"" Writer's Wanderings: February 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

Dangerous Chocolate Cake in a Mug

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips a small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug
Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips and vanilla extract and mix again. Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts (high).The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!Allow to cool a little, then tip out onto a plate. EAT! (This can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous.)

And why is this "the most dangerous cake recipe ever"?
Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!

I tried this out last night and it really works well. I think my microwave is a little stronger though and mine was a little dry. I'll cut down on the time and maybe add a few more chocolate chips. It was great to cut the warm cake in two and pop it on top of a little vanilla ice cream.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Books for the Road--#1 Ladies Detective Agency

To stretch my reading parameters and get me reading outside my usual niche, I try to keep up with the reading list that our library's book discussion group follows each year. Once in a while, I even have the opportunity to join in with the group discussion. These are savy readers and challenge me to want to write a book that would stimulate the kinds of comments that circulate during discussion. This past month, their selection was The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

The story takes place in Botswana and Smith paints wonderful pictures that help you imagine the African countryside and living conditions. Mma Ramotswe is left an inheritance by her father whose wish was that she use it to open a business. She chooses to start a dectective agency. Her training comes through a manual she reads but her cases are solved by her clever intuitiveness. A missing boy, a father worried about his daughter's boyfriend, and of course, the women worried their husbands are cheating are several of the cases she tackles with humor and unusual grace.

Mma Ramotswe is endearing. The story keeps you smiling and wondering what is around the corner--or rather who will walk in the agency's door and how she will cleverly solve the next case. And if you are truly taken with Smith's storytelling, there is a series you can continue and follow Mma Ramotswe through many more adventures.

A fun, easy read.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fried Dill Pickles

In honor of my earlier Pickle Lady post, I thought I would post this recipe. It is one of the many I collected for a website I planned to build if the Pickle Lady's book had been published. I've never tried it although it sounds as good as Fried Green Tomatoes. Let me know how it turns out if you make it.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup ice water
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons dill pickle juice
4 cups drained dill pickle slices or equivalent amount of medium to large pickles, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Vegetable oil for frying

Stir flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt into large bowl. Make a well in center; add water, egg yolk and pickle juice, all at once. Stir with wire whisk to make a smooth batter. Cover bowl and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Heat at least 2 inches of oil in deep fryer or large saucepan to 375ºF. In batches, dip pickle slices in the batter to coat evenly and lightly. Fry without crowding in hot oil until golden and crisp, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve at once. Makes about 8 servings as an appetizer or side dish.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Manning the Crew Lifeboats

If you've ever cruised and done your 3-8 times around a promenade deck, you have most likely noticed large white metal barrels on either end of the ship and what looks to be posted numbers for muster stations. These are where the crew that is not involved with the passengers lifeboats would muster to evacuate the ship if it were necessary.
If you are interested, take a few minutes to look at the diagrams that are usually posted there. Many have what looks like a chute to slide down into the pictured inflated lifeboat. While in San Juan this last trip, we got to see what one looks like--well partially.
We were awaiting notification that our ship was cleared for passengers to go ashore when we noticed that the HAL ship across from us was obviously doing a Coast Guard drill for lifeboats. All of the lifeboats on the side facing us were lowered--evens and then odds (or maybe the other way around). Then we heard a pop and a clang and realized they had launched one of the inflatable lifeboats. They never lowered it all the way into the water and I don't think it ever inflated all the way. Perhaps it looks a little different when it's floating. I'm guessing it would be hard to get back in the container if it were wet.
It was all quite interesting and certainly would make me want to be taking care of passengers rather than sliding down a chute into one of those things. But then, passengers aren't always such a compliant group so in an emergency that might be the scarier of the two.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Pickle Lady

A couple years ago I wrote a novel about a 70 year old widowed pickle entrepreneur who mistakenly puts marijuana into her pickle recipe thinking it is marjoram that one of her tenant city farmers is growing. Of course she gets into all sorts of hilarious trouble and eventually gets saved by a "knight in shiny armor" that she met on--drum roll--a cruise ship! (Surprised?) Title: In a Pickle.

I could never find a market for it in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association which is now the ICR) mainly because of the mention of marijuana even though the story did not support the use of such substance. Then there was the editor who rejected it because it was unbelievable that someone in this day and age would still think that they could plant marijuana in a corn field and get away with it. Three weeks after the rejection came, an article appeared in our newspaper detailing the confiscation of marijuana plants growing in a cornfield in the middle of Ohio not far from where my fictional town was depicted (honest, I did not plant them!).

All of that leads me to a line from the movie, The International. It's the new film out with Clive Owen about a bank that is capitalizing on world unrest and debt. There's a line from the movie that goes, "The difference between fiction and truth is that fiction has to make sense." I couldn't help it. I snorted my soda.

