and evolve in different regions and it's foolish of me to assume America has the toughest strains out-there.  Indeed, China probably has hella lot worse strains.  I remember when I was in Japan I got sick for 3 months with something similar, my phlegm in odd, small knots that looked odd close-up.  Really haven't been sick since that 1997 incident.
  It's very likely I'll survive this, now, though I wasn't so sure on Day 8 when it hit me hardest.  I felt so malaise and weak like never before!

  So, would I do it all again?  Yep. 

  Hope you liked reading this.  If you want more pictures of the actual cruise ship, which was pretty neat, or of individual islands, let me know.  I got like hundreds.  Happy Sailing! [cough .. cough*]

Day 8:

  We're huddled into one of the windowless dining rooms.  People are amazingly all coughing and sick.  There must be a few hundred of us in there, all now feeling pretty darn sick.  I really feel run down, more so than I've ever felt before.  It's now about 8:00am.  Some people are worried they'll miss their 8:30am flights.  They will.  We have early check-out, but those that have normal check-out can't leave until 11:30am.  The last flight leaves Puerto Rico at 11:30 until 8pm it turns out for almost all flights to the central US.
  The night before we had to leave our luggage outside our room for pickkup at 10pm (no choice, everyone has to do it).  We're then hurried down to the pier where there's rows upon rows of luggage.  Surprisingly, Becky finds our 3 bags and we high-tail it over to Customs.  I explain the Rum "rhum" and there's a certain tricky bit involving number of liters and location.  If it's a US.Virgin Island then you're allotted a certain number of liters versus other locations.  Appleton is manufactured in Jamaica, not a Virgin Island territory, but purchased into the Duty Free of Saint Maarten.  The guards are honey badgers and don't give a shit and let us through and don't even check our bags.
  We get to the airport and beg for the next flight, which is 11:30am.  If we had made the change on the ship by way of through the airport, it would have cost us $1400.  The way we did it here, it cost $300, though oddly we were not placed on stand-by.  No first-class options were available, though we had to fly into Philadelphia and then to Denver.
  We wait the 3 hours in the tiny Puerto Rico airport and I'm feeling beat-up sick, though I eat a little.  I'm starting to get the shivers.  The flight to Philadelphia is long at about 4 hours.  Luckily I'm stuck in a nice back corner, though the seat sometimes there will go back a tiny bit, it does not.  Becky graciously took the center seat and chatted the old lady in the aisle seat.  She had just had open-heart surgery.  I hope to God my oncoming cold doesn't kill her.  I cover myself in my leather jacket and try to doze-off but it's no use.
  Philadelphia is rather large.  The inside concourses are laid-out like you're in the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver.  It goes on for miles like this with no gates.  I try a place called, "Pizza King" and it sucked donkey balls.  More like Pizza Ass.  I wasn't about to try the "Philly" as I know they concoct it with Cheeze-Whiz.  No thank you.  The Gate girl says we're not supposed to be on this flight and there's a mixup but it gets worked-out.  Full flight again.  Every flight is full.
  I'm tortured with a center seat (as is Becky, though 4 rows back) for 4.5 hours.  The Japanese kid next to me is twitchy and the elderly man next to me is weird too.  Since I'm in the first coach row, there's no tray (well, it's actually embedded into the seat's arm) but there is a lot of legroom.  A small 7" movie is playing from the overhead, In Time.  Already seen it but it was fairly good.  My two enemies elbowing me, not allowing me the "Sacred Rule of Center Seats" in which the center-seat-sufferer gets both armrests aren't smart enough to realize that there's headphones in their front seat pockets so they stare vacantly at the soundless screen, fussing.  My fever is getting pretty high.
  We arrive in Denver late and I try to negotiate the next flight out.  Turns out our original Denver to Colorado Springs tickets are still good, however, and it leaves in 10 minutes.  We get onboard the mailing tube.  I'm feeling really hot now.  I get to sit next to Becky who equally complained about her center seat earlier, that one passenger was using her as a back-pillow and slept on her.  At least we get to sit together for the final lap.  Of course, they have to de-ice the plane because it's 45 degrees.  Anything to delay us.
  The flight from Denver to C.Springs is always bumpy and low, though in-the-air time is usually under 20 minutes.  We were hitting a LOT of chop.  It's now 10pm local.  We've been flying for about 15 hours now.  The heat is intense.  We're bouncing all over the place, too, and I start feeling queasy, and now I'm burning up and start getting really light-headed.  I rip-off my jacket just as everything turns dark and I pass-out, smashing my head against the chair in front of me...