Someday maybe my Pickle Lady will find a home in a publishing house. For now, she just remains my fondest character.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Books for the Road--The Missionary

While the title, The Missionary, might lead you to believe this is a sweet story about a crusade for the poor children in Venezuela, it is anything but that. This is action packed suspense that builds in intensity until you find yourself unable to put it down. Authors Dave Lambert and William Carmichael have taken an ordinary man, David Eller, who feels a call to the mission field, set him down in a poor section of Caracas with his wife and son and then offered him a way to make life better for those he serves. Unfortunately it involves him in a nightmare of life and death decisions and bad choices that threaten to destroy him, his family, and his friends.

Full of action and edge of the seat suspense. Don’t miss this great read. Just be sure you have a block of time to devote to it. It’s a page turner to the end.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

You've Got Mail!

Traveling and connecting on the internet can be a real challenge especially if you don't have a fancy Iphone or Blackberry. And even if you do, it can get expensive. Recently I was asked for some advice about keeping the charge for internet services down while cruising when you want to check your email. Here's what I passed along:
  • If you have sailed with the line before, you will usually receive either some free minutes and/or bonus minutes if you purchase a package. A package will always reduce the cost of internet.

  • If you have your own laptop with you be sure you have your mail program in order so that you can download quickly to your inbox. I have two mail boxes (one Yahoo and one with my website) that download to one mail program. I can download my mail within 1-3 minutes depending upon how much is there, the size of the messages and the speed of the internet. Once downloaded, answer off line, save your drafts, and go back online and send them.

  • If you have to use the ship's computers, be sure to take notepaper and pen with you. Jot down anything you need to reply to and go off line. Compose your message on the notepad before you go back online. That way you don't waste time thinking about what you want to say. New messages should be written down on paper first and then copied when you go online.

  • Remember to LOG OFF! If you do not you may be charged for quite a few minutes before the computer program logs you off automatically--and some may not log you off if you forget.

On board the Celebrity Solstice their flat fee for internet was 65 cents/minute. We bought a package the first day for $60 which got us a little over 120 minutes @ 43 cents a minute but we got 20% extra for signing up the first day. That worked out well for me as I posted to my blog each day. It cost about $5-6/day for that. If Blogger made uploading pictures and arranging them on a page easier, the time would have been cut down since I composed off line then copied and pasted from Word. The pictures were the time consumer.

Oh, and if you should be so fortunate to own a fancy Iphone or Blackberry, be aware that once the ship leaves port you are hooked into their service which charges a hefty fee when someone calls you or you call out. Be sure to turn it off unless you really can't stand tech-withdrawl.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Celebrity Solstice--Disembarkation

Surprisingly enough, there was no formal disembarkation talk in the theater on Saturday. Instead, there was a video playing on Channel 20 all day featuring the cruise director, Dru, giving all the pertinent instruction. Disembarkation boils down to a few important steps:

  • Fill out your comment form (Every service person we came in contact with had a spiel about how important it was to mark excellent. And the head-honcho in the Murano Restaurant probably had the longest one.)

  • Pack your bags, attach colored tags, and set them out before midnight. (Now here is where each cruise director tells the same joke about someone out in the hall in their BVDs looking for their clothes because they didn't leave anything out to wear the next day.)

  • Be sure you have tipped everyone. (This is usually done automatically now.)

  • Pay your bill. (If you don't, your name will be called over the loudspeaker and you will be asked to see the Purser. We all know what that means.)

  • Exit at your prescribed time. (If you're taking prearranged transportation to the airport, you will be on a schedule that gets you there in an appropriate time for your flight--unless you booked something late in the day in which case, they will have you off the ship by 11 a.m. so that they can start embarkation for those happy people who will be in your room soon.)

We left at 8:45 because we were traveling independently. Thankfully it was early enough that there were still plenty of cabs available. The luggage was easy to find. They had it off early and very nicely organized in the terminal according to tag numbers. We were three hours early for our flight but spent it in the Continental lounge catching up on our internet stuff--it's free there.

One quick smile before I leave this cruise journal. As we were landing in Cleveland, Bob kept telling me how nice it was the sun was shining and, "look, the snow is almost gone." As I scowled in reply, we heard a youngster a few rows back ask, "Grandma, are you crying?"

Here are a few more pictures from of the ship for you who are eager to see this new beauty.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Celebrity Solstice--Day at Sea and Tuscan Grill

Breakfast at the Bistro on Five was absolutely delicious again. This time I had a scrambled egg mixture of tomatoes, sausage, onion, mushrooms and spinach. That was enough to tide me over until lunch. The coffee there is extremely good. I'm guessing whoever makes it has the right touch.