Day 7:

  We had no shore excursion for St.Croix because they were all very pricey at over $280 each, including being driven around in a Jeep Wrangler "safari" with the top off so bugs can devour you.  No thanks.  Instead, we decide to simply walk around a bit and try the local cuisine.
  To our horror, we can only find one restaurant, and it's frozen chicken-nuggets and microwaved hot-dogs.  Despite the carnival-like goings-on, there's NO food!  Royal Caribbean had only 4 possible shore-excursions for St.Croix, all pretty lame, so we figured there'd be more happenings right off pier.  Nope.  We traveled by-foot a good few miles and questioned locals who directed us to a KFC.  Um.. no.  Still, sea turtles (probably missing us from Barbados) were breaching the water by our feet.
  St.Croix was unbearably hot and muggy despite a light shirt and shorts.  Nowhere to even buy a drink!  Pretty wild folks though, and plenty of clothes.

A triangelist street musician?

Dee Dee's Hair Care needs a lawn trim

No food for you.

 Dejected, we return to the ship.  Despite the "Carnivale" attitude, there's really nothing going on.  Cheap, Made-In-China clothes (the tag's a give-away, not locally-made, sorry, unless we're in Ching-Chow-freakin' CHINA!)
  I start to get a bit sniffly.  I made mention all the elevator buttons were gooey as they hadn't been wiped-down by the staff in the week we'd been onboard.  I'm getting a slight fever as well and Becky's feeing just wiped.  We eat on-board and just take it easy.
  Bowser is doing a signing of free 1970s promo-photos so we wait in line for that.  A classic guitarist is strumming some good work as we wait and I applaud his skill.  Next to him in line is a "temporary tattoo" artist turning on her compressor, making a racket.  I indicate to the guitarist to maybe turn-up his classical-guitar's Roland amp, but he shrugs it off as if to say, "No one's listening to me or appreciating me but you anyway."  I look around and it's true.  It's just noise to everyone else.  Sigh.  Still, I inform him I recognize his skill.  I mention the Rush scenario to Bowser who found it amusing and that I admired his Juilliard School of Music piece he had done on piano for his mother and that it was moving.  We had him sign his signature, "Grease for Peace".
  It turns out we won't be making our flight from San Juan to Denver as even though the ship docks at 6am, we won't be able to disembark until 8am.  Our flight leaves at 7:30am, so we'll have to try to get another flight (or stay in Puerto Rico).  We coordinate an early check-out and pre-pay all the Royal Caribbean hidden fees and tips beforehand so in the morning we'll be good-to-go.
  I took a few NyQuill and call it a night. 

Day 6:

 Philipsburg, St.Maarten is a fairly wealthy island (for a change).  We have a Tiki-Hut snorkeling adventure here.  The water is clearer so it should be pretty good.  The Duty Free outdoor mall is upscale, and the locals are more Hispanic, Dutch, and French (at least, it's said so in the northern part of the island), but almost no Africans (unlike the others we've been to so far).  It's a shame it's nicer.  I feel bad the Africans can't win for losing, as every African majority island is nearly devastated by poverty and unkeep.  Ralph Bakshai made a few animated commentaries on that matter in the mid-1970s, always stuck behind the 8-ball.
  Still, we're water-taxi'ed (as is seemingly the way of travel on the island for $4) to a Tiki-hut region owned by, Africans!  We're allowed to purchase a lunch of grilled fish and burgers (both very very good and seasoned expertly).  The Tiki Hut was in a shoal/bay.  The owner explained that a local "agriculturalist" was transporting some "smoking products" by way of helicopter but crash-landed nearby and encouraged us to find the wreckage.  He also explained the cargo was removed. 
  Snorkeling around, indeed, we find the wreckage of a vintage World War I submarine and the farmer's helicopter, surprisingly intact!  Very cool to see a submerged helicopter amongst Sergent Major Fish a-plenty, schooling.  On the 3-part hut, there was a lavatory of sorts, a center area that had some chairs surrounding a "pool" which was really just a sunken-floor into the sea with a grate-bottom (but no walls inside as it was all open underneath) down about 4 feet.  It was for kids who were scared of snorkeling but might want to try it, so they could put their feet down if they got scared instead of standing on rather-dangerous corals (microbes will cut your feet and get really infected, depending on the species).

  The African owner was clever to keep feeding the sergeant-majors bread so they stuck around, making the snorkeling spot teaming and interesting.  Nothing else by-way of danger like when I was in Nassau and had to deal with a sea-snake.  Lots of wrasse again, and.. an adult barracuda!

  Nearly freaked-out when I saw that guy.  Really a no-joke critter.  Waits around, not moving.  Luckily well-fed (by the teaming other fish).  They tend to attack suddenly and at random.  People went to go pet it, which they sort of didn't, and later it took-off, as it wanted to rest from the noonday sun and be left alone.  They mostly feed at night.. mostly.
  Nice tunes on the hut, except for one Becky noticed might not have been appropriate for the kids onboard, "I Wanna Get You Drunk and F*ck" might not have been internationally acceptable for age 8.  The second owner was chastised and it was changed to some more rated PG stuff, apparently.  At least the artist was likely sincere.
  We returned to the Duty Free Mall and I bought some rather rare Appleton's Estate 21-year Duty Free rhum for Jeff Howell (and myself) as well as a Montecristo #2 Cuban cigar for myself, some Guavaberry Liquor that looked pretty cool with an old guy with a hat.