There were two more enrichment series lectures with the Solenders--one on Cole Porter and the other, Irving Berlin. The last lecture filled the Celebrity Central, the little cabaret venue on Deck 4, which indicates to me that word spread about how great the lectures and music were.

Afternoon tea was served daily in the Oceanview Cafe but on this day, there was a high tea as well served in the dining room. We enjoyed the tea and the scones with clotted cream as well as the little finger sandwiches.

We soaked up a few of the fading rays of the afternoon on Deck 15 by the lawn and then caught the last of the glassblowing show. They had made a beautiful vase. The neat thing about the glass shows is that they don't make the same thing every time. Each piece is a unique work of art.

Our evening meal was in the Tuscan Grill. The restaurant reminds me of an upscale New York restaurant. The menu favors Italian dishes but our waiter said the filet mignon was the best. We ordered the crab appetizer which I found a bit too salty but Bob loved. It was followed by a chop-chop salad with sweet Italian dressing for Bob and a Ceasar salad prepared tableside for me. The Ceasar was big enough that we could have shared it. I hate wasting food but knew if I ate the whole thing I wouldn't be able to face my entree.

Both of us ordered the filet for our entrees. They came looking like a sumptuous island in the middle of our mashed potatoes that were lightly flavored with horseradish. A small salad accompanied them on the plate. This would have been more than enough salad had I known. My filet was so tender the knife slid through it. But it was also so huge that we could have split one and had plenty to eat.

Now after feeling full to overflowing, I am ashamed to admit that I ordered dessert. I could not resist the Dark Chocolate Fondue offering. We ordered one to share and immediately the waiter said, "I will bring extra!" We insisted he just bring the usual. I'm not sure if he did but again, there was plenty to share. Okay, now this was the most mouth-watering, rich chocolately dark fudgy fondue you ever wanted to taste. I tried hard not to moan with every bite but I failed.

The last show for the cruise was a variety show made up of the singers and dancers dragging their garbage cans out to bang on and the circus-performing troupe sailing around the room on their trapezes. One of the acts that obviously was canceled from the first show because of the rough weather was a balancing act where the performer stacked chairs one by one almost to the top of the stage and did several hand stands along the way. David Meyer, the xylophone player did several classical pieces and the Oceans Four A Cappella group sang with music! They did songs from the Jersey Boys and rocked the house for a standing ovation.

It is always sad to walk back to the room and see the luggage lining the hall--the sign that the cruise is truly over. We added ours to the lot and went to bed.

Tomorrow: Disembarkation and more pictures.
Other specialty restaurants aboard cruise ships:
Crown Princess Sabatini's
Crown Princess Chef's Table

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Celebrity Solstice--Labadee, Haiti

We awoke to a cloudy overcast day. For a moment I thought I was back home. Then the happy thought that someone would make me breakfast brought me back to reality and I hastened to get dressed. The Grand Epernay dining room provided excellent service, a terrific mushroom and Swiss cheese omelet, and a great cup of coffee.
The Solstice arrived at the Royal Caribbean Ltd.’s private beach area at Labadee, Haiti, at its scheduled time, 10 a.m., and we were informed that due to weather, many of the excursion water activities would be canceled. It was very windy and threatened rain. There was hope that the weather would improve and if it did, the snorkeling adventure, zipline-over-the-water, and others would be rescheduled for the afternoon.

Bob donned a swimsuit but decided he wasn’t getting in the water when we heard the temperature outside was only 68 degrees (it warmed up to the 80s). We boarded one of the large tenders sent from the beach for the five minute ride to shore.

Labadee has changed radically from when we were last there some 10 years ago. There is a ton of activities to do including kayaking, wave runners, a zipline that goes over the water, a play area with a splash activity for kids, a floating Aqua Park including floating inflated rock walls, inner tubes, and see-saws, and a huge inflated water slide on shore. Plenty of lounge chairs were stacked up everywhere and beach personnel were on hand to place them wherever you wanted to spend your day (keep a couple of dollars in your pocket for a tip). There were also hammocks strung from almost every group of trees we passed. And yes, for those who burn easily, there were a lot of shady spots.

We spent about an hour leisurely walking around the whole area. Some of the trails are pretty rocky but others are paved. There are some old ruins there and the landmark bell tower. I suspect this was a church or mission at one time. It would have been nice to have had some informational material on that. Workers were scurrying to clean the largest of the four beaches where enough seaweed washed up to fill a couple of small dump trucks. The sea was rough and the wind blowing in on that side but a small sea wall kept the swimming area calm. Caution signs were posted for those who ventured out into the water warning them of sea urchins, jellyfish, and other sea creatures that could be a nuisance or danger—among them, sea lice.