 Later, we boarded the ship and decided to watch an unexpected presentation of Bowser from ShaNaNa in his own band, "Bowser and the Stingrays" which was a delight!  1950s style music on-stage including a hoola-hoop and dance competition against a 68-year-old lady and a redhead 24-year-old.  The granny won, which was pretty freakin' awesome as she was doin' jumps.  Now, I used to watch the variety show of ShaNaNa back in the late '70s.  Rush opened for them in 1974 (who were boo'ed off-stage, Rush, that-is.)  Anyway, Bowser was quite a performer and my favorite growing-up.  He wrote and performed the "Hand Jive" in the movie Grease.  Anyway, Bowser was the bass-singer.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 5:

 Antigua was home to some space-command antenna back "in the day" and more recently a huge hub for a server-farm for online gambling by SlySoft which makes it the perfect location for pirating adventures.  Our shore excursion is to be on a 92-year-old pirate ship with snorkeling and bay-swimming, including walking the plank, and drinking rhum.  Arrr!  As we settle and wait for the group of the shore-excursion to get together, an unsigned calypso percussionist team is playing some off-the-cuff beats in-key to my delight.  Becky is still feeling a bit sick but staying up-beat.  It's warm (as it has been this whole trip) at around 80 degrees.

 I record the calypso band here.  Calypso Antigua.

  We board the "Black Swan" right next to that shop in the picture above (and depicted below) with ease and find a seat.  Untraditionally, two loud PA speakers are playing pop music as we sail out about a few miles and into a bay.  I got a kick out of the yellow sign (click picture to read).

 I wore my patch for the occasion, and a tunic, of which I wore when I "walked the plank."

 I indeed walked the plank and plummeted the 25 feet or so into the briny drink (which is rather brave for me as I am ascared of height a bit) fully clothed and swam back to the ship and climbed onboard.  We then took a small dingy out to a further location where there was some reef for snorkeling, though it was very murky, though I was able to make out young trigger-fish, butterfly fish, various wrasses and parrot-fish eating coral, barely.
  We returned to the boat and now everyone was allowed booze now that the snorkeling was over (a safety issue) though if you weren't going to snorkel you could've drank earlier.  There was some rhum-punch but I opted for straight rhum.  The serving wench scoffed by I mentioned I was old enough because (and showed) I had hair on my chest so she laughed.

 Music blaring on the way back, a dance competition began, as well as a conga-line which we joined-in all fun.  A limbo competition was going-on up-deck as well, and everyone had a good time.  A nice super-drunk elderly lady took our picture at the end.

 We wanted to shop around afterwards but Becky had a "feeling" we needed to get back to the main ship, "The Adventure of the Seas".  Turned out we were 1 minute from being locked-out so we made it back on-time!

Day 4:

  Becky's still feeling under-the-weather but is bound-and-determined to go on this next shore-excursion of "swim under a tropical waterfall" (4 hours).  It takes a bit to drive there as we land on the island of St.Lucia but all we have to do is sit there in a mini-van.  There's a promise of a lunch in there somewhere too so we're pretty much ready to go.  Becky's bein' a real trooper about it.

  The "Duty Free" mall of St.Lucia is relatively close to the port and we wait in a mob of people inside as it starts to rain.  Eventually we get things sorted out and hundreds of people divide-up into their relative groups for St.Lucia exploration.

  After we wait our turn we get on the Toyota van with a few others and are driven into the main town of Castries.  It reminds me a lot like Belmopan, Belize: concrete structures, wet and muggy and 2nd-world nation-like conditions.  Japanese cars are prevalent.

After about 15 minutes we arrive way up on top of a small mountain and get a nice panoramic view of the bay.

However, the vista (and all the other 6 stops along the trip) are strategically located near hawkers of cheap, Chinese trinkets that are pretty rabid.  Not as bad as the ones at Nassau, but pretty intense.  We escaped from buying plastic beads.  I mention to Becky, "Isn't it interesting we sold beads to these natives in the early 1500's and now they're trying to sell them back to us?"  The locals seemed dejected at our uninterest.  I didn't try the local beer, "Piton" (named after the twin mountains, "The Piton Mountains" St.Lucia is known for).  After seeing more of St.Lucia, we didn't try anything much there.

 We continued upwards even higher until the tour guide said, "Okay, now we're in for a roller coaster ride."  She wasn't kidding.  For the next 3 hours we winded at 50mph, often crossing the "double yellow" line into oncoming surprise traffic non-stop ala the road to Cripple Creek (for those that know).  What's more interesting is that their cars are right-hand-drive, so we're driving on the left side of the road to give an angle of more nausea.  Towards the end, a frail boy in the back of the van vomited, finally.. twice.  Poor kid.  At 3.5 hours of it, I think he expressed all our involuntary desires.  I graciously didn't film him close-up demanding "more feeling".
 There's a lot of poor people in St.Lucia.  They seem lost.  I've seen poor but those that are content or happy, these are not happy.  Life seems pointless to a lof of these crazy old folks.  We didn't stop much but I was able to snap a few "life photos".

 We were warned not to buy from occasional crazy old men trying to sell us snakes.  Indeed, we saw a few men, jumping into the highway holding small constrictors above their heads demanding a sale.  "Is that a snake in your hands or are you just happy to see me?"  What kind of life is that?  "Hey, I'm a crazy old man!  I just found a snake!  I just picked it up!  You wanna buy it?"  "BUY MY SNAKE, cruise-ship people!!!  It'll pass through customs!  BUY MY SNAKE!"

 We stop at a small bathroom break after an hour or so where we're accosted by non-human speaking orcs.  We're encouraged to try "banana ketchup" though not on a precious chip, on our bare finger.  A bit vulgar but I tried it anyway.  banana-ketchup-flavored finger is okay.  Tangy but nothing to blog about.  Oh, wait.  During this time, a crazy old man was taking palm fronds and bending them into fish shapes and demanding a photo with Becky.  I obliged, but then was demanding she buy them, which I got her out of there pretty quick.  He was pretty pissed off we didn't buy some leaves he found and twisted up.

 We escape there into another large town (more roller coaster) about 45 minutes later where we stop again, and are accosted.

  We're learning to stay inside the van now, though those that got our were urged to buy some granite rocks some guy found that he put onto a broken wooden cart.  The cart was right next to more rocks that it seems he just picked-up.  There was nothing notable about the rock by one's foot or on his cart, and it's extremely unlikely he owns any property here.  $10.  Uh-huh.  At least paint a smiley-face on them for chrissake.
  After 3 hours we get to "The Waterfall" where we can have a "romantic swim" in, just like in 1980's Playboy videos, all sassy-like.  We're pretty much high-up in some jungle territory now, away from any city folks (though we had stopped at a stop-sign "Pare" one point where children were smashing their fists on the glass trying to get us to buy beads).  It starts raining pretty good now, though we have our bathing suits under our clothes.
  Here's the "Romantic Waterfall":

 The "Romantic Waterfall" is about 3 feet deep and muddy like rust.  The bottom has hard stones.

 It's about 20 feet high and ice-cold.  One child tried the water and shivered and accidentally drank a tiny bit of it.  He was the same one that vomited on the van.  We were warned not to drink it or we'll get sick.  The wait-in-line for the bathroom was 30 minutes.  Someone asked, "Where does the waste water go when you flush?  I see no plumbing!"  I mentioned, "It goes back up to that waterfall."  The line to the unisex toilets was not covered completely in the downpour.

 On the way back (1 more hour as we took a shortcut [which annoyed me because we could have avoided all the bead-sellers otherwise and saved 2 hours of roller-coastering]) we stopped to see the Piton Mountains overlooking the 3rd slum town.

 During this 1 minute space before the downpour followed us, dozens of children chased after our van to try and sell us more Chinese shit.  When we got back to St.Lucia's Duty Free Mall, Becky commented how she was angry with the president of St.Lucia allowing the island to get to such slum-like conditions (Dame Pearlette Louisy (age 65 now) who's house we saw has been General-Governor for 15 years and in my opinion is doing a shitty job at it).  The tour-guide ended our trip with a sad, weak, whimpering, croaking version of the St.Lucia national anthem.
  We saw some of the best hotels and I suspect they might not have more than dirt floors.  There's no Marriott on this island, though there is a Sandals' Resort, which I hear is pretty okay, though from driving by it looked so-so.
  Ugh.  We got back to the ship and watched ourselves sail-out to free frozen yogurt.
  That evening we lightened the mood by watching an "ice show" onboard the ship.  There's a skating rink onboard, and a professional show was put-on at 8pm.  I had a nice Macallan scotch and had center-ice with Becky and a nice other older couple in their late 60s and the theme was The Beatles and a few other interesting art-like demonstrations, including triple-axels that'd stop right inches from my face!  I'd applaud loudly and the skaters would acknowledge that, yes, it's very difficult to do, and thank you.  The show was not bad at all.
  At least I didn't vomit.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 3:

  We arrive on Barbados on our 11th Anniversary with Becky vomiting onion rings and all things Johnny Rockets.  Our shore excursion of "Snorkeling on a 5-star Catamaran complete with champagne breakfast amongst sea-turtles" has to be cancelled.  Royal Caribbean refunds us completely (made saving throw natural 20, D&D rules 3.5) so we get back our 350 bucks).  We spend the majority of the day in darkness of the room (no window after all, which is a surprise blessing) and I make sure she stays hydrated.  She's also congested and feels just all-out sick.
  By 2pm she's willing to set foot on shore for a few minutes and we buy a few trinkets at the Duty Free but even that was a lot for her, as it's always a long walk from the pier, but we also get a few shirts soon to amble back as she's feeling really sick now like she's come down with a cold.  A deary calypso band plays as we disembark.