Construction sites abounded. There is major renovation going on everywhere including a new area for serving their barbecue lunch. It is much needed as it was apparent the hurricanes did some damage to the picnic area shelters. Right in the middle of everything is a large market area where locals are let in to sell their goods. Most of it is the same thing repeated over and over—wooden boxes, vases, wall plaques and the usual clothing items, T-shirts and Caribbean style dresses. Paintings were displayed all along a hillside in several places. If you don’t mind a little hustling and are up for a shopping adventure, it’s worth a look.

Lunch was served at noon and by that time we were hungry from smelling the hamburgers and ribs cooking on the grill. There was a nice offering of burgers, hot dogs, BBQ ribs and chicken, some fish, and a couple of other dishes I didn’t recognize along with potato salad, cole slaw, pasta salad, tossed salad, and other accompaniments including corn on the cob. A smattering of desserts and fruit completed the meal.

Throughout the day, the sun peeked through enough for those working on their tans—or burns. It also rained a few times but as I replied to the friendly gal at one of the watersports stands, “It’s a great day—no snow!”

Back on the ship, after a quick swim in the Solarium pool, we fell into our regular routines of exercise and blogging and answering email. The afternoon passed all too quickly.

This was our second formal night and we dined in the Grand Epernay expecting it to be lobster night. It was but not the lobster of the past. Instead it was a half tail split length-wise, mixed with shrimp and scallops and served over a risotto. Not terribly exciting. The usual baked Alaska is gone as well. That I’m not sad to see pass away. It always seemed like such a waste since many people didn’t eat it. Instead they now have a smaller individual serving that resembles it but is called something I can’t pronounce let alone spell. I ordered it by mistake and our very accommodating waiter exchanged it for a chocolate mousse-cake.

Our show in the Solstice Theater was another production by the singers and dancers. The theme was Broadway, Ghost Light. Most of the songs must have been from very recent shows since I didn’t recognize a lot of them even though we attend our local Broadway musical series at home every year. It was very well done though, not as loud as the night before, and staged nicely. Good music, good dance, good show. Great end to a nice day.

Here’s another odd picture. As we walked around, we looked up a mountain and saw a strange looking palm tree—extremely tall and straight with palm leaves on top. So, is it real or is it a cell tower?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Celebrity Solstice--Tortola & Silk Harvest

The Oceanview Café was a bit quieter this morning. Many had left on their Tortola excursions already and others. . .well, there are those who make it a late night and eat breakfast when we’re having lunch. We ate quickly and scurried off to find a ride to Pusser’s Landing at Soper’s Hole. The area was introduced to us while on a tour a few cruises back and we decided it would be a nice place to sit back and watch the world go by.

We found a taxi. The charge for the 25 minute ride was $30. It’s a pretty ride along the shoreline. Tortola is set in the midst of some of the prettiest territory in the Caribbean. Soper’s Hole and Marina is a safe harbor for lots of charter boats and others who are touring the area on boats. We dodged in and out of the shops there, not finding anything suitable to our taste or our price range. On the second floor of the largest establishment there, Pusser’s Landing, we found a dining area that is only open in the evening, I presume. It was an open balconied area and we perched for an hour and watched the boat traffic while sipping “D” Best Coffee which was strong enough to walk on its own.

Since we hadn’t arranged for a ride back, we congregated where the taxis were picking up others and joined a tour that was headed back to the ship. The driver had charged the group $15/each for their tour but he only charged us $10/each to get in on the last half of the tour and return to the ship. (FYI—if you’ve never been to Tortola, there are a ton of open-cab busses that take you all over the island for $10-15 each.)
Back on board the Solstice, Bob wanted pasta for lunch so we went to the buffet again. This time I opted for a croissant with chicken salad and some cole slaw on the side. It was very good. We watched the sail away at 1 p.m. and enjoyed the cruise through the Drake Channel between all the islands.

At a little after 5, the Captain’s Club members met in the Sky Lounge for a cocktail party with dancing and of course the award to the cruisers with the most cruises. The prize went to a couple with 32 cruises on Celebrity ships.

We arrived at the Silk Harvest Restaurant at 6 and were escorted to a table for two next to a window. The restaurant reminds me of a small PF Chang’s—busy and a bit crowded with tables. It’s very nicely decorated in Asian prints and dark wood with light fixtures that resemble rice paper lanterns. At each table is a small artificial bonsai plant. The menu was a bit confusing with “small plates,” “large plates,” and sushi. Our very cheerful waiter explained that the small plates were like appetizers and the large plates were entrees but could some in smaller portions so that we could sample more. The sushi was offered in rolls or Nigiri by the piece.