 Barbados seems very industrial, or at least the port we're at.  I didn't take a lot of photos as I was more fretting over Becky's well-being.  The water's pretty though.

  At the Duty Free "mall" I get my picture taken with a pirate statue.. yay.  Cuz', like.. it's a pirate statue, not to be confused with a pyrite statue, which would look like a gold-ish crystalline entity.  After an hour we get back onboard and put her to bed.
  Later that night I venture out to find Crux again, but the clouds laugh at me and Vella waves rudely again at about 27 degrees declination.  Defeated, I return to the dark stateroom and get in bed with Becky.  I kiss her burning forehead and make sure she takes some medication (aside from the standard Roofies I supply her so she stays married to me), read a little Joan d' Arc by Mark Twain by a little LED light supplied agaist the wall and go to sleep restlessly watching over Beck. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 2:

  Enroute to the southern island of Barbados near the Venezuelan border is a "Day at Sea."  Royal Caribbean is clever to fill any "Days at Sea" with interesting things to do on-ship because they realize they have 3000 people prisoner, but make it feel less-so and do it admirably.  I've been on other cruise lines and they seem to fail at this.
  Our queen-sized bed was satisfactory and we awoke and went to the WindJammer for breakfast buffet which was okay.  Bacon cooking internationally varies, I've found.  Europeans prefer their bacon cooked "rare", with the (ahem) rare exception of their version of the Caesar Salad, in which theirs has bacon cooked "cripsy" or to us, normal though as a solid piece, placed on hearts-of-romaine lettuce uncut, whole with stems with added anchovies.  I like America's better, thanks.  So the bacon was aimed to please to everyone, about medium rare.  Sort of flacid and thin.  None of that good thick-cut hickory-smoked stuff I like, but maybe I'm a bacon connoisseur?  Still, tons of fruits, omelettes-to-order, etc.  Not bad for a buffet.  For dinner last night before tucking in we tried their "steak".  On a cruise ship, never get the steak.  Luckily, like I said earlier it was the buffet so the suckers that ordered a steak in the mandatory dining area don't get to send it back and get something else.  For us, well, you know the buffet rules: don't like it?  Get another plate and push it aside!
  Attempted a few gambling tournaments in the onboard casino: $20 entry fee. A slots tournament where you press the SPIN button and whoever gets the highest score on a designated set of machines with a 5 minute time limit (same game, ready-set-go kinda thing) wins the kitty (the pot for you poker players).  Becky and I came close but didn't win.  Tried my hand at a blackjack tournament but was eliminated in the first 6 rounds (happens, sometimes you get 8 and 5 showing, and the dealer has a 7 on a fresh deck!  Gotta hit!  10.  blah.)

  The onboard "mall" was open, and we tried the Ben & Jerry's bar (though this you have to pay for), but they couldn't get the freezers cold enough so it tasted a little gritty, later we returned on day 6 and tried shakes and they were more appropriate.  Explored the ship (it's about 1/2 a mile long and 14 stories tall, full of interesting stuff on every floor).  Found some interesting clubs onboard, including one called "Jesters" for tweens but was way cool and edgy (though not open until 8pm).  Rather crowded as everyone has about the same idea the first day, "explore".  Eventually laid out on a few of the chairs up-deck and sunned.

  For dinner we went to the Johnny Rockets diner onboard at 9pm.  Not free, but for $4.95 per person it's all-you-can-eat, (though drinks are extra, but with a loophole in the system, our Coke package works there, so sodas free, but I had to try the signature "Cherry Chocolate" daily shake which was very good.)   The diner is set into the side of the ship and there's outside eating which is an odd twist as you're exposed to the night breeze and sea air looking into darkness and stars, a drop of about 140 feet down you can barely make-out the wake below.  It was suspiciously empty, which we later should have heeded.

  We were served free fries and onion rings immediately and their signature "ketchup smile".  I ordered their classic "Johnny Rocket Burger" and Beck had the single.  We decided to try a few more items buffet-style so we also ordered a grilled-cheese (why not).  Shake was good.  Fries were uneventful and flavorless.  

The burger.. ahh... if I had never had a burger before, I'd have though it might have been good but.. it was like a steamed meatloaf.  Very.. odd.. consistency..  Wet?  Very thick.. 4 patties each an inch which is a lot of meat.  Beef I suspect.  Unseasoned.  Cooked very well-done and then.. remoistened, but not greasy at all?  What the?  Ate two bites and gave up.  It was too alien for me.  Too far now from America for a real burger to exist.  From now on, we'll stick to Caribbean fare: fruit, fish, rice, rhum.