We ordered miso soup and barbecue ribs to start and were also brought cream cheese filled fried wonton. All very good but the ribs were big enough to be a meal. For entrees we ordered small portions of duck curry, orange chicken, and kum bao chicken and Jasmine rice. I ordered a Solstice roll of crab, tempura shrimp, and avocado. Bob got Nigiri with salmon and tuna. We had enough food to feed a half dozen people. The sushi was great and I loved the orange chicken. Bob enjoyed it all including the spicy duck and kum bao.

Our waiter brought our dessert without asking what we wanted. I had wonderful caramelized bananas with coconut ice cream and Bob was served some sort of Japanese dessert that had ice cream inside. It wasn’t anything I’ve ever seen in Japan but it looked like something you might get there. We swapped back and forth. It was two hours before we were finished and the restaurant was full to overflowing when we left.

The show in the theater was a production number called Pulse. It was very lively, starting with a scene that looked like the Broadway show where they beat on trash cans and pots. It was well choreographed and transitioned from one theme to another by a door that one of the performers walked through. Some of the “circus” acts from the previous show were worked into this one as well. The singers were terrific but overshadowed at times by the loud music. If you are like me and have pain when the music is turned up too loud, better be prepared for this one with some ear plugs or use the cotton balls from your vanity in the bathroom.

Before retiring for the night, we strolled through the 50s-60s party in the Sky Lounge mainly to see the ice sculptures and the dessert buffet. Lots of chocolate and sweets and even crème brulee scorched on the spot with a blow torch. I was good. I just breathed in the scent and left.

One last picture. The dock at Road Town is very narrow. The two bridges of the ships were so close, I could imagine the captain of the Solstice reaching across and handing the captain of the Carnival Freedom a cup of coffee.

Tomorrow: Labadee, Haiti—Celebrity’s private beach

Other specialty restaurants aboard cruise ships:
Crown Princess Sabatini's
Solstice Tuscan Grill
Crown Princess Chef's Table
Queen Mary 2 Todd English

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Celebrity Solstice--St. Maarten

The phone rang early with our wakeup call. Thankfully we heard it. It rings very softly. Perhaps that is so it doesn’t wake our neighbors. We have discovered that the walls are a bit thinner than we’ve experienced on other ships—unless our neighbors are just a bit noisier.
We grabbed a quick bite in the Oceanview Café—a serving of quiche, some orange slices, and a croissant, and then scurried off to grab our excursion tickets and head for the gangway. The ship arrived right on time, 8 a.m., and our excursion was to meet on the dock at 8:15. When we were all assembled, our guide took us to a small van which in turn took us into town and dropped us into the hands of another guide who led us to. . .yes, Segways again! My husband is in love with them. (Picture is of Phillipsburg looking across the new dock being built.)

This tour took us up and down the boardwalk of Phillipsburg. I was glad we made it early in the day as the sun got warmer and the boardwalk busier as the morning went on. This was more a have-fun-on-the-Segway than an actual guided tour. The boardwalk is nothing more than hotels, shops, and casinos. We zipped back and forth behind our guide about four times in a couple of hours and then turned them in.

The hotel next to the Segway stand had a beautiful open deck with wicker sofas and tables. We sat and sipped a second cup of coffee there before exploring the main shopping street. As I’ve said before, I’m not a shopper and I hate all the “Lady, you looking for jewelry?” and the “Lady, lady, everything is 75% off today.” The question is, 75% off of what price? Since I’m not a shopper, I wouldn’t recognize a deal if it fell in my lap. We found two large bottles of water—not on sale—and headed for the ship with our purchase.

On Deck 14 we claimed two lounge chairs in the shade with a view of the water and the island and read and napped until lunchtime. We were only steps away from the Mast Grill which might explain why I woke up hungry. They had a pleasant offering of salmon kabobs, grilled chicken wings, dogs and kraut, and hamburgers. There were also a few salad choices, some carrot and celery sticks, and fries and onion rings. A nice alternative to the main buffet.

We donned bathing suits and headed for the Solarium pool. Neither one of us sits out in the sun much any more and the Solarium is quiet with a wonderful warm pool. A few laps and then into the hot tub and I was really feeling like I was on vacation. While in the Solarium, we checked out the Spa Grill just to see what they had. Today’s offerings looked a lot better than before. There was a nice dish of salmon, and some melon slices with a sliced meat that looked appetizing. Guess we will need to give it another go. I was sorry I’d had the hamburger—well, maybe not. (Dancing fountain near the main pool outside.)