  Since we were on the deck I looked due-south for the Southern Cross.  Should be at 23 degrees azimuth due south, Crux.  Nope.  Clouds lined the horizon, though Becky pointed out Vela, The Ships Sails.  It looks a lot like a bigger Crux about 10 degrees higher up.  No luck.  Maybe in Barbados.  Time for sleep.  We picked the center of the ship for our room so the rocking is minimal.  No need for Dramamine.  Our room is far from the Broadway (shown above) though it was an option to get a room with picture windows looking out onto it.  This turned out to be a very wise decision, as all the ship-planned parties are here until 3am, with live bands and/or DJs.  When your shore-excursion is early, this would be madness.  We overheard complaints of those customers paying their premium for these rooms never getting any sleep due to the constant noise and wanted a refund.  Guess what Royal Caribbean doesn't give-out?  We win.

To sleep, perchance to dream.  Click to zoom.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 1:

 We awake on the 10th floor to an icy room at about 10am, having finally gone to sleep around 2am.  Becky's throat was razor-blades from it.  I had the AC turned off but the fan turned on.  Temperature dropped to the high '50s that night, though it was 82 degrees at 2am, but we were on the coast so anything's possible.  We gathered our belongings, showered, watched some Puerto Rican TV (the music videos are sassy) and ambled to the lobby.  I did a quick reconnaissance of the area and there was no food aside from a gas station to be had for breakfast, though the Marriott had a little restaurant called "Brasserie" which I was confused.  A restaurant called a "bra"?  I just checked now and in French, a "brasserie" is a casual dining cafe with an upscale setting.  Thanks wiki!  The waiter, a handsome young man with a sharp set of eyes and soap-opera-quality hair asked my order.  I gave it and he looked disgusted a bit and then took Becky's.  She explained he probably was expecting me to order for her first.  DOH!  Man, I'm already forgetting my etiquette!  The food was satisfactory and we decided to look around before hailing a taxi.
  Forgetting sun-block, we stop at a local store with surprisingly t-a-l-l shelves.

Top shelves contained simple items like cereal that you'd normally buy, so it's not like overstock or what-not.  Medicine isles were similar, with more narrow shelves.  The store was small, and a bit of a maze.  Some aisles eventually led to one-way spiral death-trap dead-ends (for those Qix Arcade fans) (like below)...

I'd like to mention of the random folks we met in Puerto Rico I was stunned at their cunning wit and sharp eye, as I strike up random conversations with people I don't know (as people who know me.. know)...The women and grudgingly the men were equally Hollywood-stunning and full of character and dressed all well.  All the men wore at least a collared shirt and spoke without the need for profanity and with strong lingual ability and passion.  I can't even say half that much for Americans I meet.  The living conditions seem to vary, however, mostly on the side of old poverty, as if it was rising well in the '60s and then stopped and started to deteriorate and became in disrepair like Mexico and much of the Caribbean as a whole.  There IS modern growth and nicely paved streets and highways (better than sh*tty Colorado, anyway.  Where IS that democratic-majority tax-money going to anyway?  Oh, I know!  For that medicinal-mary-jane "pain management" for people who can't afford health-insurance!  Thanks Obama!  I'm paying for pot for poor people who's kids steal it from their parents [and likely sell it for school supplies, since Colorado mandates students buy the schools' supplies now even if the kids aren't using it to fill the storage cabinets]).  I suspect it's a complicated issue with the poverty factor in PR.  The people look healthy at witty, as if almost a French Revolution sort of way, waiting.. ready.  These are not the migrant workers of New Mexico, no sir.  These people are made of FIRE!  I like 'em... Like.

At noon-thirty we took a taxi to the pier.  The Marriott staff warned us there'd be no food or drinks there until we were on the ship so we heeded that.  Got there about 1pm, an hour early than the earliest boarding time and there was already a line.  In Espaniol, the taxi driver lauded us for arriving when we did, "Dentro de una hora habrĂ¡ 3.000 personas!"  The ship held 3000 guests, there was about 50 or so waiting in line.  Several more were waiting to go through the mandatory photo shoot boarding routine junk, of which we had noticed a few were coughing pretty roughly (later a harbinger of DOOM, but more on that later, though I'm sure you read about it in the newspapers)  Check in was hot at 87 degrees but brisk enough and in 15 minutes we were handing over our passports for southern waters.  Becky was awarded a wheelchair which helped us bypass the all-cruise mandatory "We want an additional $20 from you for a bon-voyage cheap-ass photo with your not-yet-tanned faces" and got the our lowest-class-possible room yet-purchased, "Interior-stateroom".  Handicap-accessible gave us an additional 10 feet of space.  Becky wasn't sure if she'd need the chair or not but instead favored her prosthetic throughout the trip it turns out which was nice.  Room, despite no window on the 10th floor (a theme here it seems) was surprisingly good!  Old-school 19" TV with fridge.  We bought the "water" and "soda" packages at $50 each (a steal when you discover drinks ARE NOT free on a ship except for powdered tea/lemonade) so a Coke'll cost you $7 for ONE plus whatever you tip the bartender (drink servers are violently scarce, which is a shame because they're a HUGE money-maker for the cruise-line so it's just as well to go right to the empty bar).  We easily drank one soda each for 8 nights.  More like 4 each as they're 8oz micro-plastic cups, so 32 drinks x $7 + no tip = $224 > $50.  We win.  Water was vital.  Large Evian bottles (32oz?!) x16.  Wetbar prices (they fill your fridge up with them and some snacks in the hopes you'll use those instead of the onboard shops, M&M pack costs $9 for instance, Evian was $12 each).    We each drank 1 bottle each for the 8 days.  $12 x2(1 each) x8 days= $192 > $50.  We win x2.  That's again even if you don't tip.  It's encouraged to do so, especially for your room.  It's recommended $20/night.  Yep, you leave a $20 on your pillow for our room attendant Allister who makes our bed and might vacuum.  A few times he made some nice "towel sculptures" on the bed as for extra towels, like a puppy or a monkey.  We left the $20 in our own plush monkey toy we brought.  Royal Caribbean is a very good cruise line.  Their sister cruise-line, Celebrity, is also rated in the top 3 as well.  Only one better is the QE2.  Still, they play a fast one.  They give you a room card that you charge drinks on and what not:  in-room movies (over 60 Rated-R or lower), snacks, items purchased in the shops, spa services, you name it.  ALSO is charged without your choice and is mandated is ADDITIONAL 10% tip per day per a rate THEY determine based on your room size for 4 separate services:  bartending, waiter, assistant waiter, and room attendant.  Ends up being an additional MINIMUM of $200 or so.  You can't leave the ship until this is paid-up, even if you didn't use a bartender, or whatever.  Sneaky and mandatory.  Yeah, I tipped all these guys anyway AND I had to pay EXTRA.  I call the bullSHIP flag there.  Caveat Emptor !

So Becky mentioned we never get to see the ship set sail from port as we're always engaged in ship activities at that time and miss the bon-voyage so we make it a point to be on top-deck to watch Puerto Rico off in the sunset.  She seems to be coming down with a very slight cold but seems okay.  We had made a pact to only eat at the WindJammer Cafe which is the buffet.  Royal Caribbean demands you either eat there (at anytime you want) OR at a designated giant table where you're forced to sit with 8 other couples at a designated time and wear business FORMAL wear (tuxedo or full suit) for 2 hours eating smaller, slowly dished-out portions OF THE EXACT SAME FOOD of which you get to choose one item from a menu.  The WindJammer allows you to pick of the ENTIRE menu at your leisure.  Don't like the Pork Adobo?  Dump it and try the Fish Tempura, or the Ratatouille (brilliantly done by the way).  Dessert choices?  No worries, try one of each, instead of being SLOoOoooowly served something you might not like.  Oh, but you get to play DRESS up.  We heard more than one lament half-cruise about folks having to doll-up just to eat every night when they don't know Royal Caribbean's trick of the WindJammer which guarantees a 360 degree view of the coast (it's all glassed-in), the dining areas do not have any view, except for your couple number 7 who thought it'd be a good idea to bring 1 year old baby on the table and 3 year old Tessy the fire-child without her muzzle or tazer.

We took nice fotos de la San Juan.  Here's 2 you can click for hi-res:

Entertainment runs late on these ships, running into the 2am stage.  Becky and I always pre-purchase "shore excursions" or "things to do once you're in port, controlled by the safety of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines so you're not robbed or murdered much".  We picked one for each place, which lasts about 4 hours or so, except for St.Croix because those were in the $200+ each range and were bullSHIP (like going on a Jeep Wrangler ride into some jungle with the top down so you can be eaten by bugs).  We closed the evening by watching a comedy act, a pretty okay juggling act, and a big-band session.  Light's out.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Day 0:

Here is an account of my adventures in the Caribbean, be they both good and bad, for 8 days at sea and the dangers that we survived.  Let it be known that the Southern Caribbean is not all nice and resort-like for the most part, with Aruba as an exception compared to the rest of the Caribbean!  Perils at every turn, and I did not escape all of them.

Hence, is an adventure.  If there was no conflict, it would have simply been a journey, but Life is more than that, as we all know by our own experiences through time, and there is balance in all things.