Back in the room I tried posting to the blog but found it difficult getting on the internet. The wireless network connection showed little to no connectivity and there were about eight other wireless networks popping up on the list. Guess that’s what happens when you have five ships and several land networks in close proximity. Then, either due to connectivity issues or Blogger, my pictures wouldn’t all load—a costly internet session. A straight connection is 65 cents/minute but packages starting at $40 will reduce cost to 43-48 cents. The first day on board ship you can buy a package and get an additional 20% in bonus minutes but you cannot combine it with the 20% coupon you get if you are Elite or Select in the Captain’s Club. Huh? What good is a perk? Apparently , if we purchase more later in the week we can use it.

We dressed for dinner early and went to the Sunset Bar on Deck 15 aft to get something to drink and sit in the comfy chairs set around the lawn. As we passed the glassblowing area, we noticed them setting up and the artist from the night before was working on the dish he had made. The bottom needed to be smoothed. He held it up for us to see the finished product. Truly beautiful.

Dinner in the Grand Epernay was not especially exciting for me. Everyone at the table ordered the Chef’s recommendation, Veal Oscar. Two small chunks of veal were dabbed with crabmeat, a spritz of béarnaise sauce and served over bowtie pasta. The breadsticks were still excellent and I probably ate way too many.

Since we were in port until 11 p.m., there was no show for the evening. Instead, there were smatterings of entertainment including a movie (The Bucket List), two sessions of The Liars Club (like a game show), Karaoke, glassblowing, and my favorite, the Musical Enrichment Lecture. This evening’s offering with Marlene and Chet Solender was Rogers and Hammerstein. It was excellent.

At 11 we joined the other “supervisors” lined up along the rail on Deck 5 to watch the captain pull the ship out away from the dock and out into the sea again.

Tomorrow: Tortola and the Silk Harvest restaurant.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Celebrity Solstice--San Juan, Puerto Rico

Breakfast this morning was in the Bistro on Five where they feature crepes for breakfast and lunch. The crepes are filled with scrambled eggs and your choice of cheese, veggies, and meat, accompanied by a scoop of lovely browned potatoes. There is a $5 service fee for the Bistro but the crepes were truly worth the extra charge to eat there. And I didn’t have to play “bumper plates” in the buffet area.

We attended the next lecture in the series, Rogers and Hart. Once again Marlene and Chet Solender were wonderful. Even with it being so early in the morning, her voice was true and resonant as she sang and Chet’s humor was delightful. I’m looking forward to the next one: Rogers and Hammerstein.
After lunch, we arrived in San Juan, passing the wonderful old fort as we headed into the harbor. The ship was quickly cleared by the authorities and we disembarked with the crowd of eager cruisers. Normally, we would let the landlubbers off first and follow at a more leisurely pace but we had made reservations for a Segway tour of old San Juan and the tour was to depart just a few minutes after our arrival.

We turned left at the end of Dock 3 and walked a quick two minutes to Dock 2 where there are several little shops including a Subway and in the back, a Segway tours operation. The ship’s cost for a Segway excursion was about $95. We paid a little over $40 plus tip for ours. The tour guide was wonderful giving us some quick lessons on the operation of the Segways and then taking us through the park area and into a section of Old Town where she stopped several times to give us a little history and remark on the things around us.

One of the new facts we learned about San Juan was that there is a population of about 100 cats, all spayed and neutered (indicated by one ear slightly lopped off at the point) who are cared for by the city and in return take care of the mice population. There are virtually no mice or rats to be seen anywhere—according to our guide.

The Segway tour lasted about an hour and a half—the tour part, a little over 45 minutes. Once we returned the Segways, we walked back to the ship. We’ve been in San Juan at least a half dozen times and really appreciate using the ship’s amenities when there are fewer people around. Bob went off to exercise and I took advantage of the Solarium pool to get in a few laps. There were few people around.

For dinner, we ate in the Grand Epernay again at our assigned table and met two more tablemates who had been missing the first night. The food was wonderful. Bob had leg of lamb that was fork-tender and I had lobster ravioli that was delicate and delightful right down to the fanciful little crayfish that adorned it. As always our service was excellent. Knowing that we all love the breadsticks, I noticed our breadbasket brimming with them.

We watched the sail-away a little after eight. It’s always fun to watch the last minute passenger, or in this case crew member, run for the ship as the lines are being brought in and the gangway raised. It was a wonderful evening—warm with a slight breeze and we stayed on the Promenade Deck until passing the fort that was illuminated with soft lights.

Bob went on to see the show in the theater which was a musician, David Meyer, and his dancing wife. He played an unusual synthesized xylophone. Bob reported it was quite a show and very good. I did a little wandering about the shops and the casino and then went up to the Hot Glass Blowing Show on Deck 15.

The glass blowing is sponsored by Corning of New York. The three who provide the talent are all experienced glass blowers. The ovens themselves are unique in that they are the first to be electrical. Since they could not have gas or propane on the ship, engineers had to design and construct ovens that could heat up to 2000 degrees for the needs of the glass molding. The show is about 2-2 ½ hours long and is narrated by one of the artists as they fashion their creation for the evening. There are television monitors that show the glass inside the oven as well as giving you overhead shots of the artists as they craft the glassware. None of the glassware made on board is for sale but they do hold a free raffle at the end of the show for several pieces. There is a deal in the works to sell the pieces at the art auction and give the proceeds to charity so I’m sure the raffles will stop after that.

One of the shows will feature the kids on the ship. As we were told, they will ask the kids to make original drawings for a design on the glass and one of them will be chosen. Then the kids get to watch it being made and the one whose design is picked, gets to keep the glassware.
The glass show is outdoors and the soft warm breeze and evening air combined to do us in. We headed straight for bed—after all, those Segways were a lot more exercise than we’re used to. Or maybe not.

Tomorrow: St. Maarten
(A little explanation: The thermal suite I referred to earlier is the area where there are two saunas--one aromatic and the other a steam room. Between them are ceramic tiled loungers that are heated.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Celebrity Sostice--Day at Sea

Days at sea can be leisurely or they can be hectic depending upon how you spend them. There are a slew of activities to choose from if you are one who needs to be active all day long. Shopping seminars, trivia, wine tastings, art auctions, spa and fitness talks (A Younger Face in 10 Minutes—mine took 20), boat races (pool-sized), ballroom dance lessons, bridge, the ever popular casino and bingo, and the list goes on—including the ever popular WII for adults.
The alternative to hustling from one activity to another is to grab a good book and a lounge chair and find a spot by one of the pools or on the Solstice Deck and try to keep your eyes open as the warmth of the sun combines in a narcotic symbiosis with the gentle roll of the ship.

After our morning mile walk (8 times around this short jogging track—no full promenade deck) Bob went off to exercise and enjoy his time in the thermal suite while I attended a lecture on the Gershwin brothers. The lecture was as much entertainment as education with the husband/wife combo, Marlene and Chet Solender, who sang and played their illustrated songs.

While I’m not much of a shopper, there are lots of shops on decks 4 and 5. I loved the sign as you enter the area, “Retail Therapy.” Tables of specialty items lure you if you have a bent for shopping for a bargain.

Lunch (and breakfast) in the Oceanview Café buffet was a bit uncomfortable for me. I don’t do well with crowds and confusion and the buffet is not organized in (to me) a logical manner. There are “stations” dotted through the middle of the large room and you go from one to another in search of what you might want to eat playing “bumper plate” with the other guests. Toast was across the room from where the bread and rolls were. Several different types of scrambled eggs were to be had in different places. For lunch, salads were spread out in different areas, there was a grill and a place for sandwiches (no paninis). I never did figure out where the soup was. Then there was a section called “Chef’s Surprise.” I gave a cursory glance and decided I didn’t want to guess what was in it.

The most disappointing thing however, was to go all the way back to the Aqua Spa Grill and find that there was a very small selection of unappetizing cold dishes. The last time we cruised with Celebrity aboard the Century, I thoroughly enjoyed the lighter dishes and soups that were cooked in the Aqua Spa Grill. I’ll try again to see if I missed something but warm dishes were not readily apparent when we stopped by there. Our other option is to eat in the main dining room for lunch and breakfast and we will try that as well.

Please keep in mind that everyone has their own taste and what doesn’t appeal to me might be the best food someone else has ever tasted. And I’m not complaining (especially since I don’t have to do the cooking or the cleanup). But I am a bit disappointed since most of my bragging about Celebrity has been about their food.

The evening was full with dinner at the Murano specialty restaurant. We listened to the wonderful A Cappella Group Ocean’s Four in the Ensemble Lounge before going into the restaurant. (Also discovered that there are bird songs in the entryway to the lounge where the “ants” cross the tiled floor.) The Murano was every bit as good as promised. Its French cuisine was a delight. We tasted Dover Wellington (scallop in filo), lobster bisque, pear and Roquefort salad, and duck and rack of lamb. The presentation was wonderful and the taste divine. All of that was followed with flaming strawberry crepes and an assortment of apple desserts.

The evening’s fare in the theater was SOLSTICE: The Show. It was a fantasy-type theme with charactered circus performers much like Cirque du Soleil but they were careful not to draw that analogy. As always it is amazing to see anyone perform on stage when they have to dance or do anything that requires balance on a moving ship at sea. These performers were flawless in their acrobatics and balancing acts often suspended over the heads of the audience.