Day 0:  Puerto Rico or Bust

  We left in the dark of night to Colorado Springs airport merely 5 miles away from us to take an early flight to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, by way of Denver and Charlotte, North Carolina.  We were lucky to get the last leg of the flight upgraded to first-class for $150 which made the 3.5 hour final thrust quite acceptable with chairs that lounged near-horizontal that didn't affect the person behind, though I was disappointed I couldn't sit next to Becky on that last portion, we wouldn't have been able to do so in coach as well.  All the flights were fully booked and crammed. 
  I'm not a fan of the lowering quality of coach class.  Despite some 3.5 hour legs, there's no free meals (they can be purchased for about $9 and they're usually crap)  One drink service is rough.  At least first-class you're offered real silverware, lots of drinks, etc.  I enjoyed Glenlivet 12-yr. (for free).  Normally we never take first-class because if you pre-buy it, it's usually an extra few thousand dollars, which is ridiculous.  When you get to the ticket counter, you can usually upgrade for somewhere between $70 and $300 I find, depending on the distance, etc.  $150 made it worthwhile.  Coach class has degraded to such a low standard I barely feel human.  I'm not a huge person.  At 5'6" or so, I'm burly-built but not immense per-se.  I've got a bit of a belly but not freakin' gigantic.  Still, I find I barely fit in those coach-class seats.  One gripe I have is that stupid center seat.  Why do they make them three across?  Forces the introduction of a stranger on your travels, and that center seat owner should be allowed both arm-rests, no?  Still, I find most humans will elbow-into-the-gut on either end, giving no consideration.  Usually most people don't lay their seat back as well, as in coach-class the person behind is tortured with even less room, the center seat suffers greatly this way, chin almost on the headrest ahead.  The only recourse is to suffer further or continue the disservice by propagating the insult to your rear-neighbor, leaning your seat back as well.  Do you continue the crime or silently endure?  Normally I endure.
  But to back-track, still in-coach-class we arrive in Charlotte roughly, bouncing hard on the tarmac over 10 times.  Becky informed me the woman behind me was crying.  Several folks were really freaking out.  I applauded loudly, explaining it was cheaper than DisneyWorld, which lightened the mood of those within earshot and smiled a bit, softening things.  It was nearly a 2g landing.  I myself have performed a 1.5g landing in a Cessna.  Really an eye-opener.  The Boeing 757 can withstand a 2.1g landing or more.  Some glasses in the cabin shattered.
  Charlotte, North Carolina airport is odd.  There's a full-on movie poster of Mannequin 2: On the Move displayed prominently on the moving walkway complete with Hollywood Montrose which I was delighted to see, but my camera was tucked away and couldn't get to it in time to photo it, but it's there.
  There's a huge amount of Amish-style rocking chairs painted white all around with folks lounging in them.  It's QUITE a busy airport.  More so than Logan in Boston or about on-par with LAX in Los Angeles.  More so than O'Hare in Chicago, yet it's the size of Colorado Springs' mini-airport. 
  We were accosted by a female elderly guard stating we couldn't sit in the handicapped area, "Miss?  Do you need assistance?  I don't think soYou need to move on."  Becky flashed her prosthetic leg attachment and she shut the frack up right-quick.  Rather rude I think, that guard.  No one else was there.  We weren't taking up space.  I was suggested to try Chester's Chicken or some such but the fast food chain looked ill there so we just moved on to our gate to Puerto Rico, luckily upgrading to 1st class for $150.
  We land in Puerto Rico, no passports required (as it's almost a 51st state [or 58th, according to Obama in a recent speech]).  The landing was fine and neet.  Smallish aiprort again.  Similar to Colorado Springs.  We get there at night and the lights of the city are pretty through the window on the north end of the large island.
  We get our luggage without a hitch and hail a taxi.  I manage my best Espaniol to get us to the Courtyard Marriott which is about 10 miles away.  We drive hell-bent through the city.  It's Friday night and cops are a'blazin' and I mention it to the driver, mucho policia!  The elderly, miniscule driver muses over this as we bounce around in the van's bench seat roughly.  No seat belts here.  Some vehicles are simply stopped on the highway, all of a sudden.  Some are very unsure to go left or right at a fork so stop in the middle of the fork and wait it out.  It's quite a wild ride, but I had pre-navigated the route and he took us there the best possible way so that's good.  $18.  Fair deal.
  The Courtyard Marriott in Puerto Rico was satisfactory.  Not too much mold or chipping paint.  Better than I expected, the upgrade would be the Marriott Stellaris which is $900 more per night versus the $179 I paid.  For that money I felt it was satisfactory.
  We're now past Eastern Standard Time onto Atlantic Standard Time so now it's just about 11pm, 8pm MST.  About 12 hours of travel.  Not too bad, but a full day of go-go-go.  Our ship leaves 8pm tomorrow night, though we can board at 2pm for lunch.  And we're alive in San Juan!


Friday, February 10, 2012

Novelization of Rush's Clockwork Angels to be Penned by Kevin J. Anderson

Novelization of Rush's Clockwork Angels to be Penned by Kevin J. Anderson

...worked together with Neil to flesh out the epic story told over the course of the music, as well as the artist Hugh Syme whose paintings fill the CD booklet. In a young man's quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life. To whet your appetite, Rush released the first two tracks, "Caravan" and "BU2B"-listen to those songs to get an idea of the story's beginning.

Pirates?!  Avast yar!