While the evening was still young, we were not and called it a night while others went on to enjoy the musicians in the lounges around ship as well as the late night comedian. As we opened the door to our room, we were greeted by turned-down sheets with two towel-swans adorned with rose petals and candy. A bud vase of roses sat on our coffee table from the Captain’s Club people. It was a warm touch to end a nice day. Smiling, we set clocks ahead one hour to match the time in San Juan our port of call for the next day.

Tomorrow: San Juan, Puerto Rico and more of the Solstice.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Celebrity Solstice--Setting Sail

After a leisurely breakfast and a quiet morning walk, we took a taxi to Port Everglades to board the Celebrity Solstice. We arrived at noon and fifteen minutes later were beginning our walk around the ship. (If your documents are all in order and you have your passports handy, check-in is very quick and painless.) Celebrity allows you to board early but your stateroom is not available until after 1 p.m.
Our goal was to head immediately for the specialty restaurants to be able to get our choices for reservations since Bob was unable to make them online. For some reason he kept getting the response that nothing was available until 10 p.m. each night. Thus our first impression of the ship was the area where the specialty restaurants are located. It was a mouth-hanging-open beginning. The area is absolutely elegant. The comfortable Ensemble Lounge with its dark wood accents and playful entrance where the walls resemble a garden and the floor tiles have columns of little yellow ants painted on them transitions you to a lobby area where the restaurants are located.
We were able to make reservations for the nights we had chosen and continued on to the spa area where Bob wanted to be sure he could reserve his spot for the thermal suite and to check out the fitness area. We found lots of great machines to help keep the weight from creeping up.
From there it was off to lunch. As is usually the case the first day of the cruise, the buffet was packed with people and carry-ons. Never judge a buffet area by the day of embarkation. We managed to find some nourishment—never difficult on a cruise ship, and before we were finished eating, the announcement was made that our rooms were ready.
Our stateroom was a pleasant surprise. It was not nearly as small as I expected and tastefully done with light colored wood and two toned bed linens. Besides the bed, a vanity, and a couch that can double as another sleeping space I suspect, there was a comfortable sized closet and several drawers, sufficient for our clothes and accessories once they arrived mid-afternoon. The balcony seemed to have a little more leg room as well. The bathroom was a delight to see with a modern raised washbowl and fixtures. There was lots of storage space for toiletries and such. The counter is not very wide but its narrowness lends to a more spacious feeling.
We finished our initial tour of the ship trying to orient ourselves to the layout. It fits the cruise ship basics: food in the back, spa and show in the front, shops and casino mid-deck. But from there, this ship offers several unique venues. On deck 15 is a lawn where you can play bocce ball, crochet, and practice putting. And in the midst of all of that is the glass-blowing arena (more on that later).
There was also something called the Solstice Deck where large padded wicker loungers and comfortable seating areas could be had for a more quiet respite from the outdoor pool which can get noisy. The Solarium also has a pool which I suspect may have been heated or was just warmer from being indoors. It is also a bit quieter than the outside pool where the music is lively and the games are to be had. There are cabana-like loungers that can be angled for views of the pool or hot tub or the ocean.
Life boat drill was at 4 just before our sail-away at 4:30. Everyone met at their muster station and with a new twist, watched a video of what we were to do in an emergency—not unlike the “safe on a plane” movie I blogged about a bit ago.
We sat near the Sunset Bar and watched as the Solstice maneuvered away from the dock, backed up and then headed out to sea. It is always fun to be out when the ship passes the many condos along the entrance to Port Everglades. The residents/guests in the condos all come out on their balconies in the late afternoon when the ships are leaving port to wave flags, blow air horns, and bid bon voyage.
While the main dining room, the Grand Epernay, was a bit more glitzy than elegant, it was all very comfortable and ran smoothly for the first night when waiters are guiding guests to tables and learning their needs and requests. At last the long anticipated breadsticks arrived and were quickly devoured. Celebrity is noted for these crunchy little goodies that wreck havoc with the good-willed dieter. The menu was a bit difficult to read. While the light blue scripted letters looked pretty, in the dimmer lighting the words were harder to make out—at least for those of us with aging eyes.
The night was dedicated to the Super Bowl and in the Solstice Theater amid proper Super Bowl party decorations the giant screen featured the game from 6-10 p.m. For those who couldn’t leave their favorite team for a moment, there was a buffet set up with anything a football fan could imagine. It was a wonderful party except for the Steelers win. But then I’m a Browns fan. The Cardinals gave them a good run though. Tomorrow: Day at Sea and the Murano specialty restaurant.
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